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“We have a responsibility to share how we recovered”

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In the fourth part of my interview with Tom, a doctor in recovery, he explores the ‘full-on’ nature of the CA programme, the interface between his professional approach and his experience and is clear that recovering people ‘have a responsibility to share how we recovered’.

What’s the approach to the programme in CA?

CA logo © Cocaine Anonymous

CA logo © Cocaine Anonymous

More than a few people have suggested that CA meetings can be a bit full on. You cannot avoid hearing the solution and what “suggestions” you need to follow to recover. I believe it is hard for somebody to just coast along in CA. There is a sense of urgency about the need to get involved and engage with the programme. Feedback suggests that some have left CA for this reason. CA is never going to please everybody.

An easier /softer format would obscure the reality of the situation. The hard truth for many newcomers is that they will relapse unless they take on board the suggested programme of action.

CA will always welcome back those that stray and relapse but the message will remain the same. No doubt there are other ways to recover from addiction but CA has to have no opinion or business with outside matters.

What is associated with success in the programme?

Those that recover generally become involved with a home group / service, sponsorship and socialising within the fellowship. These are the three sides of the sobriety circle/triangle –Recovery, Unity and Service.

We cannot force addicts into recovery but we have a responsibility to share how we recovered. This is our duty in meetings. I didn’t know this to begin with. Newcomers naturally will share all sorts of things in meetings.

However as somebody who has experienced the wonder of this programme, I don’t see a meeting as a forum for me to moan, complain or generally dump all my problems. I have a sponsor for that sort of thing. Hopefully he will quickly shine a light on my self obsession and encourage me to work the programme when I fall into this victim trap. As much as my ego would like to control what happens in meetings, I accept that I don’t have that “power”! I can only lead by example. I only keep what I give away.

How does the CA take sit with professional approaches to addiction?

Young male doctor in medical mask, close-up, isolated on whiteI spent a year at University studying addiction. This course focused on the different theories of addiction. The only thing that became clear to me is that nobody knows for sure why people become addicts. Some theories jarred with my own experience, while others seemed closer to home.

I continued to engage in Cocaine Anonymous through all of this “education”, even when some experts and research suggested it may not be necessary. This was a little threatening at the time but now I value this process.

We are limited as human beings, research and theories are limited, Cocaine Anonymous is limited in what it can do. However the steps promise to remove the mental obsession to use drugs and this has been my experience. I can only share my own experience. All of my own personal evidence suggests that if I (my ego) decides I don’t need to do this stuff anymore I will end up in trouble.

What about the disease model?

The theories of addiction are interesting and it was helpful at the beginning to view addiction as a medical disease, especially as I came into this process with a highly logical scientific way of thinking. As my thinking processes have changed and my perception has shifted, I no longer feel the need to define this condition as a disease.

The word disease was used as a metaphor in the Big Book, the author was clear that this was a condition that manifested because of a spiritual malady and it was not the business of AA to label the condition in medical terms.

Addiction doesn’t fit easily into any one category.The medical model has benefits and drawbacks. I see addiction as an expression or coping strategy for human suffering, addiction manifests as a solution to the potential emptiness of human existence.

We are born to experience suffering as human beings, there is no escaping the reality that we will experience pain and loss and ultimately die. The suffering that occurs is a consequence of our attempts to avoid the pain of human existence. Our obsessive compulsive thinking and behaviours provide a transient respite from this reality.

“A Spiritual Malady”

SpiritualityPersonally I became addicted to drugs but my addiction runs far deeper and manifests daily as a “spiritual malady”. The “spiritual malady” as described in the AA big book is at the core of my condition. This doesn’t fit easily with a neurobiochemical model of addiction.

A victim mentality is unhelpful and obstructive to my recovery, if I have a chronic disease or illness then how can I recover? Labelling helps human understanding and provides a sense of control but this may also draw me away from the truth. We try so hard to understand things but sometimes an acceptance that the human intellect is limited may be required.

CA has provided me with a non rational, non intellectual profound personal inner experience. It defies adequate description by simple words.

[You may want to read the other parts of this interview by clicking on the links below]

Part 1: A doctor finds recovery in Cocaine Anonymous

Part 2: Addiction – losing the power of choice

Part 3: Power and powerlessness in addiction and recovery

    8 Responses to "“We have a responsibility to share how we recovered”"
    1. Innocent Abroad says:

      Addiction doesn’t fit easily into any one category. The medical model has benefits and drawbacks. I see addiction as an expression or coping strategy for human suffering, addiction manifests as a solution to the potential emptiness of human existence.

      We are born to experience suffering as human beings, there is no escaping the reality that we will experience pain and loss and ultimately die. The suffering that occurs is a consequence of our attempts to avoid the pain of human existence. Our obsessive compulsive thinking and behaviours provide a transient respite from this reality.

      These are the words that tell me – an alcoholic nearly 17 years sober and with significant experience of psychotherapy – that Tom’s recovery is strong and will endure. Anyone who does not share Tom’s understanding of pain. loss and coping strategies is in no fit condition to carry the message to the suffering addict. All too many AA members do just that in order to hide from themselves. They are pests and they are parasites. They know no better because they don’t want to. The last thing they want is another moment of clarity, and the greatest mistake Bill Wilson ever made was to write in such a way as to suggest that we don’t need more than one, can’t have more than one. (He had an understandable tendency to write what would keep the AA show on the road, to “share for the newcomer”), If Tom would like another one or two more (or more) awakenings, I heartily recommend Group Therapy! It’s worked for me…

      His next task is to come to understand that 12-step fellowships exhibit a law of diminishing returns. I believe that the reason I have 16+ years experience of sobriety is just because I fell out with AA after several years of meetings and had to look elsewhere for my coping strategies. It’s stopped me having a “Groundhog Day” experience…

    2. djmac says:

      Just spotted this positive article about Cocaine Anonymous in a Scottish national newspaper: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/real-life/recovering-addicts-reveal-stories-how-4351008

    3. Tom says:

      Thanks for the feedback. Currently I have no issues with attending 12 step meetings. In the last 4+ years I have experienced an ongoing spiritual awakening. I have numerous spiritual experiences on a daily basis. I don’t always notice them though, if I am caught up in my thinking then I miss them.

      I agree that there are potential pitfalls to AA/NA/CA etc. When human beings are involved then things will never be perfect. That is why it is so important to lead by example and try to follow the original undiluted message. I have little control over what other people do.

      I do not live in meetings, I attend 2 meetings per week. I work the programme in my life. In my family interactions, with my work colleagues, with patients and with the general public. I attended lots of meetings in the beginning but gradually this reduced. I need to attend meetings to be available for newcomers, like when I first attended CA. I am sorry that you have had a different experience. No doubt we meet many “spiritually sick” people within the fellowship. I always need to remember to follow the principles of the 12 step programme rather than the personalities I meet along the way.

      I am not in a codependent relationship with my sponsor either. He is not my “life coach”, he shares his experience but knows when to say “I don’t know”. I do the same thing when I sponsor others. I cannot fix them. I can show them how it has worked for me. It is then up to them to put in the work.

      At the core of all this is that we can’t rely on human power to recover. The whole point of the 12 steps is to connect us with a non-human power. Karl Jung was clear that he was not able to achieve this with psychotherapy alone. He spent a year intensively working with Roland Hazzard only for Rolland to relapse shortly after his return to the USA.

      I have no doubt that psychotherapeutic interventions can provide wonderful insights into how we evolve as individuals. I have spent many hours analysing my own past and have discovered many interesting things about my own behaviours. However this understanding has not been enough to resolve my addiction. I have always had an underlying problem, deeper than all of this.

      We are all in search of wholeness. I have never felt complete or satisfied. Unknown to me until recently is this is my “spiritual thirst”. It is my divine drive to connect with the unity of the Universe, with love, with compassion, with other human beings. This is the GOD of my own misunderstanding.

      In my own confusion I have been trying to connect with this power all my life. I have tried many different things including vast amounts of drugs and alcohol to make this connection. It is only now through CA that I have found a sure fire way to foster and grow this connection.

      • djmac says:

        I’m a fan of psychotherapy, but the well-respected alcohol researcher George Vaillant, himself a therapist, wrote:

        Cure from addiction does not come through psychodynamic insight. In a prospective study of Harvard men [1], 26 alcoholics received a total of 5000 h of psychotherapy, an average of 200 h for each man. Only one man recovered from alcoholism while in psychotherapy.

        1. Vaillant GE. Natural history of alcoholism revisited. Cambridge,MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

    4. Adam says:

      The talk about it being hard to just ‘coast along’ in CA holds an important issue that is being played out in 12 step fellowships at the moment.

      The old adage was ‘attraction, not promotion’.

      There is a growing much more militant culture that looks to dictate through angry judgments and shaming comments. It seems the wisdom of fellowships like AlAnon and FA is not in the awareness of large sections of the 12 step membership.

      Its hard to accept when people are not willing or ready to let go. Those who understand this add to the love and safety of someone who is struggling. Those who can’t accept their powerlessness over others, normally because they are in fear of owning their own weaknesses, try to force everyone to either surrender on their terms or face a shaming, blaming attitude.

      This ’12 step fundamentalism’ is a long way from the spiritual principle of loving caring Higher Power running the show. The words ‘tough love’ get used for what amounts to bullying, and the most forceful person ends up dominating.

      Where 12 step recovery is designed to be democratic through loving group conscience, it becomes a dictatorship run through bullying sponsorship.

      There are currently no safeguards to stop this.

      Like dictatorship the world over, it occurs quite easily, and can self sustain for long periods of time.

      I don’t value the ‘we don’t allow coasters here’ attitude at all.

      I prefer the idea that we give most love to the most vulnerable. The steps make as very attractive examples of recovery so people are drawn to follow how we live

      CA is not the only place where this is happening. If you go to aacultwatch.com, you’ll see that AA has a subculture of this stuff. There are some small pockets of it within NA. There are also a couple of very small and extreme 12 step ‘controlling cults’ out there.

      I believe 12 step recovery has a huge amount to offer, BUT, it also has to take its own inventory far more maturely than is happening currently.

      12 step sponsorship and fellowship is not the same as just being loving or offering what you’d get in therapy. It’s also not a place where a Sargent major breaks your ego into surrendering to his will.

      • Tom says:

        Thanks Adam for the response. I have been reflecting on what you have said and taken personal inventory.

        I agree, attraction rather than promotion. I said “its hard to coast along in CA”.This doesn’t mean that people are judged or bullied into following the suggestions. The not “coasting” analogy works both ways. It may seem a bit intense and scary to jump into a fast moving river but when there are many other people joining you and you can see they are ok you are more likley to join in.

        If the river is blocked then nobody is going anywhere, everybody is coasting or going in circles. CA can provide this fast moving river into recovery, its also possible to travel more slowly at the riverbank and gradually build up the courage to get right in the middle. Its also possible to get out of the river at anytime.

        When the majority of the people in a meeting are working through the steps then the few who are not will either be attracted to what they see or not. In my experience most people feel the love and tolerance within the CA meetings I attend. 12 step Recovery will never be for everybody. There is a distinct recipe for recovery to flourish. If the focus of the meeting changes to try to fit everybody then the primary purpose will be lost.

        Actually I agree with pretty much all of what you say. The 12 step process is not therapy and its not a forum for controlling people to dominate others. As you mention this is where the group conscience and the traditions play a vital role.

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