Sometimes Even Yogis Need Rehab. ~ Brett Walker

Via Brett Walker
on Mar 9, 2012
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Addiction can defeat you, and be your greatest gift.

Right now you don’t think addiction is a gift.

Right now you’re wondering why you keep breaking these promises to yourself—day after day—drawing a line in the sand and crossing it. Drawing a new line and crossing that one too.

I know about that. I was the guy in your yoga class sweating alcohol from every pore.

Shots of wheatgrass in the morning and shots of vodka in the afternoon. I wanted authentic relationships but I kept a hundred secrets from you. I ordered the quinoa and steamed vegetables and then left to shoot up in the bathroom.

I would nod out in the self-help section of the independent bookstore. I literally fasted in the wilderness.

I sat at the feet of great teachers who were amazing, but they did not understand addiction. In retrospect I see that I was relying on their ignorance because my addiction was the last thing that I wanted to look at.

I believed that my addictions were not the problem but rather symptoms of the problem, and I used that rationalization to keep looking in other directions for a solution.

What I didn’t want to accept was the fact that the solution could only be found by facing my worst fear, which in this case, was getting clean and confronting my despair.

I was so afraid and ashamed that I just kept pushing my problem into the back of my mind, year after year, praying for a miracle or death, whichever would come first.

Death came first.

Once I woke up in the ER on life support. Another time my dealer actually revived me with CPR and a shot of Naloxone in my leg after I stopped breathing.

The last time, I woke up naked in the psych ward of the ER, my liver failing, an Ativan drip in my arm to keep me from banging my bruised face against the wall, and a cop guarding me.

My first thought was what did I do? My second thought was how do I get that gun so I can put myself out of my misery?

Addiction defeated me. And addiction is my greatest gift.

Winning does not tempt that man
For this is how he grows:
By being defeated, decisively,
By constantly greater things. ~ Rilke

Maybe the consequences haven’t gotten this bad for you, and maybe they never will. If you are struggling with a process addiction, like food or sex, you probably aren’t in danger of waking up in the ER tomorrow, or not waking up at all.

If you don’t address the issue you will end up slowly sabotaging your happiness and the happiness of those around you.

When it’s most important for you to be present and consciously participate in your own evolution, instead you’ll drive to the mall or take that hit, pop that pill or find that boy (or girl) to get with.

That gift, that opportunity to open further into life, is gone. You’ve traded in your greatness.

This world needs your greatness.

Lest you wish to argue semantics, the last bastion of denial, allow me to clear up the differences between addiction, dependence and abuse.

Dependence occurs in hospitals all the time when a person is put on morphine for pain control and then experiences withdrawal symptoms when taken off. Abuse happens all the time too, like binge drinking at college parties or off-label prescription drug use.

Neither of these are addiction.

Addiction is characterized by a mental obsession that leads to a compulsive behavior, despite negative consequences. It’s believed to be a complex brain disease with causes that are physiological, psychological and environmental. It’s like an acute version of the human condition.

As the Buddha pointed out in the Four Noble Truths, the nature of our existence is suffering caused by attachment and aversion. We’re all hooked.

It comes down to this question: is there something that you cannot stop participating in that is consistently getting in the way of your happiness? Welcome.

Welcome to the invitation to embrace your full complexity. Welcome to your greatest gift.

The only reason your soul would choose to come here and experience such bondage and misery is to have an equally profound experience of freedom and joy.

Are you ready to transmute lead into gold?

First you must decide that your intention is to live, and to embrace your full complexity as a human being. Usually this means that you’ve reached a point where the pain of staying the same is worse than the fear of changing.

Then you’re ready to surrender and ask for help.

You’re going to discover that all those things you were trying not to feel are going to demand to be felt. Sometimes it’s going to seem like you will die if you open that door, but your fear of the feelings is likely going to be far worse than the feelings themselves.

You’re going to need people around who can challenge you to turn and face these things and support you while you’re doing it.

In Alcoholics Anonymous they say “We’ll love you until you can love yourself.”

Your mind is going to play all kinds of tricks on you to get you to return to that familiar thing that you know, even if that thing is killing you. You’re going to need reality checks and third person perspectives on your interiors—people that know what to point out and what to listen for.

Twelve step groups like AA might not be for everyone but they are a great resource. Anyone can benefit from the wisdom that has collectively gathered among its members over the last seventy plus years.

The steps themselves can basically be distilled down into three simple parts:

1. Trust God. “The God” part being optional. It’s just an invitation to surrender to a power that’s greater than yourself. It could be love, or the collective intention of a group committed to a similar purpose. The sangha is the new Buddha, you know.
2. Clean house. The Jungian term is shadow work and it’s crucial for any real transformation to occur. You’re only as sick as your secrets.
3. Help others. There are many layers to this injunction but it’s the surest way to make your changes stick and keep bringing happiness and a sense of purpose into your life. I like how the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore put it: I awoke and saw that life was service/I acted and behold, service was joy.

(And if you think that those meetings aren’t for you and those aren’t your kind of people, that’s cool. But I’ve seen your naturopath there, your professor, your barista, and yes, your yoga instructor.)

But back to surrendering.

This act alone is immensely powerful when done as an offering. True surrender has two parts.

The first is radical trust. You have to practice taking a step and having faith that the bridge will appear. Believe that you are in good hands and the Universe begins to prove that you are.

The second part is letting go of the self—trusting that your spirit cannot actually be hurt, and on an even deeper level there is no individual self there to get hurt anyway.

Surrender means you’re willing to be dismantled in the service of your larger intention.

These two parts of surrender can be cultivated and create space for addiction to solve you. Think of it as an invitation to enter into a relationship with a great teacher that is going to transform you into someone who is truly free. That’s why it is your greatest gift.

Chogyam Trungpa said the warrior with a broken heart can never be corrupted.

My heart is broken.

Sometimes when I cry I’m not sure if I’m crying from feeling so much sadness or from witnessing so much beauty.

I’m not cured of anything—this is just the beginning. I keep choosing everyday to show up, to help, to live a life worthy of its suffering. And I’m immeasurably blessed.

SAMHSA offers an online treatment locator service that can be accessed at or by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Good old Alcoholics Anonymous where you can find meetings in your area.

This is a really beautiful and informative site by HBO, of all things

John Dupuy, teacher and author of the forthcoming book Integral Recovery (Suny Press) can be found here

The National Institute on Drug Abuse site (NIDA) has a lot of good science on it

Some popular news about addiction here


Author: Brett Walker

Editor: Jennifer Cusano



About Brett Walker

Brett Walker is a full time student of psychology at Naropa University. He works for Integral Life here in Boulder and sometimes for Integral Recovery in Utah. He lives his life one day at a time and isn’t hung over in yoga class anymore. He can be reached at at his email.


52 Responses to “Sometimes Even Yogis Need Rehab. ~ Brett Walker”

  1. Angela says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, Brett! I'm touched by your honesty and courage.

    I love how you say, "Sometimes when I cry I’m not sure if I’m crying from feeling so much sadness or from witnessing so much beauty." I've long felt that behind all beauty, there's sadness — and behind all sadness is beauty. In my experience, it's only with an appreciation of one that we can fully appreciate the other — and realize the awesome depth from which they both arise. You've expressed that realization so beautifully here!


  2. Eric says:

    "Surrender means you’re willing to be dismantled in the service of your larger intention." ~yes, this is a gift of love we give to ourselves and everyone around us. Wonderful article, Thank You!

  3. Brett says:

    Thank you Angela! I know you get it. It's one of those things I didn't realize until I was writing it

  4. Christine says:

    Your story is quite powerful, however it belongs in the halls. I might suggest that you look further into the Traditions, they really do exist for a reason. Good luck on your path.

  5. Harleigh Quinn says:

    Thank you for this.
    Addiction has many faces and is not always a drug based thing.
    There are many psychological addictions that also fall into the behavior you described.
    I feel this covers all of those.

  6. ValCarruthers says:

    So moving, Brett.

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  7. Brett says:

    Thanks Valerie!

  8. Brett says:

    True, Harleigh. As far as I can tell addiction is not black and white, it's a spectrum, and it manifests in all human lives in some form or another.

    Thanks for reading.

  9. Brett says:

    Christine — Thanks for your feedback. The halls are not the only places we can tell our stories to do some good. My only purpose for including the few personal details that I did was to try and reach someone like me who would not even consider asking another mortal for help with this problem, which seemed enormous and existential.

    I assume you're specifically referring to the Tradition Twelve. I have great respect for the traditions, and I believe I am within the spirit of them, but I would like to talk with you more about it. Feel free to contact me: [email protected]

    Thank you!

  10. SwamiHenderson says:

    Thanks for this.
    I can relate, I'm about a year and a half sober. We should totally hang out and not drink.

  11. randolphr says:

    Holy Hell …. <<somehow those words make new sense right now>> …. Best Wishes, Brett …. wishing too to read more that you write ….

    Power to ya !

  12. erin says:

    have to disagree. this story belongs here–where maybe someone who needs to get into the halls can read it and get there. The big book thumpers are one of the main reasons I use the program and other venues on my path to freedom. Open your heart and mind a little, get your head out of the traditions and into the real world.

  13. vicki keough says:

    Brett, I LOVED this …thank you for the wisdom. Thinking of you and sending love and light! Namaste ….Vicki Keough

  14. vicki keough says:

    Christine, I honor your comments AND if by halls you meant a mtg I would not have read this had Brett not chosen to share here…his words were invaluable to me and I look forward to sharing them w/my patients. I trust he will impact many lives w/his candor and courage. Love and light, Vicki

  15. Brett says:

    Thank you so much Vicki — receiving that love and light 🙂

  16. […] is hard to stomach, but winning can be deceiving. I ran across this quote from Rilke in a post on Elephant Journal and thought it made for a nice Sunday morning […]

  17. Anahata says:

    Interesting subject matter. I appreciate it and have had deep personal experiences with two yogi type addicts. Most recently with a woman yoga teacher/mother here in Boulder, Colorado. Secondly, with a man with whom I actually had a child with after becoming engaged and meeting in yoga school. Both were surreal learning experiences and were complex due to the many level of humaness that can expose themselves at any given moment. I am impressed that
    you are bringing awareness to this in your writing Brett and appreciate elephanthjournal. guess you never know what you will see on until you see it. ~

  18. Rachel says:

    "is there something that you cannot stop participating in that is consistently getting in the way of your happiness? "

    wow, these words are powerful and will stop you in your tracks if you let them really sink in. We are all addicted to something.
    Thank you for sharing yourself and your story, your words have touched my heart.

  19. cathywaveyoga says:

    Thank you for this.
    Your strength in facing and overcoming an dnow openly discussing this time and deep journey to us will open it toothers who suffer and need a true hand down to pull up.

  20. Sascha says:

    thank you Brett!!! your words have called me back to my truth again.. I am in recovery, and have been struggling with it lately.. it is easy for me to wander from the truthful perspective that this thing IS a gift, that it IS calling me towards a beautifully evolving version of my Self.. and that there is no separation between my challenging recovery work and my other *fun, soft, and gentle* spiritual~yogic practices.

  21. […] Sometimes Even Yogis Need Rehab. ~ Brett Walker […]

  22. G.C.Aloha says:

    A courageous and beautifully written piece. Thanks for sharing your story. It might help someone.

  23. Beautifully stated, Sascha. Thank you.

  24. susan says:

    There is a documentary about yoga and 12 steps,

  25. Thank you, Rachel. Your words have touched my heart too.

  26. jason734 says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. Beautifully told.

  27. pranalisa says:

    thank you for this…i was in OA (overeaters anonymous) for about 6 months before i walked into my first bikram was the beginning of a journey for which i am immensely grateful. in yoga, i heard the same basic concepts shared as in the 12 steps…surrender, acceptance, letting go…etc…today, i have been a yoga teacher for over 6 yrs, my own struggles being a catalyst for growth and change in my life. food will probably always be different for me than to the non-compulsive overeater, and being real about it to my students, clients (my food issues also led me to becoming a holistic nutrition consultant), and friends have helped others to face their own issues. your essay, i am sure, will help others.

  28. Rajni Tripathi says:

    Wow..simply wow. Amazing piece my friend.

  29. Thanks for sharing Susan. I'll check it out!

  30. Thanks Jason. For those that don't know, Jason is the Clinical Director of Dawn Farm ( and I highly recommend subscribing to his blog, which is awesome.

  31. Pranalisa, you are VERY inspiring to me!

    My experience has yielded similar insight — any path of conscious transformation has a lot in common with the steps.

    Thanks so much for sharing this!

  32. Thank you, Rajni.

  33. I hope so. Thanks, G.C.

  34. Thanks for sharing that Anahata. Loving an addict is one of the hardest things a person could ever do.

  35. Ha ha! LOVE that. Holy Hell. Perfect. Thank you Randolph.

  36. Congrats! Keep up the good work and feel free to contact me.

  37. Thank you, Eric. Well said 😉

  38. Jeff says:

    Without question one of the most powerful, well written pieces I’ve read in a very long time.

    I really liked your framing of the concept of surrender and the subsequent correlation to revealing ones “greatness.”

    Brett, as an addictions specialist, I’m always looking for new ways to connect with my patients. Just so you know, I’m sharing your amazing work with ALL of them, beginning TODAY!

    Thank you for your “gift,” all the way from Japan!

  39. Jeff — that's the whole reason I wrote it so thank you for sharing it, and for your feedback…

  40. Tara says:

    Thank You Bret, for making your story public. Not everyone will. It takes a special person to be known rather than "anonymous". I don't believe you are violating any tradition because you are doing a great service to the world making your pain and discoveries available to others.

    I have also "come out." I aspire to make my story known as candidly as you have. I am not that brave yet.

    In Gratitude~
    Tara Dhyani Purswani
    Embodied recovery from Addiction through Yoga

  41. What a beautiful website Tara. I really appreciate the work you're doing! Thank you.

  42. Vicky says:

    Dear Brett, thank you for sharing, it touched me and your words are very eloquent and moving. I can relate on many levels, with that said…

    The tradition Christine speaks of is:
    11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films

    I believe this is considered press. I have been sober many years and came to yoga a decade into my sobriety. I will say on a personal level, I feel your article may reach a much wider scope, butmy question is "could it have been posted anonymously" As I have done interviews and never give a picture or last name. I did extensive work with Public Information and just feel that as Bill once said in the traditions, sometimes you need to give up the good for the better of the best (I'm paraphrasing here)

    Thank you,

  43. devacat says:

    This is a beautiful essay. If the 12 Steps are your 10 Commandments, fine. Some live by doctrine. But there's more credibility as a writer to put your name to your words. I think we've moved past the point in this society where self-censorship is a good thing, unless you need it personally. I'm not a 12-stepper, never could be, for exactly that reason. Brett is speaking from an older tradition now and deserves kudos, not critiques for having strayed from the fold.

  44. frogsandhandstands says:

    So true, Brett. Thanks for sharing some experience, strength, and hope with the yoga world.

  45. Thanks for the feedback, Vicky. You have a valid point and I know there is good reason for that Tradition.

    My understanding of Tradition Eleven is that nobody should claim to publicly represent AA. This essay is about my personal experience with addiction and surrender. My intention was to write something that might have gotten through to me ten years ago. Including that summary of the steps was an afterthought because I realized that ten years ago it never even crossed my mind that a twelve step group could help me. I felt it would be almost irresponsible for me not to mention it.

    Perhaps it could be said I've violated the letter of a tradition, but upheld the spirit of AA, to help others that may still be suffering. I hope so.

  46. Thank you frogsandhandstands. The yoga world has given me so much!

  47. […] The path to enlightenment reveals itself when we want what is, what is happening right now. I highly doubt wanting what is can happen when you’re half in the bag. […]

  48. […] I read a piece shared by a friend, who’s had experiences eerily similar to my own, and was reminded anew of […]