There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. That has been amply demonstrated by the program and the fellowship of Chemically Dependent Anonymous in its very brief, yet dynamic, existence. The idea behind C.D.A. is not original, by any means, as its co-founders and members will readily admit. What is that idea? It is one based on the principle of simplicity that Alcoholics Anonymous has so strongly advocated in a time-proven format designed to give direction to those suffering from addiction to alcohol.
The program of Alcoholics Anonymous has been the core of hundreds of other self-help groups that thrive throughout the world today. These fellowships give group support and guidance to people afflicted with maladies, ranging from social-behavior problems to terminal illnesses, that have baffled professionals trained to heal them. These disorders had previously been considered hopeless situations, beyond all possible remedy. The essential ingredients, or universals, that all these groups share are the Twelve Steps of A.A. (usually altered only in order to identify the groups' purposes or to define requirements for membership) and the basic concept of anonymity, found in the Twelve Traditions of A.A. From these two cornerstones, along with the willingness of the groups' members to change their lives and their development, or expansion, of a recognition of the spiritual factors surrounding the recovery process, comes the miracle of what is commonly known as the self-help movement.
Ask a member of Overeaters Anonymous, for instance, how that program works for him, and he will probably answer, "Just fine, thank you," or "One day at a time." The answer usually defies logic or reason. And unless the inquirer shares the particular dilemma of the responder and wants help with it, too, he will probably not comprehend fully, from the answer he receives, how that group actually operates.
But that's exactly where the "magic" takes place. Very simply, it is in the identifying of the mutual problem that the basis for understanding, which underlies the effectiveness of each of the separate groups, is to be found. Members share their individual experiences, their strengths, and their hope for recovery, not cure. That is what makes miracles happen.
That's a big word, "miracle." But take the example of a person who has been gambling obsessively for, perhaps, thirty years; who has gone through fortunes and families in his helpless, compulsive binges of reckless, insane wagering; who has even been institutionalized as a direct result of his actions. If then, remarkably, he makes a return to the mainstream of life with no apparent, overwhelming problems, can we call it a coincidence? Hardly. In this anonymous gambler's case, it is the ultimate result of his diligent effort at "working his program." This is only one of the many examples of what occurs, all the time, in the programs based on A.A., with increasing numbers of success stories as time goes by.
Simplicity is a major key in helping to solve complicated problems. It eliminates confusion and allows growth to occur where destruction would be otherwise inevitable. After all, the human mind is a complex network of thought and beliefs, emotions and mentality. We are each as different as one snowflake crystal is from another. Add in a pattern of obsessive behavior, or self-destructive habits that seem to progress, and behold: confusion, despair, and hopelessness dominate. If the problem is ignored, or if a person is isolated from others with the same disorder, there will rarely be a happy outcome. Furthermore, the people nearest the troubled one will be grossly affected, also, although they seldom realize the source of their problems.
If the one who has the initiating illness seeks, and finds, support from others of his kind, and his co-victims then find their corresponding programs, it is not at all unusual for so-called impossible situations to turn into amazing, wonderful developments of new found hope and direction. Most recipients of such help will agree that the gratitude they feel and express for their metamorphic miracles is the fuel that perpetuates ongoing recovery. They have discovered that the simplicity inherent in their self-help programs works.
But why C.D.A.? Why start a new organization when A.A. and Narcotics Anonymous already exist, the former for the drunks and the latter for the junkies? It could be said, "If it works, don't fix it." If these groups are working well, it seems reasonable that there is no need to change things. Yet that is true only if society and man remain consistent and static. And both society and man have proven to be nothing of the kind.
Society recognizes, as do all the self-help movements, that it is now dealing with a new species of addict, one who shows no real preference for any single drug of choice. It is true that there will always be those who adhere to only one chemical preference for their escape. But most younger people who are seeking help at this time have been through the wringer with anything that is available. Economic factors seem the sole determinants of the quality, or types, of the chemicals that they have chosen to use.
Society makes only a distinction between their legality or illegality in deciding upon the availability of the many drugs it allows and the way in which it will dispense them. And it is cranking out multiple-addiction cases by the truckload. Alcohol is only one of the drugs we use. Ours is a culture with a high percentage of drug-dependent people, many of whom are at various stages or near-disastrous usage patterns. And most often, because of the denial factor preceding treatment, the problem continues to go unrecognized and is accepted as normal, until it is too late.
Alcoholics Anonymous has been lovingly tolerant of these new drug dependents, so long as they express the desire to stop using alcohol. But, flexible as the A.A. program is, it can only bend so far before it begins to pose a threat to its own traditional structure. It may even alienate those of its members who cannot, or will not, relate to their fellow alcoholics who have drug dependencies other than alcohol, or to those whose problems include the use of combinations of substances.
There is an ever-increasing number of those recovering from multiple addictions who have found A.A. useful, however. That program was the beginning of new lives for them. It has helped them to free themselves from dependencies on the entire gamut of the drug market's wares, in addition to booze. But all of these recovering users agree that their problem was not so much the substance of choice as it was the addiction itself, their dependency pattern, which had crippled them mentally, physically, and spiritually before they turned to A.A.
And that leads back to simplicity, again. If the drunk, junkie, acidhead, speed or Valium freak, coke snorter and/or shooter, pill head, glue nose, needle nut, Sterno Joe, or one who is all or a combination of any of the above, is willing to accept that the substance just does not matter that much, but that it is the recovery process that is applicable to all and is the most important part of any self-help program, then he understands the basis for Chemically Dependent Anonymous and is ready to accept what it can give him. We are concerned about substance abuse, in this program, and what to do about it. We keep it simple. What is more, the concept works. Of course, C.D.A. does rule out the gambler, the sex offender, the overeater, and most other strictly behavioral-problem types. But it acts in and simplifies, the lives of chemical abusers who are honestly looking for help through our fellowship.
C.D.A. also deals, immediately, with the possibility that an addict will transfer his chemical dependency from one substance to another. It is rigorously honest in its approach and does not allow for half measures, or for the "exceptions" that the more exclusive self-help groups, who do not want to deal with them directly, permit for prescription-drug abuse or "recreational" pot smoking. It saves lives. If the topic of total abstinence had been freely discussed in the meetings they were attending, such seemingly harmless drug use might not have caused some members of other anonymous fellowships, as has happened, to continue in their addiction patterns to the point of fatal usage. These hapless victims believed, right up to the end, that they were recovering addicts because they were strictly following their programs. They misunderstood what it took to succeed.
The co-founders of C.D.A. had only N.A. and A.A. as choices for help when they were first seeking it. The willingness they all shared, and the understanding that was provided for them by the existing members of those fellowships allowed enough time to pass in the healing process for the basic concepts to take hold. How fortunate they were! Most of the multi-addicts that these groups tried to persuade to "keep an open mind" did not stick with the program long enough for that process to occur in their lives.
Wise A.A. and N.A. members do know, very well, that to use anything that changes the mood or alters the mind is wrong. But not everyone is so wise, especially not the newcomers. And where is that "anything" specifically written down, or named as such? Only in C.D.A., It is very important to understand that persons seeking help usually know little, if anything, about how these groups work when they first come in. Whether other types of addicts may apply, also, really doesn't seem to matter, on first sight. But the first contact made will usually be based on how a fellowship is titled.
Perhaps, by now, this all seems like an awfully complex path towards simplification. But there is one final example that must be stressed because it best illustrates the importance of their names to self-help groups. It is found right in their pledges of responsibility: "It is a primary goal of ?.A. to carry the message to the still suffering? If he/she reaches out for help." Don't look now, but those question marks are reaching out from institutions, unhappy homes, halfway houses, the streets, and everywhere you look, only to find that those they need to relate to, in most of the fellowships, won't call themselves by name, won't let these poor people talk about their complete histories. And so they go back out to die, or, even worse, to continue to exist in their private hells.
"Well, it could be that they are not ready, yet," you say? Maybe, they are just constitutionally incapable." Perhaps. Or could it be that they haven't been dealt with honestly? They are chemically dependent. They are addicts without a name. But now there is hope. These people are reaching out, and Chemically Dependent Anonymous is there and ready to work for them.
New faces are showing up at every meeting. Many who were, at first, skeptical have kept coming around and are now able to celebrate anniversaries of several years of being clean and sober. C.D.A. is gradually becoming known, throughout our nation, by those working in the chemical dependency field. It has been greeted in these quarters with much praise and many sighs of relief. Chemically Dependent Anonymous is, indeed, an idea whose time has come.