My First SMART Recovery Meeting

by Dick on July 14, 2012 · 17 comments

in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Alcoholism, Recovery, SMART Recovery, Treatment

smart recoveryAs 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 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 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 and related issues.

The second part of the meeting was more unstructured. 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 know-it-all 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.

I would say that SMART’S allowing of cross-talk was the most negative part of the meeting. If the facilitator isn’t strong, the meeting could get hijacked by an individual and that would be unfortunate.

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….

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Accept yourself with your mistakes and shortcomings.
  6. Work and practice, and you will eventually improve your abilities to change.
  7. If you have attended SMART Recovery meetings and found them helpful, continue to attend and help yourself and others.
  8. Continue your Rational-Emotive education through reading REBT books and other materials.
  9. Work on upsets quickly (as soon as they occur) using DIBs (Disputing Irrational Beliefs) and the other REBT techniques you have learned.
  10. Work and practice – practice and work!
  11. 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

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  • http://belowhermeans.com/ B. (Below Her Means)

    I’m so intrigued. I need to find one of these in my area.

  • Lawyer in Recovery

    I am going to try a SMART meeting. Why not add as much support as possible? Thanks for informing me as I never even knew it existed as Hazelden only endorses AA.

    • Aasux

      Hazelden only endorses AA because they a LOT of $$$$ with this disease crap.

      http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-letters329.html#soberlawyer

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1395337755 Claire Saenz

      Yeah, it’s really too bad that some of the big 12 step based rehabs keep alternative support groups like SMART a big secret–or worse, lie to people and tell them that 12 step is the only thing that works! Recovery is not one-size-fits all. Let folks know all the options, and let them decide for themselves. There’s plenty of recovery to go around!

  • http://twitter.com/escapeNihilism .

    great blog man. cool to see you’re willing to check out other recovery programs. I too like the fellowship of AA but find the SMART program more appealing to me than the 12 steps. have you heard of Rational Recovery / AVRT?

  • lawmom

    I have been to SMART meetings both in person and online. I really like the approach. Unfortunately, the only meeting in my state is over an hour away, so I am now going to some AA meetings as well. I think there is room for both programs in my recovery. I take what I need from both, and leave the rest.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1395337755 Claire Saenz

      You can always go to a SMART Recovery meeting, online. There are at least two online meetings every day!

      • Deanosober

        Been in and out of AA for years with a few years of sobriety in there. It always boils down to the same old thing. The contradictions between what they say and how they act. I personally have no problem with a religious approach, but the out right lie that there is no religion… There definitely is religion /doctrine and even Dogma (I cannot stand to be expected to pretend something is different than it really is. ) . They talk about all the love and care they have for you until you give the slightest hint of having an idea or thought that isn’t exactly the way they say it must be then you are immediately shut down and shunned. Also they say read the first 164pages and that’s what you need…. Really, what about all the stuff they put on you that’s not in the first 164 pages? .

        The old timers. Those guys that have been around forever and who get treated like elders of a church. They even fulfill their perverted needs by taking advantage of the new convert and his or her vulnerable emotional state.

        Then there’s the sponsor. A very good idea really. Even in the Army we were assigned battle buddies. It’s good to have somebody to be accountable to and good to promote members to help each other, but the sponsor in AA (often an uneducated individual with a love for power and no real training ) . Yet if you have an issue with anything about what us said in a meeting, “go ask your sponsor” if you want to take on something outside of AA go see your sponsor the list goes on and on about how you need to go see your sponsor, a guy that has no clue except how to throw brainwashing slogans your way anytime you show hint of straying from the exact doctrine of AA as he was brainwashed in to it. It’s ridiculous…..i could go on longer, but let’s get to the point.

        SMART recovery is a better approach. I’m doing it. Definitely a more *TRULY* honest program. No smoke and mirrors, no bait and switch, no contradictions and no worries about expressing yourself about how you HONESTLY feel.

        • Deanosober

          This wasn’t meant to be a reply to anyone in particular. My mistake.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1395337755 Claire Saenz

    I love SMART Recovery. Been sober 14 years now. I started with AA but never felt like I fit there. (I’m a lawyer too, and basically found AA completely illogical and incompatible with my belief system). But SMART! What a great program. Social support, tools for recovery and no mental gymnastics. Perfect!

  • Counselorchick

    Smart recovery steps are the OPPOSITE of AA steps. They are empowering and secular. They are not dependent on faith healing. You are not required to turn your will and life over to a Christian god (the whole “of your understanding” is a lie. They do not require you to confess and atone for your sins. For that natter, they do not label you a sinner. They do not require you to recruit others to your way of life. You are not required to make amends. You are not labeled powerless or character defective. They are also there for you to use and GET ON WITH YOUR LIFE. In fact, they encourage you to get on with your life. They also do not threaten you with “jail, an institution or death.”

    It’s great that you went. More and more people are waking up to the faith healing of AA and the idea of never being able to graduate … And moving on to something empowering … Like SMART. Thanks for the plug.

    • Andrea

      I’m sorry that you’ve had a bad experience in AA. There is no christian god, or one main god at all… just a higher power of your own making so you don’t think your own ego is the center of the universe. 2) we all have have defects, it’s just best we recognize them and understand what they are so we can avoid their enactment whenever possible. 3) There is no recruitment, no promotion as that states it well. Read the traditions and you will understand most all of what you say here is incorrect. 4) the program of AA is isn’t a life-sentence, it’s a life-support for the endless series of positive changes that can occur if one is courageous enough, open enough, and honest enough to continue their betterment for mankind.

      I don’t knock SMART. I’m glad that it exists. Just please don’t perpetuate the myths you’ve stated here. Your experience obviously is not in line with the founding principles of the program and if it had been, chances are you would have changed your tune dramatically. There is some real and lasting good that comes out of AA, don’t let your myopic view detract from this truth.

      -Lady Counselor2 that’s saddened by other counselor’s misunderstandings…

      • Counselorchick

        Your assumptions that I had any experience in your beloved cult religion speaks to you indoctrination.

        Wrong. If I had a dime for Everytime I have heard these exact same protestations … Furgetaboutit.

        The myths I will not allow to be perpetuated are the myths that the 12 step cult helps anyone. The end. The rest is subterfuge.

        Feel sad for someone who needs your false sadness. You’re clearly brainwashed.

  • Jon S

    I left AA after 14 years sobriety because I realised it was only making me sicker. I did ten CBT sessions (not SMART, but a similar programme) and learned more in 20 minutes of CBT than in 2,000 hours of AA fellowship. I’ll never go back. I now feel that CBT based recovery is a natural move on position for people who are confident in their sobriety, and wondering why they still go to AA meetings. I have blogged about the experience “Leaving AA, Staying Sober” at jonsleeper.wordpress.com

  • Pingback: Time To Get Smart and Quit AA? | The Sober Lawyer()

  • Penny Pulz

    Hi Dick,
    I have a long history in AA over 29 years and felt very stale and stagnant there for deeper understanding of my behavior caused from emotions, and thoughts. I have had lots of interesting trainings around recovery. I found SMART about a year ago and love the online space. Went to facilitator training in May 2016 and in the process to become an online facilitator. I, like you needed the structure from a more formal approach to managing my feelings, emotions and behaviors. I love the depth and loads of info to get your head around. Check out resources section and study away. It is fantastic.
    I still love AA. The community is very comforting to me and I can get honest fast. 2 different languages but both want the same outcome, continuous recovery. I like the idea of many paths to having a happy life if you have addictive behavior traits.
    Cheers, Penny.

  • Tim Freeman

    It is always difficult to deal with the irritating know-it-all. How did the moderator do it?

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