Bill White-THE ROLE OF RECOVERY COMMUNITIES IN CULTURAL HEALING-November 9, 2018


Ironically, it is at the margins of society that one discovers the moral center. –Van Jones

In a bleeding world, where are the sources of communal healing? When our connecting fabric is shredding under the assault of hateful rhetoric, where do we find common ground—settings where people speak with each other and not at and over each other? How can we escape the spell of political pimps of all persuasions creating and exploiting divisions for personal aggrandizement and ideological gain?

These are questions being asked by people of conscience from diverse political, economic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. As Van Jones suggests, the sources that could help us get re-centered could come from unexpected quarters. Is it possible that people in addiction recovery and diverse communities of recovery could serve as a force for cultural and cross-cultural healing?

A reasonable response might well be, “What could people whose past lives have been ravaged by addiction have to offer on issues of such great import?” It is not the lessons from addiction that might offer a balm for our cultural wounds, though addiction can be an astute if unforgiving teacher; it is rather what has been collectively learned within the recovery from addiction that holds solutions of potentially larger value to our country and beyond.

Individuals, communities, and whole cultures are always in a process of self-correction from extremes that threaten their existence. Addiction recovery is itself such a correction process. What is needed culturally when ideologically extremes prevail is a vanguard of people who purposefully infuse into the culture critically needed and missing ingredients. People in recovery and communities of recovery may be uniquely poised to provide such missing ingredients.

Narcissism, with all its ornaments of self-righteousness, arrogance, and self-aggrandizement, has become the new religion—a selfie culture gone mad. We now have leaders who champion these defects of character as a source of pride and purported strength. This worship of self when elevated to a cultural level fuels fervent nationalist movements that claim superiority, build walls of isolation, and deny the interconnectedness and interdependence of all people and nations. People who have been addicted know something of this religion, its sources, and its solutions. The addicted person’s world progressively shrinks in anguish to the person-drug relationship—a radical disordering of personal priorities and a progressive disconnection from others.

Many valuable lessons can be found in the process of escaping such self-entrapment. It takes a village to heal the wounded—and we have all been wounded; healing and wholeness require resources and relationships beyond the self and beyond closed social silos. Personal survival hinges on a greater social unity and common purpose; what we share in common is far more important than our superficial differences. We can achieve together what we have been unable to achieve alone. Distortions of reality, projection of blame, and scapegoating can be diminished by acceptance of our brokenness—our Not-Godness, acceptance of our common humanity, and the assertion of personal responsibility. Amends can be made for past sins of omission and commission. Personal and collective excesses can give way to greater balance and harmony—from competition and conflict to compassion and care. Self-absorption can be diminished through open acknowledgement of one’s imperfection. The masks of grandiosity can be shed and replaced by genuine humility. Bitterness and resentment can give way to forgiveness and gratitude. Preoccupations with power and control (and the resulting close-mindedness and aggression) can give way to tolerance, mutual identification, and service to others. Anguished self-absorption can give way to connection to community, shared joy, and laughter. Settings can be created where people actually listen to one another without interruption or condemnation. Those are among the lessons of recovery.

Excesses within our current cultural life suggest deep wounds—wounds crying for a collective and sustained healing process. As our culture seeks self-correction, communities of recovery can offer healing ingredients as we as a people seek a new moral center. For those in recovery who have concealed these gifts within the rooms, perhaps it is time to reach out and touch someone.

Post Date November 9, 2018 by Bill White

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Bill White-EXPERIENCING RELEASE IN RECOVERY-October 12, 2018

In their classic 1992 text, The Spirituality of Imperfection, Ernie Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham described six dimensions of spirituality at the core of the recovery experience: release, gratitude, humility, tolerance, forgiveness, and being-at-home. In my prolonged mentorship by and collaborations with Ernie, we often returned to those central themes.

The essence of the addiction experience is being confined and bound by something once highly prized that subsequently mutated into a monster over which one had minimal if any control. It is then not surprising that within numerous varieties of recovery experience, there is a shared thread of letting go, of breaking free. This experience of release goes by many names and descriptors—escape (from physical craving and mental obsession), deliverance, liberation, pardon, regeneration, serenity, tranquility, harmony, and balance. This release is both breaking free from an enslaved past—a freedom from the insatiable demands of the drug and the guilt, shame, fear of insanity, and self-pity that are so integral to the addiction experience—and a freedom to move forward to a life of higher meaning and purpose. This sense of being liberated, when fully realized, elicits an emotional intensity impossible to comprehend by those suggesting that addiction is a choice.

Kurtz and Ketcham describe a paradox embedded within this release opportunity.

“Letting go” involves a breaking down of the resistance to reality, a surrender to the demand for certitude; it can be pictured as a letting fall of fetters, a shucking of bonds of fear and possessiveness now experienced as no longer binding. We ‘wake up” to discover that the locks and chains have been removed, and realizing this, we lift our arms and let the chains drop away. But—the chains cannot drop if we have become so attached to them that we fear being without them. While the chains may no longer be attached to us, we may still be attached to them. The deeper release, then, is of our attachment to the chains that bind us (Kurtz and Ketcham, 1992, p. 170).

In our discussions, Ernie often suggested that self-centeredness and self-deception were the major obstacles to this act of letting go so central to the initiation of recovery, but he left open the question of whether such self-entrapment was a cause or consequence of addiction. In contrast to traditional psychotherapies, Ernie thought that recovery for many involved a process of getting out of themselves rather than deeper into themselves.

Release in recovery is a complex experience. It has physical dimensions, particularly the diminishment or complete loss of the insatiable cravings (i.e. the cellular hunger for the drug). It is marked by cognitive and perceptual changes—escape from the mental preoccupations that crowded out all else and the loss of attentional bias toward drug cues that leaves one the sense of truly seeing the world for the first time. There are, of course, psychological and emotional dimensions to release—the expiation of long-suppressed emotions and what is sometimes experienced as a simultaneous and paradoxical escape from self and acceptance of self—the essence of Kurtz and Ketcham’s spirituality of imperfection. Spiritual dimensions of release include awakening to the reality that one has been gifted (graced) with a new sense of freedom and hope—a rebirth—midwifed by some greater force in the universe or the fruit of an ultimate life decision. Release can also have relational aspects in the severing of toxic, drug-linked relationships and the expansion of one’s social world.

To those who are yet seeking such a release, know that it is an immeasurable gift buried within the heart of the recovery experience. Know that you will not likely be in control of when and how it arrives. For some, this sense of being set free arrives early in recovery while for others it arrives unannounced months or years into recovery at a time its expectation has been forsaken. For some, release will come in a lighting strike—the legacy of a transformational change experience that is unplanned, positive, and permanent; for others, it slowly seeps into one’s experience until the day arrives when one suddenly realizes that destructive desires and obsessions are gone.

For many, the release experience remains a mystery, but a mystery worth embracing with deep humility and gratitude.

Post Date October 12, 2018 by Bill White

Bill White-THE FUTURE OF RECOVERY SCHOLARSHIP-August 5, 2016

Is it possible we are seeing the rise of a new generation of scholar activists who combine the experiential knowledge of addiction recovery, academic excellence, and a desire to give back through recovery-focused research, writing, teaching, and advocacy activities?

Over the past decade, I have interviewed many of the pioneers who made major contributions to the modern scientific and historical study of addiction recovery. All of these pioneers brought impeccable academic credentials to their work, but many withheld their personal or family recovery status or only disclosed that status late in their careers when they felt such disclosure would not damage their career opportunities or professional reputations. (See HERE and HERE for examples of the latter). Such secrecy or delays in disclosure were the result of the social stigma attached to addiction. Major efforts to reduce recovery-related stigma may make it easier for a new generation of scholars to pursue the study of the personal and family recovery experience while living openly as people in long-term addiction recovery.

Six factors will influence this future. First, the levels of education of people in recovery is increasing due both to the number of people with advanced education who are seeking recovery and the number of people in recovery choosing to pursue continued education as part of their recovery process. As examples, nearly 20% of AA members work as professionals, health professionals, or educators; 41% of surveyed NA members report having a college or graduate degree; and 47% of SMART Recovery members report having a college or graduate degree. Second, resources have expanded via the growing network of collegiate recovery programs through which people in recovery can pursue advanced education in a recovery-supportive academic and social environment. Third, there are now more than 280 colleges and universities offering formal addiction studies programs that academically prepare people to work within such areas as policy, administration, research, harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and recovery support services (Click HERE for a full list of such programs). The number of recovery-focused studies within Master’s theses and doctoral dissertations is increasing exponentially. Fourth, people are entering recovery at younger ages, with a growing contingent of politically aware and articulate young recovery advocates, some of whom are being drawn to academically prepare themselves for a career in the addictions field. Fifth, this emerging generation of recovery advocates has a seasoned vanguard of recovery role models working as addiction professionals, including at the highest levels of policy development and service delivery, as well as strong associations representing addiction medicine specialists and other addiction professionals. Sixth, recovery mutual aid organizations are themselves getting more involved in historical research and in collaborating with academic and private research organizations in the conduct of recovery research. Collectively, these forces are motivating people in recovery to further their education and extend their avocation of volunteer service work into a vocation within the addictions field.

This is all a way of saying there are ways that those who have been part of the problem can be part of the solution and that this influence can be exerted locally, nationally, and globally. Perhaps this invitation is being written for you. Perhaps you have changed your own life for a purpose that remains unclear to you. Perhaps that purpose is to help change the world—to help us understand the personal and family recovery processes in new ways, to elevate the quality of addiction treatment, to widen the doorways of entry into recovery, or to help find ways to break intergenerational cycles of addiction. Yes, such contributions will take a profound commitment, sustained preparation, and tenaciousness that will test you beyond measure. But from one who has followed this path, I invite you to accept the torch extended to you from my aging generation of scholar activists. Combining recovery-grounded experiential knowledge with the most rigorous historical and scientific methods of inquiry might indeed reshape the future of addiction and addiction recovery. Is that vision something that calls to you? Is it time to begin or take the next step in your preparation for this calling?

Post Date August 5, 2016 by Bill White

ADDICTION AS A BRAIN DISEASE (PERSPECTIVES FROM THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN) -March 9, 2018 -Bill White

The understanding of addiction as a brain disease has been a central organizing principle within the research agendas of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Promotion of the brain disease paradigm stirred controversies over its scientific legitimacy and contentions and counter-contentions over its effects on addiction-related stigma, but it exerted unquestioned influence on public and professional conceptions of addiction and approaches to the treatment of addiction in the United States. Interesting variations in the conceptualization of addiction as a brain disease occurred contemporaneously in other countries. The challenge across cultural contexts has been to integrate recent research on the neurobiology of addiction to create more dynamic biopsychosocial models of treatment and recovery support.

One of the most innovative examples of such integration can be found within the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Congress 60 recovery community. Encompassing more than 57,000 active members across 58 branches in Iran, Congress 60 combines a medication-assisted transition into recovery with an extensive menu of psychosocial supports. The rationale for medication support and the unique scheme of such support (the DST method) has been outlined by Congress 60 Founder Hossein Dezhakam in what he christened the X Theory.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Mr. Dezhakam about the X Theory and the DST method and how they are integrated within the larger culture of support within the Congress 60 recovery community. This interview is highly recommended for those exploring such integration in diverse cultural settings, including in the United States, and for those interested in variations in the clinical application of the brain disease model of addiction in non-Western countries.

For decades in the U.S., addiction treatments, with and without medication support, have existed as warring factions fueled by debates producing far more heat than light. Such either/or polarization defies the fact that many people in medication-assisted treatment could greatly benefit from an expanded menu of long-term recovery support services and that recovery outcomes within traditional “abstinence-based” programs could be elevated by recognition of the potential role medications can play for some patients in recovery initiation and/or maintenance. Congress 60 provides a template of how medication support and psychosocial support can be fully integrated within a vibrant recovery culture.

Post Date March 9, 2018 by Bill White

THE SECULAR WING OF AA- March 2, 2018 -Bill White-

A.A. is so decentralized that in a very real sense, there really is no such single entity as “Alcoholics Anonymous”—only A.A. members and local A.A. groups that reflect a broad and ever increasing variety of A.A. experience. To suggest that Alcoholics Anonymous represents a “one size fits all approach” to alcoholism recovery, as some critics are prone to do, ignores the actual rich diversity of A.A. experience in local A.A. groups and the diverse cultural, religious, and political contexts in which A.A. is flourishing internationally. (Kurtz & White, 2015)

All are self-identified alcoholics and go by many other names: agnostics, atheists, nonbelievers, skeptics, cynics, rebels, freethinkers, humanists, secularists, and rationalists. What they share in common beyond the experience of alcoholism is need for a personal program of recovery not dependent upon belief in any religious deity. Such needs have propelled the growth of secular alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and a growing secular wing within AA. The existence of the latter challenges AA critics who argue that those without religious faith cannot find a home within AA.

The growth of a secular wing of AA is evident in many quarters. The number of registered secular AA meetings in the U.S. has grown from a few dozen in the early 2000s to more than 400, and two international conventions of atheist and agnostic AA members have been held to date. Online secular recovery support resources for AA members (such as Secular AA, AA Agnostica, and AA Beyond Belief) have grown in tandem with the increase in face-to-face meetings. An October 2016 special issue of the AA Grapevine was dedicated to “Atheist and Agnostic Members,” and there is a planned Grapevine book containing previously published stories of atheist and agnostic AA members. Also of note are the increased number of books on secular recovery within AA (see below) and the increased national media coverage of secular AA meetings.

Chronology of Secular AA & Related Recovery Literature

1991 Martha Cleveland and Arlys G. The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery

2010 My Name is Lillian and I am and Alcoholic (And an Atheist)

2011 Marya Hornbacher Waiting: A Non-Believerʼs Higher Power

2011 Vince Hawkins An Atheists Unofficial Guide to A.A.

2012 Joe C. Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life

2013 Archer Voxx The Five Keys: 12 Step Recovery Without A God

2013 Roger C. The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps

2014 John Lauritsen A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous

2015 Adam N. Common Sense Recovery: An Atheist’s Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous

2015 Roger C. Do Tell: Stories by Atheists and Agnostics in AA

2017 Thomas B. Each Breath a Gift: A Story of Continuing Recovery

Two recent books by Roger C. provide a fascinating window into the world of secular AA. Published in 2014, Don’t Tell: Stories and Essays by Agnostics and Atheists in AA is a potpourri of secular recovery stories, alternative wordings and interpretations of AA’s 12 Steps, book reviews, snippets from the early history of atheists and agnostics in AA, description of a secular AA convention, and discussions of some of the controversies triggered by the growth of secular AA. Published in 2017, A History of Agnostics in AA provides engaging accounts of early secular groups within AA in the U.S. and Canada. Together, these books provide insight into the challenges and triumphs of achieving recovery without religiosity within AA. They are above all a celebration of the “multiple pathways of recovery” mantra that has gained such prominence in recent years.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the secular wing of AA and secular styles of recovery may do so be exploring the rich collection of stories, articles, and other publications posted at AA Agnostica and related websites or by reviewing the growing body of secular AA literature.

The secular wing of AA and the growth of secular recovery mutual aid groups beyond 12-Step groups are both cause for celebration. As the new mantra goes, “Recovery by any means necessary under any circumstances.”

Post Date March 2, 2018 by Bill White

December 8, 2017 -By Bill White- THE KARMA OF RECOVERY


The concept of karma holds that one’s fate in this life or future lives is not a random roll of the dice, but a direct product of one’s thoughts and actions. Rooted in many of the great religions and a central motif within Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, karma is mistakenly confused in popular culture with the idea of good or bad luck. In contrast, karma suggests the presence of a universal principle of justice–that the decisions one makes or the actions one takes or fails to take have inevitable consequences. This principle can be found in many popular aphorisms:
You reap what you sow.
Violence begets violence.
They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.
What goes around comes around.
Chickens come home to roost.
You get what you give.
Those who live by the sword die by the sword.
The principle of karma poses an interesting dilemma for people initiating recovery from addiction: How does one atone for the injuries one’s addiction-shaped actions and inactions inflicted upon others and the community at large? How does one balance the karmic scales to escape the whirlwind?
Most enter recovery with a karmic burden. Harm to others is a near-inevitable and -universal dimension of addiction—a progressive process of relational disconnection and self-absorption. Addiction, by definition, involves a prioritization of the drug relationship above all other aspirations, needs, commitments, and responsibilities. It is thus little wonder that the person at the doorway of recovery is haunted by ghosts of past harmful acts of commission or omission. The oppressive weight of guilt (I have done bad things) and shame (I am a bad person) can lead to self-sabotage for those who feel unworthy of the gifts of recovery. Such baggage must be shed to achieve sustained recovery and a reasonably fulfilled life.
It is common for people on the threshold of recovery to face resentment or rage from shredded promises; confront disappointment, distrust, and disdain in the eyes of others; and fear a backlog of consequences that could come at any time—all while experiencing cellular screams for anesthesia or stimulation. The question then becomes, “How does one step out of such quicksand into sustainable recovery, restore personal sanity, and repair relational trust?” Early Native American recovery circles, the Washingtonians, Fraternal Temperance Societies, Ribbon Reform Clubs, institutional support groups (e.g., Godwin Association, Keeley Leagues), Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-Step programs, and the growing menu of secular and explicitly religious recovery mutual aid groups have all addressed this question.
Where some groups focused solely on achieving sobriety, on the assumption that with continued sobriety these broader concerns would take care of themselves, most recovery mutual aid groups, particularly those embracing religious and spiritual frameworks of recovery, emphasize the need for character reconstruction and restorative actions within the recovery process. Looking across such frameworks over a span of two centuries, one finds a consistent menu of suggested remedial steps aimed at balancing the karmic scales:
1) unflinching identification of harmful thoughts, feelings, actions, and inactions (self-inventory, humility);
2) private or public ownership of such harm (contrition, confession, self-forgiveness);
3) making amends to those harmed (restorative justice); and
4) unpaid acts of service to others and the community (generic restitution, gratitude, compassion, generosity, story reconstruction, and storytelling).
Accompanying such recommended actions have been admonitions that such actions be taken slowly, deliberately, repeatedly, and with the support of a community of shared experiences and aspirations. The message across generations is: The lived testimonies of millions of people in recovery suggest that positive changes in character and the quality of one’s relationships are both possible and common within the recovery process. The karmic baggage of active addiction can be progressively shed in recovery and replaced by a different kind of karma—one bearing the promises and gifts of long-term recovery. When the latter is achieved, people who were once part of the problem emerge as a vibrant part of the solution by balancing the karmic scales and becoming wounded healers and recovery carriers. Recovery pathways are also pathways of reconciliation.
Post Date December 8, 2017 by Bill White

September 22, 2017 -Bill White- RECOVERY HISTORY AND THE NEW RECOVERY CONSCIOUSNESS

Advocacy movements require transforming highly personal stories into the collective narrative of “a people.” Merging the individual stories into a larger collective mosaic allows people with shared characteristics and experiences to see their past and future as part of a larger drama. As Marcus Garvey suggests, individuals become a people only when connected to their shared historical roots.
So when did Americans in addiction recovery first begin to see themselves as “a people” with a shared heritage and destiny? The roots of such consciousness begin in the late 1700s within abstinence-based religious and cultural revitalization movements among Native American tribes, arise anew within the early American temperance societies, and extend into groups formed exclusively for the purpose of recovery mutual aid—the Washingtonians, recovery-focused fraternal temperance societies, the ribbon reform clubs, and groups links to the earliest addiction treatment programs (e.g., the Ollapod Club, Godwin Association, Keeley Leagues). Dozens of such groups predate the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, other 12-Step groups, and their modern religious and secular alternatives.
Much of this history is recounted in three books: Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, Alcohol Problems in Native America: The Untold Story of Resistance and Recovery (with Don Coyhis), and The History of Addiction Counseling in the United States. Summations of the history of addiction recovery have also appeared in a series of authored and co-authored articles that are available for free download on my website. For readers interested in this history, I commend the following articles:
Addiction and Recovery in Native America: Lost History, Enduring Lessons (With Don Coyhis)
The History of Recovered People as Wounded Healers: I. From Native America to the Rise of the Modern Alcoholism Movement
The History of Recovered People as Wounded Healers: II. The Era of Professionalization and Specialization
Listening To Lazarus: The Voices of America’s first “Reformed Drunkards”
The Role of Recovering Physicians in 19th Century Addiction Medicine: An Organizational Case Study
Addiction and recovery among African Americans before 1900 (with Mark Sanders).
Addiction in the African American Community: The Recovery Legacies of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X (with Mark Sanders)Pre-AA Recovery Mutual Aid Societies

Twelve Defining Moments in the History of Alcoholics Anonymous (with Ernie Kurtz).
Faith-based Recovery (with David Whiters)
Styles of Secular Recovery (with Martin Nicolaus)
Early recovery biographies, interviews with recovery advocacy leaders, and key documents related to the history of secular, spiritual, and religious recovery mutual aid groups are available by clicking HERE, HERE, and HERE.
One of the most significant historical trends within the history of addiction recovery is people in recovery beginning to see themselves as “a people” apart from affiliation with a particular treatment or recovery mutual aid enterprise. This rising ecumenical culture of recovery is marked by a new language of self-identification and expression; political mobilization; economic development; new recovery support institutions; and creative innovations in the arenas of music, art, literature, cinema, theatre, and new rituals of celebration and protest. Unraveling and extolling the history of recovery are part of this new recovery consciousness, which is itself a historical milestone. Researching and mining the lessons of history are legitimate forms of recovery activism. How might you help capture or pass on the stories that make up the history of addiction recovery?
Post Date September 22, 2017 by Bill White