When I suggest to addiction-trained and mental-health professionals that there may be more for a sober client to attain in life than sobriety through the successful completion of the twelve-step program in AA, I receive various responses:
- Looks of incomprehension.
- Questioning of my expertise and credentials in the addiction field.
- “You are full of it.”
- “Tell us, please, we are tired of the same old; we have been sober for years and are still compelled to attend AA because we fear relapse if we don’t.”
These responses are completely understandable. Personally, since 1981, I have worked long hours in the field of addictions. I developed addiction-treatment programs, taught in many countries, and published. I cried with my clients, celebrated their hard-won successes, understood the obvious reasons for having developed addictive lifestyles, empathized, failed, and learned continuously (still am), treated trauma with EMDR, and struggled with health insurances. Yes, I know about the addiction field, the patients, and treatment approaches.
Please, hear me: The reality is that AA twelve-step programs and other self-help groups and/or religious affiliations have helped and saved many individuals from death; one cannot argue with these statistics. Others gain periodic sobriety and become caught up in relapse cycles; more are white-knuckling sobriety even while attempting to work the rigorous AA twelve-step program but stay stuck; still others are developing cross addictions or, just never stop using. A patient once told me that he is addicted to AA. Addictions are considered an illness and treated as such by therapists, medications, etc. The addict is the patient seeking help, professionals have the knowledge to help, and if the client follows recommendations, he will recover. This is as it should be when treating an illness. However, even when recovery is successful, the client is admonished that “once an addict, always an addict.”
So what have I learned from my clients and what do I mean when I assert that the recovering person can attain a fuller life with life coaching than in recovery alone? That is a fair question and I am eager to share the good news.
What is life coaching for the addiction-recovered client?
Briefly, what I have learned over many years and other life coaches may assume that the sober client has gained a measure of personal and social stability; he is creative, resourceful, and competent. The life coach’s mission is to assist the client toward a satisfying, fuller life, forward moving toward authentic joy and happiness as defined by the client. They have proven that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, meaning, they no longer must be labeled by their bad habits from the past. Recovery coaches will recognize that the recovered client may still have lingering shadows from the past and are aware that he has enormous strengths to put these shadows in a healthy perspective with determination, perseverance, courage, and hope. Without these attributes, they could not be where they are today. So where to go next to become more of what one already is?
Life coaching may be the ideal next step. Each individual holds more potential, has more desires, and acknowledged (or not) wants, and needs, if given the opportunity to voice them to someone who truly hears without judgment, foregone conclusions, and the intention to “fix” it. Recovery coaches are completely client oriented, and assist creating goals that have sound intentions and purpose for the life the client designs. The client will become gradually aware of differences as he lives the coaching process from the inside out. Minimally, the client will learn life skills so that he can make more choice-full and rewarding decisions in the future, reducing the engrained fear of relapse. Premier researcher and expert George E. Vaillant (1983) echoes Jellinek (1960) in saying that addiction is still not understood and that the magic ingredient to keep the recovering individual in recovery has not yet been identified. Recovery coaching may just provide that magic.
In summary, clients who have opted for life coaching are ultimately best qualified to comment on the good life they have created beyond sobriety and how pursuing and making meaningful choices have resulted in living a life of their dreams that is real, meaningful, and authentic.