Occasionally we come across articles we like to share. Such is the case this week and we are pleased that our friend Dr. Neill Neill of Vancouver Island, British Columbia has granted us permission to pass along his excellent perspective on the importance of self-labeling.

Thrivers, Survivors and People in Recovery
Dr Neill Neill

We meet people everyday who have recovered or are in recovery from a major life changing event. Some deem themselves as survivors, and some just positively live their lives looking forward to the future (a thriver). What are the differences between a thriver, a survivor and a person “in recovery”?

A thriver is someone who grows vigorously, flourishes, or realizes goals despite circumstances. Thrivers are active agents in creating their futures. They look forward to an ever better future. They have a knowing that when setbacks come, they will land on their feet.

A “survivor,” in contrast, is someone whose identity incorporates a past wound such as sexual abuse, torture, cancer or some other horrible condition.

Renowned physicist and author of “A Brief History of Time”, Dr. Stephen Hawking, was again admitted to hospital April 21, 2009, seriously ill at age 67. Dr. Hawking has had ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease since age 21. Only 5% of people diagnosed with the disease live beyond the 10-year mark. Yet over the next 40+ years, he went on to become what many believe to be the world’s greatest living scientist. A true thriver!

I am close to a woman in her late 40s who has had cancer–skin cancer, deep muscle cancer, lymph node cancer, breast cancer, leukemia and bone cancer. She has had over 20 surgeries. To add to the horror of it, she is violently allergic to anesthesia.

Yet for this thriver, being a survivor is not part of her identity. She sees the cancer, endless operations, chemo, radiation and pain as just stuff she has had to put up with as she gets on with her life.

Others I have known have built their whole identities around trauma in the distant past. A woman in her 60s identified herself as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. When we discussed therapeutically removing “survivor” from her identity, she gasped, “Who would I be?” She discontinued therapy.

I reflected on how I had been abducted and sexually abused twice as a child. Of course, those incidents affected my life. Thirty years later, when I heard a man identify himself as a survivor, I realized that had never been part of my identity.

Being “in recovery” from alcohol is another form of being a survivor. Some years ago I knew a competent alcohol and drug counsellor who had herself quit drinking a couple of decades earlier. She lived a stable, normal life. I assumed she attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings simply to support her clients.

One day in a disagreement with someone, she shouted, “You’re messing with my recovery.” Her recovery? Wasn’t that 20 years ago? Then it sunk in that being “in recovery” had become part of her definition of herself as a person, part of her identity.

Back in my 30s, I had stopped drinking, because the huge amount of alcohol I was drinking was killing me. It took about three years to work through all the changes and recreate my life after alcohol. Now 30 years later, I can see that time as my recovery period, but being “in recovery” had never become a part of my identity.

I am thankful that right after I quit drinking, I had no one in my life telling me I had an incurable, progressive disease and would have to be in recovery for the rest of my life. It might have made my identity as a thriver harder to maintain.

I invite you to discard any identity based on a past wound. Be a thriver!

We invite you to read more of Dr. Neill’s writing at his website

Welcome to Dr. Neill Neill.

Working Together For You

We do something that no other program in the country does – we work together with you.

That’s right – here you get both of us.

Why? We like to say that while we’re each pretty good at what we do, together we are a lot better, and you deserve the best.

Additionally, especially when working with couples, it’s important to avoid triangulation. You know what this is if you’ve ever been to couples counseling. One couple plus one counselor and someone feels ganged up on.

So much for progress, whether it’s true or not.

Not with us. Ed had the alcohol abuse problems and Mary Ellen the family problems. No one need feel misunderstood or targeted. And if three of us are making the same point, well, chances are the fourth will listen – regardless of which of us is the fourth. Sometimes it’s even one of us.

Of course you are also free to work with one or the other of us. That’s a choice you can exercise too. Many times there are topics which clients feel more comfortable discussing one on one.

The important point is that the expertise, experience, and choices are all here. We spend almost as much time discussing your situation between session as we do in session.

You won’t get that kind of attention, consideration, and coordination anywhere else either.

Dr. Mary Ellen Barnes & Dr. Edward Wilson
Call Toll Free 888-541-6350
(In Los Angeles or From Alaska: 310-541-6350)

Tools We Use

In case you missed it last week, you’re welcome to download our free: Cost Benefit Analysis tool; Long Term Goal Planner; and Weekly Planner. All three are available at:

Resources For You!

All three work best when you refer to them frequently; update them often; and focus on positives.

We recently read that the 5% who have written goals and plans achieve them. The 95% who don’t write things out, don’t.

There simply isn’t any better alcohol information resource on the web than Alcohol Problems and Solutions – the State University of New York site available through our Alcoholism Research link.

Reviled by the AA/12-Steppers, DARE, and the Prohibitionists for daring to publicize the actual research, the site is always informative, even-handed, entertaining, and thoughtful. We recommend that you sign up for their newsletter which gives frequent updates on news you won’t get anywhere else (except from us since we read it for items to pass along to you).

We do answer the phones ourselves from 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time, Monday – Thursday, unless we are with clients, or from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

You can also email either of us to schedule an appointment or ask a question:

Mary Ellen at: DrBarnes@non12step.com

Ed at: DrWilson@non12step.com

Toll Free From the Lower 48 or Canada: 888-541-6350

In Los Angeles, or from Alaska: 310-541-6350