Abstinence or harm reduction ?

What I’m Thinking
Everyone’s recovery is unique. Once upon a time, there was the strong binary opinion of all or nothing. Abstinence or you are doomed. The argument was harm reduction versus Abstinence. While this view is helpful for many, it was a major hindrance for others. If some people couldn’t keep their abstinence for more than a month without slipping, it became an excuse filled with facilitative thoughts like: “What the heck, I may as well keep on using.” Or some people were told there was no hope for them, they were doomed. Abstinence is a concept that needs to be explored with each individual in recovery. The teachings of the dharma make it clear that we are all in training, and we need to start exactly where we are. In the raft parable, the Buddha says the raft is useful for crossing over but not for holding onto. In the same way, abstinence and harm reduction are useful behaviours to help us cross over into recovery, but not if we hold tight to these views. Nobody is doomed in the teachings of the dharma. What works for one person, may not work for another. When you see what the dharma is pointing to – it’s a non-dual reality.

Negative Jargon in the Addiction field Clean, Dirty, Addict, Abuser, Junkie
One of the basic meditations to help calm the mind and the central nervous system is the practice of loving-kindness, traditionally known as the Metta Bhavana. In this practice, we are learning to love ourselves and all other sentient beings. There is so much negative jargon in the field of addiction which is demeaning. This kind of language labels a person by their illness, rather than their potential. This narrative also implies permanency of addictive behaviours and no room for change. The Buddhist teachings can be summed up in two words. “Everything Changes.” We can all change because things are always changing. And we all have seeds of potential within us. These seeds need to be watered with loving kindness.

What I’m Reading
Recovery Groups by Linda Farris Kurtz. A book looking at the history of recovery groups for addiction and emotional trauma. And although it doesn’t refer to the history of Buddhist recovery groups, there is a lot the Buddhist Recovery world can learn from this book.

Something I’m doing I’m off to Spain to ordain someone into the Triratna Lineage. And will be presenting at the 5th International Mindfulness summit in Zaragoza. As well as delivering mindfulness and compassion workshops for addiction in Valencia. And co-leading a retreat with Kevin Griffin in July, and leading another in September. Join me on retreat.

Back by popular demand, January 1, 2019: The online Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery Retreat

New Updated Edition of Detox Your Heart – Meditations on Emotional Trauma 2017

For a free sample of the first chapter, book study and 21 meditations of “Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction,” please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • After suffering through addiction and spending a few decades as an addiction therapist I quickly came to the conclusion that the abstinence model works best for me.
    There were too many times in early stages of abstinence when I would decide I was “cured” and lapse. I found this true for almost all of my patients over the years.
    What does make sense is to let go of the idea of being cured of anything and relating to addiction as something that needs constant work to maintain sobriety. We achieve a state of REMISSION and work to stay there.
    I am a great fan of the 12 Step system and in fact all systems that will help a person achieve sobriety. After that it’s important to accept the fact that the addiction can return depending on perspective. Being “cured” has a great psychological attraction, but it gives a poor message to a person who is truly addicted.
    So, I teach remission as a way of life for those addicted.
    Because I am a follower of Zen and Dao, I am starting to see that the remission model fits well in a universe that runs on transience. We can never actually foretell the future and remission works well as a here and now perspective.
    I enjoyed the blog.
    Be well,
    Bryan Wagner

  • Having spent so many years as a addict and later on a a therapist I have come to the conclusion that treating periods of abstinence as remission is a very good way to maintain sobriety. The idea of “recovery” never seems to set well with a lot of people. There can be the danger of arrogance setting in or relapse for those who think they have “made it.”
    I appreciate the 12 step groups attitude and staying humble and I think it’s a big key to staying abstinent.
    Thank you for this blog. I appreciate the perspective.


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