SMART Recovery’s Veterans & First Responders Meetings: Here Comes the SMARToon!

January 21, 2022
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Holly Paulsen says the word SMARToon was coined by a participant in the specialized veterans and first responders (VFR) meetings created a little more than a year ago. It combines SMART and platoon to indicate a large group of individuals working together toward a common goal. And that is exactly what VFR is (with the name including military overtones): a group of individuals using SMART’s practical tools and mutual support to address their addictions–together.  

Paulsen is a participant and facilitator in the meetings, and a US Army veteran who served for eight years. She says she started drinking in earnest at age 17 when a local bar near her duty station expressed the belief that “if you’re old enough to serve, you’re old enough to be served.” Real trouble began a few years later when her drinking became a way to self-medicate her untreated PTSD.

Although Paulsen jokes that because her sober date is April 1, 2013, she might advise others that making a major life change on April Fool’s Day is tricky because people might not believe you. But when it comes to helping herself and others through VFR meetings, she is altogether serious. Paulsen loves the meetings, believes in the cause, and, along with the other members of the SMARToon, thinks they’re only getting started when it comes to making a positive impact in the field of recovery.

Paulsen recently answered a few questions about her experience and thoughts about what she is doing.

How long have you been attending VFR meetings?

I’ve attended the VFR meetings since the very first one on November 10, 2020. I was early to a [different] 7:30 EST meeting and happened to see a VFR meeting that I hadn’t noticed before. I figured I’d give it a try—it just so happened to be the very first VFR meeting!

Did you have any concerns before you got started?

Honestly, the thought of having a room full of individuals who understood my unique experiences excited me more than anything. Like any group, I was reluctant to share at first, but the group quickly became my home and the participants, my family.

How have they grown since you’ve been involved?

What started out as one small discussion meeting has grown into three weekly discussion meetings—one of them women only—and a practical tool-time meeting as well. We have aspirations and are making preparations to expand our frequency and reach even further.

What is the most rewarding thing you get out of them?

As our meetings have grown, the number of volunteers that have been spawned from those meetings has skyrocketed. That’s important for SMART’s overall growth. When a member begins to express interest in helping with our meetings, we are always quick to reach out and support them in any way we can through their training. We work better when we work together and we thrive when our members thrive.

What kind of challenges have there been?

I think the biggest challenge for our participants—me included—is asking for and accepting help. Our participants have dedicated their lives to serving others. It’s second nature for us. Being the one in need of support is unfamiliar territory and can be a struggle.

What is an example that illustrates how valuable someone might find the meetings?

Early in the VFR meetings, I began to repeat a quote that I found significant. As a veteran who’s lost countless of my brothers, sisters, and others to suicide, I found the need to reach out to those who may be in crisis and looking for even the tiniest glimmer of hope to hang onto. So, I began stating, “If you’re looking for a sign not to do it, this is it,” on the off chance someone was truly looking for any sign not to end their life. The first time someone reached out to tell us that they had been looking for a sign that night and the words had stopped them, it was a lot to process. To know that someone is still with us today is overwhelming in the best possible way. 

What do you hope will happen with the meetings?

In a perfect world, we would love to see a VFR meeting of some kind seven days a week. There is no doubt in my mind that the “SMARToon” will accomplish this. The men, women, and others in our meetings are the most selfless and dedicated individuals I have ever had the honor of meeting. I don’t foresee us stopping there, either. SMART Recovery is global. I see no reason the “SMARToon” won’t eventually be as well. It’s not a dream for us. It’s an eventuality!

With the momentum already established and the people in place to keep it moving, it’s a safe bet that Paulsen and her SMARToon will get it done. Double-time.


SMART Recovery welcomes comments on our blog posts—we enjoy hearing from you! In the interest of maintaining a respectful and safe community atmosphere, we ask that you adhere to the following guidelines when making or responding to others’ comments, regardless of your point of view. Thank you.

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If you are interested in addiction recovery support, we encourage you to visit the SMART Recovery website.


If you or someone you love is in great distress and considering self-harm, please call 911 for immediate help, or reach out to The National Suicide Prevention Hotline @800-273-8255,

We look forward to you joining the conversation!

*SMART Recovery reserves the right to not publish comments we consider outside our guidelines.*

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