Subject: INSPIRED. A plea from a dissident

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Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on May 29th, 2017 - Last updated: October 22nd, 2018
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Subject: INSPIRED. A plea from a dissident

Dear Dr. Stanton Peele,

I am in much need of your advice. I am nervous sending this to you because, 1: I am anxious and have been most of my life; 2: I am afraid of any consequences that may follow as a result of my honesty.

Let me start off by saying how much I appreciate your research and your dedication to your work in the field of addiction. And my goodness do I wish that you could come to the agency that I work for and give them a training on what you know and have seen in this field, though I unfortunately work with people who have very narrow views on recovery. I understand that for them this is what has worked. But that must be the only way?

The 12-step way was my way at first. For several years I was very dedicated and was completely abstinent. I “worked a good program.” I live in a small town. And if you don’t work the program to others’ standards, well then, you just aren’t in recovery. Same people, same stories, same sadness over and over again. It did work for me in the beginning. I was very tired of my [drug] addiction and the consequences that I had faced as a result.

Here is my truth. In my third year of complete abstinence I went to a concert. I didn’t expect to have a couple of drinks but I did. I felt like a complete failure. Looking back now, and working in the addiction field myself, I can see clearly how such guilt can derail someone from recovery. I then chose to keep this my secret, which did not feel good. But I knew I would be shunned if I didn’t. I would be told that I was in relapse mode and that I would return to my drug of choice soon, as I hear said so often about others. They are chastised and dehumanized for NOT being in recovery. I returned to my recovery community, continued to participate in the 12-step program and, since I was new at an outpatient alcohol and drug program, I didn’t speak of it to anyone.

The following year I had a couple of drinks at an event. This time I intended to have the drinks. I still felt bad and guilty, because everyone that I work with believes abstinence is the ONLY way to recover. Hell, that is what I thought and had been taught. At this point I was no longer attending the 12-step program. It felt too dishonest to attend and not follow their code. Unfortunately where I live there are no other forms of self-help or recovery meetings.

I have been in recovery since 2005. I now drink occasionally. I will have a glass or two of wine sometimes once or twice a month, but sometimes not for many months! I feel it shouldn’t be that way. I feel like I have a choice and that I can be in recovery and have a drink.

It wasn’t until I began to conduct my own research on recovery that I found that there are many paths to recovery. That is when I stumbled on to your work, purchased your books, and was so INSPIRED!

I know that I should feel proud, but I am struggling. I feel proud at times that this is MY life and my recovery, but I know that I will be shunned and disliked by others if I tell my truth. Why? I overcame a serious addiction and I have no desire to live in the dysfunction and chaos that created. I now believe in moderation. Maybe I am seeking validation, maybe I am just hoping that I am not fooling myself into “addicted thinking.” But I feel that I am a healthy person who is functioning well.

What hurts me the most is having to push 12-step and abstinence onto others for my job. I used to do that very well, but as time goes on I just don’t feel that’s right. And while our agency is getting a little better at using MI and harm reduction techniques, for the most part, staff here believe that if someone is not abstinent and working a 12-step program that they are failing. What really angers me is the way that they talk about such people and laugh at them. It has driven me to tears, and, yes, it makes me insecure. In the larger world, however, I have seen that by and large the community of recovering people are not in the 12-step program and have chosen other paths and have gone on to moderation of some sort and live happy, healthy and productive lives. How can I make this field better, more realistic? I feel that is my calling, and that I need to start speaking my truth. Yet I am so afraid.

I would love your feedback. Any words of encouragement, any kind of support or assistance would be so greatly appreciated. I just want to connect with someone who has a broader idea of recovery and has seen other ways work. And I also want to thank you for your life’s dedication to this work. Your work has been a huge part of my recovery, and I want to personally thank you.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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