WOMEN AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE PEER DAY EVALUATION

Evaluation by: John Perkins

1998 John Perkins


Evaluation of Peer Day held October 27 and 28, 1994.

Convener: Pat Knot

Participating Learners: Paula Wolfe and John Perkins

The three of us had arranged to use the Women and Substance Abuse conference as a backdrop for our peer day. We tallied much more than 8 hours together when we counted the workshops and general sessions we jointly attended. I attended these portions of the conference (* indicates that Pat and Paula attended as well): Women in Treatment Keynote Address by Barbara Gibson*

Women and Culture*

Strengthening Multi-Ethnic Families and Communities (I presented)*

Family Support in Chemical Dependency Treatment

Legislative Issues and Health Care Keynote Address by Ken Stark*

Battered Women and Their Children*

Storytelling for Prevention
I appeared to be the only person attending the conference who worked in the prevention side of the drug abuse field. The conference was overwhelmingly attended by women who worked in drug treatment or allied fields.

Barbara Gibson, the executive director of Addition, Research and Treatment in Brooklyn, New York, brought her New York style--direct and funny--to this conference and provided a good starting place for us. She had slides of the recent cover story and headlines about the "Sex in America" study just out from the University of Chicago. She discussed this in the context of something we had to compete with to gain and sustain fickle public attention to our cause and efforts. She spent a great deal of time discussing tobacco. I welcome that since I am vice-president of Tobacco Free Washington, a pro-health coalition working to decrease the use of tobacco in this state.

In our peer day discussions about her talk we considered whether some of her remarks might be considered offensive. She made several jokes about penis sizes. At the same time she showed the female condom and cracked jokes about what a bother it is to use correctly and researcher's continuing presumptions that women have to do the work.

"Choice" has become a regular theme at my peer days. During my presentation on a parenting program I facilitate as part of my work, I asked participants to do the Praise exercise that I stress as one of the important parenting skills in this particular curriculum. The skill involved touching, which I encouraged people to do by shaking hands. The women I work with when I conduct parenting classes are the women who were the subject of this conference. Women in my parenting classes often struggle to gain sobriety and seem attracted to men who hit them.

Someone suggested that women she works with might have strong reactions to being touched. I agreed, and said that is why I stress that a simple handshake is acceptable, as it is in most ethnic groups. This woman continued with this line to thinking delaying the start of the practice of the exercise itself.

She was asking me to be 'sensitive' to some women's plights and not ask them to touch or be touched since "touching in their lives might mean being battered." I pointed that parents could choose to pass, as some do, and I would still ask them to practice the skill each week anyway.

She said this might turn them off and they would leave, and I agreed that could be their choice as well. I stressed that I train parents which implies that at some point they had experienced another type of touching. I reminded her that every extant culture in the world has some way for people to touch for otherwise it will die out like the Shakers. I finally said she and I could talk about it in great detail after the workshop. We proceeded with the exercise which she enjoyed doing.

As usual with peer days, synchonicity brought information to me from surprising sources. When I returned home and got back on the Union BBS I saw a new conference on women and violence which was the record of an on-line peer day. One of the uploaded articles was entitled "Husband Battering" by Dave Gross which had originally been on Compuserve. I downloaded the article and read it. Mr. Gross cites 25 studies and articles and makes the telling point

And because the issue of domestic violence has been substantially taken out of the arena of serious sociological study, and thrust into the political arena, the definitions of spousal abuse, and the proposed remedies to spousal abuse, will be political ones--not necessarily ones which reflect the reality of the existing problems.1

The problems we face have much greater complexity than we seem to be able to tolerate in our cultural discussions. I feel the chemical dependency field which trains generation after generation of treatment counselors that drug addition is a disease handicaps them from flexibly helping clients that the disease model doesn't work for. Even physics, our culture's prime theory maker about 'reality' accepts that light can behave as a particle or as a wave depending on the circumstances.

Can chaos theory, Open Space Technology, multiple intelligences, etc. melt the rigid thinking which has seized our discourse on vital issues? I feel collectively we have what it takes to solve our problems--since we had what it took to create them--but only when we can freely think and imagine in new ways. This peer day/conference has shown me some of the areas where my own rigid thinking could use some softening.

Notes

1 Dave Gross, "Husband Battering," unpublished* paper for his women's studies class, loaded onto Compuserve 10/14/91, p. 5.
* Or is uploading onto Compuserve a style of publishing?

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