Alcoholics Anonymous

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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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 are trying to accomplish? Of course it was.

For centuries, humans have relied on each other to overcome life’s greatest challenges. Humans have always organized into groups to do what individuals cannot do on their own. This is the foundation for government, democracy and civilization.

Alcoholics Anonymous, in its most basic, primal form, operates under this ancient, indisputably successful model. The Power of the Group. Power in Numbers. Tribe Mentality. The Fellowship. Call it what you want.

When thousands of like-minded individuals get together to meet on every given night, in every given town in American to help each other with their drinking problems, this is a power immensely greater than the individual fighting alone. No other program of recovery can boast this power. That’s a fact.

Let me give you a few examples of how the power of the AA program has worked from my experience. Mind you, I have only been in the program for 15 months.

  • People in AA are the only folks who can truly relate to what I’m going through as an alcoholic. They know what it feels like to drive by a billboard ad for booze and start to salivate and cringe at the same time. They know the guilt and shame that I harbor for getting into trouble with alcohol. They know how difficult it is living “one day at a time.” They know the insidious power of denial. My “regular” friends, my family and even my therapist can never truly understand what’s it’s like to be an alcoholic. This is so critical for me, because being an alcoholic can make you feel like the loneliest person in the world. With AA, it doesn’t have to be this way.
  • People in AA truly care about me and others in the program. I don’t think I have ever met as many selfless, giving, and caring people as I’ve met in AA. When I last relapsed, there were 6 guys offering to pick me up and take me to a meeting. There was a roomful of folks at every one of my regular meetings waiting to give me a hug and welcome me back. There’s my sponsor who puts up with my b.s. on a daily basis. There are guys and gals who offer me rides to meetings every day. Last night at my home group meeting, there were 110 people (yes, I counted) celebrating someone who got a 25 year coin. But the biggest round of applause came when a high school kid came up and got his 24 hour coin! Amazing…
  • AA Teaches You How To Live Sober. AA gets a lot of unwarranted criticism for its 12 Step program and emphasis on spirituality. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to believe in God or any of that stuff in the program. The Steps are suggestions, not requirements. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking. Putting all that aside, what I’ve learned through a year plus in AA is how to live happily sober. It’s a learning process and work in progress, but AA folks are generally very fun to be around with great personalities. At least that’s what I’ve found.
  • AA is but one piece in the recovery puzzle. Borrowing from good financial investing, I believe with recovery, you need to diversify, and not put all your eggs in one basket. That goes with AA. For me, in addition to AA meetings, my recovery includes private therapy, medication, exercise, daily reading/reflection, and of course writing this Blog! Granted, AA is a big part of my recovery, but it’s not my entire recovery plan.

Well, that’s all I got today.

One day at a time…

~Dick

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When I was at Hazelden, each morning the unit rose at 6:30AM, gathered together and read passages from the Hazelden Twenty Four Hours A Day Book. (There’s even an Iphone app for it!).

Every morning, we read the passage from January 6th. I call this the “daily look in the mirror” passage, and for me it’s so important that I say this every day.

Keeping sober is the most important thing in my life. The most important decision I ever made was my decision to give up drinking. I am convinced that my whole life depends on not taking that first drink. Nothing in the world is as important to me as my own sobriety. Everything I have, my whole life, depends on that one thing. Can I afford ever to forget this, even for one minute?

The answer is and should always be, No!

I know that everything good in my life will flow from my sobriety: my family life, my career, my health, my finances, my friendships, everything. That’s why being sober is the most important thing in my life. But I have to remind myself of this every day, because if I don’t, I will be one step closer to having that first drink.

One day at a time…

~Dick

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For me, drinking alcoholically lead to a great deal of private and public humiliation. I have had a hard time dealing with the resulting shame and guilt. This, in turn, contributed to my drinking to escape those bad feelings.

Spiritual growth and real recovery, however, occurs as a result of our failures, not successes. For me, and I would venture to guess a lot of attorneys, I thought I was a “big shot” and better and smarter than most. And because success was the currency of my upbringing, I was always chasing recognition, which in turn, bloated the ego. Thinking I was better than other alcoholics in the room was a recipe for disaster, and a sure path to relapse.

Humility is a critical component of the 12 Step Recovery Program. Step 7 says:

We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Bill W. says in the 12 in 12 Book that “the attainment of greater humility is the foundation of principle of each of AA’s Twelve Steps. For without humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all.”

I really like the saying that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking about yourself less. (~C.K. Lewis). So for me, I need to stop thinking that I am the Center of the Universe, and that I’m more special, smarter and unique from everyone else. I’m clearly not. I also need to stop thinking that my own personal achievements are a barometer for my own self-worth. Somehow, I have to learn that my own self-worth comes from within. This will take time, I know. Hard to teach an old dog new tricks…

My weekly visits to the local detox center and frequent AA meetings are very helpful to ground my humility. For there, I can focus on hearing others’ stories and maybe helping my fellow alcoholic rather than focusing on myself.

Have a great and humble day!

One day at a time…

~Dick

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If you are just entering AA, a substance abuse counselor or AA member may have recommended doing “90 in 90.” That means attending 90 AA meetings in 90 days.

It may seem like a lot of meetings and overwhelming to the beginner AA member. But they say in the program that you should attend however many meetings per week as you drank. So for daily drinkers, that’s a daily meeting.

Listen, think of it as your medicine. If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, you take your medication, exercise and eat well, right? It’s no different for alcoholism and addiction. It is a disease.

It’s only 7 hours per week. But take it one day at a time.

Before long, you will look forward to the meeting. You will make new friends. AA folks will come up to you and offer help. Accept it. These people are the only ones who truly understand what you are going through. Plus, it’s a great time to decompress, think and reflect on what’s happened. I have always felt better after going to an AA meeting!

One day at a time…

~Dick

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Commitment To A Local Detox Unit

January 14, 2012

The other day, I attended my AA home chapter’s weekly “commitment,” or service project, to a local hospital detox unit. It reminded me of my time at Hazelden where the first 24 hours are spent in a monitored detox area where the nurses would check on you every 6 hours. My sponsor said it would […]

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