The Buddhist tradition contains wisdom that can benefit those of us who have struggled with addiction. Mindfulness is just one example of what this path has to offer. Eight Step Recovery is a book by Valerie Mason-John and Dr Paramabandhu Groves that combines Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery (MBAR) with other useful teachings from Buddhism.
I can now see my years of alcohol abuse were a symptom and not a cause of my suffering. I drank because I didn’t have a better way of coping with my feelings of alienation in life. I desperately yearned for something that would fill the ‘hole in my soul’, and I never considered the possibility this yearning was the actual source of my suffering.
“This is the very definition of seeking—to push away or cover up what’s actually appearing in favor of looking for something else that we think should be appearing.”
I must have read my first spiritual book at age 8. I remember choosing an encyclopedia of children’s bible stories from our local library. I grew up in a Catholic family, but neither of my parents were particularly religious. I had a strong faith as a child, and I’m probably the only person in my family who has actually read the bible, but by age 14, I’d completely lost this faith.
I read My Name Is Bill – His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous by Susan Cheever when I was back on holiday in Ireland a couple of months ago. I’m not a member of AA, but I do look upon Bill Wilson as a bit of a hero. Time Magazine named him in their top 100 of the most important people of all time, and I think he deserves this recognition. Bill W. was a great synthesizer of ideas, and he had enough charisma to make people take notice of the cause he was promoting. He was no saint, but he was certainly someone to admire.
Controversy Surrounding Susan Cheever’s Book
I first heard of this book because of the controversy surrounding it – there are reports of things that some fans of Bill W. would prefer to be kept hidden. Susan Cheever is a recovering alcoholic, and it is obvious that she has a great deal of affection for Alcoholics Anonymous and the founders of this group. During her research for the book she came across material that initially disturbed her, and she knew that it would shock plenty of other people as well. Susan made the decision to print the story of how Bill W., the founder of the most successful alcohol recovery program in history, asked for whiskey on his deathbed – not just once but on four separate occasions. She came across this information while searching the notes of the nurse who was looking after him for the last few days of his life. When I first read about Bill’s near relapse I did feel shocked, but I certainly do not think that it takes anything away from his life and his work – I discussed this before on here in the post If I Ask For Whiskey On My Deathbed Please Just Give It To Me .
Fair Assessment of Bill Wilson
I’d heard about the demand for whiskey on his deathbed before I began reading Susan Cheever’s book, so I was sort of expecting more shocking revelations, but they didn’t really come. It is hard to ever know with any autobiography, but it did feel to me that she was providing a fair account of his life. I’ve heard that many of the AA members who have taken the time to read the book feel the same way too. Bill Wilson was a human, and like all humans he had his good days and his bad days – this continued after he became sober. He was no saint, but he never claimed to be one. In fact one of his greatest achievements was to create the 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous – he created these rules to save the organization from people like him.
The one thing that seems obvious from reading this book is that Bill Wilson had a deep spiritual hunger. He often spoke about the profound spiritual experience that allowed him to break away from addiction, and he seems to have spent a good deal of the rest of his life trying to recapture that experience. In later years he experimented with acid, and he even created a ghost room in his house where he would try to communicate with the dead. Bill devoured spiritual teachings, and he seems to have found it easy to assimilate new ideas.
The Bad Days of Bill Wilson
Getting sober did not mean the end of Bill Wilson’s suffering. He endured long periods of crippling depression, and there were times when he hardly had the energy to get out of bed. Bill continued to be addicted to cigarettes, and he was unable to give these up even when they were obviously killing him. There are also lots of stories about his inability to remain faithful to his wife. It is easy to use the weaknesses of Bill W. to attack his program, but this is not really fair. The sad truth is that he was unable to benefit from the fellowship he created because of his inability to participate like everyone else. Even when he handed over the organization to the members he was still seen as the leader. If he turned up at a meeting he would be the focus of attention, and so he avoided going to them.
The Good Days of Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson achieved some remarkable things in his lifetime, and he has undoubtedly helped many people escape the misery of addiction. The thing that made him so special was that he never really tried to hide his imperfections. He wrote extensively about his problems, and this work contains a great deal of wisdom. Bill Wilson wasn’t some “holier than thou” prophet trying to lead people from on high – he was right there with them struggling with the same things that they struggled with. His advice is worth more because he wasn’t talking from a pulpit but from experience.
I managed to get my hands on a review copy of Recover to Live: Kick any Habit, Manage Any Addiction. It is written by Christopher Kennedy Lawford who is also the author of a bestselling memoir of addiction called Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption. I’ve not yet had a chance to read any of his earlier work (I probably will after this), but the bits of his story that I’ve picked up online make it clear that he is an inspirational character with a powerful message. The author has been sober for over a quarter of a century, and he has dedicated his life to helping people break away from addiction. Christopher is the son of Patricia Kennedy and the nephew of John F. Kennedy.
Recover to Live
When I started reading Recover to Live I wasn’t expecting much. I began by looking at the chapter headings, but it all seemed to be material that I’d read hundreds of times before. One of my more bizarre behaviors as a habitual drunk was to spend my afternoon in a bar with a good book on addiction and recovery. I’d keep on reading until the words became illegible, and by then I’d be ready to begin lecturing my fellow drinking companions. This was my ritual for years, and it got to the stage where I sort of felt a bit odd to be out boozing without this self help material to tuck into as I drank. I’ve read a ton of recovery books, and when I saw the contents for Recover to Live I wrongly concluded that it would be more of the same.
It turns out that Recover to Live is an exceptionally informative read, and I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in recovery. I disagree with some of the ideas and claims, but that’s not a problem because the book provides information on many different approaches to addiction treatment. Christopher is not just simply giving his own opinion but is sharing the views of over 100 of the world’s top experts on the subject. It is the fact that it contains all these different voices that makes it such an important book.
I originally intended to treat Recover to Live like a textbook, and to just dip into the bits that interested me, but it is such an absorbing read that I went from cover to cover. Christopher has a knack of repackaging old information in such a way that it is not boring for those of us who may have read this stuff before. There is also plenty of new information and ideas.
12 Step Apologetics
Recover to Live has tons of information and lots of different viewpoints, but I sort of felt that Christopher pushes the 12 step programs a bit excessively at times. He admits that this approach is not for everyone, but on a couple of occasions it sounds like he is almost blaming people for not getting the program. I find this type of 12 Step apologetics to be unhelpful because it implies that other approaches are somehow inferior. I think it’s unfair to suggest that people fail in these groups because they didn’t try hard enough. The truth is that this approach to recovery simply does not work for everyone, through no fault of their own, and they should try something else. At the end of the day though, the 12 Steps are what worked for Christopher so it is understandable that he would want to promote this treatment.
Best Book on Addiction?
I read some of the comments on Amazon and more than one person said that this is one of the best books they have read on addiction. I agree. It probably contains most of the important knowledge we have at the moment for dealing with addiction problems, and it presents this information in a readable way. He even talks about things like body work and acupuncture. Christopher doesn’t just limit himself to alcohol and drug addiction – he also has chapters on sex addiction, hoarding, gambling, cigarette addiction, and eating disorders. He provides plenty of citations for those of us who want to dig deeper into the information. It looks like Christopher has another best seller on his hands and hopefully this book will encourage more people to escape addiction.