From Recovery Supergirl to Harm Reduction Warrior: My journey from 12 Steps to HAMS

…by April Smith…

What’s HAMS? If you don’t know about it yet, this guest post says it all: HAMS stands for Harm Reduction, Abstinence and Moderation Support. I’ve recognized and admired this organization for years, and I’m delighted to have April tell you more about it.

…………………………

I went to rehab at age 40 after a horrific crash that landed me passed out on a busy street in Philadelphia.  I don’t rehash my story in public, but things were so bad that I was grateful that my parents made the huge financial sacrifice it took to send me to one of the oldest and most respected 12-Step rehabs in the country.

I dutifully did everything I was told, announced to everyone I met that I was an “alcoholic,” and earned the nickname “Recovery Supergirl.” Surprising for a Yale grad who had succeeded at everything? Maybe — until a series of traumatic events and alcohol-fueled relationships eventually landed her facedown on the concrete.

Though outwardly I was the soul of enthusiastic compliance with my treatment, the questions were brewing.  I didn’t think that character defects and self-centeredness had caused my alcohol problems.  I had no interest in spending  my life confessing my sins to strangers.  And I wasn’t convinced that a lifelong abstinence from any mood-altering chemical (except caffeine, sugar and nicotine!) was the only answer.

From reading Marc’s Memoirs of an Addicted Brain, I went on to read the many others who have brought to light real science and common sense about addiction: Johann Hari, Carl Hart, Stanton Peele, and others.  I started writing comments on Marc’s blog, and Marc asked me to turn one comment into a guest post.

A man named Kenneth Anderson found the post and friended me on Facebook.  He is the Founder and Executive Director of a group called Harm Reduction, Abstinence and Moderation Support (HAMS) for Alcohol.   HAMS is a worldwide organization with a vibrant, supportive and non-judgmental Facebook presence, live chats, a forum, and useable, evidence-based tools.

I joined HAMS in a moment of crisis.  After about a year of complete abstinence after rehab, I decided to try drinking moderately.  I sat down at a bar I had once frequented, had a glass of wine, ordered a second and drank only half of it before pushing it away and heading home.

My then-boyfriend freaked out: “You’re drinking again!  You know you can’t drink because you’re an alcoholic!”

The absurdity of it hit me like a bottle of beer smashed over my head.  I had a glass and a half of wine.  Nothing happened.  The world did not end.

In HAMS, I found a community that supported me, no matter what my alcohol choices were.  We support all goals, not just abstinence.  We do not require or recommend that people who have problems with alcohol stop drinking forever.  We don’t require anything, other than that members treat each other with respect and not judgement. We support abstinence (a word we prefer over “sobriety,” as “sober” has moral connotations), moderate drinking, and safe drinking.

It wasn’t long after I started to work with Kenneth that I became the leader of HAMS for Women, a subgroup of women who are trying to change their drinking.  In HAMS for Women, we refer to each other as “ladies,” because women who drink have too often been described by derogatory names — anything but ladies.  We carefully moderate the group to make sure that shaming, blaming, and judgmental comments are kept off.

We don’t just talk about alcohol, though.  We talk about spouses, children, and we post pictures of our pets!  We’ve had extremely sad moments: the day we learned of the death — from cirrhosis — of a woman we had seen through crisis after crisis as her abusive husband kept pushing things just a bit further, all the while keeping her too drunk to work and make a living. We exchange stories we dare not tell in public. In this group we find nothing but love and support.

For me, HAMS has been a critical part of rewriting my identity.  The label “alcoholic” seemed to erase everything I had been before, and everything I might be in the future.  No matter what I did, even when I didn’t drink, I felt shame.  HAMS has taught me that the content of my bloodstream is not the content of my character.  Now my identity is not defined by my relationship to alcohol.  I am not an “alcoholic.”  I am April Wilson Smith.

Many HAMS members learn to successfully moderate, using HAMS tools such as counting your drinks and deciding on a limit in advance. Contrary to the (irrational) idea — promoted by AA and the popular press — that one drink will ruin your life, HAMS members are often able to achieve moderation, even if they had serious problems with alcohol before.  Many choose to abstain altogether, a choice we applaud as well. Our motto is, “Better is Better!”

I recently had the opportunity to interview Kenneth for Filter Magazine.  See the full interview here.

HAMS has just published an e-book, priced at $0.99, relating the stories of our members: their struggles and successes.  We hope you’ll pick it up and check us out on Facebook.  Here’s what Marc has to say about the book — an endorsement that joins praise by Maia Szalavitz, Stanton Peele, Johann Hari, and others.

“Through these moving personal stories, we learn not only how HAMS works but how addiction works. And we learn that overcoming addiction doesn’t have to adhere to a rigid program or philosophy. HAMS succeeds because it connects with people who drink, on their own terms, respects their goals and wishes, recognizes their strengths and supports them where they need and want support. These little memoirs are as varied in style and substance as the individuals who wrote them, but they converge on themes that just don’t go away, including the inadequacy of AA for many who drink, despite its value for some. Intimately told, both raw and articulate, these memoirs reveal how people struggling with addiction can help each other through sensitivity and generosity rather than judgment and dogma.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing HAMS members for the creation of this book, and I saw the full range of improvements in their approach to drinking, without the aid of a Higher Power or even a therapist.  They are living proof that all choices, not just abstinence, can work.

Better is better!

23 thoughts on “From Recovery Supergirl to Harm Reduction Warrior: My journey from 12 Steps to HAMS

  1. Jill January 16, 2020 at 4:38 am #

    Thank you, April. Wonderful! I have a similar story. Would love to connect.

    • April January 16, 2020 at 6:01 pm #

      Jill – thank you! Join HAMS or HAMS for Women on Facebook and it’s easy to find me. Friend me and we can connect!

  2. Janet January 16, 2020 at 5:07 am #

    Very positive and an excellent option in alcohol recovery. Better IS better. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  3. Frank January 16, 2020 at 9:23 am #

    Thank you for your contribution. I just love learning about other means of dealing with addiction and didn’t know HAMS.
    I have been a weedsmoker (and nicotinesmoker) for 24 years until last year.
    For a long time it was fun. The last let’s say 10 years it was not. By using the amount I did I let a lot of chances go by, developed irrational anxieties and led basically life slip by as I did not develop myself and participate in and engage a lot with other people.
    Ironically, for me the last phase of my using years was all about coping(or if you will not coping) with just that and keeping up appearances that everything was just fine.
    Last year in january I went to a 12-step-clinic. The clinic was all about step 1; accepting the full scale and scope of my problems with the use of weed, and accepting my powerlessness to it. Admitting the first was not a problem to me. I knew I was killing myself slowly but surely in every possible way and was a worrying factor to my direct surrounings.
    The second part, accepting my powerlessness, has instinctively been more of a problem. It just didn’t feel right.
    I hindsight, the stay in the clinic bought me time and focus to actively persue a life without weed, free from the distraction of daily life, meditation and some knowledge of CBT. The rest of it was kind of useless and in my view a big waste of insurancemoney.
    I did go to meetings for six months and I give the meetings credit for the availability in my country. The social context of it bought me time to stay of the weed and engage more with other people, the (re)programming element of it I view as just bad and counterproductive. Also, like you, I don’t see a point in confessing to strangers.
    I have an academic background and therefore I am somewhat critical and analytical and questions I had were not valued and answered. That type of behaviour was what brought me there in the first place.
    I’ve went on and found better information, like Marc’s books and SMART amongst others. That type of information gave me the belief that addiction is something you can overcome AND move past it. It gave me the belief and framework that addiction is not a chronic disease.
    I smoked a joint on my one-year-anniversary, because I wanted to know if it still had the appeal it had on me for so long. It was kind of irrational and maybe a little dangerous thing of me to do, but i did it anyway. I needed to do it to find out. It lost it’s appeal and that says to me I can say that I am not an addict anymore.
    I wish that there had been better information fairly, readily available about addiction in my country, so I could have made a better choice about treatment or not.
    The information is on the internet offcourse, but things like HAMS or SMART just didn’t came easily on my screen in my country. I had to look intensively and pricise for it.
    Idon’t know if I make sense, but thank you anyway.

    • April January 16, 2020 at 6:06 pm #

      My experience was very similar. My journey has definitely not been without problems, but I learned to address the underlying issues, not just blame it all on alcohol. The issues didn’t go away when I was “sober” – I remained anxious and depressed. However, my current choice is abstinence because I find that alcohol makes my anxiety worse. Many HAMS members have totally different experiences, and go back to moderation. It’s helpful to read the information on natural recovery, which you can find in Kenneth Anderson’s book “How to Change Your Drinking” or a short version in our latest, “Better is Better!” Thank you for your comment!

    • Alison January 17, 2020 at 11:03 pm #

      You make total sense, everything you said, thanks!

  4. Steve K January 16, 2020 at 10:35 am #

    As a long-term member of a 12-Step fellowship I choose an abstinence path to recovery and life. I have no problem with people who want to engage in harm reduction practices or those who can learn to moderate their drinking or other drug use. AA was born out of a particular group of men (mostly) that had suffered from severe addiction to alcohol and found a solution that worked for them. It’s says in AA literature that “if you can drink like a gentleman (in other words in moderation) our hats are off to you”. AA (as an organisation) doesn’t have a problem with other forms of recovery or alcohol management and doesn’t have an opinion on other organisations (see the 12 Traditions). AA just focuses on one method of recovery which is abstinence based and spiritual in nature. What’s wrong or “inadequate” about that? If people want what AA has to offer then great, if not, people are free to try other methods that best suit them and their make up. Each to their own. AA can’t be all things to all people. Please stop knocking AA and just focus upon your own approach to health and healing. “One drink” can be the ruin for some of us, as it can lead to many others and terrible life changing consequences. There are many in AA who project their problems with addiction onto everyone… please don’t you do the same!

    • Lisa K. January 16, 2020 at 2:24 pm #

      I am glad, April, that you have found your path and your community. I still find it sad and frustrating though that AA/12-step fellowships seem to have become the big bad authoritarian parent that people seeking a path out of addiction feel they have to rebel against…. usually because they haven’t gotten to experience how individually directed, gentle, and nonheirarchical this form of support for recovery can be, or found camarderie and acceptance among members man of whom are smart and creative and cussedly individualistic people who also went to excellent colleges (well not as excellent as Yale perhaps but, pretty excellent), who continue growing in a thousand other ways in addition to 12-step group participation, and who do not spend their lives confessing their sins or feeling like they have no identity beyond ‘shameful alcoholic.’
      The conventional critique of AA is to object to the most literal possible interpretation one can impose on words like ‘dis-ease’ , higher power, and powerlessness; and to the supposed ‘rigidity’ or authoritarianism inherent in ‘having to’ label oneself and confess ‘defects of character’ and ‘do’ the program in a particular way, etc. There ARE fundamentalists in AA, both individual people and particular AA groups, just as there are fundamentalist Christians and Orthodox Jews. And unfortunately that’s what a lot of people, apparently including you, feel ‘oppressed’ by, particularly when introduced to 12 step programs through institutions such as rehabs which ‘make you’ do sobriety in a particular way as part of their ‘curriculum’. But this is not what contemporary AA/NA is about for those of whose who voluntarily participate long enough to get beyond ‘bible believing’ literalism. For example, here is what a higher power of my own understanding means to me: the laws of physics persist, the weather changes, the sun rises and sets, regardless my desires or opinions. (Also, more spiritually: the interrelatedness of all things, which is also a scientific fact.) Powerlessness (over alcohol or drugs, which is all Step One says, not powerlessness generally): When I use, one of the effects is that I want to keep using regardless that everything else in my life gets fucked up and I become miserable; when my ex-husband uses there’s nothing I can say or do to make him stop regardless my anguish about the consequences of his using for our children. Is this repressive, individuality-squashing, shame-producing, authoritarian stuff? I think not. I think that what can be rigid about AA is a rigid and literal interpretation of the language of a dated 1930s text; an interpretation that is not mandatory; not how that text is understood by the majority of contemporary, educated members; and that is brought to it by someone who doesn’t yet know they can read between the lines and come to appreciate the range of possible interpretations and metaphorical meanings of terms that attempt to describe internal states and abstract ideas. All that said, a desire to be abstinent, is indeed a requirement–the only requirement–for AA membership. And so if abstinence is not what you want, then another option will be a better fit. I am, as I said, happy there ARE other options and that you found what works for you. But to contextualize this as a form of liberation from the rigidity and moral authoritarianism of AA, without acknowledging that what AA was to you, is not necessarily what AA is, doesn’t seem ‘kosher’ to this non-fundamentalist member. You liberated yourself from your own narrow conception of AA. Which is fine; there are as they say lots of paths to the Buddha. But for me, who just didn’t want to take the risk of using again, given where substances had taken me, 12-step recovery was and is the practice that led to my own liberation, and remains after 33 years a source of great companionship, growth, and comfort.

      • Marc January 17, 2020 at 10:19 am #

        Hi Lisa. Why am I not surprised to find you here? In a word, I love your nuanced discussion of the various dimensions of AA/NA — the historical development that begs to be understood, the spectrum stretching between orthodox and liberal that so many people fail to recognize…and much else. I want to read your essay here again. I’ll comment more soon, and I certainly hope that April does as well.

      • Marc January 19, 2020 at 12:15 pm #

        More thoughts, Lisa. I find your arguments in support of AA really persuasive, as I said. Okay, there’s this vision of AA as dogmatic, authoritarian, coercive, and all the rest of it….but it points to an outmoded interpretation. Whereas a realistic modern-day perspective is critically different and highlights what helps, truly helps, people in today’s world. So I find my head nodding in assent…but then it slows down its nodding and there are muscular twitches in a horizontal direction. Here’s why: Putting quotes around all the negative conceptualizations…remains evocative but not much of an argument. And then you bring in these examples or religious extremism, and I start to see the flaw in your ointment (pun intended).

        The religious zealots, often epitomized in today’s headlines by Islamic fundamentalists, are relatively few compared to the mainstream members of the religion. At least I hope so. But we often say (or more realistically, imagine saying) to the mainstream members, you guys should speak out against your own fringe, the literalists and dogmatists who take things way too far. The message should come from you. So, (a) I’m not so sure the dogmatic/religiously-oriented/traditionalist “fringe” percentage is in the same ballpark in AA as in the world’s better-known religions. I’m thinking (obviously without data) something like 30-60% in AA compared to 1-5% in the religions you mention. Correct me if I’m way off, but if the proportions are anywhere close to being that discrepant, then the comparison loses its value. Apples and oranges. And (b) you guys who see things in a much more progressive way (and we agree, much more beneficial and much less likely to lead to harmful practices, like rejection, humiliation, isolation, identity confusion, and Jihad (just kidding — I hope that’s obvious)…you should be the ones critiquing AA/NA/12-step treatment when it takes the old party line too literally and rejects flexibility.

        And in all fairness, some of you do. Including you! But with your finger hovering too much over the quotation-mark key. You probably know better than most of us that A LOT of people end up rather cranky if not downright embittered by their 12-step experiences — a lot of Aprils out there. So you guys — you progressives for whom AA has been a real boon — are in the best position to make sense of the watershed, the continental divide, between those helped and those harmed (in their view)…which leaves the rest of us damned confused. There are some really helpful commentaries that don’t come from outsiders. Like that of Eric Nada, who’s contributed several times to this blog. In one of his guest posts — https://www.memoirsofanaddictedbrain.com/connect/moving-on-from-the-twelve-steps-they-truly-helped-until-they-truly-hindered/ — he spelled out a *developmental* analysis — showing how orthodox rigidity can be ideal for people relatively early in their recovery, which is where AA excels most clearly, but not later on.

        Here’s a quote from Eric’s post — one that puts it all together:

        “I benefited from the same rigidity within 12-step doctrine that eventually repelled me. I may have temporarily needed that rigidity to counteract the evermore rigid attachment I had to heroin. I needed the external structure offered by the 12-step program and traditional abstinence until I could incorporate my own version of structure, inwardly. I needed form until I could safely find formlessness.”

        In another, more recent post — https://www.memoirsofanaddictedbrain.com/connect/12-step-conditioning-the-cure-and-the-cost/ — Eric tried to reconcile 12-step orthodoxy with more progressive approaches to addiction — without any “bashing.” He said:

        “It’s not an exaggeration to describe the basic 12-step formula as follows: You have an unchangeable condition, X, the cure for which is Y and only Y. If you stop doing Y, you will eventually die of X.”

        Eric spent 20 years or so as a self-described “member”. He’s really sensitive to the issues, and the nuances, and I’d say he’s still loyal to AA, or at least sympathetic, despite his criticisms. The Aprils and Erics of this world weren’t necessarily looking for rigidity/orthodoxy….but they found it, or, more accurately, it found them, came up and bit them on the ass. Maybe for Eric this was a good thing, at least initially. Not so for April. Your use of quote-marks and such implies that the Aprils and Erics of America constitute a small minority of former-12-steppers whose views are stilted by a kind of childish narcissism, a conflation of personal needs with the big picture. (Steve’s comment above has a similar connotation). Yet the wash of anecdotal data I see suggests otherwise. Granted my sampling is severely biased: both 12-steppers and disease-model advocates exclude me from their dinner parties. Hey, do 12-steppers have dinner parties? Would I enjoy them?

        I’m really glad that we can go on chatting this way… and you? (apply trigger warning and Yiddish accent)…you I love!
        Marc

        • Eric Nada January 20, 2020 at 11:09 am #

          Marc, (and Lisa), It’s been quite an emotional process since my decision to leave AA, and I’ve had quite the internal journey since I wrote the post that you linked in your comment above. There are ways in which I feel like I put much of my life on hold while attached to the 12-step path. It’s as if I numbed parts of myself, during my 20 years of involvement, assuming that the numbing was a necessary evil to bear if I wanted to keep my commitment to myself not to become a junkie again. (And I wasn’t even a AA zealot)! I deeply, deeply regret my decision to remain in AA for so long and want those 20 years back so painfully. Because it wasn’t simply a “decision” to stay, just as it wasn’t simply a “decision” to fall into, or recover from, my addictions. I was deeply conditioned, as if from strict religious attendance. I’ve truly been mourning those lost years. Possibly I’m being too hard on myself: I knew better from the start, but there just weren’t people having these discussions back then.

        • Lisa K. January 28, 2020 at 2:41 pm #

          For some reason I was never notified about your–or any of these –wonderful thoughtful comments on AA/NA, so I may now be responding/commenting to no one but….that’s never stopped me before! Steve K and I have bonded on this blog in the past in supporting ‘non-fundamentalist’ AA, and we have also noted that both of us joined off the street, voluntarily, never having been inculcated into it via an institution. I think this is a big reason why we never felt the authoritarian/shaming/rigidity thing; because our AA was not something we were told we had to do in insitutionalized treatment or get kicked out and have no treatment at all. As I have said before, I think that one of the biggest mistakes ever made was the institutionalization of 12-step philosophy in “Minnesota model” rehabs which ended up blurring the differences between a completely voluntary, non-heirarchical, spiritual fellowship and a treatment protocol in medicalized, often for-profit, often mill-like institutions. I also acknowledge that my entire experience has been informed by my having attended meetings mostly in New York City (and nearby suburbs) where membership is so diverse, and values so progressive, that it significantly mitigates against the kind of rigidity Eric and April have been troubled or harmed by. I’d say therefore that the fundamentalism quotient here is way closer to the 1-5% than the 30-60% you posit. I only once in my 30+ years–when living in suburban and Republic New Jersey–found myself in an ‘old-timers’ meeting of that sort. And there are also so very many meetings here, with such a large population of attendees, that it’s been easy to ‘find my people’ and steer clear of the would-be authoritarians. I do get t that while ‘the program’ is not definitionally or philosophically rigid, that has not prevented ‘it’ (since there’s no real ‘it’ but just a lot of independent meetings made up of individuals) from becoming so in practice way too often. Unfortunately the non-heirarchical nature of the fellowships also prevents their issuing interpretive ‘dictates’ which might bring about a church-wide 12 Step Reformation. There’s no board of directors I can write to, no forum I can advocate in, on behalf of making a better effort to communicate the kinder, gentler spiritual principles at the heart of the steps or to root out the step-nazis. (On the other hand, I did just write a long paper on why 12-step facilitation as a form of treatment is a disaster both for treatment and for the 12-step programs. I got an A 🙂 lol ) SO, yes yes I get it. I can certainly organize a dinner party you’d have a great time at. (we tend to have pot-luck though, maybe on the upper east side they lay out china?) Alas AA/NA etc. are made up of people, many of whom may need/thrive/get off on ‘my way or the highway’, and whose very literal interpretations of the words I put quotation marks–interpretations also informed by Christian doctrine, rehab rules, etc. etc.–and strictness that arises from their own fears, is what someone new may first encounter.
          That said, one of the reasons I put the terms I did into quotation marks is because I feel their meaning, is just so often misinterpreted and misunderstood by the anti-AA ‘movement.’ And that it’s so easy to remonstrate against, say, the word ‘powerlessness’ when you think it means that you lack agency or ability, that you are commanded to submit; as opposed to it meaning that you can’t change the law of gravity, or the fact that you can’t seem to be able to drink without it fucking you up despite your intention to keep it under control, or (since it’s a word also used in al-anon, for example, where it has nothing to do with one’s own drinking) that you can’t control who someone else is or what someone else chooses to do. “Surrender” does not mean submission; it means acknowledging that whatever it is you’ve tried to do to fix your own addiction has not worked and so maybe there’s a different way to approach healing–from a spiritual perspective; that healing may occur through opening one’s mind to other possibilities than through the will or intellect (this is what worked for me; I was trying to think my way out of my addiction–if I can figure out my problem that will fix it–and failing.) “Dis-ease”, as I’ve railed on about elsewhere, was originally used with the hyphen to describe a state of internal restlessness–discomfort–and maybe, interestingly, that emptiness you note in your more recent blog post; it was only ‘medicalized’ later, by one member who was a really good PR exec, in an effort to try to secure hospital beds for alcoholics who needed help and to differentiate addiction from moral failing. And then Volkow et al followed with their ‘scientific data.’ Etc. etc. These are not just MY idiosyncratic progressive interpretations; they’re what’s actually ‘in the literature’ already…. So. Enough manning the ramparts for today. I am not saying there’s no better path; just that so many of the constantly reiterated complaints against this path, don’t offer a true reflection of it, and often make it seem like something only stupid submissive uncreative people who lack personal initiative or an independent spirit would benefit from. And, this makes it seem less and less attractive or viable an option for someone seeking support, comradeship, and yes some kind of gently structured approach to dealing with seemingly intolerable feelings one used to use drugs to help soothe, and with steering one’s life gently onto the path you want to be on. Love you too, Marc. xo

      • Janet January 28, 2020 at 9:30 am #

        So well expressed, Lisa K. Thank you for writing this. AA ,NA, ALANON are in service to anyone who wishes to participate.

    • Marc January 17, 2020 at 10:06 am #

      Hi Steve, Opinions about AA often split into some pretty extreme dissent. Seems to be a law of nature. I don’t know why that keeps happening, but I guess people’s experiences really are highly diverse. Each type of experience seems to represent a different population, wrt people’s needs and personal styles and wrt the way different groups and programs operate. I agree with you that “AA can’t be all things to all people.” And I agree that it’s a shame when people with negative experiences fail to consider how AA can be helpful to others. I’m not sure April is guilty about that, but it’s certainly not something she highlights.

      I think April’s main beef was the sobriety mandate of the particular program she attended. I can see it both ways. Taking away choice can generate anger and shame. On the other hand, she didn’t have to attend this particular treatment program (unless she was sent there by the courts, but that’s not the case here). On the third hand, there’s not a whole lot else to choose from in the present American recovery climate.

      I hope April pipes up here, but doesn’t this shoot completely past the pro-vs-con AA debate? Any sort of treatment program that says you have to do it like this is going to leave some casualties behind. Anyway, let’s hear from April!

    • Steve K January 17, 2020 at 10:41 am #

      Great article reflecting the liberal and modest nature of AA co-founder Bill Wilson’s views towards other pathways, styles and methods of recovery…

      https://12stepphilosophy.org/2020/01/17/the-portrayal-of-multiple-pathways-of-recovery-in-the-writings-of-alcoholics-anonymous-co-founder-bill-wilson/

      • April January 19, 2020 at 2:16 pm #

        Steve,

        I’m so glad you pointed that out as so many people are not aware of it!

        Thanks so much for your active participation!

    • Eric Nada January 21, 2020 at 10:48 am #

      Steve, respectfully, I din’t hear April “knocking” AA at all. As 12-step involvement is still the default and only philosophy to describe addition and recovery in many rehabs (and in every depiction or reference to recovery in American media and culture), and as you say, “it can’t be all things to all people.” There needs to be safe critical discussions about its usefulness for those it doesn’t speak to. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this comment thread, I wish more than anything that I could have bene exposed to discussions such as this because I was one of those that AA wasn’t right for, but also one who spent 20 years as an involved member because I had been conditioned to believe that it was the only true path. And I’ve worked both personally and professionally (psychotherapy) with many others since my departure that have also felt like they needed to go through a deprogramming to regain what they had lost through this conditioning. And in these cases, it wasn’t the reprogramming about recovery so much as life, itself. For most people there is a lens created by longterm involvement that becomes trained on one’s entire life that changes absolutely everything, not just one’s relationship to their addictions. It’s absolutely insidious for many, such as it was for me. I totally respect the fact that you have benefitted form your involvement, but we need to share others experiences so that others know they are out there.

  5. Terry John McGrath January 16, 2020 at 4:49 pm #

    great to see some ‘common sense’ happening – good on you April

    • April January 16, 2020 at 6:10 pm #

      Thank you!

      • Terry John McGrath January 16, 2020 at 6:31 pm #

        April- i too spent years around AA trying to attain what was for me an unattainable sobriety and i was continually shamed by others and by myself for not achieving the only goal seemingly possible in the AA 12 Step world, that being sainthood and sobriety. The best thing i ever did was harm reduction, which i still now do, using a night time dose of cannabis – this has worked for me for 30 years and i am now a respected law abiding (in all other ways – cannabis is still illegal in Australia) taxpaying contributor who has spent those 30 years working with native Australians and disadvantaged people of all sorts yet time and time again do i see the harm the sector that is supposedly there to support and help drug users and alcoholics shun those who ‘fail’ because they don’t play the game of sobriety. AA is wonderful, for a small percentage of people, for most it is potentially harmful especially in its ability to label and socially construct addiction in so many who are not true addicts. Those from justice systems and others don’t ask AA if it is OK that it is destroyed by having multitudes of people forced to meetings who do nothing but tick boxes and deter those who should go from going. AA should be preserved for those it does so wonderfully help and those it cannot should be free to investigate and do whatever it is that works for them up to and including managed drug and alcohol use such as you. I found that in shunning AA i actually entered the realm of the lonely and this is where your are right in your comment about the benefit of AA being social, but really, for how long can one talk to people about nothing other than God or sobriety. i moved past AA, i was not prepared to become an addict to ‘recovery’ and a million meetings hearing the same stories over and over and over. That made me want to drink.

  6. Eric Nada January 20, 2020 at 11:21 am #

    April, Thank you so much for this thoughtful piece. I am envious that there wasn’t general access to alternative pathways and discussions about addiction recovery when I finally tended to my problems 24 years ago (I have a feeling we went to the same treatment center, by the way). I am so glad that we are able to discuss the nuances that must be addressed within the addiction story of each individual person. Addiction isn’t so different from other emotional problems or maladaptive coping strategies. The answers lie not simply within abstinence from the substances or behaviors through which our additions manifested, but in healing the parts of ourselves that we inadvertently tended to through the mechanics of our addictions. I’m glad that you are helping others who are looking to explore these nuances through your involvement with HAMS. Keep up the good work. Be well.

  7. Kerryn January 25, 2020 at 10:40 am #

    Hi Marc. I wanted to ask your opinion, I have had addiction problems since I was 15yo on mainly amphetamines from 15-21yo and clean until I was 40yo then relapsed on meth amphetamines until I was 44yo I have been clean the most part of two years with a few short relapses.

    I enrolled in a AOD tafe course last week and during the interview with the teacher I spoke of my drug use and she told me that when ice addicts quit they are heavily sedated with antipsychotics and antidepressants and if they don’t kill themselves first that the weight gain and brain function impairments are permanent. That left me feeling like there not much hope for the future. I have had improvement and from what I’ve read about ice it mostly comes back after 3 years clean and serotonin norephedrine and dopamine return to that of a normal person. Is this true? Or are ex ice users doomed to suffer anhedonia for the rest of their lives. Thanks Kerryn

    • Marc February 11, 2020 at 8:59 am #

      Hi Kerryn, Sorry for the delay. It may be easier to reach me directly using the “contact” link. I think you’ve been badly misinformed by your teacher. First off, these warnings make no sense. Meth users do NOT always need sedation when they quit, and if they do, short-term anxiolytic (sedative/anti-anxiety meds) should do the trick. Often coming off meth can bring on depression for obvious reasons. But if you have good support and a sensitive therapist or coach you can get through this before long. If your teacher imagines that antipsychotics are relevant for quitting meth, it strikes me that she sees meth users as deranged creatures capable of anything. I would find another teacher.

      I agree with you that the neurotransmitter systems most affected (probably dopamine and norepinephrine, maybe serotonin) return to normal, but I’d think they’d be close to normal within a month or two. Three years is an extreme estimate.

      Coming off any drug needs to take place with care and caution. Tapering is almost always useful, but some people get so sick of their addiction that they just drop it in one fell swoop, and that’s great. And…be it known that a lot of people feel freed up and revitalized when they quit. Depression is not the automatic follow-up to addiction, even with heavy drugs like meth.

      There is so much stigma and misinformation around, it must be difficult to get a clear picture. But you can find lots of realistic and honest reporting online. Check out Filter.org and other more progressive addiction publications.

      I hope this helps a bit.

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