Beyond Recovery to Healing
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. – C.G. Jung
I was always attracted to the study of psychology and psychoanalysis, from an early age. In my recovery, I accepted that I was studying in an attempt to understand my family dynamic so I might A) fix them or, later B) fix myself. The truth is you can’t think your way out of some “problems”. The recovery saying is, “You can’t think your way to better living, you gotta live your way to better thinking”.
The long and short of all the study is I don’t fix anything. That does not mean we don’t want change. Change is good, so this might sound confusing. Words sometimes fail as the imperfect vessels that they are. One way to put it is; in early recovery I felt that some part of me was broken and just needed to be cut out, like surgery and then I’d be ok. My studies of body/energy work and healing (Polarity, Craniosacral, Radix, Bioenergetics, and Somatic Experience) led me to the understanding that it’s the opposite. It’s about embracing and integrating “in”, that we heal, not “cutting out”. Trauma affects the whole body but rests in the nervous system and healing rests in the Heart field. Nothing happens in a vacuum, everything is part of a whole which is a way of saying there’s a reason for everything, therefore everything contains a blessing and as I embrace the heart receives the blessing.
However imperfect these words, what we are describing is what actually happens in a healing process.
Another way to look at it is, as a kid I had injuries & cuts that meant stitches and I did (secretly) think of my scars as cool. I would never consider…plastic surgery to remove them. It’s the same with the psychic scars of childhood and life. They are a part of me and make up the whole(er) picture. We don’t want to remove them we want to embrace them. That has proven very true for me as far as my addiction disorder. I am glad I am an addict. Sounds odd yet many in long-term recovery will nod their head in agreement at this statement.
Another truth of this process: the hard part that trips us up, especially men, is grief. The stickler in this multi-stage process is the grieving process. We have been trained, for centuries, to armor up and not feel the full range of our emotional body. That’s the hard part that keeps so many suffering out there from coming in to recovery and healing.
It’s a stage of the process of healing that is logical and yet heart wrenching. Logical in that when we change an older part of us dies and we need to say goodbye. In nature, the snake is in tune with the rhythms of life and naturally molts its old skin growing into its new one. So many of us guys are tuff-enough, and won’t embrace the change which actually increases the pain and holds us back, stuck like cement. Grief is a natural part of life. I’m not just talking about big events like the death of a family member, I’m saying letting go is a part of life. Life and death are one and the same in the circle of life and we are raised in a culture that does not respect or honor that nearly enough to meet our true human needs. So we are not taught to grieve, how to grieve, what rituals will soften that and facilitate that and make it easier.
As to psychology, a couple of ideas the psychoanalysts gave us was; in our tabula rasa state what happens in childhood can imprint and scar (or esteem) us, retaining the memories in our sub and un-conscious brain. And this, the unconscious brain, is where our unconscious belief structure, our paradigms, then originate. The spiritual path is about uncovering those thoughts and beliefs that we have attached to, beginning a process that frees us from the unconscious influence. Then choice enters the picture. Put another way, it is in my best interest, and the collective best interest, if I know why I think and act the way I do. Then I deepen my relationship to Free Will.
You understand, Madison Avenue, essentially think-tanks and massive corporations, work hard to uncover just this sort of information to increase their effectiveness in manipulating our behavior to their liking. Including in the realm of politics. The next Presidential election will spend-they predict-one billion dollars to do just that.
And since we are going there, that billion, mostly donated from aforementioned corporations, are not donating that as charity and service work. They are, for all practical purposes, loans. And they expect to be paid back, with interest! As we head to the polls, I’m just sayin’….
From Mose Allison to Words and Pictures
I’d been wondering, from the vast universe of books and music, which to discuss next when I saw this great movie. First let’s start with music. An experience I had as a promoter, one that adds excitement to the work, is bringing in artists you have never even seen live. In fact, sometimes, in that pre-internet time, I hadn’t even heard their records. Now YouTube has everything, for free. Anyways, it adds a bit of a gamble, an incipient addiction I never fully engaged in, gambling that is. Occasionally, you are truly rewarded. Mose Allison was one such act.
Later, I realized this was a common feeling among promoters and club owners everywhere, this reverence for Mose. I didn’t want to pay what his agent was asking, knowing the date would lose money, and eventually the agent relented and I got a date. I was in Northern Michigan and the scene was young and I had a budget to follow. One aspect of the budget was I did want to rent a top notch piano for him. I walked in the backdoor as Mose was doing a sound check, and he looked up, I pointed at the piano and mouthed, “Is that ok?” and, not breaking stride, playing away, he said, in impeccable hipster, “Immaculate baby”. Maybe you had to be there, but his presence, quiet yet really powerful, was truly and authentically too cool for school. The theatre held 280 and I had two shows. If I remember correctly the first show had over 100 attend but the second only 60 or so. Mose played 2 hours, for each show. That’s when you get to the character of an artist. He could have shorted the second set but the people who did pay and attend are fans and he gave them a full-out night. Lest I state the obvious, that’s a bit over 4 hours of music not to count the earlier sound check of about an hour. And he was so good! He slayed, he killed, he laid them out in the aisles! Who woulda guessed? And then he hung with us late into the night. And this is a witty, witty social commentator and satirist woven throughout superb musical artistry. If you don’t know Mose, it’s possibly because his records never fully captured his grace-filled power. That’s a challenge for some artists. And, of course, corporate radio never played his music, truth teller that he is. And at 86, he’s recently retired from the road. So you can’t see him live anymore. I recommend his records highly! So where’s that leave us on the movie front?
Words and Pictures, with Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, has some bluster, but it also has some of that tender power in it. I love all kinds of movies–gangster, crooked cops, samurai, b sci-fi, comedies of all stripes, action-adventure, you-name-it. The ones that are nearest and dearest now are the quieter tender movies. That is where life really resides, in the splendor of a bird’s song and the beauty of a sun rise. Tender Mercies, Fearless w/ Jeff Bridges, Resurrection (from the 70’s-Ellen Burstyn), Breaking Away, Local Hero, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Philomena, Hellboy (hey-it’s a love story), The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Intouchables, Never Cry Wolf, Wonder Boys, King of Hearts, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and many more.
The thing about movies is they are fun, they entertain, which I want. And yet…..to me, it’s more important, that art illuminates in ways that expand the Mind’s ability to understand that straight linear thought can’t. That’s what art offers us, and what W & P discusses. And what it does, over a number of topics that are (mostly) successfully woven together. And I just love that! Oh yeah, and by the way, an alcoholic enters recovery. And I really love that! So it’s win-win and then more wins! I’ve said enough, I’m going to leave it at that. The movie has my synapses firing taking me beyond my capacity to critique. I will say it does do the best job I have seen yet of explaining the drawbacks of our smartphone/iPad/social media tech world. It’s not perfect, most movies aren’t, but I hope you enjoy it.
When I was 9 I wrote Frank Zappa a letter and he wrote back. What happened; in my beloved Marvel Comics, along-side the x-ray specs and Atlas work-out ads, was an ad for his “fan club”, United Mutations, and when you joined they sent a questionnaire and I filled it out. I was probably whiny (the letter’s long gone) and complaining about my parents. His response was along the lines of, “Shut up you little twerp, I’m not Ann Landers. Go to the library and educate yourself”. I took him at his word and proceeded to do just that. In truth, I was taught to read early, there were books around the house, my brother turned me on to important books, ideas, etc. and I just grew it from there. This applied to every stage of my life, so when recovery entered my life and then later treatment became my work I applied myself to self-education. In truth, many great teachers and mentors were placed in my path and I worked to stay open. I realized over time that I was being given a very well-rounded education in what our treatment continuum consists of in the United States. That morphed into understanding the underlying paradigms. That idea, paradigm shifting, is a theme of mine because of some of these teachings. A major mentor for me is in this concise page from the New Yorker on homelessness. Philip Mangano crossed my path, some 16 years ago, and it took me a couple of years to grasp the implications but the shift was worth the work. If you would, read the page linked and then meet me back here.
It was, for me, counter-intuitive after I got in recovery, the idea that we should be handing out free apartments. This succinct idea, that you help people with full, basic services, on their way to change, was quite revolutionary. So much of the media blather, the Fox “News”, Rush radio, Koch-fed, Republican/Democrat, right/left noise is around services for those hurting. They say we are spending too much on “welfare” and we need to get back to good old American initiative. It is true that people need to take initiative, exert effort, participate in their own recovery and rise above their circumstances. We’re talking about hands-up, not hand-outs. Those suffering need support to do it, sometimes you can’t do it alone. I was badly addicted, living in the streets, headed (soon) to prison or death, you take your pick which is worse. And a “free” treatment center, a peer-centered recovery home, lovingly run, saved my life. Literally. And from that day, over 21 years ago until now, instead of me in prison costing society tax monies, I have been working and paying taxes. I have paid off debt instead of impending bankruptcy. Etc. Etc. Etc.
The beauty of this whole Housing First philosophy is that it works, in hard dollars-and-cents ways. It saves money, HUGE money, in city after city. I participated in those initiatives and saw them succeed in other cities. It’s time to make it a national priority. We hear a lot of lip service to that, Veterans needing better care and all. There are plenty of pockets of just that happening, and now it needs to be a true national priority. I’m no bleeding heart liberal. I have no problem with appropriate consequences, as long as they are applied evenly throughout all strata of society. Wall Street looted hundreds and hundreds of billions recently and no one went to prison. The system engenders a lot of resentment which fosters an “I’d better get mine any way I can, they got there’s” attitude throughout our society. So, we can talk about “welfare” all you want as long as we include the vast corporate welfare that’s been going on for decades.
A note on all this. A key component, an element of the bigger picture is: the workers; EMT, nurses, case managers, counselors, peer support specialists, licensed people, etc., they have to be really good at their job to create change. To hold a space that both meets and accepts clients exactly where and as they are and lovingly support the motivation for change takes real skill. The field is filled with those kinds; passionate, working to make-a-difference, mission-driven people. Now, the issue is; THEY NEED TO BE SUPPORTED. The workers need effective, healthy supervision from administrations not to mention a fuller web of recovery supports in place beside them, to be truly successful. This is what a Recovery Oriented System of Care is about. Though there may be some front-loading cost in the early stages, much of this is ultimately in the nature of free supports that are naturally there in the community. Because that is what creates full success, the community working together. Lack of community/disconnect is what makes us sick, what creates dis-ease. Community creation/connection is what makes us well. As the system creates change and increases success, what we like to call “improved outcomes”, the whole chain of workers feel empowered which creates an upward spiral of increasing success. They get charged up. Then we go beyond recovery all the way to healing.
Here’s a short PBS news video of a New Jersey Doctor (plus a link to a larger New Yorker article) applying the same ideas from a medical perspective saving millions of Medicaid dollars. In one city. Millions.
I would like to close with this note from our historian, William White, on “What Distinguishes Addiction Counseling from Other Helping Professions?”
“What the addiction counselor knows that other service professionals do not is the very soul of the addicted-their terrifying fear of insanity, the shame of their wretchedness, their guilt over drug-induced sins of omission and commission, their desperate struggle to sustain their personhood, their need to avoid the psychological and social taint of addiction, and their hypervigilant search for the slightest trace of condescension, contempt or hostility in the posture, eyes or voice of the professed helper….If there is a therapeutic stance most unique to addcition counseling, it is perhaps the virtue of humility. While seasoned addcition counselors muster the best science-based interventions, they do so with an awareness that recovery often comes from forces and relationships outside the client and outside the therapeutic relationship. It is in this perspective that the addiction counselor sees himself or herself as much a witness of this recovery process as its facilitator. In the end, the job of the addictions counselor is to find resources within and beyond the client (and the counselor) that can tip the scales from addiction to recovery. To witness (and to be present within) that process of transformation is the most sacred thing in the field, and what would most need to be rediscovered if the field collapsed today.”
It is music that pushes the edge…
Now Music. Movies are great and books essential but for social change, it is music that pushes the edge. The cultural explosion known as the 60’s was led and trumpeted by a creative musical detonation that both mirrored and contributed social change. What’s remembered from that era is the drugs (and there is plenty of interesting information about who/where those drugs actually came from) and other negative aspects, but there was a moment when things felt quite hopeful. A fact of Woodstock was that despite few amenities and not enough food, not one fistfight broke out, people. Hundreds of thousands of people actually came together and cooperated. What a concept. I’m a big fan of human attributes like discipline, hard work, initiative and self-reliance. You know, the ones Limbaughites seem to think they somehow invented, but now is the time for less competition and more cooperation. True cooperation and collaboration are the virtues we seek.
Gil Scott Heron is the artist for today. Gil came out of the 60’s and shined like a beacon through the 70’s but was ultimately side-lined by the disease of addiction and passed in 2011. As a promoter I was able to bring him to Ann Arbor, MI in the early 80’s and despite setbacks, his power was evident and his humor had me rolling in the aisle. Poetic, soulful, musical, very funny, with a great band, his artistry led him to be dubbed the Godfather of Rap. He and a few others (James Brown, The Last Poets) were the true progenitors of Hip-Hop, as younger artists will tell you today. His song/poetry, sometimes spoken, sometime sung, filled with social observation and heart, became the conscience of a generation. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is a classic but I am showcasing The Bottle here, a song that focuses on addiction, which he ultimately succumbed to.
The New Yorker did one of their inimitable articles on Gil a year or so before his death and the New York Times obituary is worth reading.
From his day to now, the music industry has deeply changed, and in the shifts, the fact that there are many newer artists of great creativity, may be unknown to people. One area this applies to is the aforementioned worlds of Rap/Hip-Hop. Some current artists include:
A shift that has occurred is the vast concentration of music and all media into smaller and smaller hands, with 6 global conglomerates controlling virtually 95% of all US media. And they are still merging with predictions that it will end up as three.
Aside from our own concerns with these corporate mergers, it’s important to note that media is one of the few export and growth industries that America still retains. Its global influence is epic and the potential for damage or healing is equally epic. A sobering thought when you look at the rap/hip-hop world. We older-mostly white- folks love to bemoan the current state of popular music with rap’s cursing, drugs and ho’s talk. Gil said it this way.
Yet, I have been shown many soulful, poetic, creative, socially aware, hip-hop poets you never see promoted by any of these 6 corporations. They, some the largest corporations in America, are the ones selling us all this violence-prone, worship of money, glamorization of drugs, women-are- ho’s imagery. Shouldn’t these vast corporations be the ones to take to task for all this, instead of A) picking on the artists who are just trying to survive and B) allowing it to drive a wedge between the races?
Btw, I got to say, speaking of great local bookstores, as we did last time, I dropped in Circle Books in Pittsboro and they are a great used/new book and music store with plenty of other cool stuff, including collectors’ items. When it’s Christmas shopping time, or anytime, I highly recommend them.
Of Football and Abuse
It is a horror to witness women and children abused. The stories of abusive football players on TV; to see the stronger preying on those smaller is painful. The film we have seen of the player punching his wife is ugly. The children are the most vulnerable, being dependent on their abusers and the damage to the kids is frequently never repaired or healed. It affects their life for decades to come. In my work, I regularly saw enough of this to realize I needed to alter my spirituality if I was going to not be damaged by it myself. Which leads me to the current spate of NFL events and the topic of football and abuse.
The first writings of this blog are an attempt to develop a foundation of ideas, to build the base of understanding upon which to build solutions. Once we have a snapshot of our basic concepts then we can build solutions upon such a groundwork. For example, an operating principal I love comes from recovery. Which is; the recognition and acceptance of anything, any problem is half-way to the solution. And; the holographic nature of the universe means that the solution is within the problem. What, you ask, am I talking about?
I suffered from addiction and was, to utilize the parlance of the time, in denial. I was not aware I had a substance use disorder, and then one day I was. And was immediately happy. Knowing feels better. Even if it’s “bad” news, I appreciate the clarity. We are talking about ending denial through the willingness to get an accurate assessment of the problem. Which is fundamentally different from being “negative”. And that is a fundamental belief of mine: what we need desperately in America is to end denial. Have you ever had a dental problem and, for whatever reason, not gone to the dentist as it nagged at you over time and then you finally go. A) It’s usually not as bad as we in our ignorance think it is and B) Even if it is, it still feels better to know. It’s weight off our shoulders. Hence how acceptance is half-way home. With acceptance we grow in knowledge and know what to do, what actions to take. With denial we suffer in ignorance and reap the consequences.
As to the solution being contained within the problem, recovery showed me that I suffered from addiction, and that an answer was to work in service with others who suffered from the disorder! What a concept. The solution is within the problem, who knew?!
To review what I see in all these NFL/abuse stories I need to go to a book from 1973, North Dallas Forty, You may know the movie, this another example of the book being better. Peter Gent wrote a great story, a semi-autobiographical account of a season for an NFL type team. He had played for Dallas in the early ‘60’s. And what he revealed was how much fear and pain is operant in the whole structure. The nature of the system means football players are filled with fear, drugs (including narcotics, amphetamines and steroids) and stress. Bear with me now, this is not to excuse abusive behavior. It’s just odd to think of large, healthy, strong warrior-athlete types being afraid. Which is why I appreciate Gent’s tale because it takes you into the mind of a sub-culture that has grown so strong in America. And it’s an ugly picture.
The reality is; it is an extremely violent game, it tends to leave players crippled in some form later in life and players have always been, and still are, expendable pieces of equipment to be replaced as soon as their utility is gone. They leave pieces of themselves across the fields of America for our entertainment and when injury or age or you-name-it has worn them out a younger version will be brought in and the player will be thrown on the trash heap. And we wonder why they are uptight? Lest you think that is hyperbole, I recommend the ESPN documentary series 30 for 30. Start with Broke. What it walks you through is quite painful. 60 percent of former NBA players are broke within five years of retirement. By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress. 78%. And that does not begin to cover the physical damage and disease they cope with.
So, as always the fact that the stress is taken out on those closest is a simple fact of a broken system. And our “surprise” at these news stories means we are in denial of the big picture. Which is why I laid down the beginnings of a foundation around the patriarchal/matrilineal discourse. The fact is that war and violence are by-products of the patriarchy. Always. And there are many other symptoms that create dis-ease. Couple that with profits as the dominant priority and we all become commodities to be thrown upon the trash heap. What happens to one, happens to all. All includes working and middle class white males. We are as chewed up by the patriarchy (even if we do have some benefits) as others. It’s a meat-grinder for most of us out there.
It is in our best interest to look at these fuller pictures because that is how broken everything is. We are only talking about bringing some balance back. We do not need to return to some kind of tribal grass-hut existence to not be at war with the Earth, each other and ourselves. But we do have to want that, to want an end to war with life itself.
At that point a game like football begins to look like what the actor Robert Downey (a man very publically in long-term recovery) spoke in the sophomoric yet fun movie Back to School. “Violent ground acquisition games such as football are in fact a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war.”
I have to add, in my work with those who suffer I grew to see that the genealogical/generational aspect of addiction goes back for many generations. The gene can “skip” a generation, but study shows that even without the active addiction, abuse (of all kinds) is there, repeating the disease and keeping the cycle going. Addiction and abuse are woven together like a blanket of guilt, shame and pain. Which moves us back to the beauty of recovery because of the profound significance of breaking that cycle. To break a cycle of abuse/addiction that usually lives unbroken for 1000 years. Imagine that!
I also must add the whole “I was whopped with switches and it’s good for my kid, because I came out ok” is absurd. You didn’t “come out” ok, you have a psychological need to beat a 4 year old. That’s not ok! Whoopings only “work” through the instillation of fear which begins and generates the whole spiral of abuse on-and-on. To quote Frank Herbert, “Fear is the mind-killer”. It’s a separate, huge (future) topic, but kids are not “bad” and they do not need to be hit to “come out” ok. Kids do need boundaries and discipline modeled for them in life, by the adults around them, but they do not need to be struck or hurt ether physically or mentally/emotionally in any way ever. In fact the opposite.
I am a film buff, but books are the thing. Books are a saving grace of humanity and we need them bad. They’re great to hold, a library is a comforting place, a room is always made better by books (cookbooks in the kitchen) and no e experience can take that away. Take most every great movie and the book is better. Except maybe The Godfather 1 & IIJ. So if this corner is going to be well-rounded I have to get past film and go to books. Man o man where do I begin?
My reading impulses always leans toward non-fiction. My wife kindly nudges me toward the lovelier graces of the bounteous fiction that the world offers, but eventually I slide back to the world of history. History and how we tell history, the history of history. Who really runs the world? Which is not the smartest approach because it has been abundantly shown that much more truth can be told within the freedom of the fictional form then ever told straight-out. For example Taylor Caldwell. Sigh.
So I asked myself what book should we start with? And Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse, popped into my head. The first/quick answer is always the closest to the truth, before the brain can filter. This spiritual classic is what we shall trumpet today.
If you haven’t read it there’s a free version here. But please, go over to your favorite used bookstore and get a copy, it shouldn’t be more than a few bucks. Say Hi for me. If you don’t have a favorite used bookstore, and are in Chapel Hill, The Bookshop is a great place. The tectonic plate shifts of the media and tech world have decimated the ranks of bookstores from days of yore but some hardy souls have survived and even grown and The Bookshop is one.
One of the distilled truths of studying culture is: Patriarchal vs Matrilineal. Patriarchal or Apollonian is represented by a reliance on rational, left brain, logical, practical, competitive, physical thought and action. Matrilineal or Dionysian is represented by Cosmic, right brain, abstract, intuitional, cooperative, spiritual thought and action. Patriarchy favors masculine, authority, work and control. Matrilineal favors feminine, pure democracy, nurturance, play and surrender. There is a pendulum which swings from the far side of patriarchal-say The Roman or Western/American Empire and the far side of matrilineal-say a Kalahari bushman tribe in the sub-Sahara. This can be outlined in many ways and one is West vs East. This outlines the fundamental nature of life, the duality (if dark) or polarity (if light) of life on the material plane.
We saw the pendulum begin to swing back with the 60’s. Eastern non-patriarchal concepts began to be introduced into the culture from various streams even down to the Beatles, who visited the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India and wrote songs about it. The pop ditty Hello/Goodbye is a creative essay on this polarity of life: male/female, east/west, yin/yang, expansion/contraction, hot/cold, salt/pepper- that so permeates but is a foreign concept in a patriarchal culture. The songs swings through many such polarities but ends with the lovely chorus of Aloha, repeatedly. Aloha is one of the few-maybe only- word, on Earth, which means both Hello & Goodbye, signifying from Native Hawaiian culture the understanding that one and both are the same. I must add, though eastern matrilineal concepts began to flow west in the 60’s, Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob and AA were responsible for introducing the spiritual concept of surrender to America in a not-religious form in the late 30’s. Bless their hearts. Acceptance and surrender are a key to successful living.
Whew! All that is an academic didactic that Siddhartha illuminates in a better more lovely way. This is part and parcel of the story and touches the heart. Happy reading!
Don’t forget, Durham has a Recovery Rally! September 25th!