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):
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
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
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.
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?