Human change is an unavoidable human experience. At its core, it’s a completely personal autonomous experience. Being that this reality is concrete, one must ask – what then is the role of a Freedom Model Presenter (or any teacher) if all change that occurs with their student happens internally?

Some History – The Baldwin Program

When I co-founded my first addiction help retreat in Hagaman, New York nearly 3 decades ago, I gave almost no thought to a guest’s autonomous nature and how the existence of that human attribute would affect how I taught them the lessons of my program. At that time I was simply attempting to push and persuade people to fully abstain from drinking and drugging by teaching a slightly modified version of the 12 steps. My knowledge of differentiated teaching techniques was virtually nonexistent at that time. I was 19 years old and quite naïve and ignorant about such “details”.

While we began our research project in 1989 by teaching the 12 step model, we didn’t promote the central 12 step idea that people were fully powerless over alcohol and/or drugs. The powerlessness idea was (and continues to be) the cornerstone in AA’s 12 step meetings and in their text, Alcoholics Anonymous. At the onset of our research, both Jerry (my research mentor) and I knew teaching people they had no control over their consumption of substances was a bad idea on its face. However, most of the other portions of the 12 steps remained involved in our model for quite a few years as that was all there was at the time. Yes, we were trying to build a better model, but the evolution to our Freedom Model didn’t happen overnight. Luckily we abandoned the powerless idea immediately, and the foundation for the first non 12 step model was formed.

As the model developed over the following decade, I struggled to reconcile the 12 step indoctrination process that was laid out in the text Alcoholics Anonymous. The more facts I learned, the more I realized that nearly all of the 12 step paradigm was Bill Wilson’s fantasy and was a fabricated cult based on faith healing. This is when I began to refer to these new revelations as “non-12 step” discoveries. I began teaching the alternative message that people could easily move past their substance use issues for good with the proper information if they were willing to let go of the 12 step disease-based paradigm. Unfortunately, for many of those years, bits and pieces of the old 12 step model remained mixed into our non-12 step ideology. By teaching conflicting information – new, non-12 step ideas mixed with portions of 12 step AA doctrine – my guests struggled at points as I was combining two philosophies that were the opposite of each other. But out of this chaotic mixed message came debate – real, live, active, and sometimes heated and painful debate. The result of that messy process was the truth – and the non disease, non-12 step ideas won the fact race; addiction wasn’t a disease, and people did not need to abstain as the only option for a future filled with promise. The Freedom Model was born!

Those first twelve years of research and development were a painful time for me. It was the circuitous path out of the 12 step paradigm and into the development of The Freedom Model – the first truly non-12 step model for addictions. It was a long process because people’s lives and happiness were held in the balance, and so changes to our model came slow and metered. Throughout all those years my intuition that the 12 step paradigm had to go was driving me mad, but I didn’t have the initial courage to abandon it as a whole (looking back I should have). But as time ticked forward, I was forced by my guests to confront the fact that I needed to forge into new territory, and make the switch to our non 12 step methodology completely.

If you teach people counter-intuitive and harmful information (disease-based mythology and ineffective 12 step faith healing,) and these same students live with you, you will find that as the person “in charge” of their education, you are held responsible for the ineffectiveness of the information you are providing. Ineffectiveness breeds dissent and inevitable chaos – especially with a population of those in desperate need for real answers.  Being that I was somewhat stuck on some of the 12 step rhetoric (even though the model had nearly killed me – what irony!) when I began my research and my first retreat, I was forced to explain away the obvious flaws in the 12 step system if my guests were to believe in the message of true hope I was trying to provide to them.

As painful as this process of letting go of the old to bring in the new was, it ended up being a huge blessing. My guests forced me to seek better answers grounded in facts and not the mythology of Bill Wilson’s 12 step fantasy. By placing myself in the boiler room (by living with my guests and having no escape from the inconsistencies and holes in the 12 step/disease nonsense), I had voluntarily placed myself in front of an angry speeding bus with no escape but to seek and then dispel truth. My guests certainly were not satisfied with the disease/12 step mythology, and I wasn’t satisfied with it either. And so, by means of my intimate proximity to my students, I learned what to teach and ultimately how to teach as well.  

Even with all the chaos of living within the research project of those early retreat years, I had two implied factors that kept my head above water with my guests and it always gained their respect: first, they knew I loved them, (and I truly did – with all my heart) and secondly, I always stated that they were not powerless and they could move past their addiction fully. This second part was the singular fact that was the underpinnings of the non-12 step model being formulated. Without powerlessness in the soup, all the other untruths of the 12 step dogma became obvious and were summarily discarded. Both of these factors were the base differences between what we were providing, and what the rest of the 12 step based treatment model was selling at the time. Consequently, even in those volatile early years, the combination of love and real hope were far more successful than any other addiction-help model in the world at the time.

Learning to Teach

During these years I also learned something else immensely valuable; it was an unexpected lesson – that how we presented the research and lessons we were providing was as important as what I presented to people. The truth of what we were presenting to our retreat guests mattered of course, but if we didn’t present that truth in a mature and understandable and nonjudgmental way, the truth would remain unheard no matter how good our intentions were in helping those in our care. And so we began training our Freedom Model Presenters (instructors) how to provide our message of research and hope in as nonjudgmental a way as possible.

I would consider the first 12 years of program development as the path out of the 12 step paradigm, and the following 18 years as the path to perfecting the Non-12 step paradigm vis-à-vis The Freedom Model. The revelation that all humans are autonomous is one of the three pillars of the Freedom Model philosophy along with free will and the pursuit of happiness. Knowing our retreat guests are completely autonomous and have their own reasons for their substance use habits provides our Freedom Model Presenters a wonderful platform in which to teach.

If you know someone is completely autonomous, you know you cannot control what they think or how they decide to live their lives. Because we train our presenters that the student is their own person, and that their choice to use substances is also an autonomous choice, it is futile to try and convince them to stop or moderate their use. Our role becomes very simple and efficient – to provide factual information and then let the chips fall where they may. Either they will change their substance use habits because they now know they can and decide they can be happier making a change, or they will choose to still find value in using substances at some personally motivated level.

There is a great freedom for our presenters in this path and method of nonjudgmental teaching. The guest gets to choose their own path, not some counselor or program director. This is why we call our teachers presenters – we present the facts, and the student chooses their own path based on this new and empowering information. So in effect, we do less teaching, more presenting, and the student does more mindful choosing, and it’s effective! It’s effective because the chooser, the one person with all the power, does the choosing, not the teacher or director.

So if you’re struggling with an addiction and you want to be provided the facts on how to change your preference for heavy use (which is the correct definition of an addiction), then The Freedom Model is a philosophy and a self-help model that will make sense to you. It’s wonderful for both the student and the presenter, in that, both get to benefit from a relationship that recognizes each role played: a presenter that provides life enhancing, factual information, and a student that gets to choose how and when to apply that information to their life. It’s a winning combination with timeless principles and a long history of success!

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