Fighting addiction without 12-stepping to higher powers

Those of us in the LGBTQ community know what it’s like to have to push for validation, recognition, and our rights. We’ve empowered ourselves collectively and as individuals, but that doesn’t mean it’s always been easy. We’re up against a lot and, because of this, many of us suffer from addictions.

For so long we have relied on our own strength, so when an addiction strikes it can hit hard. I remember feeling helpless and discouraged in the face of mine. And, as I was looking for resources to help me, most of them preached surrendering to a higher power. I’m a spiritual individual, but the last thing I wanted to do was give up my power in this situation. For many, this is a beautiful path to recovery, but for those of us who want to retain some control over our destinies, SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is a wonderful alternative.

SMART Recovery, a non-profit organization recognized by (among others) the US Department of Health and Human Services, offers a different model of addiction recovery. There are 90-minute meetings – scattered throughout Baltimore on almost every day of the week – which open up the doors for incredible empathy, support, and self-empowerment. Through the use of therapeutic tools, group discussions, and SMART’s philosophy, you are guided towards learning how to reclaim control over your life.

SMART goes beyond just managing an addictive behavior. Yes, we talk about coping with urges and how to handle relapses, but we spend equal time balancing our lives and replacing old bad habits with new inspiring ones. That strength and craving for living an authentic, true-to-ourselves life that so many of us LGBTQ folks desire is a core part of SMART’s mission.

I remember walking away from my first meeting feeling unbelievably understood. It was an environment where I could safely come out as trans, disclose past trauma, and speak about the addiction I was struggling with. Many of the stigmatized things I feared would be shunned or shamed in other groups were embrace by this meeting’s attendees. To this day, I have never experienced any judgement against who I am and the struggles I face during a SMART Recovery meeting.

Those of us in the LGBTQ community know the power of putting our voices together and fighting for a common cause. SMART’s discussions are a perfect mirror for this. Anyone experiencing any addiction – substance or behavioral – is welcome to attend. We talk about all the commonalities of addiction because of this diversity. The helplessness, the cravings, the need to escape life.

We focus on the experience of struggling with addiction and how to overcome it. Each member has the opportunity to contribute and listen to the discussion that unfolds throughout the meeting. In many cases, what one-member shares worked for them, inspires the others to take action.

Best yet, this collaboration does not outshine our own inner power. SMART Recovery teaches us that we have all the strength we need to overcome our addiction. By choosing to apply the tools offered, we can tap into that strength and effectively overcome the challenges we face. Almost every one of these techniques can be as easily applied to other conflicts we face in life – like healing our relationships, leaving jobs that aren’t good for us, and making lifestyle changes.

SMART Recovery is a completely free and open community. You can join a group at any of the locations listed here on the SMART Recovery website ( simple step to attend a meeting is the first commitment you can make to yourself to truly improve your life. Your addiction no longer needs to keep controlling your life – you can overcome this, and SMART is here to help.

Arien Smith is a transgender activist, advocate for SMART Recovery, and life coach working to make the the field more inclusive for people living with mental illness at