Since its inception in 1994, SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training) has become the world’s largest community of mutual support meetings, helping people overcome problematic addictive behavior through free in-person and online meetings. There are roughly 3,500 weekly SMART meetings in 26 countries, including more than 2,200 in the U.S. alone.
CATS Wadsworth hosts our own SMART Recovery meetings which are facilitated by SMART Recovery Ohio Outreach Director Michael Hooper. Hooper, a U.S. Army vet, found SMART in 2017 during his journey in battling alcohol and depression.
Hooper is well-versed in the SMART Recovery program and his affable personality, along with his ability to establish a routine, have been helpful tools in being able to reach those who need reaching. He facilitates a closed meeting for the residential program at CATS Wadsworth every Tuesday morning. Hooper also runs an open-to-the-public, online meeting for all in Ohio on Monday evenings at 7pm, and two closed national meetings for veterans and firsts responders every Tuesday evening and Sunday afternoons. Information for these meetings and more can be found at www.SmartRecovery.org.
We spoke with Hooper about his journey with SMART and also about how the SMART Recovery program can help others in their own fight to change their lives for the better.
How does SMART Recovery offer guidance in a person’s journey to recovery?
The aspect of being able to choose what works for you, I think is the most appealing for many people. A lot of people who enter into recovery are dealing with a lot of shame, a lot of guilt, a lot of frustration and anger at not being able to manage their addiction. If a person is mandated to attend certain programs and it doesn’t conform to them, they reach another level of defeatism that can multiply their problems. SMART doesn’t approach addiction in that manner, instead we understand each person is different and each journey to recovery is different. So, even though we have similarities with other programs, our essential core value of the power of choice becomes very prominent in everybody’s journey because we understand everyone’s journey is different.
So, in your experience, how does SMART differentiate itself from other programs?
SMART’s main differentiators from other programs extend from our perspective on many of the philosophies that other programs have stood behind. For example, we don’t believe in labels or counting days as a necessity. Some people find tracking their sobriety in that way to be helpful. But many, like myself, believe they are more than their addiction and what they are suffering from. My alcohol addiction is a part of me, and I accept that, but labeling myself as an “alcoholic” is a small part of who I am. I usually refer to myself as “in recovery” when speaking of my journey, because that’s what I am and my journey is continuing.
Spirituality is another area where we differ. Many programs believe in a higher power or are faith-based, but SMART Recovery believes that if it’s helpful to you — then by all means use it. I was raised in the church and believe in God; however, it did not play a big part in my initial recovery. I was able to put that aside originally, work on myself, my management and, later on, was able to restore my faith because I was allowed to choose my own path.
Another aspect where we differ is we are MAT-friendly (Medication-assisted treatment). For example, if someone has an opioid addiction, they may be prescribed a drug to help ween them off opioids. Some programs may shun that aspect of recovery, but at SMART we understand that the medical field is very necessary to help conquer many forms of addictions. As long as the participant is under guidance of medical professionals, and is adhering to the guidelines of that treatment, we are in support of that. This alleviates a lot of stress for people who are in that form of recovery who may not want to be stigmatized because of their need for medication.
Again, at SMART Recovery, we don’t tell people what to do, or give advice. We give them options and let them choose their journey. This program is based heavily on honesty and a person’s willingness to change.
How did SMART adapt during the pandemic to be able to reach people?
Since the pandemic hit, there has been a huge segment of the recovery population that suffered greatly because resources diminished and restrictions were put into place that hurt the ability to hold face-to-face meetings. But since our inception in 1994, SMART has been online, so we’ve been trying to get our name out there to help people and fill that need. Having that established infrastructure allowed us to reach more people and really make a positive impact in helping close the gap for some.
And because our facilitators are trained to follow our guidelines — they have to take an intensive course to hold meetings — when one walks into a SMART Recovery meeting, be it face-to-face or online, they know what they’re getting.
You lead meetings at CATS Wadsworth. What are some of your own approaches in facilitating your meetings?
While our facilitators are trained in the program, and there are strict guidelines to follow, every meeting can be different. I bring a lot of my own personality into each meeting and try to keep it light. I do that because I believe recovery should be celebrated. I’ve never looked at what I do as work. I choose to live this lifestyle because it’s a better lifestyle for me. I enjoy this lifestyle more now than I ever did, and I believe this is something to be celebrated.
When you come into one of my meetings, my goal is that you leave that meeting feeling better than you did when you came in. If someone comes into my meeting and they don’t like it, I’m not going to be hurt if they want to try a different meeting. This is about their recovery and if my style doesn’t fit for them, don’t give up — it doesn’t mean the program is the problem or that they’re the problem, it just means that particular meeting doesn’t work. Recovery is about celebrating and my favorite motto in recovery is “Celebrate Every Victory.” We spend enough time in the thralls of negativity, and we deserve the right to know and understand and feel what happy is like. And I try to emphasize those points that bring happiness whether it’s a big event like getting married, or getting through another day without succumbing to your addiction. And I think celebrating those moments is key to recovery.
What steps would one take in seeking help, either for themselves or for a loved one?
What I like about SMART Recovery is that we have multiple branches of groups catered to specific demographics of society. For instance, we have our normal open public groups. We also have “tool meetings” where we focus on lifestyle skills and tool guides that can helps us with addictive behaviors and how to treat them.
We have meetings that are specific to gender, or age, there are meetings for veterans, and we have a program for family members of people in recovery. We follow community reinforcement and family training, which teaches these individuals to look inward and at what they need to keep their life balanced while also learning to manage life with someone in recovery. This helps the person in recovery see the effect they are having on loved ones.
People who want to help should visit our website (SmartRecovery.org) and just browse our resources. We have a resources page, and they can go there to see who we serve. “Who We Serve” is big because it discusses the demographics we help in detail, so it can help people find a path that works for them.
What should one know before choosing SMART Recovery?
There are three questions we ask at the beginning of recovery:
• What do you want for the future of your recovery?
• What are you willing to do to get there?
• How do you feel about it?
These are important because sometimes we choose paths that we’re either told to choose or feel obligated to choose. And I think knowing the answers to those questions helps us know the motivation for why they’re there.
So, really just asking those questions of themselves begins an important and personalized journey.