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The Stigma of Addiction: Pros and Cons

One of the things that has been a great concern to the population at large when it comes to addiction–definitely the media, definitely the progressive end–is how we think about the world of addiction and the people going through the suffering involved with addiction. It is this stigma that comes along with the word “addict” or “alcoholic.” 

There are a lot of campaigns I see online like End the Stigma and people talking about their sobriety and what they have been through. Generally, I do not know if I would say I am a fan of that…but I definitely like people to do what they feel is right, whatever makes you feel good about yourself.

What Actually Creates the Stigma of Addiction?

I think that there is a misunderstanding of where the stigma from addiction comes from. 

What I would say is that the stigma from addiction does not come from the word “addict.” The stigma comes from when your brother steals your car battery out of your car because he has an addiction problem, and it pisses you off. 

So, the reason why there is a stigma around addiction is because the behaviors that come along, not all the time, for all eternity, but a lot of the behaviors that come along with a lot of people that have addictions are horrid. You cannot trust people. They steal from you. They lie to you. 

You try to have an authentic relationship, but they are incapable of having an authentic relationship. It is a giant pain in the ass to have a relationship with somebody that has an active addiction. 

That is where the stigma comes from. It is not the word “addict.” You can change the words all you want, but the reality of it is until addiction is not a pain in the ass, there is going to be a stigma associated with it.

Can the “Addiction Stigma” Be Useful?

Now, on the other hand, I understand what people mean because you want people to be able to overcome their shame of having addiction by being able to say, “I have this problem,” so they can get better. 

I agree with that, but on the other hand, you do kind of want some stigma against addiction. 

I am raising children in this world, and is it the worst thing if my kids think that to be addicted is not that great? 

I want my children to know addiction is not that great. So, I think we have a lot of confusion about what we mean when we talk about stigma, and even what exactly our goals are when we say “Bring down the stigma.” 

Does Changing Terminology Make a Difference?

Clearly, the goals are to be able to help people get better. I mean, that is simple, but I do not think we are going to do that by playing with language. 

I will give my funny example of this, “housekeeper.” It is an interesting word. To keep the house, I guess, is what it means. It is somewhat old-fashioned. It is not as old as “maid.” I very rarely hear people say, “Oh, this is my maid.” They say, “This is my housekeeper.” Now, the word changed somewhere from the ’80s and ’90s to now from “maid” to “housekeeper.” Prior to that, there was another word people used to use, it was called “servant,” right? Or the “help.” 

So, these words changed, but the reality of other people cleaning up other people’s shit for their whole lives is still the same. Do you want to reduce the stigma of the word “housekeeper”? Well, I do not know. Maybe we should take a look at whether it is cool that we have a society where a certain class of people, often of a certain race, spend their entire lives serving another class of people often of another race, if we really want to deal with the problem.

Is Language Distancing Us from What’s Really Happening?

I feel the same way about addiction. Addiction is a human phenomenon. People have been addicts and alcoholics for as long as people have been. 

So, yes, we want to acknowledge this is not a normal human part of life. We also want to acknowledge when it becomes a destructive addiction, it is not a good thing, and it should be somewhat stigmatized. 

There is another reason why I would not be so quick to get rid of the terms “addict” or “alcoholic”. 

We are in a time now with trigger warnings and people being very afraid of offending people with words–which is strange because we are in the most offensive times, in my opinion, that one could live in, but that is the hypocrisy of the time. 

So, people have a hard time identifying as: “Hi, my name is Shy. I am an alcoholic.” or “Hi, my name is Shy. I am an addict.” 

Whatever that is, and they go, “I do not want to identify because I am more than just an addict.” Of course, you are more than just an addict. I think everybody knows that, but what is the importance of identifying?

Well, in my mind, people are distancing themselves through language from the reality of what is actually happening. 

When I was in active addiction, it was not a thing that I suffered from, meaning it actually was in the realm of the anti-logical, of the being of me, not the just doing of me. 

I will give an example of this. My cousin Jason has been playing baseball since he was 5 years old. People that play baseball, people that really love baseball, could spot a baseball player even when they are not playing baseball. They go, “You are a baseball player.” Then he will go, “You are someone who often plays baseball.” “No, you are actually a baseball player. I see the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you wear your hat, in the ‘being’ sense of it is like a baseball player.”

I would say if you have ever met somebody who is a really bad junkie, it has invaded more than just their activity. It has to do with their being. There is something kind of almost essential there where you go like, “Man, the way this person’s posture is and the way he kind of looks up at me It is like, he is kind of an archetypal junkie.” 

I am not saying that is great, and I realize that is probably somewhat offensive to go, “No, actually you are a junkie.” But I think it is that realization that you have, “Oh my God, I am a drug addict,” or at least “I am becoming a drug addict. I do not want to be that.” 

Not: “I do not want to do that anymore.” 

I do not want to BE that. I want to be someone else or something better.” 

So, I think when we get rid of those words, we are sort of white-washing the situation. 

I have sat with people with sleeve tattoos, out of the penitentiary, and in addiction programs, and I am like, “Hey, what are you here for? What is your drug of choice?” 

They go, “I am opiate-dependent.” 

I am like, “Opiate-dependent? Okay, doctor. What does that mean, you shoot heroin? You shoot dope? You do opium, right?” 

 I am not saying that to be offensive, I am saying it to get that person to connect to the reality of where they are at, and what they are becoming.

Being Comfortable with BEING

So, I think that… Because we live as a psychological society, we think about everything psychologically. We think about everything in kind of this far distance. We actually move away from the actuality of the being. 

Like, “No, I am an addict.”

And: “Guess what? Right now, I am not an addict. I have been sober 17 years. My ways of being who I am in the fibers, over time working on myself…I have not used for a long time.”

“I am no longer an addict. I can identify as I am an addict in recovery.” 

Or, “I am Shy. I am in recovery.” 

That is part of my being, too. I am a person in recovery. I am not doing recovery.

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Being and Acting with Authenticity: What’s the Difference?

There are two ways I look at authenticity. I look at general authenticity as a state of being. I want to be an authentic person when I wake up every day in my life as a ground and as a foundation. 

 

So, that is one journey of authenticity. 

 

Then there is, “How am I authentic in the interpersonal realm?” Meaning how am I truthful or expressing honestly where I am interpersonally?

 

And so, let us start with the second, because I think it is more complex. 

 

I do not walk around with a great concern for being authentic in many areas of my life. So for instance, when I am getting in the elevator to go to work–to go up to my office–and somebody else is in that elevator. I do not go, ‘Oh my God. Am I being authentic when I say hello? Do I mean it when I say have a great day?’ 

 

That is called decorum. Those are little social games that we play. It is not necessarily wise to always be authentic there. 

 

You do not have enough time to be that authentic at every relationship that you have. In that sense, I am not interested in being authentic in a lot of interactions in my life. 

 

But, with my wife, children, friends, coworkers, and, often with my clients–if I am an artist–I want to find some authenticity. 

 

As I am speaking here with you, I am hoping to be touching upon something authentic inside of myself while I am doing that. So in that sense, there are a couple of things that I need to be able to embody. 

 

One of them has to do with clarity. Do I know who I am and what is happening with me? Am I aware of that? Because if I am not aware, how can I be authentic? I know who I want to be or who I don’t want to be. 

 

I want to be compassionate, kind, caring, thoughtful, strong. I mean, I have these descriptors. The idea of the person I want to be that I am shooting for–and I aim towards that in my being, right? And am I authentically moving towards that ideal in my interpersonal interactions

 

That, for me, is probably one of the most important parts of being authentic. My friends and the people I want to be around have some ideal of authenticity that they are shooting for, and, obviously, that ideal also has its own particular, cultural, and individual dimensions to it. So, my authenticity, although we might share the idea of wanting to be compassionate, kind, strong, loving, etc., also might be: 

 

  • I like to play and have fun
  • I would like to talk shit
  • I like jokes 
  • I am very musical
  • I like to walk a certain way and that is my spirit

 

There is my spirit of authenticity

 

Then there is the platonic ideal of what I am shooting for in my interactions. The other category which we talked about first–which is my general desire to be an authentic person. And I really just think about that as feeling whole and complete. Intact and having a core self. 

 

Then, obviously, being that core self in the world.

 

 

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Keys to Living Authentically

One of the most challenging concepts for, I think, all of us–but obviously I am speaking in the area of recovery–is the notion of authenticity.

What does it mean to be authentic?

How can I be authentic?

 

My dad, he likes to say, ”You are authentic when you are dead.”F

So his definition of authentic has to do with congruency, meaning your insides and your outsides matching. And this is a little bit cynical.

So he says, ”That is only happening when you are a skeleton, because the skeleton is really authentic at being a skeleton.”

 

Authenticity

 

Obviously, that is not useful for those of us who are living. Authenticity is one of those concepts that also comes from a particular type of experience.

 

A related notion–to me–is that we talk about this today: the notion of “flow states”. It is where I am in a state of being where I am not in my head trying to decide how I am going to be. I am not in the future necessarily tripping on whatever anxious ideas I have. I am present. I am here in the moment. And I am being without effort. Being is flowing from me without effort. That is generally authenticity.

 

Another way in which we understand the concept of authenticity has to do within the interpersonal realm. Am I being authentic with somebody? Am I presenting myself to the best of my ability as I actually am? Am I authentic?

 

Which is related to the notion of being truthful. And I also like the notion of being truth, meaning am I living and being truth. Am I embodying that to the best of my ability?

 

Now, as humans–because we are living in time and space and in this cognitive realm where we are thinking and feeling and we have bodies and all this stuff–the reason why my dad says something like you are authentic when you are dead is most of the time we’re not operating from that authentic place. Neither can we just choose to be authentic in the moment, right?

 

Level of Authenticity

 

Some level of authenticity finds us in the journey at a particular moment. I mean that deep authenticity that we are talking about.

 

And so if, as a whole, you understand that you are not completely authentic at your work in progress, which is another phrase we could dissect. If you understand that I am a work in progress–that there are parts of me that are inauthentic but I can be authentic about that–that is a solid foundation to build on towards authenticity. So being authentic about your inauthenticity is a huge part of the journey of recovery and transformation. I think probably at the higher levels but in general.

 

 

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Boundaries, Assertiveness, and the Right to Say “NO”

 

In Recovery you need to have boundaries, assertiveness, and use your right to say “NO”

 

Usually, people don’t want to be in a relationship because they don’t want to be with that person anymore. The question that the party asks that is being broken up with is usually, Why? But they don’t mean it. Because nine times out of 10 there’s only one answer because I don’t want to be with you anymore. 

 

 

Human beings are naturally kind of narcissistic. 

 

So somebody breaks up with me, and I love them, and they don’t love me that I don’t understand. But I do understand because there are people who have loved me who I didn’t love in the same way. So I get that, right? We have all of these complicated interactions that require a lot of clarity, about what my rights are. And when I do that, it’s sort of like cleaning my room. 

 

 

People that can’t handle boundaries, are going to leave your life relatively quickly. 

 

You’re going to attract people that have good boundaries, and so, your whole life system changes real quickly when you begin to do that. It’s hard work and it’s uncomfortable.

I usually start back when people smoke before they vape I used to start with people with cigarettes because there’s a whole game of cigarettes and everybody smokes. And a lot of them don’t have any money. So ever got the cigarettes, it’s like, you know? if it’s not Newport’s. Now, they’ll come up to you and be like, “Oh man, can I bump a cigarette.” you know, and it’s like, eventually, like, Oh, my God, I’m giving away all my cigarettes, you know, what do I do? So you start making excuses. You know, so people come down and say, “Look, I get a cigarette.” and you say, “It was my last one.” And that’s the common responsible distributed rehab. 

 

 

If you don’t want to, you don’t want just say no, right? 

 

You say, “Oh, it’s my last one. I left the box in my room.” you know, I’m not going to go up to get it, right. One of the things that I have people practice with cigarettes and things like this are plenty of examples, is say no without qualification. And if they keep harassing you about it, ask them if, if you have round heel the right to say no. 

 

 

If you want to learn how to be a little more authentic and assertive, be honest with people.

 

If somebody wants something from you, and you don’t want to give it to them, and you can’t justify giving it to them, except for that you feel bad. That’s not a good reason to give somebody something most of the time, you know unless it’s saving their life or they’re hungry or something like this. 

 

 

So basically, it’s training people how to be authentic

 

I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to hang out with you. And training people how to say that. No, I’m not going to give you a cigarette. Why is your last one? No, it’s not my last one. So why aren’t you giving me a cigarette? Well, hang on before we go down this road of why I’m not giving you a cigarette. Can we agree, that I have the right to say no to you about it? If they say yes, that’s the end of the conversation, you say Oh, great, then we don’t need to discuss this other thing because you just get that I have the right to say no. If they say no, my direction will be just Walk away. If somebody doesn’t think you have the right to say no in a relationship, I would just walk away 

 

 

A great part of recovery is when you start drawing those boundaries and being respectfully assertive in your life, and seeing what it does for your life.

 

A little territorial about how much of yourself your going to give, you suddenly start to get clear about who you are when you stop and start then you begin to have a sense of self, then you begin to have a moral code you made to feel good about yourself and you attract people around kind of people you want to hang out with, that also know how to say yes or no and appropriate wise. Next thing you know you got a different life.

 

 

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The Role of People-Pleasing and Codependency in Addiction 

The Role of People-Pleasing and Codependency in Addiction 

 

When you’re working with people that are in early recovery, they suffer from the same kind of orientations and disorders that exist in the culture at large, just usually in a more extreme way. 

 

Over accommodation or people-pleasing

So one of the things that come across a lot is what we call over accommodation or people-pleasing, and it means sort of overextending the boundaries of myself in a way that causes me a deficit for the sake of the other, you know, psychologically call that kind of co-dependence, it’s on that spectrum. And it’s a really big deal.

 

 “A lot of people that you find coming into recovery have felt that they’ve been living for the world and they don’t really get theirs. And so there’s becomes using drug and alcohol.” 

 

Straightening out what your boundaries are 

You know, the metaphor for me is like, okay, I do everything I’m supposed to do. I mean, the world asks of me during the day and at night, I hide in the closet and drink vodka and smoke meth, you know, or whatever it is, that’s for me, the rest of its for the world because the world’s been demanding on me since I was born. You can think about that dynamic. And so one of the things that needs to happen in treatment is you have to straighten that out.  

 

You have to help people become more assertive. 

Assertive is a tricky word. I don’t mean asserting your will on others. But I mean, being clear about what your boundaries are, and being clear about how to draw those boundaries in a way that’s effective in your life. So if you’ve been people-pleasing for a long time, you have to get clear about how to assert boundaries. And you have to be clear about what your rights are and asserting those boundaries. So where people are confused, is they’re confused about where their rights stop and start in the interpersonal reactions. I’ll give interactions. 

 

When I was working in treatment

I remember I walked into a lobby, and there was a woman who I liked quite a bit, who was working there. And she said, “Hey, I sent you a Facebook friend request. Did you get it?” And I said, “Yeah, I got it. I saw that friend request.” And she said, “Well, are you going to friend me?” And I said, “No, I’m not going to accept your friend request.” And she gives me this look like you know, she’s offended. And she says, “Why not?” And I said, “Well, I don’t, you know, I don’t want to.” And she said, “Well, my roommate, who you know, she sent you a Facebook friend request, and you accepted that friend request.” And I said, “Yes, I did.” And what did she say? She said, “Why didn’t you accept my Facebook request?”

 

And you should know this a teaching from my mentor. When somebody says “why” to you and interpersonal reaction. They don’t really mean it. They don’t want to understand it. It’s really a complaint. Right? And so you go, is that a question or a complaint that “why”. I need to clarify that. But in that circumstance, I said, “Can I ask you a question?” She said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Do I have the right to decide who my Facebook friends are?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “Okay, good. We’re clear.” 

 

Let me ask you another question. “Were you ever married?” She said, “Yes”. I said “Did you have a wedding?” She said “Yes.” I said, “Did you invite some people to your wedding?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “Were there other people you didn’t invite?” “So the other people I didn’t invite?”. “And did you ever have somebody who didn’t invite to your wedding come up to you after the wedding?” And say, “Why didn’t you invite me to your wedding?” And she said, “In fact, I did.” And I said “What did that feel like?” She said, “It didn’t feel good.” I said, “Great. Now you understand this interaction. Right?”

 

And now I’m being a little bit you know, humorous or whatever. But it’s an example of how we get confused in our boundaries of what we’re obligated to do. Where do my obligations stop and start? If I’m in a relationship with somebody, and I don’t want to be with them anymore, which is usually why people break up out of relationships, right? 

 

Usually people don’t want to be in a relationship because they don’t want to be with that person anymore. 

The question that the party asks that is being broken up with is usually “why”, but they don’t mean it. Because nine times out of ten there’s only one answer, “Because I don’t want to be with you anymore.” Obviously, on the other end, that’s hard for you to understand because human beings are naturally kind of narcissistic. And so somebody breaks up with me and I love them and they don’t love me that I don’t understand. But I do understand because there are people who have loved me who I didn’t love in the same way.

 

 

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The Moral Aspects of Treatment

Remove the Moral Aspects of Addiction Treatment?

 

I talk a lot about the moral aspects of treatment and I am very resistant to removing morality from the conversation about addiction and recovery. I understand why people want to do that. It’s to bring down the stigma to address the confusion around the free will issues, for it to be covered by insurance, I agree with all that. I agree with the reasons. My hesitation is that there is a huge moral component to addiction and recovery, and let’s talk about what that looks like in recovery.

 

In recovery, the moments where we gain the most growth are the same moments where we gain the most growth in life.

 

One of the most pivotal moments of growth in my life, there are moments when I’m in a moral conflict and I’m not sure what to do. What is the right thing to do in this moment? If I’m in a marriage and I don’t know if this marriage is working and I have kids and I’m trying to figure out– I’m- some of them in this world conflict, what is the right thing for me to do? If I’m tempted to go into a career largely for money, but it’s not my passion, I’m in a moral conflict what is the right thing for me to do.

 

The most serious conflicts in our life are these moral conflicts with competing claims on each end.

 

The reason why I’m hesitant to remove that from the conversation is, it is the moral conflicts that induce inhuman beings the most important parts of ourselves. In order for me to wrestle with a moral conflict, I have to draw on all of these different parts of who I am and my personality. Right?

 

So a common conflict and treatment that happens is, my roommate snuck out and got drunk and I know. My roommate comes back and says, “Don’t tell anybody,” and suddenly there’s a couple of things happening.

 

One, I am asked to keep a secret. And in general, secrets, those kinds of secrets are not the healthiest things to keep inside of us.

 

Number two, I’m in this interesting quandary around loyalty to my friend, but on the other end I’m in an interesting quandary about being honest with the people that are helping me: counselors, therapists, the community at large and treatments. I have these competing claims. I also have me. I don’t want to be walking around with lies in myself. I don’t want my friend to get in trouble, which is a normal thing, but I don’t wanna be dishonest, and suddenly I’m in the midst of a moral conflict.

 

What somebody does in a predicament can be the make or break moment in somebody’s treatment experience.

 

When somebody can say, “Hey, you put me in a really bad position by asking me to keep your secret because you act it out and I’m not willing to co-sign that with you, and it wasn’t okay, and you need to go work this out because you’ve put me in a bad situation. You’ve put you in a bad situation. You’re an alcoholic who allegedly is here to get sober. I get that you don’t do this thing perfectly but you need to straighten this out,” right? That’s a high level response. That’s not the government’s fault, but imagine if somebody is used to cosigning everybody’s everything all the time in life, they’ve engaged in a program of recovery. They strike them, they built what we call a moral core, some center about what the right thing to do is. They’re challenged, they’re in the middle. They’re stuck there in the hallway. They don’t know whether to go left, whether to go right. Right? Suddenly it’s like, okay, and they have that conversation. You know what that does for me. That’s everything. That’s the turning point for people’s recovery.

 

The moment when you have the difficult conversation with your parents or your loved one that you’ve never had, we build that moral core.

 

Begin to put yourself in the equation. That’s where we get the most growth. Not only do we get that growth morally, we also get it psychologically. We are moral psychological beings that come hand-in-hand. Right? To be– if you meet somebody who’s evil, which is a moral term whether you believe in evil or not, but behaves in evil ways depending on their level of narcissism and the way in which they act out, you would have a difficult time saying, “Well, that person is mentally healthy. They’re just evil.” Right? In general, those things come together. Right?

 

So, you know, to use the extreme example. Adolf Hitler was not only evil. There’s such a thing exists. He was also mentally ill and a methamphetamine addict. Those things come together. So our moral behavior in our psychological wellness, they’re integrated with each other. We have to understand that. So we cannot remove morality from the equation of recovery addiction. We have to figure out how we incorporate that in the conversation about well-being, psychological well-being, spiritual well-being, etc.

 

 

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Do You Need to Dumb it Down in Treatment?

Do You Need to Dumb it Down in Treatment? 

 

One of the things that’s common in some therapeutic communities, when it comes to recovery is telling people to dump it down. And I understand what they mean, but I don’t like it. Because I like to think.

If you learn to reason well, which is not about coming to the conclusion that I had before I started reasoning, that you’re actually trying to figure out the truth of the situation. That has been an incredible asset.

 

 

Recovery is cognitive

 

In my recovery, in many ways, a lot of my recovery was cognitive. It was an intellectual endeavor. I was trying to reason whether or not this made sense to do. Now reason alone won’t do it. 

I have to have some foundation, some axiom there. And my axioms are to live is better than to die and to be healthy is better than to be sick. I don’t know why that is. I can’t tell you why that is. It’s a choice that I make. It’s the foundation for the rest of my reasoning. 

Once I start there I could build up reasons to get clean, that makes sense to me, reasons to do things I don’t want to do, reasons that I can transcend my ego desires. 

A part of what I do when I work with people, is I try to harness that.

 

If you ask questions, and you’d like to learn, instead of telling people like, “Hey, dump it down. Don’t think. Just show up.” 

 

You can actually harness that asset that people have and use it.

 

Now, the reason why people don’t like it is because people have the capacity to reason their way into what they want. But just means you’re not reasoning, good enough, well enough. It doesn’t mean don’t use your reason. It means use your reason better. Right? And that’s a huge part of recovery.

 

If you know, I need to make reasonable decisions to have a healthy life and if I don’t know how to think well, I can’t do it and there are techniques and ways to think well. 

 

They don’t teach you that in school. You memorize a lot of facts in order to figure out how am I supposed to be in my relationship with this person when I’m in a moral conflict between using drugs and my parents, you know, coming into town next weekend. How do I weigh those competing claims and come to a decision, you know. We don’t teach people how to do that, but we can. 

 

 

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“When I’m High, I Really Want to Be Sober”

Addiction hijacks- let’s call it semi-rational thought, as a way to justify ego desires. 

 

The simplest way to put this is to tell a story. 

 

I remember working with a client, and he was about a week sober, had gotten out of detox from opioids. He was a week sober and he was still in some obsession to use heroin. And he very earnestly approached me as a counselor at the time. That’s probably 10 years ago.

 

He said, “Can I talk to you for a little bit?” I said, “Sure.” We went back in my office, and he said, “I’m craving. I really want to use heroin, you know, will you help me?” 

I said, “Well, tell me what your plan is. How are you– let’s lay it out. How are you going to go use heroin?” 

He said, “Well, I go to Inglewood. I’m going to get some heroin.” I said, “Slow down. Do you have any money on you right now?” He said, “Yeah, I got 10 bucks.” “Well, first of all, give me that 10 bucks.” I took that 10 bucks. 

Then I said, “So, how are you going to get ahold of your dealer?” And he said, “I’m going to call him.” I said, “Do you have a cell phone?” He said, “No. You like picked up on my game, right?” And I said, “Okay, well now, if you don’t have a cell phone, how are you going to call dealer?” 

He said, “We go to the gas station, and I’m going to call him.” I said, “But you don’t have any money.” He said, “Well, panhandle and then I’ll call my drug dealer.” 

I said, “Okay. So, we’re going to walk to the gas station on the corner over there. You’re going to call your drug dealer. He’s going to come drop it off.”

He said, “No. My dealer doesn’t deliver. I got to go to Inglewood. I got to get there. So, I’m going to take the bus.” 

I said, “Okay. So, you’re going to take the bus to Inglewood and you’re going to meet your dealer. Where?” “There’s Burger King in Inglewood.” I said, “Okay. And then what?” “So, I’m going to use.” “So, where are young going to use?” 

He said, “I’m going to use in the Burger King bathroom.” I said, “With what?” He said, “With foil and a straw.” 

I said, “Okay. So, using in a Burger King bathroom.” I said, “And then what are you going to do.” He said, “I’m going to be high.” I said, “Okay. And then what?” And then he said, “I’m going to come home.” 

I said, “Yeah. You’re going to go back to your mom and dad’s?” And he said, “No. They kicked me out and I’m going to come back here.” “Okay, so you’re going to go use at the Burger King. You’re going to get high in the bathroom. You are going to catch the bus back after you’re high. You’re going to come back to this treatment program.” So, yeah. I said, “And then what are you going to do?”He said, “Then I’m going to get sober.”

 And I, of course, you know, I said, “But you’re sober now. You’re already there. You don’t have to do the loop de loop.” 

And he looked at me and he said, “Yeah, but when I’m high, I really want to be sober.” 

And I said, “Okay, so what I hear you saying is that in order for you to get and stay sober, you have to get high again.” He said, “Yeah.”

 

The ego self had basically taken the rational ability and created a little narrative and story, that makes semi sense.

 

But obviously, if you use that rationale in your life, you’d never get sober, right? Because every time I try to get sober, I have to get high and be motivated to get sober again. You just do that rinse and repeat, over and over. It’s actually what a lot of people do. 

 

The ego self can hijack the rationale in order to create justifications

 

It’s a reality. And with this particular person, he actually did it. He didn’t do it that night. But a couple of days later, he left and incredibly he was right. He got high at the Burger King. We ended up referring him to a program out of town. And he’s, I think, sober eight, nine years now. So, he happened to be right. But it’s not a good equation as to how to get clean. As an example of how the ego self can hijack the rationale in order to create justifications to continue to enable addiction.

 

 

 

 

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Mindfulness in Treatment: Getting to Know Yourself

Mindfulness in Treatment: Getting to Know Yourself 

 

The other area that’s important that’s come into the treatment field, when we’re looking at kind of how to recover and become whole and become healthy, is what I would say the Eastern practices and I’ll lose the categorize them as mindfulness and of yoga.

 

Mindfulness is around intention and attention. 

 

If I meet somebody who’s suffering from addiction, demoralized, who’s ashamed, has some traumas in their background, often they’ll be sitting in my office, and you can kind of tell the level of trauma by body posture, and eye contact, and their ability to stay connected and intentional and paying attention in the interpersonal relationship.

 

The first thing that I have to do with this person is I’ve got to figure out how to help them feel safe.

 

That’s the beginning.  You build on that a little at a time in relationship with them and groups and individual work in casual kind of covert, nurturing and caring in the hallway, this kind of thing.  

Then eventually, when somebody is kind of here and they’re awake, that can take two, three months to blossom and start to change. 

This is a great sign when their affect changes.

 

Then work on the directing people’s attention and having people being mindful of the things that they’re engaged in that’s right in front of them. 

 

That goes to a very subtle level, eye contact, of focus, of being aware of what’s happening in my face and my shoulders, my neck and my back and that’s an endless route, both recovery and growth and wellness.

You can move deeper and deeper into the mindfulness attention and intention, by knowing what’s happening inside of your mind. 

Not just of what’s happening outside of me, but what’s happening in the dark, creepy recesses of my unconscious mind. The whole thing about recovery to me is to help people to move deeper into a process and become deeper people.

 

 

Get addicted to getting to know myself and working on myself

 

Not just me, but working on myself in relationship to all the people that I care about, to understand myself in the context of my work. 

That’s the “Wow. How can I be a better husband? How can I be a better father? How can I have a meaningful role in my work? How can I make a difference?” 

That kind of thing and when you get a little bit obsessed and curious about that, then recovery is not that hard

Then it’s this endless journey of getting to understand yourself, getting to understand the world, and interfacing with your reality in a way that’s meaningful, where you wake up and you look forward to it. 

 

Those are like the deeper realms of recovery.

 

Getting to understand yourself schematically. How you process stress and all that stuff. And actually, it becomes fun. It doesn’t become this chore. Then it’s not about, you know, when can I leave treatment,. Then it’s about what are the other ways I can get to know myself and I can get to grow learn to change.

 

 

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The Spiritual Element of Recovery

 

The Spiritual Element of Recovery 

In many programs, that you would go to, to engage in recovery from addiction, there’s a spiritual element to that program. So we have a spiritual program or something like this. And the most common spiritual traditions that they drawn are these Eastern traditions, Buddhism, the yoga, the mindfulness, meditation, these kinds of things. And honestly, I don’t think one can put into words the benefits of those practices.

 

 

Spiritual Psychology

There’s another spiritual tradition that’s more Western that I think is underutilized, which is spiritual psychology and it has to do with how the psyche works and it has to do with virtues. It’s sort of this mix of Greek thought, and philosophy and psychology.

 

That element is crucial because one of the things we’re addressing when we’re looking at recovery is who we are in the moral sphere. Because when you’re in your addiction, you feel demoralized and often ashamed of how you behave.

 

One of the things to try and figure out is how do I get in contact with my, let’s call it authentic self? And how can I be a better person? Which is a huge antidote against shame. If I feel like I’m being a good person over a period of time consistently, I usually don’t feel that a shame might take a while to get there. But we have to understand what it means to be a good person and that’s challenging. It’s a really complex philosophical issue and something that spiritual psychology looks at a lot.

 

 

The Ego- Self

In the moral sphere, the way that I think about that, is to think about a person as having a lower self, or you could call it -my great teacher, Dr. Rabbi Mordecai Finley calls it the ego-self- which is the, it’s a perfectly healthy part of the self for quick, unimportant decisions.

 

It’s the part of me that’s driving the car. That’s in chit chat on the elevator, that’s all ego-self. “Oh, would you like me to push this floor for you? Let me open the door.” You know, etiquette and basic memorized, mechanized ways of responding in the world. Ego self is great at that. 

 

However, we needed to function. I don’t want to be looking at a doorknob thinking what do I do here? How do I go through this door? What does this mean, right? Ego-self is great with that kind of interaction that we have. 

 

 

The ego-self is terrible, a complex interpersonal reaction. 

And any deep relational interaction is complex. It’s going to be reactive, impulsive.So, one of the core parts of spiritual psychology is this question of being able to identify when I’m in my ego self and when that’s appropriate. And when I’m in my higher self.

The really tricky part about addiction is that you become confused about the difference between those two ways of thinking and you use inconsistent rational thought to rationalize and justify ego desires, if that makes sense. 

 

An ego thought does not stand up to scrutiny. 

If you ask your ego deep questions, it cannot give you deep answer. It doesn’t have deep answers. To figure out how to respond in accordance with the situation so that you can continue to build on the most important thing.

 

 

 

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