Time for recovery methods to work together
Time for recovery methods to work together
I find a lot of people become evangelical about their approach to recovery and often consider it the best way for everyone else to recover regardless of circumstance. People are obviously relieved to find a solution to their addiction problems and it is natural to want to help others, but the help offered is sometimes not suitable and can actually cause harm. Some become rather obsessed about recovery, to the degree that it completely takes over their life. I feel that some people actually lose sight of what recovery is and are not really sure what they want to achieve. They seem to view being part of a recovery group as the most important thing about recovery, and have a false idea of what sober means. I think the disease model and ideas about being an alcoholic from birth, that are sometimes popular in “hardcore” AA groups, make people decide that they are different from everyone else, and that they have to spend the rest of their life following the rituals of their recovery program or die. They really do not like it if somebody they know tries a different approach. They become locked into the AA, 12 step way of life. Some in the Anti AA movement are equally closed minded and refuse to believe anyone can be helped by going to a meeting. This is clearly not the case.
I think this leads to followers of a certain solution, being closed-minded about other approaches, that may help themselves or other people. I think you sometimes need to try different solutions at different times in recovery. Sometimes this is because you get stuck in a rut and are not progressing, or it is because the method you use is no longer helping you. Often AA type sponsors, can be over zealous in pushing the steps on people who are not really responding well to them. I recently saw someone in an “ I survived step 4” T shirt, which is the step about moral inventory, originally aimed at low bottom male drunks, which often causes problems and leads to relapse. It certainly does not help everyone, contrary to the claims of the “Big Book”. There is certainly a large element of trial and error in recovery. Most people have heard of AA through the media and it has a large infrastructure that is accessible to most people. I found going to meetings most nights after work, or on days off was a good thing, at the start of my recovery, even though I was not a fan of the “spiritual solution” I did find the ritual of making meetings important, helped me. I tried before to stop, but had not really done much other than simply stop drinking alcohol. I had still hung out with the same people and although I would feel physically better, I did not feel great overall. Going to meetings actually gave a bit of purpose. I was able to ignore some of the more stupid advice that a significant minority of members give out, parrot fashion. I was not some young impressionable person, who had been sent to rehab by their concerned parents. I do not think AA and its lifelong disease model is suitable for immature youngsters and can actually set them up for problems down the line. They often go on a big binge, partly driven by the powerless idea.
After a while my reaction to meetings changed. I did not feel comfortable in AA any more. I had tried hard, done all the service, spoken at a convention and worked the steps, but I did not feel good. I went to a variety of meetings, as I travel a lot, and I realised that some of the London meetings were quite cult like and dominated by narcissists. There were similar meetings in New York and LA. I had lost faith in the program and its spiritual, religious approach. I felt self-conscious when I attempted a prayer, which I just rationalised as talking to myself, and saw as pointless and ridiculous. I was suffering from depression and was going down hill. There had been problems with my privacy, which had been caused by a small number of idiots, and I was not feeling confident. I really wanted to block everything out. I was told by people in AA to go to more meetings and pray more but this actually made things worse. I was told that it was the addictive voices in my head, or my disease, that was trying to make me drink. I rejected these arguments because I felt that the real problem was that I was depressed. When you are depressed you want to blot out the problems in life. In that situation the desire to take drugs or drink is actually rational, as your brain does not want you to suffer and resorts to past experience to find a solution.
A problem in recovery, is that you know that intoxication will make things even worse but the feelings still become powerful and overwhelming. I was lucky to find another way to deal with this. I had a good friend who had moved on from AA and who had told me about the type of counselling he had received and how it had helped him. I was actually quite surprised that somebody who had performed in bands for about 35 years all over the world in front of thousands of people would have self-esteem issues, but then I thought about my doubts about my creativity, and insecurity, despite having success in my field and began to understand that I needed more than the crude approach, AA was going to give me. I needed a self-esteem rebuild and the ability to stand back from certain situations so that I would not let my emotions take over. I needed to recognise triggers in life, not so much about drinking any more as those cravings were something that was fading, but I needed to have different reactions to things that annoyed me in life. CBT therapy and other techniques that I learnt such as re framing methods from NLP, self-hypnosis and meditation have all played a major part for me. I found being away from a recovery group helped me move on.
After a while the moralistic approach of AA began to fade and I embraced a new lifestyle that has really helped me. I concentrate on basic things such as fitness and food, but still work in an amazingly high pressured environment. My creativity has changed, I do work in a new way and it is being well received. The last couple of years have resulted in me getting a lot of attention in the industry and a major software company has used my work as an example of what their products can do. It took a lot of work to reinvent myself and be confident in what I am doing. Now that I have done this, I find life is much easier. And much more rewarding. I don\’t think things would have been the same for me if I had carried on in the 12 step world. I think that telling myself that I was the powerless victim of a disease, and that the only solution was a spiritual one would not have helped me. I also think I needed to move away from the people in AA, some of which were rather strange. I needed to support myself more and become more independent to grow. The support of the group was good to start with and I almost view my time in AA as a transference of my addiction from alcohol to AA, but transferring addictions does not really lead to healthy lifestyle long-term.
Some people in the anti-AA movement who have been more badly affected by AA than myself, often seem to think that nobody should go to AA as it simply a cult. I think some of them would not have responded well to any recovery method, but did not look for another solution when they struggled with AA. I do not think AA is a cult as 90% of people simply walk away when they have had enough. Some say that AA has no more effect, than no treatment statistically, but I think it helps certain people, especially those who want to be told what to do. Although most people leave AA after a while, I think that being part of a recovery group for a while can be really helpful. I think it is the religious side as well as the “Big Book” thumpers that really put people off, which is unfortunate as fellowship and helping others is something that has a positive effect on many people. I do not feel that simple statistics really show what is going on. People change and have different needs in recovery at different stages. Some people are successful with just one method and cannot see why anyone would choose or need anything else. Other people evolve over time and need to change approach depending on circumstances. If I was starting all over again and had bothered to do some research this time, I would probably go for a harm reduction method at first and combine that with CBT. I would also probably use AA meetings at times when I felt I was going to drink, but not get too involved with the 12 step solution. I would probably have some counselling a different times with somebody who is able to step back from the recovery world. In my experience, those who have an addiction do not always make the best counsellors. Some of course are good and have knowledge of a wide range of solutions, but others are narrow-minded and tend to favour what has worked for them.
I like what people such as Bill White have to say about the recovery movement needing to come together and embrace a wide range of methods, and keep an open mind about modern techniques and not simply send everyone to the spiritual 12 step world. I am glad that sites such as soberistas exist which bring a lot of different people together. I do not have much time for those who simply wish to divide the recovery community and sling mud at methods that they may not like. I think that AA needs to have a look at what goes on in some of its meetings and realise that some in the fellowship, are promoting ideas that are holding people back. Many in AA, make it hard for people to leave, as they instantly treat anybody who has moved on from the fellowship as some kind of leper. This does not help those who are struggling and not suited to a religious program, and does not represent the reality, that some people do better after moving on from the 12 step world. Some people, see those leaving AA as a threat, as it has become more than a support group to them and is now their religion. This leads to the view held by some that AA is a cult, and the way that some meetings are run does lead to predatory behaviour.
12 step groups have their numbers boosted by court ordering and by people who have been sent from treatment centers. Many enter a rehab expecting a much more “medical” approach, but are simply given step work by people with really low qualifications, who are often no more than enthusiastic sponsor types from AA. They will try to push the steps on everyone and offer little in the way of psychiatric help which is what people really need. Alcoholics and addicts are not all the same and do need an individual approach most of the time. Those that respond well to AA are a minority, just the same as those that recover spontaneously, but are probably different types of people. Many more would benefit from CBT treatment but do not get it as AA has become part of our culture. If you criticise AA, which many have problems with, and has such a low overall success rate, you are looked upon as somebody who is not taking recovery seriously, and that is not fair.
My approach will not suit everyone, but I can say that I have spent a lot of time looking at different solutions and now have a clearer idea of what to do if problems occur for my own recovery. Even writing this blog has had some really beneficial sides to it. I get a number of emails from people in the recovery industry and also from people who have moved on from AA. Often these people have no interest in commenting endlessly on forums about recovery, but have some good ideas. I am building up a new list of contacts of people who I feel would help me if my circumstances change. This is really important to me, as we never know what is round the corner. I am not like the anti AA people who want AA removed. People have a right to go to these groups and some people really do find them helpful. I do have a problem with the so-called treatment industry pushing this solution the whole time and stifling others, because it is apparent that it does not work for a lot of people. Many in 12 step groups are more interested in converting people than being part of a fellowship that is there to help people suffering. In my opinion this is because of the religious side of the program, which I do not think is going to change much. It is therefore important that new groups such as the soberistas community continue to grow to offer support, without the religious approach.
Simply attacking AA on a web forum or causing arguments with AA members online in the way that some do, achieves very little, as the people doing it are seen as confrontational and are generally ignored. Providing a better solution will have an effect and will reach a different type of person to those who enjoy AA, and that is something that is really worthwhile. However, there is nothing that is nearly as big as AA at the moment. Many people do need a group to go to especially if they have lost everything, and there is not much on offer for them. A cup of tea and a bit of contact with some people who have put the booze down will probably do many of these people good regardless of the 12 step dogma. Society has created the problem of drug abuse and alcoholism by collectively changing its views on drinking and creating a booze culture. It has done little for people who get into problems as a result and has left groups such as AA to pick up the pieces and largely ignored the problems. Drinking and drugging is still seen as a moral failing despite all the advertising for alcohol and the supermarkets overflowing with cheap booze which gives a temporary relief from the pressure of life. The problems caused by changes in society need to be looked at and a suitable solution found. That probably will not happen soon, given the economic situation in the west and the problems will probably grow.Google+