Spiritual Heroin.


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Source: hotparade.tumblr.com via Jeri on Pinterest

I nearly lost a good friend to heroin.

For awhile, I did lose him. I watched him move from weekend drinking and the occasional joint to the ubiquitous cocaine of the bartending scene. Even then, he was still the man I knew and cared about. And then, while I wasn’t looking, suddenly he was someone else.

He vanished; the lights went out.

There was this husk of the person I loved with a flat affect and no will for anything but heroin. As he pulled away from life, I saw less and less of him. I thought I saw him one day, and it was all I could do not to burst out crying.

He was a good man. He was from a loving family. A series of events collided leaving him discontented, and for him, heroin seemed like the solution. He’s since gotten clean and is healthy, happy. I heard from him this Christmas, and he seems to be at peace.

I lost another friend a few years ago to a much more socially acceptable drug.

We had been close friends in college. We supported each other through bad dates, difficult professors, car trouble, late night existential ramblings. We supported each other through eating disorder recovery. We supported each other through all the changes that happen as you move from adolescent to would-be adult and are trying to start a life.

And then, when I wasn’t looking, suddenly she was someone else.

She became immersed in her spiritual path. And that’s the right response to difficult times, right?

She became hollow. She became a shiny, hollow, affect-less shell of who she had been before. And everything was wonderful.

All. The. Time.

When I tried to say to her that it wasn’t okay for her boyfriend to leave her on the side of the road in the middle of the night, I wasn’t trusting the process.

When I noticed obsessive compulsive behavior returning and asked if she was still taking her medication, I was being negative. She needed to accept herself, flaws and all, why couldn’t I accept her too? It was okay that she spent hours vacuuming and had to check and recheck and recheck the doors before going to sleep.

When I noticed her weight dropping off again and asked if everything was okay, I was the bad guy, for always bringing up problems instead of looking to the good in everything.

If I shared something difficult I was going though, I got a sour half-smile and a change of subject as if I hadn’t said a word. Everything is great! Everything is wonderful. Just smile!

When I said that I wouldn’t feel comfortable spending time around her boyfriend if he was screaming in her face, I was told that “everything happens for a reason” and I should focus my energy on the things that were good about their relationship so they could increase.

When I said that I couldn’t stand up at their wedding, that I loved her, but I couldn’t bring myself to endorse a marriage that was already abusive, that was it. That was the last time she spoke to me.

It hurt, but the friend I cared about had been gone for a long time anyway. She was just a giant smile and spiritual platitudes.

And hey—now I am being the bad guy—because spiritual people aren’t supposed to judge each other. We are just supposed to smile and hug and say it’s all good.

(Sometimes it isn’t all good.)

I hadn’t thought about this much until recently. I’ve noticed this again, among many friends and acquaintances in the yoga community. I see, often, a large division over this issue.

There are those who look at positivity, at santosha, at basic human goodness and say that we must always look to the good. Spiritual people need to be shiny, happy people. Yoga teachers shouldn’t say anything bad. Good people are always good.

Spiritual bypassing at its finest.

Then, there are those who are fed up with that; angry, bitter about betrayals in the yoga and spiritual communities. The narcissistic pats on the back need to end! Let’s overthrow the cult of positivity and sit snarking along the edges and licking our wounds instead.

Where is the middle way here? When faced with life’s difficulties, many of us do seek out a spiritual path. Spirituality—whether through yoga or Buddhism or any other path—has the potential to be true, heart-healing, world-healing medicine.

It also has the potential to be just another fix. Like many medicines, it has the potential to do more harm than good.

A spiritually rich life is not one that only contains sunlight.

Part of me felt incredibly sad as I wrote about my friend. Okay, all of me. As I remember all of it, it hurts my heart. If it had been heroin, or cocaine or alcohol or gambling—or even just the eating disorder—some kind of confrontation or intervention might have been easier. If there was some tangible harmful thing to name and put a label on, I might have said, “Hey, we need to talk about this.”

But how can you intervene in someone else’s spiritual life?

The thing is, I believe in basic human goodness. I believe in finding joy and contentment in our lives. I am—overall—a positive, optimistic person. The hardest part in all of this is the kernels of truth. I love hugging my friends. I do smile at strangers. I believe having a spiritual path is important; it’s good medicine for where we are hurting. But even good medicine taken the wrong way is lethal.

I read an article by one of my favorite elephant writers the other day. Ben Riggs wrote in his article on Sitting with Suffering:

We have refused to listen to our suffering. We have refused to look within ourselves. The first noble truth asks us to develop an appreciation for suffering through mindfulness. This is the practice of shamatha or peaceful-abiding. We are not trying to figure suffering out or fix it.

If we are to have rich, full lives and a genuine spiritual path, it isn’t going to be a shiny, flawless picture.

It is a beautiful chiaroscuro; it is an ever-shifting kaleidoscope. We contain multitudes.

True contentment isn’t pretending everything is great when we are in pain. Numbing out as not to feel pain is what drug addicts do. If we want true healing and a mindful life, we need to listen to our suffering. We need to look at our joys and our sorrows equally. True contentment means acceptance of the present moment for what it actually is.

Maybe as we are honest about these things, honest with each other about what’s going on in our lives—even the difficult parts—we will begin to break through this false ideal of constant positivity and instead develop true compassion:

“Someone needs to encourage us not to brush aside what we feel. Not to be ashamed of the love and grief that it arouses in us. Not to be afraid of pain. Someone needs to encourage us: that this soft spot in us could be awakened, and that to do this would change our lives.” ~ Pema Chodron

Maybe, together, we can encourage each other to feel all of what life has to offer us. Maybe that will change our lives.


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Kate Bartolotta

Kate Bartolotta is a wellness cheerleader, yogini storyteller, and self-care maven. She also writes for Huffington Post, Yoga International, Mantra Yoga+ Health, a beauty full mind, The Good Men Project, The Green Divas, The Body Project, Project Eve, Thought Catalog and Soulseeds. Kate's books are now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com. She is passionate about helping people fall in love with their lives. You can connect with Kate on Facebook and Instagram.


15 Responses to “Spiritual Heroin.”

  1. Joe Sparks says:

    Very good article! My perspective is that every person has always done his or her best in every moment of the past, when the entire situation is taken into account. There is no basis for criticism or blame for any action, no matter how harmful the action. Distress actions, like your friends, are always caused by distress recordings ( they feel bad about themselves) or misinformation, not evil intent. Therefore, no one deserves blame or to feel bad about him or herself for making a mistake. However, it is our responsibility to repair any damage caused by our actions. The functioning of oppressive societies lead to widespread criticism and blaming, which saddles us all with distress patterns that preoccupy our minds with self-criticism, self-invalidation, and self-blame. We need to change society. It is not us.

  2. AnneFalkowski says:

    Righ on.

  3. laydowninthetallgrass says:

    This is beautiful and heart grounding. Thanks, Kate. ~ Bryonie xo

  4. Margi says:

    Thanks! Nice article! Yes!- it can be uncomfortable to sit with all the feelings (loss/sadness/anger etc.) that opens in us when we lose a dear friend to drugs, alcohol or spiritual bypassing. Have so been there. Hell, I even do it on myself in moments. Saying to your friend honestly and kindly how you feel when you are in her presence, or witness those actions, I think is maybe the best form of ”intervention.” Just kind of naming your deep perceptions (i feel them in my body).

  5. Laursofla says:

    I couldn’t agree with this more. Acknowledging and being proactive about pain is vital to any healing process. I have realized that we cannot just meditate our way through things that need and should be confronted. It’s about balance and learning how to dance through the many shades of life–through the kaleidoscope of colors. This is how we empower ourselves and eachother. Thank you.

  6. Padma Kadag says:

    If we are going to put all of the very valid points you have made into a real Buddhist perspective then if you decide to practice Buddhism to alleviate suffering for yourself and others and sincerely practice so that the pit falls which you naturally encounter do not become your path unknowingly….then one must follow the advice of a teacher. A teacher who has arrived at realization through practice. This is the "Someone" to which Pema Chodron refers. After all, "spiritual" is only a word, not arisen from any source that may be known as "Truth".

  7. bornnow says:

    "Kernels of truth". This is such an important concept. It is an essential component of selling a message and brainwashing at the extreme end of the spectrum. "Kernels of truth" are an essential component of justification of thoughts and actions and are used to give us permission to do things that we otherwise wouldn't. Beware of kernels of truth. Good Article..

  8. GreatNorthSky says:

    Kate In My Sharing Here I Am Not Referring To Any Specific Practice Modality. More Specifically, I Never, Ever Use Tags. Also Thank You To Everyone Who Has Shared Their HEART Here :: This A Very Touching Story, Filled With Beauty and Sadness. The Sadness Is That You Have Brought To Light A Very, Very Sad State Of Affairs In What Is Perceived By Many To Be On The Path. Like YOGA, Being On The Path Seems To Have Become More Of A Fad and The CORE Essentials Of Why We Are On The Path, Practice YOGA Have Been Lost Somewhere Along The Way. Please Don’t Misunderstand Me, I Am Not Being Judgmental, Criticizing Anyone or Their Life Experiences. However, In My Own World and In This Journal I See Varying Expressions Of Experiences About Being On The Path, and How ONE Thinks It Should Be, Especially In The Relationships Department. A Facet That Seems To Be Missing Is The Real Truth Of What Is Required By An Individual When They Are Truly Committed To Being On The Spiritual Path. The Truth Is That Being On The Path Requires Uncovering The Truth Of Our Self, The ONE. This, In Most Cases Will Not Be A Very Pleasant Process As We Contemplate Inward. Contemplating and No Longer Ignoring Our Shortcomings, Lack Of Self Love, Emotional Trauma, and Our Unrealized Day to Day Life Behaviors As A Result Of Abuse or Conditioning Taken On As A Child. Simply Put, Being On The Path Is Not About Feeling Good. The Joy, The Unconditional LOVE, The Elevation That Is Soooooo Desperately Sought After Comes From Doing The Real Work From Within, Transforming Our Outer Worlds From Within. The Joy, The Unconditional LOVE, The Elevation Are The Permanent By-Products Of The Transformation Experienced In The Healing Purification Process Of Spirit, Our SOUL. These Healings, Our Purification, Comes Through As We Meet Our Trials, Our Pain’s, Our Lack and Programmed Conditioning Head On In The LIGHT Of Truth. All Along The Way We Mature Through These Ongoing Processes, Developing LOVE Of Self, Honour and Self Respect. Thank You Sooooooooooo Much Kate, I Love Your Writing and Your Beautiful HEARTs Eye नमस

  9. […] Look, I understand where you’re coming from. You don’t want to go overboard with the whole religion thing. You don’t want to loose your rationality, your individuality, or, God forbid, your sense of humor. You don’t want to let mindless dogma get in the way of what’s really important. You don’t want to go all starry-eyed and start drooling on the carpet from an overdose of dhar…. […]

  10. SOFLY_Anna says:

    Really great article! We are no fundamentally good or fundamentally bad – just fundamentally human…

    Best Regards,

  11. @simonarich says:

    That's so true. Spirituality is not all about being positive and not looking at the negative. It's being true to yourself and uncovering more and more layers of you. Sometimes it's painful, sometimes it's scary, but you need to keep going – later on it gets better. Pretending that everything's ok when all your world is falling apart won't solve the issue, even if you pretend really hard.

  12. syreera says:

    This strikes me at my core,..having been through and out the otherside of heroin addiction, where I found spirituality was my vehicle for change,..but allways struggling with those that seem to see pain and suffering as unspiritual, i never found a spiritual community i fit into, ..to me humanity is the spiritual community, every day people,'ordinary' people, as much as those that practice yoga and such. I'm struggling with this now very much infact,..as my 'spirituality' is very important to me but i now loathe the word and it's connatations from some recent experiences. I crave the deep sharing that goes beyond the ordinary, I'm excited by my new love of raw vegan food, and how it lifts me up vibrationally,…but i lapse into lows at present at the lonliness i truly feel at what i found hard won,..my battles…into wellness,…they don't fit so easily with what i have been finding in spiritual arenas. For me it has been hard, gritty, bloody, messy,..aswell as joyfull, ecstatic, healing,..at this point i throw my hands to the sky and feel bereft at where to go to connect. Great article. heroin is very similar to some forms of spirituality…i can say this as someone recovering from the latter and recovered from the former.

  13. lgentry00 says:

    I agree with @simonarich. Pretending that everything is okay, when things are definitely not okay, won't solve anything. Spirituality is personal and should not be a path you take on a whim or as a fad. There is 'bad' in the best of us, and 'good' in the worst of us. Losing someone to a heroin addiction, alcoholism or to some church we may not agree with, are all equally heartbreaking.

  14. anna says:

    Really great article! We are no fundamentally good or fundamentally bad – just fundamentally human…

    Best Regards,

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