No Escape: a Path to Recovery

It sounds terrible doesn't it? No escape. And yes, I suppose from the point of view of your addiction to self, this is a death sentence. But from the point of view of your true and authentic self, it's good news, because it means you can't escape the truth of who you really are. If you are an addict chances are you'll have a difficult time hearing this. First, because you're completely attached to the illusion that you can control your addiction. Secondly, because you are totally not ready to trade in your suffering and chaos for the openness and clarity of living a Zen-inspired life. You spend most of your waking hours consumed with thoughts of where you'll get your next drink and you will do anything to get it–lie, manipulate, steel or cheat.


Alcoholism is a disease. It's important to understand this because there is a great stigma and judgement by many in our culture directed towards those suffering from this disease. This same negative judgment is directed towards alcoholics who are sober as well. Alcoholism is a disease like diabetes. You wouldn't judge some with heart disease as being a bad person, and you shouldn't perceive an alcoholic any differently.

One of the reasons there is so much shame and guilt associated with alcoholism is that it flies in the face of one of our most cherished assumptions–that people should be able to control their impulses and their behavior–that people are essentially in control of the choices they make. But alcoholics are not. Alcoholics are out of control. So there is a strong negative judgement in the culture about this.

12 Steps

12 Steps of AA are powerful principles that have helped many. They offer a prescription for healing the disease of alcoholism. They work because there is no escape. For an alcoholic it's black and white. Life and death. Either you unconditionally accept and acknowledge your addiction and begin "working the steps" as they say in AA or you continue to destroy your life and the lives of those around you. For the alcoholic there is no wiggle room.

So the first step is unavoidable and none of the others work unless you fully accept and practice this one, breath by breath, one day at a time. "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable." We, including all of us who are not alcoholics are powerless over the addiction. Until an alcoholic fully works this step they are in denial about their disease.

The second and third steps follow. "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." And the third: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him." Sometimes, for those who are uncomfortable personifying power in this way, these steps are a difficult pill to swallow. But from the perspective of living a Zen-inspired life there is no problem here at all. There is a something more powerful than your addiction. That is your true nature. And we have many concrete, specific mindfulness practices to help you work this step. For instance, surrender to what in Zen we call "not knowing". You can learn to do this through practicing mindfulness meditation. Each time a thought or impulse arises, return to your breath. Instead of trying to understand your life, begin living it now.

The steps continue with principles that no alcoholic who is drinking would dream of taking. How can you confess your faults to another and make restitution for the harm you've done? Go to an AA step meeting today and begin. There is no escape. Either you are working these steps or you are not.

Taking Refuge

When you live a Zen-inspired life you take refuge in waking up, in the nature of reality and in the community of people who practice waking up together. This is a powerful antidote for your disease and compliments the 12 steps as well. These are three powerful principles for living a Zen-inspired life and surrendering to them will help you on the path towards sobriety. There is no escape. Either you are taking refuge in the bottle or you are taking refuge in the truth of who you are.

True Nature

The good news of no escape is that there is no avoiding your true nature. You cannot lose it. You cannot gain it. It's unconditional. It's always here, now. You are loving and open-hearted and this is a power greater than your addiction. If you surrender to your true nature you can begin a path of recovery and healing. It's not abstract. It's not a metaphysical concept. By practicing concrete mindfulness awarenesses and teachings you can recover this truth for your self right now. Start with your next breath.

by Robert Althouse