Considering Al-Anon?

I recommended an Al-Anon group to one of my clients who was struggling with codependency issues. After she left, I felt convicted by the fact that I never actually attended one of those groups myself. I wanted to go to an Al-anon group for a while because I too find myself often in a caretaker role where I give far more than I’m getting out of a relationship. 

So, I looked online and found a group pretty close to my home. I decided to take courage and attend their next meeting. It was not easy: I sat in the parking lot for a while, watching the people arrive and all along contemplating a quick escape. When I finally went in, my neck was hurting with tension. It only grew worse as the evening progressed. I was unfamiliar with the AA lingo and the flow of the meeting. Not knowing anybody and especially not knowing what was going to happen next was a pretty unsettling feeling.

I was however impressed by the large turn-out on a rainy and cold Tuesday evening. The room was packed with people of all genders, races, ages, and walks of life. The group had a strict format and ran for two hours. It was lead by one of the seasoned male members who welcomed everybody and asked a woman to read the 12 steps and traditions of AA. After this he introduced a guest speaker, also a long time Al-anon member, to share his story.

The speaker was an engaging guy who, after his inspiring talk, randomly picked people he knew to share something about their own lives. , During this time a book was passed around for us to write down our contact information and added notes. I just let the book pass by, feeling awkward.

The evening ended with everybody making a big circle around the room, holding hands and saying the Serenity Prayer together. I still felt awkward, but this was finally, something I was familiar with and could confidently participate in.

I left the group with a sense of relief and awe: Everyone who shared was so open, honest, and brave. I could see how this kind of a group may be an essential source of support and comfort to people who find themselves in a close relationship with someone who is addicted to alcohol or other substances.

I will definitely still recommend Al-anon or other AA groups to my clients as a source of community and support. However, after going through this experience myself, I will be quick to warn them against an awkward or even emotional first meeting, and advise them to show up armed with Kleenex and phrases such as “pass” and “I’m new.”

I would also add to that a famous AA tip: “You should commit to coming back at least four times before making up your mind about a group.”
I guess that is how long it takes to push through the awkward phase and start feeling at home. I also heard from a friend that these groups are not all the same and that one should keep looking if you still do not feel comfortable after attending a few times. It turns out; I had been fortunate to find a structured and well ran group the first time around. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, I want to encourage you to find a support group. Press through the awkward feelings of the first few meeting and keep going back. We all need accountability and support now and then, and these groups provide precisely that. You will find people there who understand what you are dealing with, in fact, I heard people say that they made lifelong friends at support groups.  

I strongly believe that families need this component to find healing in the face of addiction. I facilitated groups like this, but with a spiritual connection, for many years. These groups, Celebrate Recovery, may also be an option for you depending on your worldview.

I also recommend individual counseling for people who struggle with addiction (drugs, alcohol, porn, food, gambling, gaming, etc.) as well as their families who are affected by this. Please contact me if I can be of help to you or someone you love. I have experience working in this field, and I have deep compassion for people who find themselves trapped in an addiction. Also, take a look at other addiction resources here on my website.

Please stop trying to do this alone; it is simply too difficult, we need other humans to take our hands and lead us forward. 



A Different Slant on 12-Steps: Celebrate Recovery

Did you know that there is a Christian version of the 12 step programs?  I know them quite well because I used to facilitate groups for women with eating disorders at these groups.  However, I recently went to Celebrate Recovery that I am not familiar with because a friend, who is not a Christian, wanted to try out a group like this. I decided that this was a good opportunity for some research, so I purposely went to this meeting, where nobody knew me, with the intention of viewing it through the eyes of an outsider. I wanted to better relate to clients and friends, who struggle with addiction, and need to go to a group like this for the first time. 

From the minute we stepped foot in the door friendly people were greeting us and getting us signed up. Newcomers were escorted into the meeting hall and introduced to the leader of the newcomers’ group. They explained that the newcomers’ group was the only open group that welcomed new members all year round. The the other groups typically closed after the second meeting for the sake of unity and safety.

The meeting was quite long as it ran from 6-9 pm. It started with a buffet style dinner where people sat around tables and talked. Most people seemed to enjoy this time of fellowship. However, my friend and I felt awkward trying to eat and talk with people we just met. I never realized that this could be a scary part for many people coming for the first time.

The second part of the meeting could indeed be uncomfortable if you never attended church before. At this point, the tables were cleared, and the meeting turned into a full-blown worship service. There was a lively band, and people were now standing, singing, and lifting their hands, all of which could be very awkward for a visitor.

After the time of worship, a pastor came up to a small podium and read the 8 Recovery Principles of Celebrate Recovery, based on the Beatitudes, by Pastor Rick Warren. The 12 steps for addiction recovery ,and their Biblical comparisons, were printed on the brochure but not read. Next, the pastor gave a short sermon followed by testimony of a guy who had been delivered from porn addiction through his relationship with Jesus and attending Celebrate Recovery. Lots of clapping and hallelujahs ensued, and I wondered again, probably for the first time, how weird all this must feel to someone who is not familiar with the Charismatic way of doing things.

After the hour-long meeting, the pastor introduced the various leaders of groups as they lead their members to a classroom. We left with the newcomers’ group and was surprised at the number of people who came for the first time. Upon being asked about their experience of the evening so far, most of them expressed that it was “great and spirit-filled” which lead me to assume that they were mostly churchgoers. The group leader was warm and welcoming, and I could see that everybody enjoyed this part of just talking and being real, which caused me to relax as well.

On the way home my friend told me that she really enjoyed it, even though it was weird at first. Upon asking if she would like to attend again, she said that she was not sure.

I will always have a special place in my heart for Celebrate Recovery because I heard so many testimonies over the years of people who found help for various forms of addiction. I also personally experienced and observed the healing work that can occur inside these groups. However, I will be more careful in the future to recommend Celebrate Recovery to clients, at least not without first warning them that things may get a tad weird if they are not used to it.

That said, if you are a Christian, who struggle with an addiction, you may find these kind of meetings extremely helpful. Support and faith can be a powerful combination to aid people on their journey to sobriety and especially in preventing relapse. Don’t try to do it alone, it’s simply too difficult, and part of the healing lies in discovering that you are not the only one who struggles with this issue. You can find Celebrate Recovery groups online, they are most often hosted at churches, and many of them also offer classes on other topics such as parenting, marriage, healing from abuse, and many more. 

Contact me if you need individual counseling for addiction or other related issues such as depression or trauma. I have experience in this field and would be honored to help, but be sure to also add a support group like this to your individual counseling, it comes highly recommended for any form of addiction, and it is for the most part free. 

Does STOP court work?


I recently visited the Multnomah County Sanctions Treatment Opportunities Progress (STOP) Court, also known as Drug Court. 


These are problem-solving courts that provide a sentencing alternative of treatment combined with supervision for people who live with severe addiction and mental health disorders. They take a public health approach which combines judiciary, prosecution, defense bar, probation, law enforcement, mental health, social service, and treatment communities to help addicted offenders into long-term recovery

It was my first time at drug court, so the whole process was new to me. I guess I had in mind the very formal courts of South Africa, which I attended when I was a law student, or at the very least the solemn traffic court that I found myself in a time or two here in America. So, I was amazed at the hubbub going on at the S.T.O.P court: Four court clerks were typing away at their computers while talking to each other and taking attendance of the participants trailing into the courtroom. More people, who turned out to be lawyers, were walking around and whispering or talking to the participants.

After the judge entered, a correctional officer came in followed by a row of young women in prison clothes who were chained together in pairs. The judge surprised me by stepping off the bench and approaching the crowd. He handed a piece of paper to one of the participants, followed by a firm handshake while explaining enthusiastically that the particular person had been doing very well in the program. I was impressed with the judge’s attitude towards the participants in general; even the ones who did not meet their goals for the previous week were treated with respect.

He was firm with some of the young women in prison garb, seeing that they found themselves in that predicament because they did not show up for their weekly court appointment and they had to be “picked-up” by the police. He had them stay in jail a few days to sober up before they were brought before him. He seemed to know many of the participants well and even joked around with some of them which were indicative of his willingness to build a relationship with the participants.

There was one instance where he firmly informed a participant that he could no longer remain in the program because a year had passed and there had not been any signs of improvement or commitment to get out of his addiction. He genuinely sounded disappointed, and I thought that it must take a specific kind of judge, or human being for that matter, to do this job well.

I think this program is an excellent opportunity for people who are ready to change. Like everything else it does not work for everybody and some people who are not ready will probably not be able to stay in the program. However, I suspect that this program saves a lot of people, because it forces them to attend groups, see counselors, and be accountable to the judge and the judicial system, maybe for the first time in their lives.

How Does Drug Court Work?

  1. Not everybody is eligible for drug court. However, participants are identified early and promptly placed in the Drug Court program.
  2. Drug courts (S.T.O.P. courts) integrate the justice system with alcohol, drug, and other related treatment and rehabilitation services.
  3. Drug courts use a non-adversarial approach, striking a balance between public safety while protecting the rights of participants.
  4. Abstinence is required and monitored by frequent alcohol and drug testing.
  5. Participants need to show up in court regularly and comply with the program to stay out of prison
  6. Participants are periodically being monitored and evaluated to measure the achievement and effectiveness of the program.
  7. The combined effort of the court, public agencies, and community-based organizations enhance the effectiveness of the drug court program.  

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and finding yourself in a predicament with the law, drug court may be a viable option. We all need accountability and support now and then, and this program, though not perfect, provides precisely that.


I offer counseling for individuals and their loved ones who are effected by any form of addiction (drugs, alcohol, porn, food, gaming, etc). Please contact me if I can be of help to you or someone you love. I have experience working in this field and I have a deep compassion for people who find themselves trapped in an addiction.  

Is sugar addiction for real?


I decided a few weeks back to rid my body of excess sugar, white flour, and refined carbs.

I had walked this particular journey many times before because of an ongoing struggle with binge eating disorder which started in college. However, regardless of lots of experience with the process, starting is never easy. The weekend before kick-off Monday turned into a full-blown binge. I ate junk food all weekend long to “prepare” myself for the inevitable deprivation.


MONDAY: “I will beat this sugar addiction!”

Monday morning came, and I was prepared:  I packed a healthy lunch, without my regular sugary snacks, to get me through a full day of work. I underestimated the power of my cravings though because around 11:00 am I desperately wanted a Twix bar to go with my second cup of coffee. My old brain (the one who listens to no reason) kicked in, and I made a beeline for the vending machine, only to realize that it was out of order. I was ticked off and irritated.

However, a half hour later, as I was eating my healthy lunch, my “new” brain (aka prefrontal cortex) finally came online, and I was grateful that I didn’t eat the Twix bar after all. I honestly didn’t want that sugar in my body, because the added sugar tends to leave me lethargic and bloated, and I usually need another pick-me-up before I drive home. This was a painful reminder of how much stronger those old brain memories and urges are and how little control I have when it takes over.

Later that afternoon, as I was stuck in commute on my way home, it took everything I had not to stop and pick up something to eat. I felt tired, sad, angry, and extremely anxious. Every fast food restaurant was calling my name.

This struggle continued into the next two days: I felt depressed when I woke up, knowing that I wasn’t able to eat something sweet and gooey for breakfast. I was exhausted all day, every day, and I felt emotional and irritated. I could feel the withdrawal and could see how my whole body and mind was grieving sugar. It felt like life was not worth living without the sugar and days went by so slow. I had to drag myself toward sobriety one hour at a time, let alone one day at a time.

Day 4 and 5 was a little easier. My days were full, and I had no time to think about food or feel sorry for myself. Also, I prepared for these days by taking salads with me and putting food in the crockpot, so we had a hot dinner ready when I got home.

FRIDAY: “I will never be rid of my sugar addiction!”

Then came my first Friday and my resolve melted like butter in the hot sun. Friday is movie and pizza night at our home, and this always includes hefty helpings of brownies or ice cream. I felt so sorry for myself, and so the bargaining commenced: I was only going to eat one slice of pizza with salad. After the first bite of pizza the memories of previous Fridays kicked in, and my old brain took over, convincing me that I needed much more than just one slice of pizza to survive.

The sad part is that I am so familiar with this process, and I knew exactly what I was doing, but I didn’t care, I couldn’t hold off any longer. I knew the excess sugar and fat was bad for my health, my weight, and my emotional well-being. I also knew that by putting that stuff in my mouth I was essentially slowly killing myself, but it made no difference.  All I could think of was the taste of melted cheese and chocolate in my mouth. I wanted to eat it all, and no one was going to stop me.

I woke up with a sugar hangover (tired, heartburn, and slight headache) on Saturday and even though I felt deep remorse I was already thinking of pancakes drenched in syrup. I knew I was in trouble, I could not do it alone, I needed help. So I called a friend who had been through this with me before and who has the same struggle, and we decided to meet up for a walk. It turns out she has been stuck for a while too and was ready to stop as well. We talked about our struggle, our shame, our pain, and finally our hopes for sobriety. I felt such relief, and it affirmed again to me that two are indeed better than one during tough times. I knew from experience that an accountability partner is a crucial element of change for me.



We committed to walking every day until we at least got through 7 sober days. Every day, without fail, I didn’t want to walk and just wanted to quit, but then I texted my friend, and she validated my feelings and encouraged me not to give up (and some days I did that for her). I seriously only hanged on because I knew that I was not alone and someone else was counting on me. I was still very tempted to have sugar every day around 4 pm, so I made sure I had substitutes such as fruit or protein bars to get me through those vulnerable times. It worked and it stopped the cravings.

Slowly the sun started breaking through. After the first seven sober days, I started waking up with a feeling of relief and gratefulness instead of depression. I found myself thanking God for giving me another sober day. I was taking baby steps out of this jungle that I’ve been lost in for the past six months. I have now been sober from sugar for five weeks, and I feel joy creeping back into my life. When I’m stuck in addiction, I always forget how amazing it feels to be free.


In the past when I worked with clients at homeless shelters, I was acutely aware of my own struggle with food. If this was so hard for me, I could not even imagine how much more difficult it must be to withdraw from highly addictive substances such as alcohol or drugs. Getting sober is an extremely difficult endeavor. Each person needs to get to the end of themselves in their own time, and not even a court order can hurry this process along. However, when someone is finally ready for help, they need all the help they can get. I know that if I did not humble myself and called my friend, I may have remained stuck in the vicious cycle of; starting, failing, feeling ashamed, and starting over again.

I’m not exactly sure what usually brings me to a place of wanting to change. It seems to be something different every time, but it usually starts with an “act of surrender”  to God or a higher being as described in the first few steps of AA.

Bottom line: I need to be ready to change.

Are you ready to change or maybe want someone to help you get to that place? I have experience working with people who are addicted to a substance, and also those who have a dual diagnosis (another mental disorder that goes with the addiction).

Please contact me if this is you. It will be an honor to meet you and help you.
Heleen Woest, MA, NCC
Professional Counselor



Join our Group for Food Addiction Help in Beaverton, Oregon