I first became aware of my problem with alcohol after getting a DUI in 1989. I went through treatment where I was educated in the disease model of addiction and the 12-step program. Over the course of the following six years I attended hundreds of AA meetings. I read the literature, got a sponsor, and worked the steps in earnest and to the best of my ability but was unable to internalize belief in a Higher Power or understand what the 12 steps had to do with the problem at hand. The longest period of abstinence from alcohol I attained was 9 months or less. Toward the end I was ashamed to admit that I had lapsed repeatedly and began to lie about my sobriety. In the end this became intolerable. Knowing of no other alternative I accepted defeat and decided to try to manage the problem the best I could on my own, resigned to a gradual decline in health, productivity, and interpersonal relationships leading to “jails, institutions, and death.” I was in my mid 30s and had basically given up on attaining my dreams despite my relatively young age and fresh engineering Ph.D. I endured the following year in this miserable, hopeless state.

In 1996 moved across the country to an area where face to face SMART Recovery meetings were available. Based on my “education” I was skeptical but what I heard gave me reason to hope. I could comprehend the rational, direct approach to solving my problem using REBT and some simple, specific tools with a sound basis in science and psychology. Owing to my many previous unsuccessful attempts to stop drinking I was afraid to try right away, but this time it felt safe to tell the group that I didn’t want to try to change my behavior until I had a plan I believed would actually work. I spent six months attending as many different meetings as I could, reading books, working with a therapist and changing my lifestyle to create a plan and support system for success. I quit smoking and started exercising, eating better, and losing weight. Finally in August of that year I drank my last beer on the date I had pre-planned. I still remember watching a meteor shower while solo camping during my farewell to alcohol. More than 14 years later I remain abstinent from alcohol, I don’t smoke and I still weigh nearly 50 pounds less than I did back then.

I continued to attend meetings for about another six months and then got on with my life. I got married and had a child, both goals I had deemed impossible a few short years before. These new life circumstances called for more behavioral change so I returned to SMART in about 2004 to work on aggressive driving and other behaviors which I have subsequently been successful in eliminating or at least mitigating. By 2006 I was facilitating a meeting I had started and continue to do so today. I’ve watched people overcome problems ranging from fingernail biting to cocaine and heroin addiction and am a firm believer in the power of the human mind to affect great change when properly focused and armed with useful methods and tools. SMART Recovery helped me to salvage my life and I owe an eternal debt of gratitude.

August West

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