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Stoicism and sobriety

Old 04-12-2015, 11:04 AM
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Stoicism and sobriety

In a recent thread in the “What is Recovery” section of this forum member Redmayne pointed out a similarity between part of the Stoic philosophy and the Serenity Prayer. The idea, expressed by Epictetus “ in his “Discourses”:

“What then is to be done? To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens”.

is much the same as is said in the serenity prayer written almost two thousand years later and attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr.

“God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference”

As one who has recently adopted the living philosophy of Stoicism, I feel that it has much to offer those of us who are struggling with sobriety, especially those of us who come to the “OK, I’ve quit drinking, now what do I do?” juncture. For me, it provides a vision of what comprises the notion of a “well-lived life” and a goal to which I can aspire. It also provides a set of guidelines to direct me to this well-lived life and provides a set of tools with which to accomplish it.

Stoicism is not merely an intellectual exercise like many of those philosophies confined to university philosophy departments. Stoicism does have some theoretical aspects, some with which I don’t agree, but largely it is a practical, living philosophy that requires both physical and mental attention and actions. Being a stoic requires effort beyond the simple mental gymnastics involved in being, for example, an existentialist. It is this effort and action that helps to occupy the time once spent drinking. And, the effort and action can help make one a better person as well.

Stoicism is probably not for everyone, I’m drawn to it because I am somewhat introverted and tend to internalize and intellectualize my experiences. A more extroverted person with more freely expressed feelings might not gain from the philosophy. But, whatever ones personality, I think it might be worth a try as an antidote to simple will power.

I have no intention here, by the way, of giving a short course in the Stoic philosophy. Rather, my intent is to show how it might be of assistance to those who struggle with the day-to-day details of staying sober.

What is Stoicism? The common notion of a stoic is of Mr. Spock in the TV series Star Trek: a totally logical, unemotional, joyless and autonomous individual. While logic and control of emotions are part of stoicism, joylessness and total autonomy are not. Most modern stoics are happy, convivial people who enjoy life and the company of other people. The difference is that stoics have a defined sense of purpose and a framework for a “life well lived”.

Stoicism is a living philosophy, one requiring daily effort and thought. The basic idea is that a life well lived is one that is “lived according to nature”. The term, “live according to nature”, means to live according to the natural character of a human being as well as to live as a part of a greater, interactive, universe. Living “according to nature” as a human being is to recognize that humans have been given the gift of reason and thus rationality is “according to” human nature and should be cultivated. Recognizing oneself as a part of a larger and integrated universe is also an important part of living according to nature and should also be cultivated.

Living according to nature is thought to induce a sense of eudaimonia in the individual. Eudaimonia is an ancient Greek term that can be approximated by “a state of grace” (Christianity), “enlightenment” (Buddhism), “hozho” (Navajo) or similar concepts. All of these terms loosely describe living in a state of ordered harmony, tranquility and awareness of being part of a larger whole.

To a stoic, excellence of character (Arete) is the only real good and departures from Arete are the only evil. Excellence of character is achieved by concentrating ones attention on the cardinal virtues: temperance, or moderation in all habits; courage, or the capacity to do those things one does not want to do; justice, or fairness in dealings with, and judgements of, all other people; and wisdom, or the capacity for making correct decisions. For someone working to stay sober, temperance and courage are habits worth cultivating and so is fairness (justice) to ones family. A part of ones daily stoic practice is to judge how ones every action is in agreement with the goal of personal virtue.

Another Stoic concept is that “It is not things that disturb us, but our judgements about those things.” This idea was later recognized and adopted as a central idea of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is based on the Stoic idea that the only things we can control are those things that are in our mind. We control our opinions, for example, and our intentions. External events are not in our control and are thus “beyond my powers”. This is the Serenity Prayer part of Stoicism. So, one has no control over the driver who is tailgating us but we do have control over how we react to it. A large part of a stoic’s daily practice is learning to distinguish between controllable and uncontrollable events. A stoic also recognizes that the outcomes of some uncontrollable events are more preferable than others. Thus wealth and health are preferable to their alternatives but not really “in our power”.

My daily practice is fairly simple:

In the morning, just after wakening, I spend a few minutes reviewing how my day is likely to unfold. I then try to match my actions and reactions to anticipated events. I also try to remind myself “today I will encounter my fair ration of jerks and misfits. They are that way because of ignorance, not an evil nature. My actions toward these people should reflect this understanding”.

During the day I try to practice the plans that I made in the morning “meditation” session. I also try to focus on one of the cardinal virtues when opportunity presents itself.

In the evening I review the day and try to determine whether individual actions were consistent with my morning intent. I also try to give some thought to “how might I have improved myself today.” These thoughts may provide help in planning the next day as well.

At any rate, for me, adopting the living Stoic philosophy has made it much easier to maintain my sobriety. It provides mental activity, structure, accountability and discipline to my daily life. I don’t feel that I will ever achieve “wisdom” sufficient to become a Stoic (capital S Stoic Sage). But, the goal is always there and it is one well worth attempting even though it’s achievement may be unlikely.


The following are a few links to places where the ideas of stoicism are much better explained than here:

opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com (How to be a Stoic)

reddit.com (Stoicism)

blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday/stoic-week-2013-handbook/

Thestoiclife.org
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Old 04-12-2015, 01:53 PM
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Interesting, Cascabel. Thanks.

I think I'll look deeper into this.
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Old 04-14-2015, 11:00 AM
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In the morning, just after wakening, I spend a few minutes reviewing how my day is likely to unfold. I then try to match my actions and reactions to anticipated events. I also try to remind myself “today I will encounter my fair ration of jerks and misfits. They are that way because of ignorance, not an evil nature. My actions toward these people should reflect this understanding”.

We often get what we expect.
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Old 10-17-2016, 01:00 AM
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I just started International Stoic Week .
I became interested in Stoicism over the last few weeks and have many parallels with secular and spiritual paths and philosophies I have been studying over the last few years.
The similarities to the 12 Step path are obvious as well as to Buddhism despite the fact that Stoics took a very secular view in the application of the philosophy. I'm enjoying reading works that really resonates with me, Epictetus, Seneca and Aurelius.

Stoic Week 2016 takes place from 17th to 23rd October
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Old 10-19-2016, 11:57 AM
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Thank you for flagging this 'Live like a Stoic' week. I enrolled on Monday.

I've had an interest in Stoicism (not to combat alcoholism as I'm now recovered) but to reflect on life and it's complexities, having encountered many Marcus Aurelius quotes. I'll report back, once finished!
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Old 10-19-2016, 12:17 PM
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I have always considered my dad a "stoic" person. He lives with a progressive, largely non treatable disease which lead him into a downward spiral of prescription opiate addiction. He never complained about his illness, always got up to work and was always solid in many important ways. And on the day that he quit pills it was the same stoic qualities.... he just quit and that was that.
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Old 11-04-2016, 02:37 AM
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Hello everybody. I’ve recently gotten into recovery, but I’m feeling good considering. I’ve been reading/studying Stoicism for the past 2 years and I hope to incorporate it into my recovery work. How has Stoicism shaped your recovery? What exactly does it look like? I’d like to hear your thoughts on it. Let me know. Thanks.
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Old 11-04-2016, 11:00 AM
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Hi Bandorman, just want to say welcome to the forums and secular connections.

I'm not an expert on stoicism by any means, but I enjoy reading Marcus Aurelius and reflecting on it. I also use the serenity prayer from time to time. I will sometimes say it kind of as a mantra ... especially at times when my mind gets "worked up" over something, but I realize that "something" is really not my business or it's something I have no control over.

Good to have you here!
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Old 11-06-2016, 01:07 AM
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Originally Posted by bandorman View Post
Hello everybody. I’ve recently gotten into recovery, but I’m feeling good considering. I’ve been reading/studying Stoicism for the past 2 years and I hope to incorporate it into my recovery work. How has Stoicism shaped your recovery? What exactly does it look like? I’d like to hear your thoughts on it. Let me know. Thanks.
Hi Bandorman,
I'm new to Stoicism although its fair to say I've recognized the benefits of it for some time. I was reading "Meditations" even before I realized Aurelius was a Stoic.

Recently I completed Stoic Week as presented on http://www.modernstoicism.com website. Every day presented a theme of Stoic thought and a number of exercises and meditations that assisted in applying the philosophy through the day. I have summarized what I got out of each day below. I found the exercise useful in providing me with an introduction into Stoic applied philosophy and sought to use the exercise to enhance my recovery.

In summary I came to consider the following as being helpful in dealing with some emotional sobriety issues I have:

1. Simply live and be grateful: No matter what the day brings always be grateful for the gifts in life. Appreciate the experience of life, the knowledge gained, the memories, friends and family as well as health, possessions and profession. Enjoy what I have and accept that all in life is transient and that what I have today may be gone tomorrow, it is never lost but it has been returned. All must end including our this life so loosen attachments to self, people, places and things; live simply and be grateful for each (sober) day I have in this world.

2. Acceptance: Remember that I have little control in life over external things. There are things that are up to me and there are things that ultimately I have no control over. My inner world, my thoughts, responses to emotions, the way I treat people, how I act and speak and react to the vicissitude of life is up to me, what is not up to me is anything that does not come from myself, even my health is ultimately not under my control, neither is the conduct of other, world events, the weather and how places, things and people play out in my life. I should make plans but not project outcomes and be accepting of life under life’s terms and treat what may come with equanimity and skill. It is better to stay true to my personal values than it is to try to control life. Accept the things you cannot change, take courage to change what you can.

3. Be mindful and aware: So many people stumble through life racing from one thing to another and mindlessly seeking hedonistic pleasures, they never take the time to “smell the roses” to fully appreciate life and to live in the moment. I'm guilty of this and it was rampant in my active drinking days. We only get one life and one chance and there is no greater loss than to arrive at the end and concede that life has not been lived to the full therefore it is important to know what values are important in life and to live in accordance to that. Anger, fear, suffering, resentment, envy, hatred are all passions that stem from lack of awareness and consciousness of who we truly are. Passions are ultimately impressions that exist within us by our choice alone. We can be mindful and view such emotions in an objective and reasoned manner or we can let them run rampant and rob us of life, to quote Aurelius “Get rid of the judgement and you have got rid of the idea. ‘I have been harmed’; get rid of the idea, ‘I have been harmed’, and you have got rid of the harm itself. – Meditations, 4.7”. Know thyself as no one knows you better than you. Alcoholism was a dark place where I hid from reality, in reality I was just sleep walking through life.

4. Remember your priorities: Never ever let anyone say you are defined as a person by the clothes you wear, your political views, your religious beliefs, your money or lack of, none of these things define you as a person. My conduct as a person, my demonstration of virtues is far more important. I decide what my core values are, commit to them and apply those principles in all my affairs without compromise. If something about life does not serve or is contrary to those values it will naturally create tension, it is in my power to change that.

5. We are not alone: Remember that you are part of a community and are not alone in this world. You share this world with billions of other sentient beings that deserve to be treated as you yourself would expect to be treated. We are all in the same boat and that each sentient being on this planet is somehow connected to us. Exercise ethics and diplomacy in all dealings with people even the offensive, obtuse, ungrateful, rude, dull, ignorant and hostile. Life dictates that you will encounter such people. Remember that people are not evil by nature and are only doing what they feel is best for themselves and those close to them, it is up to you to decide how to respond to such people.

6. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst: Life is uncertain and can swing from one extreme to another in short time and unpredictably. Poverty, wars, accidents, illness and death are all a part of life and we may all experience hardships and tragedies in our life. The Stoics took a realistic view of life and acknowledged that it was better to be prepared for the unexpected by rehearsing and contemplating catastrophes and thereby training our minds to receive misfortune and tragedy, even death with reason and equanimity. Living life to the full was a maxim to the Stoics but also was being prepared for the worst: “‘Strive to live only the life that is your own, that is to say, your present life; then you will be able to pass at least the time that is left to you until you die in calm and kindliness, and as one who is at peace with the guardian-spirit [reason] that dwells within him” (Meditations, 12.3). Remember even when life throws some horrid curve balls, you have more power within you to get through it than you know. This too shall pass.

7. Be Humble: We are single note in the cosmic symphony, a mote of dust in the Universe. Remember that we are part of a cosmic whole and that in the grand scale of the universe and time the dramas that afflict our lives are trivial. Sometimes it’s a good idea to put things into perspective for example, does it really matter if someone cut you off in traffic or the cat pissed on the carpet? Do we consider the greater good of all when we make a decision? We are not the center of the universe.

So in short, if I can apply any of these Stoic lessons in my life with some success I feel it will help. I see many similarities with the 12 Steps.
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Old 02-01-2018, 03:28 PM
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Stoic Recovery

We have started a peer support Stoic Group on facebook if anyone wants to search for it.

Not for profit, all peer led.

I hope it is ok to post this.
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Old 02-01-2018, 05:37 PM
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Same Johno. I'm on day 4. Finding a *lot* of these precepts have an incredible amount of pertinence/relevance to effective recovery.

Thanks for the info Cascabel and all
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Old 02-03-2018, 06:05 AM
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I hereby declare that I'm suspending my Stoicism for the next 2 hours to watch my beloved country play the game of the gods, with passion, determination and sublime skills. I will NOT:

1. Simply live and be grateful. I shall see glaring misdemeanour where the referee (who's probably on the opposition team payroll) indicates "play on". And I shall be simply furious.

2.Be accepting. Anything less than a dominant, magnificent display of flowing rugby by the Welsh should see them shackled in chains outside the town hall in Cardiff to be pelted with rotten fruit and be generally mocked mercilessly.

3. Be mindful and aware. I will be either wishing for the final whistle to hurry up or for time to slow down near the end of the game. Depending on the score.

4. Remember my priorities. I shall for the next 2 hours be defined as being a Welsh rugby supporter. I shall not have any sense of right or wrong other than everything that Wales does is right and everything else is wrong.

5. I am not alone. Well this bit is true. I am part of a community of proud, passionate, upstanding, friendly, decent people known as the Welsh.

6.Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. There is no hope involved here. Wales WILL win.

7. Be humble. We'll, of course. That goes without question.


So in short:

Come on Wales.
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Old 02-03-2018, 12:15 PM
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Well done victorious Wales!

Now...I ditto everything Trohyn wrote above No. 1 to 7, except I’m replacing ‘Wales’ and ‘Welsh’ with ‘England’ and ‘English’, and Cardiff with London, in anticipation of England’s game tomorrow!

P.S. I may have torn loyalties and will gladly jump ship and endorse No.6 above, if England start to flounder.
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Old 02-03-2018, 12:47 PM
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if ever you want an illustration of Epictetus's quote:

"Men are disturbed not by events, but by the view which they take of them"

go to a football match & see the reactions of the opposing fans to a goal being scored
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Old 02-03-2018, 12:57 PM
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England winning.....is my preferred indifference!
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Old 02-03-2018, 07:39 PM
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I always love to see this thread resurrected because I’m further along in my life journey. I have had renenewed interest in Reinhold Niebuhr after seeing Jim Comey tweet several of his quotes. Thinking of picking up his book this month
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Old 02-04-2018, 02:23 AM
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Originally Posted by Tatsy View Post
England winning.....is my preferred indifference!
Well done Wales! I missed the game but I'll be watching England this afternoon in the full expectation after summoning up all my optimism and confidence that we shall lose!
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Old 02-04-2018, 07:49 AM
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For those wondering what some of the last few posts have been about, there's a rugby competition on at the moment called the Six Nations which is a tournament between the main rugby playing nations in the Northern Hemisphere: England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy.

Historically the name for rugby was 'rugby football' (the game was invented at the public school of Rugby) and is now known as football in the rest of the world (TROTW) outside the US and Canada was called 'association football', to distinguish it from rugby football. Rugby was informally called 'ruggers', which is an anachronism now, and in the same spirit, association football was called 'soccer', derived from 'association'. The US and Canada have kept the name 'football' for their hand based game but this has been dropped by TROTW from their equivalent game of rugby football, so we now have rugby and football, and you have football and soccer.

Slight off-topic so I do apologise!
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Old 02-04-2018, 08:13 AM
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Typo: and what is now known as football in the rest of the world (TROTW) outside the US and Canada was called 'association football'
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