My friend, Frank Ferrante, is an example of how dramatically we can change our lives. He was addicted to drugs, got into recovery, became obese, and then with the help and encouragement of a new tribe, completely changed his life. The story of his change is wonderful, and I will let him tell it:
In my former life I was a carpenter and a contractor. When I was 50 years old, I hurt myself, and I couldn’t do it anymore. And I didn’t really want to. And I realized that I just felt the full weight of the decision not to try something new. And I was 300 pounds, or thereabout. I was on antidepressants, and other kinds of medications, and I really just felt like the colors of my life were dissolving.
One day I walked into this place called Cafe Gratitude. Now, in the 12-step world, gratitude is a central virtue. So I went into this place anticipating a room full of ex-junkies and alcoholics engaging in hyperbolic conversations about their life. Instead, I found a raw-food, vegan restaurant. I’m looking around, there’s no stove, there’s no coffee machine. The owner’s son was standing there, and I said, “Hey man, I had to have a cup of coffee at Cafe Gratitude, I figured somebody here is in recovery.”
And he looked at me and said, “We’re all recovering from something, aren’t we?”
So I started frequenting the place because they looked so warm and affectionate, and when you’re as fat as I was, ironically, you don’t feel seen. And I didn’t care about the food at all. So I would order something to legitimize my being there, and I would eat so I could stay. But as soon as I left, I promptly marched to the nearest chicken and ribs place, because at 300 pounds, I figured you can’t survive on leaves. That’s how I felt.
And this inspired these guys. Unbeknownst to me, they wanted to make a film about Cafe Gratitude. So they came to me and said, “We have an idea. We want to take a guy who’s not well (which was a rather generous description of my condition at the time) and we want to feed him this food for x amount of time, and we want to have him visit holistic health practitioners, and do colonics and cleanses, and we want to film it. And we want you to be the guy.”
I said yes, and I just completely altered my lifestyle overnight.
And that went on for 42 days.
Next thing I knew, I was at this theater in San Francisco, and they told me don’t come until the end of the movie, because we don’t want people to see you. By then, I had dropped all the weight, I was working out all the time, I looked great. I walked in and there was a standing ovation. People were cheering, and I had never seen anything like it. At first, I looked behind me, but everyone kept looking at me.
Ever since then, I’ve been doing that, on stage, talking to people about the mind, body, spirit connection to health and wellness.
What I’ve discovered is that everything that I was ashamed of, the drug addiction, the behavior behind the drug addiction, the people that I hurt, my own experience with trauma, and disappointment, and heartache, have all become part of a repertoire that I can draw from to communicate with people who are in those situations. Because the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is connection. And I believe that one of the primary components to achieving not just personal health, but societal health is developing our capacity for deeper and more meaningful relationships.
The Opposite of Addiction is Connection
Frank says, “The opposite of addiction is connection.” Johann Hari gave a TED Talk, Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong, that came to the same conclusion. He explains a study of rats that were isolated in a cage with one bottle of water and one bottle of water laced with cocaine. The rats quickly overdosed. But when the rats were put in an environment like “Rat Heaven” with food, activities, and lots of other rats, they didn’t have any interest in the cocaine-laced water. While we might not love being compared to rats, we do see the same thing in human experiences.
The first connection we need is a connection to ourselves. We need to recognize our own self-worth and build self-love. Developing self-love starts with seeing that we are worth loving and changing the way that we talk to ourselves. Instead of holding ourselves to an unattainable bar, we need to be kind to ourselves in our thoughts, words, and action.
The second connection that we need is a connection to others. To build a tribe, we need to find people to connect to who share our values and outlook on life. We also need to be willing to share details of our lives with them so that we can deepen the relationships.
As I see more and more people using a variety of behaviors, including drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or spending, to numb themselves, it is important to recognize how we can develop a life that we want to be present for that is full of things we love.