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Thread: 33 Years Today!

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2002

    Default 33 Years Today!

    33 Years: My Recovery Program of Choice is still SMART Recovery.

    I quit drinking and drugging 33 years go on January 23, 1984. I was a daily pot smoker, a practice which rendered me abysmally stupid. I still drank occasionally despite almost dying of pancreatitis in my early 20s. I was at high risk for having it again anytime I drank and possibly dying quite painfully. My last drink was a large glass of cheap white wine mixed with cheap vodka. It did not taste good. It didn't even do what I wanted it to do.

    I went to a 30-day wonder rehab called Edge Hill Newport. It has since gone out of business. It was a disease model 12-Step facility. That was all that existed back then.

    I didn't particularly like the 12-Step model of recovery. I was, and still am, an atheist. I wasn't about to turn my life and will over to some non-existent deity. I didn't agree with the idea that I was powerless over what I put into my mouth. This got me into some trouble at Edge Hill and even more so in the halfway house, I went to for 6 months afterward. But, I met some good people and I got through treatment relatively unscathed.

    Oh, my attitude in early recovery stank. One counselor said “good morning” and I replied, “today is going to suck”. He told me to have a positive attitude. So I said, “okay, I'm positive today is going to suck”. At the halfway house, I was required to attend a certain number of AA/NA meetings per week. I made sure I attended a few more besides. That way, when I complained to the staff how much I disliked the meetings, they couldn't accuse me of just doing the required minimum.

    I have to admit, I was quite active in AA/NA. I disagreed completely with the basic assumptions of addiction as a disease, powerlessness, and the need for divine intervention. On the other hand, I did like many of the people. The social support was nice. There were a number of practical suggestions. Even some of the slogans made sense to some degree. I held different positions in various groups and even served on the NA Area Service Committee for awhile.

    I returned college, having dropped out because I was too damned stoned all the time. Then I went to graduate school for a degree counseling.

    At about 3 years into my recovery, I got a job as the Senior Counselor at an inner city residential addictions program. Although rabidly 12-Step, it had a cognitive restructuring component, a kind of watered down REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy).

    I was then finishing my master's degree and studying for my comprehensive exam. That required that I be very familiar with a theory of counseling. I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I started reading Albert Ellis on REBT for the comps and for work.

    The first two books I read were “Humanistic Psychotherapy” by Ellis and “New Guide to Rational Living” Ellis & Harper. I was hooked! I loved REBT from the first page of the first book. In 1989, I attended the Primary Practicum In REBT at the Albert Ellis Institute in New York City. Over the years I completed all the requirements to become certified as an REBT supervisor and instructor. I have attended several REBT conferences and I even presented at one in Keystone CO in 2001.

    SMART Recovery came into being when I was about 6 years in recovery. I found out about through the Albert Ellis Institute. At first, it was called Rational Recovery. Then it evolved into its present form. I found a home. That is how I became rational and SMART. Well, I became a little more rational and somewhat SMARTer

    The philosophy of REBT and SMART fits me perfectly. That doesn't mean I always practice it perfectly. But, I am very happy here.

    I have been doing some reflecting on how my life has changed.

    My life before I stopped:

    • I had dropped out of college. This was especially stupid as I only had 2 courses left and was too stoned to realize it.
    • I had 2 bouts of pancreatitis that almost killed me as a direct result of my drinking.
    • I had chronic bronchitis from smoking pot all day every day.
    • I was unemployed and unemployable.
    • I had been fired from several jobs because of my attitude.
    • The crowning irony was that the last job I was fired from I was the head counselor for a shelter for substance involved adolescents! You can imagine the bull**** and outright lies I had to tell myself to justify working there while smoking pot like chimney every day. (People who know me well know I love irony.)
    • I had become abysmally stupid and have the MAT before and after scores to prove it. The MAT is an exam to get into graduate school. When I took the MAT the first time, I was smoking pot daily. My score was 35 out of a possible 100. I took it again 3 years after I quit. I scored 75!
    • I couldn't read and comprehend a paragraph because I'd forget how it started before I reached the end.
    • I couldn't take care of myself, let alone a dog.
    • I had little or no control over my emotions. I did not manage my emotions, they managed me.

    After I stopped:

    • My health improved considerably. I have had no problems with my pancreas since I stopped drinking. I continued to have regular bouts of bronchitis for a few years after I stopped smoking pot. But it ceased to be a biannual event after about 3 years. I suspect that there may have been some permanent damage to my lung capacity as well.
    • I completed college.
    • I took the MAT a 2nd time and scored 75!
    • I got into graduate school and earned my Master's degree.
    • I completed training at the Albert Ellis Institute up to the clinical supervisor level.
    • I got to study with and get to know Albert Ellis and a number of other wonderful REBT people. (Many of these people were involved with SMART!)
    • Until recently, I have been employed almost continuously. More about that later.
    • My attitude at work, while still not great, hasn't gotten me fired.
    • I have the very great pleasure of having dogs in my life.
    • I have been able to deal with the deaths of dogs that I loved very much and who had brought me much joy.
    • I have learned to manage my emotions much better.
    • I have learned to deal with some bitter disappointments as there are some things I would have liked out of life that I simply have not been able to achieve.
    • I have been able to contribute to society in ways that would have been absolutely impossible had I continued to drink/use.
    • I have been able to consistently pursue personally meaningful activities such as the daily practice of Tai Chi.

    Okay, so much for the 'I stopped drinking/drugging and life is ******* wonderful' part of the story.

    One of the most important lessons I've learned in recovery is that life doesn't always give what you want. Sometimes it rains on your parade. Let's face it, sometimes life ***** on your parade.

    When the **** hits the fan and your using, you usually end up standing there covered with **** and whining about it. Recovery doesn't keep all the **** from hitting the fan. But, recovery does enable you to duck faster when it does. If you don't duck fast enough, you take a shower instead of just standing there stinking.

    In the last few years, the **** has certainly hit the fan several times. I started a business just before the economy crashed. I had to have major back surgery and didn't know my insurance wouldn't cover most of the expenses until it was too late. 2 of my dogs died of old age. 2 others died as a result of sudden illnesses.

    My current dog is Russo. She's fine.

    I'm now woefully underemployed. My income is far less than adequate. I'm finding difficult to find work for several reasons. Among them, I have a visible handicap, deformed hands. This does preclude many kinds of work and, yes, there is prejudice against people with handicaps. At least 3 employers questioned my ability to use a computer because of my hands. Ironically, typing and using computers is something I can do. I'm also 63 and employers prefer younger workers. Age discrimination is another unfair fact of life.

    The most galling problem I have run into, however, has been anti-SMART and anti-REBT prejudice. Several employers have come right out and said they would never hire anyone who was not 12-Step. Many of those same employers made disparaging remarks about Albert Ellis.

    Just when you would think things couldn’t possibly get any worse. In the last 3 years, I have been diagnosed with Asthma and Congestive Heart Failure. These were in addition to Severe Sleep Apnea and ongoing depression. I’ve had to on Disability and it’s unlikely I’ll be able to work again, at least not full-time.

    So, despite having allegedly done everything right, stopped using, completed my education, obtained my counseling licenses, acquired advanced training, etc., things aren't turning out spectacularly well. But that isn't really what recovery is about.

    Recovery is about dealing as best I can with life as it is, not as I wish it to be. Recovery is about learning the tools, skills, and coping strategies to change the things I can and live as gracefully as possible with the things I can't. That I'm doing.

    REBT and SMART Recovery have given me the tools I need. I find the ABCs of REBT to be especially useful. By using these tools, I'm able to manage my emotions and behaviors sensibly. I can still enjoy those activities that I can do, such as Tai Chi.

    Let me say this again, recovery is about dealing as best I can with life as it is, not as I wish it to be.

    Recovery doesn't guarantee I'll be healthy. It does mean I won't complicate and worsen any health problems with alcohol/drugs.

    Recovery doesn't guarantee I'll always have a job. It does mean I'll be better able to find and retain employment or an income when possible.

    Recovery doesn't guarantee I'll always have enough money. It does mean I'll be much better able to cope with either wealth or poverty. So far, it’s poverty. I would rather cope with wealth.

    Drinking and drugging are like running a marathon with 5lb weights on my ankles and wrists. If I'm exceptionally strong, I might make it to the finish, but probably not. Taking the weight off, however, doesn't guarantee I'll win or even finish. It does make my chances better provided I do the training.

    The last 4 years have been exceptionally difficult. Year 34 looks to be equally challenging. I would much rather meet these challenges with a clear head ad using the tools of SMART Recovery and REBT.

    "Accepting help from others does not make me a weakling and does not mean that I can’t also take care of myself." Albert Ellis, Ph.D.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Upland, Ca


    Well written Jonathan. I enjoyed this immensely.



  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2007


    A powerful story, thanks Jvb.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2015


    Jvb, congrats on 33 years. I always appreciate your words. Becoming abstinent is not about achieving some perfect life and if I believe that then the bullshitter has a great weapon to use against me!

    I stopped drinking just because I didn't want to be a drunk anymore. Regardless of what life brings, at least we have that.

    Thank you for your words and sharing your story and insights.
    “Woe to the thinker who is not the gardener but only the soil of the plants that grow in her”

  5. #5


    Thank you for sharing. I agree with Saffy, very powerful story. I am new in recovery and disabled as well. The wisdom you have is inspiring and I am so grateful you shared that. I will be able to take what you wrote and incorporate it to my own life.
    Oh and my dog says Woof!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2002


    ameli, Russo says Woof back.
    "Accepting help from others does not make me a weakling and does not mean that I can’t also take care of myself." Albert Ellis, Ph.D.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Kalamazoo MI


    Jvb has been an Inspiration to Many.
    May He have Many More Sober Years to Come.
    Karen D. in MI

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Alberta, Canada


    Thanks very much JvB for your encouraging and inspirational post. Best wishes for finding work, and hope the next 33 years treat you well!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Upstate, NY


    JvB, sending you a huge congratulations for your inspiring accomplishment! Wow, what a journey. Thanks for sharing your success story with us.

    "You will be what you 'will' to be." - James Allen

  10. #10
    Mabb's Avatar
    Mabb is offline SMART Online Facilitator
    SMART Face to Face Facilitator
    Join Date
    Jul 2007


    He must have given it up at age two !!!
    " I am awake . " .... the Buddha

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Nov 2004



    Amazingly worded and immensely inspirational

    Sobriety Date 12/16/2012

  12. #12
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Southwest Colorado


    Congratulations on your decades of sobriety, and thank you for all you've done and continue to do in the addictions field. My DOC was pot, I'm new-ish to recovery, 8 months abstinent. I, too, was a daily all-day smoker and had a love-hate relationship with it for over 40 years. It was only after finding SMART that I've been able to keep my commitment to quit, having failed many times.
    I realized that I was stoned for every major event in my adult life including deaths of my beloved dogs. Like you, I am an avid dog lover. I had to say goodbye to my 15+ year old Brittany, Fergie, in September and I was unimpaired, clear-headed. I was able to be fully present for her, and for that I am grateful.
    Best wishes in dealing with your current challenges!! Life can be so unfair sometimes. I'm sorry you're having to deal with all of that!
    Thanks again for your powerful, inspiring story.

  13. #13


    I love your recovery story. Early in my recovery I watched your Smart [U]-Tube videos. Would you think about being a sober coach for Smart. It would be a wonderful addition to Smart.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Nov 2016
    not from around here


    JvB. Congratulations on 33 years. Thanks for the reality check and thanks for not pulling punches. I've appreciated your blatant honesty since my day 1. Oh, and you like dogs, maybe even as much as me, maybe even more. Thanks for being such a major factor in my recovery. I like you.

    My past is colorful and my future is bright.

  15. #15
    LMR555's Avatar
    LMR555 is offline SMART MB Liaison
    SMART Online Facilitator
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Southwest Fl


    Congrats Jonathan!! Way to go!! Thank you for all you do for SMART Recovery especially being a great example.

    "Discover the Power of Choice!"

    “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

    Join the team as a SMART Message Board Volunteer!! It can encourage growth and joy. Or support with a donation

  16. #16
    Sam29's Avatar
    Sam29 is offline Distance Training Team
    Former SMART Online Facilitator
    Join Date
    Nov 2004


    Thank you for posting, Jonathan. I really can relate to how you define recovery. It's not about our lives being perfect but more about being manageable. It is about realistically seeing life for what it is and having the ability to make choices as to how we live it. You continue to inspire me and for that I am grateful. Well done on your 33 years.


  17. #17


    CONGRATS! I envy you, you stopped when my party started. Have only joined smart this evening and your story gives me hope. Am in the same position as you right now but hope the pot will help for now. Am trying to stop the alcohol

  18. #18


    Thank you! Just the kind of motivation I needed today

  19. #19
    Join Date
    May 2010


    Dear JvB,

    You are one amazing man. Standing O!

    Thank you for all you've done to help me and so many here toward our own 33 years. I have just 26 to go! Give Russo a head scritch for me, too!

    It's practically impossible to look at a penguin and feel angry. ~ Joe Moore

  20. #20


    Very well written and thought out. Thanks for sharing.

  21. #21


    JvB, Thank you for this post. I think you summarized very well that using is easy but it make life more difficult and being sober isn't always easy but life isn't as hard.
    Sending you some good energy!

  22. #22


    Thank you for sharing. Much love!

  23. #23


    hi klip, I am working with pot for harm reduction now, in order to quit alcohol. i would be interested in chatting with you, if thay sounds like what you are doins as well.

  24. #24
    Join Date
    Oct 2016


    Excellent read and congratulations on 33 years. I like your points about certain matters, I've heard the expression "living life on life's terms" in various places and that's where I'm at, or rather trying to accomplish, handling disappointment or outright anger better than I have in the past. I wish you all the best JvB!

  25. #25


    Wow, Great post Congrats on the years of sobriety!

  26. #26
    Join Date
    Dec 2013


    Loved this. I am five years sober - yesterday, and too enjoyed some aspects of AA but then dropped it. Indeed life can at times be a **** show, but good to hear you being honest about it. And cracking to know that you have upheld your sobriety. Question - I don't seem to do much about my sobriety and haven't for a few years now. I rarely get thoughts of drinking although I started university last year (I am 33) and thought for a while about drinking but I am over that now. Perhaps I should have some SMART exercises on it. Anyway, just wondered what you do/ think about that.

  27. #27


    Congratulations on your many life successes. One thing you didn't mention is how important you are to us around here in Smart. I only have done Smart online, but your experience and leadership are worth a lot to us. Thank you for being here and contributing at a stellar level. I hope you continue to be creative in your problem solving and find ways to have meaningful 'work' if that is what you choose. Regardless of the goals you may have, I hope that you find inner peace and joy throughout the rest of your days.
    I'm trying to do the math if you had not quit...I'm guessing you have tripled or quadrupled your lifespan...but who's counting?
    "In the midst of uncertainty lies infinite possibility."
    Laura AKA Curly_Sue
    Last edited by curly_sue; April 18, 2017 at 9:18 PM.

  28. #28
    HughK's Avatar
    HughK is offline SMART Online Facilitator
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    Join Date
    May 2013
    Melbourne, Australia


    Hi JvB
    Hearty Congratulations on 33 years!
    This post is so very well written and full of the practicalities of life.
    I regularly use JvBisms - "Early recovery is freedom from; Later recovery is Freedom To" - you have enriched this place.
    All the best mate and thankyou for all you do.
    What got me sober was trying to get sober. Every time I lapsed, picked up, drank, I was thoroughly beaten. I thought at those times "there is no hope for me" Yet, when I had recovered from those thoughts just a little, I thought "have another go!" It was a lot of little sparks, rather than a flame, that got me here.

  29. #29
    Join Date
    Mar 2017


    Wise words! 33 years, wow. Only 32 and 11 months to go, for me.

  30. #30

    Default Pillar of this rich community

    People like you are far too rare. Thank you!!
    Dr mOjO

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