Episode 153: Recovery Advocacy

In this episode, I spoke with Erik Haines , a public health advocate in Canada who has studied and written about how changing attitudes regarding addiction and recovery are impacting public policy, treatment options, and new modes of support for people recovering from addictions of all kinds.  

Links to some of Erik’s work:

“We the North: Rethinking Addiction & Recovery in Canada” (AA Agnostica, 01/05/2020)

“A Canadian Perspective on Recovery Advocacy” (The Selected Papers of William L. White, 10/05/2018)

Transcript

00:00 John: AA Beyond Belief is a podcast for, by, and about people who have found a secular path to recovery, in Alcoholics Anonymous.

[music]

00:24 John: Hello. Today, I’ll be speaking with Eric Haines who is a public health advocate in Canada. I learned about him from an article he wrote that was posted on AA Agnostica, not that long ago. It was entitled “We The North: Rethinking Addiction and Recovery in Canada.” And that was a follow-up to a previous blog post that was on William White’s site which was entitled A Canadian Perspective on Recovery Advocacy. Eric, how you?

00:52 Erik: Very well, thank you. Thanks for having me.

00:54 John: Oh, I was looking forward to this for a long time. I just found this topic to be interesting, I guess I first got interested in what was going on in Canada and the differences between what’s happening in Canada and the United States, all from an interview I had with actually a comedian who was originally from Vancouver, and moved to Toronto, and he was educating me about the safe injection sites that were popping up in Vancouver first and then moved over to Toronto. And that’s something that’s unique to Canada, that doesn’t happen in the United States, and I thought that was really interesting, the difference, that that would be tolerated and accepted in Canada, but not in the United States, at all. And there’s just gotta be a huge difference there. But if you don’t mind, Eric could you just start this conversation by introducing yourself as a public health advocate? What exactly is that? And how did you get involved with it?

01:54 Erik: Sure, well I mean I guess first off, like all of your listeners, how I got involved in the recovery space is I pretty much grew up in recovery. I’d just start off by saying that. And being an advocate for me has also been working also on my own recovery and having honest conversations with people in my community, and over the course of my life now, in terms of doing my own self-care and helping other people along this journey too. So, I mean discovering your site and obviously AA Agnostica, and the whole secular recovery movement. I’d been following this online and I have been a huge… Just a fan of what you guys are up to. In terms of public health per se, I mean along with growing up in recovery and being involved in pretty much all the recovery, mutual aid groups. I also grew up in the YMCA, and… Yeah.

03:09 Erik: And I worked for the YMCA for over 10 plus years, while I was going back to university. So I was heavily involved, I guess, in the area of community development, and recovery mutual aid groups, whether they be secular or AA or NA or even the Al-Anon groups were groups that were always around the YMCA, renting out our spaces, having their conferences, so I just pretty much lived and breathed in those types of environments, growing up. So that’s pretty much how I got involved. And over the course of, I guess, academically, ironically, I ended up at Concordia University, which is kind of an outgrowth of the YMCA in Montreal, which is an interesting history in itself, but I landed up in kind of a bit of a strange department called the Applied Human Science Department, and the Applied Human Science Department essentially is… It’s an area specialization for a lot of people that are… Go into the health sciences.

04:14 Erik: So I was surrounded by psychologists, sociologists, people that work in the area of community development, and non-profit organizations, like the YMCA or work specifically in the area of Public Health. So I was kind of groomed, I guess, you can say in that direction, from a career standpoint. And I was just… Been involved now for over 20 plus years, now, in terms of doing that kind of work.

04:45 John: Okay, so you’ve noticed a difference or a growth or I don’t know, some sort of evolvement of recovery advocacy in Canada over the last several years. Can you talk about that, what is going on with recovery advocacy in Canada?

05:07 Erik: Sure, I mean, even just what’s going on with you guys in terms of starting the secular AA movement has been a huge game-changer, not only in Canada but obviously in the US, and I’ve been following that closely as well, in terms of the evolution of how that’s been kind of going on. For me, I guess…

05:30 John: It’s fascinating actually, it is actually fascinating.

05:33 Erik: It is.

05:35 John: And what’s amazing about it is it’s actually this whole secular AA movement if we want to call it that, is been going on for a long time. It started back in 1975. We’ve had these groups. But what is really interesting there was one event that happened in my opinion, that really helped us along and that was when we all came together in 2014 in Santa Monica, California for our international conference. So this was really interesting because this is, I think, the first time that atheists and agnostics and Alcoholics Anonymous got together in one place and not just from North America, but from other countries around the world as well. And so we got to know each other and we got to know what we had in common and our differences, but beyond that, we connected afterward and stayed connected through social media and our websites online.

06:00 John: And from that man, we have just been growing like the number of meetings, secular meetings and so forth, and new people are finding us and learning about these secular meetings all the time, so it’s really cool how that technology combined with our face-to-face interactions kind of solidified this growth I think in our secular movement.

06:00 Erik: Oh, absolutely, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited to talk to you. I was super excited to go and connect with Roger as well. And now, through technology, exactly like you say, we’re able to go and connect with each other and share not only our own personal stories of recovery but also in terms of how things are evolving, how things are changing and how we’re adapting as communities. Now all across Canada, but how you guys are doing it as well, in the States. And it’s this story that’s… It’s really started to captivate me and that’s what led me to go and write the original essay that I sent to Bill White. And if your listeners are not that familiar, I’m pretty sure quite a few of them are familiar with Bill White’s work. I mean, he’s been an inspiration for me, his writing has been…

07:47 Erik: It just really opened up my eyes in terms of how recovery, over the years, or as a movement has been evolving and adapting, and has always been at the forefront of health really, and helping to go out and possibly even just adapt, I think, to what’s going on in the modern world right now. So, that’s what led me to go out and write those particular pieces and I was happy to reach out to Roger over at AA Agnostica and we’ve had the opportunity now to exchange just a few emails and we’ve Skyped once before as well now, and the conversation was amazing. He taught me a lot in terms of what’s going on with what you guys are doing in terms of the secular movement, but we were also able to go and exchange some of our experiences over the years in terms of participating in AA. For me, it was also NA as well, and Al-Anon and seeing how all these mutual aid support groups have been adapting and changing over the years and adopting a new form of language, that seems to be moving in the direction of a modern secular approach.

09:20 Erik: And that to me is fascinating. I think that’s really one interesting dimension that’s going on, but it’s also how these various mutual aid support groups whether it be AA or NA and how they’re talking to one another now. because I had a lot of friends in NA and here in Montreal and there’s a lot of people that are jumping from one fellowship to the other. And they’re exchanging their experience, strength, and hope and how, whether it be from the literature or even just from their experience, and how that’s morphing and changing how people are recovering today. Or how we are talking about recovery or how we are actually talking about addiction.

10:09 John: Isn’t that interesting? Sometimes I feel like AA in particular, which I’m most familiar with and when I say AA, it’s kind of a complicated thing because AA is really thousands of different little groups, but when you look at the way that AA likes to be structured, I guess or organized, you think that it’s kind of siloed because they only want to talk about alcoholism and they only want to have this approach, whatever, but what’s really happening is people are mixing and matching, and there are more options today too, SMART Recovery, LifeRing, different approaches like that. So, people can go to an AA meeting, they can also go to a SMART Recovery meeting at the same time. And, yeah, and so from that is coming a whole new, I guess, an idea about what recovery is, it’s not necessarily just isolated to just one idea in one 12-Step Fellowship.

11:09 Erik: Exactly, yeah. And people that have experiences with treatment as well. People that are walking out of formal treatment rather than some people that are… Personally, I have never gone to treatment. My recovery has been more of a form of natural recovery, I guess you could say, in terms of my own natural pathway. But I needed that support, I needed to be able to go out and reach out to other people and have conversations and hear other people’s experience, strength and hope and how they were changing and growing, and how they were adapting to the times. And even that is just a strange thing that Bill White has written about quite a bit. He’s written quite a few papers on the idea of recovery, identity or various recovery identities.

12:00 Erik: And how people go out and fall into various pathways. And all of a sudden, from a scientific or maybe from a sociological or even from a cultural standpoint, we’re getting to the point now where we’re kind of reflecting back on this history or we’re trying to jot down this history and through the process, we seem to be learning, and that’s changing everything. It’s changing the political discourse in Canada in terms of how we’re thinking about healthcare and mental health that’s… Even just like you beautifully said at the beginning of your intro there, in terms of harm reduction. I mean, harm reduction now is a new player in this space as well, and how they’re interacting and dealing or having conversations with people within the mutual aid, whether it be AA or NA, people that have experience there, how they’re interacting with them, and it’s creating a sort of a new language.

12:57 Erik: And what’s really evolving out of that and something I kind of touched on a bit on in my article was is that it’s this general idea there seems to be a continuum of recovery care. Or in the States right now, I guess through Bill White’s work and stuff like that. He referred to it as a recovery-oriented theory of care, which he worked on with Ernie Kurtz. And that’s had a huge impact on quite a few people and thinkers or even people that are working professionally in the addiction treatment space to go out and start adopting that model.

12:57 John: How has all of this impacted the public policy debates, particularly in Canada?

13:46 Erik: That’s the fascinating thing that’s going on right now, it’s… From a public policy standpoint, it’s pretty much agreed upon, I guess, at a higher level, in terms of policy, whether it be government or people that are working within the addiction treatment space, they have fully adopted, I guess, kind of a continuum of care model or recovery-oriented theory of care model. But the question is, is how do we go out and implement this? And that’s where things get very complicated. It is like this looks good, and it sounds great on paper, but how do we go out and finance this and where exactly do some of these other players or stakeholders come in and fit in? So, there’s been, it’s been pretty, I guess, like anything political, it can get pretty nasty.

14:48 Erik: If you’re following the news right now, in Canada, the harm reduction folks can go… They’re pretty vocal and political in terms of how they want to go out and tackle the opioid addiction crisis. But then you have people more on the recovery side whether it be more in terms of mutual aid recovery support groups, which are more grassroots, they have their own worldview and perspective in terms of how to go about that. And usually, it’s been more of an abstinence-based sort of model.

15:22 John: What I find interesting though is that you’re even having that debate, which doesn’t seem to be occurring here as far as I know.

15:29 Erik: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, well, there’s quite… I’m on Twitter and I’ve been following quite a bit of research online as well over the years. Bill White has been really one of the Avantgarde sort of thinkers in pushing that during the 90s, but there are quite a few organizations in the US itself. Dr. Kelly from the Recovery Research Institute who’s up in Massachusetts has been doing some phenomenal work in that space and they’ve been grooming quite a bit of scholar and new people over the years that have been… They’re doing their master’s degree in social work or in psychology and there’s a whole mind shift happening in the higher education that it seems to be adopting this new worldview or this new way or methodology of going about tackling what is addiction and what is recovery. So, even though, in Canada, maybe because that’s kind of even been my own impression as well, is that looking over to the States at times I felt, well, they seem to be moving in the right direction.

16:48 Erik: They’ve adopted this kind of recovery-oriented theory of care theory, and it seems to be taking off. And the recovery advocacy movement that was being advocated by Bill White and Ernie Kurtz at the time during the 90s and into the early 2000s really seemed like it was a big wave of change that was coming. And it did, it caused quite a stir, but at the same time, the crisis has been getting worse on certain levels as well. So, in Canada, we’ve mixed and played with two models really. And if you go back to kind of my article there, there’s a few… Like Dr. McPherson, I would probably say he’s probably the leading thinker right now or has been at the forefront of the harm reduction approach in Canada. And he’s been doing that for pretty much over his whole career. And I think that’s why we’ve had so much success in terms of going out and implementing harm reduction approach along with recovery-based initiatives in Canada.

17:57 John: Is there a difference between how that’s viewed in say Vancouver as opposed to Toronto?

18:05 Erik: Oh, absolutely, yeah, oh yeah. And even just that is fascinating. One of your guests on your podcast was Ray, Dr… I can’t remember his last name now.

[chuckle]

18:23 John: Baker.

18:24 Erik: Ray Baker, exactly, yeah. And Ray is out in DC and he’s done some phenomenal work in terms of the area of recovery or taking on a kind of a recovery-oriented theory of care approach. And he’s right the heart of Vancouver and he’s been in BC fighting tooth and nail with harm reduction folks, to going out and winning that battle. But in Quebec or even in Montreal, it’s a completely different reality, even just from the opioid crisis. We haven’t… We just haven’t been hit as hard as Ontario or British Columbia, and there’s a big cultural-linguistic difference that I tried to go and draw out a bit as well in my article. But it’s not clear, I think in terms of why, why is that, why has it happened that way? What are the reasons why various forms of substance use disorders, or even various issues or community-based issues have flared up in various areas and they haven’t flared up in other areas across the country?

19:45 John: Yeah, that is interesting. And I know that even here in the States, there are some areas of the country that are harder hit from the opioid crisis than others. And when I look back at different epidemics, I guess you call them, like crack epidemic. And then there was meth at one time, those were… There were also some regional differences. I live in Missouri, for example, and Missouri was like one of the leading states for the methamphetamine production and addiction and problems. It was just all over, every other day you would hear about a meth-lab getting raided or blowing up or something, but how interesting that that was like here in Missouri, and in some other part of the country, it wasn’t as big of a deal. And then you get into the opioid situation, and that seems like it started like in like Vermont or something, and then kind of spread over to other areas. It’s just, I don’t know how that happens. Why some areas don’t…

20:50 Erik: Even now, that’s why I kind of love listening to you guys in terms of when you guys reflect back on the history of AA is, in terms of how the history or how AA group had a group in various cities, and then eventually got carried over to other parts of the country and then eventually made its way up into Canada and now it’s a fully… It’s an international movement now. AA can go and be found in dozens of countries, hundreds of countries now, almost. And it’s the same thing with NA. NA’s history is a fascinating history once you start to get into it in terms of who some of the key players were, and how they transmitted one, just like… How does recovery get transmitted from one individual to another in a certain way, or how is it kind of… One of my favorite books actually, by Bill White is actually called Pathways from the Culture of Addiction to the Culture of Recovery.

21:53 Erik: And in that book, he basically analyzes in terms of how addiction and recovery can go and be passed on, through various cultural means or it could be through various institutions or it could be through various economic reasons, in terms of how on drugs or alcohol come to go out and play out in terms of how these things manifest and take root in our communities. And even just why or why is there flare-ups of people using substances or mind-altering substances at various periods in history. That is a fascinating question to go out and explore and in terms of why. And there’s been a lot of literature now that has been written on AA. I mean, Ernie Kurtz is probably one of the most famous. And if you go out and read his history of AA.

22:49 Erik: I mean, one of the root causes seems to be the Great Depression. Bill W was trying to go and make his way in the world during that particular period in history, and some people can’t or maybe we need to go out and really look kind of how history and community and various events go out and shape us.

23:18 John: Yeah. I used to think that the Great Depression had a lot to do with shaping AA too, because most… Everybody was broke and they had to come together and help each other. And I do think that did have a lot to do with how AA was kind of shaped and formed. But I also find it interesting, I was reading something about some… I’m not going to be able to articulate this very well, but how Bill Wilson’s… Bill Wilson, when he would write about the problem with alcoholism, especially as it would relate to people’s jobs and so forth, or his inability to find work and this kind of thing, is like he always kind of left out the fact that they were in the middle of a Great Depression too, that a lot of the problems that they were having economically about being able to find work and so forth. I’m sure that their alcoholism had a lot to do with it but there just wasn’t a lot of work to be found at that time.

24:35 Erik: Absolutely.

24:36 John: And that probably contributed to the drinking as well.

24:39 Erik: Oh yeah, just in terms of, from a family standpoint, in terms of how having worked for the YMCA in the area of community development for a number of years, one of the biggest impacts is, how does this actually go out and impact families. And if you… And even in terms of my own personal story of recovery, I mean, one of the main reasons why I ended up in recovery is that there was a catastrophic sort of event that struck my family and it was my brother who passed away from childhood leukemia. And I mean, that’s part of my recovery story, but it was a big event that happened to us as a family. I kind of call it the bomb that went off in our living room and left us completely shattered and lost and struggling for a number of years. And at the time, we were to go out and try and grieve that particular event and having to go out back into the world and make our way in terms of financially keeping a roof over our head and just doing our day to day chores.

26:00 John: Eric, it’s really testing how that is a common theme of a lot of the stories that I’ve heard over the years on this podcast is something that happens in the family, a death, in particular, some sort of a tragedy that really tears the family apart. And it’s not like sometimes you think that if there’s a death in the family, that it brings people together, but a lot of times it doesn’t. And that was the situation with me. Part of my story was a suicide in my family, my mother’s suicide, and it totally tore my family apart. And my drinking escalated from that point for the next five years, to where it was… It got to the point where I really couldn’t function in the world with my drinking. And I think about other people I know who have also had a brother or a sister die in the family, something along those lines, and it just kind of changed the family dynamics.

27:00 Erik: Oh, for sure. Yeah, exactly. And we know as well, clearly with your experience and stuff like that, of being in the program for this many years, we know that it’s an intergenerational form of trauma. It’s not just trauma, but it creates a sort of meaning crisis in our lives. And when we connect and we take time and we discover in fellowship that we’re not alone and we can go out and start to put our story back together, or try to go out and drive some kind of meaning from what’s going on in our own personal lives, that’s how we heal and recover, and that’s how we regain hope again. And that storytelling, that kind of oral storytelling is a huge, huge part, I think, in terms of the evolution of what’s going on and how things are adapting and changing too now.

27:56 Erik: We’re becoming more and more aware of some of these consequences and I think we’re becoming a lot braver in terms of bringing them out, bringing these issues out into the open and talking about them openly. But I mean this change and this awareness, it just seems to take generations. If you think about where AA started about in the early 20th century, we’re at the beginning of the 21st century, it’s a fascinating story in terms of possibly some people might even say, maybe our own evolution as communities, as individuals and as nations in terms of how we’re trying to figure things out.

28:45 John: Something that I’ve been thinking about recently in connection to AA in a way, is this whole idea that people in recovery, especially people in long-term recovery should come out of the darkness. And I think this whole idea of anonymity in AA, I guess, I can understand a purpose behind it, why they had it. But so many of us who’ve been sober for decades never talk about it, and it just seems to me like if people that have overcome addiction, and have been clean and sober for a long period of time, if they would be more open about it, it would make it easier for people who are seeking help for the first time or struggling with addiction now to not be so stigmatized by it. I don’t know.

29:34 Erik: Absolutely.

29:34 John: I’m thinking along those lines now more and more because I’ve been sober for 31 years and I keep my recovery very quiet. And I’m really questioning that now. Why? Why shouldn’t people at work know that? I guess I don’t want to be… I don’t want that to be my sole identity, but I don’t know. It’s like if you’ve recovered from anything else, it’s like you wouldn’t try to hide that somewhere in the closet.

30:03 Erik: Absolutely. And even for me, I mean that’s been part of my own recovery journey. A difficult question to go out and to address. For a lot of time, I wasn’t supposed to go out and talk about any of this but like you beautifully said, the stronger I feel, or the more hope encouraged that I kind of got my own recovery. The more I realized that I wanted to go out and share the story with other people, that my fellowship was expanding when I went out and shared my story with other people.

30:39 John: I think that by doing that, you’re lifting people up, you’re lifting those up who can’t speak for themselves now.

30:45 Erik: Oh, absolutely, yeah. And that’s an interesting thing too, about the recovery advocacy movement in itself, that I tried to go out and talk about or some people refer to it as the recovery movement. And I mean that’s something that Bill White as well has written quite a bit about. And it’s just this idea that there seems to be this conscious awakening or even political mobilization of people in recovery now, that are willing to go out and kind of, like you said, come out of the closets and willing to go out and put their face out in public and say that this was an issue that I struggled with. And today, I’m a contributing member of society, and I’ve regained my strength, and I’m actually stronger from that experience. And those transformational stories as well as something that, I’m sure you’ve seen over the course of your experience in AA. There really is this radical transformation of people from the moment they walk into the room to whether it be three, four years later into recovery, they really are completely new individuals. And it’s… That is a beautiful thing to go out and watch as well. And…

32:11 John: It is. I was thinking on Facebook nowadays, oftentimes, people that are celebrating like a milestone of their recovery, they will often post a picture of themselves while they were using compared to a picture of themselves like three years sober, four years sober.

32:27 Erik: Yeah. And that too is how technology is changing this whole conversation as well is an amazing one. I mean with the last podcast that I actually listened to you… Of yours was actually Joe C actually speaking at one of the… I think it was Kansas City.

32:48 John: Yeah. Kansas City.

32:48 Erik: I guess it was some sort of celebration. Yeah, and listening to his journey, is amazing. I mean he’s been involved for so long and he’s seen how the fellowship has evolved, how society is changing and how people view themselves in recovery now has been changing. And maybe it is maybe a bit of a generational thing, as well. I’ve noticed that quite a bit in terms of, for myself, I have noticed it’s a bit of a generational divide from people that go into NA versus people that stay in AA. Like my stepdad was… He’s a long time… He was like a big-time traditional kind of AA kind of guy. He’s at 20 years sobriety but he was kind of the way you guys kind of go on and characterize him in terms of, he was a big AA… Big Book thumper, in terms of how he went out and viewed it. And there was a particular way in terms of going out and viewing the steps and viewing the traditions and there was a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.

33:58 Erik: And I experienced that as well, in terms of how that’s changed and even just some of the literature now like… In NA specifically, they came up with a sort of a new big book, and so you’re seeing an evolution of some of the literature going on now too as well, which I find fascinating to go out and talk about it and see in terms of my own exploration into these things.

34:30 John: I’m glad that NA did that. I’m not that familiar with NA and I didn’t know that they did that. I don’t know if that will ever happen in AA, the love of the big book is just so intense. I mean good god, but what Joe… You mentioned Joe C talks about sometimes though is that doesn’t matter because we’re writing our own books anyway, and yeah.

34:54 Erik: Yeah. Exactly.

34:56 John: You can go to Amazon and you can find almost any kind of recovery book you want to be written by AA members about how they view the program from various points of view, whether it be secular or spiritual or whatever. So there is a lot of that, a lot out there now. Gosh!

35:17 Erik: And even just like what you guys are doing in terms of free thinker kind of secular based approach to the program. I think it’s a fascinating twist to what’s happened. And like you guys say, I mean, there was always these agnostic freethinkers in the program itself who didn’t believe in God and that it was more of a question possibly of fellowship or whatever their reasons for going out and sticking around and stopping drinking or whatever the case may be. But I mean even the fact that you guys have done that, I mean Montreal just has, and I should probably give a shout-out. I probably have some friends that might actually go out and listen to the podcast. I mean, there’s now a secular NA group here in Montreal.

36:00 John: Oh really, an NA group?

36:00 Erik: Yeah. An NA group. Yeah.

36:03 John: Secular. Wow! Cool.

36:05 Erik: Yeah, yeah. I mean, they’ve always been fired…

36:06 John: I know there’s also a secular AA group outside of Montreal also. What’s the name of the city? I won’t remember, I wouldn’t even be able to pronounce the name but it’s not far outside of Montreal.

36:21 Erik: Yeah, there’s a… I think there might be a few secular AA groups in the area of Montreal if I’m not mistaken. But I mean the communication that I’ve had with people in the secular AA movement has mostly been online. I mean I’ve communicated now… Well, I mean with you now but I mean Roger and some other people across the country that have gone out and been at the forefront of that.

36:46 John: Yeah, if there’s ever going to be a history written, Toronto is going to figure prominently in this. I never thought that I would be… I never imagined when I got into AA or recovery in general or anything, that I would be so influenced by these people in Toronto who I never would have been able to know if it weren’t for the internet. Now, I met them all in Santa Monica when I was at that first conference in 2014, but I stayed in touch with them after that online and I don’t think that there’s anybody that has influenced me more than that group of people. And that would be Roger and Joe and Larry and many others, in that one city, and so it’s… Yeah, this whole thing if you really think about it. I’m… In fact, this whole podcast that I’m doing, I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for Roger from Hamilton, Ontario.

37:53 Erik: Yeah. No. No, I listened to your intro on that, and I think that’s an interesting twist and turn of events as well.

38:00 John: Yeah, it really is. So well, I really enjoyed this conversation. Could you do me one little favor though, if you could? And the article that you talked about that you wrote for AA Agnostica, you mentioned that you might want to speak… Write a little bit more detail about a particular person, his name is Dr. Jordan Peterson.

[chuckle]

38:04 Erik: Yes.

38:04 John: So what’s the deal?

38:04 Erik: Well, I mean, this is the other thing too that I’m excited to talk to you about and reached out to and I would love to even have a conversation with Joe eventually on that on this perspective because the secular AA movement sort of arose at a period when the new atheist movement was really kicking off as well.

38:04 John: Oh, yeah. Yeah, you’re right.

38:04 Erik: Right?

38:04 John: Yeah.

38:04 Erik: And I mean I… Obviously, I read Sam Harris and I was big…

38:04 John: I was influenced by those books.

38:04 Erik: Absolutely, and even Bill White and Ernie Kurtz have written quite a few papers where they kind of were piggy, not necessarily piggybacking but they were using them as a cultural-historical moment to kind of go out and unpack what has been going on within some of the fellowships. And fascinatingly, how I came across Jordan Peterson’s work is because of his very public kind of debate that he had with Sam Harris.

39:27 Erik: And it was a very highly publicized and controversial sort of debate, because of obviously, Sam’s history with the new atheist movement and now with Jordan Peterson, even though he’s a clinical psychologist and he doesn’t say that he is particularly religious in any way shape or form, that he’s very interested in going out and exploring what is the idea of myth or the idea of religion in terms of going out and playing a role within a sort of healing or within his own clinical practice and area of specialization. And what I find fascinating and the reason why I brought it up is that a lot of people don’t know about Jordan Peterson is that his area of specialization is actually in alcoholism.

40:18 Erik: And that to me was fascinating and I was like, well one, what are the chances of this Canadian clinical psychologist going out and hitting the scene and going out and on this kind of very public lecture tour and attracting a lot of young people to him and a lot of them are talking about drugs and alcohol, and they’re talking a lot about in terms of his idea of recovery. But anybody that has read the news around Jordan Peterson, he’s extremely controversial. He’s a very controversial sort of figure, he’s been dragged into all kinds of controversy in terms of… In Canada, in terms of… Anybody that goes and just Google’s Jordan Peterson, you go and find an endless slew of controversies and things that have been written about him.

41:15 Erik: And I thought this was kind of an interesting kind of, I guess, figure or controversial figure for me to go out and think about is he going to go out and have a sort of impact on recovery communities, or the way kind of Sam Harris has. And I left it just very open at the end of the article to go and see what kind of reaction or what kind of talk or it was going to go up and create any kind of conversation. And some of the feedback that I’ve gotten has been really very positive. And go figure, I mean extremely negative as well, from people in recovery.

42:02 Erik: But I mean I was just kind of curious to see how is this going to going out and play out in the larger culture. Another one that was really… I find it fascinating in terms of… Is Dr. Mate’ He’s done a lot of great work in the area of addiction and recovery, and I think he had a big impact as well with one of your other guests on your show, the gentleman who kind of spearheaded the recovery 2.0.

42:32 John: Oh, yeah, Tommy Rosen.

42:34 Erik: Tommy Rosen. He’s gone out and done some very kind of sort of public events with Tommy Rosen. And how more kind of… Or even Tommy Rosen is an interesting character to talk about.

42:49 John: He is. I was so thrilled that I actually got to do a podcast with him. He is something else.

42:55 Erik: Yeah.

42:55 John: He’s a very nice person, too, by the way.

42:58 Erik: Oh, from what I’ve seen in terms of his videos he’s a fascinating character as well. And his own personal story of recovery is an unbelievable one. Just people who…

[overlapping conversation]

43:08 John: Yeah, his first drug was sugar. [laughter] Yeah, he’s amazing. I do like him a lot. Yeah, that was wonderful that he would do that. Anyway.

43:25 Erik: So I mean, that is a question I throw back at you in terms of your own personal involvement with the new atheist movement, how much of an impact has it had, in terms of the secular AA movement in general, would you say it’s had an impact?

43:39 John: Yeah, I know if other people are like me. So in my case, I was never a religious person, didn’t grow up in a religion but for 25 years, I think AA was my religion, okay? And I would, in these AA meetings, I knew the language of the 12 steps and I knew how to get along in that group. But I read the “God delusion” and I read “God Is Not Great” and oh gosh, some other books by the new atheist. And after reading those books, I just came to the conclusion that, yes, I am an atheist. And… Oh, man. And not only did I just read those books, but I started watching YouTube videos and documentaries and I just really got absorbed in it and it did change my thinking, I really started looking at what I was doing in AA, from a more critical point perspective, and I changed the language that I was using and that language that I… The new language that I was using as an atheist and the way that I was looking at the steps wasn’t that well-accepted at my original group that I’ve been going to for so many years.

44:56 John: That’s why I started the group in Kansas City, a secular group. And I think that that has been a common thread is that something happens where I think that… I think for a lot of us, we don’t really identify as atheist or agnostic or anything until something happens that kind of forces us to take a position.

45:18 John: And then from there, because it’s usually because we’re faced with some sort of dogmatism that we just can’t abide by, and then we start a group. But what’s really interesting about all that too, what I’m noticing from my own community here in Kansas City, is that there’s just a growing acceptance so that it’s completely normal for atheists and agnostics to have their own AA group here. And it’s not… There’s no controversy, there’s no debating or arguing, each person can have their own view. And that’s one of the strengths of AA, by the way, that you do have those autonomous groups. Anyway, that’s kind of a long-winded answer in response to your question. [chuckle]

46:06 Erik: That was one of the reasons why I was particularly excited to go and have a conversation with you is to go out and explore some of those kinds of historical things that went out and influenced you guys to go out and start the secular AA movement. I mean, because even when Sam Harris… I think that one of the first books that he wrote was actually a letter to a Christian nation.

46:26 John: Yes, I read that.

46:28 Erik: And to me, that’s an interesting kind of book in itself in terms of how it plays into the history of the United States. I mean, in Canada, I mean even that is an interesting question for me to go out and kind of explore. I’m hoping to go out and explore a bit more through some of my other writing, or even just through conversations like this, is… Canada is not as religious as the United States. I mean, it’s just much more of a secular sort of nation, and if people are religious they’re not as religious publicly. And that to me is an interesting historical, I think, factor in terms of how it goes out and plays within kind of recovery communities as well. And Joe’s talk, I thought, was fascinating because he was saying that he’s originally from Montreal, and how Montreal is just kind of a very free-floating sort of community. [chuckle] I’m from Montreal and I totally agree. Because of what happened historically as well in Quebec because of the Quiet Revolution with the Church and stuff like that. Most Montrealers are people that are from Quebec; we’re not religious usually in terms of any way shape or form.

47:47 Erik: So when you do go out into AA, or when you go into some of these other mutual aid kinds of support groups in the area of Montreal, of kind of just pretty much across the province, they are much more secular in terms of its approach. But I mean, to me, I’ve been interested… One of my main interests is history, and I’m fascinated by questions of religion as well. And that’s the attention that if… Anybody that’s spent any time around the addiction treatment and recovery space, eventually you kind of come up, or you rub up against those questions. As one is, what is science and what is religion, and what is their impact on the idea of healing or recovery? But it’s also the question of religion; why is religion keep popping back in there? The idea of spiritual experiences, or spiritual awakenings, or whatever the case may be; it’s a fascinating kind of topic to go out and explore and talk about. And even just personally, as somebody that’s, like I said, I end up in NA, and obviously people that are in NA, it’s about much more than just alcohol; it’s about drugs, right?

49:09 Erik: And most people that are in NA, they’ll actually go out and talk about it quite a bit, is their mind-altering chemicals, but a lot of people actually had some kind of altered states of consciousness, or have had weird experiences, whether it be on drugs or even alcohol, that they’re trying to go out and recapture all the time. [chuckle] Which is the basis of addiction; people get addicted to that chasing that feeling, or that, whatever that experience they originally had when they experimented with drugs or alcohol and eventually got addicted to it. And now as well, anywhere you go out and… I mean, Sam Harris, in case in point, is an interesting character because if you read some of his work, he’s very interested in the idea of the psychedelics.

50:00 John: Yeah, he is; yeah, yeah.

50:01 Erik: And what do the psychedelic sorts of medicines and chemicals, what do they actually go out and offer people? And can they actually go out and be used as some form of medicine to help people? So, to me, these are all fascinating [chuckle] questions, and I tried to lay some of them out in the two pieces that I put out there. But it’s difficult to go and to put it into writing. Those are…

50:31 John: Oh, you did a great job, though.

50:32 Erik: All interesting topics.

50:33 John: Yeah. Well, I think you’re fascinating. I’d love to have you back on another podcast, and we can kind of really delve into some of this deeper. And if you’d like to talk more about the secular AA movement and the history behind it, I’d be glad to do that too, so…

50:49 Erik: Oh absolutely, yeah.

50:50 John: You’re just a very interesting guy, and I love your writing. That article that was posted in AA Agnostica, it was really excellent. And there’s also… Not only was the article itself good, but there’s a lot of really interesting links from that article that people should check out, because I read some of that information, too. And I learned a lot just from that little exposure that you gave us there on AA Agnostica. So thank you for putting that out there. I appreciate that.

51:16 Erik: Oh, my pleasure. My pleasure. And I really hope that this could possibly be an ongoing conversation. I wasn’t too sure in terms of us connecting over a podcast. I had a feeling we were going to go out and talk about a lot of subjects, but it would be fun to go out and just kind of do conversations on any one of the subjects that we touched upon at some point and dive in a little deeper. And it’s a great excuse, I think, for me as well to go out and… To explore my writing. Anybody that… I think that [chuckle] being in recovery ourselves, I think we can go out and ultimately say a big part of our recovery is a certain amount of writing, but it’s also going out and sharing it and exploring all those subjects and topics in further depths with other people, and we find some great gems in there somewhere along the way.

52:09 John: Alright. Well, thanks again. I really appreciate you taking this time, and I will definitely be in touch with you again for another one someday.


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Joe C
Joe C
8 months ago

Hey Erik, we will talk shop sometime. I’m hoping to swing out to Ottawa/Montreal in March. Email or call 416-239-8737 and let’s work something out. My son took a couple of Jordan Peterson courses at U Toronto which he was thrilled to get. Since then, Jordan’s politics haven’t lined up with my son and he’s soured in the Peterson brand. I have included some of JP’s much earlier writing in my blogging and I invited him my podcast but that fell on deaf ears. He does something called “self-authoring” for students and maybe in his clinical practice which I think… Read more »