Tag Archives: Recovery

“A New High” Proves AA Is Not The Only Road to Recovery

When most Americans think of addiction and overcoming it, Alcoholics Anonymous, more commonly known as AA comes to mind. For most of the country, AA is often seen as the punch line of a joke and conjures up images of a meeting in a church basement with a circle of chairs and complimentary coffee in paper cups. But as the new documentary “A New High” shows, there’s a new recovery program that’s hoping to give AA a run for their money.


“A New High” is a documentary exploring the idea of rehab in a non-traditional way. The film chronicles the lives ofthose addled by addiction, some with shattered lives who have had multiple unsuccessful attempts to rebuild their lives and themselves. These people have found themselves in the care of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission and dynamic former Army ranger, Mike Johnson. Johnson recruits a group of addicts to climb the 14,400-foot Mount Rainer, in hopes that the climbing of the physical mountain will help them to be able to climb and overcome their own personal mountains within.


“This climbing thing, it gives them a chance to write a new story, a story of success, a story of hard work, the chance to be part of the team,” says Johnson. “It’s up the mountain, or it’s down into the grave.”

Johnson isn’t exaggerating the severity of the situation these people are in.

“The only thing that’s going to happen if I ever relapse is death,” said one of the climbers. “It’s not the way I was raised, it’s not who I am.”

Johnson’s program is so exciting, because it is potentially offering new opportunities to addicts who feel that rehab at AA may not be the right path for them. A growing movement is mounting, rejecting the idea that AA is the only road to recovery and millennials might be the leaders of this charge.

Recovery That’s Outside The Box

Creative, entrepreneurial, and accepting, millennials have made the gay/straight question about as exciting as left-handed or right-handed. They are playing jazz with tired definitions and assigned boxes and they seem to be doing the same with recovery.

According to AA there are 2,040,629 active members worldwide. In the grand scheme of a problem like addiction that number seems low. According to a study done in 2014 by the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Service (OASAS), there are 23.5 million Americans who describe themselves as being “in recovery”. That’s roughly 10% of the American population and 21 million more than AA’s global membership. That proves that AA must not be the only treatment available.

“You just feel so different from everyone else,” said another one of the climbers. “I just never did anything like this, I never thought I could.”

But this documentary begs the question; can an alternative program like this one work? Dr. Scott Bienenfeld, MD, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction says he thinks it can.

“Setting a goal to reach the summit of a mountain would require many of the things we suggest for people attempting to stabilize an addiction,” says Dr. Bienenfeld. “Vigorous physical activity, commitment, accountability and above all, peer support are all necessary requirements.”

Dr. Bienenfeld, who founded Rebound Brooklyn, a medical recovery program for people with substance abuse problems and addiction treatment, goes on to explain more about why AA’s success varies depending on the person.

“The reason AA works for some people is because they are doing something with other people and without intoxication,” says Dr. Bienenfeld. “Being a part of a team, training, goal setting and reaching those goals with other sober people is the kind of mutual help that can keep someone clean.”

Be a part of something bigger

It appears that the reoccurring theme and key when it comes to recovery is to feel like you are a part of something bigger than you. Reading a book in a church basement doesn’t seem to have a monopoly on active participation.

“AA is a great organization but it only works if it works for you,” says Dr. Bienenfeld. “If it doesn’t work, find something else that does.”

With the millions of American families, individuals and communities decimated by addiction when it rears its ugly head, certainly mountain climbing can’t be the solution to a complex and ancient problem. The take away from the film is inspiration, but Johnson sums it up the best:

“I choose joy. I’ve never found myself able to give up on anybody, because I believe in change. Because I saw it. You can do this and if you do, you will never be the same.”

A NEW HIGH will be screened on Saturday, Nov 14, at 9:15pm as part of DOC NYC at the IFC theater. Tickets available at www.docnyc.net.

This post originally appeared on MillennialMagazine.com

Recovery Rangers

It’s national recovery month, you must have seen the news coverage. You didn’t? That’s because there isn’t any. For a condition that has plagued man since forever, that has destroyed families and communities, and spawned an us winnable drug war, we as a culture, don’t pay much attention to the reverse side of the addiction coin. Recovery. Consider that the NFL wears pink cleats for breast cancer, and well they should, but where is the support for the issue of addiction and recovery? In a small but very important way, it’s alive and well in the Texas Rangers clubhouse.
Recovery Rangers
I have long regarded the Texas Rangers as the top sports franchise for recovery. While I have tried to ask why, I haven’t had much luck with a sit down with team head honcho, Nolan Ryan. Some years back, the Rangers manager, Ron Washington, tested positive for cocaine in a routine drug screening. He promptly issued a statement and gave his resignation to the Rangers. It was then that the Rangers demonstrated their understanding of addiction. Nolan Ryan rejected the resignation of Washington and opted to work with him. It was a bold statement of compassion and understanding of how addiction works and how recovery can work.

Supporting Team Members During Addiction Recovery

The Rangers won the AL West and it was met with the usual dog-pile merriment. It’s a major accomplishment, it might be one of the hardest things in sports to accomplish. Among the Rangers current roster are Jeremy Jeffress and Matt Bush, two young guys who are recovering alcoholics. In a bold move and departure from the usual callus disenfranchisement of alcoholics, the Rangers went the opposite way buy supporting Bush and Jeffress and their recovery. Instead of spraying champagne, the Rangers opted for ginger ale, a small but important gesture. There are two outcomes if the Rangers didn’t support these two, relapse or isolation. Bush and Jeffress would have either been swept up into the group norm of drinking or they would have sat isolated from the rest of the team.

Sports is a powerful system. It has the power to shift the culture in many directions. The recent media frenzy over Colin Kaepernick shows just what a loud voice sports has in American life. The sports world is rife with is sure regarding alcohol and other drug use, it’s a daily occurrence if one looks. Seldom, if ever, do we see the victories and that’s too bad. Additionally, we don’t see nearly enough of good drug and alcohol policy that can genuinely help people. MLB has pink bats for breast cancer, they are major participants in “stand up to cancer”, almost every night at an MLB stadium has some kind of advocacy attached to it. I have been to “dog day” at the Mets home Citi field to raise money for shelters, autism speaks, special olympics, veterans causes, all noble and worthy endeavors, but what about recovery? Why isn’t there a night for recovery month at any MLB park?

While they may not know, the Texas Rangers are the top team in all of sports for dealing with issues of addiction and recovery. They have shown they support people who are actively using and those who are in recovery and want to stay there. When a public system like a professional sports franchise is faced with issues and recovery, often times they spin the issue until it dies a news death. That needs to stop and the Texas Rangers are leading the way. Well done to Bush and Jeffress and well done to the Rangers. Should they win the World Series I hope they make a very big deal out of showering each other with ginger ale instead of champagne.

Recovery Madness. Can Recovery and Legalization Coexist?

“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.

Strawberry Field of Dreams

Nothing turns off an addict like feeling judged and nothing fuels active using like shame. So why is it that those are the main arrows in the quiver? A well meaning Darrel Strawberry made some very inflammatory comments about Doc Gooden, and while the intention may have been “tough love” my sense of this is, it didn’t help.
Darrel Strawberry & Doc Gooden

The Pathology of Addiction

After Gooden missed a personal appearance, Strawberry called Gooden a “complete addict junkie” reinforcing all the negativity that addicted folks are bad people. While the behavior certainly is frustrating, it is the pathology. Expecting someone in active addiction to act differently is like complaining the lake is wet. When someone is in the mire of addiction, their behavior will be poor. That doesn’t mean Gooden should skirt consequence, quite the contrary. It may be the consequence that brings him to a point of being willing to try. What he doesn’t deserve and what won’t help is a public flogging, asking Gooden to wear sac cloth and ashes for his “sin”. Addiction isn’t sin, it’s pathology. Not to mention: “get thee to a nunnery” Mr. Strawberry.

There is no zealot like the converted. One of the problems with modern recovery is that people who have stabilized take leave of empathy and compassion for an evangelical mission. Like the tea party, that road is too narrow for many people. Strawberry sits in judgement of his buddy because he “won’t listen”. That may be true or it may be true that the message Strawberry delivers doesn’t resonate with Gooden.

So what would be better? Compassion goes a long way. “Doc says he missed the event because of a health issue, that is true. My best guess is the health issue of which he speaks is addictive disease. My hope is Doc reaches out for help, if not from me, then from someone”.

Strawberry has a very specific brand of faith based recovery. Which is great, but only if it’s great for you. Often times faith based people feel at odds with science based advocates. The truth is, we are closer than we think. Isn’t scientific inquiry and working toward knowledge a God given gift? Even the AA big book says “we know but a little”. Certainly God would expect man to put in some effort toward understanding.

I don’t think Strawberry meant any harm, I think he meant to help his buddy the best way he knows. More than anything, when public people demonstrate dynamics in a large scale media forum, it offers the culture a chance to have a dialogue. The dialogue here is: what does tough love really do? If it’s the way to go, why are the rates of recovery so abysmal? One of the unyielding tenets of recovery is “when nothing changes, nothing changes” and that’s what we do. We yell, we shame, we judge all with the intent that the addicted person will “come to their senses”. Logic never applies, so stopping that tactic would seem prudent at this point.

Doc Godden has a long history in his sparring with addiction, it’s widely known. What Strawberry did do well was bring the issue into honesty, he didn’t enable and that’s a great strength when trying to slay this beast. One of the best helps is forming an alliance, and “junkie” won’t do that. Strawberry is living in fantasy if he thinks it will.

Quitting Drinking Found to Extend Life and Ability to Dispense Unsolicited Advice

Quit Drinking

Success in AA Includes Ability to Dispense Advice to Virtually Everyone About Virtually Anything

AA is an organization that is riddled with holes and contradictions. It happens to work for me. The steps are something I found to be very useful as a focal point of effort and ideals for which to strive. The fellowship of mutual help and peers was critical to my success in sobriety. I am lucky. Very lucky. The first time I walked into an AA meeting and thought “these guys look like guys I could have known at USC” it was life altering, more than anything, it made being sober ok and as a young man, I needed that permission. That era of my life was fun. I had friends, we had a robust life exploring Manhattan in a pack with few limitations other than not getting drunk. While I have great gratitude for AA and the people who helped me, I understand it’s not a fit for everyone. What’s the big deal? Isn’t that why they make chocolate and vanilla?

For many, the AA experience can be misery. A lack of connection, not finding the right peers, it can feel like it’s little more than deprivation punctuated by really lousy coffee. This is the life for which I am supposed to stay sober? When I went to graduate school in a Midwestern land grant rural community, AA was a much different thing. Mostly older men, many were cold and unwelcoming to students, the access was restrictive. The mitigating factor was hardly the gossip about the price of corn. Had that been my introduction to AA, my story could have been dramatically different.

AA Slogans for Recovery

AA is nothing if not full of slogans, many that make no sense, some compounded with rhyme as an added layer of mystique and aggravation. Here is a list of some of the more blaring examples, along with the often forgotten component of their meaning.

  1. “You’re as sick as your secrets”. Yet, you’re not supposed to tell anyone about AA, thereby being asked to be part of a secret society. Never mind that it’s not a secret, the pods of people smoking in front of a church is really the cat out of the bag.
  2. “If you’re taking inventories, take yours”. Great advice, seldom heeded. There seems to be a caveat that if YOU were successful you have the right to critique others, endlessly as well as assume role of soothsayer, doctor, clergy and just about any other discipline one might need.
  3. “We know but a little”. This is written in the AA big book but often cast aside for apparently knowing everything that people should do without knowing them.
  4. “Live and let live” but first inform that by not living as we live, you will die. Live on!
  5. “This is a selfish program”. Accurate to be sure. So selfish, in fact, it leaves no room for an individual to self determine.
  6. “Be part of the solution, not the problem”. The problem is complex, deep, wide, and individual. Pontification that you have the solution is a big part of the problem. So be a part of our solution of which we approve or else you will die.
  7. “E.G.O. Edging God out.” For a program that has a minimal requirement of a “desire to stop drinking”, there is an awful lot that must be believed. While the rhetoric is “you’re higher power could be the doorknob” the truth is, you will be an outsider, judged, subtly and not so subtly coerced, patronized and preached to if you in fact dismiss God to the level of a doorknob, never mind if you are a person of questing faith or no faith.
  8. “Be nice to newcomers, one day they may be your sponsor”. Really? For an organization that is so invested in a hierarchy of time, deifying members for being around longer than others, this seems contradictory.
  9. “An attitude of gratitude”. Yes. The rhyme. If ever there were a group of ungrateful people it’s in AA. Humans are not what we say, we are what we do. While other diseases have enjoyed the fruits of community organization and hard work, alcoholism hovers at the same dismal rates of recovery it has for generations. Grateful people work to help the process. Compare alcoholism to breast cancer: Research, walks, fundraisers, pink ribbons, MLB using pink bats to raise awareness and funds. Alcoholism, “hey man, I set up chairs at my meeting”.
  10. “We’re not a glum lot”. Let’s see if this blog gets any eyeballs, then judge for yourself by the comments the level of “glum”.

AA is a great organization to be certain. It is part of Americana that has helped millions of families and individuals. What it isn’t is perfection and something for all who need to address their drinking issue. The truth is, most people “fail” in AA and that has a big by-product of shame. Alcoholism is a complex illness, and not everybody does well in AA, most don’t. I am unique in the AA world being both grateful to it and critical of it. My message is clear, AA works, if it works for you. I have clients who have done well with it and others who abhor it; both groups have achieved and maintained sobriety and both groups haven’t. As always, there are never easy answers. There is no wrong way to get or be sober, don’t let the fear of AA stop you from trying or exploring options.

Narcotic Detection Dog, Empirical Knowledge Matters

Narcotic Detection Dog

The image of a police dog invokes riot control or something intimidating. When I suggested to my staff that we get a narcotic detection dog for Williamsburg House, they found it “one of Joe’s crazy ideas” and it was, but not without value. The first hurdle was to find an appropriate dog which was actually a matter of grace. Mik, had a career as a narcotic detection dog in Texas until funding dried up and they ended their canine program, leaving Mik in a kennel at the training facility. Without his “working collar” he is a very sweet, very well trained lab, friendly to anyone who offers petting. We weren’t anticipating the added bonus of Mik becoming a house mascot, wildly popular among residents.

Mik is trained to detect any narcotic, from prescription medications to street drugs, he will be able to detect the presence of it. While this can come off as policing, we use Mik’s ability as part of the therapeutic process. We can’t deal with a problem if we are just speculating about the problem. What Mik does is brings all of the questions in self doubts and self deceptions into honesty. Speculating that a loved one may or may not be using is wheel spinning and won’t help move from fact finding into action. When we bring Mik into the field, we can empirically tell someone if there are narcotics in the space. When the doubt is removed, it allows people room to move from speculation into action.

We had received no less than five calls from a worried mom of a young adult. “I just don’t know if he is using again, he says he isn’t.” While the idea of a narcotic detection dog screening took a bit of time for her to process, the result yielded a large amount of heroin in the young man’s room. It was stashed behind an electrical switch plate. Moms snoring in rooms just cannot compete with the nose of a dog. The end result was we were able to help that family get that young man to treatment.

Without the aid of Mik, that family would have been left in worry and wonder. The time that was spent figuring out what was going on could have ended in a lethal dose of heroin. When it comes to battling addiction guessing never pays off. With Mik, we never do.

Read More About Mik:

Is Sex Addiction Real?

Sex Addiction
We hear much about sex addiction in the modern world. It’s an overused and little understood area of addiction. Make no mistake, humans can develop addictive behaviors that are directed at almost any risk/reward behavior and sex is no exception. Like with many addictions, people get caught in the idea of volume and frequency as the diagnostic indicator but the truth isn’t so much in how much or how often, but in the impairment. Without impairment, there is no diagnosis. With sex as an addictive behavior, context is a large piece of the puzzle and boundaries are very individual. If one’s religion believes sex outside of marriage is wrong, then there is impairment for a single person who engages in sex. This isn’t the case for most people. Taken out of a religious context, sex outside marriage can be seen as a normal, health experience. A newly divorced man’s current sexual activity would be impairing if he were still married. The standard is ever changing and so it is very difficult to diagnose and treat.

Isn’t “sex addiction” just an excuse for cheaters and liars?

As with any addiction there is a massive behavioral element to it. Many, if not all, addicted people can magnify the “disease” concept to their benefit and sex addicts are no exception. That doesn’t mean the illness isn’t real, it is, but it is also something that can be manipulated to the benefit of the individual. Sometimes old people rely too heavily on their walker because it serves them in gaining sympathy and attention. It doesn’t mean they don’t need the walker.

There is help, hope, treatment and success with sex addiction. Like any other addiction, it is highly unlikely it will correct based on a promise. There are many treatment centers that have sex addiction tracts and some that specializes exclusively in the treatment of sexual behaviors. It’s an uncomfortable road for many people to walk and as with any addiction, very hard on the family. Often times, sex addiction is intertwined with other addictions so selecting the best treatment is a critical piece of the puzzle.

You can see more on sex addiction in this interview:


My Sponsor, the Plumber, Says I Have to Stop Taking Suboxone

Stop Taking Suboxone
Few things kick the hornets nest like a discussion of medication assisted recovery. It’s a stake your claim issue that stirs the pot in the recovery universe like no other. On the purist side are those who say addiction is a spiritual problem and only a spiritual solution can be used to solve it. The other side argues that science has progressed to the point where medication can help people stay sober for longer when they are medicated properly. So who wins? Nobody really but we know who looses, those seeking recovery. The infighting creates an even deeper level of complexity when one is finding their way out of the woods.

12 step programs have a long history in American life. They are largely viewed as a sacred cow institution. Through their history, they have helped millions of individuals, families, and communities improve and rebuild broken lives. There is little question about the potential value of 12 step programs. The issue gets sticky when well meaning people tap into being zealots and evangelicals, closed off to the possibility of other roads to recovery. The issue is further complicated by the deeply held belief that the program itself is infallible. If it isn’t working, there is a flaw in the individual who is attempting to make it work. That doesn’t stand up to any research or science. While nobody really knows, the estimate of 12 step membership is said to be a few million but 20 million Americans report themselves as “in recovery” but little is known about the process they used to get to that destination. Still, many experience 12 step life as cultish, coercive, shame based and intolerable. The truth is, they get to have their own experience. Like evangelical Christians and tea party goers, the belief is “without Jesus, you’re looking at eternal damnation, science notwithstanding.” It sounds a lot like a very common message heard in NA/AA “join us or face jail, institution or death”.

At some point, man figured out how to cultivate intoxicants. Chaos has ensued for some ever since. America has a long history of dealing with the problem. The “Whiskey Rebellion” almost unraveled a new country when George Washington attempted to levy a tax on alcohol to pay down the war debt. It came to gunfire. Prohibition was a nightmare entanglement of violence and crime as well as classism that did little to curb the flow of alcohol. From our very origins the enticement to train farmers to use a musket to fight tyranny was “free beer”. So what has been tried? Prayer is a big one. A problem so deeply saturated in our bones only an act of providence will solve it. Americans love believing God will take care of us because we are always right. We have tried criminalization. So far we have filled prisons while the DEA themselves admits “no meaningful or measurable change in the availability of drugs or drug use on the streets of America”. The “health issue” rhetoric has always circulated in the discourse about drug use but words have seldom matched actions. There is no other health issue that is treated with prayer and incarceration.

Medication Assisted Recovery

Just a few years ago, if one was hopelessly late and stuck in traffic the options weren’t great. Worried people waiting or pull over and find a pay phone. Today, a simple voice activated text will do the trick. Think about dentistry and how much easier and more effective it is now compared to even a decade ago. Even a stripped down economy car has a camera that assists the driver in backing up. So why is addiction still treated with prayer and incarceration? The truth is, it doesn’t have to be. There are more and more medical advancements made that can help people move away from addiction and into recovery and one of the ways is medication. The trouble is the paradoxical need to understand, the solution for some to the drug problem, might be drugs. If not the solution a big leg up in the problem.

Medication assisted recovery is without a doubt a viable intervention for some people. It should be available without shame or hurdles. The idea of withholding all options to drug addled people because of an individually held belief is simply wrong. In my view, it’s malpractice. I have reached a point where the selection of treatment must include centers that will work with medication. Treatment centers “forbidding” medication are obsolete and ineffective. The spirituality argument is a falsehood. Scientific inquiry and discovery are God given gifts and don’t exclude spiritual practice or so say and live the Jesuits and I buy it. If we are on one side of a river and need to get to the other, absolutely pray…but row like hell.

If we truly believe that addiction is a health problem then medication must be considered by the individual seeking help and work out the best plan with their doctor. Medication may or may not be the right path for you but if you have diabetes, another chronic health issue, you wouldn’t just consider prayer or a 12 step program, though peer support may help. Like all chronic health issues, addiction requires change. Change in lifestyle, peers, sleep, diet, and yes, medication. Not examining the possibility of the need for and benefits of medication is wrong. Addiction is complex, tricky, and needs every possible advantage to stabilize the wound. Parents who refuse medication for prayer when they have a sick child are arrested. Don’t make that mistake.

Is AA the Only Way?

Finding Other Alcohol Recovery Options
This is an age old question and certainly depends on who you ask. AA old timers will say “yes, without God and AA, there is no hope”. While that may be true of their anecdotal experience, it certainly isn’t true from a scientific perspective. The truth is, AA doesn’t allow for any kind of scholarly research, that violates the tradition of “primary purpose is to stay sober and help others achieve sobriety” so nobody empirically knows what AA does or doesn’t do. AA has become a cultural sacred cow, a pillar of health, wellness, hope and healing–and it is but only if that is your individual experience with it. For every person who has become a zealot laden member of the converted there are untold numbers of people who AA just didn’t help. The AA literature will label them “unwilling to go to any length”. So what is the real answer? Like many things regarding addiction and recovery, nobody really knows. There are many self ordained gurus who will claim they know but their sample size is usually 1, themselves. Consider the perspective of SAMHSA,(substance abuse and mental health service agency) the largest research body available on the topic of addiction and recovery. Samhsa reports that “more than 20 million Americans identify as being in recovery” (samhsa.gov). AA reports a fraction of that as global membership. So, who are these other people and what was their road?

Somewhere long the way “recovery” and “AA” became synonymous. That’s a falsehood that permeates the entire culture. When I first launched “Thefix.com” I received numerous letters from AA asking me to stop because “it violates the tradition of anonymity”. It took them a while to get their heads around the idea that by writing about addiction and/or recovery, it wasn’t a site about AA, although there may be references to AA with regard to the traditions. The truth is, there is no wrong way to find what works for you as an individual, it may be AA. People find it a great irony that I am both critical of and a proud member of AA. As a system it’s been great for me and tremendously helpful, so is Catholicism but that doesn’t make 700 million Hindus wrong. AA works of it works for you. If it doesn’t, find something that does.

Finding Other Recovery Options

A new era in addiction treatment is offering more diversified options rather than a 30 day AA meeting. Consider the picture in this article, it’s from a era long since past and yet it’s an accurate depiction of modern 12 step life. There are many ways to go, including harm reduction. Total abstinence is one framework for recovery and it may be the best one. Just like losing 50lbs may be the best bet but losing 25 is a great start and inherently valuable in and of itself. If you’re resistant to 12 step programs, abhorred by them or just curious about options, I can certainly help with that. Don’t let “I hate AA” be the thing to keep you from getting solid help and a new life. This story originally from Salon.com offers the perspective from a leader in the 12 step alternative world.


Cunning, Baffling, and Powerful…Even for Moms

Mother's Intuition

It was a mom’s gut intuition.  I had to fly to Maui to see my son who I envisioned flailing in desperation due to excessive alcohol consumption.  He moved there with the dream of being a dive master, but I felt he was taking a different type of dive.

My cousin joined me and with feet on the ground, we tracked him to a hotel – only to have a security guard have to open the door of the room he was staying.  I turned a corner to find my 29 year old son in a precarious situation on the bed with eyes glazed staring at the ceiling.  I quietly whispered his name, thinking he was dead, and he blinked.  My cousin and I went into flight mode, trying to pick him up off the bed – watching him crawl on the floor – hearing him spout clear jibberish – and we made a phone call to 911.

Police and paramedics showed up and as the former talked a ‘yep just another drunk’ conversation, I caught the eyes of one of latter, a paramedic who clearly understood that was not acceptable to me.  While my son could talk surprisingly in the alcoholic state, he did not want help.  So, in a compassionate voice, the paramedic said,” buddy let’s go”.  And, I climbed into the passenger side of the ambulance with gratitude that the paramedic understood no was not an option.

We paced the hospital ER floor until the head ER doctor called me in and proceeded to tell me if I drank as much as my son, I’d be dead.  “Well, this is not about me, so what are you going to do? ”  I responded.  With crossed arms he told, “nothing” because miraculously my son was talking and he didn’t want help, so it was impossible to help him.

I heard, I’m possible – and that answer is my number one lesson. Never, ever, let a hospital official say they can’t help your child because they are over age and said no.  Impossible, I think not!

It was my cousin who said let’s call Joe.  On the other side of the country, he got on plane in Brooklyn.  I clearly thought he would head to the beach, but he headed to our hotel, where he asked to see my son.  Back from the hospital and with a bottle we couldn’t pry from his hands, I had left him in the room to welcome Joe.  I opened the door to see him slumped on the couch.  Joe looked in, turned and said to me, “you are no longer here.”

Even writing that, I start crying with my heart in my throat as Joe explained he will be the only lifeline.  In a hotel room down the hall my cousin and I waited, for days while Joe called paramedics twice more, with an intention to get my son sober enough to get him off the island avoiding seizures and getting some kind of confirmation that he would agree to leave, and get help.

And, my son, who doesn’t even remember I had been in Maui for almost two weeks, still didn’t want help.  He was so still under the influence that he thought the hotel assigned Joe as another person in his room.  So, it was time to make another decision.

So lesson number two, don’t wait for someone to hit rock bottom – set it up.  Excruciating, based on the premise that he has two choices, to live or die – and it is not only him who will do either, but his family and friends as well.

So, with a call to my former husband and friend, I got consensus – to sell my son’s truck, take most of his clothes and leave him with a pair of shorts and a top and flip flops, to take his wallet and only leave his driver’s license and medical insurance card, and leave his phone.  Then I went to the front desk and checked him out of his room.  He still didn’t know I was there.  While getting more sober, Joe was his lifeline.  More than excruciating.

With Joe back on a plane to Brooklyn, and it being a total of 13 days, my cousin and I got ready to head to the airport as well.  Time for us to go home, such a hard decision.

About two hours before our flight, I got the first call.  “Mom, I can’t find my truck.”  I told him I was sorry and I loved him, then hung up and cried.  About a half hour later, I got the second call, “Mom, I had to check out of the hotel and can’t find another to stay at and I don’t have my wallet.”  I told him he might want to find a shelter before it got dark.  I told him I loved him, then hug up and cried some more.  About another half hour later, I got the third call, “Mom, I don’t know what to do.”

I suggested he look at his phone – there were two numbers to call.  One to dear friends of ours (that I was with at that exact time) who would pick him up off the streets and bring him to the airport, and the other Joe, to meet him in Brooklyn at the sober living home.  A minute later, my friend’s phone rang, and it was my son, ready to be picked up off the streets in Maui and head to Brooklyn.

Of course, I wanted to run to him, to hold him, to tell him life is worth living, but I had to let go of that lifeline.  And because I did, he is alive.

My son is alive because of excruciating decisions validated by the depth of wisdom of Joe, the steadfast love of my cousin, the loyal support of our Maui friends, the incomparable belief of our family…and my son making the choice not only for him to live, but all of us to live.

He’s coming to visit for Mother’s Day…and I am sobbing with joy as I write that.  There were a few other people that were steadfast realistic in this journey, and I thank them profoundly.  They know who they are.

It is possible; don’t accept ‘we can’t help because he/she doesn’t want help’ – and you might have set up rock bottom – because our kids are always our kids and sometimes through life they need our help, even when they don’t want it.

A lifeline, Joe saved yet another life.