differences between AA and 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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