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In these last few days of September, which is National Recovery Month, learn about a recovery program you may not have heard of—SMART Recovery.
SMART stands for Self Management And Recovery Training. It’s been around since1994. It has a “4-Point Program,” not Twelve Steps. It’s based in part on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy. And you don’t start the program by admitting powerlessness.
“That’s been a resonating point for a lot of people,” said Ted C., who attends both SMART Recovery and AA meetings to maintain his long-term sobriety. “People who have tried the Twelve Steps and said, ‘You know, I just can’t handle that telling me I’m powerless.’”
Mark T., who facilitates the SMART Recovery meeting in Chapel Hill, said that was one of the things that struck him about his first SMART Recovery meeting, facilitated by John B., an area psychologist who doesn’t have addictive issues but who does think SMART Recovery makes sense.
“I still remember the first thing [John] said was, ‘You are not powerless,’” Mark T. recalled. “Which I’ve always felt I could do whatever I decided to do, so it resonated with me. So I kept coming back, and it worked.”
“The principles of SMART Recovery are in keeping with my understanding of what helps people,” said John, who still comes to the Chapel Hill meeting in a supportive role. “They’ve been found to be useful in empirical studies.”
SMART Recovery’s 4 points are:
1 – Building and Maintaining Motivation
2 – Coping with Urges
3 – Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors
4 – Living a Balanced Life
Faith is not a requirement for SMART Recovery.
“A lot of people believe, and a lot of people don’t,” Mark T. said.
SMART “is for anyone who has behavior they want to change, basically,” Mark T. said. “Everyone exhibits addictive traits. It’s just when it crosses the line and starts interfering with your life, you at least need to think about making changes.”
In addition to alcohol addiction, the Chapel Hill SMART Recovery meeting has hosted people with gambling, sex and computer gaming addictions, as well as eating disorders.
“[The SMART program] avoids terms like ‘alcoholic’ and ‘addict,’ because it holds that everyone exhibits addictive behavior,” Mark T. said. “And they also think the connotations of the alcoholic as a drunk sitting on the curb with a paper bag… A lot of people with addictive problems are very successful.”
“At first,” Ted said.
Mark T. said he runs the weekly Chapel Hill meetings, which run 60 to 90 minutes, according to the same basic pattern each week. People take 30 seconds to introduce themselves, then he lists the ground rules, which are: confidentiality; be open and honest, and don’t criticize when you’re giving feedback.
“Criticism makes most people defensive,” Mark T. points out.
Then generally there’s a handout focusing on one of the four points, and then the weekly check-in, where everybody takes turns saying what’s been going on in their life in the past week or two regarding recovery.
“We try to stress that we don’t care what happened 20 years ago, unless it’s impacting something that’s going on in your life today,” Mark T. said. “We’re about the present and going into the future.”
And then they pass the hat and adjourn.
While the SMART handbook says that attendees, “aren’t making a lifetime commitment to the program,” Mark T. and Ted both doubt that it will be possible for them to graduate—that is, stop attending meetings and become moderate drinkers.
“Of the people who’ve come to the SMART Recovery meetings, I only know one who successfully moderates,” Mark T. said. “But I will be open-minded on that subject,” he says of other people’s potential to graduate.
“We’re an abstinence-based program,” said Mark W., who facilitates the Carrboro program. “We welcome people whose goal is moderation
or ‘harm reduction,’ but our meetings focus on the techniques and challenges specific to abstinence.”
“I’m an evidence-based guy,” said Ted, who has three years sobriety now after a relapse. “And the evidence is pretty strong. I want to be very clear that I don’t have anything bad to say about AA,” he cautions. But, he concludes, SMART Recovery “works for me.”
“Meetings are open to anybody,” John said. “There’s no need to ask permission. We don’t pay dues, we don’t ask names. We’ll shake your hand.”
Mark W. clarified that meetings are open to anyone working on his or her own behavior.
“This restriction helps protect confidentiality,” Mark W. said, “and leaves attendees feeling they can be very open because everyone in attendance ‘has skin in the game.'”
“It really is welcoming,” Ted said.
For more information on the Chapel Hill meeting, go to http://trianglesmartrecovery.org/schedule/chapel-hill-meeting/. For more information on SMART Recovery, go to www.smartrecovery.org.