EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is a paper Martin presented at the Plenary Scientific Session entitled From Sobriety to Success at the 3rd Asian Recovery Symposium held at Taal View Hotel in Tagaytay City, Philippines on November 4-6, 2008

Over the last two decades, much has been discussed about how to make treatment programs a more effective tool in getting drug dependents to reach their goal of sobriety. Programs have been developed and redeveloped over the years and, in some cases, new and unique forms of intervention have also been added to improve the delivery of rehab services worldwide. It has been my privilege to be a part of some of these developments and an honor to have worked closely with many experts in this field.One such great development that has been added to the rehab process was the concept of Aftercare, which was developed to support the recovering drug dependent’s new found sobriety. I remember, it was in the 90s when this took center stage in the discussions in many international fora. I say “great” because 20 years onward, all of us here are living testaments to the way Aftercare has boosted a dependent’s chances of sustaining success.

Today, to my knowledge, very little is known about how to measure the quality of success in recovery. Have some people recovered more than others? Are there recovery stories that are greater than others? Are there program techniques that yield a stronger and more successful recovery process than others?

We may say “no” because we know that getting into recovery is a decision made by an individual and not by anyone else. To paraphrase an old adage: We can only take the horse to the water but the drinking will have to be decided by the horse.

However, in my long experience in running a therapeutic community (TC), I have discovered that if we improve the way we invite people into recovery, chances are we could also increase the number of those who will want it. At SELF, we considered this possibility and, in 2004, we reinvented our culture and made numerous changes in the way we did things in the TC program.

In a recent review of our five year implementation, we have noted a marked increase in our retention rate, a substantial decrease in resident turmoil and unrest and an encouraging increase in graduate success stories. So, yes, I believe there are things a program can do to improve the quality of success in recovery and it doesn’t really matter what type of program is being run.

In the end, we are all looking for the same two ends: 1) to help dependents find sobriety and 2) to help them so that they can improve the quality of their life after treatment.

Two types of success

To address the subject of success in sobriety, allow me to present two types of success: 1) the Dry Drunk Syndrome and 2) the Clean & Sober Lifestyle.

1. The Dry Drunk Syndrome — Is it enough to simply achieve sobriety for many years? There have been some discussions I have heard in the past that talk about people achieving sobriety but whose quality of sobriety is considered a “dry drunk” syndrome. This is when former druggies or alcoholics go through the grieving process of losing their substance but never get past the anger stage.The drink or drug has been their friend for many years. It was something they always counted upon. It was always there ready for the good times, the celebrations, the parties, as well as the sad, mad, and lonely times, too.

When finally this “old friend” let them down and it was time to let it go, some were able to begin and complete the process of grieving, from the denial stage to anger, bargaining and acceptance. But some, despite having abstained, remain stuck in their anger, bitterness and resentment at having to change their lives. Ergo, the adage: They haven’t had a drink in years, but they have also never had a “sober” day.

2. The Clean & Sober Lifestyle — There is more to recovery than meets the eye and we at SELF have learned that success cannot merely mean abstinence. The Clean & Sober Lifestyle refers to a state of recovery where a person has been able to complete the grieving process, resolved deep-set anger and resentment issues, achieved full acceptance of the dependency problem and is open to new challenges in life.

The 3 Pillars of Success

The following are three pillars that have served as guides to our graduates in their quest for a successful life in recovery: 1) Re-Shaping One’s Environment; 2) Re-Inventing Oneself; and 3) Becoming Purpose-Driven. They are the Key Result Areas we use to measure their success.

1.  Re-Shaping One’s Environment — A recovering dependent must proactively create a new structure or one’s own “nest” built around a family-life consciousness. This includes: a) Making new friends; b) Accepting the family status quo; c) A readiness to change one’s domicile (if needed for sobriety); d) Steadfast adherence to the “ground rules” of recovery; e) Willingness to live independently and pay own rent, bills, groceries, etc.; f) Commitment to a steady job and schedule of activities (exercise regimen, etc.)

2.  Re-Inventing Oneself — A recovering dependent should allow the process of self-discovery or self-peeling to take place. In this way one is able to unfold new energies and talents that lead one to achieve the unbelievable or unimaginable. This can involve: a) Trying out new sports and hobbies (like learning how to dance); b) Trying out a new occupation or profession; c.) Moving from being a “shadow” to being a leader; d) Maintaining an excited disposition in everything one does; e) Achieving an honest contentment in a sober lifestyle.


3.  Becoming Purpose-Driven — A recovering dependent must strive to live a life that is principle-centered, where one’s day-to-day decisions are always based on the “greater good”. One should practice: a) Resolving inner conflicts (self-forgiveness, deeper sense of self-awareness); b) Peace seeking with a desire to make things right; c) Taking paths of self-denial; d) Being part of a greater cause (joining civic or religious groups); e) Sharing openly the inspiration that helped you recover; f) A continuing commitment to participate in Aftercare groups.

The SELF Approach

What has SELF been doing to inspire and guide its residents to achieve this quality of recovery?


1. Instilling a Sense of Alma Mater — a) By improving the program culture to make residents feel safe and proud of their roots; and b) By providing complete amenities necessary for training.

2. Promoting Trust in the Program — a) By ensuring that all things done in the program conform with being Respectful, Logical and Practical; b) By making available a complete record of their recovery process with a system of clinical documentation; and c) By providing a complement of professional staff that oversee case management.

3. Developing a Sense of Self-worth & Esteem — a) By involving them in reviewing and revising the policies and rules compiled in the Manual of Operations; b) By developing their skills and talents (computer, media and other technical training); c) By processing “real time” TC experiences leading to the development of life skills; and d) By providing Supervised Practicum Internship courses that develop professional skills.

4. Promoting a Sense of Independence and Responsibility — By integrating a “Continuing Care” Program in Aftercare that teaches recovering dependents how to attain independent living through the establishment of practical and logical program methods within their new structure and environment.

5. Promoting Family Wellness — a) By educating families about co-dependency; b) By teaching them how to establish Continuing Care principles at home; c) By aiding them to resolve family conflicts.

In Closing

Every resident in treatment deserves the best quality of care possible. Achieving a Clean and Sober Lifestyle is possible and must be consistently promoted in both treatment and Aftercare programs.

I hope that discussions on this matter will continue to propagate and a fruitful dialogue among rehab practitioners will ensue. For I hold that it is our duty to continually explore and come up with developments with the end goal of giving our clients the rewarding experience of true success in sobriety.


President, SELF
November 2008