Stuff Sober People Like: Eastern Shit

Stuff Sober People Like: Eastern Shit

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This post was originally published on February 27, 2015.

There’s nothing wrong with holing yourself up in a dark confessional before a priest and repenting for your sins—if that’s what turns you on, I say great. Or maybe you like philosophizing with the rabbis about what really happens after we all croak, which sounds like an enlightening afternoon too.

It’s all good. No judgment from me.

But whether they get sober through a 12-step program or not, many recovering alkies and druggies in the Western world dig on Eastern philosophies, spirituality, martial arts and holistic medicine. You can see why. Zen meditation can shut down the monkeys pitching fits in your neurotic mind, and memorizing all the positions in the Kama Sutra can make for a hot and heavy Saturday night with that special, or not-so-special, someone.

The book One Breath at a time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps is widely popular in my sober circle, and for good reason. The essence of Buddhism—and it’s close cousin Taoism—embraces, more than anything, the idea of acceptance, going with nature, not fucking with the flow. Sound like “Life on life’s terms”? Yeah, because it is. Buddhism is, of course, not a religion or a theistic belief system—the Dalai Lama calls it a science of the mind. No, those monks chanting om in Tibet aren’t trying to get the attention of some egomaniacal God up in the heavens.

Sure, there’s good old-fashioned Zen, Vedic or Transcendental Meditation, but other fun Eastern traditions that I’ve seen lots of sober folks hit up are Chinese herbology, which can be used to treat everything from the flu to depression (but go easy on the aristolochia or else you might have some kidney issues). Ex-heroin junkies who aren’t afraid of needles do acupuncture, which can take care of everything from a stress headache to a spazzed-out back (and also, btw, help people get sober).

Then there’s “cupping,” this bizarre Chinese treatment that balances out your chi by pushing plastic cups on your back, letting them suck out all your evil energy and then yanking them off your skin with a loud POP—you gotta try it, though don’t get freaked out by the post-cupping bruises. When I got “cupped” at the local Chinese massage parlor a few years back I felt so refreshed I’m pretty sure it upped me to an 8 on the “Hot-or-Not?” scale. This was great, since I had a first date from Lava Life that evening. But, I did have to explain those bruises to him.

Of course there’s yoga, but yoga’s so common it’s lost it’s mystique. I’ve known sober guys who are obsessed with Muay Thai (Thai boxing), a very violent form of mixed martial arts where you can take down your opponent by kicking him in the balls. And Thai massages are killer. For just $45 a super-strong woman woman will work out those knots in your neck better than a hit of oxycodone (you’ll probably have to pay extra for a happy ending though).

I love bouncing back and forth between the 40-degree ice room and the 120-degree room filled with hot rocks at the Korean spas—it’s a serious rush (don’t do this if you have heart problems). Also: remember to get the 10% discount from Groupon.

And then there’s those tacky tchotchkes. Many sober folks I know (and yours truly) have all sorts of mystical figurines cluttering up their bedrooms and bathrooms. They—er, we—have little grey statues of the Buddha and large golden figurines of Buddhai (the laughing Buddha based on a Chinese monk) along with pimped-out blue and purple figurines of Hindu dieties like Shiva, Krishna and Kali. You can make your own shrine or just use them as paperweights, whatever works. Can we say hey, a potential Higher Power if you’re out of ideas?

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Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.