The Abuse Of Alcohol Depletes Nutrition, Exacerbating The Extreme Toll Alcoholism Takes On The Human Body
Alcoholism and the abuse of alcohol are nutritional nightmares, wreaking havoc on the human body. Known for doing damage to a variety of organs, including the liver, brain and pancreas, the effects of alcoholism in terms of health multiply when nutritional values are considered. Nutritional changes account for a significant portion of the long-term complications of alcoholism. In order to come back to full health once they embrace the long-term path of sobriety, most alcoholics need to change their nutritional habits in recovery.
One80Center Individualized Program Includes Health
The clinical staff at One80Center has seen that chronic alcoholics eventually develop severe forms of malnutrition-related illnesses. This is why we have incorporated nutritional help based on individual needs into our individualized program for our clients. With an organic garden on site and a gourmet chef with a nutritional background on staff, One80Center addresses a client’s health needs from a three-dimensional perspective. After all, recovery means more than just sobriety.
A positive benefit of making a healthy nutritional shift is that the maintenance of good nutritional habits actually helps to decrease the risks for a future alcohol-related relapse. Nutrition is the process through which the human body extracts health-supporting substances, known as nutrients, from foods in a daily diet. To maintain a healthy balance, human beings need to consume certain amounts of a variety of nutrients, including fats, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, and vitamins.
Alcoholism Can Lead To Deadly Malnutrition
Lack of adequate nutrient intake will lead to a form of malnutrition called under-nutrition. In contrast, excessive nutrient intake will lead to another form of malnutrition called over-nutrition and potential obesity. In addition to other roles they play in the human body, proteins, fats and carbohydrates provide the energy needed in terms of calories for both voluntary and involuntary body processes.
Alcohol is a calorie-containing substance. As a result, it qualifies as a type of nutrient. The problem is that the other harmful properties of alcohol more than offset any potential benefits. First, and perhaps most importantly, alcohol, particularly when it comes to the amounts consumed by alcoholics, degrades the normal function of the liver, the stomach and other organs involved in the processing of nutrients. Alcohol actually prevents the human body from properly processing dietary fats while depleting the body’s supply of most major vitamins and essential minerals such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron. In chronic alcoholics, serious or severe nutrition-related problems can lead to pancreatic inflammation and stomach ulcers.
A secondary problem with dire consequences is that many alcoholics fall into a habit of substituting alcohol for substantial portions of their normal daily diet. In extreme cases, this substitution decreases food and nutrient intake by as much as 50 percent. For alcoholics who initially start with minor malnutrition-related health issues, this pattern of food replacement can potentially worsen their condition. Such negative nutrient loss can even trigger the onset of major forms of malnutrition.
Restoring Health For Alcoholics In Recovery
In a study of alcoholics in early recovery, experts at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism identified multiple cases of malnutrition. As a result, they recommended a dietary program that addresses any nutritional deficiencies. While the specific required diet will vary from person to person, certain general dietary factors may play a role. For instance, consumption of high-protein foods can potentially reduce alcohol cravings by stabilizing an alcoholic’s blood glucose. Recovering alcoholics also benefit from supplements that contain concentrated doses of specific minerals or vitamins.
With an experienced chef and nutritional experts on staff, One80Center has addressed the dietary needs of clients in early recovery since the beginning. Beyond being a respected gourmet, the One80Center chef incorporates organic nutrition from our organic garden with each meal. The professional kitchen staff prepares individual meals to accommodate food preferences such as vegetarian, kosher, vegan, or other specialized dietary needs. In between meals, the kitchen is open for healthy snacks, fresh fruit and a variety of beverages. By focusing on the individual nutritional needs of each of our clients, One80Center’s individualized program directly responds to and helps to repair the nutritional damage done by active alcoholism.
CONNECTING WITH OTHERS
A couple of days ago I went to the gas station by my house, which I do on a regular basis. I know all the guys there, all hailing from India. I like to go in and talk to them for a minute while paying for my gas because while standing in line I see most people don’t acknowledge them at all, as if they were nothing more than a vending machine. On this particular occasion, I walked in and said hello to Omar in my usual way. He was half turned around, doing something off to the side of the window that separates them from the potentially hostile customer. Omar looked up, almost startled and then blurted out, “My father died this morning; my father died.”
I was stunned for a moment. The force of not only what he said, but how he said it, hit me hard. It was as if he needed to tell someone, as if he was waiting for someone familiar that he could share this sad information with. I stood at the little window and told him I was so sorry to hear that, and asked if he was OK. I asked if he was going to go home—all the things one says in the face of such a declaration. He had tears in his eyes. There were people in line behind me. I wanted to grab his hand underneath the window to connect with him in spite of the obvious barriers, both visible and invisible. But I didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t, although I felt my energy reaching out for him, my hand didn’t. The people in line behind me starting to make the kind of noises people make when they are tired of waiting, and I was about to turn and leave when Omar grabbed my hand. We stood there like that for a short while looking at each other, and then he suddenly composed himself and said, “Thank you, my friend.” He wiped his eyes, and gestured for the next customer to step forward.
I thought about this interaction for days afterward. We really do need to connect with others and tell people what is going on inside of us. Connecting with others truly is a function of healing to be able to connect with someone, no matter how briefly. I think that is one of the really beautiful things about recovery; that it promotes sharing our secrets, the things we are not inclined to share, by teaching us how to trust people. I think Omar trusted me because for years I have made sure that he knows I see him. I see him— he isn’t invisible to me, he is flesh and blood. Because of this, he was able to trust me and was compelled to reach through to help himself heal.
When I got sober, there was a moment when I realized I wasn’t invisible anymore. Not like people didn’t see me, they just didn’t see the real me, and that is entirely because I didn’t let them. I didn’t trust that people would not abandon me if they saw the real me. But lo and behold, I stripped down to my psycho/spiritual skivvies, as raw and vulnerable as a baby, and the people in the rooms held me up and held me close until I learned not to put up a wall between me and everyone else. Now that I am in my sixth year of sobriety I have learned that connecting with others is critical to my spiritual development. It’s important to stay open to others, to be available to make a connection with everyone, everywhere. I have days where I am grumpy and don’t look the cashier at the grocery store in the eye, and I always get in my car and realize that I was closed up and in my own head and robbed myself of the chance to connect. This happens less and less, but it still happens. Usually, now I will catch myself as its happening and put some effort into being friendly and making eye contact with strangers. That little effort goes a long way. When I do that, and that person looks me back in the eye, I feel the light in them reaching in and brightening my mood. It never fails. Connecting is healing. Often we are so stuck in our misery that we don’t want to heal, we want to wallow in our self inflicted misery. But when we allow ourselves to open up and stay open to others, we are constantly connecting, and thus constantly healing, ourselves and others. I’m pretty sure that is the recipe for an amazing life!
CREATIVITY IN RECOVERY PART 2 – ONE80CENTER’s Executive Director Stephen Dansiger, PsyD, MFT discusses balancing sobriety and creative fulfillment
CREATIVITY IN RECOVERY Pt. 2 – Stephen Dansiger, PsyD, MFT
In our previous blogpost with ONE80CENTER Executive Director Dr. Steve Dansiger, (READ HERE), he discussed his development as a musician, his experience hitting bottom as an addict, and the creative hiatus that followed in the first years of his sobriety.
180: When you got sober, did you experience a lapse in creative flow? Were you scared to play music and write?
SD: For me, it was less about 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 as a musician if I kept going, and that didn’t feel safe. 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.
180: Did you have any notion that the creative impulse was still there?
SD: 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. And then it broke naturally. The way it manifested was like, “I don’t want to play drums anymore…I want to write songs.” I needed to drop everything and release my preconceived notions about what it meant to be a creative person and then it naturally started to form. And later, when my friend asked me to play drums with her along the way, I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds like fun, let’s try that.’
So I started writing songs and released a single that garnered attention called The Ballad of John Parker. I put together an album and another band, got another record deal and developed momentum for a second time. But in the end, I didn’t get the label support to keep it moving forward and things fell apart. Then my friend who had started the band I played drums for, she got a book deal and broke her band up and it was like the universe was saying, ‘Go ahead and try to be a songwriter, try to be a drummer…but sorry, you can’t have either one.’
180: Which leads to the nervous breakdown..
SD: Right. I couldn’t shoulder the disappointment of things not going the way I’d wanted. At the same time my musical career was going down the tubes, I’d also been teaching and working with high school kids in diversity training, which involved a lot of conflict resolution, anger management, prejudice reduction work–this was in the aftermath of the Crown Heights race riots. And even though I felt that the work had value, I was experiencing burnout from that as well. All of it led to a deep depression, which led to three different psychiatric hospital stays, each one worse than the last. My official diagnosis was depression with psychotic features. My friend Josh came and visited me at one point and told me years later, “After that visit, I thought you were one of the lost ones…I didn’t think you were coming back.”
At the time, I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d had a positive future-based thought. It was dark.
It was like the Universe was saying: ‘Go ahead…
…try to be a songwriter, try to be a drummer…
…but sorry, you can’t have either one.’
180: How did you get out from under it?
SD: I had been to a spiritual retreat at a Zen monastery early in my sobriety, so I’d had some exposure to Buddhism, and had been practicing what I’d learned by the time the depression hit. And when it got bad, it (the depression) was so beyond oppressive that any idea of something that could help lift it was out the window.
However, while I was at St. Vincent’s (psychiatric hospital), the one thing that I had said to Josh was, “I think I might get better if I go live at the monastery.” And since it was the only glimmer of hope I’d expressed, the doctors and my friends and family made it happen.
180: We talk about hitting physical, mental, and spiritual bottoms in treatment, recovery and sobriety a lot. When did things start to change?
SD: Twenty one days into my stay at the monastery, something specific happened that imploded / exploded the depression. I’d been working with a Zen monk who happened to be a Jungian psychologist, as well as a Zen master and doing a tremendous amount of mindful work: gardening, mopping the floor…basically whatever was in front of me. I was sitting on a cushion–still thinking very dark thoughts–but the idea came to me that maybe when I was done at the monastery, I’d teach kids how to do this meditation thing. And it was the first thought I’d had in months that indicated I’d have a life in the future. And then this wave of thoughts came out of that: ‘Maybe I’ll go back to the city, maybe I’ll have my apartment and my friends back, maybe there’s a woman…maybe I’ll have a life again.’ And later, during a walking meditation, I grabbed one of my friends and dragged him into the bathroom–which was where you went to talk and break the silence–and I said, “I’m OK!!” Because I got it. And he said he knew I was.
In the third and final blog, Dr. Steve talks about reshaping a creative identity, so stay tuned…
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.
1024. Remember that number.
If you were there, you may have been number 2. Or 36. or 473. or 908. Just know that you were counted. That’s how many of you turned out for the ONE80CENTER July 4th party at the Houdini Mansion last week.Let me say this again: ONE THOUSAND TWENTY FOUR…that’s a thousand twenty-four smiling faces. A thousand twenty four ice cream sandwiches, grass-fed beef sliders and gourmet mac-and-cheese hors-d-oeuvres. A thousand twenty four hands in the air (okay, two thousand forty eight, technically, but bear with us) and a thousand twenty four screaming cheers for searing hot live music on a warm summer evening. That’s a thousand twenty four new friends, a thousand twenty four old ones, and one very vital community of people committed to recovery and having a rocking good time at it.
We jammed traffic on Laurel Canyon all the way back to Sunset. We ran out of places to park cars hours before the party was over. We packed the lawns, driveways and garden terraces of ONE80CENTER’s beautiful new facility until we were shoulder-to-shoulder and still we continued to rock the house, thanks in no small part to the reunited China Club All-Star band. Picture this: MC5′s Wayne Kramer, Doobie Brother and Steely Dan alum Skunk Baxter, Kat Dyson from the New Power Generation…Malik Pointer and rock legend Michael Des Barres…all on the same stage at the same time?! Are you serious?! When I asked a co-worker this morning about her favorite moment of the night, she replied, “I don’t even remember the party!”
Well believe it because it happened. We know because you blogged about it (HERE) and (HERE), Instagrammed it (HERE) and Facebooked and Tweeted about it more times than we could count. And whether you called it a festival, a madhouse or a mini Coachella, what really happened was a show of support, friendship and love that can’t be measured in numbers or social media clicks.
To us, this was much bigger than celebrating the two years since ONE80CENTER opened its doors. It was even bigger than our being able to give a little back to you, who’ve supported us in that time. To us, this was about laying claim to our freedom and declaring our independence from addiction, a disease which has taken so much from so many of us, and from so many people we love. This sentiment was echoed by ONE80CENTER’s clinical director and founder, Berni Fried, who made a point to pay a very emotional tribute to those we’ve lost as well as those of us who’ve had the courage and grace to survive. We heard as much from a lot of different people in a lot of different ways, but to quote an anonymous guest waiting patiently for a Cool Haus ice cream sandwich:
“What I saw that night was community, laughter, energy, and smiles all around. I went looking for sweets but what I found was much sweeter. In a town where so many people pass one another like ships in the night it’s nice to see people throw out the anchor once in a while and get to know each other.”
Suffice it to say that we weren’t expecting the turnout we got…not in our wildest dreams. But for showing up, we say THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts. If you’re reading this, you’re part of the spirit that we captured that night, like lightning in a bottle. You helped raise money to support the 12 Angels, a non-profit organization that provides capital, education and mentorship to support sustainable businesses that hire recovering addicts. You showed newcomers in sobriety that being sober is incredibly fun, cool, hip, sexy, playful and awesome. Most of all, you showed 1023 other people that we don’t do any of this alone.
So remember July 4th, 2012 and consider yourself invited for July 4th, 2013. We promise to out-do ourselves next year (and yes…you can count on at least 1024 more Porta-Potties).
On July 4th, 2012, ONE80CENTER is going to celebrate Independence. That is a central theme to what we do at ONE80CENTER, helping people live a life independent of drugs and alcohol. We will also be celebrating over two years of helping people recover, and opening up our amazing, tight knit community to the larger Los Angeles recovery community. We have a lot to celebrate! And last but not least, this event is a benefit for 12 Angels non profit, an organization that is near and dear to our hearts. It will be held at the historic Houdini Mansion, with three food trucks, horse shoes, a jumping castle, photo booth, raffle, valet parking, and the CHINA CLUB ALL STAR JAM.
We have many illustrious and well known musicians coming to join us, in the jam format made popular by the renowned CHINA CLUB, which featured amazing and successful musicians coming together to jam on stage for the mere fun of it. These All Star Special Guests will be rotating throughout the day, supported by the house band, listed below. (And when we say ‘special guests’, we mean VERY special guests!)
MALIK POINTER- Singer and Soul Man Extraordinaire
STEVE FERRONE- Drummer- has recorded and performed with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Slash, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Chaka Khan, Duran Duran, and was a founding member of The Average White Band.
KAT DYSON- Guitarist/vocalist, was a featured guitarist & vocalist with Prince. She has played with Mick Jagger, Buddy Guy, Chaka Khan, George Clinton and the P Funk All Stars, BB King, Carlos Santana…just to name a few.
JEFF YOUNG plays and records with likes of Jackson Browne, Sting, Steely Dan, and lately Leann Rimes.
BILL BERGMAN- Saxophonist, has played with Stevie Wonder, WAR, Chuck D., Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Motorhead, Canned Heat, Scream, and TSOL, just to name a few.
LEE THORNBURG-Trumpet – Trombone, horn and saxophone player, is best known for his work with Supertramp and Tower of Power.
NICK LANE- Trombonist, has recorded on hundreds of CD’s including recent pop artists such as Coldplay, Green Day, No Doubt, Pink, Macy Gray, Tim McGraw, Babyface, The Offspring, The Wallflowers, Ziggy Marley, Fastball and Joe Cocker.
Life is a snake dance, shedding feathers of urge and keen scales of loss, shedding and, once free, free as it once was, as a baby snake is, free of old skin born anew, reborn, renewed, a new thing resembling everything, like you.
When I say you — you could be anybody, and you are. Your amazing eyes take in the shape of these letters, each symbol, the sound, how they connect to others, grasps even (oh, the miracle of it all) how they unite into words which stand for things, connect together, form thoughts, and you think you’re just reading, with all this going on behind it all, making it happen, and you don’t stop to consider this miracle. Stop. Think about these things. The heart keeps beating, (until it doesn’t) and you don’t tell it to. It knows that you are meant to live, maybe even more than you do. Tirelessly all of these miracles keep being miraculous and you don’t stop to think, and it is never mad that you don’t notice, it doesn’t need you to; its joy is inside itself, the joy that you sometimes remember. If only you knew, all the time, you are a beautiful thing. You, baby that you are, shedding skin that forms around the fruit of your life, scales of time and heartbreak shattered and dancing in the sunlight with crushed spider legs and dust.
…your life, dancing in the sunlight. Dust.
Could anything ever be more perfect than this?
This now, this you. A gift you are constantly unwrapping. Do I know you? You, who are reading this now, are you a friend of mine? An ex or future lover? A stranger who breathes the same air as me, the same as Edgar Allen Poe or Geronimo or Rumi, inhaling and exhaling the fabric of this world you and I can never understand? Who are you? A child of God is who, living in the miracle of now, even if you don’t see it. It sees you, and it knows you. I know you. We are cut from the same cloth, warp and weft, stars in the same sky. How could I not love you? Whoever you are, I do.
The ocean caresses the sand into a tiny wholeness; it knows each grain to be a loving thing with the fierceness of a mother. The light, as it filters through the wings of your hair, is full of information that your eye will know and your heart will trust but your mind will turn away. In the house of the mind a hoarder lives, a dark collector that keeps every little thing. There is nothing that is simply what it is. All things have a history attached. All things have names. If you let go you maybe won’t be you, dreamer of dreams, for God’s sake keep everything you think you know you are, who would you be if you let it go all go let go, I’d like to know and anyway I do, it’s written all over your face, this beautiful baby that loves things, mercilessly, mirthfully, and does not see anything that it is not, is everything it sees and everything it doesn’t.
You are a symbol, a letter in an ancient alphabet, a secret code embedded in a moment of waking. The Mystery is in the corner of your mouth, a tiny acorn when you smile, a thing that everyone wants: the smile, the mystery, the promise of a great oak. Everyone knows you are the bright star flashing across the sky, and they make a wish as you pass. They know.
They know that even now, all time is pressed into one thing which bears the shape of a child’s laugh, the happy snake eating its own self, the gold ring never beginning, never ending. Here it is, where it always has been, and it’s yours. Don’t turn away. Don’t run after false things. Wake up from this dream; you are not alone. Alone is not real, only the opposite of alone is real. Wake up. Don’t fall in love with dreams. Sometimes someone dreams of losing things, something is gone that was there and without it someone is not someone anymore but a diminished thing, reduced by sadness, distorted by longing. In this dream, the shadows run alongside the sun and sing sadly, sad that the sun won’t touch them, lurking at the edge of the kiss that can’t reach them- the promise of the acorn, the mystery of you- the shadow is not you, the dream is not you. Do you know that? The shadow is not you. You are the sun.
I know the sun. I am the kiss I crave. This brings me joy in just that same way beauty makes me want to throw myself off a cliff, every time. It’s the pain of knowing it’s all God, and I am that — how can I tell you? What symbolsletterswordsthoughts could ever contain what that ecstasy is, the unbearable spasm of self remembering? How can I show the horse that the water is good to drink? But even more so, how will the horse know that it is the water?
It is good to beaten into submission, to be thrashed into a tiny grain of fiercely loving wholeness, to caress the edge of the sun where the shade sings. I submit to the ocean and its constant remembering. I am a word, one word, the first letter, the point at which the pen meets the paper. I am not the pen. I am not the paper. I have not been written down.
I could keep writing and writing, except I couldn’t. Each word becomes as meaningless as a snake with no skin, as one tiny drop in the ever-loving ocean. It could be any word, any one word; they all mean the same thing, finally. Just as you could be anyone, you could be you or someone else, but there is only one Truth, and it’s always you. Wake up.
Could anything ever be more perfect than this?
….your life, dancing in the sunlight. Dust.
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.
Yesterday I was talking to someone about fear. It was a meeting with someone from Zimbabwe, who was coming to talk about taking sober tours to Fiji. He was talking about the shark diving that they did in that area, and I perked up. I mean, perked up more than just the idea of a tropical island paradise would perk me up. Sharks are one of my biggest fears (shocker, I know). Its so deeply primal that it makes my Parasympathetic Nervous System go into hyperdrive just thinking about it. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is the fight or flight response, a byproduct of our cave dwelling ancestors. It has long since outlived its usefulness- we no longer need to get the rush of body chemicals that will stimulate our muscles to move faster or go beyond our normal limits to survive. In spite of our not needing it, it is still activated by things that are not life threatening- like speaking in public, for instance. Or thinking about sharks. In addicts, it would be why the saying “pause when agitated” is so important- before we act out of our ‘old brain’, where our choices for action are limited and survival based. It doesn’t allow for making distinctions- its fighting, or its running.
FEAR IS THE ABSENCE OF LOVE
I used to say that I would rather go swimming with sharks than speak in public. Thats a fairly dramatic statement, but also easy to say, as I wouldn’t really ever have to choose that option over the other. When I was in hypnotherapy school, one of the courses was public speaking. I couldn’t do it. I froze up. I dropped out of school for 6 months and went to therapy- real talk- it was that traumatic. I couldn’t really understand why my reaction to it was so severe. My therapist put me in a group that she lead, and on my first night, I was sweating so much that I actually put pantyliners inside the underarms of my shirt. Yes I did. I can’t believe I just confessed this. I was terrified to be the new person in the group of 8 women, I was terrified to speak to them. I was so self conscious that all I could do was think how they would judge me, or dismiss me.
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS
So- the sharks. I was talking about facing fears, and the spiritual aspect of it, and how if we were to create this sober trip to Fiji, I would want to go and do that. I also DO NOT want to, but its the not wanting to that is making me want to. This fellow was asking me why I felt that way, about facing fears, and we had a cool conversation about it. We talked about the value of becoming fearless. and how it changes your life. He didn’t mention until much later, after that particular conversation had been over for an hour, that he was the USA Grand Champion on Fear Factor. HA! He really knows what it means to tackle those pesky fears and show them who’s boss. I loved that we had that whole conversation and I didn’t know that swimming with sharks for him, was cake walk. I had a whole new level of respect for this guy that I don’t often have for a lot of people. He lives a life not dictated by his fears, but open to any possibility. The way it should be lived.
It isn’t that we should just go look for dangerous things to do that could harm us- that isn’t the point. Its the myriad little fears, anxieties, neuroses, habits, hang ups, etc., that keep us playing small, that plague us. Its when we are over identified with who we are as a way to avoid pain or discomfort that is really dangerous. For example, I have swaggered around being super stoic my whole life. I have not been one to show my feelings or display anything that might be construed as weakness. By over identifying with this, I cut off a slew of experiences that terrified me to my core- intimacy, vulnerability, real connectivity with other people. Letting myself be held up by my community- my fear of these things being rooted in not being lovable, not being enough, being rejected. When I was able to recognize my fears, I was able to see all the barriers I built to avoid said fears. My entire life was built around them- most all of my major life decisions came from fear of (and trying to avoid) emotional discomfort and pain.
“Each bottle on the floor
Is a soldier in the war
that was lost”
_Mark Anthony (Chocolate Genius)
When I think about important struggles and why anyone ever fights, it is for the certain liberty of something, someone. It is to maintain, at least theoretically, a liberty that a country has enjoyed up to that point, or to (again, theoretically) help create freedom for others who don’t have the ability to stop those who encroach on it.
All of us in recovery, then, are soldiers. We have fought for our own liberty and freedom from the tyranny of our disease. And, like in any battle, we have lost many. Too many. The longer anyone stays in recovery, the more staggering the number of friends and acquaintances who succumb fatally to the hell of addiction. Every time another one falls, for me, is a time that I can feel my own recovery undergo a galvanizing process. I am, every time, reminded of what we are up against, and what a cunning devil constantly hangs around with infinite patience for us to have a moment of weakness. It is always there, and always will be. When we get cocky, it gets ready. Arrogance is like a Trojan horse for our disease. Humility is key.
However, for all that have fallen (God bless their souls) there are those of us who get to stay sober another 24 hours, and get to do it again tomorrow, and re-commit to it every day. You often hear it said “God willing, I’ll be sober tomorrow!” God is always willing. We don’t have to be one of the fallen; we get to choose, every day, to embrace our lives in sobriety.
This Memorial Day, (which for so many newcomers will feel strange, it did for me! A poolside barbeque, everyone drinking beer, and not me!) have fun and stay sober. Buddy up with another sober person, if you are venturing into tricky waters. If, like me, you get to go to an entirely sober Memorial Day, all the better! But don’t spend the “day to remember the fallen” by putting yourself on their same path.
Happy Memorial Day Weekend!