Sunday, January 11, 2009

Choices Abound -- but let's get it right

"Choices abound to help you stay on the path to recovery" is the upbeat title on a Jan. 7 story by Jodi Mailander Farrell, posted on the Sober24 blog.  She leads off with that wonderful 1944 quote by Bill Wilson that's also a tagline on "The roads to recovery are many."  

Another nice quote is: "There are not just 12-step programs anymore," spoken by Pat Taylor, executive director of Faces & Voices in Recovery.  F&VR is an advocate of the new recovery model charted by William L. White and others, reviewed here and in my New Recovery blog, and it's a good sign to hear Taylor say it.  Was the echo of Dorothy's line, "We're not in Kansas anymore" intentional?

Among the options Farrell includes is peer-to-peer counseling at recovery centers, pharmacological treatment, and non-religious groups.  I was naturally very pleased that, under this last heading, Farrell cites LifeRing.  But I was dismayed to read the next sentence:  

"LifeRing Secular Recovery, a California-based nonprofit, bills itself as the anti-12-Step approach."

That's just flat wrong.  Farrell must have us confused with some other group.  We have never "billed ourselves" as "anti'" any other recovery approach.  Although our approach differs in some fundamental ways from 12-step, we are not "anti" 12-step or anti-anything else that helps some people get sober.  We specifically bar attacks on any other recovery approach during our meeting hours.  About a third of our membership also participates in 12-step groups, and that's fine.  We are not about negating other approaches.  We are about adding to the range of choices available to the recovering person.  

In my forthcoming book, Empowering Your Sober Self: The LifeRing Approach to Addiction Recovery,  I begin by taking note of a central fact that emerges from solid statistics and from widespread clinical experience:  only a small minority of people who start in AA stick with it.  (At the end of one year only five per cent are still attending, and not all of those are sober.)  I then go on to outline the LifeRing approach , suggesting that more people will get sober if there are more different roads for them to walk on.  Much later in the book (Ch. 5 of 7) I ask why so many people walk away from AA after trying it, and I suggest that one big turnoff is the doctrine of powerlessness, which derives from one particular and widely rejected stripe of theology.  I also criticize some versions of the disease concept and an exaggerated emphasis on genetics.  But to criticize some of the theoretical foundations of the 12-step approach in a book is not to become "anti" the whole organized 12-step effort.  No matter how wrong-headed I think some of the 12-step theory is, the 12-step organizations remain social groupings where (mostly) sober people gather, and it's fundamental to my understanding of recovery that any gathering of sober people is a good thing and deserves support.  

Unfortunately the blog post where Farrell's story appears doesn't allow for reader comments.  So I've posted my remarks to Farrell's Facebook page (incidentally, I had to join Facebook to do so (groan, more computer time)) and I've asked her to please post a correction.  

Farrell's paragraph on LifeRing goes on to say:

The group’s meetings encourage give-and-take dialogue with no religious overtones, as opposed to the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) practice of uninterrupted monologue.

That's true enough, but again the phrase "as opposed to" puts an unnecessary edge on things.  There are people who like "uninterrupted monologue" and it works for them, and they also like LifeRing meetings, where we have dialogue.  It's not necessarily either-or, it's both-and.  The point is not to knock one thing down, but to broaden the range of choices available. 

P.S.  Farrell responded to my email with surprise that this item of hers was picked up just now; she wrote it a long time ago and "It's been out for a long, long time...I'm sure some of it is outdated."  

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