What It's Like to Go to SMART Recovery After Eight Years in AA

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What It’s Like to Go to SMART Recovery After Eight Years in AA

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I never wanted to go to AA, even when I needed it. After doing a bit of research when a private doc suggested it eight years ago, I decided it wasn’t for me. The steps upset me, the prayers upset me, and the group itself was a bit too smothering at first. But I had no idea that other recovery programs existed. Not one medical professional or therapist knew of any other means to get sober outside of AA.

But I knew I had to get sober, so I became a member, and, after relapsing for over two years, I now have nearly six years of sobriety. Many AA meetings in LA are just fantastic, full of intelligent, fun, hip, successful people who wear the program like a loose garment. I managed to sort of make it fit for me for a very long time, even though I still had many philosophical conflicts with the 12 steps, even though I’m an atheist, even though I felt slightly like a square peg in a round hole.

But after studying up on the addiction conversation while writing for this very site, reading news articles and researching various rehabs and learning about different treatment modalities, I came across a free addiction program called SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training). Actually, I came across many free 12-step alternatives, but SMART seemed to be the most popular alternative to AA.

So, I looked it up, and the more I read, the more I really wanted to try it, but I was slightly scared to try it.

I’d been convinced by everyone on the planet that AA was the only thing that could protect me from drinking. I was also convinced that if I left AA, I’d relapse. If this SMART thing was legit, it may shatter all my previously-held beliefs. But I’m the kind of person who thinks if you can’t challenge your beliefs you shouldn’t have them in the first place, so I carted myself off to a meeting in downtown Los Angeles.

It was in a place called SHARE, a hub for people in all sorts of recovery, including the homeless who need resources to get back up on their feet. When I got to the “Friendship Room” where the meeting was supposed to be happening five minutes before start time, no one was inside.

“See,” I told myself. “The meetings don’t exist. No wonder AA has a monopoly on recovery. I guess it’s the only place I can go.”

But then the facilitator showed up, a guy I’ll call Andrew, and he must have been in his late 20’s or early 30’s. When he opened his mouth it was apparent that he was super bright. I know it sounds snobby, but that goes a long way for me in terms of listening to what someone’s got to say. A few others trickled into the room, but the meeting remained small—there were just five of us.

Andrew greeted me, and I think he could tell I was green.

“This is my first time at a SMART meeting,” I said. He seemed happy that I was there, and then he started the meeting with an explanation of what SMART is—an abstinence-based recovery program based on self-management and self-reliance, one that uses mostly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and some Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), all proven through scientific research to help with addiction. He told us we were encouraged to participate in meetings as long as they were helpful and discontinue if we felt we had adequately achieved our goals. He told us some people attend other recovery programs like LifeRing, SOS, or AA, and others just did SMART alone.

He also said SMART is an evidence-based program that updates itself as the science of addiction medicine changes, and he mentioned SMART emphasizes the importance of taking medication necessary for mental health issues or addiction issues.

He concluded that SMART does not encourage negative labels, like addict or alcoholic.

And with that, he asked us to “check in,” which included a brief introduction about our problem substance, how much time sober or abstinent we have (SMART also helps those with behavioral addictions like gambling, sex and shopping) and what our week was like.

As a facilitator, Andrew has been trained in the SMART program, which means he knows a lot about the therapeutic models, but he’s also there to keep us on track and from droning on and on and on in a negative way. When we talk about certain issues or problems, he’ll interject and ask us things like “So, what tool do you think might work in a similar situation in the future?” Or, he’ll, pull out the SMART workbook and give a little lesson on a particular tool.

It is night-and-day from AA, and I absolutely loved it.

To break down further what we were doing there, let me explain that CBT focuses on the interplay between thoughts, emotions and behavior. It’s a symbiotic loop: A thought creates an emotion, an emotion creates a behavior, the behavior creates another thought, that thought creates a new emotion, and then there’s yet another behavior. If the thoughts are negative, you can spiral downwards into destructive compulsive patterns like shooting up cocaine or polishing off a bottle of Jack.

So it’s the thoughts that are the problem, not the character of the individual, not their childhood trauma (though that can amp up negative thoughts and irrational belief systems and might need to be addressed), not their alcoholic “disease.” Once you can slash through these “automatic thoughts,” you can really get well.

And fast.

After just one week of reading the workbook and practicing the tools, I saw a big difference in my attitudes and reactions to things.

REBT focuses on irrational core beliefs. These beliefs can be things like “I should never feel uncomfortable” to “I always should be perfect” to “No one should ever cut me off on the road” to “I have to drink and use.” By challenging these beliefs, suddenly, there’s relief.

To do this, you get out a pen and dispute your irrational thought or belief on paper.  Let’s say you’re a music writer, and you pitch something to an editor at Rolling Stone, and it gets rejected. Your automatic thought and irrational belief might be “I’m not a good enough writer to get into Rolling Stone.” If you don’t tell that thought to fuck off, you might start to feel depressed, worthless and then you might even chase these emotions by sucking down vodka, because why not? You’re a shitty writer and your life sucks.

So what you do (before feeling like shit and drinking) is ask yourself, “Is it true that I’m not a good enough writer to get into Rolling Stone?” Then you create a new and more rational thought:

“I may need to work on my pitches or read more articles in Rolling Stone to hone my ideas and improve my voice, but the truth is they get hundreds of submissions and it’s tough for anyone to get something published in the magazine. There’s zero evidence that I’m ‘not good enough.'”

Believe it or not, this shit works. And what I’ve written above is only the tip of the iceberg. SMART’s Four-Point Program consists of the following:

1. Building and Maintaining Motivation
2. Coping with Urges
3. Managing Thoughts, Behaviors and Emotions
4. Living a Balanced Life.

Needless to say, I’ll keep coming back.

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99 Comments

  1. What’s funny is all the people who say AA is the only way to go have never been to SMART or researched other programs like RR. However the people who say they prefer non-AA meetings have experience with AA.

    It’s like a person who has only drove a Honda saying Mercedes makes crap cars, no way they are worth the extra money….to a person who went from a Honda to Mercedes.

  2. Kenneth D. Weinberg on

    Tracy, since the goal of recoverry is a happy and fulfilling life, I hope Smart recovery does that for you. AA is cutting edge. It provides all the tools in modern therapy including spiritality which until recently frightened a lot of therapists but is found to be important in Trauma Informed care, trauma being a major source for addiction. God bless you.

    • Not to knock AA, as it has helped a lot of people… but AA hasn’t really changed much since it was founded in 1935.

  3. Pingback: Roads to #Addiction #Recovery – Here we go again! | Dave's Bankside Babble

  4. Ive read so many arrogant AA member comments. I CANT WAIT for the time when this cult is gone and people are not made to believe they are powerless. I could have probably drank most people under the table in my hey day. I quit overindulging in alcohol on my own with zero help because I am powerful and strong nor did i do it with some sort of serenity prayer or god or books or meetings. All AA members are martyrs and do not want to take responsibility for their actions they want to blame and judge and gossip at meetings about people they supposedly love. What a sham. Cheers to all who will soon be recognized for becoming healthy physically and emotionally on their own. Oh and i still drink casually without getting slobering drunk. Science will demolish AA cant wait!!!!

    • Tascha – so you brag about how you are “powerful and strong” as a recovering alcoholic (or post-heavy drinker lol) yet you admit you still drink and do not have better things to do with your time besides look on the internet for alternative-to-AA treatments and put other people down. I’m confused ???

    • The thing is we are powerless over everything in our lives except ourselves and how we react. The sooner we face that the sooner we can stop fighting. In the book it says “lack of power-that was our dilemma”. It is our inability to accept that most things in life are out of our control that led us to drink/use/etc. This is where a higher power is needed. If we dnt have control who does? I struggled a long time with this concept. I eventually gave it a try. Slowly as I grew and started to open my mind my faith, understanding and relationship with my higher power grew. This is something I will be working on for the rest of my life. Not only because my recovery depends upon my spiritual condition but because I have a desire to know who I am placing my trust in, Who is doing these amazing things in my life. After all contempt prior to investigation is a principle which will always keep a man in ignorance… As for S.M.A.R.T, anything that helps an alcoholic/addict cannot be a bad thing.

  5. Hey whatever works for you hope your not trying to find an easier softer option, SMART cant compete with the 12 steps, maybe youve forgotten the main element of addiction for most is loneliness, smart offers nothing in regards to this, ive tried both

    • In your opinion it can’t compete. Different strokes, different folks. I find the 12step program puts me on the defensive because it insists I’m powerless

      • The powerless means you can’t drink normally. Once you start you can’t stop without help from someone other than yourself. Once we become chronically ill from the disease, we can’t stop, or the compulsion. I know plenty of people that stay sober without going to meetings. For me the biggest thing is working with others. The peer to peer. What everything really comes down to is acceptance. What is my willingness? No one is going to do it for you, I sure tried for years and my family were my worst enablers. We all have our own self directed path to getting well. If people can do it by just Smart Recovery, that is fantastic. I just have a problem when people start banging on AA or NA. With anything in life we don’t agree with others, and there are plenty of co-workers that I’m not letting watch my children. Just as in Outpatient groups or Smart Recovery you are going to find people that are still sick with the disease, and being early on in getting well, we are sensitive people, and it didn’t take much for someone to say or not to say, maybe just a look to piss me off and go back to using. So back to willingness. Once I’m willing to A. stop using, B. Try anything other than what I was doing before, C. BE open to suggestions from people who have the solution: others in recovery, counselors, therapists, I at least have a chance at getting well. I work in healthcare as Peer Support, and I’m a volunteer recovery coach, and I do both NA and AA, and service work. Main thing is the changing of the thinking. I detoxed plenty of times but the hard part always has been keeping the depression and anxiety at bay. I created over three years a new network of people. A new “eco-system” of good. It took at least 17 people, including the county, outpatient, sponsor, my sponsor’s sponsor, therapist, and many family members to get well. I have to be responsible. Am I doing everything I can to help my recovery. This is my toughest month, but I’ve made myself call at least three people a day during this month that are in recovery. Remember I look at the 12 steps like this. Honesty, open-minded, and willingness. The steps were created by not just one guy. There was doctors, therapists, psychiatrists in helping create the steps. With all this, I get why people get turned off by the groups. It only takes a couple people to make you not want to go back. Were I’m located we really look our for each other, and all of us do other work besides 12 step, so we see the whole picture,Mental Health and chemical dependency. I do it all, it seems to be better than my other plan, that landed me in the courtroom. Powerless is a work remember. Just as is my diagnosis with my doctor for generalized anxiety and depression. They are words, but only we can do something about it, no one else got me clean. Happy New Year and Best wishes.

  6. I started sobriety with 15 different meetings in 15 days. Only 2 of those rooms was I even remotely comfortable in. One was an all women’s meditation based group and one was a late-night, snarky, quasi-party group of young people that basically balked at all the traditions as they walked through them. I’m not religious, I’m not very spiritual, I don’t have any imaginary “higher power” friends to hand over my disease to in order to be healed and relieved of the burden of it. I have chosen to give up the addicted life I was leading and move on into a better and more positive life. Why the hell would I want to spend days, nights, hours, months, years dwelling on all the poor decisions and shitty things I did? Glad it works for some (really I am). But it made me feel icky, judged, depressed and made me want to drink (and isn’t that the opposite of the point).

    I participated in ACT therapy and was successful. We did a check-in weekly as mentioned in this article. It included identifying any upcoming triggers we were aware of and the entire group (with 2 licensed addiction therapists) would give suggestions for navigating the situation sober. I put a ton of tools in my pocket that have kept me going for 498 days so far. I left when I felt comfortable navigating on my own and have returned for a session here or there when I felt I needed extra support. Do what you gotta do to get where you need to be. If AA fits your life, great! But there are other options, based in science, that are available if you look hard enough.

  7. I am so glad I checked out this site because I have struggled with the aa and na fellowships closed mindedness that breeds the insecurity to have what is called the gift of desperation.The literature is open to interpretation but I found many groups eager to be a part of something as described a power greater than yourself, that people deny there own individuality to have the safety of the one day peers,it is very self righteous to slate any recovery methods and not expect a defensive response.It is what it is a program to change the negative addicts life and it opens doors for new ideas and motivation.i recently started smart recovery to broaden my life through education. Addiction is the common enemy and no recovery technique is forced on you,if you don’t like a TV show you turn it off, am glad to know that all the post’s strike at addiction to free us from bondage of thoughts and behaviour patterns, ps the na book was not written in the 30s and the step working guide is relatively new and could improve lives of people regardless of addictive behaviour.I thank you Tracey for taking the time to spread the word of recovery and you do look damn hot in your selfie.appreciated

  8. AA and NA are great for some. At times it was great for me. What I have found, what keeps most people in the rooms sober, is the COMPANIONSHIP of other people trying to stay sober. Its the accountability to your sober friends of not picking up. Its the support network. The steps are there for those that arent capable or willing to step outside of themselves and see how they are maladjusted. I find nothing wrong with seeking alternatives. What I find disconcerting is the doom and gloom perpetuated by some in the rooms…if you dont attent AA or NA you are doomed to use. If you dont do the step and believe in a higher power…you are doomed to use. Why must it he like that??? Does their need to validate their choice really have to cone at the cost of tearing one down and instilling fear. Are they that insecure of their choice of program becomming dated and invalid? At the end of the day all people in whatever form of recovery should be happy for their fellow addict who is winning the good fight. The fight to be rid of the perpetual hell that is addiction and using.

  9. I’ve been in the rooms for 3.5 years and I’m in 3 fellowships: OA, AA and DA. I’m sober from alcohol but not abstinent from food, and I’ve only just started DA. I get stuck on Step 3, I find the concept of a HP that I can make up confusing, and the thought of really handing my will and life over to a HP that I don’t really know, scary as hell. So, I went to a SMART meeting. It was not for me. It is an easier, softer way. I can’t imagine someone with a chronic problem getting clean from it. That’s what 12 steps gives – discipline, rigour. I notice that many posts are from people who got clean in AA then went to SMART. So, I chose to keep going back to 12-steps and to wait for the miracle re my food. I know so many people who were in abject conditions who have recovered through the 12 steps. I want what they have got.

    • At least SMART recovery has actual science behind it. It teaches the participant psychological techniques that have been proven in scientific studies to actually work–it is EVIDENCE BASED, meaning the techniques have been confirmed to be effective time and time again in studies using these techniques to combat addiction. It might be your personal opinion that these techniques can’t be effective in someone with a “real problem”, but that opinion does not jibe with the actual FACTS. I tried AA for years–all it did was make me seethe with rage. By the time the meeting was over, I wanted to get high more than ever. I am an atheist, I am scientifically minded, and I have NO interest in “spirituality”. Hearing about God, and how the magic fairy of their higher power cured people just bothered me. Being told that I HAD to get a higher power, I HAD to be spiritual, also angered me–I felt coerced into trying to do something that I ABSOLUTELY and strongly oppose–that is rely on something outside of myself to get me clean. I also do not think that addiction is a character defect. It is a result of a distorted way of thinking, and then the escapist behavior of drinking or using drugs is reinforced over time through the frequent repetition of a maladaptive coping mechanism, which strengthens the neural pathways which lead to cravings. I also don’t see how giving yourself a negative label and claiming that you are “too weak” to do it on your own is helpful. According to the principles of CBT, which is also used to treat depression, labeling yourself just leads to shame and a negative self-image, and it actually weakens aying you can’t do it on your own and you have to rely on a resolve and confidence in your ability to change. Telling yourself that you can’t change on your own and you need a higher power outside of yourself leads to what psychologist call an “external locus of control”–basically giving over the responsibility for your problems to an outside force, when you should be taking FULL responsibility for changing your addictive behavior yourself. An external locus of control has been shown in numerous psychological studies to lead to depression and hopelessness, and reduce the likelihood of the person making positive change. CBT relies on a lot of written exercises and a constant disputing of negative and self-destructive thoughts, and it is HARDLY easy or soft–that just shows your utter ignorance of what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is all about. Also, in SMART we are discouraged from sharing “war stories” and talking about “how it used to be” in any great detail, because research has shown that talking about drugs or alcohol, or listening to someone else talk about drugs and alcohol, even in a NEGATIVE way, actually increases cravings to use, I know AA works for a lot of people, and if it is your thing, then fine. But all AA did was make me feel angry, feel coerced to attend against my will because I was told there was NO other way, and feel that I was being told to believe things and do things that are against my core beliefs. It made me emotional in a negative way, which is one of my VERY strong triggers for using. I gave it the old college try–for YEARS, but my anger never subsided, and the program never sat well with me. Nothing is EVER one size fits all because everyone has differing personalities and differing beliefs, and AA’s insistance that it is the only way chafes me to no end. I am a heroin addict of 19 years, and SMART is working for me, so it CAN work for people with a severe problem–if they are willing to put the work in

      • Wow – you seem really restless, irritable and discontent … Fortunately, I work a program that tells me that it’s not my business what you think of me. Otherwise, I might be offended. Diseasey much?

        • It is your holier then you attitude that people hate about AA. I am in AA and sober a long time. I have seen your type come and go. Your arrogance will take you back out.

        • I thought that your article was pretty fair and balanced – I didn’t think you were shitting on AA terribly hard as some people here seem to think. I go to AA and have for a long time and I absolutely love it, but I agree that there is a lot not to like about the program. There are literally millions of people in the program, and because of its lack of actual canon (which I take as a VERY good thing), different groups can be extremely different. There are countless meetings that I have gone too and do not like, do not relate to, and do not need to go back to. And on the other hand I’m fortunate to have found groups that I love the people in, relate to, and can go back to even though I often will hear things I don’t agree with. Again, there are SO many people in AA – the chances of going to even one single meeting where I relate with everything I hear is basically nil.
          But, on the whole, I think that this is part of what is great about AA, that there is so much variety in its membership that almost anyone can find a group they like, or at least a share or two that they relate to in a meeting. No matter what anyone tells you, there are no rules about what you have to think or believe in AA. The big book is not the rules. It is a book written by people, not gods, in the 30’s, and the world has changed a LOT. I don’t care if some people say that AA hasn’t changed much since its inception, because it has for me, and no one can tell me that I can’t come because I don’t take a religious approach or believe that I have to use terms like god or higher power even when they aren’t what I actually mean – I don’t use those terms any more. What I need has changed. And again, I am lucky that I hung around, because there can be a lot of peer pressure in meetings. But, there has also been from day one a TON of support, and there were always people I connected with more, and those are the people who I decided to spend my time with, and there is DEFINITELY a ton of wisdom in the 12 steps, and I have quite literally found my voice in AA to say what I think and take responsibility for my beliefs as my own and start speaking them aloud, scared as I was, only to realize that there is almost always someone (or many people) in the room who relate.
          I’m lucky – I don’t think that everybody has this experience in AA. I don’t think that AA in lots of areas is as liberal or accepting as it is in Brooklyn. But I think its important, again, to realize that AA is not just one thing. It is an extremely decentralized program and that is its best aspect, sometimes, and its downfall sometimes… but overall I think that it is its best aspect, because if it were more centralized and it were more one way or another, that would alienate whatever group is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The way it is it can accomodate a lot of people, although some people definitely get screwed by either not being near a group that they can easily relate to, or by having to jump through so many groups to find it that they give up, and I can’t blame them… would I have aimlessly gone to 15 groups, hating each one, until finding one I liked, if my impression of the first 15 were awful? Hell no! And anyone who tells you otherwise needs to get off their high horse.
          SMART Recovery honestly sounds awesome. It sounds like it has pros and cons for me, but that those pros and cons might be different for others. I think that when I first came into AA I was so miserable and depressed that I was willing to swallow anything (i.e. the gift of desperation). Its not the only way. It worked for me very well though and while I don’t mind AA being badmouthed for its (some) faulty groups and (some) shitty members, I don’t like to hear the program badmouthed as a whole, because it simply cannot be perfect and it cannot be responsible for everyone’s success who tries it, but I think the pros outweigh the cons big time.

          There is no one size fits all approach to basically anything. The world is way too complex for that. I think that the more viable recovery options out there, the better, and that the key to one working is really that it has to have honest people who are trying to get better in it, sharing with each other and learning to open up, learning to live in the world, and changing their beliefs about how things are and how they should be. AA definitely does that. Sounds like SMART does that. Maybe a blend can be a good way to go. Now I’m rambling. Goodnight.

      • Congratulations on getting sober. Its hard to go to AA and not find a group that one feels is accepting. I was advised to keep going to different meetings until I found one that I felt comfortable in, and where I heard solution. Certainly I’ve been to more than a few AA meetings where I felt Angered by what people said. AA got me angry all of the time, until I found out the truth about my feelings. I was angry because I either related to what people told me, or the truth bothered me. It felt like they were talking about me. Of course, I tried to find fault with everyone else or their ideas before I was able to look at my own faults and be accountable for them. I have faulty thinking, often. I don’t know anyone who is truly sober ( thats not just about not drinking) that isn’t able to recognize their truth, and not often without help. I’ve found usually people who rip on other organizations tend to be in fear, not wanting to own up to something about them that they don’t like. Anyway, its True that AA is not the only house on the block for sobriety, and other people get sober in other ways. Anger is fear, resentments are expectations unfulfilled. AA didn’t make you do/feel anything. You decided to take offense probably because you were confronted with some truth about yourself… I see an enormous amount of blame in your writing, and AA is all about personal accountability. I learned I’m responsible for my own actions. I like being responsible for my own feelings too. The whole problem with your misconstruing what AA represents ( besides your problem is yours for sure), is the fact that AA is not about religion. There are many atheists in AA. Step 2 is actually about the truth, and laying aside prejudice of against spirituality, even against organized religion by recognizing that ,We claimed many people and organizations as ignorant, when we were ignorant ourselves. It takes the power of the blame away and reverts back to my own (faulty) thinking so I can OWN IT. I pray you can to. Life without Blaming others is much less complicated.

      • I wan’t an addict/alcoholic when I was born but when I took my first drink/drug an addict/alcoholic was born. Got dogg that stuff make me feel great for a long long time. I simply thought I had to have and onr day I couldn’t stop using even when I wanted to. What happened! Hell if I know, but thanks to 12 Steps programs and God’s grace, (yep, I gots to say it) Im clean & sober. It don’t matter to me about all that other shit so long as the merry go round had stopped and I can be somewhat responsible. Thank you, AA, CA & NA

  10. I could not agree more about your above piece. I tried AA for over a year-going to as many meetings as I could make. I never felt accepted and was constantly battling their doctrine. I know it works for thousands of people. However, I, like you, had NEVER been told of alternative choices other than Women for Abstinence and Drinkwise.
    So now, after almost 5 glorious months of sobriety sent on my way by SMART’s handbook and many, many on-line meetings, I bought set of their flyers and I give some to every doctor I meet, friends, dentists, therapists…. we HAVE to spread the word about this wonderful program!
    Thanks for writing about your experience finding us!

  11. Steven keeney on

    Started going to smart 2 weeks ago and like it. AA is good but having a choice is also good. I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable in AA, the peer pressure to conform is strong.

  12. Hey! Thanks for publishing this! I’ve been sober for 2 years (got sober in AA), and finally all of the inconsistencies of AA ideology and my personal viewpoints are catching up to me. I love that Smart Recovery embraces the CBT therapy method and promotes self-empowerment and self-evaluation. There’s a meeting in my recovery next week so I am going to check it out. In one of the rehabs I once went to, we did DBT therapy which kind of seems like a mixture of CBT and REBT based on what you wrote here (I’m aware there’s much more to these therapy models that what I can gather from a blog).

    Anyway, thanks again! And anyone criticizing YOUR point of view in regard to YOUR sobriety, and YOUR life is simply an asshole based on some of these comments. So typical. So typical.

  13. Thank you for this article. SMART has been suggested to me for the past year and I am finally giving it a try. First meeting is today!

  14. I attend both because I feel that I need all the support I can get. I find the AA vs. SMART debate no different that Catholics and Protestants arguing which “brand” of Christianity is better. Isn’t the whole point to quit drinking and using?

  15. We quit because the desire finally is deep within ourselves. No one and nothing can make us be ready until that readiness is deep within us…….Period.

  16. Thank you so much for this. I have been sober since May of 2014 thanks to SMART recovery. I have never been to an AA meeting, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I can tell you that my meetings are one of the highest points if my entire week and SMART is a huge part of the reason I have been enjoying my sobriety. I do hope others give it a chance. We have folks in our meeting who do other programs along with SMART, but for most of us, it’s our only program.

  17. Thanks Tracy, it’s an interesting read. I am just about to head off to my first SMART Recovery meeting. I have been attending AA and NA meetings on and off for 4 years with mixed results.

    Firstly, I must state that I think AA and the associated 12 step recovery groups are great for the people I see it working for them. Personally, I don’t think it is working for me, but I am extremely grateful of the wide coverage AA and NA have around the world. It’s well known and for that reason people generally know where to turn. The most important thing is accepting you have a problem and want to change.

    I will state now that my beliefs are more scientific than spiritual, I have kept an open mind but after for years this “higher power” thing isn’t working. I do not believe in God as outlined in Christian faith and never will. That doesn’t exclude me from attending AA or NA as it clearly states it is not religious. If that’s the case, why not remove all reference to God and Him (don’t forget the capital H)? I know that would never happen but it’s just a point.

    So my feeling is that to achieve success in AA and NA is to accept there is a higher power watching over us and they help and govern our lives. You are powerless and you have to hand it over. Nope, not for me. The closest I get to that is to reference “the universe” but I don’t see the universe having any power over my existence.

    I intend to continue on the path of meeting attendance in NA for now and I believe if I can truly walk through the door and take what I need then just being in a room with other people trying to recover and leave the rest behind that would be ideal.

    The final thing I would say to any naysayer of any recovery programme, if you love your path, love it, but never ever criticise anyone else’s as recover is the main goal, not the way it happens.

  18. Hi there…..Anything, any treatment modality, research, support, network, letter-writing group, that can alleviate the despair and pain caused by one’s use and/or overuse of substances, behaviors of escape, etc….is always welcomed. So you have done the world a service by spreading the word about the availability of the SMART method. Not so helpful, unfortunately, are your unfortunate experiences in AA, and resulting reports. I am always sorry to hear when people, especially young people, fall in with a group of narrow minded, black and white thinking cultists, who mouth platitudes and create an environment where people feel like failures. That is not the AA I know, and not the AA that saved my life 31 years ago. And that is not all AA. That is broadbrush
    It is fine if you do not like AA. As you will hear in any AA meeting, “Take what you need, and leave the rest.” Please be informed however, that there are groups and people who are nothing like you described. My best to you for a wonderful, happy, meaningful and long life!

    • I have to disagree. I felt completely alone with my experience in AA until I started poking around and realized many, many others had similar stories regarding “the program”. People’s negative experiences made me not feel crazy as AA did when I was vocal of my feelings. However I will be the first to say to try it out for yourself, don’t listen to anyone’s experience, good or bad. But if it’s not for you run away and don’t let the steppers blame your thoughts on “your disease”!

    • I couldn’t have said it better. AA, has helped me wake up this power greater than myself and although I have issues with personalities in the group and my mind still in the past, I havent had to use in over 25 years. I still attend AA meetings 4 times a week because I need them because of mind (where my dis-ease resides) and I want to be there because someone was there for me when I came in with one shoe on, stinking from crack & booze and out my mind. They didnt say get out. AA works for me and this old LA x-gang banger attends church now faithfully, Sunday School too, lol. Sunday School attendance started last year. It comes sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Lol. I don’t know what other’s need but I was willing to try anything but what I had been doing. It didnt work anymore.

  19. It helped very much to know that Virginia Tech is a leader in science and technology education and that the Carilion Clinic is a well established health system, which includes a teaching hospital that has been working with medical students for many years. What do you think are the benefits?

  20. Pingback: Exclusive screening of The Business of Recovery | Sunday Irvine Meeting Blog

  21. Sevasti Iyama

    Tracy,
    I loved this article! I have been wanting to check out a SMART recovery meeting for some time, and I love that they don’t use labels. Just seems really interesting!
    I honestly am grateful to AA and the steps for helping me but the meetings up here in the AV are so different from Los Angeles, where I truly enjoyed going to meetings. I honestly get bored up here, hearing the same stories over and over. I feel like I am back in the Bronx, listening to my relatives hash about the War.
    I don’t think they have SMART recovery meetings up here either, but I am going to check one out in LA soon.
    Thanks for this great piece!

  22. transplantwest on

    Good Article. I’m so glad you found what works for you. I wonder what program would have been like for you had you gone there FIRST. You were in AA for six years. We get what we need the only way we’ll understand it. (Sanscrit, personalized, not AA). You said your meeting moderator, would “interject and ask us things like “So, what tool do you think might work in a similar situation in the future?” Or, he’ll, pull out the SMART workbook and give a little lesson on a particular tool” Sounds like step ten. Or a closed topic or step meeting, where the chair person keeps the meeting on track. You reiterate “Your automatic thought and irrational belief might be “I’m not a good enough writer to get into Rolling Stone.”” Sounds like change your thinking. Step two. Open your mind and change the insane self defeating thinking. Realize that you can be restored to sanity. That it is immature to think one failure means you are doomed. Just because you are ready to implement things differently doesn’t mean you couldn’t find it in AA, you stopped looking, in AA. I found it, millions of people do. The point is, you found what will work for you. How does that mean AA didn’t get you there?

    • Transplant, I would suspect one rather large difference might be that in SMART the member takes active action to make those changes, rather than beseeching a ‘higher power’. Another difference would be the use of the “insane” to describe a dysfunctional belief. An interesting question might be why do you appear to be insistent that AA get the credit for what the author achieved elsewhere? The 10 cent psychology course would suggest you see success achieved elsewhere as a threat to your belief system and as such, a threat to your sobriety. Trust me, it’s not.

      p.s. the phrase “restored to sanity” bollocks

  23. Hi there, Tracy. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with finding what works for you – it reminds me so much of my own when I found LifeRIng, and here I am, 7+ years later, happy, healthy, and in recovery. It’s been a great journey. Take care.

  24. “So it’s the thoughts that are the problem…” Yes. Good insight. Even in AA participants are taught that alcohol is not the problem – the alcoholic is the problem. Taking your own inventory in the manner you described is very congruent with AA’s principles. The fact that you had your epiphany in SMART where it was explained another way does not negate the fact that the truths were there all along in AA. Glad you found success. Stick with whatever works and helps you continue to grow as a person, and to shed the need to change the way you feel through the use of alcohol and drugs.

    • Tracy Chabala

      I don’t mean to disagree with everyone who disagrees with me, and thank you for the thoughtful response. But, I don’t believe SMART in any way asks us to take an “inventory”. I do believe AA can help us change our guiding belief systems and patterns of thought, although it does trouble me that this is couched in punitive language and requires the individual to identify themselves as “selfish, self-centered, dishonest, afraid, prideful, self-pitying, etc.” So, fundamentally, the programs are not at all interchangeable and not founded on the same tenants. One asks you to render yourself powerless and call yourself morally defective, the other asks you to objectively analyze your thoughts without self-judgement, or with the judgement of a sponsor.

    • “Taking your own inventory in the manner you described is very congruent with AA’s principles. The fact that you had your epiphany in SMART where it was explained another way does not negate the fact that the truths were there all along in AA.”

      I was in AA for nearly 14 years and throughout all that time would have said exactly that. Exactly that. However, once I stopped attending AA (I’m still sober) I learned it’s not true.

      Sorry for the bluntness here, but you’re plain wrong. So was I, for over fourteen years.

      Truth is that the AA approach and the SMART Recovery approach are chalk and cheese. They look similar but underneath they’re very different.

      The fact that you could confound the two as you have only shows your (and my own) misunderstanding.

      This was something I only really began to understand once I’d quit AA and the blinkers came off.

      • I think it takes us a while to see (took 7 years of Soberity to see how flawed I really am) what we need to see because I for one thought I already was very intelligent. The blinders stopped working too because my mind was ready to accept big chunks of truth about myself. I finally understood when I was 33, I could be doing and getting the same stuff I was getting 3 years after I started drinking/drugging & gang banging at age 12 and I just had to give it up, my life was going no-where and my kids was looking at me like I had lost my mind. I don’t care how people change their lives for a better one, Im all for it now. My thought is: if there was only one way to get to God (church) a lot of us would be in trouble, even me. Yes, I believe in Jesus Christ and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.

  25. I enjoyed reading your article because I have a yearning for learning and though I am a “stepper” I would in no way ever discourage anyone from seeking sobriety in anyway that works for them. I’m just grateful we are all getting another day!~Love & Light

  26. Pingback: AA Bullies Still Calling Me an AA Basher | A.A.R.M.E.D. with Facts

  27. Great post! I recently wrote a blog post about my experiences with AA. I am going to link your blog post in the comment section in case anyone is looking at my post and wants to learn more about alternatives. I find it interesting that when researching a bit for my blog post, I saw the same kind of behavior from people in AA when people shared their experiences with other programs. There is a great deal of defensiveness and the part that disturbs me the most is that, almost without fail, there is someone who attacks the character of the writer if they offer an alternative to AA or share a less than positive experience. (i.e ‘you seemed to have replaced one addiction for another’) I loved your responses though to those comments!! Anyway, thanks for writing this very clearly and helping people understand what SMART Recovery is. It is not widely available face to face though. I know in my small city, there are no SMART recovery meetings. I hope that more and more options besides AA spread so that we all have other options if it doesn’t work for us!

    • Tracy Chabala
      Tracy Chabala on

      Thank you!!! 🙂 Glad you liked it and thanks for the link! I get notified of these comments via email, and it’s been fun reading them…

    • There is Facilitator Training online if there is interest in SMART meetings in your area. The training consists of the 4 Points of SMART, the Tools, and how to facilitate discussions in the meetings. There is also a requirement of online training meetings to be able to start SMART recovery meetings. SMART recovery is also offered as an alternative to AA mandated attendance in our area. Please consider Facilitator Training to offer more meetings in your area. The Training links and information is found on SMARTrecovery.org I look at SMART as a way to bring the Promises of the Big Book to fruition. Thank you for the article.

      • I thought about paying the money for the training course for a bit, then I realized I would want to turn over the meeting to another before long, and if no one in the area is willing to pay their funds and do that work I could be stuck with the damn thing for years and years, or just fold it up after a while, the way that most new SMART meetings unconnected with an ongoing recovery-related business go.

        Probably like most ordinary people, I’m not willing to make a commitment of my time for what could turn out to be years straight before someone relieves me.

        Kudos to those who are willing…apart from the therapists shilling for their businesses, of course.

  28. Glad to know from you that SMART is finally getting around to updating more than the one phamplet they’ve changed in the last 16 years. It sounds good to say they revise their materials as science progresses, but it does take some work and time in the real world to make that a true statement instead of a false one.

    Have you any idea when they have that scheduled to begin? There’s so much ground to cover since they began so long ago it must be a truly impressive and well-discussed project. Or, it may just be easier to tell gullible people they actually do that.

    Sitting around with people dealing with problems other than mine in a SMART meeting feels like sitting at a crowded low-rent luncheon counter. I suppose it is good to hear people outline their issues with smoking and sexual maladaptive behavior, gambling and opiate addiction and procrastination to get a larger view of society, but I’ve truely little interest in hearing about their most recent difficulties with those things.

    Most surprising to me was to learn that all these different problems are solved with one solution. One size fits everyone with every addiction or behavior problem experiencing every degree of difficulty for every personality type and background. There is nothing you can come up with that SMART won’t try to slap their simple solution onto.

    I suppose there are people who find that attractive. And after a quick fixup, people leave and are thereafter problem-free, thanks to the evidence-based science of 20 years ago. At some point SMART will undergo a study with more than 87 people and we will get a look at how this works for alcoholics, as opposed to and compulsive nose-pickers who want to change that for the better.

    • So, you think the information provided by SMART is outdated because it was created 16 years ago? AA is over 80 years old. SMART has been updated, AA has not…which one seems more outdated? You don’t want to listen to other people’s problems? That sounds like you really take to heart the AA mission of altruism. Is everyone’s alcoholism the same in AA…I think not. CBT and REBT are a one-size fits all? Hmmm, how much individualization can one find in the 12-steps? AA is for true addicts and SMART is for compulsive nose-pickers? Seems to me from the sound of your post vs. the sound of SMART proponents posts, the only picking going on is your cherry picking of assumptions and facts. I’ll take 16 year old science over 80 year old religious recovery by some guy and his sober buddy any day of the week.

  29. Thank you so much for this piece. I got sober in AA 15 years ago. Although a dedicated 12 stepper I found that, ultimately, the programme made me quite ill. I now see it as out dated 1930s mental health technology that encourages spiritual fantasies, thought reform, and unhealthy black-and-white thinking.
    18 months ago I quit AA and took some group CBT for my OCD – which the steps had done nothing to help. In fact the prayer and rituals of AA only encouraged it, in my view.
    So for you to write something so brave was a real eye-opener. I enjoy talking recovery, and now do this online via my blog.
    I’ve heard mixed things about SMART Recovery – partly because I bought into the AA dogma that any other style of recovery is an “easier softer way” that doesn’t really exist. I now know that to be nonsense.
    There’s a SMART Recovery meeting near me tomorrow, so I’m going to give it a go. Will let you know what I think about it. I hope it’s a positive experience too.
    Jon S “Leaving AA, Staying Sober” at http://goo.gl/DZr9T1

  30. AA is a reliable path to sobriety in the same way roulette is a reliable path to personal wealth. There is no empirical evidence that shows AA to be any more effective than having no structured recovery program at all. They intentionally cream the data they present, defining things such that failure to maintain sobriety is a failure of the person and not the program. If a patient failed to recover from surgery, we wouldn’t say the patient was the problem. But, AA knows the true failure rate of their program, which is why anonymity remains critical: it makes scientific research on its efficacy impossible. And, remember that Bill W was basically making stuff up, throwing spaghetti on the wall, and not even checking if it stuck. Nothing like evidence ever came near the 12 steps in their formation, nor has it infiltrated them since.

    • These options are all great if and when they work for you. Something I’ve learned as a 55 year old is that what works for someone at one point in their lives may not work for them at another point in their lives. What helped me to avoid institutionalization and drunkenness the most is a free organization called RECOVERY INTERNATIONAL, based upon the principles of the late Dr. Abraham Lowe. Lowe completely disputes and rejects Freudian therapy, even to the point where the following ‘spotting’ is often heard: DON’T TELL ME HOW YOU FEEL. TELL ME INSTEAD HOW WELL YOU FUNCTION.’ This is raw undiluted Cognitivism at it’s most extreme, in that another ‘spotting’ is: YOU GET BETTER IN ACCORDANCE TO THE AMOUNT OF DISCOMFORT THAT YOU’RE WILLING TO TOLERATE. I learned very quickly that another spotting, WHO ARE WE NOT TO GET OUR FEELINGS HURT applied to daily life. We North Americans seem to think that we are completely entitled to being happy, but such is, unfortunately, not the case. Our conditions are based upon temper, fear, and the hatred of routines and fears of any changes.
      Giving the insincere gesture of friendliness instead of the sincere gesture of hostility would have prevented world wars.
      anyhow, it is said to attend 7 meetings before you decide whether or not RECOVERY is for you or not. I attended 3 years and followed their suggestion that you didn’t necessarily have to attend the meetings in person to remember and apply the ‘spottings’ to your life.
      I found that this group didn’t necessarily make me feel better immediately, but made it a heck of a lot easier to function, by just utilizing these simple spottings in life. certainly, RECOVERY isn’t for everybody under the sun and a lot of folks would be outraged by it and use what they called TEMPERAMENTAL JARGON, but I urge anyone merely to explore it and then decide for themselves.

    • ” But, AA knows the true failure rate of their program..” I suppose General Services (the main office ) does, but the average AA doesn’t. Memes circulate that you take for truth, “It’s the only thing that works”. In a way it’s true since AA has co-opted the word “sober” to mean, “Not drinking and going to AA meetings.” and so it follows that AA is, in fact, the only way to get “sober”. And along similar lines, someone who has been drinking, but is at a meeting, or repeated “slips”, but goes to meetings is nevertheless “in recovery.” Yet someone sober for weeks, months, or years, isn’t in recovery– they’re “dry” or “white knuckling it” because no matter how many years you’ve been “dry” you can’t possibly have a satisfying life unless you’re “working the program”; you aren’t “sober” unless you’re “working the program”.

  31. I really like what you have written. I also used AA as my support group at the start but moved on after about 18 months. it was good to have a lot of meetings to go to, but I did not thin much of the “Higher Power stuff” smart and the CBT approach really helped me as well. I was certainly much more motivated by techniques I learnt through the more modern Smart approach. I hope it continues to grow and more people become aware of what it has to offer. I get a lot of emails about leaving AA safely on my blog http://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com and I think Smart is a good support option. I really liked a book called “powerless no longer” by Pete Soderman who made great use of the Smart program after becoming frustrated with the AA powerless idea. There are many ways to recover and it is important that people find out about a support group that will motivate them and not just head to the one that everybody has heard of (which is what I did!)

    • Tracy Chabala
      Tracy Chabala on

      Hi there, I have visited your blog many times, and it helped me tremendously to have the nerve to at least contemplate leaving AA, and now I feel extremely light, free, and so positive! Thank you so very much for that. I think you’ve helped many people. I’ll check out that book! The book that helped spark this new journey–in addition to the HOURS of research I did online–was “Moving Beyond the 12 Steps”.

      • I’m so glad you found my blog helpful, it has certainly helped me by making me read and research alternative methods and by bringing me into contact with a wide range of people all round the world. Most of these people seem open minded to alternative to AA solutions, but often have not heard of some of the smaller support groups.
        I also wrote a piece for addiction.com about why I left AA, which attracted some real lunatics in the comments section from anti AA people who seem to think that everyone who leaves AA should bash it, which is certainly not my opinion, although I do not think AA is a perfect solution for most people. Here is a link http://www.addiction.com/expert-blogs/why-i-dont-go-to-aa/ It is amazing how many people in the recovery world want to tell you how to think!
        I will check out that book soon as well!

  32. thank you for writing & sharing this information. I think it is greatly needed!!!!! 🙂 whatever works is great, but people need to know their options!!! thanks again!

  33. After struggling with alcohol addiction, and failing with AA, SMART helped me. I just celebrated one year sober. I can see SMART techniques helping me for the rest of my life. Good luck, all. You’re not alone.

  34. I joined Smart Recovery ONLINE, the day that I stopped drinking alcohol. April 15, 2010. I loved REBT longed before joining which is why I was attracted to SR. The online community is fantastic and there are actually “meetings” you can attend. My first two years of sobriety, I utilized a few of the tools and attended online meetings. I also attended AA meetings with a dear friend. Everything inside of me said that AA was not for me, including your reasons as well. With the exception of one long-time member who called me out on not saying my name with “and I’m an alcoholic” and accusing me of attending the weekly meetings to do some inside work for my profession, I enjoyed the fellowship. I enjoyed going out to dinner on Thursday nights with “the gang” before the meeting and I felt like I belonged to a group with a common interest (not drinking!). I will admit that being embarrassed the way I was, was at the core of why I didn’t want to go to AA…I did not want to be shamed.

    Fast forward five years, including the unexpected death of my husband 20 months ago…I remain sober. I do not thank AA or Smart Recovery for that for it is I who decided to stop drinking. It will be I who choses to start drinking again and not the fault of any program I did or did not attend.

    Your article was great and if it helps just one person out there who needs encouragement, then you have succeeded! I passed your article on to a judge who I know, who I’ve encouraged to use SR as an alternative to AA for those who require assistance via recommendations in court.

    Keep on writing Tracy Chabala!

  35. Stephen Mitchell on

    Great article. I have been attending SMART for about 2 years. The crosstalk really helps me deal with the day to day obstacles of somebody in recovery. Keep it positive and thanks for spreading the knowledge.

  36. Thank you for sharing! I am in recovery and never much cared for NA or AA for multiple reasons.. a few of which are mentioned here. And a few I am reminded of from the comments left. I do not down NA or AA at all, if that program keeps one sober; fantastic. The end objection of all “programs” are to help one achieve sobriety. I am glad to see that there are other approaches towards getting there. Oddly enough, without the actual knowledge of SMART I have basically done the fundamentals of it and that is what keeps me clean and sober. Thank you for this article. It honestly made me feel better about my choice to not follow AA

  37. Hello, and thanks for sharing about SMART. While I agree that AA is a widely recognized 12 step program in helping people become sober, I don’t beieve the road stops with that program alone, but finding the extra/different help is challenging. As mentioned, having an alternative or choices is important,reason being, there is no one size fits all for sobriety , and not everyone feels good or hopeful in labeling themselves alcoholics/addicts. Furthermore, I was excited about how SMART adresses the negative thought process and can see how recognizing these core feelings, behaiors, and thoughts would be paramount to recovery, not to mention to help avoid “dry drunk” syndrome. I found your article insightful and informative, serving as a spring board for new ideas and motivation in continuing forward motion in my own recovery. Thanks for sharing.

  38. CBT and REBT are Part of AA. No one has to be labeled or believe in God and the powerlessness in step one leads to self
    Empowerment after that. I think AA is smart enough already without having to be labeled as Smart.

    • Tracy Chabala
      Tracy Chabala on

      So whenever we talk about other treatment options, or talk candidly about SMART Recovery, a defense of AA is warranted? Is it that troubling to admit that AA is not a one-size-fits all program? This, I’m afraid, is what I tried to believe to stay in the program for years. I convinced myself that AA didn’t force me to believe in things I didn’t agree with. No, no one put a gun to my head, but as far as the steps are concerned, they are interpreted for the most part as imperatives. Actually, no interpretation is necessary. There’s one line in the literature that I’m aware of that says the program is just “suggestive”, but it’s joined by loads of black-and-white language that explicitly states you sign your death warrant if you don’t do the steps as they are outlined, believe in some sort of higher power, admit personal defeat, and grab a hold of AA principles like a drowning man – those are but a few of many more similar declarations. If you ask me, talking about SMART and defending AA are two separate discussions. Must we defend physical therapy to the death in lieu of reconstructive orthorpedic surgery? Surely each person’s case is different, and therefore different treatments might be necessary. People should have a choice as to what treatment they feel comfortable with and what options they think will work best for them. And if physical therapy doesn’t work, said person might try reconstructive surgery, and vice versa. If someone doesn’t mind the imperatives of the 12 steps they have every right to join AA, and it’s terrific if it works for them. But insisting that others with philosophical conflicts force themselves to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, and insisting that these imperatives don’t exist in the overall mood of AA, is simply unhelpful and irrational. To me, this kind of constant defending of AA as the one-size-fits-all treatment method obscures the important point at hand – people need to know other options exist, and the addiction conversation needs to open up in the mainstream consciousness. More than anything, we should feel free to be honest, open, and admit that AA isn’t for everyone and, of course, SMART recovery isn’t for everyone.

      • When people are closed minded, especially in the face of science and statistics, you know you are dealing with cultists.

        Better to just walk away, because you’re not going to change the mind of the True Believer.

      • Angela Nicholls on

        I was sober for 13 years and religiously attended AA meetings, I grew away from the program at about eight years and would have attended a handful of meetings in a year. I found AA to be judgemental and self righteous. I did pick up a drink agains after 13 years. After 3 years of drinking, I could no longer control it and decided I needed to get sober again (the damage done to my life was no where near what it had been in my last rock bottom). I returned to AA but did not feel it was right for me anymore. I started doing smart recovery and seeing a psychologist – I focussed heavily on my thinking patterns and my assertiveness. In Smart Recovery – criticism of AA is not tolerated, but in AA they openly criticise other recovery methods – which is a shame as we should be working together.

    • Actually, no, you are wrong. Major emphasis in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is for the “alcoholic” to surrender his/her will to a “higher power.” And for some reason, Bill Wilson identifies this entity as a male, i.e. a capital-g God as we understood him.

    • Hi ANA.

      I’ve heard that line about CBT and REBT being “basically the same as AA” many many times. I used to say it myself. Truth is, they’re very different.

      AA encourages superstition (“there’s no such thing as coincidence”), unhealthy black and white thinking (“you can’t be a little bit alcoholic”), moral inventories (where you find “defects of character”).

      None of these feature in CBT or REBT. In fact it’s quite the opposite.

      CBT and REBT embrace scientific progress, they seek to occupy the grey areas we all live in, and they have a more realistic approach to psychology that allows context to play a role in our judgement over decisions and actions.

      Most of all AA suggests we live in a two way split between thoughts/feelings and actions. God (as you understand him) can intervene on that plane if asked. CBT sees things very differently.

      We live in a three way world of thoughts, feelings and actions. In CBT thoughts and feelings aren’t interchangeable concepts. They’re different.

      AA has never acknowledged this because it came about in the 1930s, over a decade before CBT and REBT, so it’s just not part of the programme.

      So please don’t make the mistake I made for so long. They’re very different approaches to mental health.

      Jon S (14 years in AA, 1 year in CBT) “Leaving AA, Staying Sober” at http://goo.gl/DZr9T1

      • Christopher Brink on

        Clearly AA is also ineffective, and these winos keep giving such glowing examples.

        Science”? You keep repeating this, but it’s not helping you (or anyone else, no matter how many times you congratulate yourself) I realize you’re just reading off the pamphlet like they told you to, but seriously.. this has about as much “science” as an empty beaker.

        Provide empirical evidence. Peer reviewed, if you know what that means. Hint: YouTube is NOT a credible source.

        Suggestion: In the future, stick with what you know, your posts will shorten tremendously, and you’ll appear less foolish and thirsty.

  39. Very nice article, very nice indeed. You did a good job in describing the approach and one of the main Tools used in SMART. If I may, here is the link to the Tools that can be found at the SMART Recovery on line site http://www.smartrecovery.org/resources/toolchest.htm and the link for additional articles and essays http://www.smartrecovery.org/resources/articlesessays.htm Look for the article called “Who Controls You” to get a quick primer on some of the tools and how they work.

    The entire web site can be found here: http://www.smartrecovery.org/

  40. Thank your for this article, I found it to be very interesting. I have been sober for 13 years, and I am in the AA program. I see that you got sober in AA which is great!!! It did keep you sober for 6 years. So what AA has taught me is to have that whole psychic change so that I can be in a comfortable,secure place then it has also taught me that once I have completed the 12 steps, I can venture out to get new information, try new things, read new things, go to new places so that I can broaden my spiritual journey. This I am doing and it’s a non stop process.
    I am not against anyone trying out different programs for their recovery, whatever works for that individual . I notice in your personal information that you are a “sugar junkie”, you seemed to have replaced one addiction for another, working all the principles in my affairs in which AA has taught me, I’m able to not trade addictions. I am not perfect, but I do progress forward. I have learned to have acceptance for people, places, and things and by doing so have practiced tolerance. Thank you for your share.

    • Tracy Chabala
      Tracy Chabala on

      Well, I’m sitting here with a banana and almonds, that’s my snack. Maybe I’ve grown some since six months ago when I wrote about being a sugar junkie? I do not understand why a story that highlights a great program that keeps up with science would lead to a question about my personal business (eating habits) and a suspicion that I’ve swapped one addiction for another. I was hoping these comments would contribute to the discussion about expanding our ideas on treatment methods, not veer into recycled AA rhetoric (argumentation via platitudes), which is what pushed me further and further away from the program in the first place.

      • Don’t take Darla’s comment seriously — it has zero substance. She probably just wrote it to feel better about herself that day…even if it required being completely passive aggressive and insulting.

        I guess they don’t teach social etiquette in AA.

      • Jakob Goldberg on

        Meh. Not much of interest here; I thought it was satire at first.. Poe’s law.

        Indeed, the “writer” is just another common dry drunk patting herself on the back for finding a new social group where attendees can bask in how hip they’ve convinced each other they are, and attempt to repeat some vague, repetitive buzzwords to round out their aspirational desperation at sounding quasi intellectual.

        This is why you spent years relapsing, and it’s ultimately why you failed AA; you’re motivated only by the surfaces of things, it’s why you’re tossing terms like “it’s proven scientifically”, without expounding, quantifying, or even understanding what those words involve. It’s also why you come off as having thrown back a half box of wine before coming in here to rant at any reply that wasn’t here to serve that flat one dimensional ego.

        Yuck!

        • Dude, what part of the title seems like satire, and are you kidding me? And so now you put writer in quotes? If she’s writing she’s a writer. I mean, maybe your dreams of writing haven’t come to fruition, but to bash someone just because she has different opinions? And then you tell someone they failed at AA? You sound like a very spiritually advanced alkie! Now that is sarcastic…it’s true. But you use the word YUCK? Are you five? Get a grip. If it’s that threatening to hear someone question AA, well, I guess you better rethink your beliefs because you’re obviously very uncomfortable with the criticism, so much that you’ll personally attack a writer with the language of a toddler. AA isn’t for everyone. One look at the comments proves this.

          • Sarah Martinez on

            I didn’t come here to critique other people’s programs but geez… Jakob seems like the man on a dry drunk, not the author of the original post. I got sober in the rooms of AA nine years ago, and the way in which someone else chooses to do so is no threat to me. To use the word “failure” with response to relapse is a big red flag in my opinion I would tell the new person to run fast and far away from anyone in the program who spoke in those terms. I have told people that AA is not a shame based program but folks like him would make me a liar if there were too many of them. P.S. I’m still and always have been an agnostic.

    • Hi Darla.

      Forgive me but your comment says so much about the AA approach. I’d have been writing a similar thing myself until recently.

      “I have been sober for 13 years.” Well done. Seriously, that’s great. I’m 15 years, and am also quick to share that … but time served has never been a badge of seniority in AA. It’s one day at a time in AA right?

      “What AA has taught me is to have that whole psychic change.” Me too. Then I read Robert Lifton’s eight categories for thought reform, based on his study of brainwashing in China in the 1950s. That’s what really happened to you, and me, in AA.

      “I can venture out to get new information, try new things, read new things, go to new places so that I can broaden my spiritual journey.” Me too, but you don’t seem receptive to that new information where it contradicts your current programme. See previous point.

      Please also Google Andy Thomson’s “Why We Believe in God(s)” talk on YouTube. You’ll realise that there’s no such thing as “spirituality” or “a spiritual journey”. It’s a human construct, a product of our social evolution. At that point, you’ll also need to rethink the first point I made. This is, indeed, “a non stop process”..!

      “I notice in your personal information that you are a “sugar junkie”, you seemed to have replaced one addiction for another, working all the principles in my affairs in which AA has taught me, I’m able to not trade addictions.” If you read Theodore Robert Dudley’s “The Drunken Monkey: Why We Drink And Abuse Alcohol” it will show you the real cause of alcoholism – which is basically the same thing as being a “sugar junkie”.

      Like your sense of spirituality, alcohol (and sugar) abuse is a product of our evolutionary psychology – related to the evolutionary advantage of gorging on ripe fruit, whose edibility is signalled by the scent of alcohol produced by yeasts that inhabit the fruit in a symbiotic relationship with the plant (it also acts as a bactericide).

      None of that’s in the Big Book. Bill and Bob didn’t know about it. How could they? They also didn’t know that thoughts aren’t feelings, which is something I only learned in CBT – not AA – and which is why SMART Recovery is so important and also why AA people are often so defensive.

      I began my journey at 13 years sober. It’s been an incredible two years. I no longer attend AA or practice the 1 steps. I’ve taken what I like, and left the rest.

      Please don’t take this as overly critical or rude. I apologise if it’s caused offence. However your comment said so much about the AA way of thinking that I felt it was worth deeper consideration.

      If you’re genuinely interested in exploring new and better ways of living, and finding a closer approximation to the truth regarding alcoholism and recovery, there’s more information and links on my blog “Leaving AA, Staying Sober” http://goo.gl/DZr9T1

      I’d genuinely be interested in your comments and thoughts on this.

      Best wishes, Jon S

      • Tracy, thank you so much for the article. I am a counselor in training and I am always on the look out for new information about recovery. The more we know, the better off we ALL are. There are so many personalities in the world and AA simply does not work for everyone. I very well might have recovered long before I did, if I had known about other options. Although I met many great people in AA, it just didn’t feel right. I stayed down on myself for feeling like I would be a complete loser at life if didn’t agree with everything they said. Or God forbid, if I didn’t do everything they said. For me, something was just off. It was a constant feeling that I wasn’t good enough. If I challenged anything, the smug response was basically that my life would fall apart because AA was the only way. And I can honestly tell you that at times, I would have rather been in a real jail than the prison I felt like AA kept me in at times. It works for a lot of people, but again, not everyone. There are no real statistics on how many people actually got sober after leaving AA. I can assure you there are many, and I am one of them.

        Jon S, your response was exactly what I was thinking.

        Darla, your writing is eloquent but you still felt the need to defend AA all the while throwing jabs at Tracy for thinking differently. Accusing her of “switching” addictions is insulting. In your short response, you absolutely reiterated why a lot of people leave. AA people are constantly pointing out what “they” perceive to be faults in others, while claiming care and concern. It alients certain peronalities including mine. Therefore, I would challenge your statement upon which you claimed to be tolerant. I would also challenge your statement that said “whatever works for that individual.” I may be wrong, but I just don’t feel like you really mean that. I know many many people that have left the rooms of AA because of the negativity. They chose to seek out spirituality in other places like churches or volunteer programs helping the less fortunate. I myself would much prefer to hear a member share their true feelings from the heart, instead of the AA rhetoric that encompassed your last paragraph. That is the very reason so many people accuse AA of being a brainwashing program. AA just doesn’t seem to promote individuality and encourage everyone to find their own path to recovery. On paper it may say they do, but in reality, they don’t. I have been sober for about 7 years. The good Lord above as kept me sober, plus a whole lot of self care. AA members would probably tell me that I will relapse any day because I am “not in the program.” 2 years ago, I lost my fiance to a drunk driver. I did not relapse, nor was it an option. So now, I feel pretty confident in my future with a substance free life. And no. I do not believe that I am an exception. I take care of myself.

        With all that said, I do believe that AA is a good place to start in sobriety. Especially if you are in a big city where there is plently of groups to choose from. But no, I don’t think EVERYONE needs it forever. For those that do, that’s awesome that it works for you. I have lots of friends that AA changed their lives and they are truly happy and still in the program. I just wish that AA would be really careful about what they say and promote. I will present 2 client situations that I completely disagree with. First, I witness a client that had 20 years sobriety. He went through a terrible divorce and relapsed. Fortunately he got a DUI within a week, so he was abruptly stopped before he hurt someone. He was having a real hard time going back to AA because he felt uncomfortable about 20 years being taken away over one relapse, I tend to agree. I think starting over is ridiculous. I think the focus on time is ridiculous. I have friends that use the app that tells them down to the second how long they have been sober. That is some serious pressure for some people. I can’t imagine putting my life on a timeable table that reminds me every second. But, that is just my opinion. Secondly, I work with a doctor that treats patients with co-occuring disorder. The most frustrating thing in the world for her is a sponsor convincing a suicidal sponsee that they need to quit all medications. And it happens a LOT! This is grossly crossing boundaries to the point of the doctor having to ask those sponsors if they are willing to take the blame when the patient commits suicide. Once again, AA’s way, or no way!

        Sorry for the long response, but their ARE other legitimate opinions.

      • Not at all surprised these drunkards are spreading themselves across the internet, no one in real life wants to listen to these self absorbed drunks talk about themselves and how they MUST be right. Ha!

        Really, no one cares. Also not surprised to see Jon here dropping his affiliate links. Tracy tried to post hers, but lost herself somewhere in a Contra Costa County outlet mall looking for the PERFECT top for her cleavage selfie, because, well, let’s be honest, that’s really all she CAN do.

        • ? Melinda, with all due respect, talking openly about one’s journey can be helpful to a lot of people, and criticizing writers for doing so is really strange. Why did you visit the site if you didn’t want to hear sober writers share their stories? Why are there so many comments here, many from people who also left AA, if the article is useless or the writer didn’t communicate or help people in anyway? I left AA too, but one of my takeaways was don’t treat people poorly, and bashing a writer for what she’s wearing and saying she can’t do anything seems pretty anti-AA to me. I’m not sure what’s so threatening about the article, but since you’re that angry, it must have pushed a big button.

      • William Kaiser on

        Wow, what a nice inventory taking. One thing I have learned is that when I don’t use the word “you” I don’t make people respond defensively.

        …”you don’t seem receptive”…,….” If you read” ….” You’ll realise (sic)”…”If you’re genuinely interested …”

        It seems to me that breaking away from AA can be a conduit to pour oneself into.

        Keep up the good work, grasshopper!

    • ” I notice in your personal information that you are a “sugar junkie”, you seemed to have replaced one addiction for another, working all the principles in my affairs in which AA has taught me, I’m able to not trade addictions.”

      Good grief, nobody even got arrested or DIED by eating too many candy bars.

      Your comments sound quite high-horsed.

      Lemme, tell ya, I went to A.A. for YEARS and could never get sober with A.A. I got sober by adopting a program tailored just for me, based on cutting edge science and psychology. It’s not a one-size-fits all world.

    • For someone who has learnt to practice tolerance (open mindedness) there was an awful lot of passive aggressive remarks in your comment.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Masters in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.

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