Tao of Sobriety: Helping You to Recover from Alcohol and Drug Addictionby David Gregson, Jay S. Efran
The Tao of Sobriety shows how to apply eastern philosophy to enhance recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. With a few simple mental exercises, readers can learn how to quiet "The Committee," those nasty mental voices that undermine serenity and self-esteem. With leaders of the recovery movement enthusiastically endorsing this uniquely helpful/i>
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The Tao of Sobriety shows how to apply eastern philosophy to enhance recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. With a few simple mental exercises, readers can learn how to quiet "The Committee," those nasty mental voices that undermine serenity and self-esteem. With leaders of the recovery movement enthusiastically endorsing this uniquely helpful book, The Tao of Sobriety is an invaluable addition to the recovery bookshelf.
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The Tao of Sobriety
Helping You to Recover from Alcohol and Drug Addiction
By David Gregson, Jay S. Efran
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2002 David Gregson and Jay S. Efran, Ph. D.
All rights reserved.
This workbook is intended for those of you who want help with serious drug or alcohol problems. It can equip you with tools powerful enough to cut through the chains that bind you to these chemical tyrants. It will train you to use psychological know-how to dissolve the barriers that separate you from health and personal satisfaction. Using the concepts we provide, you can make a huge difference in your life.
The truth of the matter is that, as a human being, you have always had the capacity to create a future different from what past events predict. This is what makes members of our species so unique. In this book, we propose ways to get in touch with that continuously available creative capacity, enabling you to turn your life around at will. Our goal is that you will discover how to live more powerfully, compassionately, and creatively — without, of course, having to depend on alcohol or drugs. All we require of you is that you read the material, keep an open mind, and do the exercises we call "discoveries." These are engineered to facilitate deeper understanding so that
The Tao of Sobriety
you can move from knowing to doing, from right understandings to right actions.
In short, when the storm is blowing furiously and you are lost and desperately in need of directions to get you home, we intend — through the medium of this book — to be there to show the way.
A Word About Twelve-Step Programs
Many people reading this book probably belong to Twelve-Step fellowships. Those groups regularly make a profound difference in people's lives. Alcoholics Anonymous or AA, the model for all other Twelve-Step groups, has pioneered efforts to restore humanity to those who are locked into patterns of chemical dependency. Our intention is to assist those working Twelve-Step programs as well as those who may not choose to join a Twelve-Step group.
What Is the Tao?
For thousands of years, Eastern traditions like Taoism, Buddhism, and Zen have helped individuals find inner peace. The wisdom contained in these disciplines is a useful antidote to the selfishness and egoism that characterize so much of Western culture. Americans and other Westerners are preoccupied with self-sufficiency and independence, partly in the belief that such attitudes lead directly to the promised land of happiness and satisfaction. In fact, too much focus on oneself usually does just the opposite — leaving people confused about their goals and alienated from each other. Albert Einstein warned that "the illusion that we are separate from one another is an optical delusion of our consciousness." He realized that the conventional Western recipe for success, emphasizing individual achievement and competition, is often a formula for loneliness, isolation, and despair. The Eastern views we will be talking about advise a more holistic, compassionate, and relational perspective.
Don't worry — the point of this book is not to turn anyone into an Eastern mystic. For centuries, traditions such as Taoism and Buddhism have provided practical guidance to flesh-and-blood individuals seeking peace, well-being, and harmony against the background of the real world's hustle and bustle. Clients with whom we have worked have regularly found these perspectives useful. They provide realistic, no-nonsense solutions to everyday problems. On the one hand, our message is profoundly spiritual — it envisions a universe in which we all belong and have worth. At the same time, it is eminently down-to-earth, describing a method for obtaining relief from the pain that motivates alcohol and drug abuse.
The vision we are proposing is sometimes called "seeing with a third eye." It is about noticing the big picture that is ordinarily outside our awareness, and then using the resulting insights to enhance our everyday existence. It is about performing a balancing act that successfully juggles opposite that Westerners often consider irreconcilable. For instance, many people feel torn between their religious commitments and their material ambitions. They pray at church and make money at the office but find it difficult to mesh these apparently divergent activities. To us, however, all activities are both spiritual and material. We are not using the term "spiritual" to refer to formal religious practices or some rarefied set of ethereal goals. Instead, we are referring to a sweet serenity that can pervade all aspects of life — an image of perfection, completion, and connection that can be just as applicable to business transactions as religious rituals. Moreover, the spirituality we have in mind is as pertinent to the atheist as the religious zealot.
The material/spiritual duality is an example of a pair of terms that define one another, the way up defines down. Similarly, concepts such as completion, transcendence, and peace are meaningful only in relation to their opposite — the fragmented, competitive rat race of daily existence. In Eastern philosophy, the dance of opposites is acknowledged and accepted as the essence of the game of life. The trick is to learn to float effortlessly in the space such divergent poles create. For example, the Eastern sage grasps (and enjoys) the "joke" of life without ignoring or denigrating people's suffering. From an Eastern perspective, life is inevitably tragicomic — neither entirely gloomy nor simply a barrel of laughs.
The term Tao means "the way." It provides a kind of road map for living. The Eastern philosophies from which we borrow converge to define a unique middle path that seems to help people navigate the complexities of experience. Paradoxically, both virtue and sin are understood from within an overarching framework of unconditional love, acceptance, and compassion. Instead of excluding, denying, or resisting ugly or problematic aspects of life, the Taoist suggests that such elements be "allowed to be" in a way that nourishes rather than destroys our enjoyment of living. This was the theme of a cartoon we recently saw. It portrayed a Zen elevator that, in addition to the usual up and down options, provided a special Zen button marked CONTENT RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE. Of course, some people confuse contentment with passivity and resignation. They think that the message of Zen is to leave things the way they are — to make do with the status quo. In later chapters we will address this common misconception.
The world has changed dramatically since Taoism and related Eastern traditions began. So, we will be translating the insights of these teachings into modern lingo. We presume that the ancient sages, including Lao Tzu, the sixth-century (B.C.) founder of Taoism, and the Buddha, who lived and taught twenty-five hundred years ago, could and would do the same if they were alive today. After all, these men of wisdom warned against anyone becoming too attached to particular forms of rhetoric or ritual — including their own.
For some people, mood-altering chemicals have served as shortcuts to Nirvana. Undoubtedly, drugs can provide profound (albeit fleeting) experiences of being whole, complete, and self-satisfied. The path we follow in The Tao of Sobriety creates that same light-hearted experience of wholeness and relationship, but without the physical, psychological, and social detriments chemical routes entail. In the next chapter, you will see an example of how one individual maintained his sobriety by practicing innocence in spirit, a principle we will describe later. Throughout the book, we will present additional concrete examples of how these time-tested ideas, which may at first seem abstract, can be put to work to help you achieve your goals.CHAPTER 2
Alcohol, Drugs, and You
People do not wake up one morning on the sunny side of life and suddenly decide to throw everything away and mess up their lives with drugs and alcohol. The world just doesn't work that ' way. People always do what they do for good and sufficient reasons. So, regardless of your past circumstances, actions, and feelings, we intend to think of you as innocent in spirit.
In our experience, individuals who believe, deep down, that they are fundamentally flawed are much more likely to behave ineffectively and irresponsibly. On the other hand, people who are in touch with their own essential innocence are better equipped to handle life appropriately and efficiently. Thus, we are about to suggest a simple exercise — the first of many in this book — designed to help you determine whether you are indeed innocent in spirit, as we maintain, or whether you are unworthy of your own support and admiration. So, follow the instructions and take the next few moments to examine where you stand on the fundamental issue of guilt, particularly in the realm of substance use.
DISCOVERY 1: Innocence in Spirit
Do the Following:
Recall whether you ever woke up one morning feeling truly happy and at peace with the world, and then decided something like "Today is a perfect day to mess up my life with drugs or alcohol!" Now that you have taken time to think about it seriously, did you ever truly make that kind of decision? If you did, perhaps you are guilty after all. Otherwise, it seems to us that you are innocent of willfully and purposely screwing things up.
* * *
What did you come up with, guilty or innocent? If you did not knowingly make choices that were calculated to ruin your life, there are no rational grounds for considering yourself blameworthy in connection with substance misuse. Who would intentionally go out of their way and freely choose the hell of chemical addiction? If you have feelings of guilt and indulge in bouts of self-condemnation, these are based on an incomplete or faulty analysis of life's causes and effects. Moreover, as we shall demonstrate later, these guilt trips contribute nothing to your well-being or the rehabilitation of your zest for living.
Aaron was a man of about forty-five. He was a member of AA and had been sober for approximately ten years.
He sought counseling from one of the authors because he feared that the emotional roller coaster he was on would precipitate a relapse. He had recently been told that his twenty-one-year-old son had a drinking problem that paralleled his own. The son, who was living with his mother — Aaron's ex-wife — had cut off communication with him years before. The boy resented the heavy toll his father's drinking (and the acrimonious divorce and custody battle that followed) had taken on the family.
Aaron was a faithful AA member, doing the Twelve Steps, participating in his home group with a dedication others admired, and becoming a sponsor to many new members. However, he could not break through his own self-anger and guilt. He confided that despite his allegiance to the AA program, he did not really believe that alcoholism was a disease. This left him feeling a bit estranged even though he continued to "work his program."
In Aaron's first counseling session, the author told him that whether or not he had a disease was beside the point. Unless he could prove that he had freely chosen to become a drunk and alienate his family, he would have to be considered "innocent of all charges." Aaron began to laugh out loud. He realized, of course, that it is ludicrous to think that anybody would freely choose to mess up his or her life so completely. After the laughter came tears, and the upset that had been festering for so long just evaporated.
In the next session, Aaron began sorting out the complex feelings he had toward his own father. His father had been a jazz musician who, like many hipsters in the ' 40s and '50s, had been hooked on drugs and alcohol. Growing up, Aaron did not get to see much of his dad, who traveled extensively with the band. When his father was at home he could be a miserable tyrant. On the other hand, when he got high, he was a great guy — singing, playing his instrument, and telling stories. Aaron both idolized and hated his father. Ironically, he blamed him for many of the same failings for which his own son was now blaming him.
A session later (this case progressed with unusual rapidity), Aaron managed to get his son to come in. The boy was clearly furious and had much to get off his chest. However, after they had discussed details of the family pattern of alcohol abuse — going back several generations — the son agreed to attend an AA meeting. Aaron's need for individual counseling diminished and, six months later, he called to report that both he and his son were still doing well.
We mention this case because it illustrates the value of reassessing your essential innocence. There is an old saying that most people have to be dragged screaming into paradise. Therefore, although we have just presented a beginning logic for considering oneself innocent in the realm of substance misuse, many — perhaps most — readers will be entertaining a series of "yes, buts" rather than agreeing to walk down the lighter path of innocence we are depicting. If you fall into that category, you will probably take some convincing to believe that it is all right, even healthy, for you to embrace your innocence of spirit. We are confident that we have rationality and logic on our side, and in succeeding chapters we will attempt to prove it. However, even when faced with facts and logic, people often refuse to give up their own dreadful self appraisals. They somehow feel psychologically naked without their familiar — negative — beliefs. So, one aim of this book is to drag you into paradise, or more accurately, to provide the navigation tools to enable you to amble over in that direction under your own steam, and at your own pace.
Alcohol and drugs change or mitigate your experience of reality. If you feel one way before taking a mind-altering substance, you can be sure you will feel differently afterward. Otherwise, what would be the point? Note that we are using the phrase "feel differently" to cover a multitude of shifts in thinking, feeling, perceiving, and behaving — the whole ball of wax.
Drugs and alcohol take you up, down, and sideways. They put you somewhere other than where you started out, and they do this magnificently. Perhaps that is why mood-altering substances have had such a long history. As you may know, there is evidence of beer brewing over five thousand years ago. In fact, an adventuresome brewing company recently formulated a modern beer based on a chemical analysis of ancient Egyptian dregs. Furthermore, whenever psychoactive substances have been popular, there have been sanctions and prohibitions against their use. Those rules and regulations attest both to the human craving for altering subjective experience and to the havoc such indulgences often create.
As most of us know, drugs — what we might call "reality mitigants" — are generally habit-forming, both pharmacologically and psychologically. In the jargon of the field, they create "dependencies." The word depend comes from the Latin dependere, literally meaning "to hang down from." Now, That's an interesting image: You hanging down like a leaf, more or less helpless, flapping in the wind in connection with some chemical substance.
Another way to say this is that chemical dependency is a temporary solution to an immediate problem. Unfortunately, the solution usually creates new and additional troubles that are worse than the original difficulty. In other words, chemical solutions work, but the costs are high. It's like running from a bully in a schoolyard. The more we run, the bigger the bully seems and the smaller we feel. Furthermore, the more we run, the more we establish a pattern of running. Once set up, this ego-belittling cycle of avoiding or hiding becomes a way of life. Although the opposite strategy — facing the bully — is frightening and difficult, the potential rewards are immense. When we stand up to bullies, we expand our world, gaining the freedom to venture into the territories the bullies previously dominated. Moreover, because bullies are larger in fantasy than reality, confrontations with them are usually less painful than we had imagined. Running adds heft to our opponents, standing pat helps cut them down to size. The really good news is that it is never too late in life to face the fears that we have allowed to bully us.
Excerpted from The Tao of Sobriety by David Gregson, Jay S. Efran. Copyright © 2002 David Gregson and Jay S. Efran, Ph. D.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
David Gregson is a counselor currently specializing in drug and alcohol misuse issues. He practices at West Coast Alternatives Society with the best crew in all of beautiful British Columbia. Jay S. Efran, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Psychological Services Center at Temple University and has been a therapist for more than thirty years. He has served as President of the Academic Division of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association and is the recipient of several teaching awards. He also presents workshops for psychotherapists and family therapists here and abroad.
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David Gregson & Jay S. Efran provide a practical guide to reviving our own inner voice of health in sobriety.