In 2015 Johann Hari, author of Chasing The Scream, published an article titled The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think. It went viral, and everyone I knew sent it to me - many of them from outside of the addiction space - with comments like Did you see this? or This has me thinking about addiction completely differently! or Johann Hari is a fucking genius.
I hated him and I hated this article. First, because here was yet another person who hadn't struggled with addiction first-person, who by his own admission still drank, who because of his own encounters with those that DID suffer from addiction was now some sort of self-proclaimed expert on the matter. For the same reason I can't take David Sheff as seriously as I'd like because he still drinks, for the same reason I cringe when one of my sober peeps tells me about their therapist who still drinks, for the same reason Gabrielle Glaser's article about AA being a hell-pit makes me a little eye-rolly - I am skeptical of those who haven't actually eaten the dog food that is addiction, who think they have figured out addiction. Second, Hari's mantel - and the point of his article - is that the cure for addiction is in connection - social isolation is the driving force that makes people sick. Which is TOTALLY TRUE. I mean, I couldn't agree more that our society is sick and it makes people sick and that addiction is an outgrowth of that. But tell that to the mom who is driving drunk to soccer practice to pick up her kids. Honey, you just need connection. Third, the article completely de-emphasized the role that drugs and alcohol play. It in effect took all the blame off of the substances themselves and put it back on the person (to be clear I'm in the middle here - I don’t think you can say it's just the drugs or it's not the drugs at all - not with the way our society promotes alcohol or with what we know of how drugs - including alcohol - affect the brain.)
I spent the better part of a weekend in bed typing out some sort of rebuttal to Hari's article, in a state of panic. The biggest thing that concerned me around it is that people want super simple answers to complex and dirty problems, and when someone offers that to them on a golden platter, they will cling to it with their entire being. And I hated that my friends who had not a clue about what chemical dependency looked like all the sudden felt like they got what addiction was. No.
But time went on, and Hari's article got boring to me, and then I read Chasing The Scream and fell in love with it, and when I met him this past year at a brain-science conference, I was charmed by his own fastidious clinging to his beliefs. Over-simplified or not, he sees something most miss - we can't cure addiction in a test tube, and (more importantly) we need to cure our society first.
One other thing happened as time went on - I grew up. I grew up and realized that there were a lot of people out there saying dumb, scary, irresponsible, limited things about addiction and alcohol and drugs, and I had one of two choices: 1) I could spend my waking hours running around and tearing down wine memes and arguing with other people's work or 2) I could put out my work and my content and let it stand on it's own, and trust that the people that want to hear me and need to hear me will hear me, and let what other people do be what other people do. In other words, I could try and control the things far beyond my control, or I could trust that it's all working out, in the right time, and put my energy into the creation of my own mantel, instead of dismantling others' while mine sits idle.
Which is to say that for the most part, instead of getting caught up in other people's work, I get caught up in my own.
Check to last week.
If you listen to the podcast I co-host with Laura McKowen, called HOME, you may have come across an interview we did with Dr. Kelly Brogan, an ivy-league-trained psychiatrist in New York who cured herself of Hashimoto's Thyroiditis using diet and lifestyle changes. Her diagnosis - and the prospect of her having to take a pill for the rest of her life - led her to alternative studies, and her eyes were opened to some startling facts about medicine in general. She stopped prescribing all drugs, taking all drugs herself (except alcohol - which I'll discuss in a minute), and began a crusade to help individuals taper off pyschopharmaceuticals (or prescribed mental health medications). She's since written a book about called A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives, and she has a practice and e-course designed to help individuals with depression and other mental health issues recover naturally/taper off of medications.
I was turned on to Kelly's work through a client who had found it, along with Robert Whitaker's (Mad In America, Anatomy of an Epidemic). My client was helped by Dr. Brogan's work, and I read and fell in love with much of Kelly's work because of one very big reason - having come from health care and knowing intimately how much doctors are trained to prescribe and not trained to taper patients off of medications, specifically opioids and psychopharm, I knew the extent of this problem. If you are not aware of it, most doctors are not trained in addiction medicine, and the extent of their exposure to recovery modalities is required attendance at 12-step meetings. In other words, the doctors prescribing you highly addictive medications have no fucking clue how to treat you when you get addicted. They will refer you to 12-step meetings and exorbitantly-priced rehabilitation centers (which are generally not run by doctors, which are generally (90% of the time) 12-step based). This is bad medicine, and this is the system that Kelly is speaking out against. I was also attracted to her work because it lined up, loosely, with some of what I had found about the body's ability to heal itself through diet (Kalish Method, Mary Vance's Blog, Ann Boroch's work, The Diet Cure) and Kundalini.
Prior to our interview I had read her book and blog, and knew the extreme discipline that Dr. Brogan's recommendations required. I also knew she followed them personally, and so it was a surprise to find - during the episode - that she drinks alcohol. Again - she follows her own protocol - doesn't eat dairy, gluten, sugar, take medicine of any sort, use chemical cleaning agents or beauty products - and makes an exception for drinking.
As you can imagine, we lost a lot of listeners, and the feedback we received from a lot of our people was that anyone who wouldn't take an Advil but made a carve-out for ethanol wasn't someone they'd seek advice from.
It weighed on me, and in my silly, sweet little mind, I thought She probably just doesn't know how bad alcohol is. So I started a conversation with her via email. She has a platform and a microphone, she's vehemently opposed to toxins, she's smart, she's convicted, women with drinking problems will find her. I expected a conversation to come from it, and one where she asked more questions. It didn't happen that way. The conversation ended after she replied to my original email with what is copy-pasted here in this article of hers, and I replied to that, and she dropped the thread.
This email conversation with Dr. Brogan happened in March, and so when I touched down for a layover in London last week and opened my email to find a blog post written by her, with her part of the email conversation excerpted into it and out of context, my heart stopped a little. When I clicked through to the article itself and found she'd taken our conversation and used it to form the basis of an argument that 1) alcohol isn't the/a problem, 2) alcohol addiction isn't real, and 3) if you do a (her) thirty-day cleanse and remove alcohol and add it back in after you might find you can control it (!!!). The article also eluded to an idea that the problem, really, was that we just forgot who we are and from where we came, and that if we just remembered our divinity, we would be a'ight. It was spiritual bypassing at it's finest - If you just remember you're God and do this cleanse you can keep drinking. At least, that's how someone who struggles with drinking will read it - which is exactly the kind of person it seems she was targeting.
The solution outlined by Dr. Brogan is as follows:
If you are interested in learning what these habitual relationships mean for you, personally, I ask that you consider removing addictive consumptions from your life – alcohol, coffee, sugar, wheat, dairy – so that you can quiet reward pathways, silence inflammatory alarm responses, and eat more informationally dense foods. While you’re doing that, I ask that you meditate once a day, every day. I ask that you detox. And I ask that you tap into your faith that there is something incredible waiting for you. I have found time and again that this simple process of ritualizing self-care opens a portal to unseen, unacknowledged, and circumvented feelings that bring you closer to the real you.
Then, after that month, you can choose to learn specifically what kind of effect these agents have on your consciousness, your body, and your general experience of yourself. When you shed these externalities, the lightness and expansion you feel is yours alone. There is nothing out there that has control over you. You are in control, learning, healing, and open.
Fine. But let's take a second to discuss this whole proposal to do a cleanse/elimination diet as an antidote to addiction.
If you read her book and her suggested protocol, as I have, or just the statement above, what she suggests requires an extreme amount of discipline. Extreme discipline is something that is born of the rational mind, or, according to Daniel Kahneman, nobel prize-winner, System #2 in the brain - the part that is slower and reasonable. This presumes that those that are struggling with addiction have full access to their rational mind, and can, essentially, think and willpower their way out of addiction. The problem with this is multi-fold. First, addiction lives in more primitive brain, the midbrain. This was proven in a study done wayyy back in the 50's by Olds and Milner that showed that rats with electrodes planted deeply in their brains repeatedly pressed levers to stimulate these areas - not the cortex or outer layers of the brain where rational thought lives. In other words - addiction doesn't live where choice lives. It lives in the part of our brain that thinks about the next 15 seconds.
If someone has been abusing alcohol over a period of time, the desire to drink - craving - becomes tied up with that person's survival response. Over time, the access to the rational part of the brain is subordinated to primal urges - in full blown addiction, the midbrain overrides rational thought. In other words, the same part of you that drives the need to eat and reproduce and fight for your life when threatened now believes it needs alcohol to survive. If you've ever told yourself you wouldn't drink and then found yourself pulling into a liquor store parking lot on autopilot after a hard day, you understand me. Not only that, the rational brain (again where the kind of willpower needed to get you through a 30 day cleanse lives) loses it's circuitry over time from alcohol. Because alcohol (ethanol) is a neurotoxin, and because of how addiction changes the brain's function, over time the same area that is meant to help us make good decisions (and keep us on a cleanse) literally atrophies.
Second, this rational brain that holds our willpower and decision making - this thinking brain of ours - is often not always accessible for those of us with unprocessed trauma, and some 1/3 to 1/2 of addiction sufferers have some form of untreated PTSD. This means that 1/3 to 1/2 of those suffering from addiction are reliving a past trauma in the present. In this case, the rational brain is also not always accessible - especially in times of stress. The older parts of our brain - the limbic system (emotional brain) and the midbrain (survival brain) run the show, while the part of our brain that is rational goes offline, and no where in any of my research have a read where a diet and meditation cures PTSD.
So what I'm saying is, an approach that requires that much willpower and rational thinking right out of the gate is an almost impossibility for a lot of people, and keeps us stuck in a loop. To boot, trying to do something that requires that much control is what ends up propelling us towards escape. Try this scenario on. How many times have you dieted to change yourself dramatically? How many times have you thought If I were just meat-dairy-gluten-sugar-caffeine-alcohol-tobacco-free and did yoga everyday for an hour a day and meditated for 20 minutes a day and didn't text him back and balanced my checkbook and saved money then I'd be okay - and then tried all those things, only to find yourself exploding into a binge?
This isn't to say cleanses are bad or that we will never be able to be all those frees or find discipline or that lifestyle and diet modifications aren't a huge part of recovery. It also isn't to say that what she proposes can't be a gateway to more healing - one of my dearest friends, Tammi Salas, started her sobriety journey when her doctor had her do an elimination diet. It's just top-down approaches that rely on rational thought and discipline don't usually work. Most of the people I know - and have worked with - have to go bottom up and learn to develop discipline, and over time.
Because we're all friends here, I will tell you that I did not handle the next hour of my life with grace. I found an airport café at Gatwick, got on my computer, and posted as quickly as I could to Facebook. I posted a comment on her website, I sent her two emails. Then I got on a plane back to the United States and watched Moana and Lion and I cried for 7 hours. By the time I landed, my Facebook page post had over a hundred comments, and a lot them were painful to read - the thread might have well been glowing red. For the first time (I think) on my page, some people weren't very nice to each other, and people weren't nice about Dr. Brogan. It felt awful. I also had responses in my inbox from Kelly, and we corresponded. The first emails I sent were a *little intolerant*, a lot mad and incredulous at her behavior.
By the time I woke up the next morning in New York, I was done with being mad, and I could see so much more clearly (time is amazing!). And what I saw was a scenario where someone who knows not the first thing about alcohol addiction, who still drinks alcohol, who writes articles justifying the use of alcohol when she herself won't use aspirin, who may have some things figured out BUT NOT THIS THING, who has never suffered the way we have suffered; wrote a very dangerous, mis-informed article. An article that people who are looking for a reason to keep drinking and to not have this alcohol thing be their thing, who are looking for the nod from an MD that says Yes love it's okay to drink rocket fuel if it helps you make dinner, just as long as you know you're not a flesh-robot tied to a dead rock! Just as long as you don't drink tap water! will read, and pass to their friends like they do a wine meme or a bottle of Mommy Juice on their way to their booze-drenched book club.
In other words, what I saw was a scenario where yet another person who hasn't a clue about the thing we have a clue about said something that makes sense to her, because she drinks. In other words, what I saw was something that I thought was my business and our business because I was included in it as her said colleague and because my words to her were what incited her epiphany that alcohol addiction ain't no thing. In other words, I just happened to read another stupid thing out there on the internet that more or less justifies our out-of-control drinking culture.
Here are my closing thoughts on it and that experience.
1. Experience matters. You guys, there are a LOT of people out there who know a lot about addiction. But just because they know about it, doesn't mean they know it. Please understand that. When you are working with your therapist, your doctor, your counselor; when you are watching a TED Talk or reading a book or watching a documentary; remember that there is a HUGE difference between someone who has struggled your same struggle, and someone who has read about it and studied it. From my final letter to Dr. Brogan, I think you can probably draw me a map to show me how to get from Los Angeles to New York by foot, because maybe you've seen people walk it and have even read them some directions as they did it. But there is something to be said about the wisdom held by those that actually walked from Los Angeles to New York. As a Kundalini I know you understand all the knowledge in the world will never equal experience. Regarding addiction - you've never walked from Los Angeles to New York.
2. No one is ever 100% right. Just because some people are right about some things does not mean they are right about all things. This means that we cannot idealize certain teachers and believe them to be infallible. They will most certainly be wrong about some things at some point because they are human, and humans have biases, personal histories, filters, make mistakes, are evolving, and are smarter in some areas than they are others. This also means we can't throw out the entirety of someone's work when they fuck up or say something that we completely disagree with. Because no one is right all the time, that means there are either no teachers, or there are teachers with *some* good information. I am careful to take what works for me from people and leave what doesn't. In other words, just because I don't think Kelly knows what she's talking about when it comes to addiction, and don't wholly agree with some of her other work, it doesn't mean I didn't learn something from her at some point or that her entire body of work is to be tossed out.
3. There are different programs that afford help to different people and we respect all ways. While a lot of you might be completely repelled by either her stance on alcohol (hand raised, me, I am), or her take on health care and pharmaceuticals, or whatever else, I do know people who have been left without help when it comes to tapering off psych meds that were helped by Dr. Brogan - those people exist. Her work may be all wrong for you, partially wrong for you, or it might have might have saved your life. On our path of healing, we find what works for us, and respect what works for others if it looks different. That's the only way.
4. It's easy to get hung up thinking that other people's work impacts our own. At the end of the day, my work stands on it's own two legs, regardless of what anyone else does. When I came down from my rage fest, what occurred to me was that I don't need this person to act differently or be differently or think differently or say differently for my work to be what it is. My work is independent of what anyone says or does. It just IS. I have ignored countless books, articles, talks, whatevers that are dangerous/ill-informed/not my cup of tea - I've had to because THERE ARE SO MANY. And I can do that here. We can all do that here and everywhere and any time. What matters is what we ourselves create, not what other people do. It's not up to us to destroy or undermine. It's up to us to create. Everything else is background noise.
5. We have to be able to trust our own sense of what is right and wrong for us, our own gut sense. We also have to trust that our brothers and sisters can do this, too. A lot of us (self included) will read an article like hers and think we need to go earmuff those that will interpret it to be a green light to keep on abusing or keep struggling to make alcohol work. This is human nature. We tend to think that we know best, know how other people's lives should look. This is not true. We do not know what other people are supposed to experience, how they are supposed to burn and suffer. We aren't God and we didn't create the map of other people's lives. I know I had to read a thousand things that kept me drinking until I came to the place in myself where I found the truth, and that all happened in it's own perfect time, in my time. We are not responsible for other people or know better than someone else about their own life.
6. To teach is to demonstrate. As an add-on to #5, what we do instead of shaking people and telling them how they should live their lives is that we go out and we Be The Light! Meaning that our lives are our message, and that by simply living in our truth, answering our own calls, speaking our words because we need to speak them, living out loud because we dare to be ourselves in public - by simply BEING and DOING our thing, we are teachers. This doesn't mean that your truth won't rub against someone else's, or make people uncomfortable, or cause friction. But it means that we do it not to change other people, but to be the change we wish to see. There is a very big difference between telling someone that they shouldn't drink, and talking about how much not drinking has changed your own life, or the sickness that is a society that promotes strapping wine to our bras so we can chug Rose in a Starbucks line, or just, you know, not drinking when everyone else is.
7. We cannot remain silent. All of the above being said, we cannot, and I mean CANNOT remain silent about the things that matter to us. Those of us "in recovery" often feel we don't have two legs to stand on when it comes to talking about whether or not alcohol is bad, or as representatives from the other side to explain what is so wrong with drinking culture. We also are often marginalized in society as "the people who can't" and we carry with us a bag of labels that people still caught up in that culture are more than happy apply to us - liars, fuck-ups, drunks, addicts, junkies. When I first started talking about this stuff I knew that part of my microphone was tainted with the fact that I was one of those people who can't drink, and part of me was terrified to ruin the party or make people uncomfortable with my truth, experience, knowledge. Like, who am I to talk about this? Hear me on this: fuck that kind of thinking. We don’t have time for that kind of thinking. Guess who has the most to say about addiction, addiction treatment, alcohol, Big Liquor (<--yes that's a thing), binge drinking, the pitfalls of drinking, wine memes, wine book clubs, wine yoga, wine yoga clothes, the bar at Whole Foods, underwear that is designed to hold liquor, AA, whether addiction is a disease, and so on? Us. That's who. Speak up if it's in you.
8. We go high. At the end of the day, the part that hurt the most was reading the personal attacks on Dr. Brogan. I might not agree with her and I might not even like her. But she's a sister, like you are, and we can attack the shit out of someone's work, but we stop at character assassinations. We love the human, we hate the shit they do. That's a distinction. Also, full disclosure, I called her a not nice name in that first hour when I was on the phone with Laura, please see point #2.
9. Unification is paramount in the recovery space. The other thing that got me was in a few instances on my comment thread on Facebook, some of us didn't talk nice to each other. Remember that we are in this together. We cannot afford to shoot inward and at each other. We shoot out. That means NO MATTER WHAT OUR CHOICES ARE, or if we believe addiction is or isn't a disease, or whether we take meds or don't or work the steps or work the treadmill or call ourselves alcoholics or call ourselves Teetotalers, we support each other.
10. There are a lot of very informed resources that will help you to come to your own conclusion about whether or not addiction is a disease. One article does not end the argument on whether addiction is a disease. It's not that easy because nothing is that easy. If you want to come to your own conclusion about it, I recommend the following people and their work.
- Ruth Potee
- Pleasure Unwoven by Dr. Kevin McCauley
- The Biology of Desire by Marc Lewis
- The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk
- Integral Recovery by John Dupuy
11. There is no easy button on quitting drinking. Doesn't exist. People are magnificently different, and while there are stories of "spontaneous sobriety" there are also stories of people who drank a glass of wine a day who found that removing alcohol opened up the floodgates of the need to do a lot of work on themselves. If we've been using alcohol as a drug and decide to quit, most of us will find a lot of our parts are affected - our spiritually, social lives, psychology, existential beliefs, physiology, emotional well-being, livelihood, environments, etc. While it may be that changing your diet and meditating for a short period of time will have a radical impact on some people, most of us need more. We need some combination of people, books, doctors, therapists, yoga, community, nutritionists, art, purpose, wellness, mindfulness, exercise, etc. Not all at once, and not all of it for some of us. But this site and it's 100+ blog posts is barely even close the amount of ground that could be covered when we talk about what we encounter when we start to evolve past using alcohol and drugs. If it sounds too simple, it most likely is.
12. Alcohol and drugs have no place on a path of evolution. How many of your teachers drink? Maybe some of mine do. But the ones that I model myself after don't. Glennon Doyle, Pema Chodron, Stephanie Snyder, Brene Brown, Gabby Bernstein, Guru Singh, Wayne Dyer, Gandhi, Gurmukh, Yogi Bhajan, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama. Your teacher doesn’t have to be sober to be your teacher. But I will tell you, if your teacher is arguing that alcohol has a place in your evolution, you might consider whether something is weird about that.
13. Somewhere in the middle of all these words is a balance. Some of this may seem contradictory. Maybe. Maybe not. I am, after all, a human who is right about some things and wrong about other things. You do you.