Category Archives: Essays

Bodies In Motion, Part One

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way life has its ups and downs and periods of animation and stagnation – you know, bodies in motion tending to stay in motion and bodies at rest tending to stay at rest and all that. It’s long been a fascination of mine the way things can stay the same for the longest time, and then bam! Something happens, and everything is changed forever, life being what happens while you’re busy making other plans and what have you.

The truth is, I’ve never been much of one for plans, because all of that business comes packaged with so many expectations, and I fear expectations. We have so little control over anything, except ourselves and the choices we make, and even then we’re on shaky ground. Why push it?

Then there’s the matter of how we plan to spend our lives – whether we choose to become bodies in motion or at rest, for example, and what either thing entails. Many of us stay in the same places doing the same exact same things because we like them. They make us happy. OK, well, if not…”happy” exactly, then they at the very least offer the seeming comforts of the known, and the mundane known is still better than some terrifying unknown…right?

We also stay in the same places doing the exact same things because we’re in a rut and don’t know what else to do, or because we know darn well what to do…but just don’t believe that we can actually do it. Then, of course, there’s the case of buying into the utterly delusional proposition that doing the same thing over and over again will produce a different result each time, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Conversely, there’s also often much confusion about whether our doing something different every once in a while either adds some welcome variety to our lives or essentially adds up to nothing, because that’s what making a decision to do something without doing anything to back it up amounts to.

And that’s what sobriety was to me for the longest time: This giant amorphous, intangible thing one half of me desperately wanted but had no idea – other than simply waiting for it to happen to me – how to go about getting , while the other half desperately needed me to keep drinking at all costs.

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Martin Nicolaus’s Prepared Remarks for the 2014 LifeRing Annual Conference

Below is the talk that LifeRing’s founding leader wanted to give at our recent Annual Conference. Unfortunately, Martin Nicolaus ran into car trouble which you can read about on his personal blog Here. So what follows is what Marty would have presented to the Annual Conference had he made it on time:

 

MartyThank you for inviting me to speak here today.  To have served this organization as founder and its initial CEO has been an honor and a privilege.  I am deeply grateful for the support I’ve received over the years from the LifeRing network.

I get a great warm feeling from seeing the caliber of the people who are taking the lead in serving the organization today.  The basic principles of LifeRing address urgent societal needs.  A cadre of people with exceptional vision, energy, talent, and endurance has coalesced around these principles. On this basis, the outlook for LifeRing’s future is very good.

The time for me to participate in guiding the organization is past.  However, I have been asked for my view of the road ahead.  Of course, I have no crystal ball, and life has a way of laughing at our best-laid plans.  But here goes.

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Dr. Candice Shelby’s Presentation on “Biocoding” Posted on Website

ShelbyCandice Shelby, Ph.D., an associate professor of Philosophy at the University of Denver campus, is a valued friend of LifeRing. She knows a great deal about how brains and minds function, including the biological, psychological and, yes, philosophical factors that determine what we are, and why we are that way. She gave a talk a few years ago at a LifeRing Annual Conference in Denver that was very well-received and continues to draw heavy readership on this website (click Here for the earlier presentation). Dr. Shelby was kind enough to quickly supply a copy of her talk so that we could post in on lifering.org. The new presentation is concerned with “biocoding” and can be read Here.  Here is a brief excerpt:

What I would like to consider specifically today is the way in which the processes of addiction and recovery are connected to processes of meaning development and change. The level of meanings that I’m going to focus on here are at the semantic, psychological, and social levels. These meanings are encoded into individuals through the interaction of their highly complex organic systems with the highly complex environments in which they are embedded. The correlation of the meaning shifts with the transitions into and out of what we generally call addiction is so close that we could reasonably call addiction essentially a phenomenon of meaning, were it not for the oversimplification that such a characterization would invite.

The concepts dealt with in the talk are fascinating even while sometimes hard to grasp by the layman (or at least by me). Still, it is very much worth a read. Go Here

 

 

 

Former Heavy Weight Boxing Champ Mike Tyson Writes About His Addiction

Mike 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

The 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