Recovery = Balance

     After 8+ recovered years, I’ve changed my tune a bit. I used to think that non-stop recovery was essential to lifelong health. Don’t get me wrong, in early sobriety, we have to work our asses off if we are to fully recover. Without question, we must go to any lengths to get better. That means that we never procrastinate, never ignore our conscience, and actively seek out opportunities to give back. That means that we take rigorous action. We write inventory, we read it, we pray, we meditate, we give service, we give to our families and we make our amends – all without hesitation. We put our spiritual growth above all else and we don’t stop until we are sane once again. And yes, we will always continue doing the work.

     But one thing I have learned is that there is a time for everything. Sometimes I focus more on my recovery, sometimes more on my family, sometimes more on my career. I’ve also learned that we can’t give every second of the day and every cell in our body to working with other addicts. Why? 1) because we’ll burn out due to self neglect and 2) because if that is our only source of fuel, then what happens when we stop? We won’t know how to be okay without helping people 24/7. What happens when we go off into the world to pursue the rest of our lives? What happens is that we suffer. We must learn to be okay whether we’re helping people or not.
The answer: Balance.
     When I look back over my path, I realize that the reason I am still strong, happy and successful is because I didn’t go off the deep end in any direction. After a few gung ho years, I pulled back a bit to focus on my family and my business. I also pulled back to take better care of myself. After working non-stop with knucklehead teenagers at the (total waste of taxpayer money) recovery school, I sensed myself burning out a bit. So when I left, I exercised more, I played tennis and golf, I went to the beach, and I nourished my creativity. I also got back to praying and meditating. Other times I gave more to my friends and family. And yet other times I stretched myself with work and starting a business.
     I now realize that it isn’t too healthy to go overboard with any of these things. We can and will burn out. And then what good are we to ourselves, to others, to recovery, and to God? That’s right, we are no good at all. The point of recovery is to always be okay, so that we can stay recovered throughout life and always be in the position to give back if need be. There is no point in burning out. All of the people you help rushing around will wonder if they were following the right guy when he goes nuts again, relapses and destroys everything he worked so hard to put back together.
     Don’t burn out. Listen to your gut. Give yourself what you need, when you need it. It’s okay to be selfish sometimes if we are doing so to stay fit for others and for God.

Spiritual Realm

     Is there a spiritual realm?

     Yes. There is without a doubt much more happening than we can see, hear, or touch.

     As I knelt down to pray one night up North, I was touched by something beyond comprehension. The scope of Its power is something I can’t even fathom. It cannot be described or measured. It is beyond man-made definitions, boundaries and conceptions. It is beautiful, mystical, and unexplainable. And in a single moment, it freed me from the lifelong chains of fear, anger, sadness, depression and emptiness.

     So why spoil something that we fragile, flawed, and fleeting humans can barely handle? We have to box everything, define everything, describe everything, own everything, and assert doctrines, codes and creeds as if they are absolute and come from this Power. Who are we to define and possess God? Who are we to fight over God?

     Forgive me, but it feels like some of our man-made conceptions of God seem rather silly, if not altogether ridiculous. Trying to ‘create’ God, if you will, with our limited brains and faculties appears to me to be a fruitless endeavor. How can we define something that we cannot truly understand or comprehend?

     Unfortunately, God is such a loaded word, which is why I had to look beyond words and symbols, buildings and rituals, traditions and doctrines. I had to look beyond human capacity. Not to exude jade towards organized, mass worship, but when you have a mind-bending spiritual experience, man-made anything goes out the window.

     So what is this great Power that people try endlessly to define? The truth is that I have absolutely no idea. Question: Would there be so much petty religious violence if we all admitted that we have no clue? Isn’t it more a show of humility to say ‘yes’ to getting underneath something but ‘no’ to defining and possessing It? Are we really so very special?

     The truth: I don’t know what God is. I don’t know His depths or limits, other than to assume that He is limitless and well beyond the boundaries of space and time. Therefore, why should I have the arrogance to think that I understand God? I don’t have a clue, and I’m pretty sure nobody else does either. Perhaps some of us have meditated long enough to have a slightly deeper glimpse into the spirit world, but those are men and women who have done more work on themselves than 99% of us could even conceive of.

    One thing I do believe now is that God can do anything God wants, whenever it wants to. My advice is to get on the right side of that trade, if you will.

The Face Of Therapy

     Sorry, but most psychotherapists aren’t going to tell addicts to just enlarge their spiritual life, take some right action, and then send them on their way. And, uh, have you ever met an active alcoholic or a drug addict? It sounds like this: blah blah blah blah-blah blah blah blah-blah-blah…

     Probably the very last thing an addict needs is to be talking incessantly about their addiction and depression, whether sober and miserable or active and manic. By digging into our past and finding even more problems, more reasons and more stuff to blame, it distracts us and ultimately delays our recovery. We don’t become empowered by blaming our problems on some trauma in our lives, thereby recusing ourselves of ownership and responsibility. We become empowered by moving on from the past, blaming nothing and no one, and getting our asses off the therapy couch and taking action – rigorous action.

     Therapists (especially psychiatrists) have little understanding about the nature of the illness of addiction, and thus have no ability or tools to help us, but at the same time think we need therapy. We can liken their industry to corporate advertising or marketing, where we’re told that we need some product to be okay and live a good life. They have us believe that there is some profound, deep-seated, complicated and devious reason for all of our problems.

     Why go there?

     Putting a spotlight on ourselves and our feelings and delicately placing our lives up on a pedestal is the last thing we need to get better. On the contrary, we need to STOP talking so much and get over ourselves. We need to get outside of ourselves. In fact, the solution is the opposite of self-focus, which defines psychotherapy. So much inward focus is selfish, and selfishness is our #1 problem. Selfishness is the one and only thing preventing us from getting better. And there is without a doubt way too much me, me, me involved in therapy.

     I’m curious, where are they getting their information, from the textbooks (i.e. status quo, secular propaganda) of prestigious colleges and universities? I learned more from a couple of junkies and the Big Book than I did in 10 years of psychotherapy, blabbing on and on about a bunch of nonsense. Just like the actions we take, the thoughts and feelings we have are 100% caused by us and therefore 100% our fault. We give birth to them and we own them. We choose how we respond to life events, even when someone else has wronged us.

     Growing up isn’t about looking backwards. It’s about shutting up, taking action, and looking forwards. Therapists should do one thing and one thing only: Tell us to stop coming. In the time it takes for an addict or alcoholic to figure out his entire psychological condition, he may very well overdose and die. Talking every week for an hour (sorry, I mean 55 minutes) isn’t going to do much good if you wind up dead on the floor. Needless to say, it’s our prerogative if we want to pay somebody to be our friend and listen to us. We all need to be heard. But hey, why not save the money and go get a couple of good friends?  

God, teach me that it’s not all about me. Teach me that action, not talking, is the solution…

Addiction 101

     “There is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic. Science may one day accomplish this, but it hasn’t done so yet.” -Alcoholics Anonymous, p.31

     Translation: Physically, we are screwed. Oh, and science still hasn’t done so… but even if it did someday, I would refuse such a procedure with a resolve as strong as gold. I think I’ll take the incredible and mystical life that I have now as opposed to muddling through as a mundane zombie, locked inside my small, narrow, 3-dimensional world.

     You can turn a non-addict into an addict, but there is no turning an addict back into a non-addict. We have an ‘allergy’ to drugs and alcohol that we will die with. It doesn’t matter if we are sober for half a century. Give us a drink and we will react physically as does any chronic alcoholic. It won’t be long until we are falling down drunk 24/7 and back in detox. This is what both addicts and families MUST understand. Our bodies NEVER recover. We will never drink normally once we break our bodies. And there is nothing on this earth that can change us back into a normal drinker. Nothing. No person, no pill, no book, not even a profound spiritual experience. Bottom line: We will die with the body of an addict.

     What we can do away with is the insanity that makes us drink despite knowing that we respond abnormally. We can recover from the mental obsession – thoughts to drink or use that do not respond to ration or reason. Knowing that we are abnormal and yet continuing to drink is surely a form of insanity. We somehow think that it won’t be the same this time around. We have a very special form of lunacy where we somehow forget who we are and how we react once the thought to drink saturates our minds. Our entire history of chaos and disaster just disappears from our consciousness. And even if our history is not lost on us, it certainly doesn’t have much weight when compared to our new idea to start drinking again, because this time we can control it! Like when I told myself that I didn’t really have a problem with OxyContin because I bought a few 80s and cut them up into little pieces for each day of the week to be controlled and moderate… um, until three o’clock in the morning when I had plucked them all from their hiding spaces, crushed ’em up and inhaled them like a pig.

     So an active addict is broken both physically and mentally. He will NEVER recover physically and thus can never drink or use again. If he does, he will have an allergic reaction and will break out into more and more. His only choice is lifelong abstinence. However, if we have an entire psychic change, then we will never have to worry about drinking or using ever again because any thought to do so will have ZERO power over us. We will always be free from drugs and alcohol so long as we maintain our spiritual health through right action. Small price to pay, if you ask me.

     To note, that doesn’t mean we need to beat ourselves up 24/7. On the contrary, we need to rid ourselves of guilt and self-pity, as that is selfish and prevents us from being useful to others. Achieving recovery and health is about balance – sometimes we help ourselves, sometimes we help others, sometimes we focus on our families, sometimes we focus on our jobs, and sometimes we just relax and go have some fun.

God, teach me what I can do and what I can’t do…

Take the Garbage Out

     I don’t know who coined the phrase, Take The Garbage Out, but this is exactly what we need to do when it comes to our minds and all of our petty, worldly problems. The late Suzuki Roshi said that if we practice zazen everyday, problems will cease to exist. It’d be nice if psychotherapists told us to just go meditate and save us the 20 years and the $200,000, but I suppose 8 years of student loans wouldn’t exactly be worthwhile if they didn’t keep us eating out of their hands.

     If I hadn’t meditated everyday after I got home from treatment, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have altered my bio-chemistry back to normal. I wouldn’t have conquered my fear or the mind-blowing depression. I wouldn’t have freed myself from the prison of psychological diagnoses such as major depression and bipolar disorder. I wouldn’t have freed myself from the brainwashing I got from doctors who told me that I would forever need to be medicated. 8 years of prayer, meditation, inventory and service and I am as free and successful as anybody I know… and 100% unmedicated.

     So do we addicts need to be medicated or do we simply need to meditate?

     One of the meditations I learned while up North, I still do today. Our friend called it Progressive Tensioning & Relaxation and Controlled Breathing.

Sit Comfortably.
Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
Gradually tense every muscle in your body from your toes to your head.
Gradually relax every muscle, again working from your toes to your head.
Take a few more deep breaths.
Breathe in through the nose to the count of 4.
Hold for the count of 4.
Breathe out through the mouth to the count of 4.
Hold for the count of 4.
Do this until you have forgotten that you are meditating, or at least until you have stopped thinking so much and calmed down a bit.

     Or you can just sit or stand, close your eyes, and follow your breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try not to move to scratch an itch or something. The itch will eventually go away if you have the discipline to ignore it. It’s just energy moving through your body – a good sign. And if you find it difficult to stop thinking, say ‘in, out, in, out…’ (in your mind, not out loud) as you breathe in and out.

God, teach me how to meditate…

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind