Addiction can defeat you, and be your greatest gift.
Right now you don’t think addiction is a gift.
Right now you’re wondering why you keep breaking these promises to yourself—day after day—drawing a line in the sand and crossing it. Drawing a new line and crossing that one too.
I know about that. I was the guy in your yoga class sweating alcohol from every pore.
Shots of wheatgrass in the morning and shots of vodka in the afternoon. I wanted authentic relationships but I kept a hundred secrets from you. I ordered the quinoa and steamed vegetables and then left to shoot up in the bathroom.
I would nod out in the self-help section of the independent bookstore. I literally fasted in the wilderness.
I sat at the feet of great teachers who were amazing, but they did not understand addiction. In retrospect I see that I was relying on their ignorance because my addiction was the last thing that I wanted to look at.
What I didn’t want to accept was the fact that the solution could only be found by facing my worst fear, which in this case, was getting clean and confronting my despair.
I was so afraid and ashamed that I just kept pushing my problem into the back of my mind, year after year, praying for a miracle or death, whichever would come first.
Death came first.
Once I woke up in the ER on life support. Another time my dealer actually revived me with CPR and a shot of Naloxone in my leg after I stopped breathing.
The last time, I woke up naked in the psych ward of the ER, my liver failing, an Ativan drip in my arm to keep me from banging my bruised face against the wall, and a cop guarding me.
Addiction defeated me. And addiction is my greatest gift.
Winning does not tempt that man
For this is how he grows:
By being defeated, decisively,
By constantly greater things. ~ Rilke
Maybe the consequences haven’t gotten this bad for you, and maybe they never will. If you are struggling with a process addiction, like food or sex, you probably aren’t in danger of waking up in the ER tomorrow, or not waking up at all.
If you don’t address the issue you will end up slowly sabotaging your happiness and the happiness of those around you.
When it’s most important for you to be present and consciously participate in your own evolution, instead you’ll drive to the mall or take that hit, pop that pill or find that boy (or girl) to get with.
That gift, that opportunity to open further into life, is gone. You’ve traded in your greatness.
This world needs your greatness.
Lest you wish to argue semantics, the last bastion of denial, allow me to clear up the differences between addiction, dependence and abuse.
Dependence occurs in hospitals all the time when a person is put on morphine for pain control and then experiences withdrawal symptoms when taken off. Abuse happens all the time too, like binge drinking at college parties or off-label prescription drug use.
Neither of these are addiction.
Addiction is characterized by a mental obsession that leads to a compulsive behavior, despite negative consequences. It’s believed to be a complex brain disease with causes that are physiological, psychological and environmental. It’s like an acute version of the human condition.
As the Buddha pointed out in the Four Noble Truths, the nature of our existence is suffering caused by attachment and aversion. We’re all hooked.
It comes down to this question: is there something that you cannot stop participating in that is consistently getting in the way of your happiness? Welcome.
Welcome to the invitation to embrace your full complexity. Welcome to your greatest gift.
The only reason your soul would choose to come here and experience such bondage and misery is to have an equally profound experience of freedom and joy.
Are you ready to transmute lead into gold?
First you must decide that your intention is to live, and to embrace your full complexity as a human being. Usually this means that you’ve reached a point where the pain of staying the same is worse than the fear of changing.
Then you’re ready to surrender and ask for help.
You’re going to discover that all those things you were trying not to feel are going to demand to be felt. Sometimes it’s going to seem like you will die if you open that door, but your fear of the feelings is likely going to be far worse than the feelings themselves.
You’re going to need people around who can challenge you to turn and face these things and support you while you’re doing it.
In Alcoholics Anonymous they say “We’ll love you until you can love yourself.”
Your mind is going to play all kinds of tricks on you to get you to return to that familiar thing that you know, even if that thing is killing you. You’re going to need reality checks and third person perspectives on your interiors—people that know what to point out and what to listen for.
Twelve step groups like AA might not be for everyone but they are a great resource. Anyone can benefit from the wisdom that has collectively gathered among its members over the last seventy plus years.
The steps themselves can basically be distilled down into three simple parts:
1. Trust God. “The God” part being optional. It’s just an invitation to surrender to a power that’s greater than yourself. It could be love, or the collective intention of a group committed to a similar purpose. The sangha is the new Buddha, you know.
2. Clean house. The Jungian term is shadow work and it’s crucial for any real transformation to occur. You’re only as sick as your secrets.
3. Help others. There are many layers to this injunction but it’s the surest way to make your changes stick and keep bringing happiness and a sense of purpose into your life. I like how the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore put it: I awoke and saw that life was service/I acted and behold, service was joy.
(And if you think that those meetings aren’t for you and those aren’t your kind of people, that’s cool. But I’ve seen your naturopath there, your professor, your barista, and yes, your yoga instructor.)
But back to surrendering.
This act alone is immensely powerful when done as an offering. True surrender has two parts.
The first is radical trust. You have to practice taking a step and having faith that the bridge will appear. Believe that you are in good hands and the Universe begins to prove that you are.
The second part is letting go of the self—trusting that your spirit cannot actually be hurt, and on an even deeper level there is no individual self there to get hurt anyway.
Surrender means you’re willing to be dismantled in the service of your larger intention.
These two parts of surrender can be cultivated and create space for addiction to solve you. Think of it as an invitation to enter into a relationship with a great teacher that is going to transform you into someone who is truly free. That’s why it is your greatest gift.
Chogyam Trungpa said the warrior with a broken heart can never be corrupted.
My heart is broken.
Sometimes when I cry I’m not sure if I’m crying from feeling so much sadness or from witnessing so much beauty.
I’m not cured of anything—this is just the beginning. I keep choosing everyday to show up, to help, to live a life worthy of its suffering. And I’m immeasurably blessed.
SAMHSA offers an online treatment locator service that can be accessed at http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/ or by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Good old Alcoholics Anonymous http://www.aa.org/?Media=PlayFlash where you can find meetings in your area.
This is a really beautiful and informative site by HBO, of all things http://www.hbo.com/addiction/
John Dupuy, teacher and author of the forthcoming book Integral Recovery (Suny Press) can be found here http://integralrecovery.com/
The National Institute on Drug Abuse site (NIDA) has a lot of good science on it http://www.drugabuse.gov/
Some popular news about addiction here http://www.thefix.com
Editor: Jennifer Cusano
Brett Walker is a full time student of psychology at Naropa University. He works for Integral Life here in Boulder and sometimes for Integral Recovery in Utah. He lives his life one day at a time and isn’t hung over in yoga class anymore. He can be reached at [email protected]