The Sober: Finding community in recovery

by | Mar 6, 2019

Every week on Thursday, I’ve got a job to do. At 8:30 a.m., I open up the door, turn the lights on, set a fire and chair the local 12-step meditation meeting for the
12-step community of Lake Tahoe, no matter what.

Doesn’t matter if it’s 100 people or just one person who walks in the door. I am obligated to provide a community for them, just as others have done so for me. Nothing attests to the healing power of community more than the fine people I have met in recovery. The simple faith and courage exhibited by each of these people gives me inspiration to maintain my own sobriety. And its own effectiveness can even be expressed in entrepreneurial terms: “Your network is your net worth.” If you’re going to succeed at either sobriety or business, you’ll definitely need a strong team around you. So let me introduce you to the recovery community, my silent and humble partners in work and life.

The fake fellowship of addiction

Before anyone becomes a part of the recovery community, they must pass through the gauntlet of addiction. On the surface, addiction seemingly creates its own community. And like any community, there is a medium that binds every person who partakes in it together – namely drugs and alcohol. Nowadays, I call the group of people who only connect by partying with each other “the blob,” each of them participating in a collective hallucination of enjoyment, camaraderie and fulfillment through drugs. But if you take the drugs and alcohol  away, what is left? Do any of these people truly know or care about each other outside of the party? Back when parties were my life, whoever had the drugs was my best friend, and if I had the drugs, I became the best friend. Ultimately, however, the drugs and alcohol were our friends, and the further away they could take us from confronting the realities we faced in the present moment, the better.

That’s not to say I no longer speak with my old party pals, or judge the ones who still do. Matter of fact, some of them are the best, most uncompromisingly honest people I know, particularly if they’ve also transcended past their former habits as well. It can be tough love, but I’ve grown immensely from the raw perspective both they and their counterparts in recovery have shown me.

However, there are also a few I know who are still all about that life. As for them, I have a difficult time speaking with them or relating to what they tell me. I can only endeavor to suspend judgment within myself towards their life choices, and pray that they can find their way one day. Although I was them not so long ago, the more I evolve, the less I can connect to that part of my life. It’s like hearing a language I can no longer comprehend.

Save yourself first: Altruism in the recovery community

In the book How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan refers to addiction as “a radical form of selfishness.” This speaks directly to the failure addicts routinely face in creating real connections outside of fulfilling the mandates of their addiction. The only thing we addicts care about is where the next drink or drug is coming from. Everything else is rationalized away: blowing off friends and family for months at a time, stealing, losing one’s job. The addictions makes these decisions for you.

This selfishness can be so absolute, we can do some of our greatest damage when we THINK we’re doing others around us a favor. For instance, one AA member I know spoke of attending a graduation party for his daughter years earlier. At this party, he only ordered one martini to make a show of his restraint. Fast forward to a reconciliation he made with this daughter upon reaching sobriety, she confessed this decision of his made that day the worst day of her life. Why? Because that one martini filled her with dread that that one martini would lead to the second, and the third, and the fourth and on and on until he made a scene that would mortify her. As far gone as he was, he never considered that dread of the other shoe dropping, how devastating his choices were to others.

The recovery community directly confronts this selfishness by puncturing the isolation of the addict. Its members quietly lead by example, teaching those of us to peel the layers back, remove the guilt and shame and make amends. Through them, I learned my negative behaviors had turned into self-destructive and even life-threatening habits, but those behaviors and habits don’t define who you really are once you change them. However, even the addict has something valuable to contribute to this community. No matter how many years sober you are in recovery, the struggling addict reminds everyone of who they once were.

In many ways, the members of the recovery community define the term “unsung heroes.” When asked by Time Magazine, AA co-founder Bill W. refused to be featured on the cover of the magazine – not even the back of his head! This sort of humility and anonymity makes recovery essentially different from the celebrity culture attached within elements of skiing. But it also shows that everyone can potentially aspire to this form of heroism, because believe me, it takes true courage to face life without the crutch of one’s addiction. We aspire not to be some unobtainable legendary figure, but the people quietly duking it out amongst us. If I may be so bold, certain parts of the yoga and spirituality communities could improve their spiritual stewardship if they tempered their own judgment of others with a similar sense of humility.

That said, I do gain inspiration from Trey Anastasio, who to me and other Phisheads serves as a role model for sobriety. Many years ago, he said in interview that before he goes onstage now, he imagines himself looking down from above, holding an intention of strength for anyone who may be attending their first sober Phish show. I am certain others can see that beacon if they are looking for it. Simply put, that beacon of hope is what I wake up at sunrise to light and maintain, because there’s always someone looking for it, no matter where you go.

But in order to serve as that beacon, you have to return to a sort of necessary selfishness by saving yourself first. I compare it to the command you hear in planes to put one’s own oxygen mask on first before helping others. Especially when one deals with addicts, certain types of help, such as offering money, can actually enable the addiction, and it can also lead the would-be savior into an ego trap which accomplishes very little of substance. Russell Brand speaks of the cocoon of such relationships; only by freeing oneself of their confines can one transition into the next phase of one’s existence. The best anyone can do for an addict, as AA is fond of saying, is to bring someone to the door. It’s up to them to walk through it.

Think inside of the box

Recovery is a large topic, and one which I’ll be exploring more in depth in a few months’ time.. But since we’re talking community this month, I couldn’t let this one pass without acknowledging and exploring a community that’s always there for me. Of all the communities I’ve been involved with, recovery is the most radically inclusive one I know. You can be a doctor, an artist, a homeless person, a housewife, an entrepreneur, a mom or a dad – guaranteed, you’ll meet someone who’s walking down the same path you are, and truly cares that you see this through.

Sobriety takes on many forms, of course, and not everyone sees eye to eye on it, so for those of you wondering how a cannabis entrepreneur has the gall to call himself sober, that conversation is coming. But for now, I want to thank all of you in recovery, past and present, for all you’ve done for me. In many ways, the inspiration for Medicine Box sprung from my own recovery process. Building my business has been a healing journey as much as it has been a creative canvas, and much of what I’ve learned from the recovery community has been integrated into my company’s culture and mission. Moreover, I wouldn’t have lived long enough to create Medicine Box if it weren’t for recovery, so for anyone else who’s been helped by the work we’ve done, make sure to tip your hat to AA. It’s their product as much as it is anybody else’s.