Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You have an association with SMART Recovery. What is SMART Recovery? What is your relation with it as an entity?
Chris Debo: I am a meeting facilitator with SMART Recovery. I facilitate a weekly meeting in Northern California. SMART Recovery is a science-based recovery program that provides proven, practical tools and techniques for dealing with the challenges a life in recovery presents. It is based on the psychological modalities of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), as well as other modalities.
Jacobsen: Why is the organization important?
Debo: SMART Recovery is important for a number of reasons. It brings the teachings of Albert Ellis and others to people in recovery. It provides a secular, proven approach to managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to improve one’s outlook on life, reducing the need to resort to maladaptive behaviors and substance use for “relief” from the stressors of life.
Jacobsen: What are some notable and touching experiences in working with them?
Debo: Well, in being a meeting facilitator, I’ve had some notable experiences with attendees. I’ve had people thank me for providing them with useful tools to deal with difficult situations. These are tools that we don’t learn growing up in this society.
I recall in particular one woman who thanked me for helping her to realize how her harmful eating habits are a learned behavior, a way to cope, and that she could replace them with healthy alternatives. I’ve also witnessed people in meetings finally “get it,” understand what their addictive substance or behavior is for them: a coping mechanism. The penny drops and a look of understanding beams from their faces. Those types of events are extremely gratifying.
Jacobsen: How does your own background tie into them? What lead you to SMART Recovery, and the absolutely wonderful and magnanimous Shari Allwood?
Debo: I myself suffered from many years of substance abuse, primarily alcohol. Booze was my only mechanism for coping with life, good and bad. It worked every single time in a predictable way. Finally I realized that I needed to make a complete change in my life. Having had little success with a traditional 12-Step approach, I searched online for alternatives to traditional 12-Step programs and came across SMART Recovery. This discovery changed my life.
After being sober for a time, I decided that I should give back in some way to the community, so I took SMART Recovery’s Facilitator Training and became a facilitator. This experience has been incredibly gratifying for me. I could help others see that there is a way out of their addictive, and destructive, behaviors, while strengthening my own knowledge and use of SMART Recovery’s program.
Jacobsen: With your current position (if applicable, what is it…), what are your tasks and responsibilities?
Debo: At the moment, I am training to start a new career. At 45, it is a challenge. Overall, though, my goal in life is to achieve healthy balance across all aspects of life. I have a chance to do this now that I am solidly in recovery. SMART also has shown me how to prioritize long-term benefits over short-term satisfactions.
Jacobsen: How does a science-based and non-faith-based — with or without religion as a component — treatment work compared to faith, religiously oriented, treatments?
Debo: This program offers practical solutions. Change your thoughts to change your emotions. Take responsibility for your future. Take charge and own your recovery and your life. Don’t rely solely on others or a “higher power” to save you from yourself. Live for today and the future, not in the past. I’ve never seen faith save someone from addictive behavior, at least not in the long run.
Having had experience with AA, I can tell you that these programs are based on taking your power away from you, taking your responsibility away from you. You are forced to look backward at all your negative behavior and consequences in order to scare you from repeating those mistakes. It is based in shame. You don’t learn anything practical to help you in the day-to-day. Your higher power will save you. Nope. I stayed sober for five years, but I was miserable every single day. With SMART Recovery, I can be content and occasionally even happy. Hah.
Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?
Debo: I would not be living the life I am living without SMART Recovery. I will be forever grateful to the organization for helping me to learn what I need to know to live a healthy and fulfilling life.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Chris.
Debo: My pleasure! Thank you for giving more exposure to SMART Recovery!
Original Publication in Humanist Voices.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.