The world of recovery, just as the world in general has changed a great deal since the first “100” in what became Alcoholics Anonymous, the first real sea-change in recovery thinking, gathered to write the book Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book) in 1938. Then, those suffering from addiction, if labeled incorrigible by society, could be sentenced to sanitariums or insane asylums and unless someone would take legal responsibility for them could spend the rest of their lives locked away in what were essentially warehouses for those society had deemed beyond redemption, out of sight, often in appalling conditions or even possibly “cured” with a prefrontal lobotomy (preformed from 1935-1960). While those in recovery lived in fear of the stigma (unfortunately still evident today), their lives possibly ruined if it became known by their employer or the public they had had a “problem.” Another sea-change is desperately needed, and it begins with embracing the world as it is, not as it was.
My journey in recovery began in 1985. Though the world had changed in many respects between 1938 and 1985 the transmission of information and the world of recovery fundamentally hadn’t. In 1985:
· The Internet existed but was almost exclusively the domain of governments and universities.
· TV had supplanted radio, but magazines, newspapers, telephone directories, libraries, books and posted mail still ruled the day.
· Cell phones as constituted today didn’t exist. There were “portable” phones varying in size from a small loaf of bread to a briefcase, were expensive to use, and only made phone calls unlike the pocket computers of today which happen to have a phone app.
· Many had radio pagers, but then you had to locate a phone.
· Dell released their first computer, along with the introduction of the Commodore Amiga 1000 and the original Apple Macintosh.
· Windows version 1.0 was released.
· Nintendo introduced the NES gaming platform.
· AA and NA were steadily growing and expanding, as they had since their respective inceptions.
· Though professional recovery had existed since the earliest days of AA (Dr. Silkworth, author of the Doctor’s Opinion in the Big Book, opened “Duffy’s Tavern” at Knickerbocker State Hospital in NY for detox and then sent patients to the “farm” for 28 days of continued treatment) 12 Step calls were two members of either Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous (founded in 1953) carrying the message, face to face for free, to suffers was still typical. A call to a local AA or NA Central Office would start the process or Doctors and the Clergy who knew members in the recovery community would routinely send suffers their way as first points of contact.
But critically in 1985 acquiring deeper knowledge and information happened through encyclopedias, libraries, magazines, newspapers, and telephone directories, just as it had for generations. Cable TV was in 44% of American homes, CNN 5 years old, still the basic transmission and assimilation of information and knowledge had changed remarkably little, and though professional treatment was available, the world of recovery was still principally 12 Step calls, hard backed books, and real world, face to face gatherings.
· Newspapers and magazines are dying out, once central sources of information, have become basically irrelevant for those under 40, while the internet has effectively replaced phone books and encyclopedias as well as posted personal mail.
· There are more mobile devices in circulation than the population of the Earth. These “phones” though are actually palm sized personal computers those under 40 uses almost exclusively for communication, entertainment, banking, shopping, and information gathering.
· People entering recovery under 40 have in most cases not picked up a “real” book or visited a library since leaving school but are “hooked” on their mobile devices.
· AA ceased growing in 1992, stabilizing at the current 2 million members (AAWS GSO statistics). And though NA does not publish estimated membership statistics, its growth is minimal at best, clearly not reflecting or addressing the 15+ year old surge in Crystal Meth and Opioid addiction.
· There are thousands of online recovery groups and social media pages regularly accessed, unfiltered or vetted. And for those seeking help with addiction, today the first point of contact typically originates from an Internet search, or a radio or television ad for a treatment center.
AA and NA’s 12 Traditions, principally Traditions of Anonymity (12th), Attraction, not promotion (11th), and (No)Professionalism (8th) ** though relevant at the time of adoption (early 1950’s), today handicap them from adapting to an evolving world. Additionally, many “oldtimers” in these Fellowships have become the self-appointed guardians of recovery deriding people they feel don’t “identify” correctly or arrived at “their” meeting in a van (sarcastically referred to as druggy buggies) from a professional treatment center, openly criticizing any mention of CBT, DBT, EMDR, etc. often making them feel unwelcome. Many as well reject any other path of recovery, often even deriding other fellowships, but a particular animus exists directed at those begun in the professional setting; clearly points to why AA’s and NA’s growth, though still dynamic paths as originally intended, have stagnated. Coupled with the current prevailing attitude of many that relapse is too be expected, even sadly, inevitable with the reality of today’s professional recovery which is typically at best a 90-day process where treatment modalities and access to professionals end upon completion and you have the perfect confluence resulting in the current abysmal long-term recovery rate and chronically high relapse rate despite increased initial availability of services and heightened overall general awareness.