In the summer of 1989, I reached a point where I could no longer continue to live the way I had been living. My mind and body were enslaved to cocaine and heroin among many other addictive behaviors. My relationships with my family and friends had been lost behind a thousand lies. The energy of disconnection and fear ran through my entire being. My exploration of life had led me to single-pointed despair.
To reach a bottom simply means one is ready to tell the truth. So, for the first time perhaps in my entire life, I told the truth. “I do not know how to live my life. I don’t have this. I am overwhelmed by addiction and cannot escape its death grip. Can someone please help me?”
This was true humility. Everyone in recovery from addiction comes to this place.
I went to treatment at Hazelden in Minnesota. It was a blessing. I received love and education, and began to understand how things had gotten so off track. When I left treatment, my counselors told me I was going to need something in order to make it out there. They suggested the Twelve Steps.
Throughout my first year of sobriety, my entire recovery consisted of mechanically attending Twelve Step meetings. As the months went by, the number of meetings I attended diminished.
I would hit a meeting, check that off my to-do list and head back to my life. There was no interaction or connection between me and the people at the meetings. I did not let anyone get to know me because I felt “their world” and “my world” were separate.
For me, there was nothing compelling about recovery. I became increasingly bored and started to float without a sense of purpose or structure. I had no real plan for my life or for my recovery. Today I know if you don’t have a plan in early recovery, then you definitely do have a plan; that plan is to leave recovery early.
By the time I had one year sober, I had stopped going to meetings altogether. Shortly thereafter, I relapsed.
Over the next year, I used off and on. At times, I was having great fun. I thought, Hey, this is not so bad. Maybe I can use drugs and be more successful than I was last time. As I saw it, there were two problems. First, although I had not been as extreme in my drug use as before, I did not seem to be able to stop using when I wanted to. Second, there was a very painful message coming from inside me that was getting louder. The message was, Tommy, you are living half a life. You will never find out what you could be. You will never realize your potential because you are unable to get beyond the use of drugs and alcohol. That thought was the sobering thought of my life.
I decided to try Twelve Step meetings again. I went to the same meeting three days in a row; each time I announced that I had only one day sober. A guy named Neil came up to me and said, “Hey man, what’s your problem?” I stuttered, no words coming out of my mouth.
“That’s right,” he said. “You don’t realize that you’re walking around the planet with untreated addiction. That’s your problem.” His statement pierced through my heart. I had a condition; it was called addiction. There is a treatment for it, and I was not applying the treatment. I had hit my second bottom.
It’s the same mistake I have observed tens of thousands of people make in Twelve Step meetings around the world. The Twelve Steps only work if you actually work the Twelve Steps. I had not done that. I had barely engaged in the fellowship aspect of the Twelve Steps, let alone done the work to change my thinking and my life. Of course, I was suffering. Of course, it was difficult to stop using drugs. But, I was still stuck thinking that using drugs seemed to be my best option.
I had previously sobered up out of physical necessity. The circumstances of my life were so grave that if I had continued using, I would not have survived. I now wanted to get sober because I could not live with the thought of a mediocre existence. I never wanted to merely survive my life; I wanted to thrive. If you are reading this, I’m betting you feel the same way.
I started attending meetings every day. I found a sponsor. I worked through the Steps and finally dedicated myself to the Twelve Step process. It became central to my existence because I wanted it. A year or two later, I remember waking up and realizing that I could not remember the last time I had thought about using drugs or alcohol. A great transformation and liberation had taken place. But, unbeknownst to me, there was more important work to be done.
Putting down drugs and alcohol were a first critical step in a long process of overcoming addiction. Unfortunately, I stayed mired in addiction in the form of codependency, gambling and smoking cigarettes. I carried all my stress in my body. The Twelve Steps had lifted me out of drug addiction, I was free from that – but I was far from free. My methods may have shifted, but I was still “looking away” from my life and the present moment by using destructive means to de-stress. This approach was unsustainable.
The anxiety of my continued addictive behavior took its effect on my body; one evening in 2003, my back went out. I was essentially crippled for months, but had no idea why. A neurological tension pattern had developed in my body and wreaked havoc. Western doctors would later diagnose severe degenerative disk disease and two herniated disks revealed by an MRI. The doctors told me that I would have to manage the pain for the rest of my life, and that they would eventually consider surgery. This was the third bottom of my life.
Through an extraordinary series of “coincidences,” I was led to the door of a man named Guruprem. He is an expert regarding back pain; I was told he would be able to help me.
It turned out that he is an expert about much more than just backs. With his guidance over the next five years, he taught me how to breathe, taught me Kundalini yoga and then presented me with an upgraded design for living beyond addiction.
Ninety days after he started working with me, my back pain went away. I didn’t relieve the pain with drugs; I didn’t have surgery. I have never looked back.
Addiction is a dis-ease. When caught in its grasp, we are disconnected from ease in the mind-body system. We look outside ourselves for things we think will bring ease. Unfortunately, we mostly seek out substances and behaviors that lead to more dis-ease, rather than healing. Guruprem showed me another way. With him, Recovery 2.0 was born. I dedicated my book, Recovery 2.0: Move Beyond Addiction and Upgrade Your Life, to him.
I married my beloved Kia in 2003. Guruprem told me, “Tommy, any monkey can have a wedding. You may just need some help to have a successful marriage.” He was right. I was facing what I believe all recovering addicts face. It’s called codependency, and I had a whopping case of it.
My dear friend, Yoga of Twelve Step Recovery pioneer, Nikki Myers, calls codependency “the disease of the lost self.” Indeed! I will not cover this topic in detail here. Suffice it to say, codependency seems to be present for most of us drug addicts and alcoholics – even before we turned to substances in the first place. So, it makes sense when we finally put the substances down, guess what is waiting for us?
This is why I believe so many people relapse after years of recovery. They come up against their codependency, and it is too much to bear without a great deal of support and love. The unsuspecting addict who is sideswiped by this dynamic may think, This should not be happening to me. I’m miserable and five years sober. If this is how it’s going to be, I might as well use drugs again. Once that thought takes hold of an addict, trouble is likely to follow unless that person can quickly get help.
Today, Kia and I are in an amazing marriage that has grown in joy and power over the past twelve years. Each day, we work to stay current and connected with each other. As with all things, it turns out that marriage, too, is a one-day-at-a-time process.
As yogis, Kia and I travel around the world, teaching and leading workshops and trainings. Kia coaches teachers through her Radiant Body Yoga Teacher Training Program (Yoga Alliance Certified), and I teach Recovery 2.0 yoga in rehabs and yoga studios. I also produce two Recovery 2.0 online conferences and lead two online coaching programs annually.
Today, I understand that addiction is like a force field on a frequency all its own. The addiction frequency is like a magnet drawing in addictive thinking, people and circumstances. While it takes skill, focus and vigilance, anyone can break switch from the addiction frequency and to the frequency of recovery or, if you prefer, the frequency of the Divine.
With love and gratitude,
Tommy Rosen is a yoga teacher and addiction recovery expert with 24 years of continuous recovery from drug addiction. He is the author of Recovery 2.0: Move Beyond Addiction and Upgrade Your Life (Hay House 2014). You may visit him at www.TommyRosen.com.