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Facing Challenges And Building Resilience

There is a German term. It is called Zeitgeist. It means the spirit of the time. And in this time, one word that I started to hear more in the last three to five years that is pointing to an important reality is the notion of resilience and being resilient.

 

And I think the reason why that idea has become more popular as of late, at least in modern Western Society–Los Angeles in my case–is that the basic needs and the amount of toughness necessary for my very existence has gone down quite a bit.

Has Society Made Us Weak? 

And so we live in these boxes and we drive these cars with airbags and everything is kind of safe. We live actually in a very protected life and so we have not had to be as tough or as resilient. But in terms of mental health, and difficulties, and interpersonal relationships–people have struggled as much or more than they ever did. 

 

And so that term has come back because we have noticed that people–I am going to use a strong word–are weak. They have a hard time handling difficulties in their interpersonal, work, or life skills in general. 

 

Not physical difficulties and demands necessarily–but the kind of demands that we deal with every day. 

 

And so because of that, people say, “Well, you know, we have got to learn how to be more resilient. We have to teach our kids how to be more resilient.”

What is Resilience?  

And the notion of resilience relates to fortitude, a certain amount of strength. Resilience relates to the idea of being able to bounce back from something. I get impacted but I can bounce back and still be strong. 

 

The notion of resilience has to do with consolidation on an emotional level. That something might impact me. And emotionally, you know, I kind of go to pieces for a minute, but I can bring all those pieces back together…and bring them forth in the next moment. 

 

And for me, I am definitely one of those people that have concern about the direction that our society is going in. I have a bunch of children. I work with a lot of young people. I try to teach them to be resilient, to be tough, to be able to deal with the things that life throws at them.

How to Become More Resilient

The question of how to be more resilient is a very simple…with a very simple answer. You have to go through difficulties. You have to teach people that it is okay to go through difficulties and that that is a natural and important part of life. That is how you become resilient.

 

If the difficulties are above your level, then you need to go through those difficulties with support. But ideally, just enough support so that you have to put in your own effort. Not so much support that you are being enabled through every difficulty. 

 

So that is what I do with my children. You know, I want them to go through particular challenges that are just at their level. Not that I cannot, you know, figure that out perfectly, but I am gauging what is just the level of challenge where they have to exert effort that is maybe a little more than they think they can. 

 

Right? Because I want them to be able to have that sense of ‘I can go through difficult times, or difficult things, or challenges and it can be really hard and I could think I am not going to make it… but I can’. 

 

Because that is the experience of resilience. Wow. I cannot believe I got through that. You know. Wow. Now, look at me, look at my ability to do that.

 

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Learning to Feel Your Thoughts and Emotions

In general, one of the things that happen in modern times–as people become a lot more conscious of their physicality, nutrition, exercise, and of the importance in taking care of it–is being conscious of your body in the healing process. 

 

So with that, therapeutically, one of the things that have become very popular is “somatic work”. It is the work in the body. 

 

How that works: You and I are doing a therapy session or counseling session. I can tell based on your breathing, how you are holding your shoulders, how you are holding your jaw, and your speech patterns that you are upset or frustrated. 

 

But maybe I go, “Hey, you know, you are a little upset or frustrated.” 

 

I am trying to process with you emotionally what is going on.

 

And you say, “You know, I am a little frustrated.” 

So How Does Somebody Process Frustration?

Does that mean you just sort of allow somebody to say that they are frustrated sometimes? 

 

Sometimes somebody just identifying that they are frustrated helps them go:

 

“Oh, that is what is going on. Do I want to be frustrated? Okay, let me kind of calm myself down.”

 

Or: “Why am I frustrated? Oh, you know, I let this thing slide, blah-blah-blah.”

 

There is a way to process that frustration cognitively by identification. But there is also a way to process that frustration somatically. How frustration shows up sensationally in the body. 

 

Meaning… 

 

“Uh-oh, seems like you are frustrated.” 

 

“Yeah.” 

 

I would ask you a question like, “Where?”

 

If you have never done somatic work, you will go, “What do you mean?” 

 

“Well, where in your body do you feel that tension, frustration, or whatever it is that you are feeling?” 

 

“Oh, you know, actually in the back of my shoulders right here. I feel really tight.”

 

“Okay. I want you to close your eyes, and lean into that tightness. I want you to describe a little bit of it and tell me what is happening with it.”

 

And really what you are trying to do is connect your thinking mind to your emotions and your body. 

 

If you think about mind, body and spirit, you think about the connection of all three of those. 

 

And so, “Oh, I see that sensation. And then what I want to do is…I want to metabolize that emotion.”

Allow Yourself to Feel

But what happens is, you stop yourself from allowing to be frustrated. You know, the whole point of feelings is to feel them. 

 

What fucks us all up is that we have a feeling and we want to think them away…or we want to figure them out. 

 

But the whole thing about feelings is to experience them. And how do we experience them?

 

One way to experience them is somatically…to actually allow yourself to focus your consciousness on the points of your body that are responding to that emotional need. And then allow it to kind of work its way through you. See what comes up from there. 

 

That is somatic work. It is really popular right now because I think everybody is a little suspicious of our minds these days. And so we are sort of looking for something to trust. And maybe it is our body.

 

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What are Guru’s Actually Selling?

I was speaking in a previous video about the relationship between alienation and marketing. There is actually a brilliant sociologist, psychologist–a member of the hated Frankfurt group–Erich Fromm. And I really suggest you read his books. He was quite popular in the ’60s and ’70s. Then postmodernism hit…He kind of died out in terms of popularity.

 

But one of the things he noticed was in the 1960s people began to sell Eastern mysticism and spirituality. It became a thing. Fromm researched the difference between authentic teachings from the East–the Buddhist and Hindu teachings–and people marketing bullshit. 

Commercializing Eastern Traditions: Paying for Inspiration?

The problem he spotted back in the ’60s was the influx of translations of the books coming from the Eastern tradition. I do not think he could possibly imagine the reality that we live in now. 

 

If I go through my Facebook feed, the amount of people trying to sell me inspiration and motivation… it is absolutely unbelievable. 

 

The amount of people out there selling to you…Give me some money, I will help you find motivation. What a very interesting thing to sell. It’s a very important thing. How do I find energy and motivation or dynamo so that I can live a good life? That’s super important. But I did not think it was something that you could sell to somebody else.

 

Somebody could inspire me. I could be walking down the street or in a class and have a teacher, my wife, or my kid…and there could be a moment where somebody inspires me. It could be the person working at Trader Joe’s. I am often impressed by the people working at Trader Joe’s. Like wow, you guys are really in here killing it. I find that inspiring. 

 

But I did not think that they would turn around and say, “Hey, I can sell you some of this inspiration for a few dollars.” 

 

And I think it is super problematic for reasons that Eric Fromm noted…there is the real deal out there.

 

If you buy into those people, programs, or traditions, it may engage you in such a way that you transform your life for the better. Some of the best of those, by the way, are free. Not all of them. But some of the best of them are free. 

 

Everything is Hypnosis…Trance States…

And much of it is just crap. The problem is it can work for a second. Like a friend of mine is a psychologist and hypnotherapist. She says everything is hypnosis. All states are trance states. We are always in some kind of hypnosis.

 

Because everything is hypnosis, one of the ways we refer to that is the placebo effect. It means we can engage in an activity for a short period of time and actually get hypnotized into thinking that we have changed…but we have not changed at all in the core. 

…Until You Have the Courage to Go Deeper

But if we look at our ancestors and the traditions that we came from, we know on some level what are the ways that allow us to fulfill our destiny as a whole, soulful human being. Discover the blessings in the world that are often overlooked.

 

We know those things. We even know the constellation of activities within our life and the orientation towards those activities that we should have in order to become who we should be. 

 

I do not need an advertisement on Facebook to tell me what a meaningful life is…and neither do you. 

 

You actually know what it is if you decided to stop and think about it for 10 minutes.

 

We are in a reality now where we have to wade through a lot of crap. And that is just what it is. But I guess the good news is that there is so much crap out there that when you find the real deal, you really appreciate it.

 

 

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The Effects of Viewing Ourselves As a Commodity

I often think that you can understand the trends of what’s happening in the mental health and substance abuse world. Meaning, what kind of drugs are people using right now. We’re probably a little past the middle of a terrible opioid epidemic. The trends of anxiety are becoming a more common psychological phenomenon that we’re talking about a lot. So why is this the case now as opposed to 10 years ago? 

Our Culture Plays A Big Role in Substance Abuse 

In my mind, those disorders are directly in relationship to what’s happening in the culture. The culture is moving too fast, everybody has anxiety. It’s like wow, okay, everybody’s using heroin. 

 

Why are they using heroin? Well, heroin is one of those drugs that slows you down. Kind of slows down your heartbeat, slows down your system until you kind of nod off. 

 

Well, to me, that’s adaptation. It’s an adaptive response to a society that’s moving too quickly. I think many of the ills that we’re all suffering have to do with a society that’s moving too fast on so many levels. The complexity that is required of us to function well in society. The amount of information that’s out there and that’s constantly being beamed into our lives. 

 

It’s just happening so fast; how could I ever understand what’s really going on? 

 

There are social norms that contribute to what’s happening in those realms, and there’s kind of a one-to-one correlation between all these things. It’s not always completely exact.

Propaganda, Marketing, and Algorithms 

These have been going on for some time now–which maybe has to do with some of the blooming of psychedelic work that’s happening. 

 

My dates could be off, but let’s say the 1950s, coming out of World War II, coming out of sort of national propaganda. There begin to be in the corporate world that concerted effort towards understanding marketing, understanding ideology, and understanding propaganda. How to get people to do and believe certain kinds of things. It became a kind of science in the corporate world. 

 

That’s continued and been refined through the decades. We have companies like Facebook and Google that have algorithms tracking what we’re doing and feeding certain kinds of messages. Drawing us in to consume more and more content–to buy more things so that other people can make more and more money. 

 

An interesting side effect of a society that begins to think about the value of everything in relationship to being bought and sold on a marketplace. Thinking about almost all things as a commodity. How much is it worth? 

 

So, that very notion, meaning society as a marketplace, that begins to shape our consciousness. I’ve talked in previous videos about spirituality and the consciousness of the enlightenment. I could talk about the addictive consciousness, but there’s also a marketing consciousness. 

Understanding the Marketing Consciousness

In a world where everything can be bought and sold on the market, what about me? Can I be bought and sold in the market? I mean, both literally, that’s happening. But also, like my personality, say when I’m going into a job interview. What am I doing? Well, I’m trying to sell myself. 

 

What might I be doing here? I’m trying to sell myself and my ideas to you. In this case, however, I’m actually not. I’m trying to offer something of value, an education, but there are so many domains in which I’m selling myself. 

 

What happens when a human being begins to orient themselves in a way where they’re thinking about themselves unconsciously as a commodity? 

 

Well, we kind of know what happens, and I think Karl Marx was right about this, that the result of that is some form of alienation, some sort of disconnection from self. That’s in hyperdrive with social media and people taking pictures of themselves. Everybody has their own commercials basically that they’re marketing to everybody. We are in the hyperdrive marketing space. I don’t even think we understand that. 

 

And in that space, what does that do to the consciousness of the people that are engaging in that? Well, they start to think about themselves as things that need to be marketed to other people, and that’s where their value lies. 

 

Do you like my picture? Literally. 

 

And in that sense, I don’t have much of a self, or at least I’m not connected to it because I’m just a commodity. I’m a thing that’s bought and sold in the marketplace like anything else. And what is the result of a human being that becomes alienated and disconnected from themselves? You don’t feel good. 

 

Feeling Disconnected and Substance Abuse

It doesn’t feel good to be disconnected, unplugged, un-whole, right? And what do human beings do when they don’t feel good? They begin to try to find ways to feel good. We usually call those vices if they’re unhealthy. You can see the direct relationship between the trajectory the United States has been on–and some other countries–in terms of marketing, etc., now in hyperdrive and people using drugs and alcohol. 

 

Well, if I’m just the thing, who cares if I stick a needle in my arm? 

 

If we really think about that in a deep way, imagine somebody, or maybe know somebody, sticking a needle in their arm and pushing the plunger using heroin, the syringe, until they pass out. 

 

For me it’s very metaphoric. I’m so disconnected from myself. I’ve lost so much value for my existence that I just want to disappear. It’s almost symbolic, like being nailed to a cross. It’s like, “Don’t you see how disconnected and how much pain I’m in?”

 

We have different coping mechanisms. Sometimes we cope by becoming workaholics–we get obsessed with our projects. The gym is an example. Which is all fine, but the root symptoms that we’re treating are the same: alienation, demoralization, disconnection, shame wounds, not feeling like we have a place, not knowing where we’re headed, not knowing what this is all about.

 

These deep existential issues. So, it’s always wise to look around what’s happening in society. It’s easy to look at somebody who’s suffering from addiction and say, that person sick, that person has a real problem going on. It’s much more difficult to go; actually, the whole society’s sick, and the fact that there’s so much addiction is a symptom of a larger societal ill.

 

 

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The Paradox of Spiritual Communities

I’ve had the privilege of living amongst a lot of different communities during my recovery. Now, 17 years sober, I’ve experienced the treatment community, the Jewish community (I’m an assistant Rabbi), religious community, and a lot of spiritual communities. I’ve been a part of Eastern tradition, Western tradition, and healing spiritual communities. 

One thing that I’ve learned in being a person who’s walked in a lot of different types of spiritual communities–and sometimes I think about myself as somebody that’s not committed to anyone but I’m able to walk amongst many– is the lack of integrity some communities have. And, I think it is pretty understandable why that is. 

What Makes Spiritual Communities Appealing?

First of all, there is something seductive about a spiritual community and spiritual people. You want to learn the secrets they know… what are their insights of their compassion, liberation, connecting with a higher power, etc.

The spiritual communities can be quite welcoming. They can be very deep. But if you think about it, much like certain types of religious communities, spiritual communities are often attracting people who are going through a moment of their life of brokenness. 

Generally, when somebody’s seeking out a spiritual community, they’re seeking something out…Meaning.

“Something is missing in my life.” 

Individuals are going in with some shadow stuff, shame wounds, or broken pieces they are trying to work through. And often, I think what can happen is a person can have a massive amount of transformation within a spiritual community. But it can also result in what they call spiritual bypass, which means when it comes to certain domains of operation, they’re not whole.

Spiritual Gurus Can Be Morally Split 

A rule for me, generally, is to try not to do business with spiritual people. If I want to do business, I like to do business with businesspeople, because in the area of business, those people know the language. They know how to think about it, and they’re not mixing apples and oranges. 

And sometimes it’s also true with morality. It’s not uncommon in spiritual communities to find a guru who is morally split. Meaning their moral compass is somewhat off. 

It’s confusing. How can somebody be so spiritually powerful but so morally inept? 

And I think that just has to do with the nature of power. A person can be spiritually powerful…but how you utilize that power always has to do with where you’re at in your own work and your own development. 

Although a guru might have a very high level of spiritual development, he or she might have a lower level of moral development. Because of that fact, I’m always cautious of the ways in which I relate to frankly all communities, spiritual communities specifically.

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Finding Acceptance During Challenging Times

It’s interesting shooting this video in COVID, right before the 2020 elections, and a lot of confusion, tension and anxiety in the air. We could call these tough times, or interesting times, or the new normal? I don’t know. And one of the things I learned from a mentor of mine–he is a guy named Rabbi Mordecai Finley–I learned a lot from him. To have a philosophy of life that accounts for the fact that things are going to get very difficult. 

These days with marketing and everything else, everybody wants to put a positive spin on something because everybody’s selling something. And generally, it’s nice to sell something positive like lose weight this fast, do this good, I’ll help you make money, whatever it is. 

But philosophically speaking, when it comes to my being and how I’m approaching my life, I actually want a very deep notion of what it means to be human. Because the deeper I am, the more resilient I am, in a time of difficulty, meaning I can plumb the depths of my own soul and spirit, because I’ve gone deep, therefore, I can deal with this contingent and difficult time.

Life is Suffering…So What Now?

I think one of my favorite examples of this is in the Buddhist tradition, and the Buddhist tradition, sort of at its foundation, it says, “Life is suffering.” 

And I think the accurate translation is closer to life is out of its socket. Like there’s something asymmetrical and off and imperfect. And that doesn’t quite harmonize about life. That’s the way I think about it. 

So, think about it: It’s kind of a downer to go, “Hey, why don’t you follow me? Life is suffering.” It’s like, well, no thank you. I’d rather go with this person who’s promising me more money. 

Embracing Acceptance as a Starting Point

However, if one can kind of move into that notion of life is suffering, life is difficult, life is dislocated…one comes to a deep resonance of being with that reality when that it is happening. 

In recovery, we call that acceptance. If I can accept that life is suffering, or that life is difficult, then it’s no longer an issue for me. I accept it. This is what it is. But…My ego self rationalizes how things should be, how I think they should be… 

My ego says, “Things should be better, things should be easier, things should be whatever.” That’s when I’m really suffering. 

But if I know things are going to be hard, because to be alive means to move against the resistance of reality at every moment. I’m getting older, I’m dying at every moment. To be alive means to be in that sphere, means to deteriorate, means to fall apart, means to be difficult, means to suffer, means to be dislocated. 

Then I go, “Okay, that’s my starting point. Everything from there is a win. Wow, considering that life is dislocated and suffering, I’m having a pretty good time. This ain’t the worst day in the world.” 

Learning to “Be” with Suffering and Difficulty

It makes me a deeper person. It also, if I have that deep kind of creed or philosophy about life, it also allows me to empathize deeply with other people that are going through stuff. Because I get suffering. I’m not ignoring it. I’m not pretending it’s not there. I’m not trying to work it away at the gym, or whatever it is. I get it. 

I know how to be with suffering. 

I know how to be with my own suffering and the suffering of another. I think there is a really important discourse that needs to happen in these times because I have a sense that things are gonna get a little rocky.

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Focusing on Wellness…Are We Missing Something?

Living in Los Angeles in 2020, one of the things that I am really aware of was that we live in a time where there is a lot of focus on individual wellness. There are whole sections of Los Angeles that are all juice bars, yoga, spinning classes, and Pilates. 

I was like, “What are people doing? Do they have jobs? They are just drinking juice and running all day.” Oh, it is beautiful, I like both juice and running, I have nothing against it.

LA is very health-conscious…but I do not think it is just LA. I actually think the United States in general is more focused on health. There has been more consciousness around nutrition, physicality, and working out. 

The Shift Towards Healthier Living

It was not like that even fifteen years ago. I mean, just as an example, I got sober seventeen years ago. At that time, there was a gym in the Tribute program where I got sober and only 2 or 3 people actually worked out in the gym. There are a hundred people in the Tribute program, but very few people went to the gym. It just was not that popular thing back then.

Same thing with eating. The food was fried chicken patties, rice, and beans. There was no vegan or special menus. But that rapidly changed. 

The clients that we get now say, “When am I going to the gym? When will I work out?” Almost all of them ask for this. I’d say, 80% percent of clients are very health-conscious. Whether they are struggling with it or whether they have a good routine, they are really conscious of health and that is just the reflection of what is happening in the larger society. 

Why are We Obsessed with Diet and Nutrition?

I sort of think back whenever I see something has changed at a social level I am like, “What is going on?”

I have talked about it in some previous videos. They kind of break down tradition and cultural containers and that we live in a time where everything is up for grabs. Meaning, we got to interpret things how we want and kind of do what we want. You cannot really decide how to be in the future based on how people were in the past because everything has changed so rapidly.

I think one of the responses that people had to the insecurity of our reality is to look at different places–new places–for salvation. 

Is Wellness the New Salvation?

Salvation is a religious word. Generally, ‘salve’ means they kind of heal. Salvation also means to be safe in some sense. Religiously, the salve came from service, salvation came from giving yourself to God. It came from a certain way of living. 

We no longer have the same kind of religious consciousness, at least not nearly as powerfully as we used to. We look for salvation in different areas. I think a lot of people look for salvation in the gym.

They think, “If I can just get my body to a certain place, if I could just eat the perfect food, if I can just get everything clean and pure inside, if I can become a pure vessel then I will be safe.” 

They may not be consciously thinking that way but their behavior is speaking in that language. 

On the one hand, I am a fan of being healthy, I am a post-modern man living in Los Angeles in 2020, I ride my bike, swim, wake up to green juice. I do all of this stuff. At the same time, I have this double consciousness where I am like this and I am just still going to die. Still, I got to be a good person, it is just this kind of obsession that we all live with. And there are worse obsessions to have.

What’s Missing in this Equation?

When it comes to how that interfaces with the recovery, I think we have got to be wise. I think we need to know that not all problems can be solved in the gym or what we eat. Exercise and diet can solve some problems and sometimes those things are connected to how we sleep, feel, and cope. 

But there’s more. Some of the stuff we are working on in treatment is in the domains of morality. Some of the stuff we are working on is in the domain of character and integrity.

You can be a really fit person that eats really healthy and have no integrity. You can also be a really fit person who eats in a very healthy manner but has a tremendous amount of shame. Often, sometimes, I actually think that we are also ashamed about how selfish and narcissistic we are these days. That we are working doubly hard for salvation, to walk around guilty saying, “Something is not right here.” There is some kind of different way of being.

On the one hand, I am pro-health because I would be insane not to be pro-health. On the other hand, I think we have to be wise and make distinctions about what is actually happening with us and what is motivating what we are doing. And is this the actual way to meet the need, the existential need that we have as humans for salvation and to heal?

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Addiction, Health Care, and Corruption in Treatment

It is no big secret that there is a lot of corruption that has happened in drug and alcohol treatment. I worked in the nonprofit treatment industry for twelve or thirteen years. I was not really that exposed to the wider trends of what was happening in drug and alcohol treatment and in mental health treatment. But as I founded my own place I started to be exposed more to the treatment industry as a whole. I do not even like the term.

Changes to Health Insurance

One of the things that happened was in 2009, Obama passed the Affordable Care Act. There were a couple of small but really important facts around Obamacare. One was, insurance companies were no longer allowed to exclude for preconditions. Before that, if you had cancer or if you had a history of “fill-in-the-blank”, an insurance company said, “We will not give you health insurance because of this.” They could no longer do that. 

The other was Parity Laws which meant anything that government healthcare decided to cover private insurance, on Parity, had to cover as well. So suddenly every insurance policy had to cover mental health and substance abuse. Prior to that period, most insurance did not really pay for treatment. You were either getting treatment at the community level or you had money or some really great insurance. 

The vast majority of people actually could not even get mental health and substance abuse treatment except at the community level…until Obamacare. And suddenly if you had a PPO plan  from Blue Cross Blue Shield or whoever, you could go to residential treatment. 

And because of the Parity Laws, at least in the beginning, it would cover full treatment. So suddenly, you could be a middle-class person from Ohio and you can get drug and alcohol treatment in Malibu on the beach. Unbelievable. You would not pay attention to it if you were not working in it. 

Enter Corruption, Greed, and Shady Treatment Practices

And it did a few things. Lots of people suddenly had access to treatment. But we live in a capitalistic society…so what happened was suddenly there is a lot of potential money in the system because now you have a couple of hundred million people who have these insurance cards in their wallet that now could be exchanged for money for treatment. 

Wow…that set off a very interesting chain reaction. So you have entrepreneurial-minded, generally narcissistic, people that somehow get this information. Maybe a very narcissistic client goes through treatment and instead of focusing on his recovery, he is counting how much money the treatment program is making. Then he goes to his narcissistic wealthy father and says, ‘I think we should open a treatment program’. At six months sober, an individual opens a treatment program. 

Then shockingly, because he is shady and he does shady marketing practices, it is successful and lots of people are going there even though the treatment is probably not very good. 

Then private equity and venture capitalists think: wow there is a lot of money in this treatment thing and they partner with the narcissistic owners of treatment programs. 

Next thing you know, you have five thousand treatment programs open up in Los Angeles between 2009 and 2020. Is it a surprise that a lot of them are not offering good treatment and are somewhat corrupt? 

For me, it is a very interesting story because I was supportive of Obamacare. If and when you asked me: Would you like people to be able to get insurance whether they had a precondition or not? I say, yes, I would. 

If you said: Would you like drug and alcohol treatment to be covered? I would say, yes that is great, and kind of calculate the full fallout of that kind of choice. 

Incentives Creating Barriers to Recovery: The Sad Truth

On the patient’s side, you have patients who have no money but possess an insurance card. They could live in the kind of house they never could live in without that insurance card, on the beach in Malibu. But they actually had to be pretty close to being loaded to be able to qualify to live in that house in Malibu. 

So you could imagine that there is a handful–and by a handful, I mean hundreds of thousands of people–who have gone in and out of treatment and continually relapse. They return to these residential and outpatient treatment programs. They have no money, they do not work, they just have this insurance card. 

I am sure some of them are doing it consciously–some unconsciously. It really is a story of bad incentives. It is a bad incentive for treatment providers that treat for profit–making money on people’s suffering. 

It is a bad incentive on the relapse end that if a client relapses, insurance pays more. Not for the insurance companies but for the treatment providers. 

And then it is a bad incentive for clients. I could just live in treatment, go to some groups, and do that for a few years. Then I just relapse. I can go back. I do not have to get a job. I do not have to go through the really arduous task of growing, learning, changing, and recovering. I can take an easy way out as long as I have an insurance card.

It is really problematic. It started to change, the government started to crack down and the treatment community. Obviously, it is not all treatment programs, but it is a really important lesson at the policy level that affects everybody in their daily lives, particularly those people seeking recovery and suffering from addiction.

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Mental Health: The Next Global Crisis

A while ago, I was having a conversation with a friend. We were looking at–this was pre-Covid–at the future. What do we think of the big crises that are going to happen? 

He talked about a possible war with China and kind of what we saw down the line for society. 

I said, “You know, I do not think it is any of that. I think that the world is so interconnected that it will not be some kind of us-against-them type of thing…I think it will actually be a global mental health crisis.

Mental Health Issues Are on the Rise 

If you look at the rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide–particularly in the US, but globally, too–they keep rising. 

And I actually do not have to look at the rates. I can watch my own mental health and well-being, as time passes and then go, am I okay? I know the amount of effort, work, and consciousness that it takes for me to feel whole and good every day. And I have support, privilege, and a lot of different things in my life going for me. 

And so there is this kind of huge question, why are people suffering so much with issues around mental health, substance abuse, and at its extreme… suicide? What is going on? 

Is Technology Taking Its Toll on Our Mental Health?

Very simple question. And I think that technology is a big component of it. 

We are probably taking somewhere between twenty to thirty-five percent of our conscious energy absorbed on our phones, computers, and televisions. That is a lot of energy and attention on moving pictures and content consumption. 

All different kinds of colorful information. Manipulated information to keep you on there. 

So there is the whole addiction aspect of technology. There is also the unknown of what it does to the nervous system…but I think we are starting to find out. 

We become addicted to instant gratification. We become addicted to looking at something. We do not know how to just be. We always need to be doing something.

So we create turning to technology as an option to fill in the gaps when we used to just simply be. What kind of energy and attention are we putting on our phones and our computers, etc.? And what is that doing over the long term to our nervous system? We have no idea. 

Smartphones have only existed for like 15 years. Maybe a little less, right? So it means we have no idea what that means but we are getting a taste of it.

So technology is one huge component that everybody focuses on. It is like to me technology is nested in this larger context of the age that we live in.

Is Our Lack of Consciousness Contributing to Mental Health Issues? 

I come from a kind of philosophical background, a historical background. And so I could tell a story about there was a period of time in the West when everybody had religious consciousness. People then were thinking about being a good or bad person. 

I don’t even know if people think about that anymore. Now, we are thinking, “Do I feel good or not,” or whatever we think. 

People used to think about am I good or am I a bad person in relationship to God. In relationship, if you are Christian, to heaven and hell, right? And in relationships as the idea of being saintly or God-like or Jesus-like, right? So for eight hundred years that is the way people walked around constructing their existence. 

It seems kind of foreign to us now, but that was quite recently.

It was up until, I think the 1600s, and then continues to transition. Back then you had the enlightenment come along in the 1600s with modern science. The beginning of nation-states, the idea of the self. Out of that enlightenment came an idea of psychology. 

We started to think about what is happening. Who am I? What is going on in here? It was not so cosmically God, religious focused. It was more about, who am I? 

Descartes said,I think therefore I am. And he opened up this Pandora’s Box about who are we and where we are from and maybe there is no God. And we entered into the secular age, right?

A New Era of “Enlightenment”?

There was a pretty solid religious tradition that we came from. Prior to that, it was more of a tribal and agricultural existence. It was pretty predictable. Each generation, the same as the one before, generally, not a lot of “progress”. 

Then suddenly you have rapid progress, you have the throwing off of religion and then eventually you have the enlightenment. Which says through rationale and reason, if we all can be reasonable, we all could figure out how to create a utopian world.

 It is not about God. It is about reason, universal reason. What is the truth? If we all know what the truth is: scientifically speaking, philosophically speaking, we all agree on it. Then we can all agree and we can have built a utopian society that we all agree upon. Everybody in the world. 

Then the huge backlash…postmodernism comes. What about black people, what about women, what about that? The biggest deal was World War One and World War Two. Wait a minute; I thought we are all reasonable. Suddenly, we just killed a hundred million people in the most reasonable society we ever had. And it started in the most reasonable culture, the German culture, which was the most “advanced” culture of the time. 

But yet that culture, at least in World War II, decided they were going to try to kill twenty million people. And so it just destroyed this dream of building the foundations of society on reason.

Cultural Containers Are Dissolving

So I am telling the stories but it is really to understand that throughout all of human history there has been what I would just call cultural containers. I understand who I am supposed to be based on what my parents pass on to me from the culture, from their parents and from the environment. And that that culture has been rapidly changing and no period has been faster than the last hundred years. 

And so the most basic things that were fundamental of our society like, I am a man you are a woman, we now question. Well, is gender even real you know. What does it mean to be sane? What does it mean to be insane? What does it mean to be good? Who can be president? What are the job qualifications there? I mean the most basic notions have fallen by the wayside or have been questioned and deconstructed and torn apart.

Now, if you are born into the world, you really have no idea exactly how you are supposed to be. You are very distant from ideas of morality and religion. You are very distant from when psychology was a living, breathing, brand new way of being in the world.

Now, it is more of a marketing everyday thing that everybody is doing and so where is the moral authority? Where is the ground of being? Where is the moral authority that exists in society right now?

Technology is Just a Product of Changing Times

So in my mind, technology is actually nested in the fact that everything has changed. And there is so much change so fast that there is no stability. And so everybody, of course, is going to be on their phones because we want to be distracted from the fact that we have no idea what the f— we are doing. 

We had an idea when we knew that we were going to go to heaven. We had an idea when we knew we are trying to build a utopian society, be good American citizens and do good for our country. All of that got wiped away.

What are we doing now? We are posting YouTube videos and trying to make a buck and hope that I can find somebody I care about.

 So I think there is a larger story here about mental health. I tend to be an optimist against my better judgment. Which is to say, I do view this time period as a transition. I do think it is going to get worse before it gets better. But I think it is a transition into something else. I could not possibly say what that something else is but we are living in a very rapid time of transition.

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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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