Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick couldn't cope with the fact that she was the first woman to receive the Fels Fellowship award at the University of Pennsylvania, so she went out and got drunk. Fearing that a mistake had been made and the funds to write her doctoral dissertation would be taken away, Dr. Kirkpatrick broke 3 years of sobriety with a drunk that lasted 13 years.
In Turnabout: New Help For The Woman Alcoholic, Jean Kirkpatrick describes these years, the self-destruction and how she finally was able to stop drinking.
With her own sobriety established by methods other than the traditional AA Program, Dr. Kirkpatrick formed the organization and Program, Women for Sobriety, Inc. in 1975 and has since devoted her life to helping women alcoholics.
Who would think that this dynamic, intelligent, energetic woman had a history of alcoholism with suicide attempts and a stay in a psychiatric hospital? What amazes Dr. Kirkpatrick is not that she was an alcoholic, but that in all the years of her drinking, not once was she diagnosed as alcoholic.
Coming from a small town in Eastern Pennsylvania (she has since put Quakertown on the map), Jean was the only child of a prominent family. All through her life she rebelled against authority and the existing systems. At 19 she eloped with a young man in the Signal Corps just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her husband was soon commissioned an officer and the young couple was stationed in numerous airbases in the West and Southwest. Jean says that this is where her serious drinking began. Although she was not yet deeply into alcoholism, the definite signs that she was well on her way were there.
After the war, like so many other wartime marriages, she found herself a young divorcee. She then entered Moravian College for Women, "Because it was the only college that would accept me, I had been thrown out of so many." She became an honor student and was elected to the Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges in 1950.
Dr. Kirkpatrick continued her education with a Masters Degree in English from Lehigh University in 1954 after having taught a year in a Kansas high school. In 1955, she entered the University of Pennsylvania's doctoral program and was awarded the Frances Sargent Pepper Fellowship, Bloomfield Moore Fellow; Joseph M. Bennett Fellowship, the University Women's Fellowship and was the University of Pennsylvania's Woman of the Year in 1958.
During the time of her doctoral work at the U of P, Dr. Kirkpatrick came to grips with her alcoholism, joined AA and was sober for 3 years. But the final award of the Fels Fellowship was the beginning of a final drinking bout that lasted for 13 years.
When she returned to AA 13 years later she wanted to hear new ideas and new things. AA just wasn't saying to her what she needed to hear. The fault was not with the AA Program but was in Jean's own need to know about herself. And so she continued to drink.
During this time Jean began to read more and more the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and other metaphysical writers. She began to see that by changing her thoughts she could change herself. By changing her thought when she was lonely or depressed, she would manage to string together 2 or 3 days of sobriety. Little by little these days became weeks and soon months. Finally, Jean Kirkpatrick, professional alcoholic was sober a year. Her sobriety was achieved by realizing that she was a capable woman and that all her problems were the creation of her own mind. Not that problems weren't there, but she was able to look at them differently and so create her own way of reacting to them or acting upon them.
At this time, her father died and she was forced to move in with her aging mother. Her father's estate was quite small and she was confronted with the fact that she would have to find some work to help support herself and her mother. She was over 45 with a Ph.D. in sociology and recovered woman alcoholic. The prospects of finding a job weren't good. She tried various means of self-employment, all of which failed. Then in 1973 Dr. Kirkpatrick realized that she was an expert in recovering from alcoholism by a means other than AA.
Her previous years in AA were spent working with women alcoholics. She had been sponsor to many, took the program to prisons and had planned to work with Marty Mann, Founder of NCA. And she was an expert on the female alcoholic being one herself. She had found her life's goal.
Armed with her own recovery and an instinctive knowledge that women alcoholics had special needs that must be met in order to overcome their alcoholism and have lasting sobriety, Dr. Kirkpatrick set about establishing the first self-help organization for women alcoholics, Women For Sobriety (WFS).
From the beginning she felt that women alcoholics had the same problems she did, i.e., little or no self-esteem, depression, loneliness and excessive feelings of guilt. She knew that she had found a way to overcome these feelings and felt other women would benefit from her experience.
In 1973 Dr. Kirkpatrick set her plan of recovery into an acceptance program that she called "New Life." She felt that New Life groups could meet in homes and women would practice the New Program. In 1975 the name of New Life was changed to "Women For Sobriety, Inc." and her program incorporated into the Thirteen Statements of Acceptance, the "New Life" Program.
In October of 1977, Woman's Day magazine ran an article, "When A Woman Drinks Too Much," that told of a woman's drinking problem and how she overcame her problem with a new Program, something different from AA. From this article came thousands of letters. In fact, letters still arrive stating they read about WFS in Woman's Day.
After hearing about WFS, an editor at Doubleday Books approached Jean to write a story about her alcoholism and her recovery. The printed copy of Turnabout is exactly as Jean wrote it –Doubleday editors did not edit the manuscript at all.
By this time, Jean had been quite used to public speaking, radio and TV interviews. After the UPI article, she was becoming a featured speaker at alcoholism conferences, a good person to interview on radio and TV talk shows and good newspaper space. People wanted to know about this attractive brunette woman and her horrible drinking past. They were also interested in learning about this new approach to recovery that was so different from AA. And women alcoholics and their families were writing letters to WFS at the rate of 100 letters a week for additional information about this Program.
In January 1978, Jean's book was released. She appeared on "The Today Show," "Good Morning America," and "To Tell The Truth" to name just a few TV shows. With her appearance on the "Phil Donahue Show", WFS received 500 letters a day for one week. Those letters expressed the views of women alcoholics across the country. They said, "Yes, that's what happened to me; your expressing exactly those things I feel and thank you for telling my story."
Women For Sobriety has received over 80,000 letters from women and their families. These letters show that what Jean felt from the beginning was true; women do have special problems in recovery and, in order for them to have lasting sobriety, programs for them must address these needs, especially the building of self-esteem.
Dr. Kirkpatrick is recognized as an expert on alcoholism in women. She has twice appeared before the Senate sub-committees testifying on the special needs of women alcoholics.
Since her recovery, Dr. Kirkpatrick has devoted herself tirelessly to the plight of the woman alcoholic. In June of 1978, the Moravian College Alumni Association awarded her their highest honor — The Raymond Hauper Humanitarian Award for her "outstanding service in the cause of human welfare." This award has only been given 3 times in the 145 year old history of the college.
The dream of Dr. Kirkpatrick to have women meet in self-help groups throughout the country has become a reality. To date there are over 300 groups in the United States, Canada, England, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and Finland. And more and more treatment facilities are using the Program every day. The daily mail speaks to the success of the Program and Dr. Kirkpatrick's work. Thousands of women have written to say that they have finally reached sobriety after years and years of being unsuccessful. Finally they have learned who they are and what they can do, and many end their letters with, "Thank you, Jean, for saving my life."
With WFS well established, Jean's work is only begun. The biggest problem facing WFS is financial. The organization exists by the sheer determination of its Board of Directors & Staff Members, the sale of literature and donations, group and private.
Addendum: On June 19, 2000, WFS's Founder, Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick passed away at the age of 77. Her life experiences and recovery journey, expressed so well in her books and the WFS Program, have had such a personal and positive impact on many women alcoholics. Her greatest heart's desire was to see that WFS continue after her passing so that not one single woman would have to take the journey to recovery alone. On behalf of the WFS Board of Directors and Staff Members, we are dedicated and committed to keeping the WFS Program available for all those seeking help from their addictions.