By KELLY NICHOLAIDES
for Montclair Local
Jean Grossman asks “Laura” how her week is going and if she has rewarded herself for any progress. Laura’s mother passed away in April and had lived a long and relatively healthy life, but the untimely death of Laura’s friend who struggled with alcoholism compounded her sadness. Grossman says she knows it’s harder for Laura to cope with loss as the holidays approach, but she congratulates her for “putting one foot in front of the other.”
“I’m doing okay, but not feeling okay. I’m just trying to find a balance of life, with self-care and social work. I’m making progress, but sometimes I judge myself about whether I’m making progress fast enough,” Laura said to the group that meets on Wednesdays at the Mental Health Association of Essex/Morris on Fullerton Avenue. The group is comprised of people who have loved ones struggling with addiction.
As her roommate’s alcoholism progressed, Laura learned that she couldn’t change him. “Some people get sick and tired of their behavior, but know they need help. You realize people are sick, and living that way. Many don’t get the opportunity to make the decision to change,” Laura said.
There were periods of time Laura felt on her own, because everyone she knew was drinking or getting high, she said.
The group uses SMART (Self-Management And Recovery Training), an Ohio-based non-profit established in 1994 as an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step support groups that use a spiritual approach to recovery. In Alcoholics Anonymous users admit powerlessness over addiction and battle it through a combination of prayer, faith in God, making amends to the individuals they harmed, and developing a moral inventory. By contrast, SMART Recovery uses a science-based approach to develop self-empowering skills in order to accomplish four points: build and maintain motivation; cope with urges; manage thoughts, feelings and behaviors; and live a balanced life.
Twenty years ago, Grossman embraced SMART Recovery. She was disenchanted with Al-Anon in helping her cope with her then husband’s alcoholism. Grossman’s son had also begun to self-medicate with alcohol. Grossman attended a SMART meeting in Hackensack.
“I got something different that I was not getting at Al-Anon, but had stayed because of my husband to help get his life back on track,” Grossman said.
The support group varies from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, Grossman learned.
“I was looking for something more, and someone who was active in recovery suggested SMART for its pragmatic tools to make changes in your life. AA hasn’t kept up. It’s spiritually-based. Not everyone wants to say, ‘I’m so and so and I’m an alcoholic’ and not everyone believes in a ‘higher power.’ We [at SMART] don’t use labels. The tone is conversational. There’s no advice given, but ideas are welcome. We don’t debate issues,” Grossman explained.
Grossman walked out of her first SMART meeting with traction she says she didn’t have before, and implemented the tools with her husband.
She later became a certified facilitator to help others and now runs meetings in Montclair.
SMART uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and a hierarchy of values tool. Attendees at the November meeting were asked to list what they value the most and rate it on a scale of one to 10 in terms of how they maintain those values, which can range from family, career, a relationship, a virtue or themselves. Exercises for CBT aim to change motivations. They include brainstorming how to move forward, rating the importance of changing and one’s confidence level. Emotional self-management includes rating feelings from moderate to high for anger, guilt, anxiety and depression. Participants write down how they behaved and if it was helpful or hurtful, and for the long term or short term.
The inability to stop using drugs or alcohol affects both the users and their families as well.
“CBT [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] was originally used for anxiety. People who have it and people who love someone who has it have the common denominator of addiction,” Grossman said.
Exercises help the group form better decision-making skills to use in their reactions to scenarios such as a loved one coming home intoxicated. Options may range from confronting the individual and getting into a major argument, or disengaging altogether and waiting until they’re sober before initiating a discussion.
A $14 handbook is used to manage life with someone fighting addiction.
These methods are an overview, not a deep dive into SMART Recovery. For holiday challenges to addiction recovery and helping loved ones, Grossman suggests visiting the smartrecovery.org web site section on the topic. It includes tips on using the SMART handbook and online toolbox. Visitors can also find meeting times and online support on the site.
Grossman welcomes newcomers to the Montclair meetings for friends and family of those struggling with addiction.
“The goal is to meet you where you are. It takes 5-7 meetings before someone decides it’s right for them,” Grossman said of the program.