SMART Recovery

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.

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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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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 touch with my current sponsor, plus he’s not the right match for me anyway.

I need to get back to regular therapy. I still have a lot of unresolved issues stemming from my upbringing and genetic makeup. No matter how much success I have or material goods I obtain, I have this hole in my soul or something that I need to fill with reward and recognition. The two mottos I most remember most in my household growing up was my dad’s “We don’t play to win, we play for blood” and my mom’s “Just get over it.” So that’s what I did. I was an assassin who killed and maimed the competition while simultaneously burying inside all negative feelings and emotions. Instead of killing the enemy, it turned on me, and I wound up destroying myself. I need to find some type of peace within my inner soul so I don’t feel the need to dull the pain.

I checked out a Smart Recovery meeting on Monday night, and I really liked it. It reminded me of the group sessions we did at Hazelden. A lot more constructive cognitive help than you get at a typical AA meeting. I will definitely go back.

I have become increasingly disenfranchised with AA. I love the fellowship but I still cannot get through some of the doctrine, especially God/Higher Power piece. I wish I could be more spiritual because I see how beneficial it is to people, but I can’t seem to get there without a huge internal debate and argument. Being a lawyer in recovery sucks sometimes. I love my friends in AA and I love the fellowship. So I will keep going to my 3-4 meetings a week.

Well, that’s about it. Feeling pretty shitty about it. Then I feel better. Then shitty. I just want to get it. Why is it so hard?

~Dick

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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 70 years of major research and groundbreaking work in addiction. As with many recovering persons, I have issues with its over-spiritual and blind-faith-in-God approach.

The one program which has really caught my eye is SMART Recovery which is based in rational emotive behavior therapy. I doubt that SMART has the peer and fellowship power of Alcoholics Anonymous (or maybe it does?), but its principles really appeal to me:

  • Completely accept that you are fallible. Your fallibility includes thinking in a manner that greatly hinders you in your individual pursuits and in relating to people with whom 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.
  • Absorb yourself in a long-term interest that brings you happiness.

Here is another very nice summary of the SMART program in comparison to AA. SMART Recovery emphasizes personal choice and responsibility for one’s actions. It is up to each addict to determine what is best for him or her, not have the choice forced upon him or her. This point is in particularly strong contrast with AA’s emphasis on “powerless.” Rather, SMART believes strongly in rational analysis leading to freedom for the individual and his or her empowerment through self-knowledge leading to control over one’s decisions.

This notion really appeals to me because one of the things I would do without is AA’s take-it-or-leave-it approach. While I may be “powerless” over alcohol when I drink it, I am not powerless over my choice to seek sobriety and not drink alcohol for that day. That is my choice over which only I have the power. I decide the choices I make in my recovery. Not AA, not a Higher Power, not my sponsor, not anyone else.

SMART also has a huge library of “homework” assignments and workshops, again, which greatly appeals to my rational and intellectual side. I actually did a lot of this type of work while at the Hazelden Recovery Program. Anyways, I’m considering checking out a local SMART meeting. This would essentially be to “add value” to my recovery, not to replace AA or anything. I may like it or hate it. Who knows? Can’t hurt right?

Anyone have experience with SMART Recovery? I would love to hear your thoughts and experience.

One day at a time…

~Dick

 

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