Every season: Excruciating beauty

Please read this book: “On Looking,” by Alexandra Horowitz. See a video clip overview here.

In group therapy for addiction, a common theme often emerges. It’s something unexpected. People often comment that they after they quit drinking or using drugs they have trouble coping with all the details of life. — Not the lists and the obligations and worries, but life itself.

The best way to describe how people look when make this observation in therapy is to imagine a miner who had been trapped deep underground, suddenly coming up and out into the sun. It’s sensory overload. People abuse substances to escape trauma or pain, but they are also muting all kinds of other great stuff. And the blazing sun of awesome that is life itself can often, ironically, push people back underground.

I’ve experienced this myself over the past 18 months. Even when I was drinking a lot of wine I thought I was a great observer of things, in touch with my surroundings. But I was living with one eye shut.

These days, I’m honestly beginning to believe that it’s Not madness to suggest that I can always be happy as long as I’m able to observe simple beauty – a scarlet cardinal piping in the top branches of the tree across the block – the sleeping birch bud encased, unconcerned, in ice – and, as Thoreau himself observed just this week (but 150 years ago), how footsteps in snow collect leaves when there are no leaves in sight. Wonders! There’s definitely something here to explore further — a role for this kind of mindfulness in addictions counseling and therapy. As long as we continue to treat addiction as a medical condition, healing the body without helping people to really reconnect with themselves and the world around, it seems like a losing battle. As Dr. Gabor Mate more eloquently observes in his amazing book, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts,” addictions therapy needs to include more compassion, or those miners could be blinded.

As my own eyes have become adjusted over the past few months, I thought maybe I should write a book about this kind of simple observation and how it can fortify and restore. But someone else already wrote it. And it’s a joy to read. Alexandra Horowitz takes us for eleven walks in Manhattan and opens our eyes to the universes all around (making it possible to also glimpse within).

Sober is Awesome.



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  • E-bat January 16, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    I have been driving back and forth from Toronto to Hamilton for over a year and only this week saw a beautiful cemetery on my route. That this was the first I saw it disturbed me greatly. What a waste of time before this week.