Rational Recovery Self-Help Meetings
-- by Cliff Walker (9-94)

Note: This flyer is outdated.
     Rational Recovery has changed in several ways since 1994, and this piece no longer accurately reflects Rational Recovery's position on several matters. Rather than attempt to edit and update the pamphlet, I present the information as it was originally written. Many people have found some of the information in question very useful. It also serves a historical value, reflecting one man's understanding of what Rational Recovery once taught.

Rational Recovery Self-Help Meetings

Twelve Step support groups have proven themselves effective for a small but significant fraction of the substance abusers who try them. Many, however, object to the religious emphasis in the Twelve Steps. Are there any recovery meetings that such people can take seriously?

Rational Recovery's lay-led, RET-based, self-help meetings have demonstrated their effectiveness for several years. We hope you give self-help meetings equal billing with the support groups when recommending or mandating meeting attendance for your clients.

The Four Components of RR

The Rational Recovery program can be divided into four major components: (1) Addictive Voice Recognition Technique (AVRT), (2) a firm commitment to permanent abstinence, (3) unconditional self-acceptance (rather than self-rating), and (4) the Rational-Emotive Therapy of Albert Ellis, Ph.D., a practical self-help method for controlling extremes of emotion like depression, fear, shame, anger, and guilt. Although each element is an essential part of the RR program, we emphasize AVRT as an effective method for putting the brakes on the powerful cravings common among addicts. AVRT and RET work together toward preventing relapse.

Researchers from the New York University School of Medicine are impressed with the results; however, these tools rarely work by osmosis. A person must practice these exercises in order to expect any lasting results. A lot of energy goes into developing a serious drug problem; likewise, it takes effort to learn the skills for living a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle. Also, if getting loaded has become someone's primary pursuit (as it often does), recovery may include re-examining one's entire outlook.

AVRT-ing Addictive Voices

Alcoholics Anonymous originally made great inroads into the treatment of late-stage alcoholics by pointing out "the phenomenon of craving." Rational Recovery goes much further than AA by dealing with this perplexing appetite for substances as our first order of business. In RR meetings we demonstrate that, as far as drinking and using is concerned, the thought always precedes the action. Addictive Voice Recognition Technique enables us to recognize warning signs of an oncoming craving cycle and to directly combat the desire to use before it becomes a seemingly overwhelming compulsion.

What once began as a simple desire to get loaded has, in many people, developed into an automatic, involuntary craving. While someone's appetite for drugs or alcohol may be involuntary (like the "need" for oxygen, food, and sex), humans consciously control the fulfillment of that appetite through voluntary muscles in the hands, face, and elsewhere. Hence, it is impossible to become intoxicated apart from the conscious and deliberate decision to do so.

In an attempt to have its way, an involuntary appetite, coming from the midbrain, will enlist the functions of the conscious brain -- auditory thoughts, visual imagery, language, and a wide range of feelings. With AVRT we become aware of our self-talk and mental imagery. Whenever that "voice" advocates drinking or using, we can make use of thought-stopping techniques, role-playing games, and other devices, combined with a firm commitment to permanent abstinence. Usually, though, learning to recognize the voices or imagery when they occur is enough to get them to shut up for a while.

Permanent Abstinence

Many addicts calm the addictive voice by entertaining the hope that the abstinence will be temporary -- not forever. AA members tell themselves "one day at a time" precisely for this reason: it is comforting and nonconfrontational. Not surprisingly, it also rolls out the red carpet for a relapse opportunity.

We try to graduate from the "one day at a time" philosophy as soon as possible in RR. The slogan "one day at a time" is a reservation: it means, "try me again tomorrow." While saying "never" can be disconcerting at first, we think it is much more effective, in the long run, to get used to the idea of permanent abstinence right from the start. After all, permanent abstinence is the next logical step after attempts to control our drinking or using have failed.

We can learn much about our addiction if we repeatedly declare our commitment to permanent abstinence. When we say, "I will never drink or use again," the part of us that wants to continue objects very loudly. This gives us an excellent opportunity to observe our attitudes, beliefs, and conditioning. Often we will see the rationalizing and the semantical games we play with ourselves in order to justify drinking and using. We can see how we "give ourselves permission" to drink and use with ideas that center around pleasure seeking, problem solving, relief, and escape.

The most important causes of our addictions and dependencies are our thoughts, attitudes, images, memories, and other cognitions -- not our experiences. If we blithely tell ourselves, "just for today," the desire to use may just wait until tomorrow. The dysfunctional thinking might not show itself and we may never learn to challenge those beliefs.

Unconditional Self-Acceptance

A popular film among RR people is Sophie's Choice. In it, a mother is forced by her sadistic Nazi captors to choose which of her two children should live; if not, both would die. She discovered the difficulties of deciding human worth. To rate one child worth saving implied lesser worth to the other. This doctrine of variable human worth was a central belief of the Third Reich.

External measures of individual worth (pay scales, life insurance policies, restitution payments) are not the same as one's intrinsic worth: the value one places on oneself. Since there is no scale with which to rate myself, I can rightly and accurately declare my value as a human to be infinite. Mine is the final word on this matter. My value rests entirely on the fact that I exist. I love myself simply because it feels better than self-loathing; I need no other reason to accept myself.

Unconditional self-acceptance is the opposite of self-rating. High self-esteem can be just as detrimental as low self-esteem. In RR, we avoid labels and self-rating altogether; thus, we do not introduce ourselves as "an alcoholic addict." (A small minority within the Twelve Step community has rejected that practice for the same reason.) I did not get clean and sober in order to become a worthwhile person. It is precisely because I am a worthwhile person that I choose to get and stay clean and sober. If I love myself, it is unlikely that I will do things that may harm me. If I am prone to becoming depressed or entering into a self-destructive state of mind, however, I may need additional tools.

RET and Emotional Extremes

Many people who drink or take drugs also suffer bouts of extreme emotional reactions to everyday stresses. If drinking appears to minimize these problems, we can expect them to return once the user becomes abstinent. Also, if the user was intoxicated all the while his or her peers were learning everyday coping skills, he or she may need to learn those skills for the first time.

Drug and alcohol abusers often display characteristics that center around automatic, nonreflective yielding to impulses; sensitivity to unpleasant feelings; diminished perspectives of the future; insufficient motivation to control one's behavior; and what we call "Low Frustration Tolerance." We can deal with these traits on our own using Rational-Emotive Therapy (RET).

With RET, we can identify and control many extreme, irrational states of emotion. If an idea is making you miserable, this is a good indicator that that idea is irrational. When you are upset, no matter how logical and realistic your point of view may seem, there is probably an irrational idea somewhere that needs to be dealt with. Irrational ideas are usually anxious, demanding, absolutistic, and unconditional; irrational beliefs hardly ever have a "Plan B."

To discover how an irrational idea can affect our emotional well-being, we work the ABC's of RET. First, we note our feelings or emotional state -- what we call the Consequence. Then we find an event, external or internal, that appears to have caused us to feel that way -- the Activating Event. We write what we think about the activating event -- our Beliefs. Finally, we Dispute each belief: Can I prove it is true? Can I prove it is false? Can abandoning or replacing this idea help me? Could keeping this idea harm me? What usually results is called the Effect -- a new emotional consequence.

Note: RR does not recommend using Rational-Emotive Therapy to deal with craving during those episodes when a powerful urge to drink or use exists. Some absolutistic ideas can be beneficial -- like the unconditional, "I will never drink or use again!" RET is great for extreme emotional reactions in everyday life; however, AVRT is designed for when you experience a strong desire to drink or use (or whatever). RET combats irrational ideas, and it is possible to rationalize and dispute your way into a relapse.

Dangerous Extremes

Many substance abusers respond to Rational-Emotive Therapy in a self-help setting or to Cognitive Therapy in a clinical setting. However, many others should be under psychiatric care. In RR, we are always supportive of a person's decision to seek professional help. This is sometimes a matter of life and death.

The refusal of Twelve Step programs (particularly Narcotics Anonymous) to take a position on psychotropic medication is unethical, irresponsible, and very detrimental to the recovery community. The NA book says that an addict's body cannot tell the difference between street drugs and prescribed drugs. NA flatly rejected motions to mention psychotropic drugs in their new pamphlet "In Times of Illness" -- and even to recommend following one's prescription as directed! I commend the grass-roots movement within NA that speaks up for the psychiatric patients among them. Unfortunately, it takes the occasional suicide of a long-standing NA member for some to even think about this issue.

Some Final Thoughts

RR sees addiction as a technical problem with a technical solution. We try to demystify addiction and recovery. Many current approaches accept the inevitability of continued emotional dependency; they expect you to replace dependence on drugs and alcohol with dependence on something more benign. In RR, you are given the means to reject dependence as a matter of principle and to form a personal philosophy that is conducive to a durable, fulfilling recovery.

Also, RR does not tell anyone what to believe about, spirituality, religion, morality, or ethics. Every person should be free to make up his or her own mind about such things.

My "Deserted-Island" Books

Diseasing of America: Addiction Treatment Out of Control by Stanton Peele, Ph.D. A brilliant look at the bizarre beliefs that drive the addiction treatment industry, the impact those beliefs have on our society, and the reasons those beliefs may actually perpetuate our nation's drug problem.

The Truth About Addiction and Recovery by Stanton Peele, Ph.D., et al. A recap of "Diseasing" plus a realistic model for personal and social change.

The Small Book: A Revolutionary Alternative for Overcoming Alcohol and Drug Dependence by Jack Trimpey. Trimpey's alternative to the Twelve Step movement has had a profound impact on the recovery scene.

AVRT: The Final Fix by Jack Trimpey. This brand-new book is Trimpey's most up-to-date explanation of the Addictive Voice Recognition Technique (mail orders only, for now; due in September, 1996 as Rational Recovery: The New Cure for Substance Addiction).

Alcohol: How to Give it up and be Glad You Did by Philip Tate. A simple yet thorough how-to approach to applying the principles of REBT to your life.

When AA Doesn't Work for You: Rational Steps To Quitting Alcohol by Albert Ellis, Ph.D. and Emmett Velten. More sympathetic toward AA than its title suggests, it is classic Ellis. Full of information you'll never hear in an AA meeting -- including why AA works. Loaded with subtle potshots!

More Revealed: A Critical Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps by Ken Ragge. Scathing! "Those who read this book could die!" gasps a mortified Twelve Step loyalist who found this book too frightening to read. Extensively documented: AA was an official ministry of the "Oxford Groups" religion until 1942 (AA dates its beginning at 1935); the real reason AA scrambled to leave the Oxford Groups in 1942 (their leader had endorsed Adolf Hitler in 1936); AA founder and mentor Bill Wilson's three-year "experiments" with LSD in the late 1950s and why AA's leadership insisted that he stop.

How to Contact Us

Rational Recovery Systems -- (916) 621-2667
P.O. Box 800
Lotus, CA 95651
E-Mail: rr@rational.org
Web: http://www.rational.org/recovery/
In Portland:
Cliff Walker -- [removed]
415 SW 13th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97205
E-Mail: clifwalker@aol.com