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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Monday, July 7, 2014

SMART Recovery

By Duane Mantey

For many of us who have struggled with addictive behavior, a cookie cutter approach to sobriety simply doesn’t seem to stick- the statistics for relapse are well known and quite frightening. What we often see are many attempts at recovery, false starts and relapses. A rather predictable pattern of use followed by tremendous guilt, short recuperation, and then another round to forget all about the ‘failures’. They call it the cycle of addiction, many of us are familiar with this scenario. This is my story of how I broke that cycle- using SMART Recovery.

Some years ago I reached a place in my life that was a fork in the road, it was literally a “not do” or “die” time. As I sat in the hospital bargaining with the darkness and with my concept of a higher power, and needing to make sense of it all- I made this decision ‘to live’ ViVRE. It was out of this determination, this purposeful ‘change of plan’ that my long term sobriety was finally set, as was this new found hope I still carry today. But I still needed a support system to make it stick.
At the time my therapist recommended an inpatient program as I definitely had the pedigree of someone at risk of relapse.  I opted (out of my natural stubbornness) to instead create my own hybrid program of recovery. I figured if I put enough effort into it I could make it work. The thought of going into an actual treatment program scared the hell out of me. So instead we co-created my own treatment plan. I realize this is an atypical situation, but it is what happened and for me it was what after many years of trying, finally worked.

The first weeks were tough, my therapist recommended that I at least give a couple of 12 step or CMA meetings a try, even though I had a strong aversion to it, if for no other reason to surround myself with people on a similar path. However the traditional meeting environment - it just wasn’t for me.
But as I was determined to get well, I kept up with my program- continued my counseling. We worked with what he called the ‘Cognitive Approach’ to recovery, we talked about concepts in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) the basis of SMART Recovery.  We discussed tools such as the ‘hierarchy of values’, the cost/ benefit analysis and ‘the stages of change’ to measure my ambivalence. He also recommended I do some of my own research into SMART Recovery- a program designed as a 12 step alternative approach to recovery.

What SMART Recovery is

Some of the more salient features about SMART Recovery that are different from 12 steps or AA: it does not require steps, there are no sponsors, nor does it encourage us to self-identify as addicts or alcoholics- but its ok if you do. It does promote an abstinence model- although harm reduction is accepted in participants- as long as they are not disruptive.  SMART is an acronym that stands for –Self Management and Recovery Training. SMART is science based rather than faith based and teaches that we have addictive behaviors, and that although technically addiction IS a disease, one that re-wires the brain; to think of it as such can be self-perpetuating, and as such (for some) that belief can actually be harmful. SMART instead asks us to consider this disease “a behavior”- one that CAN be modified.
To those of you that have been helped by AA or 12 steps, understand this can work with AA or it can stand alone. It works with any behavior we would like to modify, from gambling, over eating, and for any substance. We all have different paths in life and if it helps someone change an unwanted or harmful behavior, if it helps someone to get or stay sober — that is a good thing! Take what works for you and leave alone what doesn’t. For me – and the thousands of people helped by SMART Recovery this is something that works.

SMART (from SmartRecovery.org)

“…The idea here is to learn about changing things in your life. The first thing is in understanding the problem... and how those problems work in your life. Then you learn the ropes of how to challenge stuff in your own head and get some better things working. In the third big area, you realize that you ARE worth it. Perhaps you have failed to really appreciate how valuable and worthwhile you are.
Well, that’s the picture. SMART Recovery® is a non-profit organization almost completely made up of both professionals and non-professionals volunteers, who feel there is a great need in our society for the benefits of modern scientific methods to be applied to addiction. This means helping you through a change from a destructive habit to a more rewarding and fulfilling life.”

Four Point System

Meetings are peer led and participants are the impetus of the direction the meeting goes- and unlike other types of meetings, cross talk is actually encouraged. The facilitator acts as a moderator — to keep the conversation on the subject of sobriety and keeps a “check in” moving along- there is always one who wants to over share. The facilitator also helps move the discussion toward what SMART calls a “recovery tool” which usually relates to one or more of the participants problems that were brought up in the check in.
Tools comprise one of four points or areas of interest for SMART: they are
Enhance and maintain motivation to abstain
Cope with urges
Manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
Balance momentary and enduring satisfactions

Today I work exclusively with the re-entry population, men and women coming out of the prison system, the cognitive approach to recovery has many advantages. First and foremost – not everyone who ends up in our program is ready for the wonderful world of recovery. Many in fact are very ambivalent about their sobriety in general (being mandated to participate). SMART can accommodate this populations needs by utilization of these tools which hit upon one or more of the above points. Some of my favorite tools for our population are – the CBA (cost benefit analysis), the ABC’s (which could be called ‘disputing irrational beliefs’ and the HOV (hierarchy of values).
This introduction to SMART could not possibly get into the specific nuances of the tools that I mentioned- or even into an explanation of the four points, to do that visit smartrecovery.org. They also have a moderated chat board- I utilized all of these processes in my own recovery. I found them very helpful and hope you may too!

Duane Mantey – serves as President of the Board of Directors for Arizona nonprofit Housing Provider ViVRE more info at: http://vivrehousing.org and he also serves on the Executive Committee for AzRHA the Arizona Recovery Housing Association which is charged with setting and maintaining standards for Recovery Housing Providers Statewide more info at: www.azrha.info