Amen To Anthony Bourdain on Reddit Today

by Joshua Hoe

addiction

Anthony Bourdain (Author, Chef, Traveler, and CNN Personality) said the following during a Reddit AMA today:


Only Bernie Sanders has summarized the problem with addiction policies better when, at a town hall meeting, he said that Addiction was a public health problem and not a criminal justice problem.

Amen to both.

Cable & Satellite Corporations and The Porn Problem

by Joshua Hoe

As a sex addict, I have learned to stay away from, or at least avoid most adult entertainment.

After a discussion that I had with a friend of mine (who works with a local cable company and was talking about how profitable porn is for cable companies), I made the mistake of searching ALL of my channel offerings to see what was going on.

Holy Cow.

I rarely agree with the GOP about anything, but on this one issue, we have probably found common ground.

The subject matter of most “cable-available porn” is shocking.

From my experience and the experience of the many addicts that I have known, adding taboo subject matter to sexual fantasy is like pouring gas on a fire (It adds excitement, guilt, and shame feelings to an arousal situation already filled with dopamine release).

What’s The Problem?

The shocking thing to me was not that cable companies offer pornography through PPV but how extreme the subject matter seems.

Almost of the titles I saw dealt with seriously taboo subjects. Exactly the same kinds of subjects that most experts suggest can be dangerous.

However, when I read corporate responses they claim that the content is “soft core” etc.

We can certainly have a debate about if porn is good or bad (I take the side that for most men it is pernicious). But evidence is starting to mount against porn in general.

The types of behaviors shown are particularly important as specialist Dr. Eric Scrimshaw (who is not an opponent in general) explained:

“Rather, research has started to show that it is only viewing of specific types of pornography or specific behaviors within pornography,” he said. “For example, in our research we found that men who watched more hours of pornography in general were no more or less likely to use condoms in real life. It was only men who viewed pornography that contained condom-less sex who were found to use condoms less,” Schrimshaw said. “Men who watch pornography in which performers use condoms actually use condoms more frequently.”

From what my friend said, a HUGE amount of cable revenue comes from these taboo offerings.

I did a little research and while the cable and satellite companies refuse to release records from this part of their business, they do (more or less) confirm that it is a HUGE revenue generator for them.

And if the taboo subject matter did not matter, why is almost every title offered about a taboo subject?

Regulations, Laws, or Boycotts?

I think that trying to regulate or shut these businesses down will run directly into very well-established SCOTUS precedent.

However, I think that putting public pressure on these companies by confronting them in the media with the titles of the movies they are selling might be effective.

Spotlighting and boycotting, could be really effective ways of changing this kind of exploitation.

I usually am pretty measured, and I don’t want to suggest curtailing free speech (I also think the SCOTUS would strike down almost any conceivable regulation). But, I do think it might be time for these companies to be publically confronted with the realities of their own content.

What do you think of porn regulations? Do you have any suggestions for the best mechanisms to effect change? Let me know, leave a comment!

Moral Failure vs. Responsibility

by Josh Hoe

addiction

Many people’s heads start to spin when they see me post articles that claim that “Addiction is not a Moral Failure.”

I suspect that they think that I am giving absolution to people who commit terrible acts while ‘acting out’ on whatever their addictive substance or behavior is.

First, I don’t have the power to absolve anyone.

But second, Nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me clarify.

Responsibility vs. Moral Failure

Addiction, feeling compelled to use a substance or engage in a behavior compulsively, is a medical problem.

Engaging in immoral or illegal activities while ‘acting out’ (using your substance or engaging in an addictive behavior is still wrong).

I don’t believe addiction gives people a license to do bad things.

I don’t believe I had a license to do the bad things that I did and I believe I deserved to face the consequences of my bad behaviors.

I often tell other addicts that beating yourself up about ‘acting out’ is unhealthy but that guilt and shame are healthy when they are productive.

In other words, if feeling guilt or shame prevents you from doing something bad, the feelings were productive. If experiencing guilt and shame do nothing for you but make you withdraw deeper into your interior shell, those feelings were unproductive.

Saying that addiction is a medical problem does not make everything that you do while ‘acting out’ okay.

Saying that addiction is not a moral failure does not mean that everything that you while acting out is inherently moral.

The Difference

Acting Out isn’t a moral failure, doing bad things while acting out is a moral failure.

Driving drunk is a moral failure but getting drunk is not.

It may be hard for someone to stop drinking, but they are still responsible for the consequences of the things that they do while they are drunk.

Someone should not feel ashamed for gambling but the should feel ashamed for stealing someone’s money to pay for a night of gambling.

I believe it is very important to set boundaries and understand your triggers well enough so that you ask for help before going over the lines that will lead to immoral behavior.

The Point of “Addiction is not a Moral Failure”

The point is:

Society should not shame addicts for using.

Society should not shame addicts for relapsing (relapse is part of recovery).

Society should not criminalize using or look at using as criminal activity (in and of itself).

Society should not create a stigma around use or appoint bullies to “beat the addict” out of people (get-tough approaches).

And society should realize that “get-tough” approaches which shame addicts or that label addiction a moral failing are almost always more about making society feel better about shunning addicts (not about helping addicts deal with addiction).

Hopefully, that clarifies my stance.

Oh, and by the way, addiction is not a moral failing!

What do think of “get tough” and shaming approaches to addiction, let me know, leave a comment!

Learning to Listen With Empathy, Not Engage In Problem-Solving

by Joshua Hoe

A relax

So, I want to tell you about a problem I used to have in relationships that I had no idea was a problem (until now).

Responding to the emotions my partner’s shared with me with nothing but problem-solving.

It would almost always go something like this:

One of my romantic partners would break down.

I would ask “What is Wrong?”

They would tell me.

And I would say something like, “Oh, that’s not so bad, you could just do X, or y, or z and everything would be all fixed.

So where was I going wrong? What could possibly be wrong about trying to problem-solve?

Who Is Problem-Solving Really About?

Okay, now here is the part that really surprised and shocked me.

I was problem-solving NOT because I wanted to help, although I wanted to help. There was an element of what I was doing that was about trying to help one person I cared about (my partner) and an element of what I was doing that was about trying to help another person that I cared about.

Who?

Me.

Yup, I was problem-solving because seeing someone upset caused me discomfort.

The problem causing me discomfort was being confronted by something that truly terrified me, seeing emotional honesty.

I was mostly trying to solve MY problem coping with displays of emotion. As much as I was in a rush to solve someone else’s problems, I was doing it so that I never had to confront a problem of my own.

But, even if it was selfish to react this way, why was it a mistake?

Validation, Not Minimization

Most likely, although I have not been able to ask this in retrospect, my partners were wanting to have their feelings validated not minimized.

In my hurry to fix the problems, so that we could return to a normal state of emotional equilibrium, I was telling my partners that what they were feeling was illegitimate.

As much as I wanted to believe that I was a kind hero, I was providing little support of the kind that they were craving. I was taking their genuine feelings and instead of supporting and validating them, I was just giving them something new to feel bad about.

At the root of all of this was decades of being told that men are never supposed to show emotion.

Of being told that men are always supposed to be tough, that we shouldn’t ever wallow in feelings, that showing emotion was a weakness.

Being confronted by genuine emotion was like staring into the face of a black hole, the sun, or an abyss, it made no sense to me.

Staring into an openly sad or crying face was simply a bridge too far.

Healing Together

So what do I do now to avoid this problem?

No matter how uncomfortable I get, I refuse to do anything but listen and support romantic partners unless they ask for my ideas for how to fix a problem.

My goal is not to try to mansplain or problem-solve. Instead, I just try to listen, see the problem through their eyes, and empathize.

What do you think about problem-solving other people’s emotional sharing? Let me know, leave a comment!

Stop Calling Me A “Criminal”

by Joshua Hoe

Arrest

I am a formerly incarcerated person who is pro-gun control.

But, I want to say this clearly and with no confusion.

I am not a “Criminal.”

Yes, you will inevitably post a definition in response that says a “criminal” is anyone who has committed a crime. In that case, virtually everyone in the United States is a criminal.

Have you jaywalked? Okay, by this definition, that makes you a criminal too.

The use of that broad definition doesn’t do anyone any good in trying to make sense of how we should discuss crime in America.

In addition, this constant division of the country into people who are “good” and people who are “bad” is destined to end in tears. Everyone that I have ever met has both the capacity to engage in great good and to commit great evil.

I have personally sat across the table from armed robbers who were incredibly caring and across from non-felons who seemed fundamentally incapable of empathy or compassion.

In my experience, which is pretty extensive, the majority of “criminals” had no idea they were even capable of committing their crimes until they found themselves in the situation. Many were suffering from addiction (not an excuse, but an explanation).

My point is not that we did not deserve punishment, it is that we deserve to reclaim our citizenship and rights after we pay our debt to society (and that we should always be treated as human beings no matter where we are).

I am also arguing that we, as a society, have to create the rhetorical space for all human beings to be treated with dignity.

Almost all of the violence in the world starts with erasing people from counting and making classes of people disposable.

Brutality is always brutality.

It does not matter if the person committing brutality has official sanction, if the brutality is committed by a citizen being cruel, or the brutality is committed by someone intending to commit a crime.

Brutality is always brutality.

In this national gun control discussion, politicians of every stripe keep talking about how important it is to keep “criminals” away from guns.

I personally have never had and never want to possess a gun.

But every time I hear the debate framed this way it makes me want to start opposing gun control on principle.

I, and every other formerly incarcerated person believe we paid our debt, and should be able to again exercise our “inalienable rights” in full. We already did our time being reduced to a number and/or a label.

I am not your “criminal” to treat as a sub-human anymore.

I get that prison is a sad necessity of a modern society, but I am not in prison and I am no longer on parole or probation.

No offense, but it offends me that you want to treat me that way.

I am a citizen of the United States of America. I am a human being and I have dignity.

I have been endowed, by my creator with certain rights that I fully believe are inalienable.

I Am Not An Animal

Labels matter, and if your labels don’t create space for people to change or to have paid their debt to society, you keep all of us who have spent time in jail and/or prison permanently and perceptually engaged in the commission of crimes.

I committed criminal acts, but I am not a criminal.

I am not currently engaged in criminality nor is my occupation criminal in nature.

And most important, I am a human being and I am endowed by my creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I am not an animal.

So, stop labeling me as if I have not served my sentence. Stop treating me like I am still in prison (and stop treating the people in prison as if they are sub-human).

At the very least, stop referring to me as a “criminal.”

The preferred nomenclature is still being played out, but you can feel free to call me “formerly incarcerated.”

Have Some Respect

No matter what you think of my crimes (and I am certainly not proud of them myself), I paid a pretty serious debt. As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy (a Reagan appointee) said:

“One day in prison is longer than almost any day you and I have had to endure. Alexander Solzhenitsyn describes just one day in prison in the literary classic ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.’ Ivan Denisovich had a ten-year sentence. At one point he multiplies the long days in these long years by ten.”

Trust me, Solzhenitsyn was right.

I am part of a brother and sisterhood of many millions who have spent many long days in prison and who have lost careers, friends, and even family in the process.

Those of you who watch shows like Oz, Rectify, or Orange is the New Black may empathize but until you actually hear the doors lock behind you, you probably can’t really understand.

We who have formerly been incarcerated deserve respect, many of us have survived things you can’t even imagine.

Cut the demonization out.

Even if you can’t appreciate that, hopefully, you can see that it is not in your interest to give the nation of the formerly incarcerated no place to live except under the label “criminal.”

I would also appreciate it if the politicians pushing for gun control understood that they are making it nearly impossible for people like me to support them, or the gun control agenda.

When the base of the argument for gun-control is that we so-called “criminals” can never again be trusted or endowed with the rights that are afforded regularly to every other citizen it makes me want to tell you to take your agenda and shove it.

I might even be okay with risk-assessment eliminating me for consideration for a gun. If it can be determined that people like me, who have never even touched a gun but are formerly incarcerated, are at high-risk for gun violence.

I am all for limiting types of weapons, types of magazines, mandatory training, and registration of gun owners. I am not even opposed to considering adjustments to the Second Amendment (with great caution).

But, I am not for anything that starts by labeling my brothers and sisters in incarceration together as “criminals.” We are NOT criminals, we are people who committed crimes.

Sorry for the rant.

What do you think of using the term “criminals”, let me know what you think (if civil), leave a comment!

More on “Unbroken Brain,” Maia Szalavitz + 12 Steps

by Joshua Hoe

Unbroken Brain Szalavitz

Sorry, I have been a bit sparse on posting lately. With this site, I would rather not post until I have something I feel very confident about. I take recovery and addiction very seriously, and while I always reveal that I am not an expert, I do want to make sure I am careful and inspired about whatever I post.

This is my third post tangentially about Maia Szalavitz book Unbroken Brain. To be 100%, I have only just started reading the book. However, Ms. Szalavitz has published a large number of articles about the book and I have had a few Twitter exchanges with her about her take on 12-step programs.

During our last exchange, she forwarded me a few links to articles that she has written about 12-step program, so this is really more a response to those articles than it is to her book.

Let me preface this by saying that I identify myself with no particular program, my opinions are my own, and I do not speak for any 12-Step program.

12-Step Programs As Treatment

Here is the last interaction that I had with Ms. Szalavitz:


So let’s dive into what she says in those two articles.

First, in her article in the Influence she suggests that she embraces, if critically, many of the ideas of the program from becoming part of the community, to hearing and sharing stories, and even to faith. I agree with everything she says here, including her being sometimes uncomfortable with how “faith” is deployed to many of the program steps being a starters kit for CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

To her list I would also add that following a 12-step program is a basic course in establishing intimacy (not sex) between adult human beings. 12 Step programs, when followed, teach you to speak about your problems and feelings in the ways addicts often resist.

I have also already mentioned that I mostly agree with her description of addiction as a kind of learning disorder. That addiction develops by learning to respond to the triggering moments in our lives incorrectly. If you read either of our books, you will read much more about our similar if slightly different takes on this.

So, if we agree about all of this, what are Ms. Szalavitz problems with 12 Step Programs? Let’s now turn to the second article she suggested for me to read.

Higher Powers and Moral Failures

Ms Szalavitz says:

“…AA’s reliance on a higher power, confession, prayer and proselytizing is so unlike treatment for other medical or psychological disorders that its predominance seems to call into question whether addiction is a disease at all. I believe that addiction is a medical problem. I view addiction as a developmental disorder, which is a position supported by research. And while I don’t have any objection to 12-step programs as self-help, I do think it’s impossible to destigmatize addiction while also rendering it the only diagnosis in medicine for which the treatment is explicitly moral.”

In other articles of hers I have read she also says that one of the primary problems most non-addicted Americans face in accepting that Addiction is a disease is that they have heard for years that it is a moral failing. In other words, 12-step programs have been spreading the gospel that addiction is a moral failing for years and this gospel is a roadblock to the idea that addiction is a disease (to be treated medically).

I will admit, this does trouble me and it is one of my primary problems with 12-step programs as well.

I have suggested in other writing on this subject that I believe what was intended by the “moral defects” language was actually a connection to original sin. In other words, all human beings have moral defects and those defects are what emotionally connect us all. The notion that we are all united by sin and the desire to become better than what we are.

Unfortunately, there is no “legislative history” that I can find that explains the founders “Big Book” intent. It is certainly true that a large number of people in the program practice and proselytize that addiction is, in fact, a moral failing. I have heard conference tapes of people encouraging sponsors to “fire” sponsees that don’t measure up etc.

Most upsetting to me is how much self-loathing happens in the spaces created by the acceptance of “moral failure” and “defects of character.” For those of you familiar with “S” programs you are probably aware that one of the major controversies in “S” programs is the idea that same-sex relationships are often not allowed within sobriety definitions.

I tend to feel that the overall value of the program is so great that we should all work on reform of the program (and remember that many of its practices are dated and possibly cruel). I also try to emphasize readings of the texts that do not suggest we should feel shame when we struggle with recovery.

I have written many defenses of 12-Step ideology in general, but not about this “shame” aspect.

I also freely realize that this message puts me at odds with many of the hard-core rank and file supporters of 12-Step methods.

Treatment Vs. Support

Ms. Szalavitz continues:

“In fact, I would argue, the 12-step approach would be dismissed outright were it proposed as treatment for disorders such as depression, heart disease or schizophrenia. Until we recognize the discrepancy, I’m skeptical that we’ll make substantial progress in treating addiction.”

I have some disagreements with her here. First, remember during the first article, she explained that following the 12-steps is very similar and maybe a starters guide to practicing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I agree.

Psychological treatment is also, to a great extent, about getting people to talk about the things that they keep deep inside and to become comfortable with appropriately expressing feelings (especially sadness).

In addition, as someone who struggles with generalized depression and panic disorder, I would like to suggest that the treatment for addiction should probably not be much like the treatment for “heart disease.”

Therapeutic treatment is rarely entirely similar to physical medical procedures. There is a reason why diagnosis of most mental or emotional conditions comes with a recommendation for visiting both a psychiatrist (drugs) and psychologist (therapy).

I do believe she is, to some extent, correct that 12-step methods should rarely be seen as the only or even the main “treatment” for addiction.

As I have said many times can be many components to a good program of recovery:

* Therapy – Helps people get to the root of their original trauma and find out the “Why” answers offers successful tools like CBT

* Psychiatry – Helps people balance their dopamine, medically cope with withdrawal symptoms, or respond to triggers medically

* 12-Steps – Helps people find community, learn coping mechanisms for triggers, talk about what triggers them and how they feel, and helps people learn intimacy skills

* Faith – Helps people find purpose and community, learn coping mechanisms for triggers, and helps deal with existential fears

* Tools and Relapse Prevention – Having additional tools available like family members who understand your situation or knowing you can go to the gym when triggered to get some endorphins pumping can also be very helpful

The more tools you have in the toolbox the better, in my humble opinion.

Ms. Szalavitz also has problems with the “professional” practice of the 12-step method. I agree entirely here. An entire industry grew up around the 12-step method and it is a core part of most relapse approaches. The problem is not that 12-step methods cannot help people in crisis, it is that they are not designed to be commercial in the first place.

It is troubling to have people forced to embrace faith-based methods as part of drying out. It is odd to see people pay large amounts of money to be forced into a program that should be free and non-professional.

Maia Szalavitz is also 100% correct to suggest that there is something really strange about a Doctor being involved in evaluating your spiritual relationship with a higher power. Or for that relationship to be part of a medical evaluation.

Jails, Institutions, or Death

Ms. Szalavitz continues:

“…as an AA slogan has it, is “jails, institutions or death,” is mainstream medicine. And this remains the case, even though courts that have entertained the question of whether mandating 12-step participation via the legal system violates the First Amendment separation of church and state have determined that it does. Of course, some argue, so long as the 12-step approach works, who cares? One problem is that 12-step groups only seem to help a minority of people who find them amenable. According to a researcher who has studied the groups for years, 70 percent of people who start drop out within six months. And, when compared head-to-head with cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy, 12-step approaches do no better.”

As someone whose addiction took them to prison, I feel uniquely qualified to respond to this criticism (if you have read this blog for long you know I have been responding to this one for a long time).

First, 12-step programs do not promise that everyone recovers or even that a majority of people recover using the 12-step method. 12-Step orthodoxy is that “rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” This implies much more than attending meetings. My guess is that less than 30% of attendees go to regular meetings, have a sponsor, and officially ‘work the steps.’

Working the steps is a very specific and formal process that is a TON of hard work. It is not just reading the steps and thinking about them. I guess what I am saying is that it is no surprise that the overall program recovery rate is 30% or less.

Second, 12-Step programs aren’t mutually exclusive with CBT or other forms of therapy (I know this because I have done exhaustive CBT myself). Ms. Szalavitz suggests that many people argue that the 12-Step method is the “only” method and that the 12-Step method discourages the use of drugs and other therapies.

While I certainly know people in 12-Step programs who have said things like this, the discouraging of therapy and treatment in 12-steps meetings has not accorded with my experience at all. I find that building a comprehensive program of recovery (filling a big tool box) is the best hope for recovery.

In virtually every meeting I have ever been a part of the majority of people at the meeting are either currently in or have been involved in therapy as well.

I have certainly had discussions with people who believe that using methadone or alcohol inhibitors is somehow cheating but who cares. Find the program that you can work. Be as sober as you can become.

Third, and perhaps most important, as Ms. Szalavitz herself mentions, none of the treatment methods have a massive success rate.

Recovery isn’t a competition between brands, lives are on the line. Find what works best for you and keep getting better. If using several methods works, use several methods. Be a borrower, discount the parts of the 12-Step method that work for you and discard the rest on your way from your meeting to your therapy appointment or to fill your prescription for naltrexone.

Anyway, at the end of the day, I think reading Ms. Szalavitz work can be part of your toolbox of recovery. She has some really persuasive and powerful things to say about addiction. I suspect our disagreements are much smaller than our areas of agreement.

Here is a link to her book:

And here is a link to my book:

What did you think of Maia Szalavitz arguments? Let me know, leave a comment!

Embracing Homelessness, Darth Vader, and The Void

by Joshua Hoe

Powerful Friends 2015

Last week when I was at church the Reverend gave a sermon about embracing homelessness.

WHAT?

I should have been shocked. But, to be 100% honest, I was sadly familiar with the concept.

My Reverend was talking about how Jesus asked all the disciples to drop everything and come with him. In other words to surrender the idea of life being rooted in possession and place.

It is not an easy concept to embrace, I have spent most of my life trying to find and keep a physical and spiritual home that is rooted in possessions and in a place.

Addiction was also, in a sense, an attempt to hold off the void and protect myself from the pain of the void.

But, because of prison (more on that in a second) I learned what my Reverend might have been talking about.

Homelessness and Addiction

I think there are many different kinds of homes for addicts.

There is the home we physically grow up in, the homes we live in throughout our lives, the home we form inside our heads, and the homes we live in publically (usually represented by a persona or mask we wear around other people so they can’t see what we are really feeling).

And there was the home of acting out.

Homelessness, in a way, was always the fear that motivated me building these homes.

When I think of homelessness, I usually think of the end of Star Wars (A New Hope) when Darth Vader’s tie fighter spins off wildly into the void of space.

This feeling was always present inside me, it was hiding there behind that feeling that “If anyone ever really knew the real me” they would never accept me.

It was hiding behind the masks.

It was hiding behind my fear of intimacy and in all of my trust deficits.

When all of my homes failed me and I felt the fear building my acting out behaviors were what I turned to in order to avoid spinning into that terrifying void

Radical Homelessness

When you are in prison your bunk is called your “House.”

Before I went to prison, I had a nice apartment, a stable job, lots of clothes, a car, and hundreds of friends.

After my arrest, I lost virtually all of these things that symbolized home.

Virtually every physical manifestation of home (or of having a home) was stripped away from me.

Once I got to prison I was literally stripped to nakedness, searched, given a number, and left with only a bag full of prison property.

I could not mask my fears of spinning into the void with any of the manifestations of a physical home and my masks were stripped away too (any inmate only needs to call a friend on the outside to look up what you did).

I couldn’t even turn to acting out (I could have but I was in recovery and somehow it stuck – even through this trauma).

I was naked and homeless. Except for my bunk. And bunk “homes” are a moveable feast as well.

it is pretty normal procedure for inmates to be moved all the time.

Moved within facilities, moved between facilities, or moved all over the state.

You could be somewhere for a week, a month, a year, multiple years, you just never knew when a move was coming.

Home meant next to nothing.

I was in Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter, spinning off into space.

What I learned was that the fear is almost always worse than the reality. I learned that fear of the void is worse than the void itself.

And I learned about the importance of spirit.

Spirit, What You Find In The Void

I am convinced that God talks to us in our quiet moments and in the moments when we are at our most absurd and silly.

I think the miracles we think have disappeared from the world happen in a smile, in a cool breeze, or in a small kindness.

I found my faith by realizing, after much reflection, that while my ethical system and sense of human decency were encouraged and developed by my family, some of it was inherent (built in).

I realized that whenever I had lost my way, it was because I was losing touch with my spirit and burying it in my fears.

So, I believe now that God is “in” me and in those moments that I described a few sentences ago (when I take the time to put my fears aside and pay attention)

I think that little voice telling me what is right and wrong (and that I used to try to “Master”) is also of God.

I mean that while suffering is the way of the world, joy is divine.

When I was a young kid, my Grandfather used to tell us to get up every morning welcoming the day by doing something silly.

He did an absurdist full-body stretch he called a “Circus Stretch.”

I love that he shared his spirit with me in moments like that.

When everything was stripped away from me, and I was radically homeless, I found that what was left, in the void, was the spirit of joy my Grandfather was talking about.

I did not run around the prison doing “Circus Stretches” but I found it much easier to access my spirit after embracing the void (after years and decades of my material quest for “home” and in the never ending quest to be socially popular).

What got me through the hard times and the terrors of prison was the ability to find joy and humor in small moments and when threatened.

Finally, I found that home is really in my spirit not in possessions of places. My spirit doesn’t always conquer pain or fear, but even in places of utter terror and misery, there is something good inside me.

Where does faith come from for you? Let me know, leave a comment!

Addiction Books: In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts

by Joshua Hoe

addiction

Lately, in addition to my own book, I have been highlighting other addiction books I endorse.

Today I have chosen “In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Mate

This is one of my favorite addiction books of all-time. My only complaint is that the first few chapters could have been edited down. The bulk of the helpful information comes later in the text (IMHO).

If you are searching for answers to the “Why” questions, this is one of the best books that I have read.

Five Things I Love About This Book:

1. Gabor Mate is gentle with his frustrations

I absolutely love that an ongoing theme of this book is that the frustrations he feels when working with addicts are as much about his failings as about the addicts.

If you don’t know much about Gabor Mate, he is an addiction specialist who has worked with Heroin addicts in Canada for decades.

2. He gets the story right

The biggest criticism I have seen of this book is that it gives early life traumas too much weight (as foundational to addiction).

IMHO I wish more books spent more time emphasizing that for many addicts this is foundational. I know far more people for whom early-life trauma was formative than people for whom it is not.

3. He refuses to see himself as exceptional.

Gabor Mate spends most of the book trying to empathize with drug addicts through the lens of his own shopping and food addictions.

Way too often, people trying to “help” addicts see themselves as exceptional and place themselves in a paternalistic position over addicts.

I believe Gabor Mate sees himself as a partner to the addicts he supports.

4. He Walks The Walk

This dude works every day in the trenches with heroin addicts trying to recover.

Gabor Mate is not an ivory tower academic. He walks the walk with all of us.

5. Practical Information presented well

Of all the hundreds of books I have read about addiction, I retained more from this book than most of the others combined.

His humility and gentle approach to addiction is a game changer but I also found his lessons practical and easy to digest.

And, of course, if you are looking for more reading material, you can give my eBook a read too:

What did you think of “In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts?” Let me know, leave a comment!

Mental Health Crisis? 3 Ways To Do Something

by Joshua Hoe

I am so tired of politicians yapping about fixing the “mental health crisis” in America.

Every time “mental health reform” is mentioned you do not need a decoder ring to figure out that what they are really saying is that they oppose firearm restrictions. Just a dodge.

We have a mental health crisis in this country but nobody is really trying to fix it.

The saddest thing:

Mental health reform would help the mass-shooting maniacs but that kind of psychopathy is present in only a tiny percentage of the people who desperately need access to mental health care.

The second saddest thing:

Most mass shooters are not felons and got their guns in a manner that none of the proposed reforms could effect (I am calling for actual restrictions).

Here are three ideas that could start making a difference today.

1) Provide Mental Health Access For All

Stigma pic

Stop talking about the crisis and do something about it.

Problems become problems when people cannot talk about them or work them out. Therapists help people talk about their problems and help them work those problems out.

Most insurance covers limited therapy (and has massive out of pocket costs). Many of the good therapists will not accept most insurance plans. It is time to fish or cut bait. If you care about helping people be better adjusted and less mentally troubled, start getting them all access to therapy.

2) Stop Telling People To “Suck It Up”

Congress has nothing to do with this one. This is about how we socialize people (particularly men) to deal with problems alone.

Here are the top answers I get when I talk to other addicts about why they don’t get or seek out help:

* It makes me feel weak to ask for help
* I am supposed to fix my own problems

I felt exactly the same way before I found recovery.

This notion that asking for help is weakness makes anyone who asks for help feel like they have failed at being American.

We need to stop playing cowboy in this country.

It is terrible that “The Greatest Generation” dealt with a World War and a Depression but it is insane to continue to believe that they did so without causing collateral damage.

The WW2 generation accomplished amazing things but we need to stop pretending these accomplishments happened with no social costs.

All of the problems that we encounter today were in full-effect in the 1950’s.

The difference? Nobody talked about, for instance, alcoholism and the resulting social costs and people looked the other way when people got in non-fatal fights.

We live in a mass fantasy where people really believe that “strong” people handle their problems alone.

A mass fantasy where anyone who asks for help is weak.

A mass fantasy where men should never cry or talk about their emotions.

We, as a society, have to stop thinking like this. This notion, that mental health can be protected internally, has been exposed time and again as lunacy.

I wonder what the total cost in suffering has been from “maintaining the macho?”

It is time to stop talking about the “wussification” of America and start accepting that we are bleeding internally because we can’t talk about our problems, share our feelings, or ask anyone for help.

3) Stop Stigmatizing Mental Illness

Mental Health Stigma

Obviously, part of the problem is the name itself. It probably should not be known as “mental illness” at all.

A high percentage of the population struggles with stress and depression. Over time, stress and depression are maladies that can become chronic and cause massive personal and social costs.

I think if anyone is mentally ill, everyone is mentally ill.

And this is the problem when politicians and people talk about mental illness they are really referring to sociopaths and psychopaths.

This makes everyone else considering getting help feel stigmatized.

It is time to stop talking about mental problems and struggles as exceptional and as representing “illness.”

It is time to start talking about mental struggles as a normal part of the human condition.

We want as many people as possible to feel comfortable enough to seek out and get the best possible help. We have to stop stigmatizing mental health care.

Access to mental health care isn’t a cure-all.

It doesn’t always work.

Some therapists are not very good and sometimes the match between therapist and patient is not right.

But it is almost always better to have therapy than to have no therapy at all.

Access to therapy, however, reduces the risks of mental health problems. Talking about problems and sharing feelings is a preventative measure.

What are your suggestions? What do you think? Share your thoughts, leave a comment!

“Defects of Character,” Humanity, and Connection

by Joshua Hoe

Unbroken Brain Szalavitz

A week ago, I made some comments about Maia Szalvitz new book “Unbroken Brain” (well worth a read IMHO).

One of the comments that I made was that when 12 step programs refer to “defects of character” it was probably meant as a reference to the biblical concept of original sin.

Let me go into more detail about that.

Christianity, Feeling Defective, and 12 Steps

Defective

One of the worst kept secrets of the 12-step method is that it was created by, and is informed largely by the Christianity of its original membership.

I like that they tried to create space for religious alternatives for members who were not Christian.

But I do not like that they followed that up by often suggesting that people have to find the Christian God to recover (there are many examples of this in the 12 and 12)

I have seen 12-steps work for plenty of folks of many faiths. It is important to create real space for people of other faiths (and for people of no faith at all) to find recovery too in our meetings and our interactions with other addicts.

One example of this “program myopia” when it comes to Christianity was called-out in Ms. Szlavitz book when she talks about “defects of character” as a poor metaphor for what is happening with addicts.

In particular, she believes that it is not hard to see why people have a “punishment” mindset when it comes to addiction when even the addicts think they are “defective.”

I don’t follow 12-step orthodoxy lock stock and barrel either.

“Defects of Character” makes much more sense conceptually when you place it in its original Christian context of original sin.

Defects Of Character and Common Humanity

Common Humanity

The intent of referring to “defects of character” was not to make addicts feel flawed.

I believe the intent of calling these issues “defects of character” was to connect addicts back to a common humanity.

In Christian doctrine, this goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. The one this that unites all humans is being born into original sin.

In the throes of my acting out, I believed that I was a “unique flower” and the only person with the problems that I was experiencing. I craved a return to the “normalcy” all people (who were not me) must experience.

I felt that since I was the ONLY person suffering from these particular problems that nobody else could every understand me.

This became part of my cycle.

It was a part of why I never sought out help (they would never understand me), why I never saw myself as like anyone else (I am broken and nobody else is broken like me), and why I saw everyone else as normal (and saw myself as some secret hidden freak).

So be seeing that all humans, and all addicts, share “defects of character” it reconnects me to all other addicts. It shatters the illusion that I am the “only addict” or that I am the only person with problems.

It dispels the notion that other people are normal while I am the only person who is abnormal.

The first time I walked into a meeting, I found community in hearing that other people had many of the same “defects of character” as I had.

What unifies us is that we are NOT without sin. That what is common to us is being born into a world of sin that is (as our Buddhist brothers and sisters would say) replete with pain and suffering.

It is when people become disconnected from this truth, either by thinking they are uniquely bad or exceptionally good, that bad things start to happen.

Back To The Big Picture

I know that not all faiths believe that we are born fundamentally flawed.

This is one of the issues with addicts calling themselves “defective” in that not everyone listening is reading from the Christian playbook.

It is also problematic when other Christian’s start to see themselves as exceptional to the notion of original sin.

We can see the effects of this exceptionalism in the movement to punish virtually every area of life that is happening in this country.

However, I believe that the point of calling these things (we suffer from) “defects of character” was an attempt to create a common malady and bring us together (not isolate or separate us).

It was an attempt to unite us to something bigger than ourselves, the knowledge that we are not God.

It was an edict about humility and not about shame.

It was about acknowledging that what makes us part of the human family is that we have defects not our drive toward perfection.

What do you think of “defects of character?” Let me know, leave a comment!