Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Leisure of Women Caring for People Harmfully Involved with Alcohol, Drugs, and Gambling

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Leisure of Women Caring for People Harmfully Involved with Alcohol, Drugs, and Gambling

Article excerpt


Harmful involvement (HI) with alcohol, drugs and gambling has a wide range of health implications. The harms experienced by family and friends (concerned significant other(s) [CSO]) can be as significant as the harms experienced by the person(s) harmfully involved (PHI) (Suman & Nagalakshmi, 1996). Evidence suggests a CSO may greatly support the achievement of a loved one's recovery-related goals (Biegel, Katz-Saltzman, Meeks, Brown & Tracy, 2010; Biegel, Ishler, Katz, & Johnson, 2007; Copello, Velleman & Templeton, 2005). Most research and treatment focuses on the CSO's ability to support the PHI's recovery, prioritizing the health of PHI over the CSO (Csiernik, 2002). In Canada and elsewhere, the experience of the CSO has been overlooked by researchers and service providers alike (Csiernik, 2002; Orford, Velleman, Natera, Templeton & Copello, 2013). Explorations of the interactions between the PHI and CSO seldom recognize the caregiving within these messy, turbulent, and complicated relationships.

This study explored the leisure of women caring for PHI with alcohol, drugs, and gambling in Nova Scotia, Canada. Acts of caregiving within these relationships are compared to those caring for family and friends with other illnesses or disabilities. Important in this comparison is the women's ability to use leisure to cope with their caregiving roles, enhance self-actualization, and strengthen their relationships. Three themes represent the challenges and opportunities the women experienced in their leisure: Loss of leisure, negotiation of leisure, and leisure as escape.

Feminism is at a critical moment. Gains have been made, but new gaps emerge with each renegotiation of power. Although the ability to care is "a defining feature of human beings as important as [our] capacity for rationality" it is undervalued, oppressive, and viewed as women's work (Noddings, 1984 p. 3). This article highlights how the women and contextual factors (e.g., caregiving, HI, societal expectations) shape leisure and ultimately influence health.

Literature Review

Deconstructing Care

Understood as an emotion and an activity, the construct of care is a complex, shared, and reciprocal experience that influences the self-perception and social relationships of both caregiver and receiver (Armstrong & Armstrong, 2001; Graham, 1983; Ungerson, 1983). The act of caring for someone is often intertwined with social and/or relationship norms and expectations constructed through gender socialization; evidence clearly shows it influences how a person spends his or her time (Pearlin, Mullan, Semple & Skaff, 1990; Gahagan, Loppie, Rehman, MacLelian & Side, 2007; Ungerson, 1983). The influence of the experience of caring about is less understood. Giving support is often inaccurately assumed to be of little consequence to a caregiver's psychological health (Stranzdins & Broom, 2007), but even in the absence of physical care, caregiving can be a consuming, full-time experience. The inaccurate assumption of emotional caregiving as "natural, discretionary, effortless and without consequence" fails to recognize the labour involved and potential negative health implications (Stranzdins & Broom, 2004, p. 375). Caregiving has the potential to be problematic when established contextual relationship norms are altered and result in an unequal distribution of burden (Pearlin et al, 1990). Caregivers may simultaneously feel emotions that confuse and contradict (i.e., love, anger, resentment) and relinquish their own needs to fulfill the expectations of being a caregiver, thus changing how they act, think, value personal needs and spend their time.

From childhood, women are often socialized to define themselves in the context of both their human relationships and their ability to care (Gilligan, 1982). Reinforced over the life course, care work offers women the opportunity to affirm their sense of self. …

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