Small steps out of addiction

Not to be confused with the 12 steps, but read on.

Two posts ago I said I’d suggest practical applications for some of Jordan Peterson’s self-help recommendations, as they might apply to people struggling with addiction. I hesitate to put Peterson’s petersonname in the title of this post, as there has been such a fantastic degree of controversy surrounding this man.

Many thousands have thanked him for live-saving advice, women as well as men. Many love him, I’d say for good reasons. And many hate him. Despite my admiration for most of Peterson’s proposals, I also find myself turned off by some of the things he says in public. These seem careless, absent-minded, maybe provocative, lgbtqsometimes angry, but certainly not intended to harm vulnerable individuals. But again, I want to avoid the political shit storm. It just doesn’t interest me as much as the content of Peterson’s proposals and their capacity to help those in need.

The first recommendation I want to explore is the theme of taking small, manageable steps out of addiction. To paraphrase from my previous post:

People in addiction often want to make a massive change in their lives, but the change is so massive that it overwhelms their capacity for self-direction. So they fail, again and again.

As noted previously, Peterson’s approach to the problem comes to the surface in this talk, about 33 minutes in:

You need a goal, but we don’t want your distance from the goal to crush you…Set a high aim, but differentiate it down so you know what the next step is. And then make the next step difficult enough so that you have to push yourself past where you are, but also provide yourself with a reasonable probability of success.

Nothing particularly new about this idea? Except that Peterson urges a balance between idealized progress and the capacity to succeed even minimally. People in addiction know the price of repeated failures. Each time we set a goal (e.g., never again, not tonight, not this weekend, not shooting it, stopping after two drinks, disgustedsticking to wine) and fail to follow through, there’s a dash of salt in the already-gaping wound to our self-respect. More evidence for that critical inner voice (which I’ll get to next post) and confirmation of the belief that we’ll never succeed or we’re not worth the effort (and pain) of repeated attempts.

These outcomes are both familiar and devastating. When I was taking drugs, each and every time I promised myself to stop — and didn’t — deepened the pit of hopelessness and self-contempt. Stopping was just too difficult…at first. “Never again” felt like being cast on the shore of a desert island, naked, alone, and lacking the one source of safety I could have brought with me.

Little steps — cutting down, controlled use — will be far more manageable for most people in active addiction. Call it harm reduction, if you like, because it certainly reduces harm. But, as Peterson emphasizes, this isn’t a rationale for falling short of Peterson_12-Rules-for-Lifecomplete success. Getting your life exactly where you want it to be is possible, in fact necessary, but it might not be possible this week. So, he advises, be really practical, identify a goal that’s in reach. And make sure you stick to it. If your house is a veritable pig sty, set yourself the goal of gathering the laundry off the bedroom floor — just that — and tomorrow you’ll feel capable of tackling the sock drawer.

One of my clients is a man I’ll call Jason, a sixty-plus year-old who lives in a large European city, having left his home in the U.S. more than twenty years ago. We have a psychotherapy session usually dealeronce a week via live chat on the net. Jason would  score a gram of heroin almost every Friday afternoon, because the weekend stretching out ahead of him felt like a wasteland of boredom and loneliness. When he got home from work Friday he’d get high. Then he’d use the rest on Saturday. There might be enough for a small hit on Sunday, but by then things were already looking pretty grim. Every Monday came the crashing depression of going without, compounded by exhaustion (not sleeping well) and savage self-recrimination. This generally went on until Wednesday morning.

The habit was entrenched. He did this every week. The emotional vulnerability, combined with habit strength, sunk him every Friday. So we set a goal that he felt he could manage. This week, just this restaurantweek, he was to make a plan to go out with a friend on Friday evening. I helped by calling him Friday morning to make sure he was on track. By Friday at dinnertime his dealer was off duty. All he had to do was to make it till then.

We did not try to resolve whether he would use later that weekend, or the following week. He’d cross that bridge when he came to it. (The one-day-at-a-time idea is certainly familiar in the 12-step world, though it comes with spring-loaded rebuke for failing.)

workThis goal was in range. It was possible. And he succeeded. Saturday happened to be a sunny day and he spent it well. By Sunday there was no intense longing. Tomorrow would be a workday. Work organized Jason’s life. He wouldn’t feel tempted to use again until next Friday.

A good start.

Obviously this isn’t rocket science. But it is powerful. Jason felt good about himself. By Sunday, and through the week, his mood was brighter than it had been in months. And he had the beginnings of a defense, a bulwark, against the self-denigrating voice that made him feel like shit most of the time.

As Peterson recognizes, as any good psychologist practicing CBT ought to know, small changes build momentum, allowing for a lot more progress than can be envisioned from Square One.


Check out this cute Medium post showing how small changes to bad habits can generate a chain reaction. Just as good habits lead to the strengthening of additional good habits, indulging in addictive acts leads to more addictive acts. It’s that simple.

I find it impossible to reflect on these cognitive calculations without considering the internal dialogue. See next post.


By the way, here is a positive and constructive website/blog from a recovered heroin addict — now a neuroscientist. No, not a cousin.



40 thoughts on “Small steps out of addiction

  1. Annette Allen May 28, 2018 at 5:21 am #

    Thanks for sharing this, Marc! Your voice felt like an older brother’s 😉

    It took me 9 years to quit drinking – it used to be a New Year’s resolution. In 2015, I tried going cold turkey for 3 weeks, and it was horrendous (and I wasn’t a big user by some standards.) So, along with finding a very supportive online community, I made my own rules:

    My ideal was a life without depression and a lot less guilt. From week 3 onwards, I allowed myself 2 drinks every weekend – but not my poison (wine). I drank them very slowly with meals, and had alcohol free drinks both before and after. During the week, it was tea and AF drinks (I’m a Brit!) I also lived like a hermit for 3 months, as going into pubs and bars was a definite no-no. All the triggers!

    Doing this for 8 months, I realised I could live an AF life. After almost a bottle of wine on Xmas Day (wine was THE poison), I quit. I also found a fabulous mental health therapy, Open Dialogue, (you have it in the US too) and two therapists who helped me dig deep down to my incredible anger and learned helplessness. Life-changing!

    Today, 2 years, 5 months later, my depression is completely gone. Everything was simple, practical steps, and NO beating up. That way, I can support others who want to quit, too. Again, online….

    I did this all in my 60s, so old dogs can learn new tricks – thanks to wonderful neuroplasticity!

    • Marc May 28, 2018 at 5:33 am #

      How nice to see this as the first comment on this post. Thanks for sharing, Annette. Other readers, take heed!

    • matt May 28, 2018 at 7:21 am #

      Hi Annette

      I’m curious about your experience with Open Dialogue, an approach that really seems to lend itself to treating addictive behavior, by bringing in all the key stakeholders, access and communicating openly and honestly with the person trying to change.

      Could you describe your experience a little? Why and how it helped your particular situation? Pros and cons? I would really find it helpful and so would the rest of the group.

      Thanks so much!

      • Annette Allen May 28, 2018 at 12:10 pm #

        Hi Matt, I came across “Open Dialogue” 4 years ago when I bought Russell Razzaque’s book “Breaking Down is Waking Up”, which really spoke to me. I wanted a therapy where I could discuss lucid dreams, my innate spirituality and where I felt truly accepted and listened to. I also knew I had to do the core work of quitting drinking. At the time I was severely depressed, had high levels of anxiety (4 family deaths in 7 years, one of which was a suicide) and was just about to give ready to give up on life. I had terrible nightmares too.

        I was in the first tranche of the NHS roll-out to all Trusts in the UK. The key requirement was that I must not be on any medication.

        The benefits were:

        Each session lasted as long as I needed (3 hours for the first one)
        The therapists (at the stakeholder session, I had 4) reflected in front of me, so I knew exactly how they felt, even down to where they held their feelings
        My dreams (many prophetic) were accepted and validated, as part of my lived experience as a very intuitive, highly empathic person.
        The team identified the core trauma as my past repeating itself in my own family (don’t want to go into detail here!)
        The 2 stakeholders who came along: my sister and a very good friend, found it very useful and were pleased to be part of it. (More brownie points for OD!)
        Psychologically and spiritually, the therapy ties into Einstein’s and David Bohm’s discovery of a deep, implicate order, which will manifest when given space and silence to do so. The team are great at sitting and letting things show up! This ties into my own lived experience.
        The ability to Skype as their office is almost 100 miles from me.
        I was invited to talk about my experience at the 2017 OD conference, which I did to 400 or so people mostly mental health professionals.

        Only slight negatives:

        OD tapping into the Recovery community in a formal way, to give patients the pros and cons of each regular support group e.g. AA, Al-Anon etc.
        If it wasn’t for Skype there could be quite a wait between sessions, as the team are very busy


        The need for this to be community based and peer supported on a national scale. I think in every country where OD is used. It is the DIALOGUE which makes the difference I think it could be taught in secondary schools, business schools, companies and used in conflict resolution, tbh. it is a deeply truthful way of connecting, which goes beyond 95% of communication/relationships I’ve ever experienced.

        As I stated, the active addict MUST be proactive in curbing, then quitting the substance he/she is using, otherwise we will never discover the person we were meant to be. (And that would be a waste of NHS/insurance resources, it really would.)

        I hope this is helpful Matt. I’m now at the point of completing the therapy, btw.

        • matt May 28, 2018 at 1:28 pm #

          Thanks, Annette
          That was very helpful and I’ve been thinking about it for years. There are many critical elements but dialogue is key. “Shared experience,” ” being heard? and helping other’s are linchpins in successful recovery programs. Being judged and told what to do is infantilizing and doesn’t work. There is no connection and reciprocity without dialogue.

          • Annette Allen May 29, 2018 at 4:52 am #

            Hi Matt, I’m interested in where you’re based, please? I know Russell Razzaque very well – very fortunate to have him as my lead clinician 🙂

            • matt May 29, 2018 at 4:59 am #

              Hi Annette

              I’m run groups in the greater Boston area….

              • Marc May 30, 2018 at 3:42 am #

                He speak good English too…

                • matt May 30, 2018 at 3:45 am #

                  but no sleep too good

            • matt May 30, 2018 at 6:33 am #

              Hi Annette

              Thanks for the valuable info and bringing this up. Are you a clinician yourself?

              In my own recovery I can remember some subjective, diffuse yet distinct motivational states I went through in moving away from habituation to substances.

              I’m not ready.
              I want to want to be ready
              I want to be ready
              I’m ready

              The treatment industry and medical community (for the most part) cram these all into one box without considering the temporal, phenomenological, situational and spiritual dimensions of someone’s distress. We all have to discover and come to terms with our own “recovery,” and in the desperation of that transition, come to better understand ourselves and our relationship with uncertainty and change. It can’t be forced. I am so happy that Open Dialogue is finally being championed as a better model in mental health. Before we put all our ducks in a row, all the stakeholders have to lay their cards on the table for all to see. To have continuity of care and clinicians, and understanding of client needs is key. The right hand has to know what the left is doing and why.

              Once in a meeting I said “Recovery is a process” and
              someone misheard me as saying “Reality is a process.” It is.

              • Annette Allen May 30, 2018 at 11:45 am #

                Hi Matt, I’m not a clinician, but have witnessed addictions first hand in my birth family and then my own (which included me.) I did a LOT of work reading, posting, commenting and encouraging others to stay with the process of recovery.

                I loved Mark Wolynn’s book “It didn’t start with you” as I think a lot of us are dealing with intergenerational trauma. I made a discovery about one of my ancestors 20 years ago, one which had been a secret for 50 years. It explained a lot…..

                The key is being non-judgmental, and thus allowing others to grow into their recovery, from whatever substance we’re recovering from. Progress, not perfection. (In fact, the drive to be perfect is one of the key causes of addiction, imho!)

  2. matt May 28, 2018 at 8:22 am #

    Thanks Marc

    Good stuff. It reminds me a lot of the Zone of Proximal Development (L Vygotsky, d 1934), the difference between what a learner can do without help and what they can do with support . Sounds like it has a lot of parallels to the recovery process.
    Notice in Marc’s example, he very skillfully includes the TWO other people who helped his client take this next step into his ZPD. Marc himself was the helping person who could see what the next step should be. And the friend, the person his client was to have dinner with, was the other helping hand.

    I think Marc’s point about Peterson’s pointer is profound. Sounds easy— find a next step that is within reach. But it’s not that easy— we can see it, maybe. But maybe we need someone else to help us see what that next step is. A scaffold. Or maybe we can see the step, but we need someone to help us execute.

    The ZPD has to have two people in it— maybe one is just a bit ahead of the other. Or maybe one is an expert. But when we are entrenched in addictive behavior, one cannot do it alone. Cumulative momentum is essential for these incremental steps.

    “As Peterson recognizes, as any good psychologist practicing CBT ought to know, small changes build momentum, allowing for a lot more progress than can be envisioned from Square One.” It’s easier to see the horizon the closer you get, but it’s still out there. There has to be a greater purpose, a reason we’re doing this, otherwise the momentum cannot be maintained.

    The little book “The Power pf Habit” by Charles Duhigg has some interesting ways that experts in different areas used incremental changes as a means and a method to a larger goal, like saving a company or winning gold medals. Little things can make a big difference.

    But in addiction it cannot be done alone, no matter how smart you think you are.

    • Marc May 28, 2018 at 8:35 am #

      Hi Matt. The “zone of proximal development” — yes, we studied it in depth in developmental psychology. There really is no other way to guide children along a learning trajectory, unless it’s unusually motivating and somewhat transparent (knowing what the next steps are). The ZPD is a great frame for thinking about learning in general, and developing out of addiction in particular.

      What you say about having others involved to mark out the zone, hold the scaffold in place, whatever metaphor you like…that’s an excellent point. A few people can do it alone, and some can quit suddenly, in one fell swoop. But not many. Having others with defined roles, wanting to help, seems a huge advantage.

      Funny that Peterson doesn’t talk about this, or if he does, I haven’t caught it. He is very focused on individuals and sees them as the ultimate masters of their fate.

  3. matt May 28, 2018 at 8:56 am #

    “What you say about having others involved to mark out the zone, hold the scaffold in place, whatever metaphor you like…that’s an excellent point. A few people can do it alone, and some can quit suddenly, in one fell swoop. But not many. Having others with defined roles, wanting to help, seems a huge advantage.”

    This is also what I call “the window of opportunity” where people are most angry, vulnerable, dejected….yet open. To anything that makes sense and has a compassionate human attached to it. And this gets squandered all the time. THe model is changing and more recovery workers and venues are springing up. The technique of using psychedelics as medicine is coming up again with Michael Pollan’s new book and airplay.

    Petersen may not talk about it if he thinks we are the masters of our own fate. Which we are. But only in relation to all the other beings who inhabit the world.

    • Marc May 30, 2018 at 4:09 am #

      Yes, connecting “the zone” with “the moment”….and having support at the same time. That is such a winning formula. In fact, let’s patent it. Seriously.

      By the way, remember Peter’s Birmingham Model? I talk about it in the last chapter of BOD, p. 214. Having community members at the ready, until the addict says fuck this, I’ve had it, then reaching out to that person and saying “I’ll be right over”…and then inducting them into a path, a sequence, leading to the next step. It’s a great instantiation of these principles and how they can be fused into a “policy”…. I don’t know how it’s going in Birmingham. Haven’t talked to Peter about it lately. But it’s such a good idea. Elon Musk’s first rocket didn’t work so well either.

  4. Joe S. May 28, 2018 at 9:50 am #

    Great post Marc. Incremental steps worked for me. I recommend Making Habits, Breaking Habits by Jeremy Dean which I’m sure you are familiar with. For me, I found it best to avoid philosophy and theology and concentrate on the science. Your book, The Biology of Desire was very helpful in my quest. While the science is hardly unequivocal it’s our best guide and much is known about learning, habit formation and self modification.

  5. Peter Sheath May 28, 2018 at 10:40 am #

    Hi Marc and Matt
    Yet another great blog and creating a really good dialogue. As you know I’ve also read JP’s book and found it entirely workable across the behavioural health spectrum. I feel like there is an amazing amount of synchronicity going down, especially between your good self, Matt and li’l ol’ me. I can almost guarantee that I will have had my interests stimulated by a client, book, lecture or simply talking to someone and, a few days later it will be there in your blog and Matt will have made one of his beautifully eloquent comments on it. This may not sound so apparent at first but please bear with me.

    Over the past couple of years I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, talking and research around this whole co-occurring conditions/dual diagnoses thing. I think we, organisationally, have got astonishingly good at not dealing with it. We love to have these imaginary silos that we place people in to, develop manuals and protocols to either keep them there or embargo them from going there. We’ve even develop competency/accountability frameworks, skillsets and governance systems that ensure that, supposedly, the right person is working with the right person, at the right time, in the right place.

    The trouble is that it mainly creates confusion, uncertainty, apartheid and exclusivity. Only the other day I received a phone call from a friend who is managing a substance misuse team for people with complex needs. He had been asked to develop a “criteria” for the people his team would be working with. I said that I’m very sorry but I really do not believe in having criteria for people we do or don’t work with and everybody who comes to substance misuse services for help will have complex needs. Turns out that he is of exactly the same mind but has to do it because that’s what he’s been instructed to do.

    Doing things in this way means that we often screen more people out than we do in and I have real difficulties understanding why we continue to do it. JP’s 12 rules for life, motivational interviewing, open dialogue (Matt we really do need to talk about its application in substance misuse), ACT, CBT, person centred counselling, narrative exposure, etc. are all transdiagnostic and probably work best under the collective umbrella of the therapeutic relationship.

    I’m currently working with a paying client who has had a lifetime of psychiatric diagnoses and various dependencies. He came to me because he had approached his local alcohol service looking for a community alcohol detox. The detox would need to fit around his work, because he works for himself and is the only employee. He was drinking at least a 75cls bottle of vodka every day and was getting increasingly desperate and depressed. The service said that, because of his underlying mental health problems, levels of alcohol use and not being able to take time off work they couldn’t help him! I know it beggars belief, doesn’t it? I negotiated a course of Librium with his GP, involved his mother and his local pharmacist in the plan (open dialogue), then did some motivational interviewing type interventions to boost his confidence and ensure that getting sober was the right thing to do. We arranged a daily telephone check in and weekly face to face, with myself, and I taught mum and himself how to do blood pressure monitoring. He agreed to call in to the pharmacy if his BP raised or reduced by 10.

    Got a phone call last night to say that his detox had finished a week ago and he is now 21 days sober. He has struggled a bit because the weather over here has been lovely and he has an association with sunny days and sitting outside the pub drinking beer. He has used some psychotropic meds sparingly, because he does get worried about his anxiety levels, panic attacks and past psychoses. I’ve also been teaching him mindfulness based meditations, relapse prevention and managing his mental health. We’ve developed a really good therapeutic relationship based on trust, autonomy, prosocial role modelling and hope. We’ve also focused on very small steps, although he is always wanting to make massive leaps. Fingers crossed.

    • Marc May 29, 2018 at 3:17 am #

      You really get it at every possible level. It is a delight for me to see you, Matt, and others take the little themes I introduce and enrich them, concretize them, make them accessible and transparent, based on all the work you’ve done and all the insights you’ve internalized from your years in the addiction world.

    • matt May 29, 2018 at 6:42 am #

      Hey Peter!!

      It keeps coming back to this, doesn’t it? It takes a village…but a coordinated one that meets the needs of the individual as well as the tribe. Your sentence captures it all:

      “We’ve developed a really good therapeutic relationship based on trust, autonomy, prosocial role modelling and hope.”

      There has to be autonomy, agency… individuals need to feel in control or we don’t feel safe. I have to trust my fellow, the method, the goal because I’m not going to stick with a process of arduous change if I don’t believe in it. And none of it is gonna work if I don’t feel like I’m in a sharing, connected, reciprocal relationship with the humans who are helping me. Something all effective recovery traditions have in common. All human endeavor, for that matter.

      The thing about open dialogue that is so simple and compelling is that it is the same model humans have used to cooperate, help each other, and progress throughout history. It’s getting all the stakeholders, the people who care in the same room, on the same page. It’s putting the puzzle that’s fallen apart back together.

      We all know how to do this because it is a human thing, not an “addiction” thing. Addiction is a proxy for meaningful relationship.

  6. Denise May 28, 2018 at 10:41 am #


    “…because the weekend stretching out ahead of him felt like a wasteland of boredom and loneliness. ”

    What I wonder is how did he go from not knowing what to do with his free time, to suddenly being able to fill Saturday and Sunday with enjoyable activities? It’s as if he took baby steps through Friday evening and suddenly, like magic, he knew how to deal with the rest.

    • Marc May 28, 2018 at 1:22 pm #

      Partly luck. The weather was perfect.

      • matt May 29, 2018 at 7:07 am #

        …and it’s not “magic” really. It’s focused behavior change. I have way too many examples of people stuck in that same rut conditioned by the workaday week, loneliness, and their habit adaptation to the lonely weekend. Some stuck in it for years till they find suitable activities. But if the stakes are high enough and they don’t give up they usually find a new quiver of activities.

        …and then there’s luck, too

        • Marc May 30, 2018 at 3:48 am #

          Exactly. For Jason, the habit strength was a major factor. Jason was used to scoring on Friday, not Saturday. It’s that simple. Also, you know how negative associations make things look worse than they are from a distance, in anticipation, then when you’re in the middle of it (starting to sort through that quiver of activities — lovely phrase, Matt) it’s really not so bad. And a sunny day in many parts of Europe can feel like a blessing. And just the feeling of “I did it,” even if it’s just a few hours old, already modifies the internal dialogue substantially. More on that soon.

  7. Eric Nada May 28, 2018 at 10:46 am #

    Marc, such an important subject. I am amazed that, although seemingly logical, small steps in the right direction seem acceptable in almost all areas of therapeutic work except in addiction, where change is often only counted if one has transitioned from black to white–the gray somehow off-limits in this work. Change is change, incremental or cataclysmic, and I am happy to see others wanting to take this concept into the discussion of addiction work.

    • Marc May 30, 2018 at 3:50 am #

      Excellent point, Eric. Not only is it not rocket science but it’s damn well obvious. And yet many experts miss it entirely, as if they’re colour-blind and it’s outside their spectrum.

  8. Bill May 28, 2018 at 11:38 am #

    Micro Goals and mini habits. Are the key to rewiring our brains. Not sure about the neuroscience but it sure feels different if I achieve one small thing that throws off the normal trajectory.

    • Marc May 30, 2018 at 4:00 am #

      You know, when you meditate for five minutes you might already feel a lot better than you did. Brains are amazing at switching directions on a dime. That’s a big part of their basic wiring specs. Massive shifts in seconds, so we can switch from love to fear to hate to interest because environments can switch in seconds, and our ancestors didn’t have a lot of time to ponder every change.

      There are several extensive networks that connect regions right across the brain…from perceptual input to motor plans. When one of these networks lights up it often mutes other (competing) networks. The shift from anticipated to failure to anticipated success, or just interpersonal support and connection…well, you can imagine.

  9. Joanna "Nicci Tina" Free May 29, 2018 at 1:57 am #

    It’s so funny to me that when I read Biology of Desire, and loved it, and then began reading your blog, I was not in 12 Step.

    Now I’m back in 12 Step community and have been for about 18 months… and I love it.

    I love these things side by side.

    The differences I note in my life are many.

    I have great reinforcement for the changes I want to develop… fellows who get the challenges I face in doing so, and who we cheer me on in my efforts (as I do them) and share their own trials and triumphs. I love that. We learn and grow and evolve and celebrate all that together.

    I can tell that my brain is getting healthier, as a result of these rich, daily interactions. And why wouldn’t it? I’m in my tribe. I’m a part of, contributing and being contributed to. It’s how I’m wired, to be this way.

    I’m a happier camper with my spouse and other friends and family, funner to be around, they tell me. I feel funner on the inside. My life is more balanced. I laugh more.

    When I was in 12 Step years ago, I took it all so literally. It pissed me off.

    “Character defects” – not I!
    Just ineffective ways of meeting my needs.
    and the God stuff…

    the thing is: we all have our gods.
    What do you hold most dear, what do you cherish? What do you put before other things?

    As for the moral inventory thing, hell, it’s just about taking a look at our stuff, owning it, and endeavoring to be a “better” – more integrated, functioning, joyful – human. To live longer and prosper.

    And, now I get to be one of the voices in the rooms talking about the impact of trauma, and mixing my bits of neuroscience knowledge and nonviolent communication in with 12 Step language. GoodGod, I love that… and being part of a tribe again.

    Just another view. Just another way of being.

    As for Peterson, I have to say: every single person I’ve met in my life has some wisdom in them. Bar none. And I’ve worked in jails, in psychiatric hospitals, in schools and colleges and corporate settings and in the military… so many places. Work is one way I’ve been able to learn and travel and experience different facets of the world. I’ve met people from all walks of life.
    Everyone has wisdom in them, when we tune in and listen for it.

    • Marc May 30, 2018 at 4:15 am #

      Hi Joanna. So often it’s either pro or con with 12 steps, as it seems to be with Peterson. So it’s refreshing and heartening to read of your experience of parallel ways forward. Interesting that you had to take a second stab at it before it made sense to you, before you got to the underlying currents of wisdom, lying below the surface. It’s often that way, isn’t it…just like listening a little more closely to what someone you don’t know is really saying and, as you say, tuning in.

    • Neil June 10, 2018 at 1:25 pm #

      Your post made me smile. Been in 12 Step for close to 4.5 years and my experience felt very similar to what you described. I felt I had to embrace it all and if I wasn’t following it to the letter I was in denial/letting my ego do my thinking. That was not just my internal voice but the tone of the group, or at least that’s what I made up. There are in many groups people who hold the steps as a rigid set of rules for life and any deviation is unthinkable. Maybe that’s where those individuals are personally on their journey but it doesn’t have to me. One of my ‘defects of character’ is listening to other ‘smarter/clever’ voices than the one in my head and gut. In early recovery this was a good thing, in later recovery not so much for me. I know listen and try to assess what I know to be true.

      My pivotal moment came late last year while reading Marc’s Biology of Desire. I let go of a lot my ‘once an addict always an addict’ thinking, took charge of my own life and started asking what was it I needed. It’s crazy because at the end of our meetings we have a reading that says ‘take what you like and leave the rest’ … lol it was always there, I just was not ready/able to see it.

      I told Marc his book gave me a radical change of perspective. I now meet with my tribe (love that word) and see them as fellows with the same struggles and same goals as me. Maybe they interpret the steps differently to me but if we are both improving, both simply becoming better human beings even incrementally what do the differences matte?

      I like your attitude about Peterson too. I happen to be a fan and like most of what he says but have come to see that most have something to say that I can learn from especially the ones that one initial look I dismiss.

      • Joanna "Nicci Tina" Free July 3, 2018 at 3:55 pm #

        Hey Neil – glad you found a smile in that.

        I find my perspective is increasingly integrative, like my own gorgeous, crazy patchwork quilt I wrap around me as I settle in at the end of each day. (Oh – I like that metaphor:)

        I’m having fun with mixing Marc’s work, with the work of another dear neuro-wise friend, Mark Brady (who kindly breaks things down for me:), and with Gabor Mate’s work.. so many!… and with the wisdom of engaged and ongoing community, and with other forms of guidance and support.

        I’m noticing my own ideas about these things – health (mental and otherwise) and “addiction” – sprouting up in the midst.

        Being in community daily is having such a powerful effect. I get the chance to articulate and examine my perspective, sometimes several times a day.

        Aren’t we fortunate to have these places to go – like this trail, for instance – and exchange and enjoy these ideas for the benefit of all we love and serve.

    • Moses Brodin January 10, 2019 at 5:29 am #

      New websites may get set up when others are shut down, but all these delivery services will turn the recipient/customer in to law enforcement in a heartbeat and pat themselves on the back while taking the shipping charges.
      This is the DEA’s dream. Don’t be stupid and order drugs online.

  10. lisa martinovic June 6, 2018 at 11:36 pm #

    hi Marc. I hadn’t heard of Jordan Peterson until you brought him to our attention in your post. Now I see him everywhere. Just came across this NY Times piece about him and others in what’s called the Intellectual Dark Web–made up of members of the right and left who have been shut out of conversations, jobs and academia after questioning that which cannot be questioned. Fascinating stuff…

    • Marc June 8, 2018 at 4:43 am #

      Fascinating!! Thanks for sharing it with us.

      This strikes me as a feast of intellectual discussion, multifaceted and vibrant…a rich, nuanced intellectual discourse. Whereas Peterson himself is like a prophet in the wilderness, preaching his personal vision over and over, no matter who is listening.

  11. Jasmine June 7, 2018 at 6:29 am #

    Thanks for posting Marc, but there are so many arguments this guy propagates that I can’t get to anything meaningful…Sociobiology, (gender) stereotyping, lack of connection, pigeonholing, etc. etc. I was going to add judgmental, but I’d be just as guilty in thinking he seemed like a talking head, dusting off and sweeping dark brushes from the’ good’ old days of extrapolating from the behaviour of from rats or mallard ducks to all of us humans.

    • Marc June 8, 2018 at 4:48 am #

      Lovely comment, Jasmine. You’re a poet whether or not you know it.

      I agree with you. There are so many arguments that are wobbly, unnecessary, obscuring any real advance in thinking, except among his dedicated followers. I still like much of what he says. But why does he sprinkle it with all this weird stuff that just foments reactions like yours. Some say because he doesn’t care. Others…see Bernie Schiff’s piece in the Toronto Star…say there’s a darker initiative at work.

  12. Nik June 16, 2018 at 1:10 pm #

    Many fine comments already. Peterson is certainly brilliant and a captivating speaker. He’s able to reach people. Younger men seem to appreciate his boldness, and like his questioning so-called ‘leftist dogma’, e.g. that woman don’t reach the top positions in corporations, not because of any discrimination, but because of, perhaps genetically based personality traits. His underlying point, based on his famous ‘lobster’ analogy is that there is a natural dominance hierarchy in nature; it’s wired into the genes and nervous systems. I’m not sure why that means “Men are often *deservedly* on top” but he seems to think it does.

    I find it interesting and suggestive that Marc has picked Peterson’s ‘small steps’ approach to praise. From all of Peterson’s Jungian musings, reflections, scholarship.
    Rather faint, isn’t it? ‘Small steps’ is pretty standard stuff in CBT, and with generations of therapists. It was satirized ages ago in the Bill Murray 1991 movie, ‘What about Bob?’ Murray (as psychiatrist) teaches ‘baby steps’ to the crazy, dependent, stalker-patient played by Richard Dreyfuss.

    One final point. The brilliance of Peterson’s thinking is marred by some glitches, e.g. paranoia–that ‘leftists’ and ‘cultural marxists’ have taken over campuses and shut down free speech–and ignorance in specific areas he chooses to talk about, e.g. neo-marxism and post-modern thinkers. And by his love of attention and issuing of encouraging tid-bits for the far right [you are right that males are getting shafted], though he is a self-said liberal.

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