The chemical reaction of a drop of heroin on film. Photo by Berlin-based artist Sara Shonfeld. See more.

Every once in a while a celebrity death brings the issue of addiction to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s passing was terrifying for many addicts because unlike say, Amy Winehouse, who was never sober long enough to be in recovery, Hoffman had twenty-three years clean. After relapsing on painkillers in 2012 he was apparently in and out of rehab a few times, but he never recovered again.

In general, professionals in the field still have an uphill battle when convincing the larger public that addiction is a disease. People see hard drinkers quit when too many negative consequences pile up, or they themselves have experienced withdrawal from a medication or had to kick a habit, so they think that all you need is enough willpower. But if you are the type that can walk away when the consequences get bad enough, then you are not technically suffering from the disease of addiction.

A habit that’s got you in a headlock can be painful, but it’s ultimately a different phenomenon than the chokehold of addiction which is, 99 times out of a hundred, inherited genetically.

And while genes play a big role, they are only a part of the picture. Your environment, your upbringing and your individual psychology are all factors. It’s a bio-psycho-social disease which is the reason it has to be treated on all those levels, and why an integral approach could be revolutionary.

Science has shown us that this is a brain disease, beyond any doubt…none of this ‘I have an addictive personality’ or ‘I’m just a bad person’. I mean you might be a bad person but that’s not why you’re an addict.-John Dupuy

It does appear to be a spectrum with many shades of grey, though. I’ve had my own struggles and I fall somewhere on that spectrum. Maybe you do too. It’s hard to find a person or a family that isn’t affected.

But we can all learn from the people who are working on the front lines of it like my friend and mentor, John Dupuy. John had been working in the field of recovery for many years when he discovered Ken Wilber’s work, and got massively excited when he realized that this could be a map for a more comprehensive approach to the treatment of addiction (and depression and PTSD, among other things).

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John is a living example of an integral life practice. He’s right there on the ground with his students and clients —  meditating, weight training, learning new things all the time and doing shadow work to face down the demons. “If you’re not practicing, you’re relapsing,” he writes in Integral Recovery.

The huge strides in brain science have revealed some profound truths to us in recent decades, but the disease itself is still complex and mysterious. The people that I know that have successfully recovered from it have done so using a power greater than themselves. Some of them call it God, some call it love, or sangha, or emergence itself, but it always involves a certain trust, a surrender that looks to me suspiciously like an integral consciousness. Because there comes a time when an addict has to let addiction solve him. And consequently he is irrevocably changed by it.

It’s not about gaining control, ironically. It’s about letting go and trusting that you are in good hands. It’s learning how to be okay with not being in control.

To do what he does, John seems to become a cross between a football coach and a rabbi, a Zen master and a college professor. I hope you find this conversation between him and Jeff as interesting and inspiring as I did! And if you get a chance, check out John’s book.

-Brett Walker

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