The Lived Experiences of Older Women in Alcoholics Anonymous

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Virginia Tech

The purpose of this study was to describe, analyze, and better understand the lived experiences of women age 50 and older in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Guiding this inquiry were the following research questions: 1) How do the older women participants experience the AA program? 2) What aspects of AA do older women consider beneficial? 3) What aspects of AA do older women consider detrimental? 4) What do older women consider as important conditions to succeed in the AA program? 5) How did these older women elicit meaning in their involvement with AA? and 6) How was the narrative aspect of AA experienced by the participants?

Fourteen older women from AA meetings in Southwest Virginia participated in two qualitative interviews. The results were represented by narrative descriptions of each participan's experiences and analyzed for common themes across the stories, which were presented and discussed. For these participants, the AA program was found to intersect with narrative therapy. AA, like narrative therapy, highlights deconstructing and re-authoring life stories through personal narratives. Storytelling itself proved to be among the most important traditions of AA and a core benefit to the storyteller (and to a lesser extent, the listener). Study participants found that telling their stories allowed for 1) a way to give back to the program, 2) a feeling of belonging to the group, 3) a welcome reminder to the speaker of her past struggles with alcoholism, and 4) a spiritual experience. Many of the women articulated their early concerns with publicly sharing at meetings, as well as their ongoing considerations of boundaries, over-sharing, and conflicts of interest in storytelling. Finally, in an unexpected finding, the women cultivated and maintained intimate friendships with other women in AA that addressed relevant issues beyond sobriety including everyday needs and life challenges. Social activities often transcended the boundaries of the meetings.

Alcoholics Anonymous, AA, Older Women, Older Adults, Addiction, Gerontology, Alcoholism, Counseling, Narrative Therapy, Storytel