In Part 3 of this interview with New Harbinger Publications, Scott Kiloby reveals the how the power of present moment awareness can create healthier relationships with potentially addictive activities and more.
Q: Not everyone can moderate the use of these substances and activities as you do. What’s the key to a healthier relationship to all these seductive things in life?
Scott: As I’ve said, the key for me has definitely been present moment awareness, mindfulness and addressing the underlying self-esteem issues and trauma. Without that, I would still be holding back the dam, as so many in recovery do. “Holding back the dam” refers to the phenomenon of not using no matter what because you know that if you use something at all, you will fall right back into the cycle of full-blown addiction to that substance or activity. The dam could break at any moment. Not using no matter what can be important for the most highly addictive substances like drugs, alcohol and tobacco. But in the recovery world, in my view, there is too much focus on how long one has been clean and sober rather than on dealing with the real issues underlying it all. The reason people fall right back into full-blown addiction the moment they pick up some of these other substances or activities is because they haven’t dealt with the underlying issues and probably don’t experience the present moment as the foundation of their lives. When you don’t live in the present moment, your head is constantly rehashing and reliving the pain of the past and worrying about the future. It’s quite natural to want to constantly medicate those uncomfortable feelings. This is why addressing those issues is so vitally important. Trauma is the big one. From my work at the Kiloby Center for Recovery, I have found that most people suffering from addiction are carrying around unresolved trauma. If there is one take away from this interview it is this: deal with your trauma.
Q: For you, is it all about present moment awareness, mindfulness and dealing with these issues, or are other things helpful like medications?
Scott: Support in recovery is critically important. This is one of the great things about the 12 step program. Tons of support there. Medications can definitely help. I’m the COO for MyLife Recovery Centers, which provides the Naltrexone Implant to people suffering from opiate and alcohol addiction. This implant is truly innovative. It greatly reduces or eliminates cravings for those substances for many months, up to a year. It is truly saving lives during this heroin epidemic we hear about in the news every day. But medicine only gives you a reprieve while you are taking it. You still have to do the work on the underlying issues or else you will be enslaved to medication your entire life or you will find yourself right back in full-blown addiction as the medicine wears off or you stop taking it.
Some people suffering from mental illness need medication just to stabilize also. So medications can definitely help. It is also important to get good sleep and nutrition and to take care of yourself physically.
Q: Would you say many people in recovery have merely substituted one addiction for another – for example, trading alcohol for sweets?
Scott: Definitely. Everyone is doing the best they can at the level of consciousness they are currently experiencing. It took me many years to find a balance where I was no longer enslaved to all these things. People come to full recovery only when they are ready.
Q: What’s your definition of full recovery?
Scott: No longer being enslaved to any addictive substances or activities.
Q: What would you say to all those people in recovery who have switched from one addiction to a more socially acceptable addiction?
Scott: I would say work on the real issues, but don’t buy into the guilt and shame around the fact that you are still addicted to stuff. Be totally loving, compassionate and forgiving towards yourself, while being totally honest to yourself by not claiming “recovery” prematurely. Every person’s path in recovery is different. Addiction contains so much societal shame and stigma. We need to broaden the definition of recovery to include this concept of enslavement v non-enslavement, instead of stigmatizing people who do not remain completely abstinent from all process and secondary addictions. Everyone is doing the best they can at the level of consciousness they are currently experiencing. It took me many years to find a balance where I was no longer enslaved to all these things. People come to full recovery only when they are ready.
Q: What do you mean that everyone is doing the best they can at the level of consciousness they are currently experiencing?
Scott: I mean it quite simply and literally. People are not ready to drop an addiction until they are ready. Expecting that to happen before it happens is like wanting a couch to be a chair.
When I was in early recovery listening to people with many years clean and sober complaining about how their lives were still miserable or watching them gorge themselves on sugar and caffeine, I knew that they were just surviving. They weren’t at a place where they could be free from enslavement to these secondary and process addictions. I had the same experience. It took me years to drop caffeine and excessive sugar, for example.
The issue I had during those early years had to do with people touting their abstinence from drugs and alcohol, as if not drinking or using drugs is the true litmus test for recovery. It is not, in my view. For example, alcohol and sugary foods share very similar compounds. Moving from alcohol to sugar addiction is more like substitution than abstinence. You are trading in one form of a substance for another very similar form of that substance. Or a person may trade drug addiction for sex addiction or shopping addiction. But enslavement is enslavement, no matter what form it takes. I wish that the recovery community would focus less on abstinence and more on dealing with the underlying issues so that substitution happens much less or not at all.
Until the underlying issues are addressed, substitution continues happening. It’s like playing whack-a-mole at an amusement park. As soon as you whack one mole, another one pops up.
But instead of judging those people and further stigmatizing them, I think it would be better to redefine what recovery is all about. For me, it is about the end of enslavement. It’s not about whether you drink coffee. It’s about whether you are enslaved to it. It’s about whether you are substituting one addiction for another. People who are clean and sober from drugs and alcohol but who have traded those addictions for new addictions are doing the best they can to survive with a body and mind that still harbors underlying trauma and other issues that have not been resolved yet.
Q: It appears that being 13 years in recovery is not what you are celebrating today. You seem to be celebrating full recovery, which you define as non-enslavement. Is that correct?
Scott: Today, my identity is not wrapped around the number of days, months, weeks or years that I have been in recovery or been abstinent from this or that substance or activity. I’m celebrating full recovery, which is non-enslavement, yes. Once I started living with the present moment as the foundation of my experience and started dealing with the real underlying issues, the mental story of being an addict and a recovering addict both fell away. All that matters now is this moment. In this moment, am I enslaved to any of those things on that long list of addictions I’ve had? No. And that is something much more worthy of celebration. If anything, I am celebrating how mindfulness and awareness have dramatically shifted my experience and my understanding of recovery in this way. It’s been such a profound shift that I want everyone in the world to know that this level of liberation is possible.