Rational Recovery: Is AVRT Your Key to Sobriety?
Rational Recovery claims we have two voices. One voice (the animal or “Beast” voice) controls addiction; the other voice (the human or rational voice) controls abstinence. And whether or not we’re addicted to drink or drugs is a direct result of whichever voice we listen to the most.
It really is just that simple. Or so Jack Trimpey and his advocates say anyway. Trimpey’s a California-licensed clinical social worker. He’s also a recovered alcoholic. And he’s been both ever since he came up with Rational Recovery way back in 1986.
The term is a commercial trademark. So is the program’s Addiction Voice Recognition Technique (AVRT). But it doesn’t seem to be much of a commercial enterprise. There’s not a lot of literature — to buy or otherwise. And what little there has been — a periodical called the Journal of Rational Recovery and a few books — is out of print and hard to find. That includes Trimpey’s own Rational Recovery: The New Cure for Substance Addiction (Gallery Books), which appears to be the movement’s de facto Bible. Frankly though, it looks like anyone wanting to get the full RR experience will have to connect with a practitioner of the program.
That’s how we stumbled upon the phenomenon. Well, sort of. See we saw a story from BBC News Senior Journalist Owen Amos that credited Rational Recovery with turning around the life of legendary Liverpool DJ Lee Butler. Amos’s piece (“Cocaine in the UK”) also credited Butler with using RR to help sober-up scores of others, and we figured if it could do all that all the way over there, then it surely deserves to be heard about here. Strange that we had to reach halfway around the world for help, but hey, you go where you’ve gotta go and get it wherever you can.
Anyway, yeah. We credit Butler. And Amos. Butler for so selflessly going above and beyond in order to bring Rational Recovery to an ever-growing legion of world citizens. Amos for having the acuity to give great good voice to Butler’s highly-inspiring story.
Now, on with the show…
This Ain’t No A.A.
Rational Recovery is perhaps best defined by what it isn’t, and what it isn’t is Alcoholics Anonymous. There are no Steps. There are no Traditions. And the Higher Power has been completely turned off. Not that RR is averse to belief, mind you, or even religion, organized or otherwise. In fact, the Rational Recovery FAQs we found claim quite the contrary. To wit:
Rational Recovery has voiced the conscientious objections of tens of thousands of persons who have received unwanted, unconstitutional, religious indoctrinations in the course of addiction treatment. To them and others, we provide a program that is free from religion. By advocating for their religious freedom, and identifying the 12-step program as a religion that competes with established religions, we have been accused by some of being irreligious, sacrilegious, or even anti-religious. Ain’t so. (Thanks Wiki!)
Perhaps where RR most diverges from A.A. is a) its refusal to recognize the disease model of addiction, and b) its members’ objection to being identified as perpetually-recovering junkies and drunks. For RR types, addiction and alcoholism are voluntary behaviors, and as such they can be overcome. Trimpey calls himself a “recovered” alcoholic. And if pressed he and his acolytes will cite The Big Book’s own “to show precisely how we have recovered” to further bolster the fact that one can get over it.
But for as much as Rational Recovery ain’t A.A., the practice does seem to thrive on its opposed system’s commitment to the face-to-face. Oh, there’s nothing rigidly organized or structured, but there’s still favor for the in-person. Lee the DJ is finding great success with weekly walk-and-talks around Liverpool, as well as the more traditional weekly meetings, mostly organized via social media (hashtag #recoveryposse). In fact, that was the way he originally connected with the counselor who tipped him to the program, and it’s the way that continues to serve his burgeoning community, which now includes folks from China, Finland, Scotland and Wales.
That said, founder Trimpey is completely opposed to meetings. During RR’s earlier days, he reportedly even shut them down. This led to a break with some of his earliest, staunchest acolytes, who left RR and launched SMART Recovery. The competing program continues holding meetings to this day.
Again though, finding RR literature isn’t easy. Neither is locating a RR-friendly counselor or community group. It’s especially difficult in a country where A.A. holds sway. After all, not only do churches and community centers generally frown upon hosting lesser known programs, but countless drug courts continue to mandate 12 Step meetings for drug offenders. (As you might suspect, RR is also adamantly against including A.A. in drug sentencing guidelines.)
So RR has hardly been given a level playing field. Then again, perhaps that’s the point. Things you’ve really gotta go outta your way to earn tend to become things you really deeply appreciate. That’s gotta stand triple for something as important as recovery.
Might RR be difficult to find by design?
Hard to say. Hard to fathom too. Because as hard as RR is to come by, the program seems at least 10 times easier to apply than A.A. At least once you wrap your mind around the parameters.
Let’s take a look:
Rational Recovery runs on AVRT (pronounced Avert), which, again, stands for Addiction Voice Recognition Technique. Wiki says it’s “not a form of therapy, counseling, or addiction treatment.” Wiki also says AVRT “is based on the premise that the addict both desires and is capable of permanent, planned abstinence. Paradoxically though, the addict also wants to continue using. This ambivalence is the Rational Recovery definition of addiction.”
In short, the addict wants to quit, and has the power to quit; but also doesn’t want to quit, so won’t summon the power to quit. Why so confused? Because the substance quells the anxiety which is caused by the substance. Really. It’s a circle jerk, of dizzying proportion, yet you are the only participant.
Driving all this is the “addictive voice.” It springs from the part of the brain that controls core survival functions such as hunger and sex. When this “voice” isn’t sated, “the addict experiences anxiety, depression, restlessness, irritability, and anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure).” So the addict gets high.
To silence the addictive voice, the addict has to summon a more rational voice. Call it a countervoice. One that truly knows what’s best for you. The louder the countervoice gets, the quicker you can drown out the addict.
Okay, so maybe RR isn’t quite that simple. But that does seem to be the gist. It also seems to be the basis for “evidence-based” treatment schemes such as rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive appraisal therapy, and schema therapy. These are being used by more and more progressive addiction treatment facilities, for anxiety and depression, as well as for substance abuse.
Healing Properties is all about recovery, no matter where or how you find it. That means we’re all for Rational Recovery, as well as its similarly-skewed brethren. We’re also determined to stay out of the argument between “recovered” and “recovering” addicts and alcoholics. We’re more concerned with sobriety than suffixes. So we’re for whatever keeps you sober.
We’re also all for DJ Lee Butler and BBC Newsman Owen Amos. The more such folks take their recovery stories to the streets, the more such stories get to be heard by those needing to come in from the cold. In other words, these stories matter, whether someone’s living them or writing them, and the world is all the more blessed for their telling.
So thanks Butler and Amos, for the solid stories. And thanks Jack Trimpey, wherever you are, for making it possible for such solid stories to be lived and told. There’s no way to gauge how many lives have been saved by Rational Recovery, but it’s fair to say they are legion. And we owe you a helluva huge amount of gratitude. Here’s hoping you hear us all loud and clear.
How about you? Are you ready for Rational Recovery? How ’bout a little otherwise? Did this story get you thinking? Can you see yourself stepping up to sobriety? It’s out there you know. It’s also in you. If you want it. So pick up the phone. Make the call. Prove you’ve got what it takes. Flip the page. Start a whole new story. It could be the tale of a lifetime.