Liberated living: recovery unchained

After averting a potentially catastrophic DXM relapse, I set out to build a brand new life. In Liberated Living, we’ll transform myths to truths, take down the stigmas associated with “addiction” and “mental illness,” and learn powerful tools for permanent, total recovery.

This is part one of an eight part series.

Common thoughts associated with addiction:

Downward spiral. Domino effect. Prone to control and avoidance. Reliance and abuse. Weakness.

Guilt. Shame. Denial.

Loss of control. Sayonara to employment, friends, dignity. Broken families.

How hard it is to love an addict. How much it hurt to see a person you care about falling further into the hole, losing the glow in their eyes. A frail, brittle ghost.

Hopelessness. Anxiety.

Despair. Disease. Death.


An affliction embedded into the addict’s genetic code, a predetermined life of misery.

Or…are addicts only weak-willed, weak-minded, just downright weak in general?

The present paradigm

Many suffer unimaginably. Desperate for answers. Pleading for respite.

Others could not care less, and believe addiction does not affect them.

Meanwhile, reputable professionals peddle out word that addiction is as an incurable, lifelong affliction.

A disease.

Doctors say it, some neuroscientists even. Addiction counselors from Oregon to Maine. Members of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous who haven’t had a drink in forty years know all too well that they could slip into relapse by letting their guard down for even a moment.

Countless books and endless rhetoric support the hypothesis that addiction is a disease. Once an addict, always an addict, they say.

With such a massive choir singing to that tune, it must be true, right?

It is not. It does not have to be, anyway.

You’ll see what I mean by the conclusion of this series.

Within the next seven weeks, addiction will be de-clawed.

Exposed as a fraud that had a good run of it.

No need for a PhD or expertise in neuroscience.

My sole credential is that after nearly three decades of constant, merciless self-destruction – and almost total devastation of my mind, body and soul – I am cured.

The destructive streak originated when I was quite young, and learned that certain kinds of food are highly effective coping mechanisms. Food can take the edge out of emotions, and quiet the mind.

As a young adult, new coping mechanisms arrived. Alcohol, marijuana, ecstasy. Eventually my personal favorite, dextromethorphan.

These substances had an anesthetic effect on my emotions, until the chemical distortions receded. Then, of course, needed more.

My overuse of DXM rocked me like a rag doll in a hurricane. For eight years.

Hopeless. I know the despair of feeling and being 100% powerless.

My parents know what it’s like to have their hearts broken over and over again by their flesh and blood.

Mom has seen me naked in a hospital bed, strapped down, covered in bruises from fighting with cops. Babbling about being sent on holy missions by angels.

Former friends and lovers have seen the worst, most vile sides of me.

A liar, cheater, and thief, with total disregard for the feelings of others. Until there was nothing left to do but sever ties.

Some will probably never forgive my deeds. Nor could they be expected to.

Could go on and on.

Point is, I made it out alive.

Found my way through the labyrinth. And I’m free.

I know I am, because burdens I’ve carried around my whole life have finally abated.

If you carried a fifty-pound pack on your shoulders for three decades, you’d immediately know the difference if you were freed from it. No doubt.

That’s what this is like.

Passages to liberation

Chris Prentiss and his son Pax founded the California-based addiction treatment center, Passages Malibu.

Passages is notoriously controversial for eschewing the “addiction as disease” model.

(Also, being insanely expensive and looking more like a grand palace than a treatment center)

Passages was conceived after Pax Prentiss went through hell with alcohol and heroin dependency.

Once, his face was smashed in by a drug dealer, who was seconds away from killing him and burying him in the desert.

What do you think he did after surviving that?

More heroin, of course.

Sought all the treatment under the sun, to no avail. Couldn’t kick the need for drugs.

Then, with persistent support from his father, he identified a primary underlying reason for his dependencies:

Pax had always wanted to impress his father. To be respected and acknowledged.

Alas, he felt inadequate. Like he could never measure up.

Heroin, though, made him feel like a superhero. Like he could do anything. And be important.

Even measure up to his father.

Using heroin was the closest he could get to feeling complete. Have his deepest yearnings answered.

And upon the fullest depths of this realization, Pax was cured.

I can relate.

In Anatomy of a Relapse, my own drive for importance was revealed.

Upon deeply realizing that the sense of importance I extracted from DXM was an illusory sham, I was healed.

That, and a hearty helping of self-love stew.

I recall in 2009, reading the boldly-titled The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure by Chris Prentiss.

If you click the link above, I suggest ignoring the negative reviews that the book is a 300-page advertisement for Passages Malibu.

The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure is a treasure trove of true, worthwhile content.

(Along with some advertising for Passages Malibu)

One of the most memorable parts of the book for me was when Prentiss challenges the reader to proclaim:

“I am not an addict. I have simply become dependent on drugs and I am now breaking that dependency forever.”

After a spell of being told that I was an addict with a lifelong disease, I initially felt like a naive fool saying those words. Wishful thinking!

But I kept saying it. Over and over. Finally, an exhilarated grin danced across my face.

Could it be true?

That I am not an addict?

How amazing that would be!

And it can be. It is.

Total freedom from self-destruction can be real.

Total enslavement can be, too.

For some, enslavement is all there is. All there ever can be.

Others retire from the chains of destruction and slip into the shackles of a balancing act above a snake pit. Then, they call it recovery.

Some swear until their dying breath, they are addicts for life. Alcoholics for life.

“Once an addict, always an addict.”

And that’s true. For they who believe it and live it, that’s reality.

Countless people have experienced abstinence from destructive behaviors through mutual aid groups like Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous (12-step programs).

After years of devastation via drugs and drinking, abstinence is a big deal. A profoundly life-changing improvement. Much preferred to the brutal cycle of substance misuse.

Because of this success, proponents of 12-step programs swear by the inherent ideologies.

Which is wonderful. These programs lift people up from desolate places. No doubt.

But then for many of those people, recovery is a lifetime of walking on eggshells.

Ever living in the shadow of possible relapse.

Managing an incurable disease.

A former counselor of mine, and self-proclaimed former addict, told a group of clients that his recovery was as precarious as ours. Because, he claimed, addiction cannot be transcended. Only managed.

We believed him. He had a Masters degree, after all.

Personally, I found comfort in knowing that someone with our affliction could create success, become a counselor.

Gave me hope.

But that hope was undermined by the disheartening notion of living the rest of my days as an addict.

Bum deal, man.

In 12-step programs, the first step is admitting powerlessness over dependency on substances.

Imagine this:

The first step of a new recovery paradigm is to realize just how massively powerful and totally in control we can be.

Wouldn’t it rock the world and change the game if it were true?

It can be.

Radical recovery

We can continue relying on a recovery paradigm still in its adolescence. It works to an extent.

What already exists has saved lives.

Relying on established norms is a perfectly acceptable option.

Or, we can step up to the plate and smash it out of the park.

Stand up empowered, fully present to a fresh, new standard.

We have it in us to create a system that meets the dynamic needs of individuals.

After all, we are the system. We’re all bricks in it.

Looking at the system as a separate entity from us is tempting, but that’s a dangerous lie.

The quality of us – the quality of you and I – is the quality of the system.

We can change it from the inside out.

By claiming our power.

Immersing ourselves in new and world-altering ways of thinking and being.

When we change ourselves, we change everything.

My claims are bold, but I will support them. All the way.

Give me seven weeks.

We’ll look at major misconceptions which hold us back.

But we won’t seek to destroy old ideas.

Rather than smash ’em to pieces, we shall transform them.

Take the best of the past and mold it into a remarkable future.

We’ll be bold and prolific. Expand what’s possible.

Stigma surrounding addiction will be molded into understanding and healing discourse.

We’ll have powerful conversations. Alter the very fabric of the system.

Empower ourselves and others, minimizing dependence on external help for internal problems.

By the end, we’ll see that addiction does not have to be the awful beast it has been built up to be.

Not an unstoppable force, nor an uncrackable code.

And we’re all entirely more the same that many realize. Every single human being is affected.

The elusive Wizard of Oz is soon to be revealed as the squatty, little man that he is.

Time to bear witness, as the demons which have plagued us transmute into resplendent forces of inspiration and serenity.

Here’s to the promise of changing everything.

Enter the era of the radical recovery revolution.

And it begins with the revolution within you.

Buckle up. We’re going for a ride.

Also published on Medium.