Alumni Perspective: No Recovering Addict is an Island

Alumni Perspective: No Recovering Addict is an Island

by Tim (Sullivan)

“And then my obsession to drink was lifted.” I’ve been in program for a couple of years now and have heard this said on a number of occasions by different people. I don’t question anyone who says it, but I do know that it hasn’t happened to me, at least not yet. When I was in Sullivan, I remember watching the movie My Name Is Bill W. and there’s that scene where Bill is in a hospital bed and a bright light comes over him, which I take to be his higher power. I assumed this was some sort of Hollywood special effects magic, but the scene wouldn’t have been included if it didn’t happen to him. Quite frankly, seeing it upset me because it’s an experience I have not yet had.

I recently re-watched the movie one night at home and came to that scene again and had the same reaction, but rather than turning it off, I hung in there and came to the part in the movie where Bill was on the road for work, staying in a hotel, and as he was killing some time he kept looking over to the hotel bar. (Watch the scene here.) This part I could identify with, since I spend a lot of time on the road for work and almost every hotel has some sort of bar or lounge. It’s what happened next that really struck a chord with me: Bill got a bunch of coins at the bar and started making phone calls from the hotel lobby, working his way through a list of local churches until one of them put him in touch with Dr. Bob, and the rest, as they say, is AA history.

This is where I came to believe that the AA program is about action. Bill took action when he found himself on shaky ground by finding people to call until he was able to talk to another alcoholic. This is the most important part of the program to me.

When I find myself questioning things, wondering if sobriety is worth it, and contemplating whether I can actually have that magical “just one,” it always comes back to grabbing my phone and reaching out to the people in my group, my sponsor, or anyone else I can share that moment with, in order to not take that first drink.  

Most of the open meetings that I’ve been to have had a segment where someone stands up and gives their interpretation of the slogans that are posted in the room. This is a favourite time of the meeting for me because even though many of the slogans are often the same between groups, people often put a unique spin on them. I do my best to concentrate on what is being said for each slogan, and try to apply them to my life on a regular basis. I’ve got to say that the one slogan that ties the whole program together for me doesn’t come from the AA program. I actually heard it as part of a radio commercial: “If you could do it alone, you’d have done it already.”

This program is not about just me, but is about a group of people working together to get through our shared disease. The more I think of this as a “we” program as opposed to a “me” situation, the more I achieve that moment of contentment and serenity that I longed to experience while I was drinking. Being able to go from saying “I need help!” to “Can I help?” has been the greatest transition I’ve experienced since entering the program, and it I has come from reaching out and taking action. The magic is there, but you’ve got to work for it.


Young Adults Should Look for 12-Step Groups With Peers

by Celia Vimont

Although they make up only a small percentage of 12-step program membership, teens and young adults can benefit greatly from attending meetings for groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), according to an expert from Harvard University.

Only two percent of AA and NA members are under age 20, and 13 percent are under age 30, says John Kelly, PhD, Associate Professor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Addiction Recovery Management Service at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Young people are a minority in these groups, so they may find it more difficult initially to identify with members who are older and have different challenges, such as children, elderly parents and job loss,” said Dr. Kelly.

Because of this potential mismatch, he recommends young people who are looking to start participating in a 12-step program, whenever possible, begin with meetings that are specially designated for young people, to help them feel connected and engaged. “After this initial engagement, however, young adults may find it more beneficial to branch out to more mixed-age meetings,” he says. “Older people are more likely to have long-term sobriety, and generally have greater life experience and wisdom. Our recent findings support the notion that age similarity is good for early engagement and for enhancing sobriety, but confers less benefit in the long term.”

At the recent National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers meeting, Dr. Kelly presented research he conducted with 300 young adults, ages 18 to 24, which looked at participation and involvement in 12-step programs following inpatient substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. He found high rates of attendance and involvement – speaking up at meetings – was correlated with even more days of abstinence. The study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found the effect of attendance diminished over time, but the effect of involvement increased. The study also found having contact with group members outside of meetings also benefited young adults.

His findings suggest that merely attending community 12-step groups, while helpful, will only take a young adult’s recovery so far. “Consistent and active involvement maintains and increases the benefit of participation, resulting in sustained improvement over time,” he wrote in the journal.

A second study, which has not yet been published, found young adults who attended meetings that had at least some people in the same age range during their first three months after treatment had better abstinence rates than those who attended meetings only with older members. The age-matching effect diminished over the next nine months.

His findings with young adults are similar to those in a study Dr. Kelly published in 2012 that found teens in addiction treatment can benefit from 12-step programs. The study included 127 teens who were outpatients in substance use disorder treatment programs. They were assessed when they entered treatment, and again three, six and 12 months later. The researchers found greater meeting attendance was independently associated with significantly better substance use outcomes. Those who were in contact with a sponsor from AA or NA or who participated verbally during meetings had an even better outcome over and above the positive effects from merely attending meetings.

Dr. Kelly also presented data from a third study, also not yet published, that followed 300 young adults with substance use disorders, half of whom also had a dual diagnosis – most commonly a mood or anxiety disorder. Overall, patients with dual diagnosis attended as much and became as involved as those with only an SUD diagnosis, but had generally worse outcomes. Those with a dual diagnosis who had a high level of involvement in a 12-step program, however, had outcomes as good as those with only a substance use disorder, Dr. Kelly says. “This suggests that, for some, a strong and active connection with AA or NA can potentially offset a worse recovery prognosis for those with a dual diagnosis.”

“The good news is that clinicians can influence the likelihood that young people will attend 12-step meetings. If they do attend, they are likely to have improved outcomes,” Dr. Kelly observes. “If they educate, prepare and actively link young people with meetings, they are likely to increase the chances for better outcomes in the year after treatment.”

Copyright © The®. Reprinted with permission.

Perspective: The end of isolation

by Bill C.

Prior to coming to Alcoholics Anonymous, I had no honest insight or clarity concerning my self-destructive behaviours. My relationship with the world had been distorted and somewhat delusional. Little or no meaningful personal relationships or true friendships with my family, and many regrets, kept me apart from instead of a part of.

But in AA, I was given a blueprint for living through the Twelve Steps. I began the process of becoming honest, open-minded and willing (H.O.W.) to try and change. Change what? Firstly, my thinking (self-centred) and secondly, my actions (self-serving).

When I initially began a serious attempt at Step Five (or so I thought) I believed I had written down a lot. Turns out that this first attempt was more akin to a loose first draft of “Bill’s Soap Opera: One Life to Live”—and it was all about me. I wrote as only a victim could, about everything that had happened to me—me, the Victim!

Selfishness, self-centredness—the root of all my troubles. I was unable to see my part, my faults, my flaws, my defects, the exact nature of my wrongs. I was certainly thorough in looking at the world and how it had wronged me. And how I justified and rationalized!

After sharing my written thoughts with my sponsor, who showed great patience, love and humour, he asked me when my book would be finished! He suggested I look at the format laid out in the Big Book.

That first attempt was invaluable in the sense that I had actually put pen to paper. My first attempt was at least tangible and became a learning experience. Progress yes, but far from searching and fearless.

My second attempt was in many ways the polar opposite of the first. Using the Big Book format in Step Four, I reviewed all my fears, resentments and sex conduct. Or so I thought. But I had only scratched the surface.

Underlying my lack of thoroughness was fear, once again. As our literature mentions in different forms, we are only as sick as our secrets—and will remain so—unless and until that fear is overcome.

When my sponsor saw how little I had written down, he told me with a loving attitude to go back to the Big Book and start reading Step Four and try to follow the directions again. I also used the Twelve and Twelve.

This time my attitude was different. I was willing to go to any lengths for a spiritual solution, not Bill’s solutions. Half measures were availing me nothing. I went back over my past and followed the suggestions laid out in the columns regarding fears, resentments and sex conduct. I wrote down all, holding nothing back, as best as I could remember, and met again with my sponsor.

What I learned now made the spiritual difference for me. My sponsor showed me that Step Five was not just between sponsor and sponsee, but also included God! Before we even began, he invited God in, and reminded me that I wasn’t bad, but sick. We prayed and then I began to reveal myself and my past actions and thoughts.

This took between one and two hours. He thanked me for my honesty and courage. I can’t quite remember all my feelings, but I do know that I was relieved and also grateful that someone else knew me and did not judge. As a Catholic youngster I had attended confession regularly, but I probably just paid lip service to that community, and sharing my wounds and my wrongs with my sponsor was freeing.

Trust and confidentiality are, for me, the two most important ingredients in Step Five. I knew that everything said would stay between me, my sponsor and God. I no longer felt isolated.

I have also recently begun to look at specific character defects and how they affect my daily living. This has led me to meet with my sponsor on a regular basis. I look at this as a “mini Step Five,” where I share the defect, my thinking, my actions and the consequences of my behaviour, holding nothing back.

I am reminded again that I have a daily reprieve contingent on my spiritual condition. No wonder I could never have true freedom. Guilt, remorse, shame and all my insecurities kept me isolated and alone in my distorted world.

One of the many promises that AA offers is that “we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” I believe that promise is true in my life because of Step Five.