Those familiar with my Nervous Breakdown posts know that I’ve long crusaded for a secular alternative to AA. My complaints have been vociferous, my voice loud enough that I might have written each piece in ALL CAPS. Recently, however, I decided that it was time to act. I located a secular group with a philosophy in line with my own, one based on the work of Albert Ellis and his Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. The group: SMART Recovery. The Facebook site, which I invite anyone interested to join: SMART Recovery Fan Page. If AA works for you, continued good luck. If not, I’m here to say you have a choice.

My mission is two-fold. Rather than debate AA — always a useless exercise — I have joined forces with SMART Recovery. Rather than bash the ubiquitous nature of AA, my first goal is to create a meeting here in Sarasota. My second goal, now underway, is to assist SMART Recovery (referred to as “SR” from this point forward) in a volunteer public relations’ capacity. But the latter is not my purpose here. Rather, I come to you as a citizen with a message. If your needs are not met by AA, alternatives exist, and SR is there for you.

First, visit the SR site. Stay a while; there’s plenty to do. You can read how the program works. You can participate in online meetings. If you wish, you can seek a meeting in your location. Such a meeting may not exist…yet. In that case, consider applying to become a facilitator. You can create an SR meeting yourself and do so fully prepared by SR. You will become a local hero for all those like you who searched for a secular meeting but couldn’t find one…now they will find one. Consider the pleasure to be had in knowing that you created an alternative that didn’t exist and which others like you can now access. Furthermore, by becoming a facilitator, you will in turn become steeped in the wisdom underlying SR.

You don’t often read the word “wisdom” in my posts, both because I lack it and because I rarely find it. But Albert Ellis was a wise man and, like most wise people, had two feet on the ground as he reached for new solutions to ancient problems. His approach is deceptively simple.

In short, it works like this: ABC. No, I don’t mean Always Be Selling.

Instead, I mean:

A: Activating event.

B: Belief.

C. Consequence.


D. Dispute.

Let’s apply this to drinking in a very simplified example. This is my description of REBT. For a much more in-depth understanding of the process, see the SR website and/or visit their Facebook Fan Page.

Back to my example. What is an “Activating Event”? In this example, it’s whatever makes you want to drink. For heavy drinkers, virtually everything becomes an “A.” This occurs because heavy drinking by itself produces irrational thinking. It kills rational thinking. No rational person decides to lose control over drinking. So why do they lose it? Drinking causes them to become more and more irrational.

I’ll use a typical “A”: “Today sucked. It kicked my ass.”

Now we move to “B.” What’s the drinker’s belief likely to be? Something like this: “I need a drink, and plenty of them.” Further, the drinker thinks, “Soon, it will all disappear. Here comes euphoria.”

And the “C”? The first consequence is easy to guess: hangover. That’s bad enough. But the consequences for heavy drinkers increase. Not only a hangover but the shakes commence, creating a brand new “A.” The drinker’s belief: “A few drinks will fix that.” In this case, the drinker is correct. Bizarrely, irrationality becomes the drinker’s new rationality. It’s rational to end the extreme anxiety that heavy drinking ultimately causes as part of withdrawal. However, irrationality has led the drinker to this point and without his knowing it. He may have rational moments when he considers quitting, but those moments quickly fade. Irrationality has become embedded in the drinker.

How to keep from getting to that point? And what should you do if you’ve already gotten to that point? In the latter case, you may need medical care. Seizures become a real possibility. Worse can happen. You may need to face detox. At the very least, you require supervision in case you do have a seizure. These medical issues lie well beyond my purview. Consult a loved one. Ask for their help. You need someone rational at your side and to help you find the best care available if you do require hospitalization.

If you’re not to that point, or you’ve gotten past that point, it’s time for “D.” The “D” is going to become your best friend. You can turn to “D” at any moment of crisis, anxiety, difficulty, irritation. “D” refers to disputing your irrational beliefs.

Going back to the example of a day that kicks your ass, the process of disputing your beliefs might go like this: “Sure, I’ll feel better for a while, but I’m going to feel like hell tomorrow and for much longer than I feel better tonight.” Run a cost/benefit analysis. How many hours does alcohol improve your life compared to the number of hours it ruins your life? If you’re a heavy drinker, or approaching the trouble zone, I guarantee you won’t be able to deny that the ratio does not weigh on the side of making you feel better. In fact, the day may well have kicked your ass because you drank the night before it.

A person can avoid the worst outcomes of heavy drinking by beginning this process now and working on it. Again, consult the SR website and/or their Facebook Fan Page for more information. I’m trying to get you to hope and the idea that there are alternatives to the “treatments” many of us simply cannot find our way into or around. For those who believe in reason and rationality as a means to overcoming problems, an alternative is required, unless, like some, you can find your way to a higher power through whatever means avail themselves to you. That’s your business. I’m not here to dispute your beliefs.

I’m also not here as an official representative of SR. I speak for myself and from my experience. REBT smashed my once-crippling anxiety and has reduced my melancholic as much or more than any anti-depressant. Is every day a pleasure? Hell, no. And I no longer expect every day to be a pleasure. In surrendering an insane demand, I surrender my insanity.

There is a secular alternative available to you. In fact, there’s more than one, but I happen to believe in SR’s approach because I know REBT is simple, effective and easy to put into practice. The rewards can be almost immediate.

When it comes to drinking, a lot more work will be required. Returning to the ABC YouTube link, will you do the work? Will you? Will you do the work? Or will you go to a three-cocktail lunch?

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PAUL A. TOTH's Airplane Novel, already a Midwest Book Review Reviewer's Choice and the 9/11 novel, is available now. His other novels include Finale, Fishnet and Fizz. Click here to visit his sites.

15 responses to “My Hope and Yours: A Secular Support Group”

  1. Irene Zion says:


    Every day isn’t a pleasure for anyone, ever.
    (Unless they have some really cool mental illness, which I hope is catching!)

  2. Paul A. Toth says:


    That would be mania, but unfortunately, it comes with depression!



  3. Simon Smithson says:

    Hey Paul,

    Do you know much about cognitive psychology? This approach sounds similar (given my relative lack of knowledge about both fields) in that it looks at the individuals beliefs about the world/themselves and the inter-relational as one of the most integral components of catalyzing subsequent action.

  4. Paul A. Toth says:

    Hi Simon:

    Yes, I do, and you’re perceptive because REBT is an offshoot of cognitive psychology. It’s much more effective than my article can convey and is the only self-help method I’ve ever applied that had the slightest effect — and what an effect! REBT is similar to the approach you’ve explained, but it breaks it down into a way of thinking summarized in the article. It’s much more practical than most psychological theories, in that it targets very specific behaviors through very specific means. It’s really more a way of learning to live with life on life’s terms, rather than your own. In some ways, it could be criticized as not getting at the roots of the problem, but then again, if a person’s anxiety drops as significantly as has mine, who cares?

    SMART Recovery, using these tools, can teach alcoholics how to think rationally again. I’ve often stated this is key, and I’ve discovered that to be the case with myself, too. A person has to become extremely irrational to continue justify drinking as the disasters mount, but it’s not the person’s “fault.” They’ve simply picked an irrational way to address completely normal feelings they would rather not experience. There are many other ways people to do the same thing, but the results aren’t so predictably terrible.

    Thus, the “spiritual” approach of AA may work for those prone to a faith-based approach to life, which even atheists can do, but for those who don’t find a solution in AA, SMART Recovery is one alternative, and an excellent one. Different strokes for different folks, as they say!

    • Becky says:

      Because I can’t stop myself, I have to say this:

      “It’s really more a way of learning to live with life on life’s terms, rather than your own.”

      Isn’t this “Let go, let God?”

      Minus the actual “God” word, of course.

      Is there are SMART group for chronic needlers? That is, button-pushers, not heroin or sex addicts.

  5. Paul A. Toth says:

    No, because there’s no God or ‘higher power” involved. A person takes control rather than “letting go” or “letting God do it.” It’s the antithesis of AA’s ideas. REBT and SMART Recovery involve numerous methods and techniques. Just one of them is identifying unrealistic expectations, which cause exaggerated responses and unwanted consequences. These are neatly summarized by Albert Ellis: “I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.” Rather than “turning over” these irrational beliefs to “God” or a “higher power,” REBT teaches a person how to attack them with rationality. REBT is about ACTING, not self-judgment, repentance, and a supposed redemption that occurs according to a Christian-based plan.

    Note: I am not at the moment writing as a representative of SMART Recovery, which seeks only to offer a powerful alternative and has no stand regarding AA. It rationally avoids irrational arguments with AA.

    As to your clicking, REBT can be used against just about anything except, perhaps, psychotic behavior. Run a search on Amazon or check out http://www.rebt.org/ You should find something applicable. But then, as the outside culture disintegrates, there’s some rationality involved in sticking to the keyboard, literally (as do I!).

    Thanks for the comment.

    Best of luck,


    • Becky says:

      Well, I meant “needling” and “button pushing” in a metaphorical sense.

      Like, “It will irk or annoy Paul in some way if I say this.”

      THAT kind of button-pushing.

      It was a joke.

  6. Paul A. Toth says:

    I’m sorry; I’m at war with Facebook [see http://violentcontradiction.blogspot.com/%5D and on the offense. You will have to go to greater extremes to irk me!



  7. Beza says:

    If you don’t like something, change it!
    If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it!

    Interesting REBT approach, I am actually a fan of A. Ellis myself. His theory is so refreshing and his idea that we all have the power of controlling and changing the way we think and the need of real acceptance of our internal and external environment: USA (unconditional self-acceptance), UAO (unconditional acceptance of others) and ULA (unconditional life acceptance) is so real and practical.

    REBT is in fact part of the cognitive theories that remarks the power of thoughts and beliefs over our behavior and emotions. The ABC construction is really interesting and in my point of view, functional for substance abuse individuals as alcoholics.

    Trust me, I like the rationality of Ellis’ work but I also think that is hard to use with people with a low level of education since it tent to be so intellectual. I think that is why this secular alternative to AA is so appealing to you.

    Good article and good luck with SMART Recovery. Keep blogging about it!

  8. Paul A. Toth says:

    Dear Beza:

    You described REBT well. I only disagree in that I think AA requires a lot of abstract thinking regarding higher powers and the like, which is to me no less a challenge than the fairly simple approach of REBT once put into practical terms.

    But whatever works; I’ve no bones to pick. You’re right that REBT appeals to my rational side. I wouldn’t have ever predicted that I would propose to be a backer of rationality, for my fiction work is the absolute opposite. But REBT reduced my anxiety and now depression so much that I simply can’t argue with it. Perhaps that’s the effect some find in AA. If so, hats off. But at least there’s a very strong alternative in SMART Recovery available to those who don’t respond as well to AA.

    Thanks much for your comments.


  9. Beza says:

    Dear Paul,
    Check my blog… I appreciate your comments on it…


  10. Paul A. Toth says:

    I like your site quite a bit. Very well done. In fact, I have linked to it on my own blog: http://violentcontradiction.blogspot.com/

    Feel free to contact me at [email protected].

  11. Beza says:

    Paul, Thank you for the link. I look forward to hear more about Smart Recovery, I also checked your blog and it is really interesting, I will copy you post into my blog (if you don’t mind) since my website is really simple and I haven’t figure out how to link yet.

    Look forward hearing from you…

  12. […] – out there fighting the good fight. After reading some posts about drugs, addictions, and treatment here on TNB in recent months, I asked Dennis to share his thoughts on all of it from the angle of […]

  13. rewardzone says:

    my reward zone…

    […]Paul A. Toth | My Hope and Yours: A Secular Support Group | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

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