What Is Rational Recovery? Perhaps The World Wasn’t Ready For It…

Rational Recovery…where did it go??

Rational Recovery seems like the rebellious child in the family; needlessly playing devil’s advocate and purposely doing the exact opposite of conventional modes of treatment.

However, statistically speaking plenty of people have sobered up and lived normal productive lives as a result of the program – so what is it?

What Is Rational Recovery?

 Rational Recovery is an abstinence-based addiction recovery program, developed as an alternative to the spiritually centered 12-step model.

Let’s Start With A Story…

the wolves within rational recovery

This Native American parable captures what I believe is the most brilliant component of Rational Recovery; that is, a distinction between the addiction and the individual – to the extreme of giving it (the addiction) a persona, an identity, as an entity completely separate from the person who is seemingly possessed by it.

Sure, “it’s living, breathing, and speaks to you in your own voice,” but it’s not you, it’s the beast.

Jack Trimpey, the author of Rational Recovery, calls this beast the Addictive Voice. Indeed, the sum of the entire therapy is evident in its title:

Addiction Voice Recognition Technique (AVRT).

In theory when it no longer has an ear to bark in it ceases to speak very ofte rational recovery

The idea is to isolate the addictive voice from the rational, recovered voice.

In theory, when it no longer has an ear to bark in, it ceases to speak very often, if really ever at all. At least, so says Rational Recovery.

Not to sound ridiculous but it can be easily likened to a vampire unable to enter one’s residence without permission – it must let it in as it were.

Sounds unachievable right? Well, the totality of the program is to accomplish that task. But before we examine any further let’s investigate this duality between the individual and the addiction or what Jack Trimpey calls the I/IT split.

The I/IT Split – The Beast Versus The Real You

The writer is adamant, “You have a dual, animal-human nature, and your bodily desire for the high-life has overtaken your human, family identity. It is not you that wants to drink/use, for you are not a physical being, but a being that exists only in human consciousness.”

He goes on to postulate in a rather obscure fashion what “human nature” is – no easy feat for sure.

He further fails to explain why said nature’s identity is grounded in the family unit (something I agree with, read my thoughts here) but he neglects to deliver his reasoning which I believe to be crucial.

In addition, whereas the addiction or animal nature is localized in the “midbrain,” per Trimpey, human nature is beyond biology in the “human consciousness,” seemingly confounding the issue.

Is he saying the solution is spiritual? I’m unsure.

Perhaps, rather than breaching and abandoning biological parameters, arguing for the neocortex, or more precisely the prefrontal cortex, of the brain as the nexus of human nature would more appropriately integrate his system.

This is eerily similar to Neuro-linguistic Programming’s unconscious (The ‘beast brain’) bending to the will of the conscious mind (the ‘real you,’ the control center of language).

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The Tale Of Two Voices

Either way, the argument for the two voices is ancient.

As we already have seen, the Cherokee’s had their dance with the Two Wolves.

In the Garden of Eden, there existed the voice of God and the Serpent.

In Greek mythology, Orestes was visited by the terrorizing voices of the Furies and later comforted and guided by the voices of the Eumenides.

Even contemporary thought sees the conscience in conflict with another presence, the angel and the devil on the shoulder respectively 🙂

Certainly, putting a contemporary spin on it only speaks to our hearts – it’s a duality hardwired into our DNA. 

Perhaps much to our discomfort, Trimpey is brave enough to provide techniques (you decide if they are effective) to feed the good wolf and starve the bad; to amplify the voice of God and silence the serpent; to quite the Furies so the Eumenides can be heard, and to argue that the devil on the shoulder is only as powerful as the power he’s endowed with.

Rational Recovery – The Option

Where One Must Begin: Address The Elephant In The Room

In Rational Recovery, the elephant is called “the option.”

This is their qualm with 12-Step Recovery, they posit it leaves the option for relapse. But how?

It’s said in 12-Step Recovery the individual puts off using until tomorrow; Trimpey calls this one-day-at-a-time recovery.

Thus, the option to use tomorrow is always on the table. Moreover, since one is FOREVER in recovery they are always only moments away from their next relapse.

  • Make it to a meeting or relapse.
  • Call a sponsor or relapse
  • Be of service or relapse
  • Do the steps or relapse
  • Do something or else! Etc.

The option – the constant impending relapse –  is food for the voracious appetite of the beast. 

In a word, Rational Recovery proposes this makes the beast hungrier than ever. Analogous to commercials about an appetizing dish to a grumbling belly – eventually the desire becomes an obsession and the torment becomes irresistible – the dish must be had.

Eventually, the option becomes a necessity...

Consequently, notes the author, the only option that is unavailable in this flawed system is an actual, full recovery. And this, for Rational Recovery is simply unacceptable.

JACK TRIMPEY QUOTES rational recovery

The Option Is Anti-Family

This leads to his next point: recovery groups are a manifestation of the addictive voice/the beast (check out why I believe this is at odds with the Three Parallels necessary life change)

Trimpey declares that not only groups but practically every addiction treatment service, institution, organization, etc., is anti-family.

Mostly because all endorse the supposed “the option.”

In recovery group participation the addict apparently holds the family culpable for certain aspects of the addiction. In addition, the family must sit on the bench while the addict is completely enveloped by a surrogate family (the fellowship, meetings, etc.) – inadvertently, they are in the waiting room for the next looming relapse. Compounding the suffering of the already emotionally plagued family.

To counter the perceived “relapse waiting room“ Trimpey offers immediate and instant gratification (sounds eerily like the problem, no?).

“AVRT-based recovery is an immediate, uncomplicated, private event, and is not a long, melodramatic process of gradual self-improvement. As such, AVRT® is the crown jewel of addiction recovery.”


Addicto-Depressive Condition (ADC)

As touched on briefly above, reserving the option for relapse obviously begets chronic malcontent and frustration.

Similar to the insatiable craving of Buddhism (See Refuge Recovery. Specifically the Four Noble Truths), the “option” creates an unsatisfied spirit yearning for relief from the misery of “depression, anxiety, irritability, resentment, sleep disorder, and so on.”

Rational Recovery calls this the Addicto-Depressive Condition (ADC), which is akin to a thirst which cannot be quenched or an itch they cannot be relieved.

It’s the restless soul seeking to find rest in things that cannot offer it. For all intents and purposes, the implication is deeply spiritual and can be reconciled with all the major religious traditions.

Per Rational Recovery, the ADC cannot be treated by medicine, psychology, or religion because it is self-created and not caused by anything other than choice. Does choice then become God? Made somehow from a human consciousness, apart from the biological, and courting seeming redemptive qualities?

This is fairly vague – that it cannot be treated by traditional means – and doesn’t answer the question “why?”

It’s simply a brazen attempt to avoid logic and wildly proclaim:

Addiction is not a disease


That which is not a disease needs no treatment, medicine, or recovery.

Only a choice and a commitment.

The Only Option: Give It Up For Good

“AVRT-based recovery is abrupt, quite different from the never-ending process of one-day-at-a-time sobriety. You are free to declare yourself fully recovered right now, but your Beast is pulling hard to reserve your Option to drink/use at some unforeseen time later on.” The ambivalence is an essential element in the technique.

This shifting back and forth between elation precipitated by freedom and the horror and agony precipitated by freedom is what Trimpey calls the Abstinence Commitment Effect (ACE). This incessant tussle between darkness and light is what draws the addict back to reality – restores the human consciousness so to speak (some existential overtones I can certainly get on board with!)

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None of this is possible however without the Big Plan.

The Big Plan sounds like it’s some tediously calculated method for overcoming the addiction but it’s actually the opposite; in reality, it’s merely a decision.

Albeit one not made lightly, but a decision nonetheless to NEVER DRINK/USE AGAIN and ride out the oscillating ACE until the restoration of homeostasis.

This will amplify the ACE but this pales in significance to the ADC.

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Recoveryism? Alcoholism? The Same??

Rational Recovery makes scientific claims unscientifically…the author reduces everything to biology (where statements of concepts of DISEASE are usually empirically constructed) yet refutes claims that addiction is a disease by claiming the “I” is in control (mystic incorporeal human self) – not the brain (biology)…so it appears spiritual rather than scientific.

Similarly, the Big Books definition of disease is undeniably a like concept (see my article where I interact with this concept a bit further); therefore, it appears Rational Recovery argues against nonexistent entities – namely, recoveryism is a straw man.

Recoveryism is the name given for one-day-at-a-time recovery, that favors “the option,” advocates an anti-family system, and uses the concept of disease as an attempt to evade responsibility and find an exemption from moral standards.

**Important Feature of Recoveryism*

Many of the elements of 12-Step recovery Triply argues against are simply fellowship blunders and misrepresentations of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous – but he is right, these things do exist.

However, it should be noted that these “doctrines” are not A.A. doctrines inasmuch as they cannot be reconciled with the Basic Text of the fellowship.

It’s a shame they do indeed exist – but even groups in A.A. (the fellowship within the fellowship who follow the book) bemoan this deviation.

Thus, the 12-Step understanding of recovery that Rational Recovery argues against is consequently the same that Big Book Recovery argues against.

Is Rational Recovery Sheer Genius Or Total Madness?

The controversial statements are unnecessary unless they are tailored to work for addicted individuals who already share them, that may be the ingenuity behind the system…reaching the same goal by different means.

Or, it’s sheer madness – for instance, the surrogate family (recovery group) may be the only family for some. The demographic seems far too selective and minute. Moreover, to assume that a community family is anti-family seems to misunderstand the concepts of family and community.

Additionally, if one fails to hold to an absolute objective morality it would appear they’re beliefs are irreconcilable. Also, for the staunch proponent of reductionism, the system would be very misleading. Allow me to illustrate, Rational Recovery professes:

“The reason for our abandonment of science, religion, medicine, and psychology is quite simple. (1) They don’t work, (2) they blame the family, (3) they protect the Option of gratifying relapses, and (4) they divert your attention from the immediate, actions that you must take in order to protect yourself and your family from intolerable losses.”

The reason for our abandonment of science religion medicine and psychology is quite simple. 1 They dont work 2 they blame the family 3 they protect the Option of gratifying relapses and 4 they divert rational recovery

These claims are assumptions. MASSIVE unexplained assumptions.

Further, without science, religion, medicine, psychology, etc, how can you even make an argument?

Understanding the fundamentals of the above are necessary for constructing even working assumption upon which to build a coherent, rational system.

It’s tantamount to saying I’m not loading my gun with bullets because I now call them “gullets.”

It’s clear to everyone else what is going on, the gullets are the bullets. Call them what you will – your gullet will perform the same function as the bullet. Stop being ridiculous. Just call it a bullet.

Once more, the program, particularly the controversial aspects, appears hand-designed for individuals who already hold them – in this way, there is a program for everybody.

Rational Recovery can refute it in two ways:

  1. Make the claim that any contrary claims are merely the AV. Like the Freudian unconscious – it’s not falsifiable, that is, you can never disprove it.
  2. Or, they would acknowledge the inconsistencies and grant that the program is only for some – those whom already hold the presuppositions.

Trimpey fosters a contemporary spirituality of sorts, using modern concepts not archaic ones with thousands of years of baggage tacked on. He basically develops a more mystical (the “I” and the “beast”) and simplified form (less clinical speak) of Moral Reconation Therapy.

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Do Not Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater

It should be noted that I love the concepts presented, I employ them frequently.

If you can wrap your head around the I/IT split you’re well on your way.

Being able to isolate the addiction into an entity of its own, and subsequently breaking it down to its constituent parts will render obsolete its emotional charge. In a word, it ceases to irrationally motivate poor decisions – the truth is visible and with it freedom.

The ancient Stoics used to practice this same procedure; that is, dividing a circumstance up into its smallest part – until it’s no longer divisible – as to eliminate the untamed emotional charge so the most rational decision could be made

What I’m not a fan of is the unsubstantiated subjective arguments and inconsistencies. Nonetheless, what system is without these?

As with anything, however, the trick is to realize it’s easy to attack almost any model argumentatively but, what’s actually the difficult element – which takes work, is to understand the necessity of fleshing out some benefits.

Many people have used the system as it is and have found lasting sobriety – investigate and do not let people answer questions for you