The Next Phase in Recovery—The Tommy Rosen Solution

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The Next Phase in Recovery—The Tommy Rosen Solution

By The Fix staff 10/31/14

Tommy Rosen—architect of Recovery 2.0—on his own recovery, drug laws, recovery modes and how yoga can save your life in The Fix Q&A

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How is Recovery 2.0 different from all the other recovery movements out there?

Recovery 2.0 is a global movement of people who recognize the need for a holistic approach to recovery from addiction, which includes yoga, meditation and healthy diet, in addition to 12-step work. It started back in 2013 with our first online conference featuring video interviews with 30 experts offering perspectives, inspiration and applicable tools to get beyond addiction and thrive in recovery. I conducted interviews over Skype and then put successive interviews up for viewing each day for five days. 16,000 people from 70 countries participated in the free event. That blew my mind. We’ve since done two more conferences with 20,000 and 23,000 people participating. Our next one is in January of 2015.  

After that first conference, emails started flowing in from all over the world. People were deeply affected by what they had taken in. The general feeling was that this was a missing piece to the puzzle of addiction and recovery. People were being inspired and directed to try new things, but unlike other alternative approaches that came before, Recovery 2.0 was recognizing the immense power of the 12 steps in conjunction with other modalities of healing. Where had this information been? And what else could people do to bring the elements of Recovery 2.0 into their life? 

How does your book help the process along?

I wrote the book Recovery 2.0 to give access to these ideas and to begin to lay out details about the practices that, for me, led to long-term sustainable recovery. I broke the book down into four parts.  In the first part, I looked at the roots of my addiction. I considered family history, environment and dietary history. We learn where addiction comes from and understand that we behave how we do for very specific reasons. Part 2 is a deep dive into the 12 steps. I wanted to debunk some of the myths about the 12 steps and provide best practices for navigating them as well as covering some of the pitfalls. Basically, I wanted to make the 12 steps more accessible to anyone who might want to approach them. In my opinion, the 12 steps are dreadfully misunderstood. Part 3 talks about reaching bottom in recovery, why this happens and how to move through it. This is where the need for recovery 2.0 is expressed. Everyone on the path of recovery will eventually come to face him or herself. Many of us have had our asses kicked and had no idea what to do. The 12 steps had taken us so far, but it seemed we needed something more. In part 4 of the book, we look at what that “something more” consists of. Here we explore yoga philosophy, meditation and food. Anyone hoping to be happy, joyous and free in their life who disregards the importance of their food choices will be missing something important. Yoga and meditation are also keys to a great life. You will simply be more comfortable in your body and mind if you practice, so from the Recovery 2.0 perspective, these are required parts of recovery.

How would you change AA? What would an AA Recovery 2.0 look like?

The fact is Recovery 2.0 was born out of necessity in my own life. Like so many others, I had reached several emotional bottoms in my recovery. One came around relationships and sex and the other came around money, which in my case played out through fairly severe gambling addiction. I had to learn the hard way that one could recover from drug addiction and alcoholism, but still be mired in what I refer to as the frequency of addiction. When you are stuck in the frequency of addiction, you remain vulnerable to other addictive behaviors and relapse. Moving beyond the frequency of addiction is absolutely possible, but it requires a few key ingredients. There are three areas of life the 12 steps do not address – the body, the breath and diet. Recovery 2.0 stresses the need for these along with identifying your mission and purpose in this world.  

I cannot speak about AA in particular, but if I were writing a charter of guidelines for 12-step society today, basically, all the tenets of Recovery 2.0 would become a part of the recovery movement in general. People would understand the idea that recovery happens in stages and that mind-body practices and healthy diet are necessary aspects of the lifestyle of recovery. You would be encouraged to give up caffeine and smoking right away. In addition to a sponsor, you would be encouraged to have a therapist and/or life coach as part of your “recovery team," and you would have a regular yoga and meditation practice. At a certain stage in your recovery, you would experience a 30-day, top-to-bottom digestive tract cleanse. You would then go to “Connection School” to review and learn about your relationships with other people and it would also be strongly suggested that you go to “Abundance School” to review your relationship with money to get vocational training and to learn how to pursue your mission while being of service and creating abundance for you and your family. Eventually, your language would change to more accurately portray your current state of being. You would no longer say, “I am an alcoholic” or “I am an addict” because those statements were simply untrue. You might say instead, “I have recovered from addiction,” or “I am in recovery from addiction,” or “I am in long-term recovery.” As the result of all of this, you would be living at such a state of purposefulness and intuition that most of the problems of your life would drop away. Of course, you’d still be subject to the human condition, but you would live at a level of contentedness that most people rarely get to experience. 

Could you talk about the segue from drug abuse to yoga?

In 1991, my first year sober, I walked off the street into Janet Macleod’s Iyengar class in San Francisco. I had never seen a person move with so much freedom. It was an outward representation of something I greatly desired. I wanted that right away. I had a bit of a problem at first: most yoga classes are 90 minutes, nearly the length of a movie, and I was stuck in a difficult relationship with time. I was terribly impatient. No matter where I was, I would try to bring the future here faster. How would I possibly get through such a long class? I’d be in those first yoga classes looking for the clock in the room. How much more time? The postures were very difficult for me. I had so much tension and tightness in my body. I’d be at my edge after only five minutes, trying to find my breath and listen to the teacher’s instructions. I remember one teacher walking over to me with considerable empathy, assuring me that someday soon downward-facing dog would become a rest pose. All I could reply, as a waterfall of sweat poured off my head was, “Well, not today.” 

Yoga was a thrilling challenge. I loved the athleticism and physicality of it. It made me feel something intense. Yes, there is intensity to yoga. You are burning through old habits, opening up channels that may never have been open before. You are stretching connective tissue and adding powerful breath and prana (a yogic term meaning life force) into the mix. You have to focus, listen, and connect words with parts of your body. A teacher might say, “Press down into your feet in such a way that you feel the earth press back up.” So I would bring my attention to my feet, press down, and begin to feel the rebound of energy up through my body. “Breathe more slowly and more deeply.” And I would bring my attention there. Wherever the teacher directed my attention, I would learn to connect with that area of my body or mind. I would sweat out of every pore, and the detox of that felt amazing. I felt clean inside and out. 

Ninety minutes later, having come through an intimate and powerful experience, I would be directed to lie down, relax completely, and let the full weight of my body rest upon the earth. This was savasana or corpse pose. The feeling was electric—energy humming through my body. I felt like blood was pouring into areas of my tissues that it had not been able to reach for some time. It was relieving and healing. It was subtler than the feeling from getting off on drugs, but it was detectable and lovely, and there would be no hangover, just a feeling of more ease than I could remember. I felt a warmth come over me, similar to what I felt when I had done heroin, but far from the darkness of that insanity, this was pure light—a way through.

What were your cultural and personal influences growing up?

As a relatively sheltered kid in New York City, it was all about Top-40 radio. I fondly remember Casey Kasem, the iconic New York disc jockey who played the hits throughout my childhood. It was there, I was subjected to the co-dependent love songs of the 1970s, which would confuse an entire generation’s sense of themselves and their relationships. I also watched hours of American television classics – Gilligan’s Island, I Dream of Jeannie, I Love Lucy, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone reruns, etc.  

When I discovered the music of Bob Marley and then later The Grateful Dead, it is safe to say, the rest was history. I would spend 12 years following the Grateful Dead and constantly listening to Bob Marley, who had recently passed when I became aware of him. These bands provided the soundtrack for my coming of age and while their music and drug use go hand in hand, I have found as much joy with their tunes in my recovery as I did before.  

So you have a history with drug use and recovery?

I started smoking pot when I was 13 years old. What a Godsend! It was a vast improvement to the “drugs” which I had been taking before – American TV, Doritos, and Coca-Cola. I really loved marijuana and for a long time it served me. Unfortunately, it took a lot from me as well, in terms of my “sharpness," my ability to complete things (or even get started), and it generally weakened my system over time. Marijuana prevented me from getting to be all I could be. The challenge was that I enjoyed it so much - an addict in the making from the first inhale.

I took a lot of psychedelics, LSD and Mushrooms, mostly. I enjoyed these, too, because they helped to feed the longing I have always had for transcendence and for connecting with something greater. Also unsustainable, these drugs gave me a glimpse of something important, but there was no process for integration of what I was being shown. The work of being me still had to be done. When the trip was over, I did not know how to do that work and I would not begin to learn until I found recovery, the 12 steps and the path of yoga.  

I was the kid in college who never did any powder drugs. I preached openly against cocaine to my friends who did it. Yet, on the night my pal Jeff said, “Hey Tommy, I‘ve got a gram of cocaine and am going to hang out with some girls. Do you want to come?” All I could muster was “Yes.” I was off to the races with cocaine from the second I made its acquaintance. I would start freebasing it a year or so later and, we all know where that takes us – to the gilded shores of drug psychosis. Heroin joined the party for the last two years of my drug abuse mainly because I needed something that was strong enough to break cocaine’s grasp on my nervous system to allow me to sleep. 

Through years of drug use I had a lot of fun and a lot of pain. What I was always after, though, was eluding me and, in fact, I was moving further away from it without realizing this. The end of it all was abject by anyone’s standards. And off to Hazelden I went to literally be reborn.

What was your family history?

My grandfather on Mom’s side divorced my grandmother and married her sister shortly thereafter – not the most graceful maneuver. My mom was so confused, hurt and pissed off that for this and other reasons she lived in defiance of her father her whole life. She got married at 18, had my sister Julie at 19, and then was divorced at 20. My father entered the scene a few years later. They fell in love, had my sister, Karen, in 1965 and then me in 1967. In 1968, my father told my mom that he was gay. That was the end of that relationship, but the beginning of a lifelong, infinity-sized resentment. 

Thus, it was into a world of emotional turmoil that I was born. What I mostly remember was a feeling of nearly constant tension. Something was always wrong, but no one knew exactly what it was. At the same time, my parents were amazing people. They appreciated life, gobbled up theater and the arts and really loved people when you got right down to it.  Unfortunately, their emotional troubles and their addictions cost them so much. They both died sadly and before their time – my mom at 51 and my dad at 72, some time later.

So, what is your take on the major rehab centers, and rehab in general?

The approach to addiction treatment in this country needs help. For one thing, anyone who seeks it should have access to good, solid treatment for addiction. The risk-reward scenario of untreated addiction for our country clearly demonstrates this fact.

The question is what makes good, solid treatment? 

Going to Hazelden was one of the most important things I have ever done. It was lifesaving. That was 1989. Things have changed a lot since then. The industry has exploded in growth with approximately 15,000 rehabs in this country today, 80% of which are outpatient facilities. I still advocate for treatment if you can get it, but I have to admit that it’s a bit of a crapshoot. Some programs are better than others. Some counselors are better than others. How would you know? Many rehabs tout some kind of ridiculous success rate, which no one seems to be able to verify or even know what metric this was based upon. So there are a lot of problems in terms of helping people get help.

All that said, there are reputable rehab centers doing amazing work. Here are just a few of the ones I know directly and trust: Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation, The Hills in Los Angeles, Caron Treatment Centers, Newport Academy, Jaywalker in Colorado and Shades of Hope. There are many more, but the question is how does someone find them and trust them?

Of course, I dream about the rehab that is based on the principles of yoga in addition to the 12-steps. That does not yet exist, but it will be a great thing if/when we or someone else gets it off the ground. 

And finally, what is your take on drug policies and drug laws?

The war on drugs is a case study in how not to approach drug issues and addiction. It has become so absurdly evident that it has cost lives, families, money and ballooned our prison population. All the while alcohol is both legal and celebrated even though it is linked to 40% of violent crimes in the U.S. today.  

I advocate for treatment for those who commit non-violent drug and alcohol offenses and I also advocate for treatment in prison for those who would seek it.

We have to understand as a society that addicts and alcoholics are coming from trauma. To criminalize traumatized people is not the mark of a compassionate, merciful society. The sooner we can treat our society’s trauma for real, the sooner we will move toward a sustainable solution to the plague of addiction.

Show your support by ditching all your unnecessary substance use, like alcohol and non-medically necessary substances for #14Days.

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