Category Archives: Essays

Former Heavy Weight Boxing Champ Mike Tyson Writes About His Addiction

tysonMike Tyson, the famously fearsome heavyweight boxing champion, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times recently that offers a wrenching look into his life and reveals insights about addiction from an unexpected source. Tyson was champion from 1986 to 1990.  Throughout the 1990′s he fought to regain his crown, finally retiring for good in 2006. His career was marked by controversy and appallingly bad behavior, including a rape conviction and a famous incident in which he bit off part of his opponents ear in a fight with Evander Holyfield.

The column is remarkably articulate — much more so than expected from a man with his reputation as a thuggish brawler. Even if he had help with the writing, it shows a great deal of insight into his addiction and his own life. Take this passage, which will resonate with many:

Even though I possessed incredible discipline when it came to boxing, I didn’t have the tools to stop my slide into addiction. When I got a chance to get high — boom, I’d get high. I wouldn’t call my sponsor, wouldn’t call my therapist, wouldn’t call my sober companions.

No, in order to kick it, I had to replace the cravings for drugs or alcohol with a craving to be a better person.

The piece isn’t long; you owe it to yourself to have a look. See it Here

 

Addiction: Is It a Disease, or … Something Else

addiction diseaseThe question of whether addiction constitutes a “disease” is a perennial source of disagreement among the “experts’ and among addicts themselves. Much depends on the definition of “disease.” Used casually, the term implies some sort of breakdown in the body, stemming from bacteria, or viruses or things like cancer which have a clear and negative effect on the sufferer. Addiction clearly isn’t caused by a virus or bacteria or other foreign agent.  And while the effects of drinking and drug use cause damage which can lead to conditions that are clearly diseases (cirrhosis, for example), that is not the same as the addiction itself being a disease.

A recent blog post in the magazine Psychology Today bywriter/physician Lance Dodes (author of the book, Breaking Addiction) gives a very brief history of the label as applied to addiction and then contends that addiction is a behavioral problem, a compulsion, no different – except perhaps in the physical damage it can do – from other compulsive disorders, such as out-of-control gambling:

“When addiction,” he writes, “is properly understood to be a compulsive behavior like many others, it becomes impossible to justify moralizing about people who feel driven to perform addictive acts.  And because compulsive behaviors are so common, any idea that “addicts” are in some way sicker, lazier, more self-centered, or in any other way different from the rest of humanity becomes indefensible.”

Dodes holds that the “addictive acts occur when precipitated by emotionally significant events” by which he presumably means events that lead to emotions that are very difficult to deal with. He goes on to say “they can be prevented by understanding what makes these events so emotionally important, and they can be replaced by other emotionally meaningful actions or even other psychological symptoms that are not addictions.  Addictive behavior is a readily understandable symptom, not a disease.”

Boy, I wish it had seemed so simple and straightforward to me when I was struggling to get sober! For that matter, I wish I could be certain, after 12 years of sobriety, that I had overcome the underlying cause and didn’t have to worry any more. It’s an interesting way of looking at it that undoubtedly has some truth. But it seems to me that the problem is more complex than he implies. I don’t much care if we call it a ‘disease’ or a ‘condition’ or a ‘problem;’ but I do think it takes every ounce of determination one can marshal, plus some sort of supportive help,  to overcome it. It’s not simple, whatever you call it.

– Craig Whalley

A View on LifeRing’s “Structure”

structure2LifeRing member Byron Kerr shares some thoughts on LifeRing’s approach to providing structure in recovery:

I recently heard a proposal in a LifeRing forum that, “some people just need the structure of 12-Step.” This reflects an assumption that LifeRing is somehow unstructured. While it is true that we do not offer a single “official” structure as to how an individual must achieve sobriety, the LifeRing approach is not unstructured. It is personally structured.

A user/drinker will not succeed in LifeRing without crafting their own structure. We call it your “Personal Recovery Plan.” Your PRP is your best hope for success. Your PRP should be detailed, specific, and well thought out. All persons that succeed in recovery use structure. We simply propose that when you compose your own structure, you will be automatically more invested in your own recovery. If you only read a script and put none of your own effort into your structure, the odds of your success may be diminished.

Can people in recovery benefit from suggestions and guidance? Certainly. We provide those things as a fundamental part of all of our support efforts. We offer ideas from personal experience but stop short of specific, “you should………” type advice.

LifeRing can work for anyone. The notion that there are some people who can only benefit from the “structure” of other support programs is not considering the fact that LifeRing is very much a structured approach. It only works with structure. That’s what we mean by “self-empowerment.”

– Byron Kerr

On Counting Sober Time

countingA member of the LifeRing board of directors writes about the issue of ‘counting the days’ since one’s last use of alcohol or other drug:

It was helpful for me to tally the years from birth to about 35 and include them in my sober time, an idea I kind of gleaned (perhaps taking some liberties with the intended concept) when I read Empowering Your Sober Self shortly after finishing an intensive outpatient program a couple of years ago, at age 55.  In hindsight, I would say it was helpful not so much in terms of thinking of those 35 years as “sober time” but as “what was I doing, and enjoying doing” during that time. 

I went to a knitting workshop by Canadian knitter Sally Melville some years ago, shortly after I moved to Salt Lake City. I was feeling very alone, and cuddling up every night with Mr. Smirnoff at the time.  In the workshop, Melville talked about her life’s work and her realization that she was doing what she loved doing when she was a girl/young woman: designing, drawing, creating, and, she noted, “playing teacher.” While that idea struck me at the time, it wasn’t until I was thinking about “what I was doing, and enjoying doing” between say, age 10 and 35 that I started to get a better picture of which threads of my life I wanted to pick up and start weaving together again in my recovery life. 

It was that concept, more than accumulating sober time, that helped propel me through the first months of recovery, and still, quite frankly, keeps me going today.  When I lose track of “ideas and creative works I want to produce and weave together in new and meaningful ways,” I end up in the weeds. Not, these days, with Mr. Smirnoff, but with the shell of the woman he left behind. She’s not nearly as much fun to be with (for me, or anyone around me) as the woman-with-dreams-and-ideas that require abstinence to accomplish, but aren’t the product of having such-and-such number of days, months, or years of sobriety. 

– Mahala Kephart

You are NOT powerless!

ShelbyOne of the most-read items on this website is an essay by long-time LifeRing supporter Dr. Candice Shelby, an Associate Professor of Philosopy at the University of Colorado. I thought it might be worthwhile to draw your attention to it again. It encapsulates an important part of what LifeRing stands for. See it Here.