By the time Mary Beth O’Connor arrived in rehab in 1993, she had twenty years of addiction under her belt. She wanted to quit, but she didn’t want to be told that a chronic scientifically – based disease could be treated with religion. In The Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2020, Mary Beth wrote “I beat Addiction without God” that she applied only the concepts she found valuable in Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step program.
She found the stories in NA interesting, and felt she could live up to the NA creed “one day at a time.” But after several months of sobriety, Mary Beth was still skeptical about “the higher power.” Then, she discovered Women For Sobriety, a secular alternative that preached that empowered women could build strong recovery by releasing the past and taking control of their lives. This program worked for Mary Beth and today she is sober. Her brain, she claims, after three years, has been rewired to stay clean.
Similarly, philosopher James Thang, had qualms about the “higher power, “the belief that you must succumb to a higher power or you will relapse. An alcohol abuser, he joined AA (Alcohol Anonymous) even though he stated in an article also for The Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2020, that he doesn’t believe in God, but that he believes in AA. Why? He claims that even if people believe that God wasn’t present in their healing, it isn’t necessarily so. He found that the other men and women who faced similar struggles gave him insight into his problem and helped him tap into what he called powerful stuff in AA.
As we’ve seen, AA and NA are not all things to all people. Another support group targeted for families and friends of those with substance abuse is ALANON, a spiritual fellowship, not a religious one. At their meetings, they avoid specific doctrine. Those who are impacted by alcoholism share their stories and by doing so, others learn how to cope living with an alcoholic. ALANON has another branch, ALAteen that is for teenagers.
Compared to AA and NA, SMART RECOVERY (Self Management and Recovery Training) is a newer form of therapy. It uses the latest scientific research and supports the inclusion of prescribed medications and behavior therapy (CBT or behavior modification therapy to overcome addiction. It avoids the idea of a higher power or a spiritual focus.
Unlike 12-step meetings, SMART RECOVERY does not regard addiction as a chronic disease, but as maladaptive behavior. Other non- 12 step meetings are: Life Ring that does not have sponsors or a religious tilt. Life Ring believes that the substance abuser is the best authority for his treatment. Moderation Management allows drinking at moderate levels in the beginning of recovery so its substance abusers are not labelled alcoholics. Secular Organization for Sobriety teaches abstinence without religion. Mary Beth O’Connor also partook of the latter’s message.
Wesley Cullen Davidson
Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting. Currently, she is targeting her writing about recovery to parents whose children have substance abuse disorders.