For decades, the field of chemical dependency has been dominated by "The Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous. Because of the organizational success of Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12-step spiritual healing program, it has become a universal component in addiction care. Unfortunately, millions of alcoholics are not good candidates for spiritual healing, and can best regain control of their lives through a program that does not require their moral betterment or belief in a Higher Power, a Supreme Being, or other articles of faith.
Other alcoholics are less concerned that AA requires spirituality than that it makes them feel powerless, or that it means they will have to attend meetings for the rest of their lives, all the while endlessly repeating the story of their alcohol dependency. Many of these people believe in themselves and want to move on with their lives. For them, the arrival of Rational Recovery on the chemical dependency scene is indeed welcome news.
Rational Recovery differs sharply from widely accepted views on chemical dependency. But RR is in complete agreement that the most reasonable solution to drug and alcohol dependence is usually lifetime abstinence from drugs and alcohol. RR will provide a fresh start for substance abusers who have tried many times to "go on the wagon," only to relapse again and again.
While I was a clinical social worker on a mobile psychiatric team between 1981 and 1990, I responded to crisis calls, many of which involved older alcoholics. When I attempted to refer them to a treatment program, they frequently refused, objecting to the "religious" nature of local addiction care programs. Certainly, many of those who resisted addiction care were poorly motivated for any program, but I became concerned about those who had specific objections to the 12-step program of AA. I understood very well what it was like to be offered a program that didn't make sense, because I had been through that experience. But I also realized that my reasons for rejecting AA were not the only reasons.
Others refuse AA because they do not like to talk about themselves in front of a group, because they won't call themselves "alcoholics," because they prefer to pick their own friends, because they don't want to depend on sponsors or groups, because they would prefer to help themselves independently, because they object to the lifetime commitment that the 12 steps require, or because they have conflicting religious views. Still others have no real complaint about AA, but continue to fail despite real, often repeated, efforts to use their 12-step approach. I decided that I would go to bat for those who strike out in AA.
Unless you have a specific objection to AA, it can be of immense help to you and your family. But alas, many of us do have specific objections to AA, and for us an alternative, a rational alternative, is desperately needed.
In my own case, I was able to utilize some professional training I had received years before through the Institute for Rational-Emotive Therapy. I learned some simple techniques for thinking rationally, and when push finally came to shove, I was able to become my own rational therapist.
The Small Book is a primer to help recovering alcoholics and other substance abusers to become their own therapists and achieve the "unmiracle" of NIIP (No Higher Power) sobriety. It is smaller than "The Big Book" because there isn't really all that much to be said. It all boils down to this: when you've really had enough to drink, make a plan to knock it off for good, and then do it. Use the information in the following chapters to help make your decision stick, and then get your act together like anyone else. Take your lumps, your discomfort, and your disappointments in stride. Avoid what doesn't make sense; trust your own judgment. Don't expect miracles.
You will find a discussion of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program in this book because it is important that you know your choices, and because you should be prepared for the religious fervor with which many AA adherents will attack the philosophy of Rational Recovery. Indeed, the publication of earlier editions of The Small Book upset some people. A Boston Globe reviewer termed it "an angry manifesto." But I hear the anger of the opposition first hand when I speak in public, and usually because they feel threatened by the mere existence of the rational alternative. One woman who heard me speak for only four minutes (I timed it) said she felt her basic beliefs were being attacked. She demanded equal time to defend her transpersonal beliefs before the audience. Another woman from a clinic where I gave a presentation of RR likened me to Muanmiar Qaddafi. That connection wasn't clear to me, but her anger was.
Others who read the previous editions of The Small Book were elated. "I read it with a mixture of fascination and glee," one woman said. Many others said that reading TSB changed their lives and that they are now sober. Still others said that they had gotten sober long ago using the same approach as described in Rational Recovery. But the biggest testimonial for The Small Book is the network of Rational Recover)" groups that now exist across America.
All this shows what I have been saying for years and has been known for centuries - there are two kinds of people: believers and thinkers. Yes, we all do both, but we tend toward one personal style or the other. And we also tend to approach our lives and problems as ones who either have faith in unchanging principles or as ones who think things through and use reason as the light that shows the way. This debate stretches back to ancient Greece, where Plato argued that the main should accept on faith what could be seen by the very few, while Aristotle argued that reason reveals natural truth to each person. When push comes to shove, either way will do, but we cannot have it both ways on the central issues of recovery from chemical dependence.
I have a fundamental respect for Alcoholics Anonymous. When I reached out for help with my own alcohol dependence-it was there - a fellowship of concerned human beings helping themselves by helping others. I have been to many of their meetings and I learned some important information about alcohol dependence. I have friends who still attend AA. It does much good for many people, and I know it. I also know that there's a lot that is rational within AA.
But thousands leave AA each year, disgruntled and ripe for relapse, unable to make use of a very good program. Some leave for the reasons I stated earlier. But most leave because the 12-step approach is faith-based. As a means of survival, people in AA have faith in something other than, or greater than, themselves, and they implore newcomers to share that faith. This is well intentioned, for it has been an effective way for some to halt the self-destruction that results from alcohol or drug dependence. AA veterans, therefore, will be very persuasive in urging newcomers to surrender reason to faith. In AA, one's attempts to reason are commonly regarded as "part of the disease of alcoholism" in the sincere hope that, by surrendering to some higher authority or group mentality, one will change for the better.
AA is not a wrong program, but for those who examine it and find it unhelpful, irrelevant, or disagreeable, it us the wrong program. This is a book for those people - a vindication of their point of view and the power of reason, and at the same time a challenge to them to overcome the ideas of dependency and powerlessness that have been so destructive.
Rational Recovery Systems views AA as a victim of its own success - thrust into roles in our society that it is neither designed for, nor able to fulfill. It has been protected from ideological assault by the shield it has borrowed from traditional religions. In its simplest, communal form, AA is, as its members say, "wonderful." But when AA comes to us in its institutional form, enforced by the military, the courts, and social welfare agencies, and sets the agenda for practically every treatment program in America, it is intolerable.
You will find the entire Rational Recovery program laid out in these pages. You will learn how to get stopped and stay stopped from your addiction. You will learn to recognize the inner voice telling you to drink that beer or take that hit, and how to defeat it. And you will also learn to directly control your moods by changing what you think. You will learn to feel worthwhile drunk or sober, and how to stop depending on others for approval or to keep you sober. You will learn how to avert relapses, all on your own, and you will learn some simple but elegant etiquette for the aftermath of your addicted years. But most important of all, you will learn to trust your own power of reason to choose not to drink or use drugs.
Family members of those dependent on alcohol will find The Small Book liberating as well. No longer need they feel responsible for their loved one's drinking or using, or feel that they are suffering from the "disease" of independence. And, finally, lay and professional people in the chemical dependence field will find this an invaluable resource to set up Rational Recovery programs in clinical settings and in everyday settings.
Rational Recovery is news for the 1990s. Rational Recovery Systems is redefining the nature of recovery from chemical dependence. When you have read The Small Book you will have a new and revolutionary viewpoint on the subject of alcoholism and drug abuse, but one whose roots stretch across the millennia. I hope you share this book with others who desperately need it. Let's see how quickly we can let the nation know-that it's time for a Rational Recovery program in every community!
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