“Recovery” is a broad definition but only if you look. On the surface, the accepted cultural definition is “totally abstinent person in AA”. As an added bonus “became a drug counselor and now helps others”. It’s a beautiful story and representative of almost nobody, there are a few outliers and exceptions but for the most part, that story is a cliched folk lore. Abstinence is a nice ideal, especially for the people around the individual who “needs to be sober” but in the grand scheme, like most ideals, it’s rare. The recovery community is much like the tea party, rigid, opposed to science, locked in their beliefs with no room for interpretation. When the framers wrote the constitution “we the people” meant “we the white male people” it’s been centuries and many growing pains to expand that definition to include everyone else. Recovery is the same. At the moment “recovery community” means “totally abstinent folks in AA” While AA claims “2 million members”, SAMHSA says “20 million Americans are in recovery”. Who are these other 18 million people?
Founded in the 1930s AA has changed little if at all since then. The beat goes on, knowledge has increased, medications can help, other forms of treatment exist but AA remains it’s stagnant and judgemental self. The reliance on a “spiritual shift” and denial of “requiring a belief in God” is but one of the holes through which one could drive a truck. There are many others and yet millions claim AA saved their life, the great irony is, I am one of them. AA has been a great experience and organization for me to which I owe much. One of the things I think I owe AA is unmerciful honesty and the truth is, AA is like the orthodox Jewish enclave on the south side of the Williamsburg bridge, the difference being, Williamsburg Jews aren’t claiming their way of life is the only way of life. So while AA works for me, that doesn’t mean it works or can work for all. I’m also a devout Catholic but 700 million Hindus don’t quite see it my way. They aren’t wrong and neither am I. At the moment, AA sits in judgement and futility, effectively asking millions of Hindus to join their party and believe that a virgin gave birth to God.
Marijuana Legalization and Harm Reduction
One of the cultural trends in the recovery community is to demonize legalization of marijuana. It’s like folks who are pro life, rather than focusing on how to reduce abortions, they chose to focus efforts on criminalizing abortions. Same with drug policy. The truth is, we could reduce the use of lethal dose substances with the legalization of a substance with no known lethal dose. Whatever one thinks of marijuana, it is categorically not crime. Like skateboarding, “weed is not a crime”. Maybe it’s a good health decision for some conditions, maybe it’s not but crime it’s not. Maybe people like to get high and like Pope Francis “who am I to judge?”.
20 years ago, I gave up intoxication in all forms. It was the right choice for me although there are days I wonder if that is true. While Monday morning quarterbacking goes nowhere, I can say that I have had an amazing life, rife with adventure, fun, highs and lows. In terms of lives, mine is a great one, far from perfect as the average 12 stepper will claim, but I have much for which to be grateful and I am. One of the hardest aspects of my weird life is having to watch people knuckle under to the plague of heroin addiction. It’s heart wrenching as anyone who has experienced will tell you. The hopes of “being better” with the rug pulled from under the hope. Sadly, many don’t make it out of the mire of opiate addiction. I have experienced it, I’ve watched people drink themselves to death and then listened to the “danger” of a dispensary rhetoric with no mention of a bar. Huh? What did I miss? In America, 120 people a day drop dead of an overdose, ZERO of them while using cannabis. Where is the compassion of the recovery community? Where is the advocacy for saving lives even if ones version of recovery doesn’t match mine?
Rehabs are largely AA indoctrination camps, while some are progressing away from the act of providence model, most aren’t. Patients are told 12 step life is their way out and while it may be for some, for most it isn’t. On the off chance that someone finds their way into an AA meeting post treatment, he likelihood that they stabilize for life is negligible. There are land mines all over AA, one of them is finding a sponsor who refutes medication. “My sponsor says I have to come off my medication” is an all too familiar refrain I have heard often times from young guys looking for leadership. “Your sponsor? The plumber? Tell your sponsor you’ll follow advice of your doctor, the doctor” is my general response.
Harm minimization is the kryponite of the AA zealot. They hate it. It’s counter to their deeply held belief but the truth is, harm minimization saves lives. If someone shoots dope, binge drinks, or is caught in the holy trinity of death: cocaine, Xanax, and alcohol, and they switch to and maintain with marijuana, that’s a big win in my world. Who among us who has lost someone to addiction wouldn’t take that person back if they maintained with marijuana?
The recovery community needs to face some realities. Marijuana legalization is here and demonize get it wont change that. It’s also time to be honest about the potential strength that marijuana has to be an exit drug, exit from the looming death of egregious drug use. As an interventionist and a person in long term recovery, I am supposed to follow the herd and hammer the belief that total abstinence is always the goal but I won’t do that. It may be the best for some, others may benefit from an interim step on the way to total abstinence. As always, all drug policy is effective to the degree that it is infused with honesty. The honesty is, legalization is good drug policy at a macro and micro level.