Thursday, June 5, 2008

Letter to Dr. Davis from an Audience Member

[Note: Dr. B.J. Davis, Clinical Director of Strategies for Change in Sacramento, was guest keynote speaker at the 2008 LifeRing Congress in Berkeley May 31 2008. See Congress review page. After his talk, which was met with a standing ovation, Dr. Davis received the following letter from an audience member.]

Dear Dr. Davis:
I attended your presentation at the LifeRing Congress yesterday. I am passing on a monumental and heartfelt thank you for offering me something that you may very well not be aware of. Your efforts helped me release something that although I was not fully conscious of, I have been holding onto for several years now. I struggled with binge drinking, starting in 1998 and came close to death on a few occasions. I was admitted into Clearbrook - a 28 day, 12 step program in Pennsylvania in 2002. I had attended AA meetings prior to that time and it never resonated with me. In fact, the bulk of that which AA stands for always felt completely contradictory to who I am and what I believe.

Quite frankly I found the whole thing offensive, short sighted, and erroneous. At the same time, the aggressive, hostile, shame-inducing, punitive, thoughtless, deeply insensitive, and invalidating tactics of the 12-step treatment center made AA, on its own, seem light-weight, in terms of harm. My time in treatment is truly one of my most disturbing memories - in my adult life, anyway. I hesitate to go too deeply into it because firstly, it would require dozens of pages, but more importantly, I believe that to whatever extent I hold the responsibility for having created the circumstances for which I ended up in treatment, I am also able to create and put for my solution to the same extent. I like that the solutions to all of my life challenges remain in my hands.

Since years have passed since my treatment, I felt that for the most part I had moved beyond my negative and enormously frustrating feelings as well as the deep conflict that I endured during my 28 days. During your presentation, it became apparent that I had not fully let go of that experience and its impact, until today. As I heard you speak the very essence of what I have felt, believed and attempted to express on countless occasions -- during and subsequent to my treatment, I realized that there were still pockets of stored sadness, desolation, deep frustration, and even fear -- fear of once again being misunderstood, or being accused of having a sick-mind, even though I knew (ironically, in my mind) that my mind was precisely the very part of me that held my solution. If my mind had guided my decisions, I never would have had a drink. I was always clear that my poor choices and decisions were directed by emotional conflict, pain, etc. and my mind at those times was abandoned.

To hear you speak so confidently and knowingly of the very things that I too have known, yet have failed to successfully communicate and in some ways, fully embrace, proved to be quite a profound experience for me. Therefore, I have to point out your one inaccuracy, which is that you said at the beginning of your presentation that you did not have anything profound to offer. That proved to be unquestionably false for me. As I heard your wise and insightful words combined with your compassion, understanding, and alignment with universal truths that transcend any short-sighted concepts and beliefs espoused by AA (and other organizations), I somehow felt compelled and safe to release whatever was left inside of me that once felt so hurtful.

Without sounding too dramatic here, I came close to leaving the room during your presentation, because I actually got teary eyed and was fearful I might just burst into heavier tears. Yet my tears did not reflect any current sadness, but rather a release of old sadness, replaced with a renewed feeling of freedom and hope that I had neatly tucked away and fiercely protected. Thank you so much for offering me the segue between having shut myself down and feeling safe and free to re-open certain places in my heart and mind.

Again, I may be treading dangerously close to drama here, but after treatment, I felt much like I imagine a little boy would feel after being punished for doing something wrong that in reality he didn't do at all. Or better stated, being accused and punished for doing something wrong and bad in the face of attempting to do something quite pure, innocent and good. Your insights touched me similarly to how a boy would have felt if a parent believed him for the first time after years of carrying around the guilt and shame for something he never did. That pretty much sums it up for me.

Truly, thanks so much for your courageous efforts, your big heart and your wise mind. I personally think you should have an endless supply of Ben n Jerry's and anything else your heart desires..... and so it shall be.

(Name Withheld)


Anonymous said...

Funny, how many people from life ring, radical recovery... who went to AA and ended in "Life ring
radical recovery... that come back to A A because it never
lasted long term except that between bouts went
to psychiatrists.

I have attended Life ring and was a MFT now a Medical Doctor at the Mayo Clinic in MN I am now back in
AA and got honest. Got busy giving it away and talked
less. Life Ringers have serious drama and are whiners
Any thing "from the neck" up won't take care of this!!! It is an inside job. There is no solution in your head. Or it would of worked many years ago
12 steps are happening, Actions not disscussions
recovery is in your feet. ACTION!!!
People think that they have tried AA
and didn't work. It works you the
biggest effort is to get the hell out
of the way apply and "Rule 62" take simple
direction and then it is happening big time
Promises of AA bottom of page 83 top of 84
says they will ALWAYS materialize!!! if you work
for them.
Some of the top CEO,s real CEO's bankers
actors. unemployed constructions workers, nurses, teachers, cab drivers etc... people all
walks of life, creed color. Know AA works you
from inside. I found Life Ring founders and members in fact are very judgmental and spin in on AA to take the fault. I find people who in AA
who don't work the program are just like life ringers too! They just attend meetings...

Dr. Davis said...

I must say, as a former Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) and current "Medical Doctor,” your bedside manner leaves much to be desired. This gentleman was sharing his honest experience and feelings and for you to so harshly dismiss them goes against any Hippocratic Oath I have read.

Dr. Davis

Anonymous said...

“Anything ‘from the neck up’ won't take care of this!!! It is an inside job. There is no solution in your head or it would of worked many years ago. 12 steps are happening, Actions not discussions.
recovery is in your feet. ACTION!!!”

I agree that yes, recovery – as well as any other type of profound personal change, occurs through action. Not sure what occurs within your anatomy, but with most human beings, voluntary movements, including “action” in “your feet”, simply will not occur without being prompted by your brain. The decision to take action, as well as which specific action to take and how to interpret and respond to anything and everything that results from those actions, requires a brain. You can either be responsible for your life by accepting that fact or avoid responsibility by denying that fact. People’s decision to attend AA occurs within the brain – the very brain which is relentlessly accused of “stinkin thinkin”. It is a bit ironic that I would have to tell a medical doctor this.

While I take no personal issue with people who choose AA (whether it be with their brain or not) as a means to address their struggle with drugs/alcohol, I do take issue with people’s unfounded and irresponsible implication that it is the ”only way”. It seems a bit revealing when people are somehow threatened with the mere possibility that others create a solution to addiction outside of AA. I tend to question the solidity of one’s sobriety when it seems to be so very contingent upon the acceptance and agreement of others.

One of my favorite things about the Life Ring meeting I attend is that we enthusiastically discuss the actions we have taken and determine which actions we will take in order to honor our lives, inclusive of sobriety. Even within the meetings we implement new concepts and take action with each others as things come up and opportunities arise. We do so as mindful individuals - independent of scripted or predetermined steps and dogma – leaving no space for war stories, reminiscing, and thought obstructing slogans.


Anonymous said...

i feel very dismayed heart felt ache whenever I read or hear this line of "bickering" that happens between the groups of recovery circles. So i will forgo my comments in regard to the comments - The bottom line is "WHATEVER WORKS"! for each individual who is trying to lead a clean and sober life - whether it be AA, Lifering or some other means to deal with the addictions - the key is choosing LIFE and LIVING OVER DISPAIR AND ULTIMATELY DEATH in addiction - I have been in both main recovery groups for some time and use them in unison with each other to keep me on my path of sobriety and journey in recovery. That is what's saving my life.
I attended the congress in May and was moved to tears by the key note speaker Dr. Davis and I thank him for the moving words and hope that i also found in them. I have also experienced this at other recovery groups as well by keynote speakers and those who have shared. As I said above - WHATEVER WORKS - to save one's life that is what counts!!
Thank you - sincerely, jj.