“And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even alcohol” pg.84.
This is one of my favorite lines from the Big Book. I suppose I love it so much because it is one of those things that I struggle with on a daily basis. While I have experienced the freedom born of my spiritual awakening that allowed me to stop fighting alcohol, I still battle daily to practice this principle in all my affairs. As I continue to work on this lesson, I watch it play out daily in my relationships with self, with God, with my fellows, and certainly with institutions. And I watch it play out in my recovered friends and sponsees. Lately, I have been watching it play out in the addiction treatment industry.
The addiction treatment industry in a healthcare anomaly. It’s one of the few places where a solution to a medical illness was created outside of the medical/scientific community. Those of you in recovery know that solution of one alcoholic helping another came into being from the hard work of Alcoholics Anonymous founders Bill W. and Dr. Bob and some much needed help from Higher Power. The thing that frees us from the enslavement of our addictions was not created in a lab, on the couch of a psychoanalysis practitioner, or in the ivory towers of an elite educational institution. It was created by drunks (with a little help from our friends).
So how did we end up with treatment centers, addictionologists, interventionists, addiction counselors, addiction researchers, and the list goes on? With the advent of the Minnesota Model, the good old fashioned “sobering up” process has been coupled with help from the medical profession, the psychotherapy profession, and the research complex. We have grown from a few men (and early on it was mostly men) and a coffee pot helping drunks, to a highly skilled and professional workforce all pushing in the same direction – toward helping free the suffering alcoholic from the bondage of self.
From where I sit, that is a good thing! More hands on deck means more people get help, right? It should mean this, and in many places it does. But sometimes, it just doesn’t. We start to push in different directions and the person who suffers from this discord is the one coming to us for help. Problems arise when we don’t understand one another, when we step on each other’s toes, when the lens from which we view the problem (and consequently, the solution) is drastically different. And……we begin to fight! Which is the one thing that the Big Book cautions us about doing.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As a recovered woman and as a professional who has chosen her career path in this industry, I firmly believe we can all get along. We can work together instead of against each other, but it means that we all have a healthy respect for what each of us brings to the table. Underlying this healthy respect must also be an understanding of the roles that each member of the team plays in helping a person to get well.
First and foremost, if we are a real alcoholic, we recover from addiction by having had a spiritual awakening as a result of the 12-Steps as outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Not because of the latest clinical trend, the newest addiction medication, or from taking ayahuasca in the desert. We recover by taking the steps. But this does not mean that we cannot be helped and supported by medical and clinical innovation along the way. In fact, the Big Book gives us instruction around this very thing:
“But this does not mean that we disregard human health measures. God has abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners, of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons. Most of them given freely of themselves, that their fellows may enjoy sound minds and bodies. Try to remember that though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following his case afterward” pg. 133.
The founders of AA outlined a place for the medical/clinical profession in our process. And in fact, it is through the efforts of our medical/clinical/researcher allies that the body of work outlined in AA came to be regarded as a useful and viable tool in working with alcoholics (see the Doctor’s Opinion). It is through the work of the medical community that we can now safely detoxify active alcoholics so that they live to be ready to receive the gift of sobriety. It is through the gifts of talented and psychiatrists and clinicians that we can address those “grave emotional and mental disorders” thereby allowing individuals to grasp the capacity to be honest. And it is it through the work of neuroscientist and brain researchers that we are closer than ever to understanding the science behind the idea of the physical allergy, the mental obsession, and the spiritual malady.
We know that AA works, and research tells us it works better when supported by wrap around services. There is a place in the addiction treatment industry for each of our professions and for the non-professional drunk who really knows how to get someone sober. But we have to cease fighting each other. If we do not, the only people who stand to suffer are the very people we are trying to help.
Mandy Baker, MS, LCDC
Clinical Supervisor, BRC Clinical Center