A 5 Tool Relapse Recovery Plan: Tool #3

John Kennedy Jr. was killed in July of 1999 when he was caught in a deadly graveyard spiral while flying his airplane at night over the Atlantic Ocean. The official report suggested that Kennedy fell victim to spatial disorientation while descending over the water at night. 

For pilots, a graveyard spiral happens when you become disoriented, have no visual reference to the horizon, and happen at night when you cannot see. The pilot mistakenly believes his wings are level when they are banked left or right. When the pilot does not increase back pressure on the yoke, the plane starts to descend faster and faster in a banked descent. Pulling back on the yoke, without bringing the wings level, tightens the spiral and in most cases, increases the rate of descent. The harder you pull back, the tighter the spiral, dooming the plane to ground impact. 

Physiologically, the pilot can’t see the horizon. Most pilots are unable to feel the turn at the beginning of a graveyard spiral. When the pilot does not trust his/her instrument readings for whatever reason he/she is vulnerable to a graveyard spiral that quickly becomes fatal without course correction. Pulling out of a graveyard spiral requires that a pilot trust their instruments. 

Addictive relapse is a graveyard spiral. When an addict fails to trust the instruments of recovery, a crash-and-burn relapse is inevitable. 

Here is a list of instruments to be aware of that can prevent a graveyard spiral in recovery.

  1. Accountability: Responsible recovery is built on accountability through cultivating purposed vulnerability. Addicts want to isolate themselves and live life in secret. Accountability intercepts dysfunction because it insists that you develop the commitment to tell on yourself. The strength of a sobriety contract is your willingness to be held accountable to people in your support network for what you put in your inner, middle, and outer circles. When this breaks down the graveyard spiral begins. 
  1. Living in Consultation: The 12-step community is a space to cultivate connection. Addicts deepen sobriety and clarify values by living in consultation with a 12-step group. Addicts lose their way when they distance themselves from connection with others in recovery. Your best-isolated thinking puts you into a graveyard spiral that creates crash-and-burn through addictive behavior. Living in consultation is a proven lifestyle that helps you course correct and avoid graveyard spirals. Awareness remains keen to addicts who are open to the considerations and guidance of a sponsor and other 12-step support people. When addicts withdraw, become defensive or compromise consultation, the light of awareness dims. Addicts are not pathetic nor do they lack the capacity to make decisions. However, it is critical to recognize the need to live within limits and seek the guidance of a recovering community. Consistent consultation increases awareness and relapse is avoided. No one cultivates relational intimacy alone. Building a foundation of recovery requires consultation.
  1. Commit to telling on yourself. This tool is absolutely necessary to stay the course in recovery. Vagueness fuels the possibility of relapse. Checking the boxes in recovery is a setup for a graveyard spiral. Checking the box is doing recovery without connecting to heart. This happens when you engage the fringes of recovery community. It comes from a subtle shift in attitude. When there is an opportunity to be vulnerable and share discord and incongruence you gloss over the invite and remain at a surface level of communication. Recovery healing is only present when addicts tell on themselves. This vulnerability must be cultivated at every level of life. As an addict, when you are vague in your check-in, you are in danger of a graveyard spiral. Relapse doesn’t happen all of a sudden. However, when the conditions are right and mature, backsliding happens in an instant. Crash and burn happens quicker than any addict ever thought possible. It is critical to cultivate a resolve to tell on yourself about every aspect of living. Take time to reflect. Is there any level of life that you are vague or unwilling to discuss with your support community? You will know this by examining the stones in recovery that you have left unturned and not surrendered to discussion. Examine all the aspects of your life, your attitudes, your behaviors, and your decisions. If you are vague with yourself or others in your support community you may be in a graveyard spiral and not know it.  

Awareness is the third critical tool to add to your toolbox of relapse prevention. It is a skill that requires rigorous honesty with self and a commitment to open-hearted sharing of every aspect of your life with your recovery support community. Examine the congruence of your shares. Are you accountable for your hypocrisies? Have you accepted your inconsistencies as casual without answering to your support community? These dynamics fuel a graveyard spiral that leads to relapse. Awareness is everything. 

When The Well Is Dry

I watched a National Geographic program once that presented the nurture and development of wolves. In this program, the mother died unexpectedly. The four pups were not quite ready to strike out on their own, so they hovered next to the dead carcass, sucking on the tits of the dead mother. The program filmed the pups hovering, hoping for life sustenance. The filmmaker flashed forward to snow falling and beginning to cover the carcass of the mother. Each of the four pups drifted off in separate directions. The narrator stated that the pups now will never return to the mother or each other. It was their time to move forward in life or die with their mother. 

This portrayal is a picture of recovery growth. Life is dynamic. Bob Dylan crooned “Times are A-Changin’”. There have always been arguments to refute biological evolution. However, what is irrefutable is that who we are tomorrow will not be the same as who we are today. 

Many addicts grew up in unpredictable environments. Those who sought refuge from the chaos and turmoil created by addiction pandemonium found safety in recovery rooms. The acceptance and closeness from other addicts gave us what we never received growing up in our family of origin. The 12-step community created a much-needed safe haven for those of us who were driven by the demons of addiction. 

I love the Old Testament story about the children of Israel crossing the wilderness headed for the Promised Land. The story goes that God provided manna from heaven while the people of Israel wandered through the wilderness. It was great. Wake up, go out, and pick breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was all provided by the generous Yahweh! Most wanted to settle and hang out for good. Why move forward? Let the Promised Land remain distant. We’re good right where we are! There were many problems and conflicts that ensued for those who settled and refused to move forward. 

It’s that way where the rubber meets the road in recovery, too. The cocoon of support provided through a 12-step community is only as safe as you are willing to commit to personal growth. Growth means that you will not remain the same . . . neither will the environment compared to when you first entered for recovery. The very nature of a 12-step community will intensify the need for change. 

Most of us don’t want change. Yet, without change, you stagnate. At some point, you can plateau in your recovery and build a fortress within a 12-step group that helps you not act out, which is good. Some people hover around the fortress and refuse to dig deeper for new recovery growth. 

It is not to say that we outgrow our need for a 12-step group. Growth will require that our recovery moves past our 12-step group into the lives of our family, community, and occupation. It is not that we evangelize others to do 12-step work. It is that we promote acceptance, principled living, tolerance, and a transformative lifestyle in all aspects of living. 

Here are a few considerations:

  1. Defensiveness and complaint are signals for needed growth. When someone touches an area of pain in your life and you bristle and push back with defensiveness, this is a signal that you need to grow in this area. For example, someone pushes you to stop being so codependent, to look at your payoff toward self-harm and sabotage and you scream back at them that either they don’t know what they are talking about or that you have got this! If you scream loud enough people will leave you alone to address your dilemma. You can justify your pain and lack of growth because of your misfortune. Like a little kid who skinned his knee, you can go through 12-step living hollering “Don’t touch it” and no one will, and you will seek someone to commiserate in your misery. Recovery is a river that moves forward with or without you. If 8 or 9 people say you’ve got a tail, at least look at your rear in the mirror. Pay attention to the signals that tell you to grow!
  1. Simply adjust. The dynamic of life presents the need for continual adjustment. Your rituals are interrupted by a sick child. You have a flat tire on the way to a 12-step meeting that you were scheduled to present and that you stayed up late working very hard to get just right. Your sponsor stands you up and you sit at a coffee shop twiddling your thumbs and pissed. People let you down and some days everything just goes wrong. The solution to all of these everyday experiences is to simply adjust. Be flexible. Be adventurous. Take a deep breath and look for the nugget of wisdom in everything that you deem has gone wrong. None of us are perfect with this skill set. Perfection is not required. What is required is that you know where the tool of “adjustment” is on the recovery shelf and you know when to reach for it and how to use it. This only requires practice. Adjustment isn’t fancy. It just works.
  1. Shift your focus away from the goal of day count and zero in on how much you can grow. Goals are important. A commitment to lifetime growth is more meaningful. Your commitment to growth will take you to new unknown territory in your life that will stretch and develop you beyond the safety zones that you found in early recovery. Take the risk and go with it. It doesn’t mean that you have to give up a 12-step community and work. It means that it will take you way beyond to help you fulfill your destiny. Be willing to throw everything up for grabs for the sake of personal growth and depth. You don’t need to ignore your personal limitations, but you will need to go deep within. There is no limit to going deep inside. Go for it. 

There are times in life when you find that the well you have gone to is dry. It’s time to dig a new well. Time to launch into the deep. Like the wolf pups who recognized it is time to move on to something new, it’s time for you to move ahead and grow. Whether you are just beginning your recovery journey or you are an old geezer like me, today is the day to remove the excuses and go deep.  

Uncovering Meaning in the Hard Places of Life

When I was in 7th grade the basketball team I played on was upset by our crosstown rival Central. They obliterated us on the court. We were favored but beaten badly. I went home and took the loss really hard. I always took losses hard. During my funk of shame, disappointment, and anger, my Grandma Wells, who was living with us at the time, came to me with a steaming cup of hot sassafras tea with the root in it. She said, drink this, it will help calm you down and bring you peace.

At the time I did not want peace, I only wanted to have won that game. However, I did drink the sassafras tea and it did help me settle down a bit. Today I remember the smell and the taste of the tea. Yet, I also remember the bitter disappointment suffered in the loss. 

Through the years I have learned the value of utilizing the concept of velvet steel when faced with difficult defeat, loss, and disappointment. It often requires steel to be velvet with yourself when you emotionally struggle with hurt feelings. Strong feelings like shame and resentment require the capacity to be gentle with yourself while initiating emotional steel to refuse to beat yourself up or wallow in self-pity. A velvet steel mentality is necessary to sort and sift meaningfulness in the hard places of life. 

There are many insights to finding meaningfulness in life that depend upon a velvet steel mentality.

  1. When facing the difficulty of hard times, don’t let yourself be defined by the struggle you experience. When you are down and depressed it is easy to conclude this is happening because you believe that is what you are—down and depressed. It is so human to be dominated and defined by the feelings that move through you. Addicts struggle with this concept. They go to a meeting and admit to everyone that they are an addict. They say “my name is… and I’m an alcoholic” or other addiction. They are encouraged to do this because they have lived life in denial to a point that it is costing them dearly. So they need to admit their addiction. However, they are not an addict. Addiction defines their behavior, not their sense of self. So an addict must apply velvet steel to face their addictive behavior (i.e. “I am an addict”). They must also apply velvet steel which fosters an embrace of their sense of self as being “an unrepeatable miracle of the universe”. In the midst of struggling to survive and be sober, this skillset is challenging to incorporate. It requires slowing down your brain and applying velvet steel to the mix of thoughts.
  1. Plunge into the present moment of experience and focus on being present in the moment. Addicts talk about having a “monkey brain”. Their mind races to every thought possible and they can’t stop ruminating about what used to be, ought to be, and the unknown future. This is a very hard place for addicts to be. Some addicts live on edge during waking moments. It becomes exhausting. Velvet steel requires one to be gentle and not demanding in an attempt to slow ruminations. It requires steel to bring one’s mind back to center and be present in the here and now. Addicts connect this skillset inwardly through practice, not perfection.
  1. Like Michelangelo, who carves away the excess to reveal a beautiful sculpture, recovery is about carving away the excess in order to free the inner beauty that has been waiting to be released. Most addicts enter recovery rugged and raw. Creating a calm inner spirit requires fires of refinement through trials and tribulations. An addict doesn’t sign up for this course. It is just what must be embraced. Velvet steel is necessary for addicts to patiently persevere in the midst of the ups and downs in recovery living. The development of recovery skillsets requires a commitment to daily conditioning and training. Sometimes you take 2 steps forward and 5 steps backwards. It seems that you are digging yourself into a hole. Trusting the process in applying the 12-Steps demands the embrace of velvet steel. Be gentle with yourself when going backward while embracing a steel mentality to persevere and move forward. Velvet steel helps to remain determined to carve away the excess in order to free the inner beauty of recovery.
  1. Refresh your life with what is sacred. No matter the pain, life is where you are. Addicts are forever wishing they could be anywhere but facing what is in front of them. The intensity of discomfort and pain triggers addicts to fantasize. The steel side of recovery helps an addict hold h/her feet to the fire of the here and now. As muscle to this skillset develops, the sacredness of the here and now is refreshed. The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. The velvet side of recovery cultivates beauty no matter where you are, regardless of the pain.
  2. Recognize that the dearest things in life cannot be owned, they can only be shared. Addicts frenetically grasp and clutch for what they can call their own. When you take away an addict’s drug of choice, they feel panic and think that all hell has broken loose. They hold on with a death grip to their drug of choice that has become their identity. During moments of craving, sharing is an anathema. Grasping and clasping, they squeeze what they mistake as life, taking the life they know and making it far less. Materialism can be this way. Once we commit to making things “mine,” we unleash a career of gathering and storing. Life can become about my possessions, my money, my power and position. We can gather and store so much that we become constipated in sharing the dearest things in life—love, compassion, and community. I know a community that has stored millions of dollars but cannot share their fortune with meals for the homeless, citing that the storage must be saved for a rainy day. Velvet steel is required to gently and forcefully take away the mental locks of what is yours to open your heart to what cannot be owned but only shared.

In exchange for the promise of security, many addicts put a barrier between themselves and the adventures of future personal growth that could put a whole new light on their personal lives. The late Scott Peck describes in his book The Road Less Traveled how life can be like a journey through the desert. Upon reaching the first oasis, many settle in and refuse to go farther. They hunker down around the amenities of shade and water and live out the rest of their lives never venturing to complete the journey through the desert. Addicts can find that oasis in recovery. 

Becoming sober and ending the craziness in behavior is enough. They often settle around the oasis in the recovery they have discovered. Yet, there is no settling in personal growth. It requires that we embrace the adventure of individual growth and expand our awareness well beyond stopping destructive behavior. To do so an addict must initiate courage to leave the oasis and journey forward into the desert. Most addicts do not make this choice. It relates to the fear of free falling. Who enjoys this experience? Yet, detaching from the predictable and embracing the unknown in order to expand growth and understanding in life requires a commitment to walk through the entire desert of life experience. This authentic trek requires the velvet steel of personal courage. Those who decide to make the trek discover freedom and serenity in recovery living.

Connection Requires Community

“The virtuous soul that is alone is like a lone burning coal; it will grow colder rather than hotter”.   —St. John of the Cross 

We all know that technology is a double-edged sword. It creates wonderful opportunities to contact individuals around the world while adding a myriad of distractions that make that communication difficult. While sitting in a restaurant eating and talking with family, the golf team from the University of Illinois came in, sat down and ordered their dinner. While waiting for dinner, all twelve golfers silently were absorbed on their devices checking their social media or playing games. There was absolutely no conversation going on between them. Community requires connection. Undivided attention in conversation is rare these days for many of us. 

People need connection. It doesn’t come without purposeful intervention during conversation. It allows us to find meaningfulness in the common places of daily living. Without it the likelihood of discovering our personal brilliance dims. The lack of connection creates suffering in the community as it becomes more cold and calculated. 

In order for community to foster personal brilliance there must be curiosity which includes a desire to understand and learn about others’ thoughts, attitudes, and feelings in the context of relationship. Without it, we become like a pinball between bumpers, reacting to what is around us and missing the journey inward that leads to brilliance. 

Several years ago, a woman lost a son in a single vehicle accident on his way to work. Her son had inspired many to live and dream big, face fears, and appreciate nature. He loved the outdoors and planned to one day live in his favorite state, Colorado, and become a teacher. 

Some years after his death, the mom was visiting her oldest son who lived in Colorado Springs. She brought a picture of her deceased son with her on the trip. While there, she visited the Garden of the Gods with the beautiful towering sandstone formations. During her hike through the garden, she met a young man who was climbing, and she told him the story of her beloved deceased son. She asked if the climber would be willing to take her son’s picture and wedge it under the highest rock that he scaled. 

The young man respectfully suggested he take the picture with him and snap a photo of her son with him and his friends as they scaled each peak in Colorado. Each time after taking a photo, they would send it to her. Humbled by the gesture, this mother instantly felt connected to this young man she just met. Moments earlier, he was an isolated stranger. Now he was someone who helped her deeply connect to her lost loved one. 

In an ordinary moment of grief and through the brilliance of two strangers, a beautiful moment of healing was created. This is how it is with community. We discover and cultivate connection, which brings us deeper into our heart, where the brilliance of healing lies. 

Connection helps us to understand the meaning of living. Mother Teresa once spoke “being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” Feeling forgotten and invisible is devastating. When you drive to work, worship, or play, do you notice the street people in your community? Not knowing what to do with misfortune, many look away from the homeless, choosing to deal with discomfort by distancing themselves from it. What about the person at the grocery store who shuffles by with a blank stare on his face? Do you think of him as invisible? 

Folks warehoused in nursing homes across our country feel disenfranchised and forgotten. At this level of living, it really doesn’t matter what possessions you once owned, who you have known, or really anything else. Being unloved, uncared for, and forgotten is the greatest poverty among the living. A fragmented, disenfranchised world distorts and undermines our potential for cultivating our brilliance in everyday places of living. Isolation deadens connection like a cell phone when it’s out of range. Community and commonality are important ingredients when fostering individual brilliance. 

I have led approximately 300+ intense weekend workshops with men who are in recovery from sex addiction. Each session numbers about fifteen men who have seriously committed to stop acting out. Most have been successful in doing so. Still, these men seek to emotionally grow themselves so that they experience more than sobriety. Their hope is to repair broken relationships and cultivate healthy relational intimacy with themselves and their committed partner. 

These weekends have become a cocoon, a safe space to expose ugly intent, immature response, and emotional adolescence. Providing a container to express overwhelming sadness (usually via anger) with total acceptance is usually transformative and life changing for these men. Creating a space for someone to be livid and angry at another person who is present in respectful ways has been immensely helpful, even when they wanted to physically fight each other. 

During one workshop, one guy told a story about something that happened at work. Another guy accused him of not acting like a man. Both men stared and postured, suggesting they were ready to clobber each other. Once the machoism and bluster settled, each realized that they would likely need to leave if they came to blows. Or they could kiss and make up. Thank God they chose the latter. Before the weekend was over, both learned to accept each other’s differences, actually becoming closer because of the way they handled the altercation. 

We create community to connect. It involves the courageous choice to be real and vulnerable. Within the context of groups, I have experienced men sharing their deepest pain with blood curdling cries of remorse, loss, and loneliness. Group therapy that becomes community is based on the mutuality of common shared brokenness. When people compete and compare themselves to others who have shared, the mutuality evaporates and group effectiveness no longer exists. 

A safe and trusting community breeds safe emotional and physical touch. Here, vulnerability and trust is serendipitously expressed through our grief, joy, and challenge. When there is relational safety in community, anything and everything can be explored, sifted and sorted through. Pain becomes the fellowship’s touchstone and signpost indicating imbalance in life. Community provides a sound studio to listen to pain’s message. Common shared brokenness is its draw, not common likeness or interest. Becoming emotionally naked by sharing our deepest feelings and secrets is commonplace and expected. It’s a space where we can fit and be accepted as we are. It is a sanctuary where we learn how we can wear our own skin well. It’s a space to accept our own acceptance while staring at imperfection. It is a place to grow ourselves into adult maturity and discover inner brilliance.

Recovery Contest Winner #5: Community, Nutrition and Environment in Recovery


In honor of Recovery Month, we asked you to send us your stories about the impact community, nutrition or environment has had on your life since you put down substances and picked up life. Winners are not only receiving copies of our book, The Miracle Morning for Addiction Recovery, but are also being published here on the site.

This week we have Mike Mather. 

After 30 years of alcoholism, the prelude to the sober journey was quite unglamorous—with two-and-a-half years of relapsing, valium, AA and church in a vicious, delicious and delirious cycle.

Then the penny dropped.

Completely out of the blue I realized that I had to do 90 meetings in 90 days like they had been telling me from the beginning, and start praying and meditating. I shipped myself off to a Buddhist Centre that I accidentally found out about and went to AA meetings every day.

My demented mother had been my career for the year that passed since Dad had died. I now began to take the helm, and I enrolled in a Diploma of Business too.

Having devoured mountains of books on nutrition and alternative health practices, I began to implement some nutritional supplementation along with mindful eating.

That was week one.

For a while, I believed I had discovered a secret that only a few would ever know. My sobriety was going to be different, special, unusually brilliant. I know now I’m more than a little bipolar, and also prone to delusions of grandeur.

I have remained a strict vegetarian now for 10 years.

Having successfully completed the Diploma of Business, I plowed heavily into service work at AA. Then last year I had a calling to study again and I am enrolled in a Bachelor of Environmental Science degree. I had mediocre success in the first year and am currently taking a break and writing about alcoholism and Buddhism on my website and podcast.

My recovering alcoholic girlfriend, Heather, just turned 65 and is two weeks short of her first academic accreditation: Associate Degree of Arts. We sometimes don’t see eye to eye because she is a Zen student and I am Tibetan. C’est la vie!

We still don’t know what to do when we grow up. She seems to have a leaning towards Ayurvedic traditions maybe, but I believe that I was born to be an author.

Since reading The Miracle Morning for Addiction Recovery, I wake up and brush my teeth at 5 am each day (nearly) and the results are astounding so far as my blogging and podcasting work is concerned. My girlfriend has been an early morning yogini for years though.

We still are frequent meeting goers. We are mindful of our environmental impact and eat very nutritionally. If I could give advice to newcomers to recovery, I would definitely say that looking after the mind and body is paramount to success.

Recovery Month Contest Winner #2: When Community Is The Key

In honor of Recovery Month, we asked you to send us your stories about the impact community, nutrition or environment has had on your life since you put down substances and picked up life. Winners are not only receiving copies of our book, The Miracle Morning for Addiction Recovery, but are also being published here on the site.

This week we have Terra Brooke. 

Community was the antidote, for me, to the belief that something was fundamentally wrong with me and if I could just fix myself, everything “out there” that wasn’t working for me would be OK.

Community saved me when I felt most alone.  Sometimes, often, I would pay people to be part of my community.  Mentors and guides would accompany me into the trenches of what lay in my subconscious, and help to change my beliefs and create a new world.  They gave me perspective on the confusion happening “out there.”  They let me know I was not crazy and that I was pulling away from a disorganizing reality.

Divorce was one part of my transformational crucible.  My community was my friend, Geri, who let me stay on her couch, many times, and listened to me when I was frantic, overwhelmed, and sad.  My community was my attorney who walked me to the elevator as I sobbed and said, “You know Terra, we are going to be friends.”  It was my accountant.  It was financial advisors I hired who told me that I inspired them and who didn’t shame me for what I didn’t know, but guided me with respect and care.

Community was random people who connected with me.  It was people I met when I began to study co-dependency.  It was my co-dependency coach.  It was myofascial body workers who held a space for unconscious body memories to emerge and who taught me how to be with them.  It was uncles who cared for me when the core of my family and I were estranged.  And community evolved.

As I continued to take classes, community became people I studied with on-line and worked with on Zoom.  Community became people around Europe, Canada, and the US who offered me support and places to stay.  Community became people in my exercise classes.  And for sure, community became various coaches, shamans, people I met who were in recovery and recovery programs, psychics, and healers.  All of them were part of my community.

But most of all, community has come to be myself.  I have learned to love myself and to be my own company and to notice tender, young parts when they arise and hold them gently and with care.

As deep shame and grief arise, I don’t believe healing is possible without community.  My frozen places and trapped emotions need community, a loving presence who stays through my most difficult moments,  in order to re-wire my nervous system.  I know I need encouragement as well and to see that at what may feel like the darkest, most challenging places, there is still a path and hope.  I  need people who truly care and have the depth and capacity in themselves to touch what surfaces.  There is no substitute.  I need community to teach me so I have the satisfaction of doing this for others.

And now I am able to stand where once, I needed to lean.

The Miracle Morning for Addiction Recovery [Excerpt]

If there’s one word that encompasses what we believe is crucial when it comes to recovery, it’s community.

The great impact community has on addiction and recovery is actually a proven fact. In the late ‘70s, a Canadian psychologist named Bruce K. Alexander decided to test his hypothesis that addiction is caused by environment and a lack of community—as opposed to the availability of drugs. For his experiment, he built an enormous rat colony that was 200 times the size of a typical cage. He gave those lucky rats everything a young (or old) rat could dream of: yummy food, balls to play with, tin cans, wood chips, platforms and running wheels galore. But the best treat of all? They got plenty of exposure to members of the opposite sex, not to mention places where they could get down (that is, mate). In this Rat Park of every rat’s dreams, Alexander placed two dispensers—one that contained morphine and another that was straight-up H20. With those rats happily ensconced in Rat Heaven, he set about placing some less-lucky rats alone in individual cages with access to the same amount of morphine and water, but the only interaction they ever got was with the people who brought them food and water. They couldn’t exercise, play or—well, forget mating…they couldn’t so much as have a brief catch-up with a pal.

Here’s what happened: the rats who were living in isolation got hooked on morphine while those who were luxuriating in Rat Park sampled the morphine only occasionally. In one experiment, the individually caged rats in fact drank nineteen times more morphine than the park dwellers. Take that in, please. Then fantasize about what your personal version of Rat Park might include, because that’s pretty fun. (On our list: Wi-Fi, chocolate, peanut butter and hammocks, to start.)

In another experiment, Alexander offered those sad, solitary caged rats only morphine to drink. After fifty-seven days, they were then transferred to Rat Park, where there was both morphine and water on tap. One might think, since they’d been getting high for almost two months, those rats would stay on drugs. But they didn’t. While they did show original signs of dependence, they eventually opted to forgo the morphine for the water.

Now, this doesn’t mean that if you place an active addict in a luxurious spa, replete with delicious food and hourly massages, that person will suddenly become drug-free. But it does suggest that environment matters—a lot. And it means that having a community is crucial.

As Alexander wrote, “Solitary confinement drives people crazy; if prisoners in solitary have the chance to take mind-numbing drugs, they do.”

Of course, recovery doesn’t end when we put the plug in the jug. This means that a positive social environment isn’t only important when getting off drugs or alcohol. It’s just as important—if not even more important—once we’re in recovery.

Is Everything We Know About Addiction Actually Wrong?

In 2015, a British journalist named Johann Hari hammered home the significance of community with his TED Talk, “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong.”

Although his beliefs—that punishing addicts only worsens addiction—weren’t new, no one had ever articulated them so well. The talk focused not only on Bruce Alexander’s work but also on the “human” version of it—that is, the Vietnam War, where 20 percent of troops were using heroin and 95 percent of them quit afterwards. As Hari put it, humans have “an innate need to bond” and if they don’t have other humans around to bond with, they will latch onto whatever’s there. As Hari put it, “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety; it’s connection.”

Joe’s Community

It’s not hyperbole to say that Joe’s entire life is built around having a community. As the creator of the world’s highest-level marketing group, Genius Network, Joe gathers the world’s top entrepreneurs, best-selling authors, and industry innovators for regular meetings. These occasions have not only featured talks by people like Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, Dr. Gabor Mate, John Mackey, Brendon Burchard, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ariana Huffington, Peter Diamandis, Dan Sullivan, Randi Zuckerberg, JP Sears, Tim Ferriss, John Hagelin, and Steve Forbes, but also provide one of the greatest opportunities for high-level business people to commune.

Joe is currently building Genius Recovery, a community that will do for people in recovery what Genius Network does for entrepreneurs. Made up of a blog, podcast, resources and more, Genius Recovery is connected to Joe’s other recovery project, Artists for Addicts. The philosophy behind Artists for Addicts is to use art as a “force for good” to not only help people who have developed addiction problems but also to increase understanding about what addiction actually is, where it comes from and how to truly heal it. Artists for Addict’s first project is Black Star, a painting created by Artists for Addicts co-founder Jon Butcher as a tribute to famous people lost to addiction. (If you’re interested in purchasing a print of Black Star, go to Artists for Addicts.)

Anna’s Community

For Anna, entering rehab and then 12-step rooms revolutionized her life. She had spent the previous few years holed up in her apartment, with only cats and cocaine for company, and to suddenly be among the living was a revelation in itself. The fact that those people were talking about feelings she’d had but hadn’t known how to articulate, and that they were sharing them in intelligent and occasionally amusing ways, opened her up to connecting with other people in a way she never had. Suddenly, she wasn’t picking her friends based on how willing they were to drive across the border to Mexico to buy sheets of Xanax at a willing Mexican farmacia, but by whether or not they were honest and funny and interested in looking at themselves and growing. Anna had gotten so isolated in her addiction that being easily granted a group of people made facing all the other changes she had to deal with in early sobriety far less terrifying.

While her friends have changed over the years—her “picker” was a bit broken after years of active addiction, so she originally found herself drawn to some less-than-healthy people—maintaining a community has continued to be one of her priorities. After years of isolation during her active addiction, she was actually shocked to discover that she’s a people person. While she relishes time alone, it was in early sobriety that she realized she loved and in fact needed to be around people to stay mentally healthy.

Because she was living in a New York studio apartment for several years when she was writing books, making sure she was part of a community required extra effort. This meant, when she was writing her memoir, Falling for Me, going to coffee shops where she could be around people even if she wasn’t talking to them. This is also when she implemented “Project Study Hall,” which is what she called it when she got together with friends to sit together working side-by-side—taking, of course, regular breaks to chat.

Today, she works out of a shared office space. She also does workouts that involve group bonding (hip hop dance class with a group of people that hang out together outside of class). And although she’s inarguably tone deaf—and there are terrifying Instagram videos out there to prove it—she plans karaoke nights; when she was the editor of a website and had a team under her, she actually called karaoke nights “staff meetings” so that all her employees would attend. Without realizing it, Anna was following Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron’s recommendation to “liberate [yourself] from confusion” by doing “non-habitual” things like singing or dancing.

The truth is many addicts and alcoholics have a tendency to isolate when they’re depressed or triggered or tired. While recharging by spending time alone is crucial, there’s a fine line between replenishing energy reserves and having an exclusive and seemingly satisfying relationship with Netflix. It’s therefore important to prioritize being around other people—whether that means joining a hiking club, soccer league, community theater or church choir. It’s even better if you can do it with other people who are in recovery or focused on creating better lives for themselves. This doesn’t mean you need to surround yourself with an army of sober people because otherwise you’re destined to go off the rails, just that addicts can get in their heads, thus it’s best not to spend too much time alone.

Here’s a tip we’ve figured out over the years: if you’re wondering if you’re isolating, you probably are. Think about Rat Park and find your own version of wood chips, platforms, running wheels, tin cans—and, of course, people.

Reprinted with permission from The Miracle Morning for Addiction Recovery: Letting Go of Who You’ve Been for Who You Can Become, copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved. To get an audio version of the book for free, click here