Lecture Review: “Women, Wine and Wasted Lives” Dr. Stephanie Covington, Milltown Park Conference Centre, Dublin 6.

27th Sept. 2006.

by Emma Cooney

On 21st September 2006 Mr Enda Kenny, Fine Gael Leader, officially launched the Rutland Centre addiction awareness week. A series of public evening lectures took place under the title of ‘Under the Influence of Affluence, Drinking to Excess’ and focused on two specific casualties of addiction, women and young people. As part of this programme of lectures Dr. Stephanie Covington (PhD, LCSW) gave a powerful talk entitled “Women, Wine and Wasted Lives”. She is renowned internationally for her pioneering work relating to women’s issues, particularly the establishment and implementation of addiction and gender specific services. Her work in private, public and institutional settings aims to develop environments in which core ideologies of caring, empowerment and reflectiveness are inherently present. Dr. Covington is the author of many publications on addiction including, A Woman’s Way Through the Twelve Steps, Leaving the Enchanted Forest: The Path from Relationship Addiction to Intimacy and Beyond Trauma: A Healing Journey for Women.

Dr. Covington introduced her lecture by asking the audience to think about how women’s lives have changed over time specifically in relation to alcohol consumption and social attitudes. According to Dr. Covington it has never been acceptable for women to drink too much and this social perspective induces both societal and personal stigma, reinforcing secret keeping behaviour. As a result, on a global level, there is a dichotomy between what a society is willing to reveal in relation to women’s drinking habits, and the reality of the situation.

Internationally a number of key issues have been recognised as specifically relating to alcoholic women and women with addiction problems. The trauma of physical and sexual abuse especially during childhood can often lead to addictive tendencies and addiction later in life. Alcohol and drugs can be misused on a self-medicating basis in order to deal with trauma and cope with a history of abuse. According to Dr. Covington a gender difference exists between men and women in relation to abuse and trauma. These different dynamics of harm have a direct influence on the processes that women and men go through in dealing with trauma. Relationship issues is another factor in the treatment and recovery of alcoholic women. The real fear of losing children or a partner feeds into the shame and guilt that is often felt by female substance abusers. The final set of issues relating to women in the cycle of addiction are interrelated organisational issues, treatment and systematic problems.

Dr. Covington suggested that a holistic health model must be adopted in order to fully recognise the complexity and multilayered characteristics of addiction. This model encompasses the physiological, emotional, social, spiritual, environmental and political aspects of a woman’s life. The creation of a safe space is essential in order to reach the core of constrictive addiction. It is here that profound internal change can occur and the processes of recovery and expansion can take place. Dr Covington identified a number of key issues for women in recovery; the self, relationships, sexuality and spirituality. It is these four elements in a woman’s life that change most from a point of addiction to recovery and transformation. Conversely these key themes can provoke relapse and a deterioration back into the destructive cycle of addiction.

Dr. Covington’s lecture, which was presented in a simple but very effective way, drew in the concentration and interest of the audience and reflected back out her huge wealth of experience and expertise in this area. Her excellent rapport with the audience was clearly demonstrated by the broad ranging and poignant questions asked at the end of the lecture. One aspect of Dr. Covington’s lecture that I was particularly interested in was the repeated image of an upward spiral. The closed end of the spiral illustrates the point of addiction and trauma which constricts a woman’s life. As one moves up the spiral healing can take place and the positive elements in a woman’s life begin to expand outwards. At the top of the outward spiral the ultimate goal of transformation is achieved. For me this spiral image represents a very strong feeling of wholeness and congruence. Life is all about transformation and growing. As we journey through our lives and we carry with us our own personal past experiences, the hope is that we continue to learn from these experiences and proceed on the ascending spiral of life.

Emma Cooney is a recent UCD Social Science graduate with an interest in the roles of women and children in society.