Support Groups

What are your thoughts about addicts in AA instead of NA?

There is absolutely no reason why addicts shouldn’t attend AA meetings.  However, AA has traditions that are important to the fellowship and to many of the members.  One of those is that they generally confine their discussions to alcoholism and recovery from alcoholism.

Disregarding the fact that alcoholism is an addiction like any other, and disregarding the “a drug is a drug is a drug” of NA, keeping drugs out of the conversation is the custom at the majority of AA meetings.  Everyone attending — cross-addicted people like me, and people not addicted to alcohol at all — should follow that custom in most cases.  It’s simply good manners.

There are, however, situations where a person is in crisis, and simply needs a meeting of whatever kind.  In that case it is perfectly proper — hell, it’s a life-threatening emergency — to say whatever we need to say in order to get whatever kind of support we need.  What I would do in that situation is simple.  I’d raise my hand and say “I’m not an alcoholic, but I really, really need help because I’m about to use.  Will someone come outside and talk to me about it?”  I would probably be invited to stay and say what I need to say, and if not I’d have a horde of people headed for the door with me.

Really, the substance has nothing to do with it.  What matters are the emotions, the behaviors and the solutions.  Those are the same for all addictions, and anyone should be able to talk about them in any meeting without ever mentioning alcohol or any other drug.

Why Does Sharing Experience, Strength and Hope Work?

In order for me to recover, I have to understand at least some of the ideas flitting around in my head. Telling someone else is the best way to get the mess organized. Saying what’s happening to me in a way that others can understand — putting it into words and sentences — removes the secrecy, the mystery, and clarifies things in my own mind. My thoughts have to stop running around in circles (at least a little bit), and that allows me to see through my own mental static. But there is another powerful reason for sharing our experience, strength and hope.

No one gets into recovery by accident.  We used alcohol, other drugs or behaviors — often all three — because they made us feel better about ourselves.  After they stopped working we kept using them because we were physically and emotionally addicted, and because we didn’t know what else to do.  Eventually something happened that made us willing to take a terrified leap into the unknown, because we could no longer tolerate what was going on in our lives. I didn’t get up one morning and say to myself, “Hey, it’s nice out; I think I'll go to detox!” Neither did you.

But what got us into recovery doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we have to repair the damaged thinking that made acting out our addictions seem preferable to facing reality. As many have said, “I’m not responsible for being an addict, but I am responsible for my recovery!” Back then, we didn’t know any better; now we do.

And that’s where the experience, strength and hope of others matters. In order for us to have faith in the program, we have to see that it works. Listening to other addicts tell how it was with them, what worked for them, the results and their hopes for the future — or maybe just how scared they are — tells us that we're not alone, and gives us hope. I may not believe that I can do it, but if I see and hear that there are people who felt the way I felt, who had many of the same or similar experiences, who suffered the same shame, guilt and despair, and that they've managed to get beyond all that, turned their thinking around and begun to live, then just maybe I will begin to believe that I can do it too.

Further into our recovery, we may listen with a changed ear and be able to hear how we can apply the experiences of others in our own lives. In the beginning, though, we simply need the reassurance that we are not the only ones who behaved the way we did, that others have recovered successfully and are willing to share what they’ve learned, and that we are not alone.

That's why we're told to identify with the lives and feelings of others, and not compare. The details don't matter. The feelings, fears, and humanity that we share with our fellow addicts are the keys.

Experience. Strength. But, most of all, HOPE!

Sponsors In Recovery — More Questions

Our clients attend group sessions while in detox, and questions come up about sponsors in recovery. Since the subject seems to confuse some folks in the beginning, we like to mention it occasionally with a bit of an explanation. These were a couple of recent questions.

What is a sponsor?

Sponsors in recovery are people with experience in the particular program of recovery, who have completed the 12 steps, and who help newcomers understand and guide them through completion. Along with that, they make themselves available as supports outside of meetings. A sponsor should be of a gender preference that minimizes the possibility of outside entanglement, and the sponsee should remember that age is not a factor in these matters. That is, men sponsor men and women sponsor women, unless the parties are gay.

Most sponsors require that their sponsees call them every day, and want to meet with them on frequent occasions to discuss their program, things that may be on their mind, and help prepare them for the various steps. If they do not have time to do that — and there are many good reasons why that might be the case — then perhaps another choice would be wise.

A sponsor is not a moneylender, legal adviser  marriage counselor or therapist. Their purpose is to help the newcomer focus on the 12 Steps, and to help them come to an understanding of their program of recovery. These other things distract and change the focus of the relationship, and are generally considered detrimental. Furthermore, it is quite likely that they are not qualified in those areas anyway. Although most of us develop friendships with our sponsors, even that is not necessary.  What is required is experience on the part of the sponsor, and our ability to learn to trust them.

The person we choose does not have to like our kind of music, be a sports buff, or even close to our own age, but he or she must show through appearance, actions and words that they are not only working a solid program but are also living a healthy life. There is no such thing as a perfect sponsor, but the best bet is to check out the person at a few meetings or over a cup of coffee, and see that they are not just talking the talk, but walking the walk as well.

Finally, we need to remember that a sponsor’s purpose is to lead us through the steps. If that is not happening, or if they are taking us off on some tangent, we need to understand that we are not married to them, and that we are free to look for another sponsor. We do, however, need to be sure that the incompatibility is real, and not simply a matter of having heard something we did not want to hear. The nature of recovery is change, and a sponsor who is unwilling to dig a little is not doing the job right.

Is it okay to have a sponsor in AA and another in NA?

This is a matter of opinion, to a degree. Generally-speaking, when it comes to those two fellowships, we would suggest that it is best to settle on one or the other for our step work. Every sponsor learns sponsorship from their own sponsors, and styles of sponsorship thus vary quite a bit. Having two individuals risks confusion. For example, one may like to spend more time on a particular step than another, or put more weight on writing as opposed to talking. Neither of those is wrong, but they can conflict.

One of the best reasons for not having two sponsors, however, is the danger that we will play one against the other. In any endeavor, it is best to have only one leader at a time. We recommend that a newcomer choose one fellowship for in-depth work, and attend meetings of the other for identification with those issues as well.

The exceptions to the above occur in the case of specialized fellowships, such as Overeaters or Gamblers Anonymous, or sexual addiction groups. In those and some other cases, the primary purposes are so different (at least on the surface) that it is imperative to have a sponsor who can personally and comfortably address those issues.

Zoloft Put the Pleasure in My Sobriety

I've recently run across the old bugaboo in the rooms related to taking antidepressants. Because not taking them when needed can not only impact our ability to work a program but can also lead to serious debilitation and even suicide, I think this article is a must for everyone in recovery.

“Better living through chemistry” isn't just a slogan: I've been on antidepressants for 20 years, and can still remember exactly when the first one started to work—allowing my recovery to begin for real.
By Maia Szalavitz

Read more at The Fix

Marijuana In Recovery — Why Not?

“If caffeine and nicotine are accepted in the program, and they are both mood-altering substances, how come weed isn't? Pretty soon doctors will be able to prescribe it. They already can prescribe it in some states.”

Most drugs are useful and manageable when properly prescribed and used, but history has made it clear that such is often not the case. Doctors can prescribe Oxycontin, and you can buy beer at the gas station. However, legality has absolutely nothing to do with addiction. (And it has never been shown that doctors are the best source of ideas for staying sober, except in the very rare cases when they are specifically trained to treat addiction.)

The First Step reads, “We admitted we were powerless over (alcohol) (our addictions) – that our lives had become unmanageable.” It doesn't say and that our lives had become unmanageable. Our lives were unmanageable because we were powerless over a drug.

There are many different kinds of mood-altering substances. Some are clearly problems, some less so, some aren't problems at all, and some are problematic over such long periods that we tend to think they're not major issues. Nicotine is an excellent example. Tobacco products are the number-one preventable cause of death in the world, yet the next cigarette, cigar, chew or dip isn't likely to be the one that kills us – as far as we can know. Obviously there is, at some point, a level of exposure that makes the difference, but we can't see it and it's easy to ignore.

Denial, as they say, is not just a river in Africa. And, for the record, many treatment centers no longer permit nicotine use during treatment and strongly encourage newcomers to quit smoking. Their position is that an addiction is an addiction, and that we are either ready to be clean or we are not. While nicotine may be an “outside issue” in AA, it certainly isn't in NA, but in both cases the fellowships take the position that the drugs with the most serious immediate effects need to take priority, and experience has shown that to be the case. No fellowship that I know of, however, has ever stated that they believe nicotine to be harmless.

Caffeine, in anything like reasonable quantities (200-250 mg. a day, not five energy drinks), is unlikely to make our lives unmanageable. Small quantities, in fact, are now believed to be good for us, especially if gotten from brewed coffee.

Drugs like alcohol, opioids, barbiturates, benzodiazepines and – yes – weed, are a different story. All have been shown, in repeated scientific studies that have been published in reputable scientific journals for the review of any expert who wishes to challenge them, to have both short-term and long-term effects that can negatively affect both users and the people around them.

Marijuana works on the same pathways in the brain as other drugs of abuse. As long as those pathways are kept active, the brain cannot make the repairs that allow long-term recovery to be successful. From that standpoint alone, there is no place for marijuana in recovery.  Nicotine works in a slightly different way, and does not seem to impair recovery as much.  However, recent research has indicated that it may have more undesirable effects than has been believed.

From an overall point of view, consider that the purpose of recovery is to learn to live a healthy, productive life without the crutch of drugs – to face life on life's terms, to learn to live, love and prosper in a healthy way, and fit into the rest of society.

There are many things that can block that progress, from eating disorders to sexual obsessions, shopping, gaming and any other activity that can be used – to excess – to keep us from having to deal with life.  When we depart from our purpose of living life on life's terms, and need to use things outside ourselves to make us feel good, we are not truly in recovery.  The exception, obviously, are medications such as antidepressants, which do not affect the brain in the same way as drugs of abuse.

Sobriety is about getting sober. Either you're on board that flight, or you're not.

Let’s Not Take Boston To Chicago

I know I speak for the entire Sunrise family when I extend our deepest concerns and sympathy to the victims, families and others whose lives have been devastated by yesterday's awful tragedies at the Boston Marathon and nearby.  We have friends, colleagues and former clients in the Boston area, and some of us have family there as well.  Words can't express our dismay at these events — one more example of folks' inability to resolve differences without violence.

Ron P., one of my therapists when I was in treatment (you know, back when everyone was eating fermented fruit that they picked up on the way to the water hole), used to have a favorite way of putting things.  He'd ask a simple question, or be listening to someone going on at length in group, and then he'd say, “C'mon!  You're taking it to Chicago!”  Then he'd bring us back to the point or, as often as not, make it for us.

I couldn't help thinking of Ron while reading snippets here and there about the Boston bombings.  One theorist blames the US Government, who are allegedly trying to frame the opposite political party.  Still others are sure they know who and what ethnic groups were responsible, and so on.  Blah, blah, blah.

The bare fact is, no one knows who was responsible except for the people directly involved.  It is likely that the rest of us will know more soon, but it's by no means certain, and it's important that we keep our heads and not jump on our horse and ride off in all directions like the codependent cowboy.  It's especially important that we keep these issues out of the rooms of recovery.

We all have our feelings, and many of us aren't that good at keeping them to ourselves.  If we feel as though we need to talk about things, we need to remember the first rule of sharing in the rooms or elsewhere: keep in in “the I.”  We share about how these things are affecting us and our recovery.  We do not voice opinions on outside issues, in violation of our traditions, and we don't take a chance of offending others in the meeting.  We are not there to ride a political (or religious) hobby horse, but to facilitate our recovery, and that of others.

Let's keep our primary purpose in mind, when tempted to air the opinions that all us addicts have in abundance, shall we?  As a bonus, it may prevent us from having to eat crow later, when our pet theory may be shown to be incorrect.  Let's not take Boston to Chicago.


Keep Celebrity Worship Out of AA (And the other groups)

I have been sighted coming and going from thousands of AA meetings. The difference…is that nobody knows who I am and nobody cares. This has been very much to my advantage.

I”ve written about this before, and will again.  No one is more aware of this problem than people who work in treatment centers — except, of course, for the victims of the publicity themselves.  We see well-known faces come and go quite often. When we see them again, we have to wonder how much of their relapse was due to being hounded by people who can't mind their own business. Personally, I wonder just how much effect the lack of consideration from other recovering people might have. Do we give celebreties the same shot at sobriety in the rooms as we would anyone else, and how do we think we'd feel if the shoe was on the other foot?

A good article that should make us all think.

Read more: Keep Celebrity Worship Out of AA