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TSM: Year Three. What I've Learned So Far.

By David B.

For milestones, my experience has taught me that sometimes life moves fast, and sometimes life moves slow. On reflection of my third anniversary on TSM, I wanted to share some things I've learned along the way. Full disclosure: I'm no expert. I'm not a doctor. I'm just someone who was unresponsive to the traditional treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder, and this has proven to be what works for me.

Naltrexone is just the first step.

Go to therapy! Oy to the vey, did I make so many mistakes at the beginning of my TSM journey. I wanted this to work. I prayed this would work. But did I honestly think it was all about popping a pill and moving on with my day? I was not an immediate responder (didn't hit extinction until year two), but I knew that I felt differently when I drank on naltrexone. But my history and how I used to drink and loved to drink was still nagging me to 'drink past my satiation' and avoid being mindful. We as problem drinkers are sneaky, and we can outwit our brains. And I did—a lot. But when I was depressed and miserable and scared that this wasn't working, my addiction specialist very acutely asked me, "David, have you done the interior work? Do you know why you use alcohol the way that you did in the past?" I hadn't done the therapy. Duh! He said that until I learned 'why' I was using alcohol as a social tool and a way to treat anxiety and depression, I shouldn't have high expectations for changes in my behavior. That is worth its weight in gold. After enrolling in an online treatment program specializing in alternative treatments for addiction (see below), I did six intensive months of individual phase work, group support work, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. My drink units dropped almost immediately.

Do your homework! 

There is so much information about addiction and recovery. A lot of it good. A lot of it bad or outdated. It's a cottage industry, and it can feel overwhelming. But it is crucial to understand this pernicious disorder. I have found so many books that have supported and aided my recovery. I have listed a few below that I highly recommend.

TSM is not a linear program. 

Because I was in AA for 2 1/2 years, I measured my success based on their idea of success. That was a huge mistake. We are human. We are flawed. We make mistakes. I've had many incredible highs in TSM, and a few off-the-path nights that didn't make sense. Sometimes I over-drank. But every time I over-drank, I knew I wasn't practicing mindful drinking behavior, and those times were usually moments of great stress when I let all my other 'tools' for health and wellness fall to the wayside. I ask myself every year, "is this way better for me than the old way?" Every year, so far, the answer has been, "yes."

Find your tribe! 

Alcohol Use Disorder can be a very lonely journey. But it doesn't have to be. I'm seeing so many beautiful organizations pop-up that are advocates of TSM, but comparatively, traditional recovery still is the dominant narrative in the recovery community. It is starting to change, but it's essential to have people in your life, i.e., friends, family, or clinicians, who support your path. Your support system needs to know that TSM is unlike traditional therapy, and the same standard cannot be used to measure it. That your intention for doing this is to make your life better, not worse. Everyone in my life knows I'm doing TSM, and they support me. I'm fortunate.

Be patient and compassionate to yourself. 

This one is the hardest for me because I'm so damn hard on myself. If I'm not perfect every single time on TSM, I beat myself senseless with sabotaging self-talk and doubt. It took me a long time to become a problem drinker; it's going to take some time to adjust to the new way of having alcohol or not having alcohol in my life. Once again, therapy is what works for me in this area. And meditation. Even though I'm terrible at meditation, and that's OK too.

Lastly, and most importantly, BE COMPLIANT!!!! 

I had to smash the illusion that I am ever going to be a normal drinker. Yes, TSM is what works for me, but I cannot delude myself into thinking that I will ever be able to drink normally without my medication. This is the one rule I've never broken. Maybe it's because I am so grateful to TSM for providing me a different way? Maybe its because I spent 2.5 years in traditional recovery, and I know that I do not want to go through that again? Perhaps it's Jewish fear? Who knows, but I won't test it. I prefer taking a pill, waiting an hour to drink responsibly, rather than risking losing everything and be back in abstinent meetings. No, thank you.

Thank you for reading. I hope this helped. I want to thank Michelle and Elizabeth @ LionRock Recovery for giving me the support and self-esteem I needed to believe in myself and that TSM was working for me. To Claudia Christian and everyone @ the C3 Organization for being there when I needed somewhere else to go. Of course, all my family and friends who have supported me doing TSM continue to be there when I need them.

Please be kind to yourself. You're worth it!

Here are some resources that helped me:



  • The Cure for Alcoholism: The Medically Proven Way to Eliminate Alcohol Addiction by Roy Eskapa. The TSM bible. Read this cover to cover!

  • The Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life by Annie Grace. She understands human behavior and why we use alcohol for so many reasons. And it's funny!

  • The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive by Kristin Neff, PhD & Christopher Germer, PhD. This is a great workbook and will give you many tools to create a healthy/balanced life.

  • The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease by Marc Lewis, PhD. Fascinating and illuminating.

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