Not Just One Way to Get Sober!
By Sarah Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC
There are many views and opinions about what is needed for alcoholics to maintain long-term sobriety/recovery. There are therapeutic coping skills, the medical model, evidence-based research, 12-Step model, SMART Recovery, Celebrate Recovery, alternative treatments, wilderness therapies, spiritual/religious practices and more… The good news is that there are many resources and ways for individuals to receive support and to get sober. The downside is that individuals may become overwhelmed by options. Each of these recovery models can be applied on a continuum—ranging from moderate to strict to fundamentalist.
In my personal and professional experience, I have observed clients and loved ones acquire sustained recovery in differing ways. It has also been interesting to see how they have found ways to apply different recovery principles and coping skills to suit their beliefs, personality and lifestyle. For some, an extreme and strict framework has been needed and for others, a moderate approach has been more appropriate.
Throughout the treatment, therapeutic and recovery process individuals learn many coping and relapse prevention strategies as well as life skills and spiritual principles intended to improve their prognosis and quality of “sober” life. I have often compared this process to a buffet, where an individual views all of the options, samples some things they may or may not like and then settles on what they prefer. In other words, “take what you like and leave the rest.”
For example, George begins individual therapy with an addiction specialist and has been sober for 1 month. He expressed that he wants to learn different coping and relapse prevention skills and has decided to attend both Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A) and SMART Recovery meetings in addition to therapy and other self-care strategies (exercise, meditation, etc.). The therapist recommends that the client should only attend A.A. and not SMART Recovery and that he should just follow the suggestions of the 12-Step program and then he would not need these other parts to his recovery plan.
The problem: This addiction specialist seems to have experience with the 12-Step/A.A. model, but does not appear to be open-minded to other recovery strategies and models. It is possible to integrate differing recovery models and to find a plan that will work for individuals that suits their unique needs. There also may be parts of some self-help programs such as A.A. and SMART Recovery that may work in combination for some individuals. The strict version of either model may not be the best for all, and “fundamentalist” views on sobriety may turn some individuals away from ceratin approaches. Either way, if the therapist observes that an individual is having relapse issues, then the recovery plan and level of care should be revisited.
It can also be the tendency of those in early recovery to engage in “extreme” behaviors and struggle to find balance in their lives. Therefore, it is even more important that these individuals strive towards an approach that will allow for consistency—recovery is a marathon and not a sprint!