I have known some smart people in my lifetime, but David is likely the most intelligent person whom I have ever met. His IQ is so high that he is a genius even by Mensa standards. When someone who is this smart says that a 12-step program, such as Narcotics Anonymous, is the best way to recover from addiction, I think we should listen carefully to what he has to say. David has been involved in recovery for over 30 years. He is also a noted speaker and author. He has been the main speaker at many conventions. David has also worked personally with many people to help them in their recovery over the past three decades.
It is important to point out that David understands that the 12-step program is not the only path to recovery from alcoholism and addiction. In the midst of the opioid epidemic, we are discovering that it is clear that many people who want to overcome their addiction do best following other avenues of support and treatment. However, for a select group of people, the 12-step system is a powerful spiritual force that works extremely well. How do you know if it is right for you? Go to a meeting! Or, as David suggests, go to 90 meetings in 90 days. See how you feel about 12-step recovery and meetings.
Another important point is that meetings and the 12 steps do not replace medical care. If people whom you meet in recovery tell you to stop taking your medication, let them know that it is not their business. If you have concerns about your medical care, speak to your doctor. If you don’t trust your doctor’s opinion, get a second opinion from another doctor. Members of 12-step fellowships are not qualified to give you medical advice. Even if they happen to be healthcare professionals themselves!
I think that what David says in this interview is intriguing and I think that it is important for people seeking to recover from addiction explore a variety of options to see what will work best for them personally. When you go to meetings, you will likely hear some incredible and inspiring messages at recovery meetings. You will also meet new people who understand what you have been through and are willing to be a part of your support system.
Below is a transcript of our interview on The Rehab Podcast on The Mental Health News Radio Network.
Dr. Leeds: Welcome to The Rehab on the Mental Health News Radio Network. I am Dr. Mark Leeds and I will be your host. Join me in exploring the world of addiction treatment. How can we improve the ways that we help individuals to overcome addiction? The goal of treatment is to save lives and help people to get back on track to a path towards success and happiness in life.
Dr. Leeds: Welcome to The Rehab podcast. Today my guest is David Hecht, and thank you, David, for joining me today on the podcast.
David: My pleasure.
Dr. Leeds: Just to catch you up with what I’m doing, in the past two years, my medical practice has transformed into being the majority of my patients come in for addiction treatment, but specifically opioid use disorder. One of the things I did in the beginning when I first started was just for everybody, I would refer them to a psychologist along with initiating medical treatment and I would also refer them to go to Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
Dr. Leeds: Some of the patients already had experience and they were very happy to get that information. Some were not as excited about it. They felt like that wasn’t the right thing for them. I felt like it was everything and I wanted to help people out and give my patients and people listening some information in what they can do to get started out and why they should get into recovery. What would you recommend if you were there talking?
David: Well, as you know I’m a recovering addict. I’ve been in the 12-step fellowship for 33 years and clean for 33 years and about a month and a half. Never belittle whatever amount of clean time you have. The thing about NA or any other 12-step fellowship is that it’s not the only path to recovery, it’s just the most appropriate one. It seems as though there are some people who just have a drug problem and then there’s addicts. And a drug problem can be solved by abstinence, but addiction has to be seen holistically. And it’s more than just stop using and get on with it, it’s repairing one’s entire way of thinking and one’s entire way of being.
David: You can’t replace a bad habit with nothing. You have to replace it with a good habit, and that’s why for instance in the meetings they say go to 90 meetings in 90 days. It’s because it takes a season to change any habit, and a season is three months. So that’s the primary reason for the 90 meetings in 90 days, but it’s not the only reason. It seems that over a 90-day period, one has heard the whole message of recovery in at least one iteration or in at least one form, and if you keep coming back after that you’ll hear the same message but you’ll hear with new ears, you’ll hear with new understanding or with a broadened sense of what addiction means, and what recovery means.
David: That’s why we keep telling people to keep coming back because you don’t get it just by hearing the steps or just by hearing the program, you get it by immersing yourself in the program. And it’s a very gradual process. The big problem I see it with drugs is that drugs are a bad model. They work very fast. There used to be this ad on TV fast, fast, fast relief, and drugs alter consciousness but they don’t really raise consciousness because you go up and you have to come back down. To really raise consciousness requires a changing of one’s inner senses, one’s inner self, and you get that through some kind of a spiritual program or through meditation or prayer, or other kinds of spiritual practice, or through other forms of deep understanding.
David: I like to call it the university of recovery because it’s a whole education. It isn’t just one thing. And I have great respect for other forms of recovery. I have seen people stay clean just with what they call medicine religion of psychiatry, but that doesn’t work for most addicts. They’re not bad and they’re not wrong, they’re just insufficient. That’s why they’re part of a good program of recovery, but they’re not the whole answer, whereas a whole package of recovery seems to include a 12-step program for most people.
David: Like I said, it’s not the only path to recovery, but it seems to be tailor-made for addicts. It seems to be designed especially for us. And it’s not that we can’t find other ways to recover, it’s just that that one seems to be the one that works most efficiently. People use the expression the easier, softer way. And that just usually means that addicts want to slide through recovery without really making an effort. But in my opinion a 12-step program is the easier, softer way. It’s easier than trying to do it yourself or trying to figure it out with psychiatry or to pray yourself well.
David: There’s a passage in the NA basic text which says that we’ve seen many members float out the doors on a cloud or religious zeal and I call that religious addiction. There’s all kinds of substitute addictions and religion is certainly one of them. And it’s not that religion is bad per se, it’s that there are certain religions that say, “Well, you’re saved now so you’re not an addict anymore,” which is just what… I don’t know about you, but my disease of addiction wants to hear that. I’m not cured, I am however well treated. Now, there there is treatment for addiction, there doesn’t seem to be a cure for it.
David: It’s possible to be in remission for very long periods of time. I’ve been in remission from active addiction for 33 years and I know people who have been from over 50 years. So recovery is not only possible, but if we follow the suggestions and directions then it’s inevitable. The problem is of course that just like most addicts, we want shortcuts, fast, fast, fast relief. And as I started by saying drugs were a bad model because they work so fast, whereas recovery is a very gradual process, and we raise ourselves up in plateaus.
David: One of the problems I’ve seen over time is that a lot of addicts reach a plateau where they don’t seem to be changing for a while, and they seem like nothing as much as happening, and what they don’t realize is that it’s like a cocoon. It’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. We’ve got to go through certain periods of rest where we digest what we’re becoming, and where we become something different. And when we look back on it, we realized that there was actually a great deal of change going on, we just couldn’t see it. I’ve also realized that over time other people see the changes in me that I can’t, and I see the changes in them that they can’t.
David: We’re mirrors to each other. And so it’s a really gradual process of accommodating ourselves to a new way of life like I said learning a new habit. And I’m a great believer in the sheer force of habit. Habit is what we do automatically. So that for example I’m in the habit of brushing my teeth, I don’t have to think about it. I just do it. It’s become an automatic process, whereas I don’t have to think do I go up and down or do I go sideways? Similarly, I’m in the habit of practicing recovery, going to meetings.
David: I like to say that when I was using, there were times when I said to myself, “Well, I’ve used enough this week and I really should go home and rest, and I’ve worked hard today and I’ll just go home.” And before I knew it, the car had driven itself to the dealer’s house. And while I was there, sure enough I ended up buying some drugs. But similarly there were times in clean time especially, early clean time when I was still working that I would say, “Well, I’ve been to enough meetings this week and I’ve been practicing the program, I’ll just go home tonight.” And before I knew it the car had driven itself to the recovery house. And I said, “Well, as long as I’m here, I might as well go to a meeting.”
David: It’s a habit and it becomes so ingrained that after a while it becomes more or less automatic. And I’m not saying to just go on autopilot because I don’t think that’s a good habit to be in. My first sponsor always said, “Don’t memorize the readings. Read them as though you’re seeing it for the first time.” But it’s not an autopilot, it’s a process of becoming habitually recovering rather than a using addict, and that really takes practice.
Dr. Leeds: Is it possible that a person could be on medication for opioid use disorder and have a sponsor, and work the steps? I mean, assuming they’re following the directions that they’re not in any way impaired by their medication. Could a person work the program in that state?
David: It’s a ticklish issue and I could only state my opinion and that is that NA is a program of complete abstinence from all drugs, and I work that program that way and some people don’t. I have known some people who think they can have a drink every now and then, but I don’t really want the program they have. And that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, it’s just much harder. I had a sponsor once who used to use the expression, “Drugs came between me and the sunshine of the spirit.” And it’s almost as though a cloud of some kind comes between one and a full understanding or appreciation of recovery and of self-awareness. You could say that any chemical that anesthetizes part of the brain comes between oneself and a full experience of oneself.
David: It seems as though the drugs that we addicts like the most are the anesthetizing kind. Interestingly what alcohol and opiates and cocaine have in common even though cocaine is a stimulant is that they’re all anesthetics. They’re lacking and they got their anesthetic. They used to give you a lot of liquor to prepare you for operations before other forms of anesthesia was available. It’s hard to fully understand and appreciate the program of recovery, the way NA experiences it if you’re still using some kind of a substitute addictive drug.
David: We don’t say that people can’t share if they’re smokers, but in my opinion sooner or later you have to give that up too because addiction is addiction. And being addicted to a substitute medication to me is not the long-term solution. Now, there’s a difference between substitute therapy meant to wean you off drugs and the use of pain medication for people who are in long-term treatment for cancer or other kinds of high pain conditions. We don’t hold really that against people. Everyone’s welcome to attend the meeting. And there are closed meetings that for addicts only and I think that people who are on substitute therapies, they’re addicts too and they’d be welcome at such meetings in my opinion.
David: But it is up to each individual group to determine who can share because the rule is in most groups if you’ve used today you just listen and get with someone after the meeting, which I think is fair. It’s not like an exclusion. You’re not kept away from people and you’re not kept from sharing with anybody, it’s just that the meetings are for sharing the message recovery of recovery. And when people are clouded from the sunshine of the spirit so to speak, it’s hard for them to share a message of recovery. It may not be impossible, but it’s hard. It’s like having two hands tied behind your back if you’re on that substitute medication.
David: Now, I would make this caveat as well. While an addict who is using medication for pain is certainly still a member, that doesn’t mean that I think they should be doing service. I believe that somebody who is on strong drugs for pain, should give up sensitive service positions. And by sensitive, I mean like being a treasurer being a group secretary being an area chair, being a sponsor. The problem is that once again, what is not speaking from a position of being totally clean of being completely abstinent from all drugs.
David: And yes, NA does make a distinction between drugs. I’m on several medicines for various conditions, none of which are mood or mind-altering drugs. I had open-heart surgery. I have atrial fibrillation. I have kidney disease. I’m 68 years old almost. And if you live long enough, some stuff will happen, but that’s not the same thing. We don’t tell people who were on, for instance, medication for diabetes that they should get off that. It’s just that stuff that’ll get you high that’s the problem. And we all know what that is.
David: The problem with any substitute drugs is that the more you take, the more it hides you from the sunshine of the spirit just like any other mood and mind altering drugs. And there’s some people who refuse to take even to your coffee. That process of offering a coffee pot at meetings goes way back to the idea that if people are nodding out or whatever, that at least they’ll be awake if they have a cup of coffee in them, and they’ll hear the message of recovery.
David: But the message of recovery, it can be watered down but it can’t really be changed, and that is that there is no safe obsession or compulsion or intoxication for an addict. My problem isn’t drugs per se because I haven’t been a drug addict for 33 years, but you take the drugs out of a drug addict and you still have an addict. And the addict mentality still looks for an outside fix and in my experience there is no outside fix. There’s inside repair, but anything outside of us that we look to fix us is just going to become another substitute addiction, and we’re going to ride that puppy all the way down the hill. The tendency is to become addicted all over again to some other experience, and that can be gambling addiction or sex addiction, or work addiction, or they call shopaholics or vacuumaholics for some people who can’t stop cleaning or can’t stop shopping.
David: There’s all kinds of other things. Romance addiction is a very big one. It’s even worse than sex addiction. And the problem is that we keep looking for something outside us to fix us. We keep looking for some experience that’ll be a peak experience that’ll make us no longer have to look at ourselves and deal with ourselves, and repair ourselves on the inside. That’s why gradually getting to a point of complete abstinence seems to be indispensable to a program of recovery.
David: Now, there’s other fellowships besides NA that don’t require complete abstinence from all drugs, and if one is really uncomfortable with the NA way, I think that it makes sense to try those fellowships at least for a while. If you really can’t practice complete abstinence then maybe that’s the path. I don’t recommend it because I don’t think that they’re really tailor-made for addicts. And like I said, if we look for some kind of exception or exclusion, well, it’s just pot or it’s just alcohol, or it’s just tranquilizers, or painkillers, or whatever it is, if we’re just saying it’s only that, the likelihood of becoming a new focus for addiction, even if it hadn’t been our old drug of choice is very high. I think that’s the difference between somebody who’s just has a drug problem and who is actually an addict.
David: There is no safe substitute addiction for an addict. And like I said my problem isn’t drugs per se because it hasn’t been for 33 years, its intoxication. If I’m looking to be intoxicated or to stifle the pain of everyday life through some kind of artificial substitute modality whether it’s behavioral or chemical, I’m in trouble all over again. Now, your mileage may vary. It’s different for different addicts. But in my experience the path of recovery requires a base of complete abstinence. That’s where we start.
David: Some programs don’t get there until the 12-step where you practice principles in all your affairs. But in NA it’s from the very start, and I endorse that point of view. I think that makes the whole path of recovery much, much easier. It’s like swimming through glue to try to recover while still on drugs. It may not be impossible but it’s very, very hard.
Dr. Leeds: What you said about other fellowships, for example there’s an interesting story I read in a book recently where apparently the founder of AA met with the founder of the methadone maintenance program, the two of them got together and Bill the founder of of AA said to Vincent, Dr. Vincent Dole, he said, “Methadone works so well for the opioid addicts. I wish you could develop something like that for the alcoholics so they could you know come in and and work their steps and not have this obsession all the time for alcohol.” So I guess that’s a different philosophy of recovery.
Dr. Leeds: And I have had some patients tell me they’re more comfortable going to AA because many groups and meetings and people, they can sometimes get a sponsor who has no problem with them being on replacement medication for the time being. So like you said it is possible they could look for a different fellowship that has a different point of view on that. And I still think it’s a dangerous if someone goes to a meeting. Maybe they just started medication and that medication is keeping them from going out and using heroin, which may be poisoned with something like fentanyl or car fentanyl and they’re stable on medication in their first weeks and they go to the meeting and someone says you need to stop that medication right away. That can be dangerous also. Maybe they need time to get themselves ready for that. Maybe it’s going to take-
David: Any newcomer has to be told we’re not doctors in 12-step fellowship. There may be doctors who attend 12-step fellowships, but those who give advice are giving only their opinion. I’ve heard when I was new, people use such silly languages, “Oh, diabetic medication. You’ve got to get off that.” Well, that’s absurd. You may be condemning somebody to death. As far as replacement therapy, I understand that there is at least one new fellowship for people who are on that, and that they may be comfortable in that kind of environment that it’s… There’s any number of reiterations of the 12-step philosophy in various forms whether it’s for overeating or gambling or… There’s Marijuana Anonymous, the Cocaine Anonymous.
David: Most members of NA consider them half-measures because addiction is a much bigger subject than just a specific habit or a specific chemical. And while I do believe that… And I agree with you, that carefully controlled medication with a doctor is much better than taking street drugs. It’s still not a long-term solution for the disease of addiction which is as I said a much bigger subject than just a specific drug habit.
David: If over a period of time a doctor can help their patient be weaned off that substitute medication then that’s doing them a real service. And we’ll patiently wait. We’re not going anywhere. The fellowship of recovery is broad and it accepts all comers. It’s just not everyone can speak for recovery, and those who do usually practice the principles of the program they’re part of.
David: So it’s not that I condemn anybody, it’s just if you if join a club, you sort of subscribe to their rules if you know what I mean. And it’s not that people won’t be welcomed to attend, it’s just that not only will they not feel a part of, but others will know the difference. There’s a saying, it takes one to know one and we certainly do know addicts as we’ve all been one. And we like to say still are, but it’s a process of becoming realer, becoming less and less dependent on any crutch or any kind of substitution that hides us from who we are, and keeps us from being who we are, and realizing ourselves as beloved children of God rather than as hope to die dope fiends.
David: The only problem I see with substitute medication is that perpetuates the dependency, drug dependency. I realized that people had to be clearer on it and less nodding out and less caught up in a criminal lifestyle, but at some critical point to really complete one’s recovery one has to get past that too.
Dr. Leeds: As far as finding maybe a transition from one to the other, rather than going abruptly to suddenly stopping medication and maybe not getting started on a program, there are things a person can do for example. Like you said, a person can go to a meeting and sit in the meeting and listen which is a good thing to do anyway. I mean, it’s not necessarily the best thing to sit in a meeting to start talking right away. A person can go listen. They can read literature. And is it correct, there’s some service that a person can do with no clean time for example setting up the chairs in the room, helping clean up, maybe making the coffee?
David: Sure. Those are the opening level service positions. And you don’t need any clean time to do those things. There are even some committees where they say you can serve if you have no clean time. I don’t recommend it because one will still feel like one is on the outside looking in, but it’s certainly a good idea to be of service in some way. I don’t think that people really feel part of them unless they’re doing some kind of service because it gets us outside of our self and helping others. When I was pretty new, probably about a year and a half or two years clean, there was this guy who used to come to a meeting I attended who has some time and he said that he learned somewhere that there’s an eightfold program of recovery.
David: I guess they got the idea from the eightfold path of yoga. But he said there was eight aspects to a completely balanced program, meetings, steps, sponsorship, fellowship, reading and writing, prayer and meditation, service, and the 800-pound telephone. All that means is that if we only go to meetings, then we are only availing ourselves of 1/8 of what the program has to offer. If we do all of those things or most of those things, we’ll have a really robust program of recovery.
David: So even if people are still dependent on other medications, if they participate in the fellowship, if they read the literature, if they do reading and writing, and if they pray and meditate, and if they try to be of service and help other people, I think they’ll fit much more into a feeling of belonging and a feeling of commitments to recovery than if they merely attend meetings. Part of the problem with addicts, I think more than most other adults is magical thinking. And along with that, because we have this magical experience of drugs which altered our consciousness fast.
David: Of course raising consciousness as I said before is different than altering consciousness. But the magical thinking means that we tend to think that there’s some kind of a trick or secret to recovery, and the trick is that there is no trick and the secret is that there is no secret, it’s a process. If we don’t do the footwork and if we don’t make the effort, I did not catch recovery, by infection by sitting close to my sponsor. It’s not a contagious process, it’s a process of becoming, and a learning, and of growing.
David: By thinking in the process of practicing a program, we learn the purpose and meaning of life. I think there’s three purposes in life, to learn and to grow is one and two, love and to share is two, and to enjoy and to celebrate is three. And the meaning is that we discover ourselves, is that we find out who we really are, is that we become at one with ourselves and with the universe. That’s the meaning of why we’re here. And it’s a spiritual as much as it is an intellectual or a mental or psychological process.
David: I don’t think that the elements of that can be separated. That’s why we’re taught that 12-step program is a spiritual program. That isn’t a spiritual part of the program, it is a spiritual program. And that doesn’t mean that people have to have a theology, they just have to hold to a series of spiritual principles that are more than just a set of rules, but a guide for being. Not just a guide for living, but also guide for being. Part of the problem again is that the addict mind doesn’t sleep. When I was a kid, my first addiction was cartoons and I used to love the Mickey Mouse cartoons when Pluto had little devil dog on one shoulder and a little angel on the other shoulder.
David: It’s a great old pattern about the inner voices that talk to us, and that try to convince us or persuade us there’s a little voice of addiction in the back of my head still to this very day. You take the drugs out of a drug addict and you still have an addict. And what I learned over time by practicing a program was to recognize that that voice for what it is before it has the chance to persuade me to do something self-destructive, because my understanding is that addiction is a deep self-destructive urge. It’s a lot of other things too, but it’s also a deep self-destructive urge.
David: And if I’m not careful, it can convince me to do something that will harm myself whether it’s isolation or dwelling in fear and resentment or looking for some kind of outside fix, oh, if I win the lotto this week that’ll be the answer to all my problems. Whatever it might be that I think is the single solution to all my problems. That’s one of the reasons why a lot of sponsors tell their sponsees, don’t start any major life changes or new relationships in your first six months clean. That’s because it’s so easy for those to form substitute addictions, and one de-focuses from the process of recovery, and it puts all one’s emphasis I’m trying to save that relationship or that major life change whether it’s a new job or a new house, or whatever it might be. It’s a good idea to settle in recovery first, and become really comfortable in our own skin, and in the new role of being a recovering addict rather than a using one.
David: At any given time, addicts can go back to using. I’ve known addicts with multiple decades clean who went back out. And it’s a tragedy when it happens and we do welcome them back when they come back, but there’s no immunity for an addiction, and that’s why complete abstinence doesn’t just mean from intoxicating chemicals, it’s also from intoxicating the thinking, the idea that I can go way out of myself. That’s why religious addiction can be dangerous as well, and it’s important.
David: I’m great believer that the goal of recovery is balance in all things. A little of everything but nothing too much. With the single exception of intoxicating drugs because I already used enough of those for two lifetimes. The idea of balance means learning and knowing when enough is enough. That’s what I meant about the little voice in the back of my head that wants me to go to extremes, that wants me to go too far, that wants me to not know when enough is enough. And it’s basically a self destructive urge because when I go too far, I get off balance. And it’s important for my sanity, my serenity, my peace of mind, and my respect for myself that I stay in balance.
Dr. Leeds: Spirituality may scare away some people that are new to this, and they go to a doctor for help, and I might start talking about spirituality. I did recently interview a psychiatrist and author, Dr. [Yusam 00:35:05] who she uses spirituality in her practice and talks about the science of spirituality, and how it does have a place in the practice of medicine. And like you said, it’s not religion. Being spiritual doesn’t mean you have to believe in a certain God or maybe you don’t have to believe in anything supernatural.
Dr. Leeds: And I have a theory that maybe there’s a spiritual center and some physiological structure in the brain responsible for spirituality and fortunately it happens to be walled off or protected from the effects of addiction. And so we have to make use of a different part of our brain to survive. The addiction can use all of our brain against us and the smarter and more creative you are, the more difficult it is because all the powers of your intellect are being used against you. But the spiritual part of your brain or of your mind is off limits. So if you move over more to that side, you may be safe from the effects of addiction and have a chance to stay clean.
David: It’s interesting you say that because I remember seeing a study that when they did MRIs of people who were praying, that certain parts of the brain predictably lit up and it didn’t matter what they believed in or what kind of beliefs they had that just the act of prayer to whatever was out there, whatever they were praying to outside of themselves seemed to light up certain parts of the brain that were very distinct.
David: And it seems as though we are spirituality ready. They used to have TVs that were cable-ready. We seemed to be wired in such a way that makes spirituality possible if we seek it. But it doesn’t seem to happen automatically. You have to want it and you have to cultivate it. People can go through life never cultivating or even turning it off by saying, “Well, there’s nothing there.” My mother was very spiritual, my dad was the opposite.” He had some early experiences that soured him on religion and so he turned his back on spirituality too. Interestingly when he went with my mother to various psychic experiences or lectures, he kept getting picked out of the audience, “Oh, you’re a natural healer,” which surprised him terribly, and it happened in like five or six times.
David: It wasn’t like they were talking to each other, he was just radiating this energy that they picked up on. I know a couple of members of the fellowship who are about atheists, but in my opinion they’re very spiritual because they’re loving and caring, and they do service, and they practice principles in all their affairs, and to me that’s what counts. Spiritual is as spiritual does. See, it’s not a question of what you believe but what you do.
David: My third sponsor used to have an expression, “If you want to find recovery, go to hell and make a left.” We’ve been through hell and there was an expression I heard years ago that religion is for people who are afraid of hell and spiritualties for people who have already been. So it doesn’t take a set of theological beliefs to make people spiritual, it takes a certain kind of commitment and a certain kind of self-exploration of whatever… The inner universe has in common with the outer universe, that’ll help us make a link between ourselves and others and ourselves in the universe. And that doesn’t come by wishing or by some kind of magical thinking or like I said by contagion. We don’t catch spirituality [inaudible 00:39:18] we catch recovery.
Dr. Leeds: You’ve talked before about the ABCs.
David: The ABC is always be cool, and to the beginning addict in recovery it’s always be clean. And as recovery develops it’s always be conscious, because over time we come to realize that we want to go to sleep. One of my sponsees used to say when we were just starting out and we would be talking on the phone or in person and getting a little too close to the truth and his eyes were drooping. He say, “I feel like I want to go unconscious.” And it was an amazing degree of self-awareness that he realized that there was a part of him that wanted to shut this off, to turn this off, to not get too close to the truth, to avoid dealing.
David: And we would come back at it from another direction because it was important to deal with this stuff. But spiritual wakefulness means I’m ready for anything that wants to come at me whether it’s from the inside from the outside. It’s a vigilance and one thinks of the vigil that in a guard tower used to have to do, he had to stay awake and he had to protect the people behind the fortifications. In a similar way, I have to stay spiritually awake because there are parts maybe not outside so much these days, but inside that want to attack me, and that want to hurt me.
David: And it could happen outside as well. There’s people who don’t like me like anybody else. Anybody who wants universal approval is kidding themselves. I’ve done a lot of speaking at conventions and I’m prepared to lose 20% of an audience, and if I change my message I’d just lose a different 20%. I think that’s inevitable. So it’s best to just be true to myself and share from my own heart and my own understanding. And there’s some people who will say snide or cruel things to me. And if I go unconscious, I’ll allow that to really pierce me and make me feel angry or ashamed, or vindictive god forbid. And I can’t afford the luxury of those kind of thoughts.
David: So it’s important for me to stay conscious no matter what. And what I do, I realize it’s not about me, it’s about them. A person who has to strike out at me, it’s about their hurt feelings. It’s about their feelings of pain, and inadequacy, and shame, and negativity that makes them want to put somebody else down or cut somebody else down to size. I just happen to be a handy target because I have a big mouth. But it’s important when one stays conscious to remember it’s not always about me.
David: In fact, it’s usually not about me. When other people are talking I can take what they say to heart because we all have so many things in common. There’s common human experience and there’s common experience among addicts. But a lot of the time they’re just sharing their own experience, and it may have nothing to do with me even if they’re targeting me. And that is a kind of self-protection because I can’t afford to go into a hypnotic state. And hypnosis doesn’t mean you go into a trance, it just means you become highly suggestible.
David: It’s important that a certain part of me maintains critical thinking, becoming self-aware and raising once spiritual self-awareness does not mean losing critical thinking. In fact, I believe that rationality and spirituality go hand-in-hand. That’s one of the reasons why I practice a spiritual not religious program because if you really buy the whole package of any religion you’re supposed to put to sleep, certain critical thoughts because some aspects of almost every religion are absurd. And even the leaders of those religions will sometimes admit that. And I’m just not willing to buy the whole package of any one of them, although I like them all, I learn from them all, I respect them all with a few exceptions. I don’t begrudge anybody, their desire to be religious, I just begrudge religion without spirituality because it makes people smug, and even that can hide you from the sunshine of the spirit.
Dr. Leeds: Something that might help that person to become more conscious and aware, I know that writing helps. Someone who’s working out, to have better success in working out, you keep a log of your exercises. Someone on a diet is going to do better if they write down their foods and calories or points. Now, you’ve recommended here, I believe you said to your sponsees that you start them out by having them keep a written daily list of a gratitude list of things that they’re grateful for?
David: Well, that’s the very first assignment. It was my first sponsor’s first assignment to me, and it’s always been my first assignment to sponsees. What are you grateful for, animal, vegetable, mineral? It doesn’t matter what, just don’t pad the list. You don’t have to list each of your friends, just say I’m thankful for my friends or I’m grateful for my family. The idea of a gratitude list is not to become a sob story of, Oh, thank you everybody.” And it’s not just a list everything in your life because I don’t think you can be grateful for everything in your life, I’m not really grateful for being an old man now. I accept it, I’m grateful that I can accept it.
David: I heard some people say that they were grateful that they’re an addict and I’ve never been grateful for being an addict. I’m grateful that I know I’m an addict so that I can take certain precautions, and that I don’t fall into active addiction or into addictive behaviors or thinking. But to me the number one thing on my gratitude list is I’m grateful to be clean today, and that’s because if I wasn’t clean, I wouldn’t have the gratitude for all the other things on my gratitude list.
David: And that’s the only hint I give sponsees. If you’re grateful to be clean then that makes everything else possible. And I don’t think being grateful for God can even come before that because God has great sense of humor, he’s understanding and he’s not going to hold that against you. So I tell sponsees come up with 10 things you’re grateful for and then call me and we’ll talk about them.
David: And then keep the list open and we’ll keep adding. My last gratitude list had 120 things on it. It’s also a kind of test if after a week they haven’t come up with a list of 10 things, I say, “Okay, just get a three by five card and list three things you’re grateful for.” I’m sure you can do that. And if after two or three weeks have passed and they haven’t even done that, it’s clear that they’re waiting for magic to happen. It’s magical thinking. They don’t want to really make an effort on their own behalf of their own recovery.
David: They want somebody to recover for them and they don’t want to make any real effort. Either laziness is deeply ingrained or addiction is so deeply ingrained that there’s a resistance against working a program of recovery. And I won’t even move on to the first step questions which is make a list of all the things that you’re powerless over all the things that you’re unmanageable over. And all the aspects of your addiction besides a list of your drugs but also a list of those things that you’ve been addicted to besides drugs. And there’s many other questions as well.
David: I’m very grateful that my first sponsor believed in writing and that we wrote from the very beginning on all the steps not just on, say, the fourth step or the 10th step or the eighth step list. We wrote on all the steps and that’s how I worked the program with all sponsees. And I developed a whole series of questions that allowed writing on the steps. It’s a technique. It’s not the only technique of recovery, it just seems to be very self-revelatory because once you put things down on paper, in black and white, it’s hard to take it back. If all I do is think about the aspects of my addiction as I grow uncomfortable or get a little too close to the truth I want to go unconscious, the addictive part of my brain wants to shut that back down again, and I’ll go into forgetting mode.
David: When we used to get high, we used to practice, “Oh, what were we just talking about?” And because we were suggestible everybody would forget what we were just talking about. Well, I can’t afford to forget. So if I put it down on paper, I see them black and white and I can come back to it. And if I can’t look at it now, I can look at it later. So it turns out to be a highly therapeutic tool because it’s like drawing on a part of the brain that it’s a free-flowing part that taps into the subconscious.
David: I also suggest don’t try to edit yourself while you’re writing. You can come back and edit later if you want to correct spelling and grammar mistakes and stuff like that, but it’s important to just let it all hang out and let it all flow onto paper. If you come back and realize that part of it was lying to yourself, you can put brackets around it or you can cross it out if you need to, but it’s an exercise. It isn’t recovery per se. It’s one exercise in recovery. We work out recovery in a lot of different ways interpersonally, spiritually, psychologically, prayer and meditation. There’s a lot of different modalities of recovery, and writing is one of them. It turns out to be one of the most effective ones.
Dr. Leeds: I want to ask you about writing that you’ve done. You’re an author.
Dr. Leeds: You’ve done a lot of writing and you’re looking to be published. You’re looking to publish some of your works?
David: Part of the problem was a couple of times I had a self-proclaimed literary agent that turned out to be flakes and they didn’t know what they were doing. And really that’s the first step to being published is a literary agent and I don’t have one. So if you know somebody or if you know somebody who knows somebody who’s a good literary agent, I’d welcome it. The problem is of course, you can’t just submit writing directly to publishing house. They required literary agents to be their gatekeepers these days.
David: They used to have junior editors for that but now they require literary agents to do that for them. And yes, I’ve done a lot of writing on spirituality, I’ve done some writing on recovery as well. I used to do a series for the local Mensa journal called Spirituality 101, and I have many dozens of chapters. They were originally articles that could be chapters in a book. And I would be delighted to put those in book form. I’d be very happy to see that bear fruit, and I have confidence in my writing because other people who have seen it commented that it was very worthwhile. And so it’s not just me spinning my wheels, I think I have something to say. At the very least I’m a good interpreter. I interpret the things I’ve heard in the scene in a cogent manner. And I would welcome the opportunity to publish it at least one book.
Dr. Leeds: I’ve read a lot of your writing and it’s very accessible, it’s easy to read and very, very deep. A lot of great information and for the listeners of the podcast, they can actually find some of your work, you were nice enough to contribute some articles to drleeds.com, to my website. And where else can people find your writing?
David: I do have some online sources. I don’t distribute those at present simply because I intend to publish eventually. But you could start with the articles on drleeds.com because I think those are good introductions to recovery. And after that, we’ll.
Dr. Leeds: Yes. So in some of what we talked about today is in there and it’s really great stuff. There’s five essays there.
David: I appreciate that.
Dr. Leeds: And I don’t know if you’ve considered self-publishing. I actually self-published a book which I started after you wrote those five articles. I started writing my own blog articles. I finally got the confidence to write and try to everyday just write like a few hundred words. One day I finally just said, “Let me take all to put that all together and self-publish a book.” So I took a word processor called Scrivener which has the ability to turn a word processing file into a Kindle eBook. It kind of made it easy where I could actually organize into separate chapters and move the chapters around. A really nice program and easy to use. And I self-published the book. It doesn’t do the same work as a publisher. Nobody’s promoting it. I think probably less than 10 people have bought it. Someone in Australia bought it. I sell it for $0.99 so I got 30 cents out of that one.
Dr. Leeds: For my purposes it was a way to get my name out there on the Amazon search engine.
Dr. Leeds: But that’s something you might look into. If anyone who’s listening, and I know some other guests have been authors on here that would be great if someone in the publishing world could reach out to you and work with you on that because you’re writing is really great. I would love it to be out there in a book, and see you doing a book tour and all that sort of thing. That would be excellent.
David: Cool. I’m grateful for your support. Thank you.
Dr. Leeds: Yeah. I’d love to have you back on as a guest again.
David: Sure. I’d be delighted, and I’d be honored.
Dr. Leeds: Thank you for joining me today on The Rehab Podcast.
David: God bless. Be well.
Dr. Leeds: Thank you for joining us today on The Rehab on the Mental Health News Radio Network. I hope that you have found this show to be interesting and useful. If so please subscribe to The Rehab podcast and share on social media. I appreciate you taking the time to listen to The Rehab.