That’s a great question.
I can only answer from one (former? recovering? recovered?) addict’s perspective. And trust me, you’re probably not going to like this story one bit.
The programs that have been developed under the Integral Recovery banner aren’t ones that I can speak to. I have been a lone wolf for most of my own individual, “integrally informed”, recovery process, now in its 18th year.
That’s probably a good thing from the perspective of anyone wanting a poster child for marketing a program called Integral Recovery™. You see, my idiosyncratic approach to addictions recovery has been not only been unconventional by the standards of the mainstream recovery world, but also by the standards established by the Integral Recovery texts.
It couldn’t have been any other way. Let’s see, how can I approach this topic with just enough autobiographical information to establish context without getting bogged down in details that will not be relevant to most of you?
Allow me to give you a hypothetical 60-second “share” that I might offer in a 12-step meeting.
Hello. My name is Pablo. (Because who wants to be a plain, ordinary, Joe?)
I’m an addict in my 18th year of recovery.
I’m still an addict, by your standards.
Yes, I’ve worked the 12 Steps. I’ve gone to meetings. I’ve gotten a sponsor. Did i say I’ve worked the steps? I’ve gotten into therapy.
I did all those things because I wanted love and acceptance. My addiction was largely a replacement for the love and acceptance I didn’t have in my life, and I thought if I did all the usual things that this Anonymous program said I should, I could get it.
But I was never an alcohol or drug addict in the sense that other people seem to identify with. I was physiologically addicted for a short time, yes, but eventually that faded, leaving only the scars of memory of cocaine and methamphetamine that linger like welts and bruises from an abusive ex-boyfriend. They do heal.
But drug use was really just a crutch at a time in my life when I was most vulnerable and desperate to feel happiness like a good person should. I only used for a few years, and then I resolved to never use again. And then I used again. This went on for several months, as my 29th year matured, and eventually my drug use led to a mental health crisis and spiritual breakdown.
You can read about it in my autobiography. Literally. I wrote a book in which this stuff sets the stage; how my life almost ended in disaster because of the bad decisions I made, and how I only made it through these tough times by finding a new organizational principle for my life. What worked for me, upon my 30th birthday, was a commitment to find a spiritual path that I could step into with both feet.
I realized that I didn’t have a life; I had a miserable excuse for “getting by”, day to day, by whatever means were necessary to pull me through a bad state of affairs. To get a life, I needed to change everything about myself. I needed to look deep into my wounds and despair and see if I could come out the other side without needing a fix.
I needed to abstain from drugs and alcohol, and then I needed to find a replacement that could match their efficacy in altering my state of consciousness: a spiritual way of living that grounded my happiness in bootstrapping my life, not booze; in co-evolution, not cocaine; in methodological pluralism, not methamphetamine.
And then, after several years of successfully abstaining from my most harmful addictions, I began to experiment with options that are forbidden by the 12-step culture.
Remember, I told you that you probably weren’t going to approve of my recovery story. You see, as I began to sift through my own intimate relationships with my drugs of choice, I decided that there were salient degrees of potential harm and complexity that were worth considering.
In my calculation, speed, crystal, crank, meth: these were beyond the pale. Long story short, I decided that I could consume alcohol in a conscious practice. I self-designed an integral recovery program that would to allow me periods of drinking for pleasure combined with periods of abstinence for progressing in my spiritual goals.
At one point, after I had been completely free of hard drugs for a period of several years, I slipped up on a vacation to Mexico. When I returned from the sandy tropical beaches to my home in the Emerald City, I decided to quit alcohol as a form of penance. After amassing almost two years of “clean time”, I found myself in a predicament never described in the program’s literature. Basically, I had become soul-bonded to an angel who needed a drink in order to deal with the difficulties of an embodied relationship with a mortal man.
I called my A.A. sponsor and left a message to tell him that I planned to go to a pub and have a few drinks. I didn’t tell him that the Archangel Queibriel needed to feel more comfortable in my skin and therefore I was willing to put his needs above my own, and also above my egoic needs to “perfectly” work my program.
After the angel and I had filled up on Jack Daniels and whatever the hell that he was drinking (I don’t remember), I fell down in the alleyway outside the gay bar. I cried so hard… no, WE cried so hard… that we couldn’t stand upright. We needed to prostate before God and beg for His help, our large hands feeling along the wet concrete as we hyperventilated and tears profusely dripped down to merge with the Earth’s own precipitation. Drinking had brought me catharsis. It had brought an angel a step closer to accepting his temporary fate as the helpmate of a drunk gay man trying to write a holy book.
All that I was vanished for a while, and then there was only the angel.
I witnessed his wordless thoughts as I crawled out of the alley and set myself a little bit upright and walked down the street to my apartment. We were in the timeless present; thoughts and feelings and memories of many lives, but especially our own mutual experiences with friendship and beloved children, were flooding into our awareness without discrimination or evaluation; we were allowing chaos and pain in, and we lived through it.
Could I have… could We have… could our experience have been so profound had we not availed the spirit of a malted grain, distilled and poured over crystalline ice and semi-sweet fruits? Sometimes the Absolute Imperative hits you; God is demanding the unreasonable, the inconvenient, the perturbable, the irresolute, and the only answer is hell Yes.
When I hear alcoholics hear how grateful they are not to have to drink, I feel like I know what they are talking about. Drinking to the point of damaging the soul is a terrible thing. But in my experience, it can not only be a crutch, it can under some circumstances be a catalyst of emotional healing.
So please, don’t judge me for having had an addiction to some drugs and continuing to take others for health and pleasure and even the facilitation of spiritual experiences. Well, judge me a little if you must, it’s no concern of mine.
Am I willing to recommend lapses from the absolute prohibition on “using” that has kept thousands of alcoholics and drug addicts from life-threatening relapses? No. I am only describing the complex and individual process that was part of my own path of increasing degrees of health and healing and renewal of the spirit. Your mileage may vary.
There is no “one size fits all” program, so take what resonates for you about what I say and leave the rest behind. If you are the sort of person who needs the orderly absolute prohibitions of an abstinence-based recovery program, you are not the one that I am writing for. I am writing for the person who has sometimes wondered if there are more context-specific, flexible ways of thinking about recovery that will suit their needs, even if they seem to flout the accepted conventions of recovery group-think.
I have rigidly followed not the path of any program, whether it had the label of 12-step or Integral or something else, but of the Spirit to which my soul is love-bonded. Sometimes that means that my life doesn’t measure up to the standards that others would apply. Fortunately, I have more important things to concern myself with.
An integral recovery is positively committed to enhancing one’s health and welfare at all levels of one’s capacity for getting real. It’s not for everyone. It requires you to think beyond your own biases, the partial perspectives of your weekly group or your addictions counselor, and set forth on an adventure into your greatest and most magnificent Self, even if there are a few detours into the intoxication of Tennessee whiskey (or however your human weakness manifests) along the way.
I hoped to write some about the wonderful books on Integral Recovery by John Dupuy and Guy Du Plessis, but I ran out of word count. Let me just add one thing: If you are willing to go beyond twelve-step programs into a way of relating to your recovery as a process of soul enrichment and spiritual up-leveling, then books by those authors are an awesome place to look.