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Tommy Rosen’s book, Recovery 2.0: Move Beyond Addiction and Upgrade Your Life, is an autobiographical account of his experience with severe addiction and eventually finding his way out of the darkness, through recovery. He recounts his life history and his family’s history with poignant honesty, compassion and understanding of the social, emotional, psychological and economic factors that affected them all. With deep insight into the mechanisms of addiction, Tommy writes stories about how he started using marijuana and alcohol, then drugs like LSD and eventually cocaine and heroin. Addiction was pervasive in his life and shaped his relationships, sex life, eating habits, and relationship with money, for many years.
Now, 23 years sober, and living a life of recovery and health, Tommy wants to share his wisdom and knowledge so that others may also learn to end their addictions. With writing you can relate to, you really feel like you are reading a story a friend has written. Tommy takes you through his journey with Anonymous and 12-Steps programs, rehab, relapse and what he calls Recovery 2.0 or “yoga, meditation and healthy diet”.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction issues, this is a great book to guide and inform you about how to get well, written by someone who has been through it all and come out on the other side. Addiction expert Gabor Mate calls it "the best book I have ever read on the subject of recovery from addiction".
In your book, you describe your experience with severe drug addiction. You reference your addictions starting out when you were a child, with the food you ate, then marijuana and alcohol and eventually progressing into drugs, like LSD, cocaine, and heroin. Do you think there is something someone could have done or said to you to prevent your drug and alcohol addictions at any point along the way?
I was so anxious as a kid. I needed something to connect me back with myself; to be inspired. I think it would have taken something extreme like putting me under the wing of a yoga teacher or other mentor until I could be taught to calm down, to self-regulate without the use of drugs. I desperately needed a complete overhaul of my diet, which was a major contributing factor to the challenges of my life. Someone could have inspired me toward a much better diet. This could have made a huge difference. For the first 12 years of my life, I was pretty open to doing whatever my parents suggested as long as it included sports. So that was another opportunity where I could be made to focus in on becoming an outstanding athlete or yogi or martial artist, etc. I also craved nature and the outdoors and may have done very well to spend some time in a wilderness program. Other kids are artists or musicians. Many wonderful outlets exist for a young person to be nudged toward.
After I found marijuana, it would have been more difficult, but still possible to reach me and inspire me elsewhere. After I got into cocaine and heroin, however, all bets were off until I finally reached my bottom, which simply meant I was finally ready to tell the truth. I do not mean to imply that a family should stop trying to reach a loved one who is on cocaine, heroin or other severely addictive drugs. I do, however, advocate for a well-educated approach to the situation. It’s very complicated and painful and fraught with emotion. A family usually needs guidance, not just in terms of how to approach the “addict”, but also in terms of seeing their part in the family dynamic.
We live in a society where it has become acceptable for young people to binge drink every weekend. In spite of negative consequences, someone might insist: “I don’t drink every day, only on weekends” or “it’s just alcohol, I’m not doing drugs, everyone drinks” or “I don’t have an addiction, I just like to ‘have fun’ on the weekends”. How can a concerned friend or loved one respond to these rationalizations?
We have to ask the right question first if we hope to find the right answer to move us forward. In my opinion, the right question is, “What can I do to live the most awesome life possible for me?”. Questions like, “Why can’t I just drink on weekends?” or “What’s wrong with a little partying?” are simply not the right questions. Think of it in terms of short-term gain, long term loss. If you drink and do drugs, you weaken your life force by intoxicating yourself. You want to be more aware, not less aware; more conscious, not less conscious. So the behaviors you engage in that lead to a lowering of your awareness are simply not going to be in your best interest. You cannot break a habit, you must replace one habit with a better one. So, you will have to find something to replace the short-term benefits of drinking or using drugs or engaging in other addictive behaviors. And it’s important to recognize what the short-term benefits are. People who drink do so because they like the feeling it produces. Maybe it takes the edge off. They feel relaxed after drinking in a way they’ve not been able to access through other means. The problem is that such short-term benefits give way to long-term losses. Basically, alcohol is a depressant. So, it’s the last thing you want to be drinking when you don’t feel so well. In general, drinkers experience being hung over, headaches, low energy for a few days and bigger health issues down the road if they continue to drink. Alcohol is a factor in 40% of violent crime in the United States and there is the whole DUI issue to consider as well. I encourage people who drink and/or use drugs to explore getting high in natural ways. If alcohol brings you a sense of ease, try to find it in an activity that has short term gain as well as long term gain. Yoga and meditation are two such activities. I love sports in general, cooking, gardening, music, dance and I love connecting with my wife, friends and family. I also love to share and teach. These things really do it for me. These are the upgrade I had always been looking for in my life and they strengthen me.
Alcohol and other forms of distraction and addiction are welcomed everywhere, celebrated in almost all corners of society, embraced in our rituals and rites of passage. So, this means that you have to develop a strong enough sense of yourself to resist the pull of masochistic and amazingly costly society-wide behavior. You have to be able to see through the illusion. You have to be able to make a decision to not engage in behaviors that are bad for you even if they bring some kind of relief in the short term. It is wise to find a way to live free of harmful behaviors and once you have found the way, to help others do the same. What would I say to anyone who asks me, “Why can’t I just drink on weekends?” I’d tell them to ask the right question. What do you really want out of life? What are you missing? Do you not realize how creative you are? You can create light or darkness in your life. You have that power. Now, what do you want to create? And if you do not know of a better way to feel great in this life without using a substance or addictive behavior, then please check out Recovery 2.0, come on one of our workshops, check out my website and let’s get you to “recover” the sense of wholeness that you may have lost. You may need simply to upgrade your idea of what it means to get high.
You were very fortunate to have financial help from your family to support your attendance in rehab. For many people however, financial support is out of reach. And while some detox programs are free, private rehab centres and therapy, in Canada and the U.S. may not be accessible to everyone. Do you have any advice for how someone can access adequate treatment that has limited options?
This is a major problem. In my opinion, everyone who seeks it, should have access to top-notch treatment. I mean the best of the best. It should just be available because the cost of an addicted individual upon society is almost ALWAYS going to be much greater than for someone who finds recovery, especially Recovery 2.0. There are three access points of treatment I’ll address to answer this question. First, let’s look at detox. A detox facility is a hospital or similar facility where a person goes who has been using any drug, which requires medical attention to help them through the first week or, in some extreme cases, two weeks of getting beyond the physical detoxification process. These drugs include alcohol (one of the most dangerous detoxes and can be fatal without serious medical attention), heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, all benzodiazepines, etc. A person who has a marijuana addiction or who is not currently “strung out” on drugs will not typically need to be placed into a detox facility. Detoxes cost money. Though, there are some where you can just show up and they kind of have to take you, this is not standard. You can walk into any hospital detox facility and throw yourself on their mercy and see what happens. I know how grim this sounds, but let’s face it, if you are strung out on drugs, most people do not take pity on you. In fact, they don’t usually have any respect for you, often for good reason. These nurses and doctors are the front lines between junkies and the pharmaceutical drugs they seek. These angels have had to deal with so much depravity that we cannot be shocked if they have become a bit jaded. The same goes for the system in general. It’s just so hard for most people to look at a full-blown addict or alcoholic and not pass judgment upon them. They are just sick people that generally straighten out amazingly well when they find true recovery.
If you cannot find a facility that can take you, your best bet is to hole up in a safe place, preferably with a loved one who is willing to take care of you and go through your detox period without medical supervision. The important thing for people who go through this process and for those who help them is to have a plan in place for the moment the person is back on their feet. This can mean in-patient treatment, outpatient treatment, therapy or pursuing the 12 Steps. The first 3 options cost money or require insurance. In some cases, however, there are rehab facilities that will take you for free. For example, the Salvation Army has such a program. I’ve known some people who have gotten sober this way. You can go to FreeRehabCenters.org for a nationwide listing of places offering free treatment. They will vary greatly in the level of expertise and services they present, but as the old saying goes, “any port in a storm."
I went to Hazelden, which is one of the best drug and alcohol treatment facilities around. They cost about $30,000 for a month stay these days, but will give considerable discounts where needed. They will not completely give away their treatment as they have found that it is important for the person seeking help to have some skin in the game. There is something to be said about that. Outpatient treatment and therapy are also helpful if you can get them, but the situation is the same here. You need money or insurance. Getting sober is a complex issue.
Beyond treatment and therapy, you can access the 12 Steps at no cost. It is always free. If you need detox and have to sweat it out in a string of 12-Step meetings all day, you would not be the first. People will help you there, but do not expect someone to take you into their home. They will get you a cup of coffee and a meal and they will try to get you situated somehow. If you are serious about getting sober, you will find opportunities coming your way very soon because people will take note of your determination and they will help you even more. Soon you will be on your feet and moving gradually toward mental and physical health. This is how it has happened for countless men and women. It’s nothing short of a miracle to see it take place. And I can guarantee that there are people who you would meet today after long periods of recovery whose personal stories of transformation would remain beyond your ability to believe them.
The relapse cycle can make people feel very hopeless. You describe several relapses in your journey to recovery. What helped you to get through a relapse and to return to the path of recovery and health?
First, if relapse is a part of your story and you are still struggling with addiction, do not despair. One of the most helpful things I heard is this: Every time you try to quit, but are not successful, you are closer to actually quitting. This teaching gave me some much needed space from hopelessness and inspired me to get up and try again. When I was in relapse mode and trying to get back on track, I needed to know that my past efforts had not been for naught. I would say to myself, “OK, Tommy. You are closer. You are going to get there. Do not despair. Keep trying.” One of the keys to getting off of a relapse is to tell the truth. You might step into a 12-Step meeting as I did or be honest with a therapist or mentor. Telling the truth is a key to recovery and keeps you in the ballpark of reality. If you need help, you ask for it. If you are suicidal, you tell someone and get the necessary support. My relapse ended finally because I was fed up with myself and told some people in a meeting about it. Perhaps that’s the most powerful motivator of all. I could no longer stand the thought that I was living a half-life and when I put words to it, somehow, I became willing to get back on my recovery path. People and connection seem to make the difference. If you are alone, trapped with negative feelings and thoughts, you may get cornered into a situation that you cannot come back from. I believe this may be what happened to Robin Williams and many others. We have to have each other to heal!!!
Is it possible to ever feel safe from relapse?
Yes. I feel safe from relapse. I am safe because I have come to a place in my development where to use drugs and alcohol is no longer desired at any level of my being. Many people would suggest that for me to say this is arrogant and misguided. Those people are perhaps still living in the fear of relapse and have not experienced true freedom from their addiction. There comes a point where you are living for your recovery as opposed to living against your addiction. When this shift takes place, you may be safe from relapse, but it takes time, effort and diligence. It is available to anyone who is willing to conceive of a life BEYOND ADDICTION. If you believe you will always be sick, then you are right. If you believe you can heal beyond it, then you are also right. The choice of belief is up to you. I’m living proof that this thing called Recovery 2.0 which combines yoga, meditation and healthy diet with the 12 Steps can take you to that place beyond addiction as long as you treat it all with the one day at a time perspective. This is key. Living beyond addiction does not mean you can now blow off your program. On the contrary, I still “recover my Self” every single day. I do that through practices such as meditation, yoga and connecting with a community of people who are walking this same path. It’s not work for me. It’s a joyful part of my life.
You describe in your book that Anonymous and 12-Steps programs, contain a religious or spiritual component. I know you yourself were resistant to this aspect of the 12-Steps, but got through it. For those that do not believe in God or a Higher Power and are not open to it at all, is there another way to recover from addictions? Could they still be successful in these programs or are there alternatives?
I state in my book that you do not have to believe in God to get the benefits of the 12 Steps. And I mean it. All you need is to be open to what life shows you, to be able to consider and reflect upon life’s events. Also, the idea of Higher Power is terribly misunderstood. All it means is a source of more power than you have access to alone at a given moment in time. I draw power from family, friends and loved ones. I also draw power from my yoga practice. It literally gives me more power. I am empowered by eating healthy food. Higher Power is the easiest thing to understand. Unfortunately, many people complicate it. Forget about having to believe in God. If you have a problem and have lacked the power to overcome it, then you need more power. The 12 Steps are one way to help you get more power. And if it is an alternative approach to the 12 Steps that you are after, look into Noah Levine’s Refuge Recovery and Against the Stream Meetings. Noah presents a Buddhist approach to recovery and the 12 Steps that is perfect for people who have a hard time with “the God thing”. Yoga is also a perfect complement to the 12-Step path because, it too, is a spiritual path meaning a path that connects you with the more subtle parts of yourself. This is also a simple concept. Why does my life seem to get better when I spend just a few minutes focusing on my breath each day? Because I’m getting connected with the more subtle parts of myself (i.e. breath and life force energy) and that contributes to my well-being, just as it does for everyone who practices it. There are other programs out there, which are successful for some people. I have no experience with them directly so cannot comment, but at this point in history, if you want to go after it, anyone can find recovery, regardless of their spiritual or religious beliefs or lack thereof.
You talk about having an addictive relationship with a former girlfriend. When do you think a relationship has crossed the line from “love” and “passion”, into addiction?
This question is really about codependency, which my pal, Nikki Myers, refers to as "the disease of the lost self”. There is tremendous pain in these types of relationships. One feels out of control and so the tendency is to try to control someone else. I can remember being in several relationships where my wellbeing was totally dependent upon what the other person thought of me. If we had a disagreement, the whole day was shot to hell. I would even compromise my own morals in the name of the relationship behaving in ways that were in direct transgression of my own heart. This is very painful and one starts to lose respect in oneself pretty quickly. When you are disconnected from yourself in such a way that you cannot tell where you end and where another person begins, you are in that realm of addiction. There are so many signs of it, but one main characteristic is, drama, either acted out in the relationship, in your own head or both. You never really get onto solid ground. There’s always an imbalance and eventually you may even realize it’s wrong to stay in the relationship, but you find it impossible to leave. One way to successfully navigate a codependent (or simply challenging) relationship is to enlist the help of a skilled therapist. I do not know where I would be without the guidance of several people that helped me to grow beyond the terrible dis-ease of codependency.
You have been sober for 23 years and have chosen to abstain from all your former addictions (drugs, alcohol, gambling, unhealthy food, etc.). Do you think it’s possible for someone who has recovered from their addiction to engage in moderation, once in a while without it being problematic?
As we discussed previously, I feel this is the wrong question, but I’ll engage it. What is moderation really? And what addictions are we speaking about? Do you mean can an ex-heroin addict use heroin every now and then without developing a full-blown addiction and without their life imploding? I seriously doubt it. Can an ex-drinker drink again “successfully”? I don’t think so. Even if they were somehow able to avoid the major pitfalls that go along with alcoholism, their mind would be activated and they would be thinking about drinking and have to manage those thoughts (this by the way is a nightmare in and of itself). If you’re asking if I believe an ex-addict of any kind can return to their drug of choice without problems, I’d say NO. The right question is, “Why would you want to?” If you desire to go back to your drug of choice, by my definition, you have not recovered.
Do you think there is something more we could be doing as a society or perhaps in the educational system to prevent addictions?
Oh my God, Yes! There are basic necessities we all need - healthful food, clean water, love, a general feeling of security, consistency, connection to a community, exercise, rituals, and inspiration. It all begins with food. Sugar is the real gateway drug and parents and schools everywhere are inadvertently setting up their kids for a lifelong struggle with addiction. We have to get nutrient-dense foods into our children so that they feel good and the need to reach outside themselves for something else will be lessened. We also need to teach our children yoga, meditation and stillness. In these practices, which children love, there is great hope for us all. I can see parents rolling their eyes. My children? Stillness? It has to be taught right away from a very young age. I’ve seen it and it’s the most amazing thing to watch a child meditate and be calm by choice. Of course, they are not high on sugar and do not have their faces glued to the television, iPad and iPhone. We also have to continue to encourage our kids with sports, in the arts, music and dance. These activities catalyze the creative impulse in kids. So critical. It always blows my mind when I hear about art and music programs being cut from schools. These are the last things you want your kid to be without. I also believe that regular immersive experiences in nature should be mandatory for all kids and teenagers. Just too important to get outside and connect with the natural flow of things. This can be an addiction-buster if done from the beginning and often.
You use mantras and chants for your health and wellness. Do you have a favourite mantra or words that you live by?
I love so many mantras. Sat Nam is a favorite. It literally means, “My identity is Truth”. Put another way, it signifies that the Infinite Truth takes its form in me or I am inseparable from Truth, from all that is, from God. It pretty much sums it up and when I chant it, I find that I can connect with my Self (Higher Power) and am inspired. Of course, this is true for you, too. So, it helps me to understand we are all creative beings. We can create light and dark realities. It is our choice. To greet someone by saying 'Sat Nam’ means I see the infinite Truth within you. It’s really beautiful.
What would you say is the best piece of advice someone has given you?
Well, there are 5 pieces of advice actually, which Yogi Bhajan passed on to us called the 5 Sutras for the Aquarian Age. They have been a constant source of inspiration and revelation for me since I heard them some years ago.
- Recognize the other person is you.
- There is a way through every block.
- When the time is upon you, start and the pressure will be off.
- Understand through compassion or you will misunderstand the times.
- Vibrate the cosmos and the cosmos shall clear the way.
Photos courtesy of Tommy Rosen