Diane Ferraro, contributing elephant journal writer and founder of Urban Siren, LLC—a socially-conscious communications company helping advance agents of positive change–interviews Tommy Rosen—yoga instructor, host and co-producer of the recent far-reaching global online conference Recovery 2.0: Beyond Addiction and participant in the upcoming Yoga, Meditation and Recovery Conference.
Diane and Tommy discuss the many ways that living through addiction and recovery has proven powerful in helping others.
Diane Ferraro: You were interviewed in The Huffington Post in an article featuring the term ‘The United States of Addiction.’ What does this term mean to you?
Tommy Rosen: Our society encourages, markets and promotes addiction. It’s neither a conspiracy nor is it a theory. All you have to do is watch people’s behavior. We are collectively working hard to avoid the present moment, to avoid ourselves. We use, drugs, alcohol, food, sex, relationships, money, gambling, shopping. We have a large percentage of our children who are obese. We are dying from diseases that are preventable and fueled by addiction. And now we have new addictions like texting. Most people are unable to stop themselves from texting while they drive.
Over the past 40 years the U.S. has spent one trillion dollars in The War on Drugs. The result has been more addiction, more non-violent people in prison and more suffering. Addiction is the greatest social problem we are facing in our world today.
Diane Ferraro: Those in recovery are often asked to pinpoint the positive aspects of their life since breaking free of addiction. Can you name a quality about yourself that you loved even during the darkest moments of living with addiction?
Tommy Rosen: With a few exceptions, each day I wake up on the right side of the bed, good humored. I have always loved people and laughter. However, it needs to be said that in my darkest moments, which for me was crack cocaine addiction, there was no light at all and I was cut off completely from love. At that time, I cannot say what I loved about myself, yet there was a sense that deep down I was a good person and had a shot at living a meaningful life. What is that? Grace? I’m not sure what you call it.
Diane Ferraro: It is often said that once an individual has lived with an addiction, and has gone through a successful recovery, old addictive habits latch themselves onto other aspects of that person’s life. Have you experienced a transferal of one addiction to another, regardless of whether the latter is more socially acceptable than the former?
Tommy Rosen: If you look closely at my life you would say that I have been a compendium of addictions. (Laughing!). The creation of Recovery 2.0 came out of my desire to help people break the force field of addiction altogether and not just getting beyond their primary drug or behavior of choice. I had a nasty protracted bout with gambling addiction. Cigarettes were tough to let go of, but I finally did 10 years ago. Relationships and sex have been confusing to say the least.
Diane Ferraro: Prior to when you stepped on the path of recovery in 1991, can you summarize what a typical day was like for you?
Tommy Rosen: No one has ever asked me that before. There is nothing typical about my lifestyle as any day depended on several factors. Sometimes I was using more drugs than others. Sometimes I was seeing Grateful Dead concerts. Other times, I was in school. Weekends were very different from weekdays. I will answer the question as if I am in Boulder, Colorado in college on a weekend.
Wake up, Eat, Smoke Pot. Go up to campus café to have tea. Try to exercise – Gym, mountain bike, basketball. Work diligently to find a woman I would be having sex with imminently unless I had a girlfriend then work diligently to have sex with her while trying not to think about other women. Smoke more pot. Eat lots more food, Go to the movies. Smoke more pot. Go to see The Grateful Dead if at all possible. Start doing other drugs if they are around as it’s the evening now. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Diane Ferraro: Is there anyone in your life (past or present) who is or would have been most surprised at your 21 years of sobriety?
Tommy Rosen: There’s a guy I used to do drugs with at the very end. He is still alive, but never managed to get sober. He has had a hard life—addiction, prison, loss of family, loss of self-esteem. I have heard from another friend that he is still alive. I do not think this guy could have conceived or would grasp now that for 21 years I’ve been without drugs and alcohol in my life.
Diane Ferraro: In your opinion, what is the most single important message someone living with addiction needs to hear?
Tommy Rosen: Don’t be alone. Get help from another person or people who have come through the same thing you are fighting to get through yourself. Humble yourself as best you can to see what you are and what you are not. Addiction is not your essence. Love and the pure light of consciousness is your essence. Find that as soon as you can and everything will work out.
Diane Ferraro: Recovery 2.0: Beyond Addiction* is a global online conference. Besides addressing addiction issues in the United States, what other countries and communities do you feel need to be aware of the conference?
Tommy Rosen: We had nearly 20,000 people from 70 different countries participate in this first conference. Many of them wanted to buy the tapes as well, which was encouraging because there is so much to take in. I’ll be studying them for the rest of my life. I think everyone needs to see these tapes whether you struggle with addiction or not. There is so much life wisdom there. You watch one and it’s like you are set up for the day in a great way.
Diane Ferraro: How did you develop the idea for the conference?
Tommy Rosen: The conference comes out of my direct needs as a person in recovery. These are all the elements I needed to break the force-field of addiction in my own life. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Diane Ferraro: If you had to name three public and prominent figures that you hope will listen to the conference, who would they be and why?
Tommy Rosen: I mostly want the President of The United States, his wife and the White House office of Recovery to watch this so that we can begin to get major resources put towards the idea of holistic recovery in this country and beyond.
On a personal note, I’d love Robert Downey Jr. to watch the conference, to call me and to say something like, “Tommy, this is Iron Man and you rock.”
Diane Ferraro: How has yoga played a part in your recovery?
Tommy Rosen: Whereas the 12 Steps lifted me up out of the darkness of drug addiction, the path of Kundalini Yoga, which I found 12 years into my recovery, gave me the tools to break through the force-field of addiction and to live in the present moment.
The keys to the kingdom are waiting for us in the present moment. Of course, it takes discipline and know-how to get into the habit of returning there as often as possible.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta