Overcoming disease treatment for addiction: A first person account

Dr. Peele:

I stumbled across your web site, but I was familiar with your work already. I wanted to write you a letter and let you know that your book, The Truth About Addiction and Recovery was a great relief to me when I found it.

I am what some would call a recovering drug addict, though I would not prefer to characterize myself that way. In fact, I discovered your book at a time when I had been trying to distance myself from the connotations that others were attempting to attach to me.

I was studying social work and was employed by a disease concept based chemical dependency hospital at the time and I was extremely frustrated by the religious fervor that was attached to Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 step approach to "recovery."

I was first hospitalized at 17 for marijuana dependency. Unlike many of the people I saw hospitalized while working in the field, I am certain that in-patient treatment was necessary to intervene in my case, as I was suffering from extreme life disruption. The chance to get away from my environment long enough to reassess things was very good for me.

What was much less helpful, and, I feel, even detrimental for my recovery, was being beaten over the head with the concepts of "powerlessness" and "God" and being told that I needed to be around these other drug addicts/alcoholics if I wanted to succeed. Even at my young age I was sufficiently intelligent and rational to understand that my treatment was not based in any kind of sound science or rational approach to personal lifestyle modification.

Three more hospitalizations ensued over a period of years, while I struggled with my emotional problems and the drugs I used to mask them. I was extremely unhappy with my life and with my inability to find some sort of meaning and purpose, but I was slowly changing my outlook on life.

After my last hospitalization I made a conscious decision that I was not going to participate in Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12 step program. I focused myself upon learning about my interests and my creative abilities to deal with problems. My "friends" in AA attempted to browbeat me into returning to their fold "for my own good" and told me that I was bound to fail.

Well, that failure didn't come. I left that depressing city for the university and immersed myself in the joys of learning and exploring the wonders of life and knowledge. All the while maintaining abstinence and developing better and better coping mechanisms. I surrounded myself with non-addict people who were intelligent and creative. Slowly, I began to feel like I "belonged" to a community I enjoyed.

I moved to another city after that year of university life and continued my education while finding a full-time job at a chemical dependency center. At this point I'd been abstinent for 3 years and had finally discarded the Alcoholics Anonymous disease myth. I had been getting very good grades, but was becoming disillusioned with my career choice. The disease concept and dependency on AA for therapeutic treatment was firmly entrenched in the program and I increasingly found myself at odds with the staff and milieu.

Three months into my job at the hospital, I drank approximately 4 ounces of wine with my girlfriend on Valentine's Day. She was shocked, but pleasantly so, as was I. AA would have condemned me for my relapse, but I honestly had never felt quite so free. It was a wonderful moment on a wonderful night and I felt absolutely no guilt.

I continued to work at the hospital for 2 1/2 years while drinking. My pattern was mostly a stable 2 to 5 drinks on the weekends with friends at parties and get togethers. All of these friends were intelligent college students and none knew of my previous drug addiction, nor saw anything pathological in my current drinking patterns.

My work performance at the hospital was extremely competent and reliable. I received several excellent performance reviews and I was commended for my rapport with the adolescents. I continued to follow the program doctrine of abstinence as a goal for all of our patients, but encouraged everyone to seek internal motivations for their recovery and to try to realize which social rules are necessary for them to "get along" and where they must follow their own heart. I was far less interested in hearing an adolescent regurgitate his (often feigned) commitment to eternal sobriety than in helping him/her think of practical ways of dealing with life.

It has now been over 5 years since I abandoned abstinence. I feel happier than ever and I have begun to develop many aspects of my life that rigidity had kept me from exploring before. I feel more relaxed, less fearful, more profoundly impressed with the human experience. Everyone who knows me considers me a success story, yet I'm sure the folks in AA would come up with some rationalization about why I haven't failed...*yet*.

Life and consciousness are extremely profound phenomena. I honestly believe that altered states can provide us human beings with a means of transcendence and hope for ourselves and our world. To deny vibrant curious minds access to these wonderful states in the name of a hollow morality is truly a major transgression against human nature.

I seem to have somehow found my balance with these mood altering substances. I live in a city that I love, I have a number of wonderful friends who share many of my interests and joys. I hold down a professional job and express the wonder I feel at being alive in this amazing world.

It was only when I allowed myself to trust my inner self (the exact opposite of AA dogma) that I realized that my heart and the wisdom and love within it could create a new order for my life, free from the tyranny of mainstream American expectations. Your book was the first thing I had ever read from the field that validated my experiences. Let me tell you that it was wonderful to read something that didn't try to attack me as hopeless and weak.

Thanks again for your inspirational writings!



From: [name and emailaddress removed]
To: Multiple recipients of list MM <MM@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>
Subject: Re: an inspirational message
Date: Thu, 29 Aug 96 16:57:57 +0000

To whomever posted the letter to Dr. Peele:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You articulated beautifully exactly how I have felt for months now! Bless you!