I met Chris Grosso a few years ago at the Celebrate Your Life conference in Phoenix, Arizona. He made quite an impression for many reasons. Multiply tattooed, multiple body piercings with ear gauges stretching the lobes of this infectiously grinning young man. Truth be told, if I encountered him on a dark street, I might be more than a wee bit nervous. Good thing our meeting was in a hotel conference room. As his story unfolded, my respect for him and what he had survived, grew as expansively as the inked places that covered his skin. He is a fusion-being. He moves to the beat of punk rock, heavy metal and hip-hop music and aligns with the bone-deep spirituality of Thich Nhat Hanh and Ram Dass.
His credentials are impressive: public speaker, writer, director of education at Toivo by Advocacy Unlimited and author of Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality (Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster), Everything Mind: What I’ve Learned About Hard Knocks, Spiritual Awakening and the Mind-Blowing Truth of it All (Sounds True) and his latest, called Dead Set On Living (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books 2018). What is even more astounding is that he is still standing after what he fell into and climbed out of.
His journey from darkness to light began more than a decade ago. In 2004, he found himself in his first detox after being a functioning addict for years. He worked as a touring musician and then entered a 28- day rehab program followed by a halfway house and then a sober house, as well as 12 step meetings. His first relapse occurred a year later. It became a vicious cycle of hospital, rehab, and jail. Each time, he had at least a year of sobriety under his belt. In an interview I did with him a few years ago on my Blog Talk Radio show called It’s All About Relationships, Chris shared that he was surprisingly introverted. He came across as soft-spoken, although I am sure his musical stage persona is far more animated. He also acknowledged that self-imposed isolation contributed to relapse. Addiction and depression thrive on isolation. He had support among family, friends and the fellowship communities of which he was a part, but didn’t reach out to them.
When Chris spoke from the stage, he shared about a harrowing event that he had no recollection about until his mother told him it had occurred. He had gone on a bender with alcohol and experienced a blackout. He had filled a prescription for Klonopin which he says he would mix with alcohol. His father found them and when he demanded them back, he threatened to cut his throat if his parents kept the pills from him. They succumbed. He took off and they found him on a grassy knoll near their suburban Connecticut home and they took him to the ER.
When his mother related the tale to him, amid his own sorrow and shame, he recalled a practice he learned from Thich Nhat Hanh. It is about holding your pain the way a mother would hold a newborn baby. He went to his room and brought forth the agonizing thoughts and sat with them, without judging them. He visualized wrapping the judgments in a blanket and cradling them. He honored those feelings and was able to use his lovingkindness practice to help heal the wounds.
A funny moment occurred as he was telling the group this story. His mom texted during the workshop. He asked if we would join him in greeting her with “Hi, Mom!” when he called back. And so, this group of likely 100 strangers who had listened with rapt attention to her son, were thanking her for being a stalwart support and refusing to give up on him.
He calls himself an Indie spiritualist, which he defines as “Someone who honors their heart’s calling.” He believes in living with an “everything mind”. He sees that both the darkness and the light are part of our path and who we become may evolve from that realization. Chris lives one day at a time in sobriety and notices when he is tempted to fall back into addictive patterns. He is fed by teachings of spiritual teachers and his ongoing practice that fill the hole in the soul into which addictive behaviors tumble.
He collaborated on his latest book, Dead Set On Living with Alice Peck, who penned Be More Tree; Bread, Body, Spirit; and Next to Godliness. Her writing has appeared in Center for Humans & Nature, Spirituality & Health, Rewire Me, Prime Mind, Daily Good, and Mountain Record. is a buffet of beliefs that nourish the reader’s soul, whether they are facing active addiction, recovery or are simply facing the inevitable challenges that life dishes out.
Dead Set on Living begins by taking the reader into the hospital room where he has awakened from yet another relapse. Grosso is intubated and restrained as he recollects the emotionally rubbish strewn road of imbibing and indulging in his drugs of choice. When he is discharged, he begins his recovery anew and uses the writing of the book as a compass to keep him on the path. He has conversations with some of the wisest voices in the transformational, spiritual and recovery fields, including Ram Dass, Gabor Mate’, Sera Beak, J.P. Sears and Sharon Salzberg. The take away from each of them is that healing is an inside job, recovery can be a messy ordeal, but ultimately rewarding, one can be irreverent and use profanity and still be spiritual, humor helps, embodying a practice of some sort is instrumental, loving-kindness toward oneself and others is a key to unlock the prison door of feelings of self -loathing and unworthiness. There are specific practices he offers throughout including the Buddhist Tonglen, forgiveness exercises and meditation. Grosso encourages physical activity, developing community, self-compassion, dancing, time in nature; all valuable suggestions for a life well lived.
According to fellow recovering addict and founder of Refuge Recovery, Noah Levine, “This shit actually works.”
When I received the book, I tore part of the cover as I was opening the envelope and, in the month, or so since I have been reading it, it has become dog-eared and raggedy with pages folded back and cover edgy. When I pointed this out to Chris, he thought it was appropriately symbolic of the journey he has taken.
His final words? “Go laugh at some dumb shit for a little while, okay? You’ll thank me for it later.”
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Photo credit: IndieSpiritualist.com