As many of you know, I’ve been looking into the SMART Recovery program for a while. 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 going to add this 1x/week meeting to my recovery program, and continue to go to my regular 3-4 AA meetings a week.
What appeals to me about the SMART program is that it’s based on the current thinking and research in addiction and cognitive/behavior strategies – something that unfortunately Alcoholics Anonymous has failed to fully embrace. Overall, the meeting was very similar to my counselor-led group sessions at Hazelden which I got a lot out of. My guess is it is also similar to most out-patient group sessions led by addiction counselors.
The meeting was held at an air-conditioned conference room at a local hospital. Definitely more comfortable than a stuffy, hot church basement. The meeting was led by a trained facilitator. He was an alcoholic, and I assume that he went through some type of SMART training to be certified as the group facilitator. Very nice guy and managed the meeting very well.
The first part of the meeting was a “check-in.” Everyone at the meeting had the opportunity to introduce themselves and speak for about 2 minutes or so about why you were at the meeting or how your week was (or anything bothering you for that matter). Unlike AA, there is no requirement that you have to identify yourself as an alcoholic, addict or any type of label. There seems to be quite a few folks very new to recovery, so I’m sure they didn’t necessarily feel comfortable labeling themselves an alcoholic or drug addict right from the start. I’m so used to AA that I introduced myself in the usual “Hi I’m Dick and I’m an alcoholic.” SMART meetings are open to any type of addict so there were folks there struggling with drugs, alcoholic, over-eating and some just dealing with severe depression or anxiety. It was an interesting mix of people struggling with addiction.
The second part of the meeting was a bit unstructured, and I think intentionally so. Unlike AA, at SMART meetings, cross-talk and a healthy back-and-forth is actually encouraged. The facilitator actually started asking me questions about my recent struggles. Whoa, I was a little taken off-guard, but it was a good thing. Some other folks chimed in with comments and questions – which were good and got me thinking about some things I wasn’t doing in my own recovery. One or two questions/comments were a bit off-target, but that’s the nature of the beast. Actually, there was this very annoying guy who kept interrupting me and others with inane comments. That doesn’t happen in AA, obviously. The discussion then took on an organic flavor with participants discussing such topics as dealing with drinking events, relapse, trying to stop cigarette smoking, and the benefits of psycho-therapy and anti-depressant medications.
The next part of the meeting was an exercise led by the facilitator. Using a white board, we did a Cost-Benefit Analysis of drinking/using versus not. We all threw out reasons why drinking was a “good thing” and benefited us – dulls pain, makes us feel good, increases sociability, it’s fun, we like it, etc. Then we brainstormed all the costs and downsides of drinking – unhealthy, financial ruin, harms loved ones, affects career, legal consequences, it’s a depressant, shame/guilt, makes us act irresponsibly, etc. Seeing all the reasons on the white board, it was, of course, a no-brainer that drinking/using provided far more in “cost” than “benefit.” This may be a “duh” moment for any “normie” but for us alcoholics, it was helpful to see it in writing in front of us.
The last part of the meeting was similar to the first, kind of like a recap. We went around and shared what we got out of the meeting and what we were looking forward to or what we intended to work on for the following week.
All in all, it was a positive experience, but I can already tell that for me, just using Smart alone, won’t cut it. I still need the AA fellowship and diversity of meetings, and I still need private therapy and the online recovery community as part of my own recovery program.
I received a handout at the end of the meeting which summarized the principles of the SMART Recovery program, which I’ll share here. It’s somewhat similar to the AA Twelve Steps but without the Higher Power/God piece. Some appealing ideas….
- Completely accept that you are fallible. Your fallibility including thinking in a manner that greatly hinders you in your individual pursuits and in relating to people with home you live, work and associate.
- Intensely focus on eliminating your emotional upsets quickly (as soon as they occur) and regularly (several times a week). Follow this practice to give yourself more freedom from self-defeat and toward happiness.
- Forgive yourself your mistakes. You will make many of them. Practice effective self-help techniques and you will eventually improve your behaviors and your abilities to change. Tolerate others’ shortcomings and forgive their mistakes. Keep your friendships even with their problems, because you won’t find any that do not have them.
- Accept that you are a creature who thrives on happiness, delight, joy, and love, and work to develop your ability to find and achieve these in as many ways as you can.
- Accept yourself with your mistakes and shortcomings.
- Work and practice, and you will eventually improve your abilities to change.
- If you have attended SMART Recovery meetings and found them helpful, continue to attend and help yourself and others.
- Continue your Rational-Emotive education through reading REBT books and other materials.
- Work on upsets quickly (as soon as they occur) using DIBs (Disputing Irrational Beliefs) and the other REBT techniques you have learned.
- Work and practice – practice and work!
- Absorb yourself in a long-term interest that brings you happiness!
I’m interested if anyone reading this blog has experience, good, bad or indifferent, with the SMART program. Comment below!
One day at a time, Dick