Army spouse Robin Howard is on a crusade to bring more addiction treatment options to Fort Hood soldiers.
SMART Recovery, a nationwide nonprofit, is now available in the Fort Hood area thanks to Howard. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery is non-religious and science-based.
“AA has not changed since its introduction,” Howard said. “SMART Recovery changes with advancements in science ... it teaches increasing self-reliance, rather than powerlessness. Individuals talk with one another, rather than to one another.”
The program does not utilize sponsors and also shuns labels like “alcoholic” or “addict.” Attendance is encouraged for months and even years, but not necessarily for a lifetime.
For Howard, the desire to see alternative substance abuse programs around military bases stems from a personal place.
“My husband began to self-medicate with alcohol heavily after returning from his last tour in Iraq,” Howard said. After two inpatient stays, the couple realized the 12-step approach used by AA was not successful for their situation, as it did little to address the underlying issues. Howard’s husband had to jump through hoops to receive treatment for his alcohol issue, which was paired with post traumatic stress disorder, Howard said.
“I knew there had to be options and better treatments available.”
As a facilitator for Fort Hood area meetings, Howard’s role is to sit and allow participants to talk, offering tools to help as needed.
“It is present-focused, not past-focused. It’s week to week,” Howard said.
Addictive substances can be vices ranging from drugs and alcohol to tobacco and food.
“(Army Substance Abuse Program) can only do so much,” Howard said. “There’s a definite need for something more than what the soldiers have.”
Andy Kasehagen, grants and database administrator for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is working with Howard to determine if Tricare will cover alternative treatment programs like SMART Recovery.
In Howard’s husband’s case, it did not.
“We’re trying to see if this is an isolated situation or if it is throughout the Tricare system,” Kasehagen said. His organization works to ensure service members are protected from unconstitutional religious influence, and at this time, the majority of covered programs are religion-based.
The SMART program is helpful to anyone, but it is uniquely beneficial to soldiers, said Rita Pickering, ASAP clinical supervisor at Fort Hood.
“It’s difficult for soldiers to reach out for help, and we’re just now getting past the stigma,” Pickering said. “Soldiers helping soldiers is generally a good thing; they can relate to each other.”
She served as Howard’s husband’s substance abuse counselor and was a strong proponent of bringing SMART Recovery to Central Texas.
“I believe that as many support systems as people can get in their recovery, the better,” Pickering said.
Howard invites all active duty soldiers to attend the weekly SMART meetings, which show attendees how to use the tools to move through the four steps of recover: 1. Enhance and maintain motivation to abstain; 2. Cope with urges; 3. Manage thoughts, feelings and behaviors; and 4. Balance momentary and enduring satisfactions.
“Not every person responds to one single treatment method,” Howard said. “SMART Recovery can be used with any other methods that the person feels helps them. (Soldiers) need others that understand their unique issues.”