Recovery and Masculinity
Men and women have long been treated differently in society. Masculinity has traditionally been defined to include traits of assertiveness, competitiveness, and material success. Femininity on the other hand has been associated with qualities of nurturing, gentleness, and humility. Although our understanding of gender and its expression are ever-changing, it’s hard to deny the influence that these traditional gender roles may have in other areas of life. One of these areas where gender differences can be seen is in addiction and recovery.
Addiction is a complex and individual process – the disease manifests differently for each person but gender plays a significant role in not only the drugs that are used, but why they are used, the addiction process in the brain, treatment utilization, and the recovery process.
While there are numerous ways that we can speak about the factors that play into developing the disease of addiction, focusing on the recovery process allows for the sharing of hope and recognition that recovery is possible for so many. The connection and hope created through recovery change the way individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. Most importantly, when individuals engage in active recovery, they begin to recognize their worth and the roles which they can carry out in our community.
Charles Jackson Armstrong shares his story…
Being a man in recovery was a total 180 from what I thought growing up a “man” was. I grew up on a 500-acre farm and my dad owned the Athens stock yard where they had cattle auctions every week. I started working there whenever I was 12. Pretty rough job trying to make an animal that outweighs you by thousand pounds go where you want them to. I learned at a young age to act tough. That fear was weakness that made you less than.
So, the whole “circle up” and talk about what is bothering you made no sense to me. My life was a wreck, but I was a tough S.O.B. and everybody knew it, and now I’m supposed to give up my only decent attribute I have left? No way. But despite all this, even though I was extremely uncomfortable, I kind of felt like I fit in. I knew this one guy in the meeting from the “street” – he did 6 years in prison when he was just 19. So, I asked the toughest dude in the room to be my sponsor.
What happened from there was a total reeducation on what a man really is. He told me to call him every day. To share at every meeting whether I was having a problem or not. He said I had a problem asking for help and if I could walk into a meeting and say I had a good day today, how in the hell could I walk into a meeting whenever my world was falling apart and open my mouth? The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? There were doctors that were lawyers and other prominent community members as members of my home group. I could offer these people nothing but yet they were happy to see me they were interested in what I had to say, and they genuinely seem to like me.
I found out whenever I was my weakest, I got the most help which in turn made me the strongest. I found out act like I wasn’t afraid left me alone and dishonest which, in turn, made me vulnerable for relapse. It took time for me to learn this, to trust people. I found out I was my worst enemy. I would feel lonely so I would talk to a woman and it would fall apart because I was looking for something on the outside to make me feel better about myself.
Understanding this took a lot of time because the natural instincts of it all make it extremely difficult. I could understand I had a disease and I couldn’t drink alcohol like everybody else but why in the hell could not have a relationship like everybody else? I didn’t care about the heartache I went through but after watching the heartache I caused other people, I couldn’t keep doing this. I had to somehow be okay with me. This was difficult to get through, but I did. Once I took the time to know the guys outside of the meeting recovery really started to pay off. To be able to live life with like-minded people made it so rich. To go kayaking down the Hiwassee River with your friend who knows your deepest fears. To go out to eat with your peers in trenches creates the feeling that I’m never alone.
Charles’ story shows that manliness and vulnerability don’t have to exist independently of each other. And in fact, to be vulnerable is a show of strength. Denial of having a problem is common in most who struggle with addiction. Denial protects us from painful thoughts, thoughts that make us feel vulnerable or threaten our sense of control. But when denial persists, we become stuck in an alternate reality where meaningful change can no longer happen. Escaping and confronting this denial is one of the most difficult things someone can do.