The Existence of a Brotherhood
In an earlier blog, we briefly commented on how Special Forces (SF) use meditation techniques as part of training and preparation (see Meditation and Addiction Recovery). What can we learn more broadly from SF when we think about addiction treatment?
It might seem surprising to hear that we can learn from SF. There might be some things that we would not want to learn! Undoubtedly, they are at the pinnacle of physical fitness. But they also have much to teach us about mental (and spiritual) fitness. They need mental resilience in combat and many have had to apply the techniques subsequently to help recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Sufferers from “substance use disorder” are also fighting an enemy and attempting to keep control. I've mentioned before the case of the American Gulf War veteran Eric Arauz in You Can’t Do It On Your Own.
Another observation here is that some addicts coming into treatment for the first time resist therapy believing it to be “wishy-washy” or “psychobabble” and think they don’t need it. It’s interesting, at least to me, that we can rebut this argument by pointing to SF as tough role models who use these techniques. Perhaps some will be more willing to listen to what these have to say rather than medical practitioners, at least in the first instance?
I was introduced to this topic when I was given a book by a young work colleague and friend who is a Royal Marine. The book is called Life Under Fire by Jason Fox (Penguin, 2020). The author was a Marine who was selected for the Special Boat Service (SBS). Fox later had to overcome PTSD and earned fame on British TV as one of the leaders and participants in SAS: Who Dares Wins. He is now actively involved in coaching techniques to strengthen resilience.
The book immediately reminded me of a similar famous work by James Stockdale, who was captured during the Vietnam War. Stockdale was introduced to Stoic philosophy during his training. He carried a copy of Epictetus’ Enchiridion with him and applied Stoic techniques during his captivity. Later, he became an esteemed public speaker (see Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, Hoover Institution Press, 1995).
As I read the first few pages of Fox’s book, a phrase jumped out at me – the Existence of a Brotherhood – because it reminded me of the mutual help groups used by alcoholics and drug addicts. We could just as easily talk of a Fellowship, which is more inclusive. The point, of course, is that participants are part of a close-knit community supporting each other in a common cause.
Fox says that there are four cornerstones to what he calls the Commando Spirit; courage, determination, unselfishness and cheerfulness in adversity. These also apply to those making their way through addiction recovery treatment. On the first of these, see my earlier blog titled The Courage To Be. It takes courage for addicts to admit openly to a problem and embark on recovery treatment.
He says that posters are pasted on the walls of the training camp as reminders of these principles, just as we see in fellowship meeting rooms. Is this a form of propaganda? Yes, of course, why not? Isn’t this just the same as the use of subliminal advertising in social media and elsewhere?
Turning to the mission or operations, what we could call the recovery path, Fox says the first step is defining a Purpose. Ask yourself the following questions. Why are you doing this? What are you hoping to achieve? What is the target? Be single-minded about pursuing it. We can apply this to entering recovery treatment. It’s hard going and many dropout. It’s worth taking stock from time to time and reminding yourself of why you are doing it.
Fox then talks about Situational Awareness - don't think about yesterday or tomorrow, focus on where you are here and now, and your next move. In alcohol and drug recovery treatment, we take it one day at a time. There will be relapses and we don’t deny their significance but we focus on today and the task at hand.
Fox discusses what he calls Gratitude in Suffering. This appears on first reading to be a strange concept but it partly reminds me of a different well-known saying in fellowship groups –“the gift of desperation”, which is meant to imply that suffering is part of the process in reaching rock bottom or a turning point.
Fox uses this to say that you always have more in the tank, you are alive. He says this is drummed into SF through their physical training. You can always go the extra mile if you push. There will be setbacks but don’t give up, don’t despair – use these as reminders to strengthen your resolve. Fox says "I'd had to be comfortable in feeling uncomfortable", (see p.79). Building resilience in recovery treatment is important but it’s uncomfortable and takes effort.
“Cheerfulness in adversity” is about adopting a positive frame of mind – you are allowed to laugh at yourself in fellowship meetings!
Listen and share in the group. Fox says that it’s very important to debrief properly. It’s essential to hear what everybody on the team has to say. That is because recollections may differ and it is possible to learn from the collective experience and be better prepared the next time. It is just like this with recovery. Hearing and sharing experiences with fellow addicts is a very useful part of the recovery path. It calls for self-awareness, honesty and openness.
Brotherhood (or sisterhood) is not exactly the same as friendship. It's about having trust in others totally committed to the same goal. The existence of a brotherhood is about something deeper when we think of what it is to be human. Part of what it is to be human is to live in community with others.
We can look to SF for many key insights – define your purpose, make a plan, prepare properly, approach it with discipline, reflect and learn from mistakes. Look to fellow sufferers, learn from their experience, approach recovery as a life-changing mission and do it in community.