Recoveryism 101 (Part 2)
Are there no objective criteria by which pathways of recovery can be judged?
Of course! Embracing recovery pluralism is not an embrace of opinions and preferences that completely dominate facts. To be tolerant of the varieties of recovery experience is not to say we must blindly accept all proffered approaches to recovery as equal. All must be subject to investigation and all held accountable for recovery outcomes. Recent efforts to define recovery have focused on three essential elements
1. The resolution of alcohol and other drug problems (most often measured by enduring abstinence),
2. Improvements in global health (e.g., physical, emotional, relational health; quality of life and functioning), and
3. Positive community reintegration (citizenship).
All proposed pathways to recovery must be accountable for the degree to which they facilitate or fail to facilitate change across these three zones of recovery experience. That accountability comes through the experiences of individuals, families, and communities as well as through the rigor of scientific studies. At the moment, no recovery approach has outcomes so high as to warrant the claim of being THE recovery pathway.
Irving Goffman noted the potential for people within a stigmatized group to reach a “state of grace” in which they could be open about their stigmatized status without experiencing shame or the need to claim superiority over others. It was in such a state that Bill Wilson reminded AA members in 1954 that the roads to recovery are many. Today, those roads need to be expanded until the senseless deaths and drug-related destruction of personal, family, and community life cease.
Recovery by any means necessary under any circumstances. All pathways and styles of recovery are cause for celebration.
Surprisingly, one the very first public voices to speak out against what we now term “recoveryism” was none other than Bill Wilson, co-founder and intellectual engineer of Alcoholics Anonymous, which was founded in 1937. He welcomed scientific and social research into recovery pathways, including AA.
Below are some quotes that emphasize the values he held for his organization. They speak for themselves on several pervasive themes: respect for the varieties of recovery experience within AA, respect for the varieties of recovery that can be achieved outside the fellowship of AA, an unending search for ways to widen the doorways of entry into recovery and respect for AA’s critics.
The most frequently referenced of these values in AA literature are honesty, modesty, humility, humor, tolerance, patience, unselfishness, kindliness, love, and service. Personal glorification, overweening pride, consuming ambition, exhibitionism, intolerant smugness, money or power madness, refusal to admit mistakes and learn from them, self-satisfaction, lazy complacency—these and many more are the garden variety ills which so often beset movements as well as individuals…. Let us never say, “It can’t happen here.” (Wilson, 1945/1988a, p. 4)
Such modesty is also evident in Wilson’s repeated denials that AA is the only way to solve alcohol problems. AA has no monopoly on reviving alcoholics. (Wilson, 1944/1988, p.98) The average member of Alcoholics Anonymous does not suppose we have a cure-all. (Wilson, 1945b, p. 239) The question of alternative pathways of recovery came up early in the history of AA. The issue of the AA Grapevine included an article by noted author Philip Wylie, who described his solo recovery from alcoholism (without the help of AA). Anticipating some potential resistance among AA readers, the Grapevine editor asked Bill Wilson to offer comment on Wylie’s story. Bill declared that Wylie’s article should “endear” Wylie to every AA member. No AA should be disturbed if he cannot fully agree with all of Mr. Wiley’s truly stimulating discourse. Rather shall we reflect that the roads to recovery are many; that any story or theory of recovery from one who has trod the highway is bound to contain much truth. (Wilson, 1944/1988, p. 98) He encouraged collaboration among doctors, scientists, and therapists:
It used to be the fashion among some of us in A.A. to decry psychiatry, even medical aid of any description, save that barely needed for sobering up. We pointed to the failures of psychiatry and religion. We were apt to thump our chests and exclaim, “Look at us. We can do it, but they can’t.” It is therefore with great relief that I can report this to be a vanishing attitude.
Thoughtful AA members everywhere realize that psychiatrists and physicians helped to bring our Society into being in the first place and have held up our hands ever since…. So let’s bring to this floor the total resources that can be brought to bear on this problem…Let us think of unity among all those who work in the field…Let us stand together in the spirit of service. (Wilson, 1958) We clearly see that by pooling our resources we can do together what could never be accomplished in separation; or in short-sighted criticism and in competition. (Wilson, 1958) Mr. Wilson espoused much that could be a guideline for individuals affected by or vulnerable to those who would preach specific pathways to recovery and the exclusion/intolerance of diverse options.
• Understand the limitations of every modality of treatment
• Recognition of diverse recovery experience even within the same recovery path
• Tolerance and respect toward alternative pathways and styles of recovery, openness to collaborate with service professionals and scientists in the substance abuse field.
Alcoholics Anonymous. (1957). Alcoholics Anonymous comes of age. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing, Inc.
White, W. (1998). Slaying the dragon: The history of addiction treatment and recovery in America. Bloomington, IL: Chestnut Health Systems.
White, W. (2006). Let’s go make some history: Chronicles of the new addiction recovery advocacy movement. Washington, D.C.: Johnson Institute and Faces and Voices of Recovery.
Wilson, B. (1988). Our critics can be our benefactors. In The language of the heart: Bill W.’s Grapevine writings (pp. 345-347). New York: The AA Grapevine, Inc. (Reprinted from AA Grapevine, 1963)
Wilson, B. (1988). Responsibility is our theme. In The language of the heart: Bill W.’s Grapevine writings (pp. 328-334). New York: The AA Grapevine, Inc. (Reprinted from AA Grapevine, 1965)
Wilson, B. (1994). The society of Alcoholics Anonymous. 1949. American Journal of Psychiatry, Sesquicentennial Supplement 151(6), 259-262. (Reprinted from American Journal of Psychiatry, 106, pp. 370-376, 1949)