Alumnus Celebrates A Decade of Recovery

My name is Judy P. and I was an inpatient at Edgewood during October, November and December, 2007. I also returned the following year for a week of Insite.

I am coming up on my 10-year anniversary of being clean and sober. At 62 years old, I am very happy about this and will mark the occasion in style, I am sure.

My path to become an Edgewood alumnus has been interesting to say the least. I owe much of it to a remarkable woman — my best friend.

In 2007, Kathe, who is now 38 years sober, took me out for dinner one evening and suggested, in a very kind way, that perhaps I was drinking too much. She pointed out that I had told her on a previous occasion I was probably drinking too much wine. It did not go over well. I sat in heated silence, seething with anger, basically wriggling in my seat with zero witty come backs. I went home. I did not speak to her for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, whether I agreed with her or not was not the point. The point was that I could not get her words out of my head.

Kathe truly wrecked drinking for me. I would pour myself a glass of wine in my crystal goblet, take a sip, and her words just kept echoing in my mind, my internal committee debating their merit.

“Do I drink too much?” Well, sure, but so what?

“If you had been through what I’ve been through, you would drink too.”

I even had a therapist and a GP that counseled me. I was told, “Your problem isn’t drinking, your problem is your relationship,” or, “You need to get rid of him.”

I am including this because well-meaning health professionals are not necessarily trained nor do they know a great deal about alcohol abuse. I was having a very hard time admitting I was an alcoholic. I went around and around with that but, in the end, I decided that I just wanted to stop drinking and if that made me an alcoholic, then, fine, I was an alcoholic.

Kathe gave me the Big Book to read. I phoned her one evening after drinking several glasses of wine. She asked me what I thought of the book. I told her I thought it was stupid and had nothing to do with me.

After waking up another morning, feeling hung over and absolutely wretched and driving my son to school, I finally decided I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I emailed Kathe and said I was ready. She was amazing! She booked me into Edgewood. She tried Betty Ford first, but when she told them it was for a friend, the receptionist kept telling her, “It’s alright dear, you can tell me it’s really for you. People do it all the time.” She hung up and called Edgewood. She offered to look after my son for the duration of my stay.

To me, Kathe is the embodiment of all that is good and wonderful about A.A., an amazing human being with whom I count myself extremely fortunate to be friends. She wasn’t just kind and caring. She was knowledgeable and effective. She went with me to see a counselor in another town, and she flew with me to Nanaimo. She brought my son out to visit me. I owe my sobriety, and much more, to her. I was a mess, and she picked me up and put me exactly in the right place to get the help I needed. It doesn’t get any better than that. I will always be grateful to her for having the courage to call me out.

I signed into Edgewood on October 17, 2007, which is my anniversary. I left on December 14.

My memories? Well, my counselor was Dale Burke, who, along with the other staff, was incredible. I can remember very clearly how confused and upset I was when I showed up. I was so bewildered that I had actually checked myself into rehab, and I questioned the wisdom of that decision daily for the first couple of weeks. I questioned Dale so much that she finally drew on a page in my binder for me to look at.

“Judy is an Alcoholic.”

I do remember having a hard time with all the rules. Not because I have authority issues, but because, as a mature business person with success under my belt, I was used to being the authority. I remember complaining to a friend on the phone during the second week, “They keep telling me what to do!”

She replied, “Why don’t you try doing what they tell you?”

Good grief. Apparently, not listening to what others tell me to do was not restricted to my drinking.

The Serenity Prayer also pissed me off immediately. My attitude was, well, maybe all you losers who have nothing better to do can be serene. This was said inside my head, but dripping with sarcasm. Seriously. Who has time for this stuff? I had places to go, people to see, and things to do – except I didn’t. I was stuck in that chair, in that auditorium, by my own admission.

Weeks later, while I was obsessing about my boyfriend, a peer said to me, “Oh, you have the codependent crazies.”

It stopped me dead in my tracks. There was a name for that? There was a condition that other people experience similar to the one I was feeling? That was my eureka moment. Far more than identifying with being like other alcoholics in treatment, it resonated, and I literally reverberated with that recognition. It was a huge turning point for me. The book Codependent No More and its sequel have both proven very influential.

I did not receive a chip when I left, as the counselors felt I still needed more time. However, I did attend aftercare groups for a year. I went to A.A. for 90 visits in 90 days and I got a sponsor. My aftercare plan suggestions continued for years, as did Big Book studies and my Insite stay at Edgewood.

Still, it was not a smooth transition. It was rough and bumpy, and I got in my own way at every conceivable step. Just trying to be honest with myself, let alone the rest of the world, was dicey. My mind was a whirling mass of anxiety spiked with rage, self-pity and blame. I was an equal-opportunity blamer, dumping as much on myself by excusing the bad behavior of others, and simultaneously spewing venom on the unchosen. Again, I was busy doing this inside my own head.

I clearly remember the first time I drowned out the raucous, nasty, noise in my head with gratitude. It seems the two are mutually exclusive. At least, for me they are. It gave me peace of mind. That was, and is, the most valuable thing I learned, or, at least, the one I came to rely on the most.

My biggest challenge in early recovery was an abusive relationship in which I was embroiled, of which I continued to reel in and out for my first few years before ending it for good seven years ago.

But, thanks to Edgewood, having another drink was not an issue. I stayed sober throughout it and have not had a drink since before checking into Edgewood. That relationship signified my rock bottom, and I needed to be living sober long enough to realize my self-worth. Once I got out of the relationship, I felt truly free.

Going to Edgewood and A.A. gave me the tools to do that.

These days, I am retired, happily remarried and living in Pennsylvania. My husband, an anesthesiologist, is a wonderful man — intelligent, kind-hearted and the owner of a great sense of humor. Living on 150 acres in the country with a flowing stream, we are about 90 miles from New York City. Our quiet life is punctuated with trips into the city to see a play or shop, and lots of travel. Life is very good.

I have one son. He came to visit me in Edgewood one family day. If you ask him about my drinking, he will tell you he only ever saw me drunk maybe twice. I simply did not drink around him. He did, however, suffer through the rollercoaster of emotional upheaval and the chaos of the effects of my drinking and being involved in an abusive relationship. We have talked about this many times and I have made amends; he assures me that all is well. Thank God. He is now 23 and has just graduated with his Masters Degree. He went through university at a prestigious post-graduate school on scholastic scholarships, and, if I was any prouder of him my head would explode. He is kind and big-hearted, and I love him to bits.

In closing, I hope my story can be of some use to our extended family of Edgewood alumni. Over the years, I have recommended Edgewood to several people. It was an amazing experience. Ten years later, I am still very grateful for having had the opportunity to get sober and turn my life around in such a supportive, caring place.

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Baldwin family knows addiction inside and out


By Jeff Vircoe

Billy Baldwin may not be the most famous of the Baldwins. He’s probably not the most controversial. But when it comes to the topic of addiction, he is certainly one of the most literate. Been there. Seen that.

Though not an addict himself, the 54-year-old American actor, producer and writer has had a front row seat to plenty of high-profile carnage. His famous male siblings, Alec, Stephen and Daniel, have, at different times, been public poster boys for the chaos that comes with the illness.

Billy is also married to a woman in long-term recovery, the actor, singer and model, Chynna Phillips. Together 25 years – a rarity in Hollywood for sure – Baldwin and Phillips have recently become more public about their experiences with recovery.

Last fall, they spoke at a Healthy Minds Canada gala in Toronto, sharing how addiction and recovery play out in their own lives. Sponsored in part by the Edgewood Health Network, the dinner helped raise nearly $400,000 towards an assortment of research projects, workshops, conferences and various mental health education initiatives.

Baldwin agreed to talk at length about his wife’s and his own journey through the minefield of addiction and recovery, the full story of which appears in the current EHN Phoenix Magazine. Here is a portion of the interview conducted with Phoenix reporters.

What’s your connection to Canada?

My connection to Canada is far more through the film industry – like a million to one – than it is to any of my ancestors. My father’s side of the family came over, part of it on the Mayflower, another part of it in 1638 to Boston. My mother’s side of the family is German and French. They came through Nova Scotia and they also came through Quebec. Her maiden name is Martineau, but they’ve been in upstate New York for centuries. I don’t have a strong connection to her French Canadian side. I do, but it’s through upstate New York, so not really.

So you didn’t spend time in Quebec growing up?

We were too poor to travel and we were too poor to vacation. I was never on a plane in my childhood. Was never on a vacation in my childhood. We used to go up and visit my mother’s side of the family but that was all in upstate New York, in the Syracuse area.

But, Canada? I’ve made movies coast to coast. I’ve made movies or I’ve worked with my wife and her band traveling across Canada. We’ve worked in Vancouver many times. Winnipeg many times. Toronto, I can’t even count the amount of times. Montreal several times. I made a film out in St. Andrews and St. Stephen in New Brunswick. I did a commercial in Quebec City. I must have made a dozen to fifteen films up there. I’ve done some charity events up at the Banff Hot Springs and Chateau Lake Louise. I’ve done some environmental fundraising stuff up there in the Canadian Rockies. So, I’ve been all over the country.

Have you spoken about addiction and mental illness before?

Not publicly a lot, no. Half my family is in A.A., so, yeah, everybody talks about their addiction and personal family issues in the anonymity of an A.A. meeting, but never on a public stage like that, no.

Do any of your family members give you flack when you talk publically about things that maybe used to be left behind closed doors in the past?

Well, there are certain things that I don’t share. I share what I feel comfortable with. But there’s plenty of stuff that I haven’t shared.

In 1999, you made the movie Virus with Jamie Lee Curtis. She’s a well known spokesperson for recovery advocacy organizations. Do you see that kind of role for you and Chynna going forward? Can you use your profile for causes like this?

We could. We could. I mean, I don’t see why not. When I met my wife, she was three years sober. She was 22 and now she’s nearly 50. She’s been sober since she was 19. She grew up in a rock and roll family, so mental health issues and addiction. Her father was a heroin addict for decades and it killed him. If, somehow, I could put that together.

That format we did for you [EHN] guys would be a great platform for us to go around and talk about show business and family and the strength of marriage and addiction and mental health issues. Yeah, I liked doing it in the format we did. I didn’t want to have Chynna give a speech and then I give a speech. I wanted to sit up there in big fluffy chairs [with] an M.C. and do more of a talk show format, and then throw it out to the audience for questions. I’ve done many of those, but not with Chynna and not on that topic. But I’ve M.C.’d and done chats and all that sorts of stuff in the past.

Your description of one of Daniel’s bottoms was riveting. Did you ever get near that level, that environment that your brother was living, in your own partying years?

In terms of my own personal use, I’ve been around it. I’ve been around Hollywood people and I lived in New York for 25 years, so I’ve been around it with friends and family members, yeah. But, no, I’ve never had that kind of appetite for partying at all.

They say addiction is a family disease. So, when did addiction start affecting you? And now?

I didn’t really have to deal with it a lot. My parents didn’t do drugs and my parents didn’t really drink alcohol. We didn’t really have alcohol in our home, but that was more of a function of the fact that they couldn’t afford it.

I mean, we had it in the house. But my father was never that kind of guy. He was a high school teacher and a coach, so once or twice a year he would go out with some of the other teachers and some of the other coaches on pay day. They would cash their cheques and hit a local watering hole in my home town and my father would have a beer or two, but he was not … you know. Not to say that we were totally devoid of alcoholic behavior. But I really didn’t have a sophistication to identify what it was when I was 12 to 15 years old.
In my early adult life, I would say my earliest introduction was through my brother, Daniel, who was married to his high school sweetheart, had a child with her, got divorced, and in our early days in Hollywood, being around Hollywood people, and being around people [who] were abusing drugs and alcohol and then, my brother Daniel.

Daniel has married and divorced several times, and, more often than not, it has been drug addiction that has destroyed his relationships, and that is something that I was dealing with very early on. Even when I was in the latter years of undergraduate, and the early years in New York City after I’d finished college. I was dealing with bullshit related to his addiction. So, I’ve been running and growing and struggling with it myself – not my own addiction – but struggling with how to deal with [his].

The key being that, you know how, sometimes, when you think you’re helping someone, you’re not helping them. You’re enabling them. Trying to find that balance is always pretty tricky. It’s very challenging because you know you don’t know how to strike a healthy balance. A lot of times people will draw the line in the sand in different places.

Some people had been through this with friends and family for a lot longer than I had been at that point in my life, and they were very hard, very militant about it. ‘You gotta shut em off. You gotta shut em down. Fuck them. Don’t help them. Don’t give them an inch.’ It’s hard. When they are suffering and struggling, it’s hard when it’s a blood relative. It’s hard when they’re married and they have children. That’s something I’ve always struggled with. When children are involved. You want to try and find a way to help the kids without enabling the addict, you know?

Would you say co-dependency is one of your things?

On some level, everybody is. But, how much do you learn? How much do you evolve? How much do you grow? How much do you learn from past co-dependent mistakes? I think I’ve gotten pretty good about it.

You once had a house about 10 minutes away from Stepping Stones, which was Bill and Lois Wilson’s [the founders of AA and Al-Anon] place in Bedford Hills, New York. What are your thoughts on the 12 Step movement?

I think Bill Wilson should posthumously be awarded a Nobel Prize. Tell me where any one individual, unless you discovered penicillin, who else in the history of humanity has saved more lives than that guy? It doesn’t work for everybody. That’s okay. But the 12 Steps, across the board with narcotics, alcohol, with eating disorders – I can’t even quantify – millions of lives this guy has saved at this point.

What is the answer to the addiction crisis facing our two nations, in your mind?

It ain’t fucking Donald Trump, I’ll tell you that. But, I don’t know. I don’t know. This whole heroin thing, the way police departments are dealing with it now. I know a lot of lives are being saved because the cops are now carrying this Narcan [Naloxone]. That’s helping to save a lot of lives. It’s a Band-Aid [solution], but I like that it’s becoming more standard operating procedure. There [are] a lot of police departments that were fighting that, because I guess they didn’t want to be in that business. But they’ve saved quite a few lives, so I’m all for [it].

They say education is the key to this fight. So, what does the average North American need to know about addiction?

I think it’s one part education, one part economy and jobs, and it’s 10 parts God, if you know what I mean. Even then, you’re going to have [a lot] of people slipping through the cracks. But, I’ve never seen the epidemic as bad as it is now.

Even when heroin was chic, back when I was a teenager in the Seventies. The stuff that they have out there now with pot and with heroin, what they’ve done to it, I don’t know what they hell they put into it but, literally, the pot today – you take one or two hits of it and it’s like being on an acid trip in the Seventies.

I don’t do it – but that’s what I hear. It’s incredibly powerful and incredibly addictive. Between heroin and the benzo problem and the painkiller (opioids) problem, you could do heroin one time and no looking back. You’re hooked. It’s scary.

What do [workers] in the field need to know about the importance of what they are doing for a living?

I’ve never been an addict, so maybe it would be better for my brother, Daniel, to answer. He’s a professional in the field that you are in now. He’s still making movies, but he’s professionally doing interventions and putting people into recovery. He’s been doing that professionally for the last 10 or 15 years, particularly in the last five years.

It’s an epidemic. It’s worse than ever before. A lot of the services are being cut. A lot of the funds are being cut. And it’s coming at a time when you guys are needed now, more than ever. It’s stunning to me when you hear people like Trump talking about cutting services for the addicted. Cutting services for mental health. Cutting services for the National Endowment for the Arts, but then giving the Defense Department a $56 billion increase.

What does the term dry drunk mean to you? Have you ever seen it in action, and what does it look like?

Oh, of course. Of course. Dry drunks are frustrating to me. But, at least they have an excuse. The excuse is they are not in the program and they are not working the steps. What is more frustrating for me is somebody who is a raging alcoholic but they don’t do drugs, they don’t do alcohol, they don’t use at all.

They still go to meetings every week. Sometimes only once a week. Sometimes twice a week. They’re 25-30 years sober. They’re going to meetings, but they’re not really working the steps and they are letting or allowing their alcoholism to manifest itself in various ways in their life. It’s almost at an intolerable level and they are making people’s lives absolutely fucking miserable, and they don’t see it. They’re not doing coke. They’re not drinking alcohol. They’re not getting shitfaced. They’re still going to meetings. They go out with their buddies for a cappuccino after the meeting. They check that box. But they’re not really working the steps.

If they were working the steps then they would not be, in terms of OCD, in terms of control, in terms of rage and anger. A lot of times, the disease, when you’re not drinking and not working the steps the right way, you know, there’s transference, [there are] substitutions. A lot of people put it into exercise or sex. I’ve seen a lot of people are still going to the meetings and are raging alcoholics and it’s raging through their personality.

It’s not like I want them to go out and have a drink. But I wish they could see … they don’t see it. So dry drunk – that can be very dangerous. And, in most cases, that can be very unhealthy for somebody to not be using but to not be sober and not be working the steps. That can be upsetting and frustrating, unhealthy and dangerous.

Are you talking friends and family here?

Both. I have extended family and friends sure. And [in] all the experiences of my life, I’ve seen it many times. It’s very rare that I see somebody [who] is truly, truly sober. I see people [who] don’t use. People [who] go to meetings. And people [who], beyond going to meetings, really honestly attempt to work the steps. But, it’s such a challenge to allow that to transcend all aspects of your life.
I’ve rarely seen somebody [who] is sober who [has] allowed it to access and infiltrate and transcend every aspect of their life. Usually, you see the “ism” finding its way through some tributary; it finds a way to work itself into some aspect of their personality. Whether it’s eating, exercise, sex … I don’t know if there’s any such thing as the perfect 12 Stepper.

Your brother, Stephen, actually runs ministries. Your wife is a Christian. So where are you at with God?

I talk about that with my wife. I don’t talk about that in interviews.

Thank you for your time Billy.

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This too shall pass: timeless advice when the going gets tough

By Jeff Vircoe

It’s not exactly something we say to ourselves when the landlord or the dealer’s buddies are pounding on the door.

This too shall pass.

But it is a slogan, a jingle, or an adage that many in recovery use to get through difficult patches. A death. A deadline. A health crisis. A traffic jam.

Though some in the 12 Step fellowships have taken it as their own, “this too shall pass” has a history steeped in wisdom as well as spiritual and philosophical context. The adage can be definitively traced back to the musings and writings of Hebrew, Turkish and Persian scribes, in particular, poets like Sanai (1080-1131) and the Attar of Nishapur (1145-1220).  The saying grew from a fable about a powerful king who was in search of a ring which would bring him happiness whenever he felt sad. His sages presented such a ring, with words to the effect of “this too shall pass” etched on it.

Over time, many story writers, poets and hymnists have created vehicles for the sentiment that sponsors love to use to comfort the rattled or grieving.

In the 19th century, English poet, Edward Fitzgerald, was writing about it. In 1852, he crafted the fable Solomon’s Seal, explaining how the adage had the power to make a sad man happy but, conversely, a happy man sad.

American newspaper editor and abolitionist, Theodore Tilton (1835-1907), reworked the concept when he wrote The King’s Ring in 1867, which noted that, though one could lose anxiety with the passage of difficult times, one should also expect the end of the good times, too. “This too shall pass” waves a double-edged sword.

The great Roman Stoic philosopher and statesman, Seneca, perhaps explained that side best.

“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.”

In other words, change is coming.

In modern times, former Led Zeppelin frontman, Robert Plant, recorded a song in 2010 with fellow musician, Buddy Miller, based on Tilton’s poem, Even This Shall Pass Away.

In one of the more widely circulated explanations of the slogan, before he became the United States’ 16th president, even Abraham Lincoln took a run at explaining the story of the Persian king who needed a ring to pick him up when he was down.

On September 30, 1859, the top-hat-wearing, bearded, up-and-coming Republican icon gave a 4,800-word speech to a collection of farmers in Milwaukee and dropped the mic with this:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction! And this, too, shall pass away.”

While Lincoln was referring to the debate over slavery, modern techniques in agriculture such as the steam plow, and the importance of farming and using the land and labour smartly, the point he was making was that, good or bad, history moves forward. Nothing remains the same. Things change every day.

One of the reasons the adage resonates so much with the recovery crowd is it reminds them that situations which may seem like a dead end – marital, employment, legal – can, and often do, turn on a dime. Some call them acts of providence. Some call them miracles. Others call them coincidences. No matter, changes happen.

“We, who have recovered from serious drinking, are miracles of mental health,” Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson wrote in the Big Book in the chapter A Vision For You (p. 161). And in his own story on page 11 in the same book, “My ideas about miracles were drastically revised,” Wilson says.

Another popular saying may sum up the essence of “This Too Shall Pass”:

“Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle happens.”

“The world is a wheel always turning,” American novelist Anzia Yezierska (1880-1970) once said. “Those who are high go down low, and those who’ve been low go up higher.”

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The sense and science behind a popular recovery slogan

It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.

– John Steinbeck


By Jeff Vircoe

When studying the history of the adage “This too shall pass” and its significance to the 12 Step movement, it is impossible to ignore the spiritual and philosophical roots of the saying. But what does the evidence show?

From Buddhism to Stoicism, from the Apostle Paul and Corinthians 4 to Theodore Tilton’s writing about the King’s Ring, the idea that whatever trouble you think you have may not be trouble at all, in the big picture, has been wise counsel for centuries.

Just as “Try looking at it from the other side”, or “The sky is always darkest before the sunrise”, adages like “This too shall pass” urge humans to reconsider how they are perceiving a given situation. Long time A.A. member, Chuck C., wrote a popular, non-conference approved book titled A New Pair of Glasses. Scott Peck wrote of The Road Less Travelled.

But what do scientists say about looking at a problem as a gift?

Like Chuck C. and Peck before him, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert wrote his own best selling book in 2006 called Stumbling On Happiness. In a 2012 interview with the Harvard Business Review, he explained how, though once the realm of only poets and philosophers, for the past two decades, academics of all kinds have been investing time and money to figure out what makes people happy.

“All these disciplines have distinct but intersecting interests,” said Dr. Gilbert. “Psychologists want to understand what people feel, economists want to know what people value, and neuroscientists want to know how people’s brains respond to rewards. Having three separate disciplines all interested in a single topic has put that topic on the scientific map. Papers on happiness are published in Science [journals and magazines], people who study happiness win Nobel prizes, and governments all over the world are rushing to figure out how to measure and increase the happiness of their citizens.”

While the variables of subjectivity slide all over the place, researchers have managed to come up with some interesting data, to be sure, says Gilbert.

In Stumbling on Happiness, Gilbert explains that, no matter how catastrophizing they may be, humans have an incredible knack of bouncing back.

Citing studies which tracked people who had suffered the loss of loved ones or had been paralyzed from the waist down in accidents, Gilbert explained how researchers found that, after just one year passes, most people – whether they had permanently lost use of their legs or a loved one – return to their baseline pre-loss levels of happiness.

“Although more than half the people in the United States will experience a trauma such as rape, physical assault or natural disaster in their lifetimes, only a small fraction will ever develop any post-traumatic pathology,” he wrote.

“Rather than being the fragile flowers that a century of psychologists have made us out to be, most people are surprisingly resilient in the face of trauma,” he wrote.

Things pass. People move on. They get on with their lives because this too passed. It’s an idea with which to get comfortable.

“As it turns out, people are not very good at predicting what will make them happy and how long that happiness will last,” Gilbert said. “They expect positive events to make them much happier than those events actually do, and they expect negative events to make them unhappier than they actually do. In both field and lab studies, we’ve found that winning or losing an election, gaining or losing a romantic partner, getting or not getting a promotion, passing or failing an exam — all have less impact on happiness than people think they will.”

So, in this sense, “This too shall pass” as a mantra to drill into one’s head makes perfect sense.

“A recent study showed that very few experiences affect us for more than three months. When good things happen, we celebrate for a while and then sober up. When bad things happen, we weep and whine for a while and then pick ourselves up and get on with it,” said Gilbert.

So, when you think of an addict, obsessive, fearful and ashamed of past behavior, facing a problem, “This too shall pass” can act as an antidote to anxiety.

Of course, knowing that, as Dr. Gilbert’s research shows, whatever you are going through will be temporary and applying it as an antidote is a whole different matter – a matter of discipline. And when it comes to discipline, few groups of people have more of it than Tibetan monks, especially when it comes to their practice of meditation.

One of those monks is former biochemist, Matthieu Ricard. He is a big believer in training one’s mind to practice habits of well-being to generate a true sense of serenity and fulfillment.

After studies of how his brain works, Ricard was dubbed the happiest man in the world – though he admits he wasn’t very happy about all the press coverage and accompanying obligations which come with a handle like that.

Born in France, Ricard, a writer, photographer and a prominent monk in the Shechen Monastery in Kathmandu, spends his time meditating in isolation, doing scientific research or acting as an adviser to the Dalai Lama in French-speaking countries or at scientific conferences.

With a PhD in cell genetics, Ricard, 71, has been bestowed with the French National Order of Merit for his efforts to preserve Himalayan culture. But it is his scientific research efforts which are most astounding.

When neuroscientist, Richard Davidson, attached 256 electronic sensors to Ricard’s head at the University of Wisconsin as part of a massive, 12-year project researching hundreds of advanced practitioners of meditation, much was gleamed from the experience. It turns out Ricard’s brain had an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity for negativity, a phenomenon known as “neuroplasticity”, putting Ricard squarely in the center of a new field of brain study.

Given that the 11th Step of the 12 Step program urges the practice of meditation, it is a natural fit to see how Ricard and his fellow scientists and meditators have something to offer addicts suffering from old tapes of fear and anxiety.

“We’ve found remarkable results with long-term practitioners who did 50,000 rounds of meditation, but also with three weeks of 20 minutes a day, which of course is more applicable to our modern times,” Ricard told Business reporter Frankie Taggart in 2012.

“It’s a wonderful area of research because it shows that meditation is not just blissing out under a mango tree, but it completely changes your brain and, therefore, changes what you are,” he said.

Meditation is a part of what Ricard calls mind training. It can lead to a greater, gentler understanding of the predicaments we find ourselves in, so we won’t need to panic or fret or stay up all night worrying.

“When things go wrong, we try to fix the outside so much. But our control of the outer world is limited, temporary and often, illusory.  Now, look at the inner conditions. Isn’t it the mind that translates the outer condition into happiness and suffering? Isn’t that stronger? We know by experience that we can be a little paradise and yet be completely unhappy within?

In a Ted Talk from 2004, Ricard stressed the importance of practicing meditation as a means of retraining the brain to cope with stress.

“It takes time. It took time for all those faults in our mind, the tendencies, to build up. So, it will take time to unfold them as well. But, that’s the only way to go. Mind transformation – that is the very meaning of meditation. It means familiarization with a new way of being, a new way of perceiving things, which is more in adequation with reality, with interdependence, with the stream and continuous transformation, which our being and our consciousness is.”

“This is more to say that mind training matters. This is not just a luxury. This is not a supplementary vitamin for the soul. This is something that is going to determine the quality of every instant of our lives.”

In closing, the monk noted how ready most people are to take care of their outward reality when the answer to their perception of what makes them happy actually lies within.

“We are ready to spend 15 years achieving education. We love to do jogging, fitness, we do all kinds of things to remain beautiful. Yet we spend surprisingly little time taking care of what matters most – the way our mind functions. Which, again, is the ultimate thing that determines the quality of our experience.”














The post The sense and science behind a popular recovery slogan appeared first on Edgewood Health Network.

Life is no piece of cake: The wisdom of This Too Shall Pass

By Jeff Vircoe

Scott Peck knew it. So did Bill Wilson. Hey, even Forrest Gump got it.

Life is no piece of cake, and finding tools to get through the difficult moments is super-important. Almost anyone with time away from that drink, that pipe or that dice throw will assure you that the concept of “This too shall pass” is one of those helpful tools.

When one accepts that problems are just part of the journey, life gets more doable.

Peck, the late psychiatrist and best-selling author, opened his smash hit 1978 book, The Road Less Traveled, with words that remind us that difficulties are a necessary part of life.

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because, once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

A Zen proverb reminds people to carry on no matter how bleak things may look.

“This too shall pass. Until then, fetch wood, carry water, walk the earth.”

People in recovery understand that. As they clear away the wreckage of the past and face new, unpredictable life events, building time in sobriety proves that, once you have been through something challenging, it is in your bank of memories and that strength, that scar tissue of resolve, can be accessed to get through the next hurdle.

“When I’m in a jackpot and feel like I’m going to explode, I try to remember the details of the last jackpot I was in. Surprisingly, the details are vague. It wasn’t the end,” says Dave C., who sobered up in June 1987. “I downshift and continue, knowing that I will look back and this dilemma will be vague, too.”

Bill Wilson knew this well. The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and a man who suffered through nearly 20 years of deep depression after sobering up, Wilson urged members of the fellowship to be prepared for the long haul.

“It is not probable that we are going to be inspired at all times,” he wrote on page 87 in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous when he was barely three years sober.

By 15 years sober, understanding the part he plays in problems, Wilson wrote this in the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions book on page 48-49: “Pride, leading to self-justification and always spurred by conscious or unconscious fears, is the basic breeder of most human difficulties, the chief block to true progress.”

Of course, the slogan “This too shall pass” does not have its roots in recovery. It merely makes sense for a group of people prone to obsession, delusional thinking and self-pity to come to terms with the facts of life if they are to remain sober.

Forrest Gump, the lead character of the 1994 Academy Award winning smash hit of the same name, reminds us all in a reflective moment that his “Mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Timber Hawkeye, author of the international bestselling book, Buddhist Boot Camp, put it this way:

“You can’t calm the storm … so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.”

It’s a milleniums-old belief.

In the first of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, the Buddha meditated on the truth of suffering. He came to the conclusion that all life has its suffering, pain, and misery. Of course, he went much deeper, determining the origins and paths to solutions. And, though it may not be at all traced to Buddhism, as a calming, grounding technique in times of difficulty, “This too shall pass” makes a whole lot of sense.

One man in Qualicum Beach, B.C. puts it this way:

“I use that expression when I feel my unhappiness and unease are a permanent affliction usually brought on by circumstances that are stressful or lonely,” says Cash, who sobered up in 2001. “Sometimes I think that I will never get out of my malaise, and then I remember back to the darkest days of alcoholism when a miserable death would have been permanent. And how much sunlight and wonderful life I have had since that deep bottom. I think of that and say to myself, “And this too shall pass.”

Indeed, the idea of remembering progress made to date seems to be at the basis of the slogan.

“Whatever you’re feeling, it will eventually pass. You won’t feel sad forever. At some point, you will feel happy again. You won’t feel anxious forever. In time, you will feel calm again. You don’t have to fight your feelings or feel guilty for having them. You just have to accept them and be good to yourself while you ride this out,” writes Lori Deschene, founder of Tiny

Another spiritual teacher, Mooji, who hails from Jamaica, puts it this way:

“Feelings are just visitors. Let them come and go.”

The American social psychologist, Harvard’s Daniel Gilbert, PhD, reminds students and readers of his books that humans are not as weak as we sometimes think we are.

“Rather than being the fragile flowers that a century of psychologists have made us out to be, most people are surprisingly resilient in the face of trauma,” Gilbert writes in Stumbling on Happiness.

He says his research has proven that people typically undersell their own abilities to deal with calamities, being unaware of the strength of their “psychological immune system.”

Those who have walked the walk of sobriety for years remind us that life as a sober person was never promised to be easy. It is about breaking things down to manageable pieces, easy and hard, and showing up with the best possible attitude, especially when things are tough. The Promises, found on page 83-84 of the Big Book, assure those in recovery that, if they follow the program, they “will know a new freedom and a new happiness.”

The Promises add that “we will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves,” which may be obvious to those who believe in God, but, God or no God, the facts remain that things do pass, that addicts get sober through difficult times.

“People are famous – in folklore, in literature and especially in our own field – for making the best of bad situations,” Gilbert points out in a 2001 article by Siri Carpenter on the American Psychological Association website.

And, the more rough patches you get through, the more faith you acquire that you can get through the next patch. Time in begets time in.

In her 2011 book, Recovering Spirituality: Achieving Emotional Sobriety in Your Spiritual Practice, another doctor, Ingrid Mathieu, PhD, agrees.

“One of the advantages of long-term sobriety is the experience of having moved through a host of thoughts and feelings that eventually came to pass. Although the program occurs ‘one day at a time’, it is the culmination of time that enables a person to withstand and accept sadness, anger, fear, humiliation, and other difficult emotions as transient, temporary, and human. The adage ‘This too shall pass’ is just as appropriate for experiencing The Promises as it is for experiencing their absence.”

For her part, as a woman in long term recovery and a woman who counsels others professionally at Edgewood, Lauren M. says, like most of the slogans, “This too shall pass” is an easy connector to other words of wisdom found in the rooms.

“’One Day at a Time’ and ‘This too shall pass’ are connected, absolutely,’ says Lauren. “We have no idea what is coming at us next. If we start worrying about all that, then we’re sunk. But, on the other hand, it’s also a good thing that all I have to worry about is just today, or just this minute if I’m in a bad space, because it’s going to get better.”

As she has built time in recovery, approaching her 30th anniversary clean, Lauren says she has a good understanding of 20/20 vision in hindsight.

“I really believe everything in recovery is a process,” she says. “When I am in the middle of the process, I am pretty miserable and I start losing faith and all that stuff. But, as soon as I start coming out the end of the other side, I look back and I can feel a ton of gratitude for everything I’ve been through because it got me where I am.”

Deaths. Financial stressors. Romance. Family issues. Health. There are plenty of sticky situations to navigate as one learns and lives this business of recovery. Having dealt with plenty of her own hurdles over her three decades of abstinence, Lauren says experience has taught her to keep showing up no matter how dark the sky.

“I’ve gotten through periods where, literally, by the grace of God, I didn’t pick up a drink. I think I’ve relapsed spiritually, mentally, relapsing in every [other] way without picking up. Hating jobs. Feeling stuck in relationships. Periods where I haven’t gotten to enough meetings. Feeling like things aren’t happening fast enough for me. Or that my higher power has moved or let me down in some way. I think everybody goes through that.”

And she reminds herself to be grateful and utilize the slogan when the sun is shining, as well.

“When things are great, I need to remember ‘This too shall pass,’” she adds. “It’s my way of staying humble.”

The post Life is no piece of cake: The wisdom of This Too Shall Pass appeared first on Edgewood Health Network.

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