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As I’ve written before, Beth Macy has an extraordinary gift for encapsulating our nation’s greatest challenges in gripping, intimate, and wise stories of everyday American struggles. She is a bestselling author of several books about addiction, inequality, and justice, and it was a great pleasure to talk to her about her latest book, Raising Lazarus, on this latest episode of Flourishing After Addiction. On a personal note, I’ve enjoyed seeing this book take shape behind the scenes, and we get to talk about her writing and research process a bit too—I was lucky to make a connection with her early in the process of releasing my own book, so it was fun to talk about how our work has informed each other and how her thinking has evolved over time.In our conversation, Beth opens up about her personal experiences growing up as a child of alcoholics and what she did to heal—as she notes, something she’s never discussed in prior interviews. Of course, we also talk a fair bit about her book, including how this work is focused on what she sees as the most likely solutions to our current crisis. It’s a big departure for her and a full-throated celebration of harm reduction. We talk about the innovative people she profiles, folks working tirelessly to provide evidence-based care and harm reduction services even in really inhospitable communities and situations. It’s a daunting topic, but Beth has also found a great deal of hope there too.Beth Macy is a Virginia-based journalist with three decades of experience and an award-winning author of three New York Times bestselling books: Factory Man, Truevine, and Dopesick. Her first book, Factory Man, won a J. Anthony Lukas Prize and Dopesick was short-listed for the Carnegie Medal, won the L.A. Times Book Prize for Science and Technology, and was described as a “masterwork of narrative nonfiction” by The New York Times. Dopesick has now been made into a Peabody award-winning and Emmy-winning Hulu series on which she acted as an executive producer and cowriter. Her latest book, Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis, was published on August 16, 2022. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, and her personal website. In this episode:- The work of Gail D'Onofrio, MD, Professor of Emergency Medicine at Yale and pioneer in ED-initiated buprenorphine - Estimation of the Time Needed to Deliver the 2020 USPSTF Preventive Care Recommendations in Primary Care- Beth’s personal essay about her childhood on Oprah Daily- “By the book” interview with Beth- Beth’s guest essay in the New York Times: “The Two Simple Edicts of Successful Addiction Treatment”. Those edicts are: (1) “You can get better.” (2) “Don’t disappear.”- Link to all of Beth’s  books: Raising Lazarus, Dopesick, Truevine, and Factory ManSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
Dr. Ayana Jordan is a renowned expert in addiction and other mental health conditions, newly recruited to NYU to an endowed professorship for her fascinating research. For this episode of Flourishing After Addiction, I was excited to talk to her about new frontiers in her research, such as incorporating spirituality and health equity in addiction medicine. What I was not expecting was for her to share so openly and courageously about the way substance use problems have impacted her own family. It was a powerful conversation with a powerful voice in the field. It never fails to astonish me: the scope and reach of addiction into so many people's lives. Reading the stats is one thing, but to experience how it touches so many people, again and again, is truly striking.Ayana talks about her longstanding interest in integrating spirituality in addiction treatment, while simultaneously respecting people’s values and beliefs, and doing so in a responsible and effective way. We discuss her work on harm reduction, racial justice, and health equity. She helps us think through how to work effectively with the social and structural determinants of health. And, we tackle the controversial question: what's the point of spirituality in the medical treatment of addiction in the first place?Ayana Jordan, MD PhD, is a renowned expert in addiction and other mental health conditions in underserved populations. She is the newly appointed Barbara Wilson Endowed Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU, also with appointments and leadership positions in their department of Population Health, as well as NYU Langone’s Institute for Excellence in Health Equity. The fundamental message of equity and inclusion has informed her research, clinical work, and leadership duties at NYU and beyond. She earned her MD PhD at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and while training in the South Bronx, Dr. Jordan became passionate about serving racial and ethnic minoritized populations. She did her general adult psychiatry residency at Yale University, where she also served as chief resident. She has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles in numerous top-tier medical publications, serves on multiple editorial boards, and she is a thought leader who has given a wide range of keynote presentation both nationally and internationally. You can find her on her faculty page, Twitter, and Instagram.In this episode: - Information on naloxone (Narcan), including naloxone’s availability in all 50 states.- Lancet Psychiatry profile of her- for more on her research, see many more of her publications linked on her NYU pageSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
Dr. Jeffrey Guss sits at one of the most fascinating and unusual intersections in all of mental health: between psychoanalysis, addiction treatment, and psychedelic psychotherapy. I wanted to have someone on the show to talk more about the “paradigm-shifting” nature of psychedelic psychotherapy: what that means exactly, and at a macro level, how this kind of therapy might provide some perspective on our current paradigms, like other forms of psychotherapy or mutual help groups. I also know Jeff to be an expansive and enthusiastic teacher with great love for these subjects, so it was a delight to reconnect with him on this episode of Flourishing After addiction.Jeff talks about his own experience with psychedelics and what drew him to psychoanalysis and addiction. He gives cautions about people who point to Michael Pollan’s work and say, “I’ll have what he’s having” (a la Harry Met Sally). We also discuss the neuroscience of psychotherapy and the neuroscience of psychedelics, but we also talk about moving past the “chemical imbalance” or “broken brain” formulations of addiction to think more about spiritual and existential dimensions of treatment. And, Jeff gives his practical advice for anyone wondering about whether psychedelic psychotherapy is right for them, for addiction or otherwise--including some really important cautions. Jeffrey Guss, MD, is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and researcher with specializations in psychoanalytic therapy, addictions and psychedelic therapy. He was Co-Principal Investigator and Director of Psychedelic Therapy Training for the NYU School of Medicine’s study on psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of cancer related existential distress, as well as a study therapist on studies of psilocybin-assisted treatment of Major Depressive Disorder and MDMA-assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD. Dr. Guss is interested in the integration of psychedelic therapies with contemporary psychoanalytic theory and has published in Studies in Gender and Sexuality and Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society. He maintains a private practice in New York City.In this episode:- NYU Psychoanalytic Center- About sexual abuse in psychedelics: Psymposia ; Power Trip from Vox Media / New York Magazine ; CBC ; Psychedelic therapy has a sexual abuse problem- Albert Hoffman’s 100th birthday conference - Dr. Steve Ross’s  psychedelic research - Natural Mind, by Andrew Weil – (Preface and Chapter 1 free online) - Psilocybin for Alcohol Use Disorder trial at NYU- Fischman article: Seeing Without a Self- FluenceSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
Melissa Febos is one of our most accomplished memoirists and essayists, a passionate and fiercely honest writer who, across several of her works, has often discussed her own path through addiction and into recovery. (Among her many, many accolades, she is the recipient of a 2022 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and a National Book Critics Circle Award.) I was thrilled to talk with her on this latest episode of Flourishing After Addiction and learn more about this harrowing and inspiring part of her life.There are so many gems in this episode. We talk about Melissa's experience of addiction and how she works her recovery program today . We discuss how her creative practice is part of that recovery; how evaluation, performance, and internal and external criticism was problematic for her; and how writing helped her in recovery. How her definition of recovery expanded over time. How she had to write to survive, and then to thrive. Whether you're interested in the craft of writing, or just how to craft a life, you shouldn't miss this one.Melissa Febos is the bestselling author of four books, most recently, Girlhood, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from The Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, LAMBDA Literary, The British Library, and others. Her work has appeared in publications including The Paris Review, Granta, The Believer, The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, and many more.She is an associate professor at the University of Iowa. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, her faculty page and her author website. In this episode: - her books:      Whip Smart     Abandon Me     Girlhood     Body Work Some of her recent longform: - "The Kindest Cut" in the New York Times Magazine- “Jeanette Winterson, My Therapist, and Me” in the New York Review of Books-  Girlhood excerpt in the New York Times-  “Do You Want to Be Known For Your Writing, or For Your Swift Email Responses?” in CatapultAlso mentioned:  Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother’s Hands and The Quaking of AmericaSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
From quite early in her life, Peg O’Connor felt a “double dose of shame” - from her lesbian identity on one hand, and her struggles with alcohol on the other. Her drinking problems almost got her expelled from high school, but instead she was able to stop. In her view, philosophy helped her immensely to get and stay sober, especially considering how she was not fully on board with traditional religious views or with Alcoholics Anonymous.Peg eventually became a philosophy professor, studying Wittgenstein, ethics, and feminist philosophy, and for decades she remained abstinent from alcohol. But then, 19 years into her recovery, searching for “something more,” she got more curious about 12-step recovery. At the same time, she turned her academic focus to face addiction more directly, and since then she has been writing about some of the most challenging ideas about recovery, such as surrender, powerlessness, spirituality, and “higher powers.”For this episode of Flourishing After Addiction, I was excited to speak with Peg about her most recent book, Higher and Friendly Powers, a compulsively readable, clear, and humane exploration of the notion of “Higher Powers,” using the philosopher and psychologist William James as a guide. It’s great fun. I hope you enjoy.Peg O'Connor is Professor of Philosophy at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Higher and Friendly Powers: Transforming Addiction and Suffering (Wildhouse Publications) and Life on the Rocks: Finding Meaning in Addiction and Recovery (Central Recovery Press, 2016). A recovering alcoholic, she believes philosophy has much to offer people who struggle. You can find her at her faculty page and her author website (<-- you can pre-order her book there!).In this episode: - The book Writing the Big Book (re: Hank Parkhurst) - Ralph Waldo Emerson on nature, morality, and transcendence- Talking Heads: Once in a Lifetime- "The First Lady" on Showtime- review- {not for the faint of heart!] The Dave Robicheaux murder mysteries.- the quote from my book, from the director of a treatment center in 1988: “Patients ask how important it is that they go to AA after they’re through here. I say, ‘I can give you a guarantee. When you leave here, if you don’t go to AA, you won’t make it.’” (page 249) Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
One important vision I have for this podcast is to share diverse experiences of addiction and recovery. How people write about it, yes, but even more importantly, the nitty gritty of how they made sense of their own addiction and found their way to recovery. Today’s guest, Holly Whitaker, is a fierce, passionate, and incisive writer who has charted an adventurous path out of eating disorders and addiction.Holly is perhaps best known for her 2019 book, Quit Like a Woman, and she also got a lot of attention around that time for a controversial New York Times opinion piece called "The Patriarchy of Alcoholics Anonymous." We talk about her own experience of addiction and recovery, how 12-step recovery saved her life at first, but then how she charted a course to a different pathway. We discuss the complicated matter of distinguishing between the program of AA and the institutions around AA—and, what it was like to write openly about all this. Beyond that, it’s a wide-ranging and really energizing talk: anorexia and bulimia and their relationship to addiction in her experience. How striving after money and status, or craving after partnership and connection, can be related to addiction. Her changing perspective on what recovery means to her—from control and just stopping, to something more. The good and the bad of “self-improvement”, and the urgent need for and a vision for holistic recovery. I am grateful for the way she shares her experience so openly, and I hope it is useful to you.Holly Whitaker is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol. Her work has been featured in Vogue, New York Times, Time, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and many others. Holly focuses on the intersections of systems, culture, and individual experience and identity through the lens of addiction and recovery. She was also founder and CEO of Tempest (formerly Hip Sobriety), a virtual platform that offered education, community, and support services. She has a newsletter here and a podcast called Quitted. Learn more at her website, and find her on Instagram.In this episode: - Neil Gaiman on writing: “The moment that you feel that just possibly you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself, that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”- Two classic pieces came to my mind about the topic of AA vs the institutions around AA: William White and Ernest Kurtz on “The Varieties of AA and Recovery Experience” and Ernest Kurtz on ““Whatever Happened to Twelve Step Programs?”- Allan Carr’s “Easyway” books, e.g., Quit Drinking Without Willpower - Internal Family Systems therapy- press release about TempestSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
Taking care of our relationships is a crucial way we take care of ourselves and the wider world. Some of the most common questions I get in my clinical practice and from listeners are questions about how to navigate relationships in addiction and recovery: couples, parents and kids, or otherwise. So I wanted to have a clinically focused episode about this important issue, and it was my great pleasure to talk with my good friend and wise colleague, Dr. Bevin Campbell, a psychotherapist who focuses on relationships, addiction, and recovery.Bevin has particular expertise in and passion for working with couples, but as you’ll hear, we cover issues that are important for all human relationships, in families, at work, and beyond. We discuss the tricky distinction between seeing addiction as “caused” by relationship problems versus stepping back and getting perspective on the bigger cycles--i.e., situating the addiction as part of a system. We explore other, everyday addictions and how they affect relationships, such as compulsive internet use, working, gaming, or otherwise. She gives some extremely useful tips about anger and avoidance, grief and trauma, and power and coercion. And we reflect on that vexing question that, for better or for worse, so many people have in these situations: “how do I get my loved one to change?”Bevin Campbell, Psy.D., is a psychologist interested in all things related to love and attachment, from the challenges of staying emotionally connected to a partner to the pain of grief and loss. She sees couples in her Brooklyn-based practice, and is also a consultant to New York City agencies and community based organizations on understanding grief and loss and supporting bereaved community members. In addition to her clinical and consulting work she supervises and teaches psychologists in training. Follow her on Twitter or see her clinical website here.In this episode:- Attachment: An Essential Guide for Science-Based Practice (partially free online)- There is a "sweet spot" for maternal responsiveness, and responding perfectly to our child's needs isn't best for optimal development: “Maternal responsiveness and sensitivity reconsidered: Some is more” - CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) therapy, developed by Robert Meyers - ...which draws on the Community Reinforcement Approach- Salvador Mnuchin- Michael Zentman- Beatrice Beebe- Donald Winnicott- A good article in The Atlantic about several of these topics. Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
Dr. Mark Epstein is a hero of mine. He is a Buddhist psychiatrist and author who has been a voice of kindness and wisdom in our field for decades, and I’ve long looked to his work for inspiration and guidance. So it was an honor to speak with him for this episode of the Flourishing After Addiction podcast!Mark does not have a personal history of a “classic” addiction like a substance problem, but as he articulates so nicely in our interview: “from the Buddhist point of view, we’re all addicted.” We talk about addiction to thinking, addiction to the self as the primary addiction, and how Mark worked with his own anxieties and insecurities—a path that led him to psychiatric training at Harvard, almost 50 years of meditation practice, and many influential books at the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy. (There were so many fun surprises in this interview, such as Mark’s training with George Vaillant at Harvard, a giant of psychiatric research and a non-alcoholic member of the board of trustees of Alcoholics Anonymous.) In particular, we focus on his fantastic new book, The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life. It’s a lovely account of meditation practice, therapy, recovery, ease, and working with the self. Mark Epstein, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and the author of a number of books about the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy, including Advice Not Given, The Trauma of Everyday Life, Thoughts without a Thinker and Going to Pieces without Falling Apart. His newest book, out now, is The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University. For more, check out his website, and you can find him on Instagram and Twitter.In this episode:- Mark's most recent book: The Zen of Therapy (also discussed: Advice Not Given)- George Vaillant (a summary of his book, The Natural History of Alcoholism)- A fun book about Ram Dass and others at Harvard, The Harvard Psychedelic Club ("How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America")- Gestalt therapy- More on the Emmanuel Clinic - a repository of several articles on the early 20th century, pre-Freudian psychotherapy in the US that reported great success in working with alcoholism. (I like this article in particular)- Revenge bedtime procrastination Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
With so much suffering today, and in the midst of a historic overdose crisis, you might wonder: why bother looking to the distant past of addiction? How can the history of addiction actually help us? For me, I found that I needed history to make sense of what happened to me and my family. After studying addiction for a little while, I saw that ideas dating from the origin of the global drug trade, hundreds of years ago, exert a powerful influence on how we understand and treat—or still fail to treat—addiction.  Today, I’m convinced that this history is a crucial route for giving addiction the care, nuance, and attention it deserves. But in the beginning, I needed some help from thoughtful scholars to see those connections.In today’s episode of the Flourishing After Addiction podcast, I was really happy to talk with my friend and colleague Ben Breen, a noted historian at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who studies the history of science and drugs. Many years ago, it was Ben’s help, and his living example of wholehearted devotion to the field, that helped me to see the promise of this history for helping us in the present.We talk about how ideas about drugs from the colonial period onward have shaped how we think about good and bad drugs—and so much more. He sketches the deep history of psychedelics, from the Amazon rainforest to the overlooked early history of psychedelic therapy. Drug scares about coffee. Cinnamon, tobacco, and unicorn horns. “Dry goods,” bath salts, and decriminalization. Imperialism, capitalism, and cosmopolitanism. How opium was turned into an exotic substance despite originating from Europe. And generally, how all these ideas come back to the present to affect how people make sense of themselves and their suffering.Benjamin Breen, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he teaches classes on early modern Europe, the history of science, environmental history, and world history. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University, and a lecturer in Columbia’s history department. He grew up in California and earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of Texas at Austin in 2015. He is the author of The Age of Intoxication: Origins of the Global Drug Trade, and he is currently at work on a new history of “psychedelic science” and Cold War drug experimentation. He has contributed to The Paris Review, The Atlantic,  Lapham’s Quarterly, and many more publications. He also created the history blog Res Obscura. For more, check out his website and find him on Twitter.In this episode:- George Psalmanazar, a mysterious Frenchman who posed as a native of Formosa (now Taiwan) and gave birth to a meticulously fabricated culture... and who also provided remarkably detailed descriptions of opioid addiction as early as 1764 - Decriminalization in Santa Cruz.- Mike Jay's new book on Mescaline- Khat and cathinones Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings. 
How do we best tap into the positive side of recovery, beyond abstinence, sobriety, and remission? What does the science actually show about growing and changing in life after addiction?There is perhaps no one better equipped to answer those questions than my guest on today’s episode of the Flourishing After Addiction podcast: Dr. John Kelly, Harvard Medical School’s Elizabeth R. Spallin Professor of Psychiatry in Addiction Medicine, and founder and Director of the Recovery Research Institute at the Massachusetts General Hospital. John is a pivotal figure in the world of this research, studying not just what goes wrong and how to stop addictive behavior, but also how people find their pathways and thrive in recovery. In this episode, we talk about the “active ingredients” or “mechanisms” for recovery, what drives people’s trajectories in recovery, what the research shows about how long it takes to make significant change once someone starts making an effort, and what all this research shows about how to best care for people with addiction and what we must improve in our current treatment system. We also talk a bit about his research on Alcoholics Anonymous and what that shows about the active elements of recovery.John Kelly, Ph.D., is the Elizabeth R. Spallin Professor of Psychiatry in Addiction Medicine at Harvard Medical School - the first endowed professor in addiction medicine at Harvard. He is also the Founder and Director of the Recovery Research Institute at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the Associate Director of the Center for Addiction Medicine (CAM) at MGH, and the Program Director of the Addiction Recovery Management Service (ARMS). Dr. Kelly is a former President of the American Psychological Association's (APA) Society of Addiction Psychology, and is a Fellow of the APA and a Diplomate of the American Board of Professional Psychology. He has served as a consultant to U.S. federal agencies and non-federal institutions, as well as foreign governments and the United Nations. Dr. Kelly has published over 200 peer-reviewed articles, reviews, chapters, and books in the field of addiction medicine, and was an author on the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. His clinical and research work has focused on addiction treatment and the recovery process, mechanisms of behavior change, and reducing stigma and discrimination among individuals suffering from addiction. For more on John and his work, go to https://www.recoveryanswers.org.In this episode: - A nice blog post by John about the many pathways to recovery. - "A biaxial formulation of the recovery construct", with remission/abstinence/sobriety on one axis, and the positive consequences of recovery on the other. - The 2020 Cochrane Review on Alcoholics Anonymous and 12-Step Facilitation Treatments for Alcohol Use Disorder. A summary of that work here. - many more briefs of research studies available here.Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
A lot of us folks in recovery have big collections of self-help and memoir books, and with good reason. Books give us solace, they help us see how other people deal with similar challenges, they are a source of community through contact with other minds, and, as articulated by Eva Hagberg, this week’s guest on the Flourishing After Addiction podcast, books, and particularly memoirs, are a way of trying on different “moral selves.” Eva is an author who has written beautifully about her own addiction and recovery in her  memoir, How to be Loved. It’s an honest and raw account that includes her experiences with chronic medical conditions, grief, loss, romances, and friendship. In this episode, we talk about being seen and wanting to be known, the creative process, what she has learned from memoirs—addiction and otherwise—and her own experience with different varieties of 12-step recovery. And, with my own book coming out soon, she gives me some great advice about focusing on what matters most. Eva Hagberg is an author, cultural and architectural historian, architecture critic, speaker, and more. Her critically-acclaimed memoir, How to Be Loved, is out now from Mariner Books. In a fun twist, we also talk about an unexpected set of connections between recovery and architecture, related to her next project: a biography of Aline Louchheim Saarinen, forthcoming from Princeton University Press.  She teaches at Columbia University in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, and at Bard College in the Language & Thinking Program. She lives in Brooklyn. Find her at her website, or on Twitter.In this episode: - Ira Glass on the “taste gap:” “Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you”- Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart, Girlhood, Abandon Me, and Body Work. - A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance, by Jane Juska- Dani Shapiro, author of Slow Motion, Devotion, Inheritance, and other books. - The sociologist Robin Room analyzing codependency and Adult Children of Alcoholics, in the context of other 12-step thinking: Alcoholics Anonymous as a Social Movement - Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life - Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, by Peter CameronSign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
As Ram Dass once said, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” I’m thinking about this quote as many of us are grappling with the Omicron variant and trying to make the most of this winter break. This time of year can be hard for everyone, and I’m also thinking about all of us in recovery who have difficult family histories, for whom the holiday season might bring up difficult or outright traumatic memories. During this challenging time, I wanted to have an episode that was hopeful and full of practical teachings about both meditative and recovery practices. So I’m very grateful that I had the chance to sit down with Gary Sanders.Gary is a Buddhist teacher, person in recovery, and a joyful and energizing presence. As we discuss, he has had to practice deeply to get there. After an emotionally and physically abusive childhood, Gary was caught up in addiction, then embarked on a long road of exploring different mutual help approaches to recovery. From AA, to secular groups, to multiple Buddhist mutual help groups, Gary has explored several pathways to recovery. We discuss his path, his meditation practice, psychedelics, and how he needed more than extraordinary states of consciousness as part of his recovery. We also talk at length about metta (lovingkindness), and how lovingkindness practices were a central part of his recovery from addiction and trauma. I found our conversation calming and inspiring, and I hope you do too.Gary Sanders is a teacher at Portland Insight Meditation Community in the lineage of Ruth Denison, in the Burmese lineage of Vipassana Buddhism. For more information, check out the PIMC website and their Facebook page. He can also be found as a regular contributor to The Tattooed Buddha, and Gary's website (though under construction at the moment) has a great repository of some guided meditations and teachings: Boundless Heart Dharma.In this episode: - The Buddhist Recovery Network - 8-step Recovery, an alternative recovery program using Buddhist teachings. - Secular Organizations for Sobriety , "a nonprofit network of autonomous, non-professional local groups, dedicated solely to helping individuals achieve and maintain sobriety/abstinence from alcohol and drug addiction, food addiction and more." - Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, the classic book by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi - Spirit Rock Statement on allegations of rape, sexual harassment and other misconduct we discussed. - The Jhanas: “mental or meditative absorption,” “a set of states of deep and subtle concentration focused on a single object.” - Lovingkindness: the classic book by Sharon Salzberg - A Zen translation of the Metta sutra - My interview with Kevin Griffin, episode 3 of this podcast.Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
What happens when we define ourselves in terms of group memberships? How does culture and society affect our capacity for self-control and self-regulation? Why does the toxic binary of “us” versus “them” seem to be so powerful these days? How can we instead use our shared identities to improve our wellbeing and work toward harmony and flourishing?  My guest for this episode of Flourishing After Addiction is Dr. Jay Van Bavel, a social psychology researcher who studies questions like these in his Social Identity and Morality Lab at NYU. “From neurons to social networks,” he investigates how culture and group identities influence our feelings, self-control, and even our sense of morality. We talk about the relevance of his work for addiction and recovery: how to harness his findings to work toward personal change, why to be skeptical of the usual narrative about self-control, and the urgent need to wake up to the “gravitational pull” of social groups.    Jay Van Bavel, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Psychology & Neural Science at New York University, an affiliate at the Stern School of Business in Management and Organizations, and Director of the Social Identity & Morality Lab. He is the co-author of “The Power of Us: Harnessing Our Shared Identities to Improve Performance, Increase Cooperation, and Promote Social Harmony." Find him on Twitter, and see more at his personal page, his lab website, and his book website. In this episode: - See this page on Jay’s lab website for his publications -note in particular Jay’s research on maple syrup, and what that means for the relationship between food and identity - Against Willpower, my article about why we should be skeptical about the usual model of self-control - Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages, and Well-Being. George A. Akerlof and Rachel E. Kranton - Conspirituality: “a neologism portmanteau describing the overlap of conspiracy theories with spirituality”. - Ward, Charlotte and Voas, David (2011) ‘The Emergence of Conspirituality’, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 26(1): 103-121.  - See also the Conspirituality podcast by Julian Walker, Matthew Remski, and Derek Beres: “A weekly study of converging right-wing conspiracy theories and faux-progressive wellness utopianism.” - Jay on polarization in the Guardian: The big idea: are we really so polarised? - My interview with addiction recovery advocate Ryan Hampton on ideology and recovery Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
Owen Flanagan is a philosopher who has long studied topics like consciousness, neuroscience, morality, and responsibility. But early in his career, even while racking up accolades for his pathbreaking work, drinking was already taking hold of his life. Things took a dramatic turn in the 1990s when a brain tumor and a medication reaction sent him over the edge. Today, Owen is a distinguished philosopher at Duke who is also in recovery. For the past decade or so, he’s been writing about his experience with addiction and connecting it to his long-running work on philosophy of mind and ethics. I’m grateful that he agreed to meet with me and share so openly about his personal history of addiction and recovery, including how he had to work with shame in order to overcome his addiction. We also discuss his latest book, in which he argues that shame has a crucial function in moral development, and that there are ways of working with healthy and mature forms of shame to promote positive values and flourishing—an idea with significant relevance to addiction.Owen Flanagan, Ph.D., is James B. Duke University Professor of Philosophy at Duke University, where he also holds appointments in psychology and neurobiology, is a Faculty Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience, and a steering committee member of the "Philosophy, Arts, and Literature" program. He studies philosophy of mind, cognitive science, contemporary ethical theory, moral psychology, as well as Buddhist and Hindu conceptions of the self. He is author of many articles and books, most recently How to Do Things With Emotions.In this episode: - One of Owen’s key articles about addiction: The Shame of Addiction - For more on Owen’s story, see this great chapter by the writer John Horgan- Books on the history of AA: Not-God, and Writing the Big Book - Some perspectives on addiction we mention: Intertemporal bargaining in addiction, George Ainslie; Gene Heyman: Addiction: A Disorder of Choice; Hanna Pickard's work. - The classic piece What is it like to be a bat, by Thomas NagelSign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
Ryan Hampton, an alumnus of the Clinton White House, had an up-and-coming career in politics until the early 2000s, when he became addicted to OxyContin, then heroin. After he entered recovery in 2015, he became a prominent advocate on addiction issues, from community-based organizing to national activities, such as helping to release the first-ever U.S. Surgeon General’s report on addiction.More recently, Ryan came face-to-face again with Purdue Pharma—the infamous manufacturer and marketer of OxyContin, controlled by the billionaire Sackler family. Purdue filed for bankruptcy in 2019 to protect itself from thousands of lawsuits, and Ryan became the co-chair of the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors (U.C.C.), a powerful watchdog group that represented thousands of victims with claims against Purdue during the bankruptcy. Just a couple of months ago, the judge in the bankruptcy case signed off on a controversial settlement, granting the family immunity from future liability in exchange for a $4.5 billion payout. The day before the judge approved the deal, Ryan resigned. I sat down to talk with Ryan Hampton about his experiences in the case, which he describes in his new book: Unsettled: How the Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy Failed the Victims of the American Overdose Crisis. We get personal, and he opened up about the way the case impacted his own recovery, and what he did to cope. We also discuss the insider details of the case, as well as how Ryan’s view of the problem evolved over time—how the case revealed to him that the problem is much bigger than the Sacklers or Purdue, and how it was an education in the deeper roots of the overdose and addiction crises. We talk about the relationship between advocacy and personal recovery, finding meaning and purpose in working for change, and what Ryan sees as the way forward after a dispiriting couple of years. I found it a wonderful lesson in working for change without succumbing to despair, as well as a stimulating discussion about what kind of change we need most today.Find Ryan at his website, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. His organization is The Recovery Advocacy Project (RAP), a network of people and organizations across the country advocating for addiction recovery policies.In this episode: - How Ryan went from homeless and addicted to a nationally recognized advocate. (See his first book, American Fix) - Burnout, and burnout as more than depleted energy or rest—how facing injustice can be a part of it. (For one piece on burnout and moral injury in physicians, which bears comparison, see this article.) - Rigidity, ideology, and stigma within the recovery community, and how it hampers advocacy - The crucial element of choice in recovery advocacy  - What exactly went on in the Purdue bankruptcy case? (see also this New Yorker article discussing Ryan’s work) - how State governments were not always allies in the Purdue case - A major shift in Ryan's thinking and values: his realization about how much deeper the crisis was than Purdue or the Sacklers. - Ryan’s thoughts about how to work for change today.Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
In mental health treatment today, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is nothing less than a sensation, and some of the most promising results are in addiction treatment. Droves of people—from researchers and clinicians to underground shamans and private funders—are hailing the re-emergence of psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA,  ayahuasca, and ketamine as a “renaissance.” But despite the hype and money being funneled in this direction, big questions remain. What do these substances actually do? How should we use them? And from a broader perspective, how are we supposed to integrate them into our existing, troubled systems?   Dr. Elias Dawkar is an addiction psychiatrist and psychiatric researcher at Columbia on the frontlines of investigating these questions. He has combined ketamine infusions with mindfulness-based relapse prevention and other addiction therapies and found some stunning rates of recovery. Despite being an accomplished scientist, though, Elias is no reductionist—a clinician and a committed meditation practitioner himself, he has a refreshingly nuanced and integrative perspective on the use of psychedelics. For him, addiction is just one manifestation of deeper efforts to free oneself from a “primordial suffering,” and he offers psychedelics in that spirit: “an opportunity for having the freedom the freedom they were looking for in the first place. The freedom, within themselves, from suffering.” In fact, he also has serious qualms about some of the ways psychedelics are being fit into medicine and the marketplace. Elias Dakwar, M.D., is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, where he is also affiliated with the Columbia Center for Healing of Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders (CHOSEN). After completing a fellowship in Addiction Psychiatry at Columbia, he began studying the use of ketamine infusions combined with mindfulness training to treat cocaine use disorders. He is now a principal investigator on several large grants evaluating ketamine for the treatment of opioid use disorder, cocaine use disorder, and alcohol use disorder. His work has been published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Harvard Review of Psychiatry, Biological Psychiatry, and other major scientific journals.  In this episode:  - Elias speaking at the Horizons Conference in New York City. - The connections between psychedelics and other contemplative practices, like vipassana, Vedic mantra-based meditation, and Zen meditation, and how Elias brings mind-body practices into his clinical work. - Elias’s perspective on recovery and addiction, and making sense of addiction as just one manifestation of a process of suffering. - Albert Hoffman’s storied “Bicycle Day”, the first recorded LSD trip. (a cool illustration here) - The Immortality Key, a historical investigation into the role psychedelics have played in the origins of Western civilization- The pitfalls of psychedelics: at the individual level, attachment to experience and reifying the trip itself. At the social level, how overmedicalization can miss out on cultural and community renewal as part of flourishing.  Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
Flourishing after addiction requires flourishing for all. The public health of addiction and recovery has several important lessons, not just how to respond to the overdose crisis, but also, and more concretely, how to think holistically about addiction and all the factors that support someone’s recovery. How to protect the mental health of ourselves, our families, and our broader communities, now and for generations to come.Dr. Wilnise Jasmin is a family medicine doctor and leader in the city of Chicago’s public health system, where in addition to battling COVID-19, she directs the city’s Behavioral Health program. A crucial focus of her work is the opioid overdose epidemic, which disproportionately affects Black residents and is one of the drivers of an 8.8-year life expectancy gap between Black and White Chicagoans. But despite a brutal 2020 and 2021, as overdose rates soared across the country, the Chicago Department of Public Health actually reported a decrease in opioid-related deaths in the first half of 2021. In this episode, we talk more about how they managed this feat, and what those practices and approaches have to teach us about addiction and recovery.Wilnise Jasmin, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., is the Medical Director of Behavioral Health at the Chicago Department of Public Health. She is part of the leadership team responsible for the city’s initiatives in the areas of violence prevention, substance use and prevention, and mental health. She specializes in both Preventive Medicine (Public Health)—which she studied at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—and Family Medicine, having trained at the Cook County-Loyola Family Medicine Residency Program, where she served as a Chief Resident. She is also a fellow in the University of California-Irvine Primary Care in Psychiatry program, and she serves as the Chair for the American College of Preventive Medicine's Annual Conference's Population Health and Health Systems track. You can learn more about how Chicago is fighting opioid overdose deaths at http://www.overcomeopioids.org, and connect with Dr. Jasmin on Twitter @wilnisej.In this episode:  - Naloxone (Narcan) in vending machines (and for a brief account and photo of a similar vending machine program in Las Vegas, look here).- How Chicago worked on outreach with community groups to ameliorate a rise in suicides and overdoses--including how to forge authentic connections and dismantle stigma.- Dr. Jasmin’s most important message for addressing stigma: not to say someone is broken or hammer on “disease” language, but to break down false divisions. "Substance use is not a 'them' problem. The face of substance use? You simply have to look in the mirror to see what someone with a substance use issue could look like. It could be anyone." - One important way to prevent addiction: “Health in All” policies, a broader way of looking at all the many factors that influence health beyond traditional healthcare.Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
For decades, clinicians have used mindfulness-based interventions to treat stress, physical pain, and mental disorders. But there’s more to meditation than “mindfulness” alone, and the next wave of researchers in this field is still working out how to incorporate other practices from the wisdom traditions that gave rise to mindfulness-based treatment in the first place.Dr. Eric Garland is a clinical researcher who has devoted his life to developing a novel mind-body therapy called Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE), which combines mindfulness with other practices and exercises to promote a greater sense of well-being and even self-transcendence as part of the recovery process. His work has strong evidence for efficacy in treating not just addiction, but also chronic pain.Eric Garland PhD, LCSW, is the Distinguished Endowed Chair in Research and Distinguished Professor and Associate Dean for Research at the University of Utah College of Social Work, where he is also the director of the Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development (C-MIIND). He has received over $60 million in federal grants to develop and test novel integrative health interventions, including trials of MORE as a treatment for opioid problems, opioid use disorder, and chronic pain. His website is www.drericgarland.com, and you can find him on Twitter. In this episode: - The three pillars of Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement, including “reappraisal”—skills for disengaging from and reframing negative thoughts—and “savoring”—using focused attention training to tune in to natural reward.- The use of self-transcendence as a clinical intervention, including evidence about how even folks with severe problems can tap into a sense of transcendence and experience significant symptom relief.- The challenges of “McMindfulness,” and how Eric thinks about doing mechanistic research on mindfulness without totally abandoning ethics, values, and meaning. (see David Loy and Ron Purser’s essay on McMindfulness here)- A central question for his biological research: "how do you restore the healthy function of the reward system, so the brain re-leans what is and what is not important in life? what is and is not meaningful in life?"- Eric’s counterintuitive approach to working with chronic pain by going directly into the heart of pain—and how this applies to mental pain such as craving.- How to get from mindfulness to meaning—how certain types of mindfulness practice can lead to an enduring sense of meaning and purpose Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new material and other writings.
This episode’s interview is with Kevin Griffin, a Buddhist teacher who has trained with some of the leading Western Vipassana teachers—including Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, and Ajahn Amaro—and who himself is a leader in the mindful recovery movement. Kevin is one of the founders of the Buddhist Recovery Network, an organization that promotes the use of Buddhist teachings and practices for recovery and is respectful of all recovery paths. As we discuss, Kevin’s own path includes 12-step recovery, and for him, recovery is something that demands a spiritual life. A great deal of his teaching and writing is focused on integrating Buddhism and recovery, so I was eager to talk to him about what those teachings have to say not just about addiction recovery but also about flourishing in general. We talk about the notion of addiction as a fundamental human quality, from the perspective of Buddhist teachings, and how in Kevin's view the spiritual path of that recovery—from addiction or just from general human grasping and clinging—demands much more than mindfulness and meditation.Kevin has been in recovery for 36 years and practicing Buddhist meditation since 1980; he is the author of One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps and several other books on Buddhism and recovery. He offers weekly classes on Zoom, has an extensive YouTube channel of his recorded teachings, and hosts a Facebook page on Buddhism and recovery. More information is at his website: www.kevingriffin.net In this episode: - How his own spiritual search became warped, and how he needed to face his drug and alcohol use more directly rather than use spiritual practices to escape his pain.- Recovery as “much more than lifestyle—it becomes a life, a foundational way of living your life. We are trying to cultivate spiritual qualities which will become part of our entire life, and infiltrate every aspect of our lives". - Mindfulness and meditation, not to “solve” one’s own pain, but to face pain more effectively.- How he makes sense of 12-step ideas like “higher power” and faith in a non-theistic way.- The role of ethical and moral training as a practical set of spiritual tools on the way to flourishing. The law of karma as the power of cause and effect and his conviction that there is a moral fabric in the universe.- His reflections on working with despair and doubt during troubled times.- The need for justice work as a part of recovery: "in order to heal and grow, we have to take in the pain of our past." (see also Bhikkhu Bodhi’s essay, A Challenge to Buddhists, which Kevin mentions:  “The special challenge facing Buddhism in our age is to stand up as an advocate for justice in the world, a voice of conscience for those victims of social, economic, and political injustice who cannot stand up and speak for themselves.”) Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new material and other writings. 
Roughly 35 years ago, harm reduction saved Maia Szalavitz’s life. It was 1986 in the East Village, and though Maia was an Ivy League kid who read two newspapers a day, she had no idea that her regular intravenous heroin use put her at risk for HIV. Thanks to a chance encounter, though, Maia learned about some simple harm reduction practices that helped her stay alive through that deadly epidemic.In the years since, Maia has become an award-winning author and journalist well-known for covering addiction, neuroscience, and harm reduction. Her most recent book, Undoing Drugs, is a sweeping, ambitious, yet tightly plotted and fast-paced history of harm reduction, ranging across the globe to tell a vivid history of harm reduction as a revolutionary movement. I was lucky to have her on the podcast to talk about the story of harm reduction, the elements that she argues makes it a truly revolutionary paradigm, and how her own lived experience with addiction and a drive for justice has motivated her work.Maia Szalavitz is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, which received the 2018 media award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Her earlier book, Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids, was the first to expose the damage caused by the “tough love” business that dominates youth treatment and helped spur Congressional hearings on the matter. She has also authored or co-authored six other books, including the classic on child trauma, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog (with Bruce. D. Perry). Her numerous essays and features have appeared from High Times to the New York Times. Her latest book, Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction, is available now. Her website is https://maiasz.com/ and you can find her on TwitterIn this episode: - A simple yet powerful indictment of our current situation: “You can’t criminalize and destigmatize something at the same time"- Her definition of harm reduction, and how harm reduction goes beyond concrete practices to notions of justice.- How to think about coercion in addiction treatment, and how her own experience showcases the excesses and harms of the criminal legal system today. (See also her piece on the history of “tough-love” and its roots in a bizarre cult from decades ago)  - How harm reduction is not in conflict with traditional 12-step recovery, and her stories of early harm reduction pioneers who were also active in 12-step recovery. (see also this oral history with Richard Elovich, as well as “25 years of AIDS”, a great panel discussion from 2006 featuring Allan Clear and several others—including Larry Kramer sparring with Tony Fauci)- The need for an ACT UP for people with addiction- The ways activism is part of flourishing in recovery: “"you have less space in your head to be obsessing about the drugs all the time when you're working on the activism" (about VANDU, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users)- What the Biden administration is getting right about harm reduction, and what it’s missing. Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new material and other writings.
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