Samantha Matern (AKA: Sam, Sami), has a Masters in Counseling Psychology, a Doctorate in Jurisprudence (law degree), and is registered and certified in Addictions Counseling. Samantha is also a Certified Addictions Educator and is currently teaching at Santa Barbara City College.

Professor Matern recently asked a class of her students if they would like their work published on our website, and social media channels.  Many volunteered. We would like to thank the students for their honesty, vulnerability, and dedication. While we were given permission, last names will not be printed as a right to their privacy.

The Grappling Alternative; By Adam

Learning how to live and succeed as an addict in recovery can seem overwhelming. After the initial 90 days, around the time the pink cloud is starting to wear off, reality sinks in. What does the addict/alcoholic do with their spare time? By this point, habits have been changed. The addict/alcoholic cannot hang out with old using buddies or frequent the same places they once drank and used in. There are many types of recovery support programs and finding the right one can be intimidating and confusing.

From my personal experience, using a combination of positive outlets has been successful. I believe that 12-step based groups can be comforting and enrich the quality of an addict/alcoholic’s life. The 12 steps have been a major key in my road to recovery. I am also very passionate about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a form of grappling, which incorporates Judo, wrestling, and joint locks. One of the many things that I appreciate with the Jiu Jitsu is the sense of community that comes with the practice of the art. Specifically, I have been very impressed with some of the people I have met who started to train Jiu Jitsu, and have been able to remain completely abstinent from drugs and alcohol.

While I can attest to the value and utility of the 12-step program, it does some shortcoming. In particular, some of the drawbacks to the 12-step program are that an addict/alcoholic must concede to a higher power. In addition, when it comes to drug and alcohol use, the addict/alcoholic must admit that they are powerless. To remedy this situation, one must turn their lives over to a power greater than themselves. One of the positive aspects of a 12-step program is an inclusive community, everyone is welcome no matter their age, gender, sexual orientation, race or religion. As a member of a 12-step group ascends through the steps, they will clean up the wreckage of their past and understand a new freedom. Another fundamental part of a 12-step program is that the old timers must help the newcomers to sustain their own sobriety.

Similar to a 12-step program, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu everyone is welcome. Once a person starts training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, they will form a very powerful communal connection with their training partners. Although there is system of belt rankings (based on experience and acquisition of skill), the brazilian Jiu Jitsu school, or academy, is an almost egalitarian gathering place. The raw honesty of Jiu Jitsu practice strips away much of the contrived hierarchal pretense found so commonly in other forms of social interaction. The sense of community leads to a level of involvement with your training partners, where people will be held accountable for showing up to train and questioned if they stop coming to the academy. Another direct correlation between Jiu Jitsu and a 12-step program is that Jiu Jitsu classes are taught by the more experienced members. In most gyms, black belts teach the techniques to the class and then help any student who might be struggling with understanding the technique. This is similar to an old timer helps a newcomer through the steps. Another benefit from training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a positive increase in self esteem. As a person becomes more involved with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, they will improve their overall health and in turn, most people choose to eat a clean diet to ensure the most nutrients for their body. Lastly, as a person becomes better at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, they are rewarded with a higher rank in the form of colored belts starting at white, then blue, purple, brown, and finally black. This provides a demonstrable symbol of commitment and achievement. One dissimilarity I do see between a 12-step program and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is that in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, there is no work on cleaning up the wreckage of one’s past and making amends to all who have been harmed. Although, the reflective practitioner of Jiu Jitsu will look back at their training and think about the way in which they could improve in the future.

I have met many people through training who say Jiu Jitsu saved their life. Two men that come to mind were both former gang members as well as heroin addicts. One of these men has been clean and sober for 15 years now and is no longer an active gang member. In addition, he has achieved the rank of black belt. The second man has been sober for 5 years. He is excelling through the belt system and is no longer an active gang member. Both of these men have respectable jobs and are positive members of society. This is very encouraging for their peers and the younger generation. In conclusion, I want to make it clear that I am not saying that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is better than a 12-step program. For me, a combination of both has been extremely beneficial. I do believe that the similarities between the two might be some indication as to why people can remain abstinent and better their lives through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.