I’m not an addiction professional from the standpoint of education or training. What I am is an ordinary guy who had a problem, solved it, and would like to help others to do the same. This effort grew out of curiosity that began over twenty years ago, when I was attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, but didn’t buy the “higher power” concept or believe that I was powerless. I never worked a step, used a sponsor, prayed, or followed most of the other “suggestions,” except for one: I didn’t drink. Why was I successful when studies indicate that only 5 out of every 100 people stay sober for a year in AA? I drifted away after a few years, never to return.
It wasn’t until Mike Werner, one of the founders of SMART Recovery®, introduced me to their scientifically-based program a few years ago that I learned most addicts recover on their own, or with minimal informal help. Mike and I started a SMART meeting as co-facilitators that’s still going strong in Wilmington, North Carolina.
As I continued to learn more about the ways in which people actually recover from addiction, I became curious about how addiction works, why I behaved as I did when I was drinking, and why I had continued to drink even when I received little benefit from the drug. I did the research necessary to learn the answers to these questions, and many more, which clearly show that the conventional recovery establishment is based upon principles that have little or no relevance to how addiction works, or how addicts actually recover
Powerless No Longer is intended primarily for those who are currently in the process of questioning their own drug or alcohol use, or who have tried 12-step or other programs and not succeeded. Perhaps you have been told you are “powerless” over your addiction. I will show that this is simply not true. I will describe in detail a self-change method that works for the overwhelming number of addicts, three-out-of-four, who successfully recover on their own, and show you how to apply these principles in your own recovery.
What separates this book from others is the viewpoint and experience I bring to it as a recovered addict, and that I have combined in one place:
I will make some suggestions based upon the available science; there are no “musts” in this book. There is no single system or program that will work for everyone, there are only methods and principles that have worked for most and these have been uncovered in scientific surveys and studies.
What works? The truth is that there is no easy and simple answer to that question. There is no program, drug, method, or procedure that has been proven to work for everyone under all circumstances, and there may well never be one. There is considerable commonality between the various methods used by the study subjects who quit on their own or with minimal help, and it is in these areas we will focus most of our attention.
In addition, there are many studies that try to determine the effectiveness of methods and programs employed by the various recovery groups and treatment centers, and we will draw some common threads from those as well. There will be some surprises here for those who might have some preconceived notions about certain programs, but the bottom-line is that the most successful approaches seem to involve a combination of methods, and we shall go wherever the data leads us.
The element most common to all successful recoveries is somehow finding the resolve or motivation necessary to make a major life change, such as overcoming an addiction. This is true no matter what the addiction, or the relative severity. If we are properly motivated, almost anything will work, in the absence of motivation, nothing will. The necessary stimulation may come from many different sources, in fact the most common, according to the majority of studies, is a single consultation with a trusted medical professional, such as a family doctor. Other sources of motivation that rank highly in studies are family or financial pressures, a major life event, such as an illness or the death of a using significant other, or simply a “moment of clarity” that reveals to us our true situation .
Making substantial lifestyle change is the second commonality. Such things as ending associations with using friends, finding substitute activities, (we have to do something with all that extra time), and finding ways to cope with the urges and cravings that drive many of us back into using. Studies show that the majority of us who were successful relied heavily upon a support network of friends and family members.
There are many recovery-oriented self-help books on the market, and studies show that a large percentage of us who quit on our own do so using the techniques found in such books. Many of them concentrate on 12-step programs themselves, or variations on 12-step themes, and others spend a lot of time bashing 12-step programs, and little time either explaining addiction, or presenting scientifically-proven alternatives to the 12-step method. A small but growing share of the self-help literature is devoted to programs that foster moderation as opposed to abstinence, for many of us have been able to moderate our drug or alcohol use, as the studies presented in the next chapter will show.
Learning how to get along on a daily basis without resorting to the drugs we were using to kill pain and alter reality is another important skill we must develop. Most of us have learned to see the world differently than our non-using friends. We are more susceptible to stress than most, and our belief systems must undergo a major change in order for us to obtain long-term sobriety (or moderation). To modify our belief systems, we alter the way we think about ourselves and our relationship with the world. This requires a good deal of properly-directed effort; it does not happen by itself.
Most of us who started using at a young age never “grew-up” in the sense that we failed to learn the value of working for the achievement of long-term goals. We were much more into short-term gratification, and a life spent in the pursuit of the pleasures of the moment, centered around using. In my case, as my drinking increased, my world shrank, as alcohol took away most of what I formally thought was important. Woodworking was first, reading was next, followed by sports, clubs, and finally, I withdrew from my family and most of the outside world. It amazes me even today that I accepted this as normal. When I quit, I discovered that there really is a life out there, and I could be part of it without drinking! My goodness, there is life after alcohol, who knew?
Every successful recovering person goes through this process. We learn to restore some balance in our lives, to manage short and long-term goals, and interact with other people on an equal footing. We also learn to accept personal responsibility for our actions, which we seldom did when we were using. These are learned skills; and whether we get them from a program, from friends and family, or from a professional, we need them in order to have long-term success in our new lives.
Underlying all of the above is a technique that is just beginning to be scientifically studied in the context of alcohol and drug abuse recovery, although it has been around for centuries, called mindfulness. We act as we feel, and we feel as we think, therefore our thoughts drive our behavior. The suggestions for change I mentioned above all share the common goal of changing our thinking, our beliefs and subsequently, our actions. As our wish is to modify our thoughts and feelings, it’s entirely appropriate that we adapt some reliable method of monitoring them on an ongoing basis, and that’s the object of mindfulness meditation.
The research tells us that statistically, our best chance of overcoming our substance abuse problems lies in learning techniques that alter our thought processes on a permanent basis. Learning to focus our attention upon our thoughts and emotions, as well as our actions is the key to doing this successfully; therefore, mindfulness plays a major role in whatever path we choose.
(Excerpted from Chapter 1 of the forthcoming book: “Powerless No Longer” Copyright© 2011, Pete Soderman)
Survey after survey has shown that the general public overwhelmingly believes that addiction is a disease, addicts are powerless over it, it’s a result of some sort of spiritual or moral issue, it’s hereditary, and the only hope the addict has of ever being free of it is for he or she to commit themselves to treatment, and resign themselves to life-long participation in some sort of 12-step or other semi-religious organization. None of this is true, of course, which I will address in chapter three, but for now, let’s look at these false beliefs from the standpoint of what we know today about the nature of addiction and how we become addicted.
Firstly, consider that those false beliefs stem mainly from a book that was published in 1939, called “Alcoholics Anonymous,” which became the foundation of the drug and alcohol treatment industry, and the source of most of the public’s knowledge about addiction. Not a single word or phrase in the operative portion of this book has been modified or updated in the slightest since its initial publication, seventy-plus-years-ago, in spite of all we have learned about addiction, especially in the last half-century. For its part, the addiction research community has hardly gone out-of-its-way to change public opinion either, partially because of a reluctance to challenge the established treatment industry, and partially, I suspect, due to their lack of access to the public-at-large. That last is truly unfortunate, because the truth of the nature of addiction, revealed by the available studies and research paint an entirely different picture than the one the public, and even most addicts, currently believe.
Addiction is an extremely complicated Biological, Psychological, Neurological, and social disorder, with no single cause. We are not addicts because we are weak, immoral, or fated to be so. We are addicts mostly because we learned to be, not because of any spiritual shortcoming. We became addicted because of a combination of genetics, experience, personality, opportunity, and outlook.Continue reading
The number one reason for the self-changers I referenced in the last chapter quitting or modifying their substance use was, overwhelmingly, that it was no longer “worth it.” Using was too much hassle, too much trouble, and was causing too much discomfort and pain in their lives, relative to the benefit they were receiving from the drug. As it was their number one reason, it was also their number one motivation for self-change. With motivation, almost any program will work, or, in the case of 75% of former addicts, no program at all, as long as the addict has reached the point when he or she realizes that the costs outweigh the benefits.Continue reading