downloadAfter 4 years of Alcoholics Anonymous, and yet another relapse over this summer, I feel that I have very little to show for all my efforts. And I have made a gargatuan effort in my eyes. I have attended over 1,000 meetings of all different types. I attended Hazelden’s 30 day inpatient program which is 12 step based. I go to 5-7 meetings per week. I have a home group. I’ve made coffee, and swept floors. I have a sponsor. I’ve worked the 12 steps with a men’s Big Book step study group. I did a long and comprehensive 4th and 5th step with my group and sponsor. I also see a private therapist, and do boxing several times a week for exercise.

I’ve had over 1,000 days of sobriety, so it’s not as though I’ve been a total failure. But in the eyes of AA, I’m at day 1 and have to get a 24 hour coin.

Is it time to switch to SMART Recovery up and leave AA? Maybe.

As an atheist (and otherwise intelligent, educated, and logical human being), I have never bought into the dogmatic foundations of the AA program — that you need a Higher Power (preferably God) and have to pray everyday to get sober; that you have a multitude of “character defects;” that you are powerless and have to surrender your will to God, and that if you slip, you have to humiliate yourself, head down, shoulders sunk, in front of a roomful of people by getting a “24 hour” coin (which I’ve done several times much to my chagrin). I’ve written about these struggles here.

Indeed, at virtually every AA meeting, I often cringe at what I hear from people and read in the literature. I just cannot relate and buy in to AA’s fundamental principles. I feel that a lot of people, especially the old timers, lecture the newcomers or people who are struggling under the guise of “these are only suggestions” (which is total b.s.) And no, I’m not going to take the cotton out of my ears and stuff it into my mouth, as they say. I have a right to speak my mind and say what I want to say. I’m also not going to accept a Higher Power as a tree or “Group of Drunks.” That makes no sense to me.

If addiction is truly a mental disease (as it has proven to be) on par with any other mental disorder, why would someone need to accept God to recovery from it? Makes zero sense to me. Do people with bipolar or OCD need to accept God in order to get better. Show me a peer reviewed study which shows that. In fact, show me a real study which proves that AA has a higher success rate than spontaneous remission? On second thought, let’s not go there.

Often, I leave AA meetings feeling worse than when I came in. I often spend half my time at the meetings disputing what I’m hearing, and that’s not very productive. Granted, I often feel better too at certain meetings.

I consider myself a fairly educated and intelligent person, and truth be told, I believe in science over God. I believe in facts, research and data over the Big Book. I’ve always felt that over the last 4 years.

Now I’m not saying that AA does not work. In no way am I bashing AA. It definitely works for people. I’m just not sure it has worked for me. I’ve given it 4 years now.

It’s my program and my life. I want something that’s going to work, and yes, I’m willing to put the work in. I also take full responsibilty for my relapses. I’m not blaming AA. I’m simply looking for the best solution.

This past week I attended the local SMART Recovery meeting. I went to this same meeting a few years back when there was only a handful of attendees. At that time, I concluded that it was too small and could not replace AA. Well, to my delightful surprise, the meeting had grown to about 40 people. It was a fantastic meeting.

We did an actual whiteboard exercise (right up my analytical alley) about triggers and cost-benefit of drinking. I still have the image of the cost-benefit analysis in my head, several days later.

During “check-in” no one was forced to first “admit” they were an “alcoholic” or “addict” or other derogatory description. People just said, “I have a problem with alcohol and I’m here to get help.” (Ironically, I did identify myself as a alcoholic out of habit!). Where the meeting got interesting was during this discussion, where a certain level of cross talk is allowed. One woman fresh out of rehab had relapsed and people were asking her questions about it, what triggered it, etc. Anyways, after several back and forth’s, and peeling back of the onion, it turns out that the woman had been abused and that’s been the root cause of her drinking — she never really put one and one together. That could never happen at an AA meeting.

After the meeting, I was talking to another AA ex-patriot who has been transitioning out of AA from SMART. We both commiserated about the same issues we have with AA, and he said he has never felt so much relief now attending Smart.

All I know is that I felt great after the meeting. I didn’t spend half the time arguing in my head about how illogical the principles were (because…wait for it…they are based on actual science and research) and most importantly, I felt a huge sense of hope and relief, that I’ve found a program that will work for me.

I don’t know whether I’m going to quit AA cold turkey. I have so many friends there and there are some “liberal” meetings I attend where people aren’t so dogmatic–it’s almost like a SMART meeting without the whiteboard. But I’m going to start attending more SMART meetings and getting into their workshop materials, website, etc. Hey, maybe some day I can apply to be a facilitator. I think I would really enjoy and get a lot out of that!

Anyways, I would love to hear any of your thoughts and similar (or different) experiences.


Program-Spotlight-Relapse-Prevention-Program-RPP-Summit-HelpsI’ve been in recovery for about 4 years now and have dealt with several relapses, even though I’ve done the Steps, go to 5-7 meetings per week and see a therapist.

Fortunately, my relapses have been very short lived and I’ve gotten right back into the program. However, each relapse has caused major problems and most importantly they have destroyed the trust I’ve worked so hard to build with my wife and family. It’s like taking two steps backward for every one step forward. It sucks. Big time.

Why did I relapse? Why do people in recovery relapse? Addiction scholars have written books on this subject. There are no easy answers to the question.

For me, I’ve usually relapsed when I was feeling very good, and often to celebrate and reward myself for some job well done — usually after a big win in court or a big closing deal. For normal people, this sounds completely insane, but for alcoholics and addicts, they understand. I’ve relapsed because the cravings to drink have taken up way too much space in my brain, and I did not “rat myself out” to my AA group, sponsor and therapist, allowing the cravings to become overwhelming. I would try to ride them out myself, and “out-think” them, but eventually they got me. I’ve relapsed because my disease tried (successfully) to convince me that my drinking wasn’t that bad and that I did not deserve to be an alcoholic. We call that the “built-in forgetter.” I’ve relapsed because I’ve slacked on meetings and didn’t make my recovery program the #1 priority in my life. I’ve relapsed because I made the conscious decision to pick up a drink, despite all the negative consequences.

People in meetings often say that at some point the obsession and compulsion to drink has miraculously gone away. Well, that has not been my experience. The craving to drink has never gone away, and I can tell you that I think about some aspect of drinking just about every single day. But it’s not like the craving itself is going to kill me. Yes, it’s distressful and frustrating, but it does go away eventually (and returns as well).

The most important thing about relapse, in my humble opinion, is to learn from the mistake and try not to make the same mistake again. It sucks big time to have to get a 24 hour coin (a topic for another post), but you don’t lose all those days of sobriety, and your foundation, while temporarily cracked, can be rebuilt, even stronger. Keep on getting back on the beam. Don’t quit!

I would love to hear from any of you who have dealt with relapses. Why did you relapse? And how have you come back and learned from them?



Use This Popular Recovery Slogan Next Time You Think About Drinking

“Play the tape forward” is a popular recovery saying. It means that when you are romanticizing the drink or remembering the “good old days” when drinking was fun, go ahead and play the tape forward and think about what has happened the last few times you drank or used or how your life got completely messed up by your drinking. My guess is you probably didn’t have that much fun at the end.

I know how easy it is to slip into that daydream-like thought pattern where I envision a pristine Caribbean beach and sand and those two frosty Coronas sitting on a bamboo table topped with limes. Jesus, it’s making my mouth water just writing this!

People in recovery say that alcoholics have a “built-in forgetter.” Meaning that we are quick to forget the bad times, but always recall the good times. Some people say that’s your disease or addiction talking to you. It wants you to drink, to feed the monster.

For me, there’s a ton on the line if I were to pick up a drink. Literally my life, my marriage, career, relationship with my kids, everything.

Would you be willing to give up everything in your life for just one drink? Think about that question the next time you are at a crossroads.



Recovery Groups Offer Sober Concert Support

In addition to being a person in recovery, I am a recovering Deadhead. As they say, there’s nothing like a Grateful Dead show, hanging out in the parking lot with the flower children and hippies and dancing to a scorching rendition of Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain. However, Dead shows are filled with people drinking, smoking pot and tripping on LSD. A slippery environment for any sober person, to say the least….

Now that I’m sober, I’ve come to find out that there are many sober folks still enjoying great music at concerts and there are recovery groups organized for each band, with tables set up outside the show and even recovery meetings held during set breaks. How cool is that!

The oldest of the groups are the Wharf Rats affiliated with the Grateful Dead, named after the song Wharf Rat about a down-and-out wino named August West. The Wharf Rats began during the 1980s and are not affiliated with AA, NA, or any other twelve-step program, though many are members of those 12 step groups. The Wharf Rats see themselves as “a group of friends sharing a common bond, providing support, information and some traction in an otherwise slippery environment.”

The Wharf Rats also have a very active presence on Facebook through a closed group.

With the Grateful Dead 50 Year Anniversary concerts coming up this summer in Santa Clara and Chicago, the Wharf Rats will be out in full force. I would venture to guess that a lot of Deadhead who grew up drinking and doing drugs in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s have kicked the habit and are in recovery now.

Although I won’t be able to attend any of the Dead-50 shows, I may catch them on pay-per-view. I hear some drive in theaters will be broadcasting the shows.

Any Wharf Rats or Deadhead reading this going to the shows? How do you plan to guard your sobriety at the concerts?

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debt-collector-madThe Lawyerist just posted a great article entitled “How to Stay Married to a Lawyer.”  Although the article is a form of marriage counseling, it really resonated with me as a person suffering from addiction. Our career choice is so emotionally draining that often our relationships suffer. Add alcoholism to the mix, and it’s a miracle that any marriage or relationship can survive! Here are a few great excerpts from the article:

One of the most prominent stressors I’ve noticed is that my husband constantly has people upset with him. There seems to be very little reward in the daily grind. He or she has clients who are hurting and confused, and they look to Brian to magically solve their ailments. Understandably, they are upset when he cannot fix their problems, or it takes a long time to fix their problems. Then, in court, he has opposing counsel and judges who seem to be upset with him (there probably isn’t anything personal there, but the nature of the courtroom is adversarial). So all day long, he deals with people being upset with him. It is like a glorified customer service representative position, which takes its toll on my husband.

Wow, can I relate to this especially in my litigation practice. It seems no one is ever happy with us. And getting some congratulations or recognition? Forget about it!

Most clients do not visit lawyers to share happy news. Inevitably, they come to us with a problem, and the client wants the lawyer to make it go away. Often, the cases we are working on have a lot at stake. This pressure is extremely stressful because so much of what we are expected to do is completely out of our control. A lawyer can prepare day and night, work around the clock, try his or her absolute best, and still lose. But lawyers are expected to deliver a win regardless of the lack of control a lawyer has over opposing counsel, her client, the judge, and the jury.

The lack of control piece has always been a huge issue for me generally and with my addiction. I used to get so high with the wins and so low with the losses, not realizing that in reality I really didn’t have any control over the outcome. Now, I just put in my very best effort and let the chips fall where they may. If I win, great. If I lose, I don’t jump off a bridge. Meetings and talking about this daily grind help a lot.

The article goes on to suggest mindfulness and acceptance. Hmmm, does that sound familiar to anyone in a recovery program? Anyways, the article is a great read.

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Boxing: My Newest Recovery Tool

February 22, 2015

One of the best recovery tools that does not get its rightful due in the debate among the popular treatment options is exercise. Hundreds of studies have found a positive link between exercise and reducing depression, the most recent coming from Sweden which found that well-trained skeletal muscles may provide the brain with an edge over stress, and ultimately engender […]

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My Morning Motivation | Sober by Gareth Bowler

January 19, 2015

Hey fellow friends in recovery. I wanted to share a great short documentary I stumbled across by Irish filmmaker Gareth Bowler entitled “SOBER.” I’ve been watching this as part of my “morning inspiration” even in the car (shush, don’t tell!). I just love the story, dramatic soundtrack, and especially the inspirational message of keeping going […]

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Surviving the Holidays Sober and In Recovery

November 29, 2014

So here we are two days after Thanksgiving. Did you make it through in one piece? For many people in recovery and who are actively drinking, this is the hardest time of the year to get through. Thanksgiving — Christmas — New Year’s. Hey, it drives “normal” people to throw punches at Walmart over big […]

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Philip Seymour Hoffman and Why Addiction Isn’t A Choice

February 3, 2014

When I saw the news that Philip Seymour Hoffman lost his long-time struggle with addiction to a heroin overdose, I audibly gasped “Oh, no!” at my Twitter feed. Lost in the unanswerable why, things were a blur for a few minutes after that. I posted on my personal Facebook feed about how sorry I was […]

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Put Ego and Analytics Aside, Lawyers In Recovery

January 1, 2014

A great many of us lawyers have strong egos and sharp analytical minds. That’s what makes us talented litigators and corporate attorneys. But those two traits are huge liabilities in recovery. It certainly has been for me. An over-inflated ego makes it much more difficult to achieve humility and identify with others in the recovery […]

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Can A Puppy Help You Stay Sober?

October 21, 2013

I don’t know the “official” answer to that, but it sure does help! We just got a new puppy a few weeks ago — an adorable mini-golden doodle. Her name is Lucy. I have to tell ya that having a cute little puppy in the house does wonders for my sobriety. Puppies and dogs live […]

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Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Yikes! Is Summer Over Yet?

August 13, 2013

Hey there! It’s been a long time since the last post. My apologies. Life gets in the way. Anyways… For me, summer is always a very difficult time for my recovery. Everyone seems to be out drinking and partying. Tiki bars, cold beers, margaritas, pina coladas, whatever, it’s out there in the open during the […]

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The Sober Lawyer’s Personal 12 Steps

January 26, 2013

My therapist told me to craft my own version of the Twelve (12) Steps since I am always pointing out the illogic in several of the Steps. I’m not trying to replace AA’s 12 Steps, but rather, formulate my own personal set of steps or guidelines for my own recovery. Each person has a unique […]

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Reflecting On The Sandy Hook Shooting

December 16, 2012

As the horrible details started to emerge from Sandy Hook, CT on Friday, the pit in my stomach grew more painful. My productively and concentration level at work became less and less. I was holding back tears all day. I drove home with my dad who had not heard all the details. When he learned […]

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A Lawyer’s Life Cut Short

November 27, 2012

Hey there. I haven’t posted in a long, long time. Life, work, family just got in the way. Quick update. Things are going well. Still sober and very much active in AA/recovery. Still haven’t got my head around the AA dogma, nor do I think I will ever really. Heading to my favorite speaker discussion […]

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Hijacking The Brain: The Science Behind 12 Step Programs

September 3, 2012

Hijacking The Brain, How Drug and Alcohol Addiction Hijacks our Brains – The Science Behind Twelve-Step Recovery During my time-off, I read this amazing book called Hijacking The Brain, by Louis Teresi, M.D., a Harvard neuro-scientist and also a recovering alcoholic. This book, for me, was like a gift from heaven. As you could tell […]

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Stacking Meetings Before Starting A Big Trial

July 30, 2012

Just a quick note because I’m crazy busy at work preparing for a big jury trial starting next Monday. I’ve been “stacking” up meetings — which around here means simply going to more meetings than usual for a particular reason. So I’ve been hitting around 5-6 meetings/ per week, up from my usual 3-4. My […]

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My First SMART Recovery Meeting

July 14, 2012

As many of you know, I’ve been looking into the SMART Recovery program. I wrote about it previously in this post, Is Smart Recovery A Smart Choice For for An Alcoholics Anonymous Member? I can say that for this alcoholic, it was a smart choice, and I got a lot out of it. I’m just […]

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Struggling, So Time To Make Some Changes

July 11, 2012

With the nice summer weather upon us and the abundance of parties, I have been having a hard time. July 4th weekend was particularly difficult. A cold beer would have really hit the spot…. I’ve determined that my current program needs some changes. I’m going to get a new sponsor.  I have fallen out of […]

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Enjoying The Good Life…Managing Quick Success In Early Recovery

June 18, 2012

My sponsor texted me the other day: “You alive? Still sober?” I had to laugh because I just got back from the most fantastic family vacation to Disney World in Florida. I replied, “Yes, very much so!” (On a side note, DisneyWorld is an awesome venue for a sober vacation, especially if you have kids. […]

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Reflections On Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino Getting Sober

May 22, 2012

“The Situation” Sobers Up Get More: Music News   If you don’t know who Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino is from MTV’s Jersey Shore reality show, you’ve lived under a rock for the last few years. The show is a maelstrom of booze, partying and debauchery depicting the lives of a bunch of 20 year olds […]

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Wreckage Of The Past: The Double-Edged Sword

May 16, 2012

Just a quick blog before I leave for our Disney family vacation (which is directly related to my sobriety!). Last night at my favorite AA meeting — a speaker discussion — the topic was our past. For me, my past, and its associated wreckage, is a double edged sword. On the one hand, I still […]

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De-bunking Powerlessness: I Have Power Over My Choice To Remain Sober

May 14, 2012

The first part of Step 1 of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous states that “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol.” There is a lot of talk in AA meetings about the concept of powerlessness and what it is. Being the over-analytic attorney that I am, I often find myself trying to figure out […]

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Balancing A Busy Lawyer’s Work Schedule And Recovery

May 9, 2012

I just finished a crazy week of preparing for a big trial. It’s one of the busiest and stressful times for any trial lawyer. This case involved mold exposure so I had to become an expert on toxic mold and analysis. Plus I had to deal with an extremely emotional and stressed out client. So […]

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Anger Management and Emails: Pausing Before Hitting “Send”

May 2, 2012

I’m now in my 5th month of sobriety, and I still get pissed off at certain things. Maybe more pissed off now as I don’t have the alcohol to dull my pissed-off-ness. Being a lawyer and getting pissed off from time to time go hand in hand, unfortunately. There are a ton of jerks who […]

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Is Facebook Bad For Early Addiction and Alcoholism Recovery?

April 22, 2012

Pictures Of Cocktails And Drunk Karaoke On My News Feed Will Be Blocked! My usual Sunday morning internet routine consists of checking my Facebook feed from the night before — Saturday night — an often dreaded night for those in early recovery. (I always go to my Saturday Night Live AA meeting, so I’m always […]

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Is SMART Recovery A Smart Choice For An Alcoholic Anonymous Member?

April 21, 2012

Differences and Similarities Between SMART Recovery & Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) My previous post about the Huff Post hit piece on AA has made me start reading more about the different alcohol recovery programs. I have all the respect for AA and its fellowship, but it was written in 1937 without the benefit of the last […]

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Trepidation On The Eve of My First Sober Business Trip

April 9, 2012

Later in the week, I’m heading out of town for 3 days for some depositions. It’s definitely giving me the heeby-jeebies. Not that I’m going to drink or anything, but it’s just being out of my routine and my comfort zone that causes me anxiety. I’m having dinner with my clients on the first night […]

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Recognized As “Blog of the Month” In Sober Bloggers Directory!

April 5, 2012

Very unexpectedly, I received word that the editors of the fantastic Sober Bloggers Directory selected this Blog as a featured “blog of the month”! The Sober Bloggers Directory is, by far, the best compilation of sober blogs out there. I recommend it very much. Also check out their Sober Sites Blog which also features sober […]

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Helping Another Alcoholic And Hitting 100 Days

April 4, 2012

Recently, I’ve been helping another alcoholic get into the program. I’ll call him “Mike.” I’ve kind of become his de facto sponsor although due to my limited sobriety I’m not qualified to be his sponsor. I’ve been trying to get him a real sponsor, but I’m not sure if he’s ready. Anyways, the situation presented […]

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Huff Post Therapist Doesn’t Know Diddly About Alcoholics Anonymous

March 30, 2012

My Thoughts On Huff Post Therapist’s Criticism Of Alcoholics Anonymous Laura Tompkins is a “certified addiction specialist” who blogs at the Huffington Post. She just penned a slam piece against all that is “negative” and “wrong” about Alcoholics Anonymous, entitled, appropriately enough, Is Alcoholics Anonymous Negativity Based? Ms. Tompkins repeats some of the same tired […]

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Back From The Brink: Reflections On Relapse

March 14, 2012

As I approach 90 days of sobriety — for the 3rd time — I was going through my computer and came across an email I sent to my mom, dad and brother two days after I relapsed. For me, it’s very powerful and emotional. I was a train-wreck. Despite how good I feel now, I […]

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On Being A Jewish Alcoholic: My Spiritual Journey Continues

March 11, 2012

“Religion is for folks who don’t want to go to Hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.” –Anonymous I’m Jewish. At least in my area, which has a decent Jewish population, there are only a handful of Jewish folks in A.A. I definitely feel in the minority, and I’ve felt a bit of […]

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1705 Hours Sober, But Who’s Counting?

March 6, 2012
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It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged here. Too long, actually. As my handy AA iPhone app tells me, I’ve been sober for 71 days, 2.33 months, or 1705 hours. But who’s keeping track?! So what’s been going on with my recovery? Well, not much other than staying sober. So that’s a good thing, actually. I’ve […]

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Power In Numbers: Why I Think Alcoholics Anonymous Works

February 20, 2012

Forget All The Myths Surrounding The Program: It’s All About The Fellowship (For Me) Have you ever tried to do something really hard? Perhaps lose weight, start a new fitness program or stop smoking? Did someone else help you or support you? Was it less difficult with someone’s help and support who accomplished what you […]

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Hazelden’s William Moyers Talks About Whitney Houston and Prescription Pill Addiction

February 17, 2012

I’d like to share this interesting CNN interview with William Cope Moyers, the VP of Public Affairs of the Hazelden Foundation (where I sought treatment) about what is sobriety today and the increase in prescription pill addiction in the aftermath of Whitney Houston’s death.  You should also check out Moyer’s awesome book, Broken.

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For My Wife On Valentine’s Day

February 15, 2012

I wrote this note to my wife on Valentine’s Day, and just wanted to share… To My Valentine: Words cannot express how much your support and love has meant to me over these challenging months. You took care of the family admirably and courageously while I was in the throes of my addiction, and when […]

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We Are Only One Drink Or Drug Away From Being Whitney Houston

February 14, 2012

Renew Magazine had an interesting perspective on Whitney Houston’s untimely passing today in an article appropriately titled, No Lesson, Just Loss In Whitney Houston’s Death: When it comes to addiction, we are all just another drink or drug away from ending up just like Houston. And so the recovery blogs and comments online and in […]

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Sometimes In Recovery, You Just Have To Say “No Thanks”

February 9, 2012
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My family put together a nice dinner at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse (which I love) last weekend for my mom’s 65th birthday. They asked me a while ago if it would be OK for me, and I initially said yes. They said no one would order alcohol at the table. As the dinner approached, I become […]

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My Difficulty With Finding A Higher Power

February 3, 2012
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“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” –Step 2, Alcoholics Anonymous For my Step 2 work, my sponsor told me to write a blog entry on my ongoing difficulty with the Higher Power concept. Like most new AA members, this is very hard for me. And as an […]

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