Note: Dan is giving this interview as a SMART Recovery facilitator and not as a spokesman for the Veterans Administration.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You have an association with SMART Recovery. What is SMART Recovery? What is your relation with it as an entity?
Dan Bowman: SMART, Self Management And Recovery Training is a not-for-profit, face-to-face and on-line, science/evidence based, Peer and Professionally led self-help group for those with addiction issues. It’s a self-empowering, dynamic and very interactive method of recovery, and by recovery, I mean the ability to be recovered. If I chose, I could go on and live my life, free from the emotional baggage of my past. I feel no need to attend meetings today for my own recovery, however I do so as a trained SMART Recovery facilitator to help others, because I believe in the SMART Recovery 4-point program.
Our 4-Point Program®
The SMART Recovery 4-Point Program offers tools and techniques for each program point:
1: Building and Maintaining Motivation
2: Coping with Urges
3: Managing Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors
4: Living a Balanced Life
Jacobsen: Why is the organization important?
Bowman: Choice, plain and simple. There are many pathways to recovery, SMART being my choice, is only one of those pathways. There’s a notable quote by Anne Fletcher “If nothing else, we know that people have better treatment outcomes when they’re offered choices and not coerced to accept one thing or another.” For many, many years I was told there was only one path to recovery, coerced if you will and when I could not do it that way, I not only felt like a failure, I acted like a failure.
Jacobsen: What are some notable and touching experiences in working with them?
Bowman: The “lightbulb moment” when I’m facilitating a meeting and I see the light come on. New attendees to SMART Recovery are hearing things they have never heard before. “No sponsor?” “I’m not powerless?” “I don’t need to go to meetings the rest of my life?” “I don’t need a Higher Power to recover?” “I don’t need to label myself an alcoholic or an addict?” “Blasphemy you say!” I really don’t get the last one very often, however on occasion, we have a naysayer or two and we continue to welcome them, those that do not cause disruption to our groups. All opinions are welcome to be voiced and heard, we are a non-judgemental, non-confrontational group. We do however use science, facts and rational thought as our arbitrators.
Jacobsen: How does your own background tie into them? What lead you to SMART Recovery, and the absolutely wonderful and magnanimous Shari Allwood?
Bowman: Shari really is wonderful. I hope to one day obtain her mystic level of email cheeriness, not quite sure how she does it, but I always feel so cheery after reading her emails.
I struggled with alcohol, irrational thinking and emotional problems for about 30 years before I discovered SMART Recovery. I was one of those led to believe there was only one way to recover. I did not believe in what I wasbeing told to practice in other groups. I tried so very hard to thoroughly follow their path, but continued to fail. I was introduced to SMART Recovery while in treatment at the St. Louis VA hospital, through SMART’s Mid-America Regional Representative, Virginia Frank, another wonderful person in SMART Recovery’s vast arsenal and a highly valued tutor and mentor of mine. I had my “Lightbulb Moment” while there. I still drank, but each time it was a shorter and less intense relapse/slip. I learned in SMART that I did not have start from square one after I slipped or relapse, I could restart from where I stopped my slide, I had not lost sober days. I eventually became a trained facilitator and have over three years now without alcohol playing any part in my daily life.
Jacobsen: What is your main initiative or goal now in personal and professional life?
Bowman: As far as my personal life, I’m living the dream so to speak. I have purpose, I have a good relationship with my wonderful family and co-workers. Have everything I need. My life, for the first time is drama free and unencumbered, I pretty much do what I want, when I want. A personal goal I have is to help SMART Recovery continue to rapidly expand, especially here in the St. Louis Metro region.
I am currently retired. I do volunteer Thirty plus hours a week at the St Louis VA as a Certified Missouri Peer Specialist (CMPS) I’m on track to be hired soon at the VA as a CMPS/Whole Healthcare Coach.
Jacobsen: With your current position (if applicable, what is it…), what are your tasks and responsibilities?
Bowman: As CMPSs we role model successful recovery to other Veterans and VA staff. So often the staff does not see the fruits of their work, that is, to see Veterans in successful recovery instead of crisis mode, day after day. We also assist and teach Veterans to advocate for themselves and how to navigate the system. I currently facilitate mental health and recovery groups on the acute psych inpatient ward and in the substance use disorder treatment program. I also facilitate two SMART Recovery meetings a week, located at the St. Louis VA.
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?
Bowman: Scott, I don’t feel qualified to comment on other types of recovery program. I will say this, SMART’s evidence based tools are what I was looking for when I was trying to use a faith based program. I really had a problem with the concept of “Powerlessness” and “Higher Power.” In SMART, we believe the concept of a Higher Power is a personal and private matter. Certainly, we do not tell people they can’t use a Higher Power, it’s just not part of our 4 Point program. We are not powerless, we are powerful.
Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?
Bowman: If anyone reading this is still having problems with addiction, whether it be from substances, like drugs and alcohol or behaviors, like gambling or sex, and have not found success with the method they are using, please, please search out an alternative. There are so many pathways to recovery. Do not let any one person or group convine you, their way is the only “true” way. That’s just not factual, Scott.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Dan.
Bowman: Thank you Scott, for helping spread the word about SMART Recovery.
Original Publication in Humanist Voices.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.