“And then I started to think, ‘But he doesn’t feel that way anymore.’ I could see it; he wasn’t miserable and that made me interested.” -Piers Kaniuka, Director of Spiritual Life. Piers Kaniuka, Director of Spiritual Life Today I interviewed Piers Kaniuka, the Director of Spiritual Life for Granite Recovery Centers. Piers’ office is located on the campus of Green Mountain Treatment Center, or GMTC as it is referred to by those who work there. GMTC sits on Green Mountain in Effingham, New Hampshire. As you head up the long driveway, to your right is an open field and to your left is a large apple orchard. Perched up on the hill in front of you is a campus that hosts a number of buildings, log cabin style homes, and another apple orchard. The many buildings are spread across part of the 72-acre campus. I pulled into a parking spot behind the admissions building, stepped out of my car and embraced one of the most spectacular views. I looked over the lower apple orchard, and in front of me I could see a few of the New Hampshire lakes that are surrounded by the White Mountain Range. Just for a moment, while my eyes were scanning the mountain range, my mind was blank. I wasn’t thinking about emails, or voicemails, or where I needed to be next. I was just enjoying what was right in front of me. After stealing a few more moments taking in the view, I headed into Piers’ office, which also has the same spectacular view from his office windows. I am not sure one could ask for a better backdrop when discussing spirituality. On his role… I began by asking Piers what exactly does his title, Director of Spiritual Life, mean. He replied, “Practically it means that I help shape the recovery culture from a radical 12 Step perspective.” Piers responded. “And that embraces and embodies spirituality?” I asked. “That’s right. It is about giving the 12 Steps a broad context. It’s about relating them to things they are sometimes related to, like the body, one’s relationship to the natural world, and the larger culture. We try to provide the broadest possible understanding of addiction and recovery for our clients.” “So Piers, if I came in here and I said ‘look, I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God.’ Would I be sent to you?” “Well, it is not so much about speaking with me. I am trying to shape the approach taken by the 12-Step and clinical staff. So the first two Steps ask: ‘Can you control your using once you start? No. Do you find yourself thinking about using even when you do not want to? Yes. Are you more or less miserable when you’re sober? Yes. Can you fix yourself? No. Can anyone fix you?’ If you pose these questions skillfully you have brought the question of a higher power to the forefront. It’s not a matter of addressing the question of the existence of God. It’s more creating a, ‘what do you have to lose?’ scenario. If you answered yes to all of those questions, then there had better be a God.” Piers added, “We are focusing on the disease of addiction and what it has done to her life and how all of her attempts at getting better have failed. It really comes down to are you willing to take the leap and find out if there is something there or not. There is nothing I can do to convince you of what is on the other side, the only way for you to find out is to do it yourself.” On how he got here… “Piers what brought you into this field addiction and spirituality?” “I was interested in these things even when I was using. In 1994, I was a alcoholic and heroin addict; I was also a graduate student at the University of Washington, studying Comparative Religion. When I finally got sober I was miserable. I always knew I needed a spiritual solution, no one had to tell me that. But I was very surprised to find it in the 12 Steps. That was the last place on earth I expected to find it.” “Why?” “Because I was so arrogant. I was contemptuous of AA. The Big Book was written in the 1930’s by a alcoholic, republican stockbroker. Not like me. Not very cool. But then I got better. I had a really powerful 3rd Step with an amazing man named Don Pritts. My step experience led me to seminary. My step experience informed my seminary experience more than my seminary experience shaped my understanding of recovery.” I asked Piers to explain that statement. “The experiences that I had in the steps were lived. At seminary I would read something and say ‘oh that is what you call that,’ or ‘I actually experienced that’. Everything was new and exciting. And from there I never looked back. I have always been really curious about spiritual matters. And working with people in this capacity is by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done.” “Piers what qualifications does one need to be a Director of Spiritual Life?” “I think having your own recovery rooted in spiritual disciplines is imperative. It must be authentic. And I think it should extend beyond the 12 Steps. It helps to be someone who is always asking questions and not satisfied with easy answers. The dynamics of 12-Step spirituality are fascinating and the outcomes only feed that fascination. But by the same token they do not do anything for the body. Approaches like yoga take you deep into the body and get you grounded in a way that the steps cannot. So I think the Director of Spiritual Life should be someone who is inquisitive and always trying to enhance the client’s experience. Advanced training is good, but need not be uniform. In my case it involved studying theology, counseling, and yoga.” “How does yoga come into play?” I asked Piers. “Like a lot of people, I got sober only to discover that I have a pathological relationship to food. I gained 75 pounds in the first 6 months. Food replaced drugs. I quit drugs, then cigarettes, and finally overconsumption of food. And being a guy, my idea of exercise was pretty macho. So I lifted weights well into my late 30’s, and only got bigger and bigger. When yoga came along I was really only trying to lose pounds and find an exercise regimen that was more age appropriate. But then I discovered that yoga really enhanced my meditation. Once my body got still, I found that I could meditate in a way that I never had been able to during the first 12 years of recovery. So yoga actually transformed both my relationship to my body and my mind. Now I believe that yoga can enhance the step process in ways that few other modalities can.” On integration…. The field of addiction has certain buzz words. One such word is integration. People ask, “Is your treatment integrated?” What does that mean? To some it means that all of the disciplines – medical, clinical, and 12 Step – are working together to best meet the needs of the client. To others it means treatment is addressing the whole person – the medical and clinical working in concert with the nutritional and spiritual. And this is expected to happen in primary treatment. Piers understands integration in terms of healing the mind. This effects the entire healing process. He explains how this leads to growth far beyond one’s initial treatment. I asked him why he thought meditation was so important. “Well, Don Pritts, who is sort of the godfather of this place, said that because ‘God has a very quiet voice’ I must have ‘a very quiet mind.’ So much of recovery is about listening. It’s about listening to the still small voice within and to the people around you. Neuroscience tells us that deep states of relaxation optimize neuroplasticity. That means positive change is largely a function of trust. Such calmness can be achieved by bringing awareness into the body; through what is called interoception. Interoceptive awareness helps us become more responsive to the world around us. It makes us less reactive. So the brain can only heal from these calm quiet states. Unfortunately, addicts have a hard time reaching these states. Although most 12 Steppers take up prayer at the very beginning of the process, meditation is only mentioned in Step 11 (‘Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God’). The implication is that only after I have written an inventory, had a cathartic experience reading the 5th step, and alleviated my guilt by making amends that I am truly ready to take up the discipline of meditation. Only after I have cleared that interior space, can I begin to relax and drop into deeper and deeper meditative states. I think a lot of people in recovery never really get there. They have wonderful experiences with everything up to that point but then when they get to Step 11, they never take up any sort of contemplative practice. It’s still too difficult. So they quit. Yoga can remedy this. You can enter into deep meditative states through the body. I’m not a big fan of mindfulness meditation because it doesn’t work as well with addicts. Sitting and counting my breaths just didn’t work well for me. I sometimes suspect that there is no worse ‘monkey mind’ than that which plagues the drug addict in early recovery.” On getting to treatment… “What would you want to say to someone who is out there wanting treatment, but just can’t get themselves there. They are in that state of struggle, where they just can’t surrender?” “It depends on where they are. If they are still functional I would probably have as much luck talking to that rock out there. If they are functional, even if their addiction is written all over the place they are not going to see it. I think we can learn a lot from the early members of AA. When they met someone they would really just explain their addiction, tell the prospect about what had happened to them. A lot rests on how well you do that. You need to be truthful; but what you really need is to know your condition inside and out. You should not hesitate to talk about what it did to your loved ones, what it did to your dreams, how you wanted to be a certain kind of person but just couldn’t live up to your own value system. If they identify with you then maybe the conversation can go further. If they don’t, then maybe they’re not ready. We are still stuck with that – the addict is often the last person to realize he needs treatment. So we all have to sit there and watch and hope for a non-fatal catastrophe. Then we can step in and share our experience. And we should resist talking about spiritual solutions until the prospect has become curious about our recovery.” Piers continued. “That is the ‘message of depth and weight’ that is found in the Big Book. In my case, Don explained the disease model and he gave a name to a lot of what I already knew. But then he said this, ‘and then sometimes I get sober for a while and feel really sorry for myself and am so filled with self-pity that I go to the meeting, looking for a little fellowship. Then I get to the meeting and I can’t even make eye contact with anybody. I am all turned in on myself and think I can read people’s minds. I think they are all thinking bad things about me and I just get more and more alienated and keep looking at the clock.’ When he said all of that, I wondered if he had been following me. And then I started to think, ‘But he doesn’t feel that way anymore.’ I could see it; he wasn’t miserable and that made me interested. He knew his addiction so well, he may as well have been talking about mine. And yet, he was not suffering from the thing he was describing and I could see that and that is what sparked my interest. Until that happens I don’t think you win the confidence of an addict, if you are working with an addict as an addict.” With 11 drug rehab facilities in the New England area, Granite Recovery Centers can help you or your loved one find a new life in sobriety. Contact us today. Our dedicated and knowledgeable staff are ready to help. 866-466-6138.