A SMART Way To Recover From Addictive Behaviors

December 28, 2009

By Jean Bonchak, [email protected]

She started drinking at age 21. Within two years, her lust for liquor led to a loss of jobs, friends and any semblance of a normal life.

Now in recovery, a look at the 45-year-old Lake County woman's former habit takes on a sobering perspective.

"I was driving drunk. I drove through blackouts. I probably deserved about 100 DUIs. I can't believe I never killed anyone," she said.

But the path to abstinence for the woman, whose identity is not given because of confidentiality issues, was neither simple nor sustained.

After a decade of allowing booze to manipulate her life, a counselor suggested Alcoholics Anonymous. She joined the group, stopped drinking and remained alcohol free for 11 years.

In 2006, during a particularly vulnerable and depressing time, she was at a friend's summer party where she made the risky decision to spike her soft drink with a shot of rum.

That single choice was the start of another downward spiral into excessive drinking.

"I forgot how bad it could be," she said. "I could drink a bottle or two of wine by myself or seven or eight strong rum and cokes in one night. I could pour it down."

Fortunately, a fear of disastrous results prompted her to seek help in early 2009.

"This has got to stop," she told herself, "something bad is going to happen.

"Luckily, I didn't get that far, but I knew that was coming," she added.

"I kept trying to moderate but it never worked. I was so mentally tired and out of control."

Surfing various Internet sites in a desperate search for help, she began to correspond with a recovering alcoholic in Pennsylvania who was benefiting from SMART Recovery, a Lake County-based group with chapters around the world.

Information gleaned through discussions on message boards and chat rooms with other members encouraged her to give it a try.

On May 13 she took her last drink. Soon after, she began attending meetings and now professes that the many elements the program offers have greatly helped her.

The program

SMART (an acronym for Self-Management and Recovery Training) Recovery is an abstinence-based nonprofit organization that conducts free weekly face-to-face and/or daily online meetings, chat rooms and message boards for individuals who desire to gain independence from any type of addictive behavior including alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, binge eating and others.

Rather than an admittance that the individual is powerless over their addictive behavior, a core tenet of SMART Recovery is that people inherently possess their own ability to conquer addiction.

Several tools, including cost/benefit analysis and Rational Emotive Behavioral Theory, are heavily emphasized. At meetings, participants talk with one another rather than to one another. Labels such as "alcoholic" and "addict" are discouraged.

The organization is a recognized resource for addiction recovery by the American Council on Alcoholism, American Academy of Family Physicians, the Center for Health Care Evaluation, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

In 1994 SMART Recovery split from a group titled Rational Recovery because the latter's board members wanted to change from nonprofit to paid profit status, said Shari Allwood of Mentor, SMART Recovery's executive director.

In 2003 a $50,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration allowed them to host a training conference and create video productions.

"We finally had a variety of training materials to entice people to begin facilitating ... meetings," Allwood said.

SMART Recovery's original headquarters was in Willoughby Hills where a former board member lived, but operations are now handled at 7304 Mentor Ave., Suite F in Mentor. There, the production of publications takes place as well as responses to phone calls and e-mails, meeting referrals, facilitator support, fundraising, grant writing and record keeping.

Since 1994, worldwide SMART Recovery meetings have expanded from 123 to more than 525 in 2009. About 700 volunteers donate their time and skills to the effort.

"I think we're picking up momentum because individuals are recognizing the need for alternatives," Allwood said. "When we first started, we received a dozen letters and a few phone calls each week. Today, we get well over a dozen calls a day and more than 120 e-mails a day. We'll still find people who believe AA is the only way, but a lot of people are finding SMART Recovery through therapists."


Rod Allwood, Shari's husband as well as a SMART Recovery facilitator and board member for Neighboring Mental Health Services in Lake County, noted that "As winter comes up, I notice in the talk of my group that there is apprehension about the cold weather scene and staying inside and being bored, enclosed, which develops more urges to drink."

Rod Allwood is hopeful that the program will one day be offered in high schools as a means to educate young people before abusive behaviors are likely to begin.

"If we did more of this when the kids were in school, many of these problems might be avoided," he said.

Barry Grant of New Jersey said he wishes SMART Recovery had been introduced to him before he fell into a life of drug abuse and crime resulting in a five-year incarceration.

The individualistic and empowerment approach of the program appealed to him.

"I had been in rehabs before," he said. "They didn't take root with me. You had to conform to just one way of thinking. It was either this way or no way."

After applying the program's method of rational thinking, he viewed his imprisonment as a point of rejuvenation and rebirth rather than a hardship.

Since his release in 2001, he has remained drug free, works for a community release program and travels internationally spreading the word about SMART Recovery.

Of his past life Grant said, "There was nothing like that spark of SMART to put me on the road where I was supposed to be anyways."

For more information on SMART Recovery, call 440-951-5357 or visit www.smartrecovery.org.

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