I love the old song by the band, Faces entitled, Ooh La La. The song laments, “I wish I knew what I know now, when I was younger, I wish I knew what I know now, when I was stronger.” Relax and listen–and I’ll be surprised if you don’t agree it’s a toe tapper and a nostalgic reminder for all of us:
Sobriety and addiction recovery are “experiments of one” and slightly different for each of us endeavoring to get–and stay well. All paths and approaches have more similarities than differences as pointed out by Bill Dinker of The Discovery Place in this very informative post surveying top recovery blogs including RHC.
Addiction Treatment | From Sick Care to Health Care
I had the recent privilege of attending the 2nd Annual David E. Smith, M.D. Addiction Symposium in San Francisco. The event attracted addiction treatment professionals from all over the nation. We listened to seasoned clinicians and cutting edge thought leaders in addiction science and treatment on topics ranging from pharmacotherapy to spirituality. If I were to sum it all up in a nutshell, the common thread was that we actually are moving from sick care to health care with addiction treatment leading the way.
It’s All About Brain Health, Any Questions?
Good health starts with brain health.
Time and time again I heard ultra credible, mainstream people saying that addiction treatment is all about brain health and brain health is all about ensuring the essential nutrients of eating, exercising, thinking, feeling and sleeping well.
Something inside stood up and cheered as I heard for example, the addiction psychiatrist and trend setter, Daniel Amen, M.D. say things like, “Why is psychiatry the only discipline that doesn’t ever look at the brain–the organ it is treating?” and, “Why do I get recommendations for a colonoscopy but never for a non invasive brain scan when brain health is what it’s ALL about?”
Each talk surveyed the literature and as pointed out, the research gets edited and updated about every twenty minutes. But the bottom line was this; every vetted approach works a little bit, however if people are not practicing the good brain health practices of eating, exercising, mindfulness and sleep–fogettaboutit’.
What’s really changed in the way people think and talk about addiction treatment is that we’re getting calls to action–and I mean seriously–people standing up in solidarity and declaring we cannot practice addiction treatment in the compartmentalized, symptom suppression way we’ve been trying for decades. Rings a Herby Bell in my, “experience of one” in addiction recovery…Yes!
Monetize Wellness: NOW
I love my squishy brain…
As I sit here between thoughts and squeeze my palm sized, squishy brain the Amen Clinics distributes as marketing tools, I realize we really are on the brink of commitment to delivering a new paradigm of healthcare because we’re learning how to market and monetize wellness.
Yeah, there are a lot of fancy ways to get into the practices of this new paradigm–healthcare–and it takes what it takes. How about a “single photon emission tomography scan” or better known as the SPECT scan? A test that takes a snapshot of how the brain is working to determine what practices of–you guessed it; eating, exercising, thinking, feeling and sleeping well will best serve that brain.
So what about all the other high powered, high tech, biochemical/mechanical approaches that we’re so used to hearing about “curing” us? Fantastic stuff all of which can be used for the far end of the sick care spectrum when indicated. But for the remaining 85% plus of the population, let’s evangelize the brain health basics up the yin-yang and develop services and practices that offer healthcare to the masses, shall we?
Live Long and Drop Dead
What we’ve learned the hard way, (and another refreshing, repeated point stressed at the symposium) is the longer people are in addiction treatment, the better. Another way to think about it is that people need to stay inhealthcare for life, because nobody gets out alive. How we facilitate this current inconvenient truth remains in the storming and forming phases, but people, we have ignition!
As more people are taught by doctors, (Latin; to teach) to take on the “experiment of one” by practicing good brain health, my mentor and colleague, Mark Sisson‘s adage makes more and more sense; “Live long and drop dead.”
Take a hands-on approach to taking care of your brain
Okay, so while we’re still in the interim space of being sold on the idea that one’s gotta have symptoms before learning to take care of oneself with good brain health practices, it’s an important step toward a better way to be the self-regulating and self-healing humans we already are.
Here’s to the time when we all realize that symptoms are an indication we have not been “in” or practicing healthcare–a time when we’re all taking a hands-on approach to eating, exercising, thinking, feeling and sleeping well–as matters of fact and practice.
A special thanks to Dr. David Smith who has been writing, saying and practicing all of the above for decades and who will be an upcoming guest interview on Sober Conversations. My deepest gratitude to you, Dr. Smith for all of the gifts bestowed upon so many at your symposium. I look forward to learning more from you very soon.
Addiction is inarguably America’s number 1 public health challenge, here and now. We’re living in a day-and-age when combined addiction and brain sciences continue to dot every “i” and cross every “t” in answering the former perennial questions about addiction’s causes, its development and risk factors. We know what works in treatment and that addiction is a chronic illness requiring lifetime care. Weget it in a critical mass way. As a result we’re posing new questions about such things as advocacy with anonymity and how to bust a long overdue and effective move with advocacy, while honoring the time tested practice of anonymity.
Lisa Frederiksen of BreakingTheCycles.com
Recently, in an effort to evoke some much needed community and kitchen table conversation about addiction, my colleague, Lisa Frederiksen of BreakingTheCycles.com and I co-presented a public screening and discussion of The Anonymous People. The director of the feature documentary, Greg Williams, has done a masterful job of engaging viewers to understand the history of addiction and the reasons it has mirrored the controversy and trajectories of other human rights issues in the U.S., including the charged and opinion provoking, HIV/AIDS movement. Greg used the HIV/AIDS issue as an example of a well learned lesson how advocacy can be a powerful change agent. In fact, advocacy is the only thing that has delivered any sustainable social and cultural change in our society.
Our well attended gathering was held in the community room of a downtown library and had a kind of “town hall meeting” feel to it. A wide cross section of the community was there including millennials to octogenarians, and addiction professionals/specialists to everyday folks from all corners of life. The common denominator in the room may have been articulated like this, “I deeply care about this issue personally, professionally, for my family and for my community and I want to know more about how I can help.” People spoke to the issue of anonymity vs. advocacy from every perspective and concern imaginable.
Advocacy with Anonymity
First things first…anonymity is defined as:
“Having no outstanding, individual, or unusual features; unremarkable or impersonal.”
In the context of addiction recovery and in the literature of AA–here’s how it maps:
“The principle of anonymity was established to assure a safe place for people to recover and keep focused on their primary purpose of helping [others] to recover.”
And advocacy’s definition:
“Public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.”
While the two terms or “energies” seem to be at odds with one another, our recent gathering allowed a clearer understanding of both/and, rather than either/or to emerge. Advocacy with anonymity requires an informed approach that upholds the sanctity of both domains.
There are many good reasons to practice anonymity in addiction recovery at the personal and institutional levels. From maintaining personal/family privacy to keeping organizations apolitical and free from any cultural ideology, anonymity can be a very good idea. Personal advocacy honors anonymity in this way; I may be inspired to advocate for recovery–to communicate openly and transparently about my own recovery or even Recovery at large, while honoring the privacy of other individuals and organizations associated with that recovery.
The most important thing to consider is to be mindful of the intention and languaging of the communication in an effort to change minds and hearts for the purpose of helping other people. Recovery advocacy is not to be confused with personal gain, economic or egocentric pursuits and it should not interfere in any way with personal recovery or that of another. To learn more about effective communication skills for recovery advocacy visit, FacesAndVoicesOfRecovery.org and ManyFaces1Voice.org where you’ll find this very good brochure.
The Challenge of the Century
There are also many good reasons to advocate publicly for addiction recovery. Things are lining up in mutually beneficial ways in an effort to heighten awareness about the good news of addiction recovery in the 21st Century. Individuals from every station of life, IE, those in the 3 out of 4 of our suffering families are beginning to stand up in dignified ways to speak to the urgency of the issue. As Kristen Johnston puts it in The Anonymous People, “Whether we want to admit this or not, this is our black plague.” And as Faces and Voices of Recovery says, “By our silence we let others define us.”
Here are just a few things to consider regarding the practical benefits of effective recovery advocacy:
The combined costs of addiction is estimated at 600 billion dollars per year, (loss of productivity, treatment, incarceration, associated illnesses, etc.) much of which due to misinformation, stigma and shame
Consider our children and grandchildren and the future multigenerational social and psychological implications
Harness the untapped creative resources and skills of an estimated 25 million Americans and their families who have addiction
Incorporate mind, body, spirit wellness into all of health care delivery systems, IE, recovery advocacy is health advocacy
Heighten awareness about the interrelatedness of all things for more peace, productivity and joy in the world
Advocacy and Where the Rubber Meets the Road
What can you bring to the conversation?
As addiction recovery advocacy “sinks in” in an entrepreneurially and socially conscious way to be, it can lead to things like building an infrastructure for sustained wellness–wellness being the goal of addiction recovery.
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area’s, Silicon Valley. It’s no secret that we have 34-and-counting billionaires worth over an estimated 300 billion dollars right here, right now. These people and families experience just as much incidence of addiction as any other of the, “3 out of 4 families affected” statistic stated above.
It seems like everyday I’m reading another headline or article like this one: In Silicon Valley, Some Entrepreneurs Seek Social Change. It reflects a move toward conscious capitalism and while people are interested in building individual wealth, more and more are realizing what their wealth can do to leave a legacy of goodness for generations to come.
Clearly then, 21st Century recovery advocacy is an important part of informing and inspiring people who possess some of the most powerful ways and means of affecting change in this increasingly more conscious capitalistic system. Money and the business/entrepreneurial acumen to create economic engines for the well-being for millions of others requires incentive and a plan. Energy grows where our intention and attention goes.
Business as Usual is Over
Finally, we did not come all of this way to sit by idly. Do what you’re moved to do in the way of advocacy–and in the way only you can do it–and let’s leave a healthier legacy for which we can all be proud. As social and business entrepreneur, recovery advocate and CEO of WeFaceItTogether.org, Kevin Kirby reminds us, “When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, business as usual is over.”
28 years ago nearly to the day, I walked into the world of 12 Step meetings. I surely wasn’t immediately enamored with the slogan reciting, platitude-on-cue, regurgitating crew. I thought it to be some sort of cruel and unusual punishment for my transgressions and gotta admit, it took some doing for me to develop a taste for, “the rooms.”
Well, it’s a bit like the substances and behaviors we replaced, isn’t it? I mean who enjoys their first puff on a cigarette or first gulp of beer? Okay, maybe the beer…but you get my drift when I’m telling you that 12 Step meetings really do take some getting used to, or at least they did for this recovering skeptic. So now in retrospect, I look back and think, you know, if I’d walked into anything I was previously unfamiliar with like a Greek Orthodox mass or an IRS workshop for auditors, there’d be a learning curve and that, “welcome to change, buddy” feeling that’s always uncomfortable.
Clean and Sober
Clean and sober circa 1986
I’ll never forget my first 12 Step meeting. A traditional clean and sober, no-nonsense “closed” meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. “Closed” meaning A.A. members only, or for those who have a drinking problem and, “have a desire to stop drinking.” I qualified.
In 1986 smoking cigarettes was still okay at meetings, so the coffee scented, smoke filled room–it was. I remember sitting next to men in camouflage jackets and hats presumably from the Vietnam War era as I was thinking this whole scene is a good enough reason to quit my shenanigans–and never go back.
Go back–I did not–for three years as I practiced the white knuckled, cold turkey shuffle and getting my dopamine without the dope from the then, current addiction; exercise. Then, I discovered how love, sex and finally, opiates could do the trick and I was off and running–on empty.
Back to the Rooms
I found my way back to the rooms by necessity and frankly, it was the go-to addiction recovery “modality.” Still is, even though there are many others. In retrospect, I would have also perked up to the harm reduction, brain science informed approaches available these days–and maybe then too!…but I don’t remember hearing about them. One reason…the brain science hadn’t been scienced’ yet…
But as all things unfold as they should, I learned to find meetings that worked for me. I’m an early bird, so a 6:15am meeting with other early morning sunshine worshipers; perfect. I like deep discussions and topics so how ’bout a Noon meeting on the campus of Stanford University where erudite recovering drunks hang? I swear-ta-god, that room was like being in the presence of the Dalai Lama on any given day. In one hour I may have heard from the resident, savant schizophrenic man to a recovering physics or English professor tell a story with aplomb–JUST the story and message I needed to hear like those song lyrics on the car radio that speak to you–right on time.
All of the rhetoric and what first sounded like sing-song, cryptic communication settled into a regular practice, a ritual around which the day and the week centered. The lessons learned, the insights and wisdom from these formerly assessed freaks turned out to be some of the most informing, how-to-live-life stuff in my life–and cherished relationships and lifelong friendships to boot. To think, a bunch of humans agreeing to meet regularly to get out of their own ways and talk about right thinking and right living. Miraculous.
To 12 Step or Not to 12 Step
Alright, so now in the year 2014 we have many ways of recovering from addiction in addition to the 12 Step path. For example, Dr. Tom Horvath’s, Smart Recovery speaks to millions of people. From secular to religious to community based approaches, really…isn’t it all the same approach–to take a look at how you’re taking a look at your life while surrounding yourself with people who are on the same path? For me, deep empathy and BELONGING are the central-most implications.
Most of the addiction treatment centers remain 12 Step based because it works. After all, the 12 Step approach was not for me…until it was. But what we’re finding when wedding the brain science with such programs, is that recovering people need a more robust wellness model including all aspects of mind, body and spirit fitness. ‘N that great news? Not either/or, but both/and. 12 Step programs not the whole picture, but as an integral part of the whole and now what we’re finding to be, bigger picture.
12 Step Meetings | Think Integrate
12 Step meetings and other mutual support groups can be integral parts of addiction recovery and wellness
In this day-and-age we’re hearing and reading a lot of friction around, “If AA is so hot, how come it only helps ___% of people?” And of course the answer is that its structure and language doesn’t speak to everyone and so like I had to do with finding different kinds of meetings, it seems to me the implication is to find a path that does work. 12 Step programs don’t care, really. What, are we all supposed to be Muslims or Catholics or atheists or short board surfers (certainly not the latter)? NO!!…but something tells me we’re all supposed to be on a path of our own choice to pursue right thinking and right living.
I see the day coming when addiction treatment paths will all be integrated and all include the various mutual support/aid groups in that integration. We’ll move away from “12 Step based or Non-12 Step based” to integrated, multidisciplinary approaches including suggestions for mutual support groups of one’s choice, because all of them–along with balanced lifestyle skills fostering wellness, work as an indispensable piece of the treatment puzzle.