“It doesn’t matter if I love you or you love me, addiction is still more powerful.” Piers Kaniuka, Director of Spiritual Life Sitting down and having a conversation with Piers Kaniuka, the Director of Spiritual Life for Granite Recovery Centers, is an awesome experience. Piers has a very calm demeanor that penetrates the physical space that you are in. And when I chose the title A Quiet Mind, I did so because that is how I feel with Piers. It is evident through our conversation that his mind is full of knowledge, experience, and introspective thoughts; however, it does not appear to be busy with intrusive thoughts. Those thoughts that tend to take up our head space, thoughts about where we need to be next, or who we forgot to call, or did we turn off the coffee pot, pay the cable bill, etc. He is present and with a quiet mind, open to the conversation at hand. On Misconceptions… I asked Piers, “When it comes to addiction, the 12 Steps, and spirituality there are a lot of misconceptions. What do you think one of the biggest misconceptions is in terms of addiction?” “Well there are a couple that are pretty big. One is that the idea that addiction is essentially an individual pathology. Meaning that Piers is different, as in different = bad. There is something about my neurobiology that is broken and off. I think that if we start looking at culture and history and all of that, we will see that addiction only becomes a problem under certain conditions. There is the Dislocation Theory of Addiction. I think it’s profound. There are a lot of cultures, indigenous cultures, especially, that don’t have any addiction prior to their engagement with Western civilization. Addiction is not a hazard of being human, that is a huge misconception. Another one is the idea that there is no moral dimension to addiction, that we merely suffer from a disease. I think that if you drive a car drunk and hurt somebody or you leave your child in the car while you go cop drugs or you steal from your parents those are all immoral acts. And if I ever killed someone driving drunk, they are not going to put my disease in jail. So I think, it’s not cut and dry. I don’t think it’s the “medical issue” people claim it is. It is more of a social problem.” On our disconnections… “That is interesting Piers because now, I can be in the same room as 10 other people and not speak with anyone. You see it in restaurants, on the subway, you don’t have to make eye contact now, because we have a device. How much do you think technology now plays into addiction and preventing people from getting help?” “Well, Dislocation Theory would say that addiction is about disconnection, an adaptive response to being disconnected. When we are disconnected we adapt by connecting with behaviors or substances in lieu of people. We have already gone very far down this path. We don’t know our neighbors, there are no longer any social “commons”. Communal groups and institutions are getting weaker and weaker. Digital connectivity provides an ersatz sense of community, one free of the messiness and hard work needed to really know someone. It is really sad. My niece recently told me how voicemail is really passé.” I laughed. “Did she tell you to text?” “Yeah text. And I think about that. Texting is abbreviated sentences and icons and all that. There is no voice; there is no eye contact. It is less embodied than voicemail. To think that people use it with each other when they are in the same building. Bruce Alexander, the father of Dislocation Theory, defines addiction as ‘any overwhelming engagement with an object or a behavior that is deleterious to you or your social relations.’ So if we include digital devices, food, gambling and shopping we can see just how pervasive addiction actually is. It arises from the conditions of modern life.” “And recovery is all about connecting and being in a group. Being present. When people come to treatment they aren’t allowed to have their cell phones.” I stated. “Yes, they are forced to interact. But I think we can run with that even further, recovery is also about being connected with your body. Addicts are usually alienated from their physicality.” “Because of the substance?” I asked. “Because of the substance. But we also know that people use their thinking to deal with stressful situations. They perseverate on their problems. You can control your thinking to a limited degree, but you can’t control your feelings. Emotions impose themselves on us. So addicts are always trying to think their way through their problems.” Piers continued. “When we’re actively using, what we are doing is actually trading sensations for emotions. So getting high is kind of like going into a movie theater knowing that you are going to see a car chase thriller; you control your environment, have a totally prescribed sensational experience, and then leave. Shooting heroin is the same way. No matter what is going on out here, if I shoot heroin I get to feel a certain way, I get to control this. I don’t have anything like a real feeling or emotional life. I have sensations where I would have normally had emotions. So we are very afraid of emotions. Which is kind of a cliché with addicts but it is true. And so we are always running up into our heads. But then we run up in our heads and we don’t like that so we try and run out of our heads and that is where getting high comes in. If I am running from my emotions, I am also running from my body. Because my body serves to inform me of what is going on, around me. It is the source of many of my feelings. So connect with the body, connect with the feelings. There is also this connection to the earth. I don’t think we have even begun to tap into the implications of eco-psychology. There are studies that show even if you just walk around barefoot for five minutes your pulse and heart rate go down. And that is the one connection that we truly lack. But where intact indigenous cultures have no addiction, they have a profound appreciation of their connection to the earth, their mother. Even our environmentalists are basically tourists. We visit the earth, feel a little better and return to our cell phones and offices.” On unconditional acceptance… “So connection to many things is important. Listening is very important especially with someone who is new to recovery. Why?” “There are a lot of arguments about whether or not the steps constitute treatment; I tend to think they do because they effectively utilize the transference. Ideally a clinician has been trained so that he will ‘accept’ his client. A sponsor must also demonstrate unconditional acceptance. The newcomer must be accepted unconditionally. That kind of unconditional acceptance, you don’t find in many places in life. You don’t have it in marriage or parenting. That is not to say that your mother or your spouse doesn’t love you more than anyone else but that virtually all social relationships are based upon reciprocal need. You need something, I need something, we become close because we fulfill certain desires or needs. But when you are working with a good therapist or sponsor, they don’t need anything from you. You need to be able to tell them about those things that are eating you alive and not be judged or rejected. Healing demands this. And it can only occur from a place of deep trust. When neuroscience uses the term “trust” they are actually talking about what happens when two or more people are in a responsive state. When this happens trust emerges as a third element between them. The Jungians are trained to attend to this third thing, this resonant field between analyst and client. It all starts coming together. If you can build that up and work together you can not only heal individual addicts but also address its root causes. And we haven’t even begun to really talk about that yet.” For families… “What about a mom or dad who is out there and they have a child who is using and they just don’t know what to do. What would you tell them?” “I would tell them a few things. One is there is no way you can go up against your child’s addiction by yourself. You will lose. I would say, and this is one of the harsher things I would say, is that the people who love you the most can help you the least. I often describe addiction as a condition that is more powerful than any bond of human affection. I had a client who was 9 months pregnant, dope sick, and on a mission to get some heroin. Her water bursts and she still has to get the heroin. Her addiction is more powerful than her most hard-wired biological instincts. That is not something that is responsive to human affection. It doesn’t matter if I love you or you love me, addiction is still more powerful. That is very hard for parents and very hard for mothers in particular because they often love their children more than anyone else. So they feel they have some sort of privileged relationship to their child’s recovery; to admit that they don’t is really hard. Some parents can never get there. That is why addicted to be ministered to by those like themselves.” “Sometimes parents think a child is choosing the drug over them.” I added. “That’s right. It actually becomes a way a kid can manipulate the parents. Because they are so afraid of my dying they think my living in their basement is going to improve my odds of surviving. The reality is I am as likely to die down there as I am on the street. When I am working with the parents I tell them what they need to do is become very clear with themselves about what they are willing to do for their child. The worst thing to do is draw a line in the sand and then have it move all over the place. If you know you can’t tow the line then let’s explore another strategy. Or if you know you can’t, then who can you enlist to help you hold the line? It is only when you begin to build this containment structure around the child’s addiction, with certain consequences, that you can start steering him towards treatment.” On what recovery feels like… As we were winding down the interview I asked Piers two last questions. First, if there was anything else he would like to add. “I don’t think spirituality is getting weaker. There is greater interest in spirituality than probably ever. Institutional religion keeps getting weaker.” “What does recovery feel like?” “Relief. It feels like there was this incredible tension like this moist towel that has been twisted. It has all of these knots in it, and you lived with that tension and now it is gone. You can kind of feel the place where the tension was, but now there is relief. Are you or someone you love suffering from addiction? Granite Recovery Centers can help. Contact our admissions department today at (866) 466-6138. Most insurance accepted.