Playing With Fire: How Mindfulness & Addiction go Hand in Hand.

Via Chris Lemig
on Aug 30, 2011
get elephant's newsletter
light a fire
Photo: Charles Chan

This is the fourth in a series of posts titled “Everyday Mindfulness.” You can find the previous posts here, here and here.

“Do you ever feel tempted to drink again?”

my friend asks. I have just poured two fat shots of Jack Daniels for a couple of guys at the bar. I wrinkle my nose as I watch them gulp the booze down. It covers my fingers like some kind of burning jelly and it seeps into the cuts on my skin. I rush to the sink to wash it off like I’ve got blood on my hands.

Photo: Scott Robinson

“No,” I say. “I don’t worry about drinking too much. It’s the drugs I have to be careful of.”

He nods his head, and I get angry for a second. He doesn’t really know what I’m talking about. He doesn’t wake up sweating after fitful cocaine dreams so real that he worries he might have relapsed in his sleep. He doesn’t load up dream pipes with big, jagged pieces of crack rock, smoking them one after another.

I look up. He’s smiling at me, and my anger fades away. I realize he doesn’t have to know to understand or to care.

“No,” I go on. “I just have to be really careful about the kinds of situations I put myself in.”

In other words, I have to be really, really mindful.

I’m thinking about the gay bars and the night clubs and the all-night dance parties now. As much as I may think I could just sip on a club soda while chatting it up with some cute guy who’s drinking a beer, I know in my heart that I’d just be playing with fire.

Photo: Scott Paterson

But that’s only the surface of it—the result of a deep and fundamental shift in my old way of thinking about who I am and what my life means to me. Before, it didn’t mean anything all. But now it’s like there’s a resonant feedback loop running through my head all the time telling me that life is important. It’s like one of those subliminal positive affirmation tapes, except that this one comes from my own heart. Here’s what it says:

You are worthy of happiness. You are worthy of respect. You are worthy of love. I believe in you.

These have become the deep mantras that ground me in my life. They inform my decisions and, like fearless guardians and dakinis, surround me and keep me safe.

The two men are walking away now. I’m feeling strong, but not cocky. I know I could fall at any moment. So I hold the bottle of Jack like a loaded gun as I wipe it down and put it carefully back on its shelf.

Addiction is serious and there is no one method that is guaranteed to ensure one’s continued sobriety. Mindfulness, cultivated through meditation practice, has been very helpful for me. However, it is not the only thing I rely on to stay clean and sober. What strategies have worked for you in keeping you, or someone you know, on the path of recovery?



About Chris Lemig

Chris Lemig isn't afraid of the dark. He dreams in full color and lives out loud. Sometimes, when he sees that your heart is broken, his heart breaks, too. But then he puts all the pieces back together and lets out a great, guffawing laugh that shakes the world to its bones. He loves you even though he's never met you and he wants you to know that you are brighter than the brightest guiding star. He is the author of The Narrow Way: A Memoir of Coming Out, Getting Clean and Finding Buddha.


8 Responses to “Playing With Fire: How Mindfulness & Addiction go Hand in Hand.”

  1. LRD says:

    My friend found AA worked for her and now she doesn't go regularly but is grateful she saved her relationship with her son before it was too late. As for me its yoga, meditation and my daughter.

  2. jdmdr says:

    For me, being clean (not sober, I still drink a glass of wine once in a while, but I no longer use narcotics), is successful only through my desire not to feel sick anymore…and to be treated with respect and love after years of unhealthy and abusive intimate partner relationships. I've learned what boundaries are and how to maintain them. That kind of "mindfulness" is not available to the brain in a habitually altered chemical state. I was never more miserable than when I was high and through the days following a night out; yet, at the same time, it was also the freest and most blissfully incoherent I'd ever discovered myself to be. Dangerous, dangerous combination. I changed my entire life from my social circle to ending my job, separating from my partner and moving to a new, peaceful, quiet, beautiful, private residence to recover and rebuild. Education and yoga teacher training has also helped immeasurably. It was a choice I had to make.

  3. jat says:

    Thank you so much for this.

  4. Chris Lemig says:

    Cool! I think 12 steps is a wonderful program but we all have different paths to recovery. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. Chris Lemig says:

    And thank you for reading!

  6. Chris Lemig says:

    And I think that's the crux of it: we have to first make the choice to change our lives, not just once and for all but each and every day. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  7. Kunga Rangdröl says:

    Thanks Chris! I tried meditation & Buddhism but it was never wholehearted because I couldn't stay sober; I tried AA but it didn't work until I committed myself to the Buddha's precept of not ingesting intoxicants. you point out above, it the decision to make a change.
    so, for me they reinforce each other: and are each a spiritual practice that has been transmitted person to person.

    ::gassho and blessings::

  8. […] I was out of shape physically and terrified of living my life. My skin had a grey tint to it from drinking, smoking and not sleeping well. I was fearful of partner poses and inversions. Each time I did full wheel, I broke down in tears […]