I’ve been relatively addicted to other things, like relationships, a Grande dark pour over in a Venti cup with an add shot and Sons of Anarchy. But it’s all relative. Sometimes I feel super sober, other times I feel like I’m in a waking dream. Lucidity isn’t a constant. But the path is. Most often if you go to 12-Step, and I realize that many people do not go to 12-Step, but you’ll hear people with long term sobriety say that they just keep doing the same things that they did when they first got sober. My understanding is a little different. My sponsor told me that since my disease is progressive, my recovery needs to be progressive. For this reason I’ve engaged myself in many esoteric as well as exoteric practices that contribute to my recovery. I wrote about a few of these in the 12-Step Buddhist and Perfect Practice. I’m finishing up another book, the Power of Vow, which should be out before Christmas. In addition to Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, I’ve studied shamanism, Reiki, Tibetan healing practices, yoga and other topics as they relate to my recovery. I drink green smoothies, take vitamin supplements, go to group exercise classes, teach yoga, go to various types of spiritual teachings, our own 12-Step Buddhist group and traditional 12-Step as well as psychotherapy. My recovery is progressive. Yours can be too – and the paths don’t have to look the same.
It’s a fascinating journey. I keep going to meetings on a regular basis. But I don’t put all of my eggs in that sober basket any more. It’s too disappointing and lonely. My peers become fewer as the years go by. A lot of people that I love don’t stay sober. Of those that do, many become rigid about 12-Step.
I think we can practice the fundamentals without becoming fundamentalist.
We addicts have a disease. I found a lot of research to support the brain disease model when I wrote the 12-Step Buddhist. It seems to be a given in the medical community at this point. There are also complicated factors in the environment and personality and DNA which contribute to the development and progression of addiction. I’d add that in my experience, the disease of addiction is permanent. I relapsed with 10 years sober, thinking it was impermanent. That was a mistake – the disease had indeed progressed. My mission is to tell that story and help people find solutions which work for them. In my opinion and over 28 years of experience, it’s a mistake to tell addicts or for us to tell ourselves that we’re “former” or “recovered.” There are levels of the disease and variations in it’s manifestation which can cloud this issue. But once it passes a certain point, the choices seem to be limited to recovery or death, jails, institutions. In my not so humble opinion.
Knowing that we have a life threatening illness can make us a little paranoid. Our reaction may be to develop strict rules for ourselves and others. That makes sense in the early years of sobriety. I’ve found that in 12-Step, not many people evolve out of that stage. Your experience may vary but I don’t know very many recovering addicts that are truly happy, absolutely joyous or totally free. But I have met such people in spiritual communities. I try to follow these teachings. In applying them to my recovery, I’ve found that others are interested as well. People all over the world are working on adding new things to their recovery that contribute to a middle and perhaps even a late stage of recovery happiness.
In talking and writing about this, sometimes the sober tribe has lashed out. When we live from fear that’s what happens. Those who are different from the agglomeration can become the enemy. I try not to let it bother me. There are in fact more people that don’t do 12-Step than there are who do. The fresh, open minds of people in early recovery are able to think outside the box a little. It’s my hope that in 20-30 years, recovery will look a little more fluid and the rooms will be filled with people who have not only “time” but “quality time” in all areas of their lives. When I first got sober in the 80′s, people in meetings used to mock those of us who went to treatment. They were known to tell people that took psychiatric medications that they were relapsing. Some would try to make us feel silly for using therapists, which they called paid sponsors. People who tried to address issues such as codependency or being an adult child of an alcoholic were told to go somewhere else. The same thing happened in the 50′s when Narcotics Anonymous started in response to addicts being told not to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. Many of these issues have worked themselves out over time.
Almost everyone I know in sobriety has been to treatment, on anti-depressants, knows they’re at least a little codependent and has used drugs in one form or another. There’s still rigidity and a bit of in-group/out-group mentality in 12-Step recovery. But in most places we can all sit together without too much alienation. My point is that I’ve seen these sober morays change over nearly three decades. That gives me hope that in the next years, people will feel better about entering recovery in a manner that is comprehensive, multifaceted and open. They won’t be afraid of the “God” concept or feel that they’re too different to be a part of 12-Step because they’re not traditional Christians. I know that others are working on this too. I’m not sure though, that developing a Buddhist only approach or any other approach that makes us different is all that useful in the long run. It’s important to take advantage of the existing worldwide 12-Step community. There we have a chance to meet each other on what is supposed to be the road to happy destiny.
May your faith in whatever higher power you have or don’t have be of benefit to you on the path, if you choose to join us.