I sat through a lecture at an addiction treatment conference
As I sat through a lecture at an addiction treatment conference last year, I listened to a respected professional in the field speak about empowerment. She stated that the primary goal of the treatment center at which she worked was to empower clients. I often hear this language used to describe part of the mission and vision of a recovery program. I spoke with one clinician who told me that empowerment and choice were two of the main principles that every treatment program should promote.
If by empowerment we are talking about helping clients to achieve their goals and reach their potential, then I am all in favor of it. I believe recovery is all about allowing a client to take an active role in the re-creation of their life. Often, however, empowerment seems to mean that we should allow the clients to do whatever they want. At many treatment centers, empowerment means that we should put the ball in the client’s court and allow them to make important decisions around treatment such as length of stay and aftercare plans. Based on my experience, I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach.
One of the first principles of the recovery process is admitting powerlessness. As the Big Book states on page 45, “Lack of power, that was our dilemma.” My first and perhaps most important goal for a client who enters our program is to help them fully realize this dilemma. A true, gut-level admission of powerlessness provides the fuel that propels a person through the rigorous and challenging recovery process that so many fail to earnestly follow.
Clients don’t end up at BRC Recovery because they have a history of making good decisions. Addicts are notorious for taking the path of least resistance,− the easy way out. A person in early recovery can be incredibly short-sighted. Their focus on short-term comfort often comes at the expense of what is their long-term best interest. If we allowed each client to decide their course in the program based on what they wanted, their chances of success would be greatly diminished.
Mark Houston once summed up recovery in one simple, yet profound sentence. “Recovery is about submitting to a will other than your own,” he said. We ask our clients to submit to the will of our program, the will of their sponsor, and ultimately the will of their Higher Power. Egotistical addicts often have a hard time with this submission. This process of surrender for most clients can be an arduous task. In a chronic relapser, failure to surrender is usually a primary factor in a person’s inability to stay sober despite numerous treatment attempts and a wealth of recovery knowledge.
To produce this surrender, it is important to remove the false sense of power from the client. Working with a chronically relapsing population that tends to be entitled and arrogant, it is often important to let the client know that they do not have power. They are not the expert, nor do not get to make the final decisions regarding their recovery. Our team of experts, consulting with the family, create the optimal plan for the client. Then, we unapologetically use leverage to get the client to follow the plan.
I have seen so many cases where a resistant client’s family was willing to hold their boundaries and success ensued. For the first time ever, the client realized that they were not going to get their way. They couldn’t run away from the pressure, they couldn’t hold their breath through another rehab, and they couldn’t manipulate to an easier, softer way. The client was forced into submitting to a will other than their own, and thus had their first experience with surrender.
At BRC Recovery, we do not negotiate with the disease of addiction. Our primary goal is to connect our residents to a Power greater than themselves, not to “empower” them by giving them a lot of choices. We allow our residents to have an experience with the paradoxical freedom that comes from surrender.
In early recovery, I had to learn that what I wanted really didn’t matter. I had been doing whatever I wanted for a long time, and the result was my life was a complete disaster. I was forced into doing things I didn’t want to do. My power was taken away. As a result, I learned to tap into a source of Power that has allowed me to pursue my goals and re-create my life. I hope every client at BRC can have an experience with loss of power sufficient to effect a fundamental change in their way of living and thinking such as I had. And I will keep fighting to make sure they don’t get their way.