With so many challenges presented by the holiday season, being grateful for the gift of sobriety can sometimes be difficult. Tonight I was at a Christmas party with my parents in Park City and everyone was drinking everything from eggnog and whiskey sours to red wine and single malt scotch. I didn’t really know anyone at the party and I felt trapped in this age vortex that was caught between people over 60 and their grandchildren and then me. In my forties, I felt more in touch with the kids than with the adults as one parental friend after another came along to squeeze my cheek and ask me the same questions over and over again. Boy, at that moment, a drink sounded real nice as a way to escape the tedious reality of being a good son and a good guest and a decent human being.
The Challenge of the Holiday Season
Is it tedious to be decent? Is it boring to be good? Did I have a drink? The answers to all of these questions is a simple no because I do not have to go there anymore. The gift of sobriety is the strength and the freedom, the spirituality and the acceptance, the love and the tolerance to walk through such moments with just a hint of grace and a smile. What do I do when confronted by the challenges of the holiday season? Actually, I reach for my tool belt, and I am always amazed at how well the tools of sobriety work and how applicable they are to almost every situation.
When thoughts of having a drink arise, when I want to escape and find instant relief from being restless, irritable and discontent, I pause and focus on taking three deep breaths. Unless someone is chasing me with a knife, I should always be able to find the time in virtually any situation to stop for a moment and take three breaths. What I have found in practice is that if I do not feel like I have the time to pause, almost always nothing actually is wrong with the situation. Nothing is really ever preventing me from pausing. Almost always, something is wrong with me.
Tonight, when my disease crept up behind me and began whispering of drinking, wanting to take me on a spin on the merry-go-round of self-destruction with those desperate thoughts of relapse, I simply stopped and sat down and took three breaths and said the Serenity Prayer to myself – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Like a strange and inexplicable magic spell, I immediately began to feel okay again. The thoughts vanished like wisps of match smoke in the air, and I became connected again to my higher power. Even more resonant for my own sobriety, I became connected again to my gratitude; the spirituality of being grateful for tools that work.
I don’t have to drink or use drugs to enjoy my life or to have a good time or to survive a party that I don’t like. The prayer immediately connected me to the gratitude of having a life where my family wants me to be with them, where my parents love me and are proud of me, where I am comfortable in my own skin and I know that today I am a good and decent human being. How grateful I am to be able to write those words and know in my heart that they are true.
The Gift of Sobriety
No matter what challenges you face during this holiday season – the small burp of a lousy party on one extreme or a tragedy in the family as a loss is experienced or commemorated on the other – I promise that if you use the tools given you and work the 12 Steps, keeping faith in the principles within the program, you will be okay. Not always great and not always wonderful and not always happy, but you will be able to walk through situations that baffled you in the past, once giving rise to fear and anger, indulgence and nastiness.
Honestly, sobriety is the greatest gift that I have ever received in my life, and it was given to me by a loving God in exchange for nothing more than my showing up. The only absolute I embrace on this path is that I do not drink and use no matter what. Beyond embracing that certainty, I stumble every day and relapse on my character defects and act like an alcoholic. But I forgive myself for such mistakes and I move forward, doing my best to learn from each experience and do a little better next time around. I take baby steps because that is the only way it has ever worked for me.
In the heart of this holiday season, I wish you the very best and hope the end of 2012 signals a beautiful new beginning and the start of something wonderful in 2013. There is no golden ticket and there is no chocolate factory and there is no magic pill. But there are steps to be taken and if they are taken one at a time, everything within and everything I have learned and the quiet voice of my higher power tells me that it will all be a-okay for you. Even as this roller-coaster ride of life shoots up and down, it will continue to improve, and you will be amazed by how far this journey can take you and the places you will go. As Dr. Seuss reminded us in that lovely children’s book that works awfully well for adults, “Today is your day! / Your mountain is waiting, / So… get on your way!”
ROUTINES IN RECOVERY
As most of us know, alcoholism and drug addiction impact every single part of a person’s life – their health, their wealth, their goals, their relationships. Alcoholic and addict behavior help to determines what things they do, what people they mingle with and befriend, and what places they visit and even daily activities like diet or hygiene. It can be a heinous, dark trap. To combat alcoholic and addictive behavior it is critical for the individual (with the help of others) to look at their lives, their routines, habit and start to evaluate if the people, places and routines in their lives are unhealthy and driven by the addiction.
As a recovering alcoholic – in my 10th year of sobriety – I know this all too well.
What I also know is that when I start to do unhealthy things, routinely, the likelihood of me repeating them is high and conversely, when I start to do healthy things, they start to pick up steam and become healthy routines. For the alcoholic/addict, this is a massive and sometimes overwhelming challenge.
To change one’s life, one must first, change one’s life.
For the alcoholic/addict, breaking the routine of drinking/drug use is a massive undertaking – changing one’s life mandates a certain level of commitment and willingness to change ones lifestyle. Part of what happens at the ONE80CENTER is addicts/alcoholics that are ready and willing to change their lives get to work with world renowned addiction specialists to change their routines – through the integration of the latest advancements in neuroscience and mental health into an individualized program of nutrition, exercise and wellness services.
Like every single client that comes through ONE80CENTER, I know that alcoholic thinking (the addictive and obsessive mind) can dominate my life if I don’t stay vigilant in treating the disease with what got and is keeping me sober – routines and rituals. Whether a person if about to go into rehab or is fresh out, recovery from alcoholism/addiction must be a central focus in their life. This is how the healthy routines are built and how people move from being “in treatment” to having long-term recovery. Again, the way to change a life is to starting changing.
Don’t get me wrong, even after 10 years of sobriety I engage in behavior I’d like to change. However, I don’t drink or use drugs, one day at a time. This happens because of my routines in recovery: I try and do a couple of things on a regular basis. They have helped me change my lifestyle and my thinking about my alcoholic/addictive behavior.
– MAKE TIME FOR RECOVERY: The stresses and struggles demand a majority of our time. Before we know it, an entire day, a whole week, can be gone and we have no idea what we did or how we made it through. If we are not making time for our recovery, then the old alcoholic/addictive behavior will start to leak back in – then, all bets are off.
– READ/LISTEN: One of the wonderful things about recovery is that there are so many media resources out there for the sober man or woman – books, blogs, podcasts, AA literature, MP3′s and on and on and on. It’s always good to incorporate a little bit of reading or listening to this material during the week. Personally, I have some loaded onto my iPhone and listen when I’m walking the dog. It keeps me grounded and is always a welcomed perspective shift, to remind me how important my recovery is and how far I have come.
– MEDITATE/BREATHE: This is simple and straightforward. Make time to slow your head down at least once a day. It can be a minute or an hour – it doesn’t matter. What matters is the act of slowing down, breathing, getting quiet, meditating and finding a calm, tranquil corner of the day. Meditation is especially helpful the more busy our lives get.
– PLAY: Play! Play! Play! Pursue that creative goal you abandoned because of your alcoholism./addiction/. Join a gym. Ride that bike that’s been collecting dust in the garage. Get out and play! This is a very important component of the ONE80CENTER recovery program… playing, exercising, getting the creative juices and blood flowing.
– BE OF SERVICE: A simple and straightforward way to get out of old alcoholic/addict thinking is to do something nice for someone else. It could be doing the dishes after dinner, writing a birthday card to someone or helping someone with their groceries – the most important thing is that when we are being of service we are not thinking about ourselves, which is exactly the way we break alcoholic/addictive thought patterns.
These are the routines in recovery that help keep me sober, sane and healthy.
THE LOS ANGELES SOBER COMMUNITY…
…saved my life. I’m not kidding. Not only that, it continues to save my life every day.
Los Angeles is home to beautiful people, beautiful weather and beautiful beaches. It is also home to the best recovery community on this great big blue and green planet of ours. There are more than three thousand 12-step meetings per week and they are chock full of hundreds of thousands of vibrant, eclectic, supportive recovering addict/alcoholics. These men and woman – this community – are a vital part of what makes getting and staying sober in Los Angeles so healthy, rewarding and, frankly, fun.
Before I got sober I was a miserable, lonely lump of poop. I hated my life. I hated most people on the planet. I “needed” to drink and use drugs to numb myself from the reality of how lonely I was, how hopeless I was; I was convinced in my core that my life would never, ever get any better. This all began to change when I dragged my butt to an AA meeting and decided to get sober. It was then that I became a member of the Los Angeles sober community.
After I started to feel at home within the sober community, those feelings of hopelessness and loneliness started to erode. I’d love to say that they “poof, went away” all of a sudden. They didn’t. There were some crappy moments, some crappy days. But they were moments, days, that I could now share with people that were becoming my friends, what was to become my new sober family. Before that I had reached for a bottle or a joint to numb those feelings. Now I was starting to realize that I would never have to go through anything alone, ever again, because I was becoming a member of a community. The people I met in those early days of sobriety became my gang, my tribe, and helped me get through those sometimes brutal early weeks and months of my recovery. They helped me learn how to laugh at things I used to take so seriously, things that used to stress me out so much I thought I had to drink. I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t run into those lovely jackasses, creative warriors and patient souls. They became my family, people I trust with anything and everything, people that trust me. It’s almost impossible to describe how cool it feels to have friends that have been to the dark places I have been; friends that “just know” what it’s like to be a recovering addict/alcoholic. That sense of identification, of knowing that another human being knows you inside and out, is better than any drink or drug.
In almost 10 years of sobriety I have met and befriended hundreds of people in and around the Los Angeles sober community; some of them I can’t stand, some can’t stand me, some whose weddings I’ve been in, some whose funerals I’ve been to, some sober, some struggling, some willing, some not. These aren’t “using partners” or “party friends” or people I would never trust with my car keys. These are people I trust with my deepest, darkest secrets. These are friends I laugh so hard with that my ribs hurt. These are friends I can call when I have a weird day or when a date with a woman goes bad or when I just want to go to the beach and play. Most importantly, they make me feel like I belong somewhere, that I belong to the recovery community.
So I’ll say it again: The Los Angeles sober community saved my life and continues to do so every day.
We, who have been trapped in the sheer unshirted hell of addiction, know unequivocally that we were slaves to our appetites. We might not have known it at the time, because our master was clever. Its like the saying “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he doesn’t exist.” Its hard to see the Devil when you are in hell, and the Devil seems like the only thing that will give you relief. That, in itself, makes the Devil your Savior, and now the truly twisted, Hieronymus Bosch -like reality of a person’s private torment comes to light. How terrifying to consider leaving one’s so called Savior. One believes that is the only source of relief, when it is, very simply, the source of all hell. Like Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. It is a depiction of hell, terrifying and awful. Temptations take us there. Addiction leaves us there, in that not so delightful garden.
This Devil (which, for the purpose of this blog, is our disease, our addiction) is also a shape shifting bastard. Not only can he convince the afflicted that he doesn’t exist, he can change to suit a person’s temperament. A person’s weakness is the Devil’s camouflage. Spiritually speaking, this is the most profound battle of all. It is why it is said that desperation is the greatest gift one can enter into recovery with. Anything short of that is still very susceptible to dark motives. A lot happens in the shadows where you can’t really see it happening. Recovery is all about light. We don’t always want to see whats lurking in the dark corners, but its imperative that we do, in order to overcome whats there.
I have friends who are still using. I can think of three right now who, I suspect, are using in private, and putting up a great front in public. They are still very functioning; they either own, or run, businesses, and are regarded as successful individuals in their community. However, there is something going on that is preventing them from fully inhabiting their own skin. Some part of them isn’t there. I remember, when I was in this same situation, a part of me was always not there- it was busy thinking about the time when I could check out, later, when I was alone. I’d have my wine, and my downers, and I’d numb out after work, and still get up the next day and go to work, running a fashion company. Until the time came that I numbed out at work, too. No one really knew. But I was unhappy, I was lonely, I was bereft, I felt like a leftover, unwanted in the fridge. I could say- I own my car, I own my home, I run a company- but what does that really mean when you are a slave? When part of you is always listening for your master’s voice, like the little dog sitting in front of the speaker, head cocked to one side? You can’t really pay attention to the life you try so hard to hide behind.
To me, its very dangerous how cunning the Disease is. Not the obvious dangers of the substances, and how many lives are lost to them, that is clear to everyone, and never stops an addict from using. Its frightening how it can tell you that its only xanax and wine, no big deal, its not like you are shooting up in an alley or anything. Or it says, ‘its just pot, and you need it, its the one little thing you need to quell the anxiety, its the only thing that works.’ Why would anyone fight that? Its comfortable enough. And its just enough to keep you asleep, sleepwalking through life, enslaved in velvet manacles. People who know they are doing dangerous drugs in dangerous amounts already know they are gambling with their lives. The ones who think they are managing it are in denial, and that can kill them. Just ask several of my friends- but you’d have to do it by ouija board now- wine and pills can and do kill. Pot- maybe not, but it still keeps you imprisoned. Life will never be what it could be, which isn’t death, just sleepwalking- not really living. Not really.
I think the people who truly run the last wheel off are lucky. They know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they must stop using. They come to understand that the Devil is not the Savior they thought he was- the comfort that the Devil offers is the source of all their suffering. They understand that the hell they are in is created by the Master of their appetites. A life where appetites do not dictate one’s every move is required. A life of recovery. All else, for us, is death.
I love to look around at the recovery community, whether at the ONE80CENTER July 4th party (over 1000 sober people) or at the big sunday meeting in LA last night, and know that I am surrounded by people who are FREE. Free people, who have liberated themselves from the slave master of addiction. Its a powerful thing, and it always always touches my soul. I am honored to be a part of it.
Addiction in Families: addiction is a family disease, acceptance is the first step toward family recovery
Addiction in Families…
Despite being around 12-Step programs for years, nothing could have prepared me for the horror of realizing that my daughter was addicted to drugs and alcohol. The signs had been there for years: sudden and violent moods swings, lies, empty bottles, missing medication, and truancy, but I put it down to depression. Even after three trips to psychiatric hospitals I’d simply hoped against hope she would get better, but she did not. Ultimately, it took police arrests and a suicide attempt to slice through my denial (or as I call it, “Mother Nature’s mechanism for protecting us from the painful truth”). I finally had to admit to myself that she had a drug problem.
As things kept getting worse, so did I, because somewhere deep inside, I thought I was at fault. If I had been a kinder, more loving parent this would not have happened. Most of my life had become consumed by clearing up the trail of destruction left behind her or trying to “fix” her to the point where I had neglected the needs of my other two children. The whole family had become affected by my daughter’s alcoholism and we were living in a constant state of drama and crisis.
The plain and simple fact is that addiction is a family disease, and I had to face it. I needed to stop blaming myself and my husband for our daughter’s addiction. I also needed a clearer understanding of alcoholism and drug addiction in order to understand what she was dealing with. This led to acceptance that nothing and nobody can prevent someone from becoming an addict/alcoholic. Once I had accepted this, I needed to be reminded that I can neither control nor can I cure my daughter. Once she was in treatment I needed a safe place to process the years of intense distress our family had suffered. I needed to be introduced to resources for myself and my children in order to heal such as Al-Anon and Al-Ateen. Through it all, I came to realize there was much I could do to help both my daughter and myself. Accepting the things I could not change, and having the courage to change the things I can has enabled us all to maintain a healthy, peaceful dynamic.
CREATIVITY IN RECOVERY PART I – ONE80CENTER’s Executive Director discusses balancing sobriety and creative fulfillment
Creativity and recovery are not always easy bedfellows. For some alcoholics and addicts, the two concepts more than simply incongruous, they’re mutually exclusive. I’ve known many a sober artist who has also echoed this sentiment and most will agree that getting sober and finding a path back to creativity is rarely easy or quick.
As an artist in recovery, I’ve avoided toxic environments, fought with my ego, struggled to redefine the idea of a creative identity, and searched in vain for inspiration that wouldn’t come. Throughout it all, I stayed sober, kept coming back and ended up with a richer, deeper understanding of what creativity (not to mention sobriety) meant.
ONE80CENTER’s executive director Stephen Dansiger (or Dr. Steve as we know him) was once a drummer. Okay, he’s STILL a drummer. Okay, once upon a time, before he was a therapist and a doctor, he had a successful career as a punk rock musician and songwriter. Then he got sober and it all stopped.
And that’s when things got interesting.
What followed was a long hiatus from music and creativity, a nervous breakdown IN sobriety, and an extended residency at a Zen Buddhist monastery that deepened his spiritual practice and faith and led him back to a creative identity in recovery.
I sat down with him recently to discuss it:
So what’s your creative story?
I was a kid from Long Island who wanted to play the drums. I started taking jazz lessons at age 8, discovered rock and roll and got into a punk band at 15. Shortly after that, we got thrown off the stage in a hail of garbage at a battle of the bands…and I realized what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Before I knew it, I was playing CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. Music led to song-writing, song writing led to NYU film school and a library of unproduced screenplays, which has led to a memoir of one portion of my life. There were other things in there, but music was the main thread, with writing as the sidebar to that.
When you got sober, did you experience a lapse in creative flow? Were you scared to play music and write?
For me, it was less about the fear of the artistic process and more that I was afraid I wouldn’t stay sober if I didn’t give it up for a while. I was in a position where maybe I would have ended up touring if I kept going. I was getting offers to play at the same time I was trying to get sober on my own…putting two weeks together at a time, curled up in a ball on my apartment floor. I just couldn’t do it.
Stay sober or play gigs?
Well, either one, but mainly play gigs. I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t have the life energy in me. I was just (lowers voice), “Not Drinking”. That was the main focus.
The first time I went to a (twelve step) meeting—I mean literally within minutes after my first one—I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to make this my job right now.’ I wasn’t employed in an I’ve-got-to-be-somewhere kind of way, so I just marched around New York City going to meetings.
What happened when you started playing again?
I played a gig with a friend about forty days in (my recovery) and was like, ‘This doesn’t feel right.’ It was no fun. That was a big part of it…as I woke up sober I realized, ‘I don’t even like doing this anymore’ so it seemed really natural for me to put it aside at the time.
Did you have any notion that the creative impulse was still there?
I needed to heal for a couple of years in order to even know what the hell that was. I’d gotten to the point where music (and creative expression) was meaningless. It was free drugs and alcohol and women…but the creativity part was gone. I couldn’t even listen to music.
In our next blog with Dr. Steve, we discuss what happened after that…so stay tuned.
On Novermber 17th, 2001 – ONE80CENTER was pleased to host a very special reading of “Bill W. & Dr. Bob“, an award-winning hit play by Samuel Shem & Janet Surrey about the relationship between two men that led to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous – and their wives Lois and Anne who founded Al-Anon. Since 2007, the play has been performed all over America, to sold-out houses and rave reviews, breaking box office records in 35 states.
As a fundraiser in efforts to help this wonderful play make it’s way back to Off-Broadway, ONE80CENTER clients and guests were privileged to an extremely unique & personal in-house reading of this play by a star-studded cast of Hank Azaria, Justin Cotta, Sharon Lawrence, Martin Sheen, JoBeth Williams & Stephanie Zimbalist.
Efforts are well underway to bring the play back to New York in a 199-seat Off Broadway theatre not-for-profit, funded entirely by tax-exempt donations. On their way to reach the goal of $450K, once the play is financed it will be self-supporting – and run for many years. All revenues will be used for a national college tour to fight the epidemic of binge drinking. Help is still needed & any donation is welcome. “Producer” credit given for donations of $40,000 and up.
To donate, please go to www.hazelden.org/giving and click on GIVE ONLINE, then be sure to designate the “Bill W.& Dr Bob Production Fund”
When ONE80CENTER hosted the recent Wellness Day 2010 event, it was just natural that we would ask the infamous Noah Levine to speak. In and around Los Angeles, the bald, heavily tattooed Levine is known as the ‘sober punk rock meditation guru.’ And rightly so.
I’d say that the seemingly disparate elements that come together in the world of Noah Levine are what make him such an icon. Combining the edgy, punk rock anthem of destruction with the peaceful transformation of meditation, he has made the practice acceptable amongst culturally diverse folks who once embraced fear and loathing as a life style. “The Buddha was dissatisfied with ordinary suffering of life and he wanted to find freedom from that suffering, Levine says. “The punk movement is founded on that same disssatisfaction- that all of this oppression and ineqaulity and political corruption sucks.” Destruction of the ego, the root of all suffering, is the crux of meditation.
Levine is known to bring the spirituality of recovery into his practice; while he offers meditation to all, there is a great sensitivity to people who have experienced the paradigm shift of sobriety. Says Levine, in an interview from 2007, “I was shocked that meditation pracitce worked for relief from the craziness of my mind and the pain that I was experiencing. Simultaneously,, I realized – admitted- that I was a drug addict, and I got into 12 step recovery.”
We were honored to have such a great variety of speakers at the ONE80CENTER Wellness Day Event; from brain mapping and neurobiology to Reiki, psychiatrists, to Thai Drumming Chants. Noah Levine was an amazing addition to that line up, further emphasizing the diversity of approaches to overall wellness and recovery.
“The biggest gift I have is freedom from active addiction.
I am no longer a slave to my drug of choice. I have
come to know peace and happiness and my lost
dreams have awakened.I am okay with the man in the
mirror. I am living proof that we do recovery, one day
at a time.”
- Adam S.