How did we arrive at the current understandings and approaches to addiction and recovery? What has been the journey over the past 70 years that has led us to begin to connect the dots between individual, community, and planetary healing? Like any journey, before we leave home, we need to collect information, lay out our course, and make sure we understand the territory ahead. This chapter is dedicated to laying out the route, the themes, and the connections that we will explore as we set out.
The root cause of addiction is trauma. Experts including Patricia Ogden, Stephen Porges, Peter Levine, Deb Dana, Bessel Van Der Kolk, and others[i] have refined, expanded and clarified the mechanisms and treatment of trauma in the individual. Since the experience of early life trauma is very closely associated with addiction challenges later in life, we must find a way to relate to underlying trauma if we hope to overcome addiction.[ii] We can understand trauma as the root cause of addiction more completely when we consider the effect of oppressive systems such as poverty, racism, and gender bias on the individual. We will explore how trauma occurs in the individual, the collective, and across generations in Chapter 1.
Deep ecology can be defined as a perspective that counters the industrial growth capitalist model of society, where progress is measured by productivity, growth of capital, and exploitation of natural resources and labor. The deep ecology movement directs our efforts to localize, live simply, and return to equitable and transparent economies. Deep ecology requires that we revisit our assumptions about food production, health, justice, sustainability, and the impact of human beings in the life of the planet.
The work of Dr. Joanna Macy, environmental activist and general systems theory scholar, is a touchstone for this book. Through the Work that Reconnects network,[iii] Macy leads an international effort to transform society to life-sustaining systems. To create life-sustaining systems, Macy presents two “stories” that illustrate our current challenges and a vision for the future. She calls one story “The Great Unravelling,” and the other story “The Great Turning.” [iv]
In the Great Unravelling, [v] she describes the current state of the developed world, which is dependent on extraction industries (esp. fossil fuels) and ever-expanding industrial growth. As globalization and systems of oppression have acted in concert, income inequality, resource exploitation, unbalanced and fragile financial systems, and physical and social distress have risen to epidemic proportions. We can see addiction very clearly as a factor, or really a symptom, of this unhealthy reliance on growth at all costs. Macy presents us with a choice: we can continue with this “Business as Usual,” ignoring the deeply harmful effects of these systems on people and planet, or we can begin to fundamentally change our use of resources and technology to build a sustainable future.
For this approach, Macy tells the second story, the Great Turning – a story of renewal, hope, and awakening to address our ecological and other crises. She sees the emergence of new and creative human responses, as well as a reawakening of traditional knowledge, that could lead us to a Life-Sustaining Society – one free of oppression, exploitation, and addiction. We could shift from exploitation to respect, from extraction to regeneration, and from competition to cooperation. More and more of us would come to see how we are interwoven together as people. We could shift our perspective to a return to wholeness and bearing strong witness to the interconnectedness of all life. The Great Turning would lead us to heal our most serious social and environmental challenges, if we have the courage to change.
Both deep ecology and the yoga practices presented in this book are based on traditional knowledge (TK, also known as indigenous knowledge). What is shared among TK-based systems and practices is a holistic view of reality. Deep ecology, for example, is holistic because it is an integrated, “more than the sum of the parts” approach to how to live and care for all that is alive on earth. Yoga (and mindfulness) are holistic systems in that they unite body, mind, and inner wisdom in a contemplative way of life. Traditional knowledge (TK), having been tested over generations, is “constantly verified through repetition and verification, inference and prediction, empirical observations, and recognition of pattern events.”[vi] In traditional knowledge, we preserve knowledge that has proven benefit for humankind–only the behavior and beliefs that promote our tribe’s survival continue in practice over generations. Examples of TK include rituals marking major life stages, culturally specific forms of artistic expression, plant-based medicines, and ancient farming methods that have stood the test of time.
Science by definition is about breaking systems apart (that is, analysis) and seeing the interactions within the parts. Science speaks an analytical language based on the rational mind. It tests hypotheses through observation and experimentation, and draws conclusions from the results. As science claims objectivity, scientific findings can become abstracted from our daily reality, which is always based on wholes (for example, consider the experience of seeing a waterfall: it is a combination of sight, sound, smell, temperature, light, motion, surroundings – the experience of a waterfall is much different than just “water flowing down some rocks”). Science–by being a step removed and caught in its own seeking for objectivity–can end up walling itself off from nature, and disappearing into a realm where only experts can talk to each other. By its very claims of objectivity, scientifically “proven” approaches feel safer, more reliable, than the knowledge we gain through our own holistic experience, or that are passed down through generations as traditional knowledge.
In contrasting traditional and scientific knowledge, it’s tempting to see traditional knowledge as “good” because it is a unified perspective, it sees patterns and pieces always as parts of a whole. It’s equally tempting to see the scientific approach as “bad”: the result of humans separating themselves from the rest of the living world. We could almost say the scientific approach is based on a dissociation from the flow of human experience. We can get stuck in these polarities, but in truth each knowledge system is valuable and offers insights we need. And both systems change and evolve with time.
Now, in the explosion of interest in yoga and mindfulness, we’re witnessing the meeting of traditional knowledge based on engaged observation and honoring of the natural world, with growing scientific understanding. These two approaches — Science and TK — are not always contradictory, however. And even when there are contradictions, they can be helpful to our understanding. While one study may disprove the last, science advances to a greater degree of understanding causation and relationship over time. Similarly, even as humans moved from caves, to fields, and then to cities, there is a continuity and sometimes rediscovery of ancient wisdom embedded in tradition that holds value for human health and well-being.
The framework for this book – the loom upon which to weave these various threads is from psychologist Debra Rothschild’s article “The ‘Third Wave’ of Substance Use Treatment.”[vii] Her model is based on the notion of “waves” applied to the addiction treatment and recovery movement. The concept of waves in social movements is well-known from protests or the feminist movement. First waves of social change phenomena focus on the pioneers of a movement and their initial philosophies, which tend to emerge as a revolutionary change of thinking. The subsequent waves build on the first, refining or correcting aspects of the movement which bring in fresh thoughts and new generations of supporters. When we use the idea of waves, there is no longer a need to negate what has come before, and we can incorporate what’s useful from earlier waves.
Applying the concept of waves to addiction treatment and recovery, Rothschild describes the waves as the Moral Model (the 12-Step AA approach), the Disease Model (addiction is a disease and requires medical treatment), and the Harm Reduction Model (addiction is a chronic condition, and we can find ways to improve the lives of people with addictions). Based on this framework, I will delve into these first Three Waves – with some modifications – in Chapter 2.
In thinking about recovery waves, I compared Rothschild’s ideas to the trauma work of Bessel Van Der Kolk in The Body Keeps the Score,[viii] which documents his 30+ years of research and clinical practice at the Trauma Institute in Boston. He clearly makes the connection between traumatic experiences, whether in childhood or later in life, and addiction. (We will explore this connection in detail in a later chapter.) Van Der Kolk outlines three paths to trauma recovery:
Van Der Kolk spends much of the book exploring Bottom Up approaches as a major route to healing trauma. By combining cognitive and body-based therapies, and acknowledging that trauma underlies addiction, we see that sustained recovery must be based on treating the whole person. While we might seek transcendence through prayer or through a Higher Power, at the same time we are living life housed in our one human body. This mind/body suffers the pain of addiction, and it is this mind/body that can heal with the right combination of support, care, and method.
There is one more piece to the puzzle to crystalize the emerging Fourth Wave of addiction treatment and recovery, though. And it is this:
“How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the strongest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
Each thing –
each stone, blossom, child –
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in [our] hearts;
they have never left.
This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before [they] can fly.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
trans. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
In Rilke’s poem, he writes that we have separated ourselves from the earth’s intelligence: “Only we, in our arrogance, push out beyond what we each belong to for some empty freedom.” We are now witnessing clearly how modern life has torn the social and environmental fabric, so fully expressed in Macy’s Great Unravelling. We have been uprooted from our fundamental support – the earth that provides our air, food, and water – and so we end up lonely and isolated. We find ourself looking for ways to escape this pain, and may fall into addiction.
This work is a call to reconnect and re-identify with our embodied wisdom and that of the natural world around us. In Rilke’s words, to “trust our heaviness before we can fly.” The poem speaks of a deeply embodied way forward that is rooted in a shift of our primary identity as part of, and not separate from, all living systems. The way to reconnect is by placing ourselves in full contact with the growth cycles around us in nature. For decades, deep ecologists and environmentalists have been sounding the call to reimagine and reconnect the physical body to the tribal/mammalian “herd body.” We often think negatively of herd or tribal behaviors, and they can be limiting, but there is also a deep intelligence there that understands the interdependence of life, nourishment, and survival.
Most recovery specialists have not considered that these very connections to our biological, embodied and collective self are vital factors in addressing the struggle of addiction. Through regenerating our connection to the living systems around us, we can find an antidote to the trauma, fragmentation, and isolation that traps up in addiction. This is the movement we see in the Fourth Wave – Healing through Reconnection – that is starting to take shape now. The Table below summarizes the Four Recovery Waves that we will discuss throughout the rest of this book.
Harm Reduction Model
Healing through Reconnection Model
Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Multiple pathways to Recovery
Pragmatic not moral
Traditional knowledge -based practices, esp.
Yoga & Mindfulness
Root & Branch Yoga
|Focus||Individual with group||Individual with counselor||Individual, community, society||Individual, community, society, natural world|
|Time Period||1930s –||1990s –||2000s-|
(incorporating 5000+ years of traditional knowledge)
Community recovery centers
Community recovery centers
Holistic Treatment Centers
Out in nature
The Fourth Recovery Wave takes the next step forward from the Three Waves, toward healing in a holistic system. In the next chapters, we will explore this larger context through:
[i] For example, Levine, Peter A. Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma; How to Use the Wisdom of the Body to Heal Trauma – with Pat Ogden, PhD. Interview. https://www.nicabm.com/trauma-how-to-use-the-wisdom-of-the-body-to-heal-ptsd-and-trauma-with-pat-ogden-phd/; Porges, Stephen W. 2011. The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation. New York: WW Norton.
[iv] Brown, Molly and Joanna Macy. “Choosing the Story We Want for Our World.” https://workthatreconnects.org/choosing-the-story-we-want-for-our-world/
[v] Macy, Joanna and Molly Brown. Coming Back to Life.
[vi] Nicholas, Nicholas. “After Thousands of Years, Western Science Is Slowly Catching Up to Indigenous Knowledge,” Yes Magazine. Feb 26, 2018. https://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/after-thousands-of-years-western-science-is-slowly-catching-up-to-indigenous-knowledge-20180226
[vii] Rothschild, Debra PhD. “The ‘Third Wave’ of Substance Use Treatment.” February 2, 2015. https://www.thefix.com/content/third-wave-substance-use-treatment. While the author uses the term “Substance Use Treatment,” we will use the more inclusive term of “Addiction Recovery” in this book.
[viii] Van Der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books. 2015.