After Party Chat

A fresh look at addiction and recovery

Can a Book End Addiction for Good?

By arguing for AA along with therapy, the authors do a great service to addicts.

At first glance, Ending Addiction For Good: The Groundbreaking, Holistic, Evidence-Based Way to Transform Your Life, by Cliffside Treatment Center founder and CEO Richard Taite and Cliffside’s addiction researcher Dr. Constance Scharff, didn’t look like a book that I’d get behind. The authors don’t define addiction as a disease, don’t subscribe to 12-step as the model for addiction recovery and even have a different take on interventions than the typical addiction specialist. Yet after careful reading, I wholly believe that the views put forth in this book would help any addict seeking a solution.

When the battles break out between the 12-step set and the anti-12-step set, what often seems to get overlooked is the fact that many 12-steppers seek help outside the program; in my nearly decade-and-a-half around this world, I’ve never actually encountered someone who insisted that a sober person should do no work beyond what’s recommended by the program. In fact, the Big Book recommends taking such action. And yet somehow the arguments I hear and read about in this vein are almost always coming from someone who swears AA almost destroyed his or her life because of a staunch 12-stepper who insisted the person do it “the AA way.”

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Taite and Scharff take neither side and in maintaining this equilibrium do a marvelous service to addicts everywhere. They recommend 12-step work, but they also point out the large role that trauma often plays in addiction development, trauma which is not worked through by using the steps. The traumatized person, they write, “confuses the momentary absence of pain with happiness or the good life” when first drinking or using. But “because the initial source of pain has not been dealt with, the moment the effects of the substance wear off, the pain returns.” I know that was my personal experience, and my own stance on addiction is similar to theirs; I believe that some of us are born with a predilection for addiction but our circumstances will either exacerbate or diminish that. While others before Taite and Scharff have certainly pointed out the link between trauma and addiction, the topic is woefully under-discussed in recovery circles and I applaud those willing to bring people’s attention to it—particularly when they’re willing to do it loudly.

While program literature urges its members to seek “outside help” if they are grappling with issues beyond AA’s scope, it doesn’t offer any specifics about what that help may be and I very much appreciated Taite and Scharff getting specific. In one of the first chapters of Ending Addiction, Scharff paints a picture of her own bleak childhood—which included being neglected by her mother and raped, at the age of seven, by her father. When she explains that she needed help the program could not provide because most of her problems weren’t caused by her own shortcomings, but by the abuse she suffered, who could argue with that? Of course, a child doesn’t have to be abused as severely as Scharff was in order to suffer from trauma. As many experts have pointed out, even seemingly harmless events like mild neglect can be extremely traumatic on the psyche of a child.

I didn’t know that when I first got sober. I was among the living for the first time in nearly a decade and as a result was in such pink cloud land that I believed I could give up therapy—even though I’d been in it since the age of 16. My only problem, I decided, was that I was an addict. And since I had my solution, I could shut the door on the ways I’d tried to solve problems before.

My second year of recovery was, it turns out, a rude awakening; suddenly the joy of being among the living didn’t feel like such a joy anymore. In fact, it felt downright annoying. The trauma that I’d experienced in childhood still impacted me. Though I didn’t really cry about it anymore, I couldn’t deny that the horrific relationship I had with my father was impacting how I related with most everyone in my life. Thankfully, I already knew how helpful therapy could be and had a sponsor who thoroughly supported it and so back to therapy I went.

In the decade since, I’ve remained in therapy and have learned, for the most part, how to differentiate between my addiction issues and those related to my trauma—though, to be honest, my sponsor and therapist do often help me parse through much of the same material. I don’t know that I could have stayed sober without the “outside help” I received, which is why I so firmly applaud Taite and Scharff’s efforts to make clear what 12-step programs can and can’t do.

The authors write extensively about the importance of healing the body in recovery, championing exercise, proper nutrition and acupuncture, among other holistic treatments—an all-too-important aspect of recovery that is often overlooked. They further point out that calling alcoholism or addiction a “disorder” rather than a “disease” motivates those who suffer from it to change. Though I personally wasn’t discouraged when I heard that addiction was a disease, I believe that anything that can be done to improve our chances of helping other addicts to sobriety is a positive thing. And they have a line about the way addicts think which is as accurate as any I’ve ever come across—namely that “addicts will tell themselves that they are awful people even when they act nobly.”

Still, my favorite line is when the authors point out that “the addict’s mind is negative when unguarded yet he has the power to change his thoughts whenever he’d like.” To me, understanding that fact is the very essence of recovery. While being able to stop it is another story altogether—and the average addict probably won’t be able to afford to check in to Cliffside for the recommended 90 days in order to start learning how—Taite and Scharff’s book can help put those suffering from addiction well on their way to a better life.

This post originally appeared on AfterPartyChat.

Anna David is the author of two novels and three non-fiction books and frequently speaks about addiction and recovery in the media and on college campuses.

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