Support Groups

Sugar Addiction In Recovery

After we get clean and sober, many of us discover that we are still addicted to sugar: in our coffee, in our snacks, in our desserts and elsewhere. Sugar addiction is common, in and out of recovery. Our bodies have a natural attraction to sweet things. We need sugars and other carbohydrates in our diets, and we are pre-programmed to like them because they are good for us (in the right quantities). They are easily burned by the body for energy. In fact, every cell in our bodies are fueled by glucose, a form of sugar.

READ THE LABEL! This one's not bad

READ THE LABEL!
This one's not bad

The problem with our modern lifestyle, however, is too much of one good thing and not enough of another. We get far too much of the wrong kind of sugar in our diet, and we don’t exercise enough to burn it up. Our metabolism, however, makes adjustments in order to insure that we have energy when we need it, so unburned sugars are converted to fat, which is sort of our bodies’ gas tank. Our lack of exercise insures that this fuel supply, too, remains mostly untouched, and so we gain weight.

As we put on weight, through too many calories and too little exercise, our bodies fall victim to a variety of health issues connected with excessive weight, including heart and arterial deterioration, pre-diabetes and diabetes, and several other metabolic diseases.

Our taste for sugar and the problems associated with it — along with poor eating habits in general — make maintaining a healthy lifestyle difficult. Food manufacturers and most cooks know that mediocre food can be made more palatable by adding sugars, and they do so in abundance. The great majority of the calories we get from sugars in our diet come from foods that, if questioned, we wouldn’t even identify as sweets! That’s because we become accustomed to sweet flavors, and don’t even notice them unless they are missing. Careful perusal of the labels on packaged foods will amaze!

Those of us addicted to sugar didn’t ask for it, any more than we asked to become addicted to alcoholor other drugs. For many of us, given too many sweets as kids, it became part of our lives when our brains were still developing. So if we have a “problem” with sweets, the first thing is to forgive ourselves and not beat ourselves up. Sugar is highly addictive to some of us, especially recovering alcoholics, and substitute addictions are common. Combined with any previous histories with sweets, it would be fairly amazing if we weren’t having some problems. Remember that you are on your side, you’re not the enemy!

For those with sugar addiction issues, we recommend finding a meeting of Food Addicts Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous. FAA tends to fit best for sugar addicts, as their approach to controlling intake is more specific than that of OA. Overeaters Anonymous is a great program. Don’t get the idea that we’re saying one is better than the other. It’s just that FAA’s focus fits best when we are considering foods as an addiction.

Second, we try immediately to address substituting something else for the sugar when we have cravings for alcohol, other drugs — or sugar. Peanut butter and whole grain crackers are good, as they have protein and fats that help assuage hunger and that will not cause blood sugar swings that affect appetite.

We need to watch how we eat in general, and avoid getting hungry. We eat small, well-balanced meals and between-meal snacks of whole grain breads, proteins, beans, nuts,

Good Sugar!

Good Sugar!

bananas and so forth. If we balance things properly, we can probably get by eating less than we are now, because we’ll avoid getting really famished, which brings on the urge to binge.

We need to avoid white flour whenever possible. There are great similarities between it and sugar as far as the body is concerned, and it will only prolong and increase cravings. We try to stick with fruits and high-protein snacks, and we check ingredients carefully for their sugar content.

It is most important that we see a doctor for a checkup and lab work. There are metabolic issues that can affect cravings for both sugar and alcohol. If there, they need to be addressed.

Baaaaad Sugar! BAD!

Baaaaad Sugar! BAD!

We also avoid dieting — like the plague. Weight control is about developing new eating habits for a lifetime. Diets are reverse binges. They teach us nothing about proper eating, and do nothing to develop the lifetime habits that are necessary if we are to maintain good nutrition and healthy weight. Because they are regimens of deprivation, it is extremely likely (if not inevitable) that we will return to our old eating habits, gain the weight back, and enter a dieting and eating cycle that can only defeat us and cause us to decide that our efforts are useless.

As with any other addiction, we are likely to fall off the wagon and into the sugar bowl occasionally in the beginning. We are going to be learning how to manage our eating in a whole new way. Relapse is a symptom of addiction, and it’s going to happen in this case because it’s impossible to eat perfectly regardless of how hard we try. If we “slip,” we can be thankful that it isn’t as deadly as drinking or drugging would be, and decide that we will do better. We don’t think of ourselves as weak, or strong. It’s about powerlessness. It’s also about reality. We can’t expect to be perfect. If we make mistakes, we immediately return to our program. We can’t abstain from food, so if we slip, we just decide to do better. We try to be good to ourselves.

Buddhists talk about “skillful” and “unskillful” behavior. In recovery, we want to become more skillful in our ways of living. When we’re learning, we’re apt to make occasional mistakes. That’s human, not weakness. Keep moving toward skillful. Forget perfection — that way lies more addiction.

We Are Not Saints — Dysfunction In Recovery Groups

We encounter dysfunction in recovery groups, as we will in any organization of whatever purpose. Because this is sometimes used as an excuse not to participate, we’d like to discuss some of them here.

We need to remember, first of all, that people at AA, NA and other recovery-oriented meetings are not usually there because they are well. They are there to learn skills that will enable them to live without engaging in harmful behavior. The emphasis is on learn. Not everyone learns quickly; some resist, and don't learn much. Some may use their presence in the fellowship to convince themselves that they are okay, and that they have only one problem to address. Unfortunately, some of their “outside issues” have the potential to cause problems within the group.

There are people who may befriend newcomers in order to take advantage of their vulnerability in various ways. Some see the fellowships as a social club, and make no effort to change. (Those folks don’t usually last long.) There are people with control issues who keep running groups when they have many years in recovery, unwilling to pass the baton to younger leaders and support them while remaining out of the spotlight. There are those who are merely annoying — who share frequently and long, and repeat mostly the same things every time. Some folks love to quote the literature but share nothing personal, leaving us feeling preached at, rather than shared with. As the saying goes, “Some are sicker than others.”

I could go on, but that’s not really the point I want to make. My point is this: we gain from our recovery programs according to the effort we put into them, and part of that effort is taking a good look at others and deciding if we really want what they have. We need to look for people who seem as though they are living stable lives, and who behave as though they actually have something to offer besides flash and big talk.

If dysfunction in recovery meetings is really the reason we’re turned off, the remedy is simple: find another meeting. If there is no other meeting, we need to decide if we really want what the fellowship can give us. If so, we need to tuck it up and attend the the annoying meetings anyway, taking the good stuff away with us and leaving the b.s. in the parking lot.

Recovery is a life or death issue. Alcohol and other drugs kill people. If we don’t want to be part of that group, we need to work at becoming part of a different kind. Just as with any other collection of human beings, there will be jerks. But there will also be folks who are genuinely helpful, and — on extremely rare occasions — we may even run across a saint.

Beginners’, Gender-Specific and Specialty Meetings

There are a variety of 12-step meetings, in addition to those discussed previously, that are designed to meet the needs of specific populations and purposes.

Beginners’ (Newcomers’) Meetings

Typically held before “regular” 12-step meetings, and often of shorter duration, beginner’s meetings usually concentrate on the first three steps, or on other issues especially affecting beginners.  The effectiveness of these meetings is largely dependent upon the skills and attention brought to bear by the leader(s). Outside speakers are often brought in to talk about their early recovery or other more specific issues. On occasion, a panel of “old-timers” may be convened to answer the newcomers’ questions.

Beginners’ meetings are an excellent resource for newcomers, and are also a wonderful way to become acquainted with others in the group.

Gender-Specific Meetings

The subjects of mixed-gender sponsorship, “13th-Stepping”, newcomers in relationships and other issues of poorly-focused recovery are best left for another time. Suffice it to say that it has been found inadvisable to do too much gender mixing, especially in early recovery. People who don’t know how to have relationships with themselves  have no business in relationships involving lust, sex and whatever they imagine passes for “love.”

There are a number of axioms in NA and AA regarding separation of gender groups in recovery, perhaps best summed up in the popular one used by our women members, “Women will save your butt. Men will just pat it.”  For this and simple reasons of common issues and answers, we have men’s meetings, women’s meetings, gay meetings and trans-gender meetings. Obviously, in most cases, each is limited to people of that gender or gender preference.

“Specialty” 12-Step Meetings

There is a fairly broad range of meetings that need a bit of explanation. Although they generally fall into the category of “discussion” meetings, they have aspects that set them a bit apart.

As Bill Sees It meetings are similar in format to Big Book meetings, but are based on the book of the same name, a collection of Bill Wilson’s writings from various sources. This format lends itself to broad topics that are indexed in the back of the book.

Living Sober­ meetings are also based on a book of the same name. This paperback book, official AA literature, contains 30 short articles on various aspects of the sober life and how to deal with them. The format is generally the same as the other literature study meetings.

Grapevine meetings are based on the AA Grapevine, a monthly magazine published by AA The magazine contains a variety of articles and letters that make excellent topics for discussion, including at least three each issue that are intended to be used that way.

Old Timers’ meetings usually involve a panel of members with a good deal of sobriety under their belts. (No one has actually ever defined “old-timer” specifically. It’s generally accepted that if you have 20 years of continuous sobriety, you are one, and if you have 5 years you probably aren’t. Clearly, there’s a wide gray area.) In any case, these folks answer questions posed by members from the floor.

Askit Basket meetings are similar to Old-Timers’ meetings. Members write questions on pieces of paper, which are placed in a collection basket or someone’s hat. A panel of experienced members answers questions drawn at random, after which there is a general discussion. This format allows shy people to ask  questions anonymously, and is usually quite popular.

Meditation meetings, also called Eleventh Step Meetings, follow a variety of formats, generally centered on a reading or short discussion of a particular idea, and then guided or unguided meditation on the subject. Often there is a period of discussion after the meditation period, as well.

Business and Group Conscience Meetings

Business meetings are for discussing the everyday operation of the group: who will chair meetings, who will find speakers, who will be the General Services Representative, and so forth. Secretaries and Treasurers are elected at these meetings. The twelve-step groups do not have presidents, etc. “Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”

Group conscience meetings are called when needed to resolve non-business issues. They are often held before or after business meetings in order to arrive at a consensus regarding a problem or potential problem that may have arisen within the group. This could, for example, involve whether or not to move the location of meetings, or how to deal with subjects such as discussing other drugs at AA meetings.

It is extremely important that we attend these meetings. They are the primary means by which we may let our ideas about our home groups affect their operation. If we do not attend group conscience and business meetings, we have no right to complain about the way our groups are being run.

Kinds of 12-Step Meetings — Open and Closed Meetings

I thought I’d do a few posts about the different kinds of 12-step meetings.  Many people in early recovery don’t seem to understand that there are a variety of meetings available to them, not just the ones they were introduced to in treatment or that they stumbled across on their own.  AA is particularly known for having women’s meetings, gay meetings, Big Book and Traditions meetings, and a number of others.  NA does too, and so do some of the other fellowships.

So, here’s my first effort:  Open and Closed Meetings

Open meetings:

In open meetings, anyone is welcome. You can bring your Aunt Minnie, your boss, your significant other, your cousin Hank who “might have a problem.” Anyone you like. Open meetings are most commonly discussion meetings, where someone proposes a topic and attendees take turns sharing about it. Others may be speaker meetings, where folks share their experience, strength and hope in a more formal and longer way. These speakers are usually — although not always — prearranged.

Sometimes the formats are combined into a speaker/discussion meeting. In these, a speaker, or leader, “qualifies” by telling his/her story, and then leads the meeting in discussion of a topic that the leader has picked.

Closed meetings:

The purpose of closed meetings is so that those suffering can share their issues without feeling judged by non-addicts.  They also discourage people who are just curious, and who have no real reason to be there.   Such people, having nothing to lose in the anonymity department themselves, might knowingly or unknowingly speak about something they heard.

Only alcoholics and addicts are welcome at closed meetings. In NA, alcoholics are welcome, since NA officially views alcohol as being a drug. It is customary, however, to identify yourself as an “addict,” or as an “addict and alcoholic.”

In AA, due to traditions that go back more than sixty years and that no one seems in any hurry to change (because they work), only alcoholics are welcome at closed meetings — along with those who have a desire to stop drinking.

Many other kinds of addicts have taken offense at this — usually because they have identified themselves as an addict and been told that the meeting is for alcoholics only. This is an embarrassing situation that arises from time to time. It is a matter of poor manners on the part of the person correcting the other, but we must remember that “some are sicker than others,” and that waiting until after the meeting to explain it politely is not within the capacity of some people.

If a person is an addict at a closed AA meeting, the simple way to deal with the issue is to say, “My name is (whomever), and I have a desire to stop drinking.” At first thought, this seems dishonest. But is it not a fact that addicts need to avoid all mood-altering substances, including alcohol? Do we not therefore — at least in spirit, and sufficient to the moment — have a desire to stop drinking, (or not \start drinking)? Or, we can just grit our teeth and say we’re alcoholics. What’s so bad about that? Bottom line, like it or not, it’s good manners to conform to this tradition. If we do not wish to do so, we may need to find another meeting.


How Many People Get Into Recovery And Then Relapse?

There are all sorts of numbers you hear bandied about, and none of them are really precise. Here’s why.

Relapse is difficult to measure. Obviously it occurs before we use. If we weren’t already in relapse, we wouldn’t use, would we? So if I don’t use, did I relapse or just come close?

Recovery is about making the physical, social and mental changes that take us away from our old ways of thinking and develop new ways of looking at the world that allow us to live relatively happy, healthy, sober lives. Recovery is a sliding scale, not an event, and we can move in either direction.

It is even possible to stop dead in our tracks and move in neither direction. Some of us stop using but do nothing to change. We call those folks dry drunks, and as the saying goes, “If you sober up a horse thief, all you get is a grumpy, more efficient horse thief.” If they use later on, does that count as a relapse, or were they never really in recovery?

It is reasonable to say that for people who started off making progress, relapse occurs when we begin sliding back to our old ways of thinking and behaving. Using simply makes it impossible to ignore any longer.  This brings up the obvious issue of measuring recovery. How do we do that?

Recovering people clearly move along the scale in a positive direction. Their attitudes improve, they exhibit willingness to change, and do so. They seek out positive relationships and nurture them. They become more truthful and compassionate. They recognize that false confidence is a trap, and try to remain realistic about their progress and prospects. They are willing to share what’s happening in their lives and accept feedback. They make an effort to become a part of the outside world, while retaining their connection to the recovering community. Finally, they help others to achieve the same goals.

Conversely, to the extent that they do not make those changes, or move in a negative direction along the scale of recovery, they are either not in recovery or are in relapse.

The second big issue is counting those who relapse “officially.” How do we do that? We know that a great many people who enter detox facilities do so more than once. But if they don’t return, are they still clean and sober? Did they move? Did their insurance run out? Did they get clean after going “cold turkey?” Did they die?

Many people think that the 12-step programs ought to be able to answer those questions. But how? That word “Anonymous” is a huge barrier. Who keeps the central database? Who takes and validates the surveys? How do we tell one drunk named Bill W. (a co-founder of AA) from another Bill W. who writes for Sunrise Detox? The figure we hear spoken  about in the rooms is usually in the 10 to 30% range for eventual recovery. Is it accurate? No way to tell.

A study by the National Institutes of Health (available here) is of little concrete help, but does point out other complications. How many people went into treatment facilities? How long was the treatment? How many people participated in AA or another self-help group? How many did both? How many used, but participated on a second try? How many of those who participated in groups on the first try relapsed, and how many went to treatment subsequently? You can go on and on with these combinations, and resolve little or nothing. The follow-ups on this particular study were done by phone. How many of those people simply lied out of embarrassment?

The same problem occurs with treatment facilities.  We only have contact with those who return, or who stay in touch.  We have no way of knowing what happened to the rest. A large chain of treatment centers estimates relapses at 70 to 90%, but how is that measured, and how many of those people subsequently get sober? Who knows?

The most accurate figure is probably in the 70% to 90% range. Addiction is a disease, and one of its symptoms is relapse. We can expect anything that is considered a “symptom” of a disease to occur more often than not, and for the numbers to be significant. It also gibes with our experiences in treatment and detox.

The important issue is not how many make it, but whether we, as individuals, are doing everything we can to insure that we continue to move in the right direction. One of those things is helping others to achieve sobriety. If we are doing our absolute best, then the chain builds itself, one link at a time, one day at a time.

And no one can answer that question but you.

Online Meetings And Forums Give Recovery A New Dimension

I’m fortunate enough to live in an area often referred to as the “Recovery Capitol of the World.” It’s hard to find a place in southeastern Palm Beach County that is more than five minutes away from some kind of 12-step meeting, and there are dozens — perhaps as many as a hundred — treatment and recovery facilities within 15 miles of where I sit, from medical detox like Sunrise, to primary treatment centers, to halfway and sober houses. There are at present 289 AA meetings a week — just AA — and that's not counting the North County area, where there are plenty more.  I’m not going to count up all the Narcotics Anonymous meetings (AA did theirs for me), but a quick look leads me to believe there are between 120 and 140 NA meetings per week around here.

And then we have the myriad other groups such as Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Pill Addicts Anonymous, Adult Children Of Alcoholics — we could increase the list practically ad infinitum. Sure, some big cities have more meetings, but the concentration of meetings, treatment and newly-recovering people here is unlike anyplace else I know of. Alcoholics and other drug addicts in this area have no excuse for not getting the support they need, if they want it.

Which makes it really easy to forget that this is not the case in most parts of the country, and certainly not in most of the world.

For many years, recovering people had to rely on letters back and forth to other AA or NA members, or to the World Services offices, if they were — for example — crew aboard ships, in the military overseas, or residents of rural areas far from meetings. Later on, listserves and other early forms of online communication became available, followed by email and the Web. Today we have dozens of online meetings, forums and similar sites where recovering folks can find support for any kind of addiction imaginable.

Often we old-timers tend to resist such changes in the recovering community. That’s akin to the attitude of “Cold turkey worked for me; why should these kids go to detox.” Times change. Resources become available, and people take advantage of them. Just because I’d prefer to attend a face-to-face meeting, that doesn’t mean that the digital natives aren’t able to get support elsewhere. Heck, I’m part of that system myself, come to think of it, both here at Sunrise and on my own sites.

Bill and Doctor Bob pioneered the use of the telephone in recovery, and opportunities to connect long-distance have since improved a hundredfold. Does that mean I think electronic meetings are as good as face-to-face? No. I still believe that human interaction works best at close range. Even Skype, as great as it is, can’t convey the feeling and compassion that comes from a look and a nod across a meeting room, or from a hug. But I do think that alcoholics and other addicts who fail to avail themselves of online connections with other recovering people are missing out on some of what present-day recovery has to offer.

Why not join an online forum, and maybe get involved in an online group? It’s convenient, and you might help someone who needs it — maybe even yourself.

Get started now:  http://goo.gl/mn13y   or

AA Tends To Benefit Women And Men In Somewhat Different Ways

A study to be published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence indicates that both men and women profit from participation in AA (and, presumably, other recovery programs) if committed to their recovery, but that some of the beneficial effects tend to occur in different areas.

According to John F. Kelly, PhD, associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Addiction Medicine:

“These differences may reflect differing recovery challenges related to gender-based social roles and the contexts in which drinking is likely to occur.”

According to the study findings, women seem to gain confidence and support in being able to avoid drinking as a reaction to unhappiness and depression. Men, on the other hand, seem to benefit from changes in social situations, i.e., the pressures associated with old “people, places and things.”

More information is available in this article from Science Daily.

What single aspect of your program do you believe had the most effect on your successes?