Men's Recovery From Addiction and Gender Roles

Are your behaviors and the beliefs that you maintain reflective of the man you want to be in recovery from addiction? Are they what the people in your life truly want to experience from you? Whatever your answer, know that you will experience the consequences — good and bad — no matter what.

I have spent the past decade and half looking at the issues of gender and recovery from addiction. During that time I have arrived at some conclusions, probably not all the original, but compelling nonetheless. In essence, during the process of recovery from addiction something happens to us as men and women that changes how we express ourselves at the core of our identity: our gender.

gender-recoveryBecause it occurs in the context of our recovery from addition, not our gender identity, many of us are unaware this process. That was what I discovered while interviewing men over 15 years ago for my master’s research, as well as the 30 men I interviewed for my recently published book. The men became aware of this shift when they began to reflect on the idea that they were not nearly the same men after recovery from addiction. My work focuses mainly on men, but my guess is that the same would also be true for women.

While writing my book (and master’s thesis), one of the most common answers from men to my question, “How has recovery from addiction changed your idea of being a man?” was that they saw themselves more as human beings and less as men. In other words, they believed, in general, that the rules for “rules” for being manly defined less of their lives and behavior. They began to see that the expectations of how they were supposed to act as men were less important, that they were human beings first, reflecting the idea – to thine own self be true.

Overall, I feel this is a positive outlook. However, as I wrote in the last section of my book, there is a danger in subscribing to this belief. With all good intentions, this belief could inevitably lead us to a default if we are not paying attention: a world that is defined by a dominant group. Without breaking into a treatise on marginalization and oppression, we cannot ignore the reality that some people receive advantages and benefits in society simply because they belong to a certain category. And other people get just the opposite – disadvantages and deficits – because they belong to another category or, said another way, they do not belong to the dominant category.

In terms of gender, man is the default group: masculinity, manliness and patriarchy. Masculinity is the expectation, the norm, sometimes even the subconscious’ default for many men as well as women. We, men and women, have to become aware of this or it can infiltrate all of our relationships in insidious ways. Only once we are aware of it can we being to transcend it.

I will share with you a personal example: I was always sensitive as a young boy. Growing up in a violent alcoholic home, I learned very early that it was not OK to be a sensitive boy. I learned to hate that part of myself because I thought it wasn’t manly. Thankfully, I have come to realize that sensitivity is a part of who I am, and I am no longer bothered by others who think it is not manly. In fact, I think it is a great quality about me when I am able to express it in a healthy way.

Ultimately the question I would like to pose for men is this: Are your behaviors and the beliefs that you maintain reflective of the man you want to be in recovery from addiction? Are your behaviors and beliefs what the people in your life truly want to experience from you? Whatever the answer is, it should be clear to a man that he will experience the consequences, good and bad, no matter what. On a moral and spiritual plane, we don’t ever get away with treating others as inferior, second class, or any of the other disparaging things that we human beings do to each other.

Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin, M.A., has worked in the mental health and addictions field for over a decade. He is author of A Man’s Way Through the Twelve Steps and co-author of the groundbreaking curriculum Helping Men Recover, which looks comprehensively and holistically at men’s needs and issues in recovery.

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