Addiction Management Blog

Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Addiction and the Perennial Philosophy

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

perennial_philosophy_coverWe have known for a long time that among the most powerful ways to overcome addiction is through spiritual interventions. The essence of such approaches is that addiction is a problem of the ego, of our lower self, of the body. By harnessing the powers and energy from our higher self, from the part of us that is unchangeable and connected to the source (God, Buddha,  Allah, Atman …your choice), we can overcome most anything in life. This philosophy is at the heart of twelve-step programs, but it really goes far beyond recovery. In fact, it is about our ultimate work on this earth – awakening to our true nature.

I will admit I have been slow to all of this. I was not raised religious and the rare times I made it to church were with friends on holidays primarily for the food. Even more, I was raised in a family that valued science, and awakening to our true nature was not something that fit well into randomized clinical trials. So it took many years of wandering before I stumbled upon the Perennial Philosophy, something that made a lot of sense to me.

Perhaps you too have heard about it, or maybe not. Although I am sure there is a more elegant way to describe it,  I understand it like this. If you ventured back in history and gathered up all the wisdom on how to live life from all the great mystics and enlightened beings from all the world’s religions and spiritual traditions, and then boiled down their essential message, they would all speak universal truths, which is the Perennial Philosophy. It is the commonality in all religions, it’s what links them all together no matter how different they may appear on the surface. For me, this is very much like the scientific method. We have a bunch of researchers, who over time, using a variety of techniques, study a phenomena from various perspectives and all arrive at the same conclusion, informing reality as we know it!  Of course science is not perfect because it is conducted by people who can make mistakes, but history has shown that it is pretty darn good at helping us understand the world.

UntetheredSoulMech-#1.inddSo for me, the Perennial Philosophy bridges the gap between science and spirit, and has been a game-changer in life. If awakening to our true nature is our primary purpose on this earth, then it sure simplifies a lot of things! My to-do list is now much, much smaller. And so many things that I believed to be critical to a good life, things that I had to have, now seem not so important. Less really is more! What exactly is the Perennial Philosophy? There are two ways you can discover the answer. You can use your lower self, your ego, and read all about it. A good place to start is Aldous Huxley’s well-known The Perennial Philosophy. Or you can read about it in many of Ken Wilbur’s books, or get a nice summary on Wikipedia. But in all honesty, this method is a bit like reading all about a cool place you want to visit. It will give you some background, the lay of the land, but in the end it is not the cool place, is it? To really experience and understand the cool place you read about, you have to visit the cool place!

If you really want to understand the Perennial Philosophy you have to experience it through your higher self, through contemplative practice. There is no other way. Meditation, in all its forms, is the primary vehicle for developing a contemplative life, although there are other ways. With practice, you will discover the self behind the self. The part of you that has always been there, that does not change with your thoughts and feelings, and is capable of pure awareness. If this all sounds a bit warm and fuzzy, check out the bestselling book The Untethered Soul. I will admit, it has been a very slow journey for me. Perhaps the most important thing I have learned thus far – if you never take trip, if you never go inside and really see what is there – you are missing out on something very cool, beyond cool, actually.

Whose Will: A new book about addiction, courage, and hope

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

I had the recent pleasure of speaking with Willie Harris, the author of Whose Will: Ordinary Person, Extraordinary Life, a riveting account of his personal struggle with addiction and path back to a spiritual and connected life.

Like most, the roots of Willie’s problems with alcohol and drugs began early in life, in a family awash in addiction, violence and trauma. His alcoholic father abused his mother, nearly killing her twice, and perpetuated his own traumas on Willie by passing down  the unfinished business of the previous generation. But even amidst the hell of family life, Willie told me, I personally had a spiritual connection that I cannot explain.  At ten years old, he would lay on the top bunk of his bed and talk to God. His mother thought something was wrong with him, and would often ask, who are you talking to?

But the connection did not insulate him from experiencing an early life of pain, misery and self-destruction. By 18, his world was spiraling out of control. The inability to appropriately process emotions, including rage, hurt and fear, set the stage for the perfect storm. Drinking, drugs and partying eventually landed him on the streets, where the brutal reality of his life eventually became the source of his awakening.

Although treatment played a role in turning Willie’s life around, it was the 12-step program that allowed him to take an honesty inventory of his life and begin to take responsibility for the role he played in his own undoing. The program also helped him understand the answer to the question  – why do I do these things to myself? He had a mental obsession with substances that was different than other people. He said, it overrides normal thinking. Once he understood he could not put substances into his body without serious repercussions, the path out of hell became much clearer.

He credits the 4th step of AA – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves – as being a significant turning point in his life. By looking at me, I was able to forgive other people. I was able to go back and make amends, and every time I did I got better.

Today, Willie leads a simple, but spiritually grounded life. He is a successful businessman, happily married with two wonderful children, dedicated to his church, and to spreading the word that it is more than possible to overcome addiction. I was most impressed with his motivation and efforts to develop programs for teens, that can be taught in schools, to proactively help challenged kids better process and cope with painful emotions. I could not agree more that it is a tremendous need. It was an honor to speak with Willie and learn more about his story. I very much encourage you to get his book ( and be inspired.

Beautiful Boy: My Answer to David’s Question

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

I understand why Beautiful Boy is a #1 New York Times bestseller. It’s a very moving and insightful account of one father’s journey through his son’s addiction, a journey millions of parents have made. David (the author) does not hold back. His writing is powerful, emotional, lucid, and honest. He loves his son Nic to the ends of the earth, there is no doubt about that. Nic is more than just a beautiful boy, he is everything to David. And why wouldn’t he be, he is his son, even when high on methamphetamine and other drugs. At times I laughed, other times I cried. I did not want to be reminded that as a parent there are limits to my ability to protect my son. But it is one of the gifts of the book.

It is often overwhelming reading David’s account of his son’s addiction, and his tireless pursuit to save him. At one point in the book he asks the question: What would you do if a family member were addicted to this drug? He receives many answers from addiction researchers, drug abuse counselors, interventionists, friends, teachers, and members of Al-anon. He leaves few stones unturned, and in the end, realizes that no one person has all the answers. He must decide for himself how to deal with his son’s addiction (and his own addiction to his son’s addiction). I could not agree more. At the same time, I could not help but get frustrated by some of what he was told, and even more, by what he was not told. Here is my answer to David’s question.

Help for David

  • I would utilize the Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) approach for dealing with Nic and his addiction. When compared to the two approaches most discussed in the book (Al-Anon and doing an Intervention), CRAFT has been shown in clinical trials to be significantly more effective. In one trial, CRAFT resulted in 64.4 percent of addicts entering treatment compared to 22.5  for Interventions and 13.6  for Al-Anon. I would add that if it were me, I would likely skip Interventions, but utilize Al-Anon with CRAFT since there are many positive benefits to connecting with others who are going through similar challenges.
  • For family members and friends trying to help an addicted loved one, the end result is most often perpetual trauma. David at one point says, “I have been so traumatized by his addiction that the surreal and the real have become one and the same.” There are many references throughout the book that support the painful fact that trauma pervades not only Nic’s life as an addict, but his father, family, and likely some friends. It is also a sad truth that good trauma therapy is hard to find, and rarely done to any significant degree in substance abuse treatment. For David, who clearly has engaged in a lot of therapy, I would want to explore the degree to which these therapies sufficiently addressed trauma. I have explored this topic in a paper I wrote about treating trauma, as well as in a section about core issues. Understanding trauma and its treatments are as complex as addiction, if not more so. One of my favorite trauma authors recently came out with a new book that I believe should be read by anyone who has experienced trauma, and in my book, that includes us all: 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery. This is tough work, not for the faint of heart. But something tells me that after what David has been through with his son, trauma work would be a walk in the park.

Help For Nic

  • David says towards the end of the book, “rehab isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we have.” I am not surprised he reached this conclusion given that when you go searching for help, it is really the only answer. Treatment works. Research says it does, even if you have to go multiple times. And Nic is a testament to this outcome: he goes to many residential (and outpatient) programs and does well for sustained periods of time following treatment before he relapses. I too believe in treatment, but also believe strongly that current treatment practices fall short of what is possible and necessary for long-term success.
  • This entire website is dedicated to helping you understand the solution to addiction. My answer for Nic (and David) is summarized in the top five things you should know about addiction and the solution to addiction. David is right when he says in the book that there is no one right path for anyone, but there are specific things that can make a difference in whether a person continues to go through life cycling in and out of treatment, or progresses beyond their addiction.
  • For Nic, among the most significant factors that will likely influence his future outcomes is the degree to which his developmental deficits and constrictions are addressed. Among the best frameworks for understanding how to assess development is Stanley Greenspan’s six developmental levels (or stages) of the mind. The deficits and constrictions resulting from early traumas, as well as drug abuse, can be healed over time utilizing developmentally-based psychotherapies. Although meth and other drugs of abuse can result is significant brain changes that impact emotional development, this type of therapy is really the best we have. Unfortunately, in my experience, it is not taught in graduate schools, is completely unknown in residential treatment facilities (and even if it was known, the therapy is done over years, not months or 28 days), and requires significant skill in delivery. It also is the right therapy following trauma resolution work. The good news is that there are some gifted therapists in most places that can do it, it just may require some effort finding them.
  • David correctly writes that his son has a chronic, relapsing medical condition that will require long-term care. Yet sadly, it appears that Nic’s care has suffered from our treatment system being a patchwork of acute-based programs, where aftercare is self-help meetings and ”working a program.” Nic needs to stop going in and out of treatment, and instead engage in treatment for many years. The evidence is in the book. When he is in treatment and working his program he does very well, until he stops working his program and relapses. “Working a program” is a 12-step construct that does not include the work I believe is critical to long-term success (see previous bullet point). Staying in treatment for years makes sense when you understand that it is outpatient (not residential), involves resolving underlying drivers of addiction like trauma, is adapted to changes in development over time, and includes the exploration of more than just pathology, like the idea of Me to We. If we are to successfully help people move beyond addiction, we must get outside the black box of traditional addiction treatment and utilize what we know from a variety of fields (e.g., systems science, positive psychology, ecopsychology, education). We can and we must do better, for Nic, and everyone else that suffers.

I want to add that Nic published his own book about his experiences abusing methamphetamine and other drugs, called Tweak. I look forward to reading it in the near future, and hearing his side of the story.

One final comment is related to how David ends the book. He says “I believe we need an all-out war on addiction modeled on the war on cancer.” He goes on to suggest what such a campaign would look like, the funding it would require, and the benefits it could bring. He adds that a research network like that set-up for cancer could test out many promising addiction interventions, including new medications. The good news is that it has been done, and has been bridging the gap between practice and research for many years now. It is the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network. Check it out.