Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Freedom and the F-word

Something that I'm learning from all the reading, listening and watching that I'm doing about addiction is that there is no convenient, one-explanation-fits-all reason for why people drink, use drugs or develop other harmful addictions. It differs for everybody, and involves a wide range of issues that compound and complicate each other. What this says to me, more than anything, is that we need an holistic approach to freeing ourselves from addictions; a problem with more than one cause needs more than one perspective looking for solutions. Which is essentially a long winded way of introducing the idea that addiction is a feminist issue, and that learning about and supporting feminism can make a huge difference in the journey to freeing ourselves. 

Now, before I go any further, I know that some people feel uncomfortable with the word 'feminist', because they either don't know or have misunderstood what it means. So I'm just going to quickly clear that up by saying that feminists want equality for women. All women. That's it. What it doesn't mean is that women are better than men, that feminists hate men or that men do not get affected by the same issues as women. The patriarchy is fucking us all, in a myriad of ways; creating a society which actively encourages people into addictions is just one. 

That's right gang, Sherlock Holmes is a feminist! (You're welcome by the way.)
As per usual, it was while listening to a podcast that I saw this link clearly for the first time. It was Ways To Change The World, by Krishnan Guru-Murthy. Anyone growing up in the UK in the 90s might remember him presenting Newsround, the news show for kids on BBC - he is the first newsreader I have memories of and therefore find him both trustworthy and nostalgic, so when I saw he had a podcast I had to download it. He was interviewing Jameela Jamil, whom I have never heard of because I don't watch TV and am over 20, but who I now have an uber-feminist-crush on. She is intelligent, articulate, funny and passionate about making the world better for women and young girls - my kinda woman. She talked a lot about how the media, in its variety of evolving forms, from television and movies to magazines and now the insanity of social medias, erodes self esteem, mainly of women. Women are recognised for how they look rather than any other achievements, unattainable airbrushed bodies are held up as desirable, and the criticism of celebrities for looking less than perfect sends the message that if you, the reader, are not perfect then you too are failing. 

When I think back to why I started drinking, I realise that a lot of it was down to low self esteem, feelings of worthlessness and being uncomfortable in my own skin. Why did I feel this way, and when did it start? Even young children are bombarded with images that can affect their self-esteem, as beautiful kids laugh and play in adverts and shows, while those with glasses, braces, or body shapes outside of the 'normal' are depicted as the losers, geeks and loners. At one point or another in my childhood and early teens, I had some or all of those 'outsider' traits. I think around 14 might have been the worst age for me - I had train tracks, glasses and had cut all my hair off. Awkward doesn't begin to describe it. I definitely didn't look like any of the young women in the magazines I had just started reading, with their perfect skin, shiny hair and skinny bodies. 

This bombardment only gets worse and worse as we get older. Now, not only must women have flawless bodies, they must also have a spectacular career and all the children. Yet they must achieve this in a world of glass ceilings, unequal pay and gendered views on who stays at home with the kids. We're being set an impossible task, and when we inevitably fail to live up to the patriarchy's expectations we feel like shit. And when we feel like shit, we self-medicate. 

If it feels exhausting just looking at this, imagine what it must be like to live it.

Think about every time you've drunk or used drugs because you were feeling awkward, out of place or uncomfortable. Because you were worried you weren't funny enough, or interesting enough, or that no one would like you because you're not pretty enough. I drank to give myself confidence, and smoking weed was so wrapped up in my identity that I felt like it was all I had to offer - if I didn't have green to share no one would like me, and if I wasn't stoned then I wouldn't be fun to be around. I dread to think how much time, money and energy I've wasted in the pursuit of these drugs. Time that could have been spent showing up as the best possible version of myself so I can get some serious shit done. 

This isn't just about addiction either. It's so much bigger than that. Imagine a world in which a woman's worth is measured by what she has achieved, her compassion and contribution to the world, rather than how big her breasts are or how much she weighs. Imagine you didn't have to worry about what you looked like, about whether you were wearing jeans that made your arse look too big, or if you didn't have to spend time and money making your face into a 'better' version of the one you already have (but your male colleagues don't have to)? Think how much more time and energy you would have. Now, what if EVERY woman had that extra time and energy? What amazing things could we get done? 

Recently I had to go to a big chain chemist, and as always when I walk through stores like this I'm shocked and amazed by just how many things there are in there, almost all of them exclusively marketed to women, that are for the alteration or 'improvement' of our bodies. Change your hair colour, your skin colour, the colour of your nails. Remove hair from parts of your body with a variety of methods, but add it to your head or your eyelashes. 900 different products for your skin - scrub it, mask it, cleanse it, tone it, all to counteract the effects of covering it with make up all day every day. Not only do these products cost money and take up time to use, they contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment and are packaged in huge amounts of plastic. 

Over the last few years I have been trying hard to improve my self esteem, which has meant a lot of work on accepting myself for who and what I am. A big part of this has been letting go of a lot of things I did without thinking, because it's what I've always done or it's what everyone else does, and learning to like my body how it is. I stopped shaving my legs two years ago, and now the hair under my arms is longer than the hair on my head because I'm rocking a buzzcut (not having hair to wash, brush or worry about makes van living so much easier. Plus, bald women are awesome!). News flash - women's bodies grow hair. Why should I spend my precious time and hard earned money on fighting nature, especially when it is only required of one gender? It took a while to become confident and comfortable about it, but I soon realised that no one cares if I have hairy legs, and if they do it's 100% their issue, not mine. I've stopped wearing makeup for much the same reason, as well as caring about the excessive packaging and the profiting of massive corporations from the insecurity of women that they have created through advertising. 

So as I walked through the chemist, I felt a real sense of freedom; I don't need any of this stuff. Nothing terrible has happened because I no longer use foundation or buy razors. I have saved a lot of money though, and freed up a lot of time, some of which I have used to write this blog and hopefully help people. Which is more than shaving your pits will do, I can tell you. 

Change is slowly coming - look at the #metoo movement, or the increase in body positive role models. But this is a huge fight, especially as younger and younger people have access to smart phones and social media. If we don't want to create another generation of self-medicators, we need to change the messages they are being fed and we need to change the way we view and value women. In her interview, Jameela Jamil said the best weapon we have is information, and I agree. Read, listen (especially to this podcast!) and learn, and start asking questions. Why are we being distracted by such pointlessness? Why is that marketing campaign using those words and images? What are they trying to get you to think or feel? Challenge damaging attitudes towards women wherever you see them, and as always share your stories with whoever will listen, and even those who won't. But most importantly, start loving yourself just as you are. 

Because you're worth it.


If you can relate to what you've just read, let's continue the conversation! Sharing stories is one of our most powerful tools, so leave a comment below, check out the FREEDOM junkies' facebook page, or join our group.


  1. The wonderful Ems was featured here: https://youtu.be/VXrNKCqj-Bc

  2. The above link is for our friend Mikko's awesome video blog about life in his RV - check it out, it's really fun!