Many of you might not know this about me, but when I have a problem that I don’t know how to deal with my first response is to research it as in-depth as possible. That makes it a bit awkward when I blog about everything I read (this is my journal reading journal as much as it is your review site). At the same time it’s great because I get to share interesting books, like Her Best-Kept Secret (Amazon Affiliate link), that I never would have read. And I force myself to explore and synthesize in-depth a lot of topics.
If you see me on a day-to-day basis you’re aware that someone close to me has a lot of problems with alcohol, it’s kind of obvious they are a “she” based on the book title. In reality, I’m not sure it would’ve mattered if they were a she, because after reading The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous (link to the article) in The Atlantic I knew I wanted to find out more about non Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) programs and I figured Glaser was a great place to start as she mentioned her book in the article.
Glaser’s writing is informative and approachable and she is able to talk about a difficult subject with a bit of levity, while still remaining serious in her journalistic intent, for example,
“Just as middle-aged women’s drinking has been overlooked, so, too, has the success of recent evidence-based treatments, methods whose efficacy has been determined by rigorous scientific studies. A.A., a faith-based group whose philandering, LSD-tripping co-founder, Bill Wilson, has achieved the status of demigod, remains embedded in public minds as the best approach.” (25)
I mean this is all fact, but the way in which she writes it not only brings her points throughout the book home, but it brings them home with a bit of humor and sass that I truly appreciated. I don’t know about you, but I had no idea that
- AA has a huge record of institutionalized sexism and condoned* sexual assault.
- Therapists, judges and society send people to AA in essence because of lobbying power and money.
- There is no science in AA, only religion. (I did no this but it was seriously hit home with this book).
- There are numerous alternatives to AA, including SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN alternatives.
That being said, this book isn’t an expose of AA so much as it is an attempt to de-white-washing de-male-stream AA. Glaser is very open about what she’s hoping to achieve in the book and in my opinion she does it:
“In this book, I distinguish between proven fact and conjecture, what is national habit, what is solid science, and what is rooted in our attitude toward alcohol. I also take a hard look at our country’s traditional remedy for drinking problems, Alcoholics Anonymous, and how an increasing number of women are questioning its effectiveness and safety.” (15)
She provides a great social history of alcohol in the US and how the relationship of women and alcohol has changed from “the old days” when everyone drank alcohol (hard liquors and otherwise) because it was safer than water. And then she talks about how wine became a thing like a legit thing. Thank you marketing and politics for turning wine into a household commodity/necessity.
It might be the biggest thing that impressed me, but I’m pretty sure Glaser didn’t once refer to “winos” throughout the entire book! Although someone needs to jump on that. WINOS could easily be a new alternative to AA: Women In Need of Sobriety. (Okay so maybe not need, but I was proud of my acronym skills). And this is definitely NOT a dig at Women for Sobriety, because they sound like a great alternative to the religion within AA.
What I found most interesting is that there is very little non-AA language for those affected by alcoholism/drinking. Too many people, including pop culture, have bought into the 12-step ideal to getting better, including myself before reading this book. I’m so glad I read the book, because before this, AA was the only option I knew and it was the only language I knew. Every time I wrote about this in my journal (yes, I’m a teenage girl – you should see my music collection), from the downward spiral, recover and relapse everything I knew was from pop culture ultimately originated in AA.
Thankfully, Glaser took the time to question ALL of this, for just reason! Unfortunately, even though she wrote a great book and provided some great resources, there’s not much to do until the scientific community (aka Big Pharma) and politicians get behind an effort to find a non-faith-based solution to the problem that is alcoholism/excess drinking.
Recommendation: If you or someone you know is having issues with alcohol read this book, or at the very least the article. Glaser highlights the MAJOR problems (and there are many) with Alcoholics Anonymous and offers some alternatives, but more importantly she offers hope that more research and alternatives could come with enough effort.
Opening Line: “Solid statistics on women’s drinking habits are hard to come by.”
Closing Line: “But maybe, just maybe, we can learn a thing or two from where we’ve been, and create a new approach to help women deal with a problem whose consequences in broken families, broken hearts, and broken futures, are all too real.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)
*I say condoned and it may as well be. Perhaps unacknowledged would be a better word, but it’s been acknowledged and women have tried to fight this from within but haven’t made headway due to the ridiculous policies or lack-thereof
Additional Quotes from Her Best-Kept Secret
“Women of childbearing age are incessantly warned that alcohol poses a danger to the developing fetus, but nobody talks much about why women in general are more vulnerable to alcohol’s toxic effects, too.” (24)
“‘When a patient has high cholesterol, you don’t wait for her to have a heart attack before you prescribe statins and make some dietary changes,’ he says. ‘When a patient has mild asthma, you prescribe an inhaler. You don’t wait until he can’t breathe and then ship him off to the ICU. You intervene when the condition is mild.” (171)