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Recovery group promotes 12-step alternatives

Photo by Jim Massara
“If you were an addict 10 or 15 years ago and you’re clean now, I say you’re no longer an addict,” says Norm Ringgold of Real Help! Network.

Photo by Jim Massara “If you were an addict 10 or 15 years ago and you’re clean now, I say you’re no longer an addict,” says Norm Ringgold of Real Help! Network.

JONESBORO — The people who run Clayton County’s Real Help! Network don’t exactly counsel addicts, but they do want to be an information clearinghouse for people with monkeys on their backs.

It’s recovery with a subtle difference, though: Real Help! does not promote 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous as the sole solution to addiction.

“I think 12-step is probably the best beginning step for recovery that there is,” says Real Help! executive director Darrell Campbell. “But it’s not an end in and of itself.”

Campbell, a former restaurateur from Jonesboro who once owned Trinity Family Cafe as well as two metro Buffalo Southwest Cafe franchises, founded Real Help! as a non-profit in 2008 to provide an alternative to addicts who could find only 12-step based help.

Campbell says that most rehab facilities are based on the model pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous, which may work for some but doesn’t work for many.

“If you went into one recovery program and it wasn’t successful, you’d come out and go to another program,” Campbell says. “Basically you went into the same program, over and over and over again.”

Campbell is supported by a small cadre of volunteers, mostly without professional counseling credentials but some with more practical experience than others.

Norm Ringgold of Conley carries the most professional gravitas. Experienced in motivational training and with a doctorate from now-defunct Southeastern University in Washington, D.C., Ringgold spent five years as a project manager for the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.

When Ringgold met Campbell at a community function in Riverdale — and found him distributing literature he had had a hand in creating — he knew he’d found a kindred spirit.

“Twelve-step programs are good. They help some people. But I have a real problem with standing in a group of people and saying ‘I’m Norman and I’m an addict’,” Ringgold says. “If you were an addict 10 or 15 years ago and you’re clean now, I say you’re no longer an addict. When you label yourself subconsciously, you start to become whatever you label yourself.”

Campbell’s motivation for creating Real Help! is deeply personal. Although he says he’s active with 12-step groups himself — and is currently clean, thank you — his most painful addiction experience came when his eldest son, hooked and depressed, committed suicide 11 years ago.

“As much as we tried to help him, we couldn’t, and he took his life,” Campbell says. “It was the most devastating thing that ever happened to me.”

Campbell says his son’s death led him to learn more about what creates an addiction and how to beat it — and he was surprised by the lack of information about anything other than the 12 steps.

“I was appalled at what I found, because I knew people who had defeated this thing without 12-step programs,” Campbell says.

Campbell and Ringgold, along with others, now provide information on recovery alternatives via a website — www.RecoveryEducation.org — as well as meetings at Tara Baptist Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, both in Jonesboro. Real Help! is also sponsoring a Southside Sobriety Awards Dinner in Lovejoy on Sept. 29 — which would seem to blow the 12-step tenet of anonymity completely out of the water.

“It’s just a different perspective on recovery,” Campbell says. And those meetings? You don’t even have to stand up and identify yourself if you don’t want to.