Chicagoan Anthony Radulovich had already decided he was abstaining from crystal meth, but he wasn't sure that he'd be able to follow through with the commitment if someone put the substance in front of him.
He had tried various addiction recovery support groups, but struggled to find one that worked for him. But that changed in 2016, when Radulovich found a weekly SMART ( Self-Management and Recovery Training ) Recovery group for gay men at the Center on Halsted.
"I don't know that I'd be this far along in my recovery without the group," Radulovich said. "Being able to discuss my recovery with other people, who had different sorts of substances they were abstaining from, was helpful. Learning what other people did to abstain made a big difference."
Radulovich liked SMART because the program has a science-based approach to the recovery process. While 12-step based recovery programs often involve surrendering to a higher power, SMART has no religious slant and instead uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy methods.
SMART encourages setting individualized goals to treat various types of addictions, ranging from substance abuse to gambling. Meetings open with member introductions before giving each attendee a chance to discuss their recovery. Cross-talk is encouraged so participants can comment and share ideas. For the rest of the meeting, the facilitator will either lead discussion or go over one of SMART's worksheets or tools.
"The cross-talk is important to me because it allows people to lend ideas to one another, as opposed to other support groups where each person gives a sort of monologue with questions reserved for after the fact," Radulovich said.
After about a year of attending the group, Radulovich took SMART's training to become a group facilitator, he said. He now alternates leading the meeting with two other volunteers, including Doug Schacke.
Schacke started attending the meeting in July 2016 and became a facilitator about five months later, he said.
"I had two pretty successful careers, but my alcoholism had taken over so much of my life that before I went to detox, I hadn't been working for a year," Schacke said. "Through getting sober and becoming a facilitator, I realized I was bored with my career anyway, and I had to do something meaningful that I enjoyed in order to recover."
Shacke is now enrolled in Loyola University Chicago's social work program to receive his second master's degree. He interns at an addiction treatment center and plans to become a Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor.
"SMART Recovery gave me the chance to experiment in this field as a professional, but also gave me the sobriety I needed to be a functioning person in the world," he said.
Of the nearly two dozen SMART meetings across Chicago, Radulovich and Schacke's is the only one specifically for gay men.
Radulovich said having a group that's exclusively for gay men creates a space where people can discuss experiences they might not feel comfortable sharing around straight people.
"For many people, their addiction is somehow linked to being gay," Radulovich said. "They may reluctant to open up or go into as much detail in a large group that's more diverse, as opposed to a group of other gay men who are more empathetic to those feelings."
For Schacke, having an addiction recovery group that's only for gay men helps address the prevalence of substance abuse within the gay community.
According to a 2012 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, reliable information on the LGBTQ population is not available to determine prevalence rates of substance abuse by LGBTQ people. However, studies suggest LGBTQ people are more likely to use drugs and alcohol than the general population.
"If you're in either a coed environment or an environment with straight people, it can be harder talk about the intersection of substance use, addiction and sexuality," Shacke said. "This meeting in particular is a safe space for gay men to talk about those intersections."
The gay men's SMART Recovery meeting is held every Monday at 7 p.m. at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted, Room 205. People can join the group by simply showing up, Radulovich said.
To learn more about SMART Recovery or search for other meetings in the Chicago area, visit https://www.smartrecovery.org/.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report can be viewed at store.samhsa.gov/system/files/sma12-4104.pdf .