Back in ’99 a couple of us early LifeRing convenors gave a talk about our 12-step alternative to a group of clients at MPI, an addiction rehab in Summit Hospital on Pill Hill in Oakland.
“Before you guys came, my alternatives were AA or a bullet to the head,” said one client when we were done. “I like my chances better now.” Before we had a chance to process that, he followed up.
“But do you guys have some kind of workbook with, like, the nuts and bolts of what you do?”
Of course, we didn’t. We had barely got to the point where we had a good grasp of the general ideas that motivated us — sobriety, secularity, and self-help. This young man’s question told us it was time to roll up our sleeves.
The workbook went through 16 alpha and 6 beta editions in photocopy, tested on dozens of groups at MPI and at handpicked focus groups, before we went to the printer in 2001. That first edition had a wire spiral binding. We had a bulk order from a prison. Wire was considered a lethal weapon. Even a plastic comb binding was prohibited. The printer cut off the wire spine and rebound the book as a paperback before we shipped. Lesson learned.
This workbook is now in its fourth printing, and that’s well on the way out the door. Scores of readers have written in to say how much it has helped them. What makes this book tick?
I can’t say. Different people like different things about it. I suspect that the book works mostly because alcoholics, like people in general, don’t like being told what to do. People especially don’t like to be micro-managed. They like to have choice.
Every modern study of what works in treatment says that treatment has to be individualized to fit the client. Off-the-shelf, factory-made, one-size-fits-all approaches are a formula for failure. (Read more about that in Empowering Your Sober Self.) The Recovery by Choice workbook is the only workbook on the market that’s grounded on the individualized treatment approach.
This workbook doesn’t tell you what to do, except in the very basic sense of reminding you not to put alcohol or other drugs into your body, no matter what. (It does that on every page, in the header.) This workbook doesn’t pretend to have a formula for solving your medical, lifestyle, emotional, psychological or other problems. It isn’t selling a miracle diet, a magic potion, or a silver bullet.
This workbook is a tool for you to build your personal recovery program. It’s for you to figure out what is going to work to keep you clean and sober. The “miracle” is the effort you put into figuring out how to meet the challenges of your life. The “magic potion” is the blood and sweat you invest in breaking with your substance-using past and building a new, free, clean and sober present and future.
In short, it’s a real WORKbook. The book has many hundreds of questions — some easy, some fiendishly challenging. To work this book, you have to THINK. You have to look hard at yourself and your situation. There’s no correct answers, except the answers that work for you to keep you clean and sober.
The book organizes the work into nine main areas (or domains), each with its own chapter. For example, the first domain is your body. You give yourself a wide-ranging medical exam and make a practical plan for dealing with any issues you identify. Exposure, Activities, People, Feelings, Lifestyle, History, Culture, and Treatment are the other domains. (You can work them in any order, or ignore parts that don’t apply to you.) In each domain, you make a plan for dealing with any issues you have in that area. At the end of the book you put all those partial plans together into a master plan. That’s your Personal Recovery Program (PRP). Use pencil, because a successful plan needs to adapt when your life changes.
We’re accustomed to think that the carpenter builds the house. But it’s also true that the house builds the carpenter. As you work the workbook you construct your personal recovery program. But in the process of doing that work, you are reconstructing yourself as a new person — a person who is clean and sober, and confident, and capable of meeting life’s challenges.
Recovery by Choice is sold by LifeRing Press. There is no e-book edition at this point, although there may be one in the future. There is no way to make an audiobook out of it.
The book is built for individual use by the recovering person (“bibliotherapy”). It’s not a professional’s treatment manual. (That’s in the early preparation stage.) But treatment programs find Recovery by Choice a useful thing to give to clients who don’t resonate with the 12-step approach. It provides a treatment pathway based on secular (rather than religious) principles. LifeRing Press offers quantity discounts to treatment programs and other institutions. Check it out.