August 23, 2013

Transforming a Decade of Drug, Alcohol & Relationship Addictions. ~ Maya Yonika

Coffee, cigarettes, sugar, alcohol, drugs, negativity, sex, relationships and yes…even the workshop/spirituality culture; I have struggled with each and every one of these addictions.

Addendum: This is a portrayal from my own story and experience with addictions. By no means is anything stated meant as replacement or for professional services or medications prescribed for relief of addictive behaviors

Now that I’ve covered my arse…

There was a day at the height of my alcohol and drug use, over 15 years past, when I pulled open the curtain of my apartment window to find a woman trotting down the street, her shiny brown hair tied in ponytail that bounced as she walked, a rolled up yoga matt strapped over a shoulder. I stared, envious of how clean and sober, healthy and fit she appeared.

Before my second birthday, my brother and I were abandoned by our father, and left behind with a mother who’d received virtually no love or support herself in which to pass on. The stress of being stranded with two children triggered her default mode of anger and resentment, and the result, for me, was a child who completely internalized it all; this was somehow my fault.

Through the years, I believed I was a mistake, unloved and unwanted; someone who did not belong.

My brother, two years older, went the opposite direction and acted out externally. He began with stealing from my mom, then stores, then started taking drugs. One day he disappeared, and I don’t recall ever noticing; although, nor do I remember but bits and pieces of childhood at all. Later I came to understand, he was sent from one foster home after the next, and no one could handle him. The stress was ultimately too much. My brother died, at 35, from a massive brain aneurism.

In my early teens, was when alcohol first touched my lips; I’d imbibed a magic serum. Alcohol pulled me out from devastating insecurity and shyness, and allowed a personality to arise that I had never before seen or known. Instead of hiding in a hole, I could fit in, be fun and socialize. Most of all, I gained the attention of men, and that is what I most wanted. I drank until I was fearless and would coolly suck down cigarettes while playing mutual games of seduction… usually until I blacked out.

After all, like so many fatherless girls growing up into women, that loss would create a wound so deep I would ache and bleed for the masculine, and our most insidious social illusion would run it’s course; in desperate need of love and attention, I acted sexy and cool—sending the message I was easy, just looking for sex, and accordingly, received due response. All the while I grew ever more desperate as I could not find the loving depth I so yearned for, and the seeds of addiction rooted in.

But of course, as years went by, I began to have revelations like: I’ve never once had sex sober, or I don’t know how to have a normal, everyday conversation without a drink in hand. I came to despise myself all the more, for I could no longer enjoy myself in a bar or party in the ways I once had; they became hunting grounds for ever more attention, ecstasy and cocaine. When sources went dry on the drugs, instead of accepting the loss, I’d cut lines from a friend’s Ritalin prescription.

The party was who I was; I was beautiful and popular and wanted, and I knew how to have a good time. That was all on the outside. Internally, I was miserable. I hated depending on men, alcohol and drugs. I wanted to feel good and clean and healthy. I wanted to participate in life and find meaning, depth and God, yet had no idea how to go about doing that. I had wrapped myself securely into my identity, with no reference points otherwise.

I imagine it would be almost impossible for someone who has not gone through a serious addiction to understand this dilemma—indeed it’s hard enough for addicts to understand themselves. One might ask, if she truly wants to stop, why not just do so? Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple—and it is. It’s an attempt to insert sane thinking into an insane mind, expecting them to just follow the logic.

But the addicted mind is one complex and solidly patterned wall of beliefs and neuro-pathways that are specifically set up to remain in denial and protect ourselves from the pain inside.

We live in contradiction, both yearning to stop whilst adamantly defending ourselves if called out as addicts. We can become so blind and in denial that we may put ourselves in danger or even hurt another in order to shake ourselves from our slumber. Of course, none of this is conscious. If we do survive our self-perpetuated disasters, eventually—hopefully—we come to see these as wake up calls and simultaneously, our greatest blessings.

For culturally acceptable/encouraged issues, such as consumption, sex, and relationship addictions, these can be even more insidious to tackle, as society may speak theoretically against them, yet it overtly rewards.

Western society thrives on such addictions, so they require the willingness and honesty of deep self-reflection—a major challenge for anyone. Admittance is the first hurdle, yet it’s entirely another to bring our personal addictive behaviors to an end.

I tried many times over a decade, and sobriety for any longer than a few days would fill me with so much anxiety, that as painful as it was to be full of alcohol or drugs, letting them go seemed even worse. The inspiration would arise, and I’d be excited and dead set on stopping. A few days later I’d be holding my guts, rolling on the floor in anxiety, crying to the Gods for love and attention. At said point, all I’d need was a beer and some company and it would all be better. The contradiction between having such an intense desire to stop without being able to follow through only increased my fear and desperation.

I was 19 in my first real attempt, with some success, at becoming sober.

I joined a program and quit cold turkey for a year.

Several times a week I would enter into church basement gatherings in which we would sit in folding metal chairs and introduce ourselves by chanting mantras that would state our addictions and affirm that we would always have this disease—for the rest of our lives—permanently—for ever and ever and ever.

I’d peer around the circle at everyone clutching Styrofoam cups of muddy coffee with powder creamer and way too much sugar and think to myself, surely, if I’m going to be alive on this god forsaken planet, this is just not what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. I wanted to live, not merely survive—otherwise, what’s the point? Of course, this attitude was not so beneficial at the time, and I ended up picking up and going back out.

For almost a decade, I merely survived.

I kept going until Death looked me in the eye, and with a sardonic grin spread across his face, pumped his brows and offered me a tour of my very own potential grave. The choice became overwhelmingly clear, so I left everything behind and caught a ride to the other side of the States, where I found a little organic market and sat down to look into the eyes of management and confess my situation. God willing, they hired me on the spot, and I put my head down and worked as a produce clerk in a quiet nine to five and ever so slowly began the journey to sobriety in a wonderfully supportive environment.

However, letting go of a substance is only half the battle.

For me, living with the conviction that I was psychologically debilitated and destined to live imprisoned with perpetual cravings to hurt myself just wasn’t going to cut it. I mean, if that were the case, surely freedom could be found in bringing light to whatever it was that I was avoiding. I had to dig into the root and mindset that had me picking up in the first place.

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” ~ Carl Jung

My pathway into the shadows, initially, was not at all conscious. With no spare income or real desire to work through standard therapeutics, my way into healing was ultimately to follow the intensity of who I was. It’s a long story, but in a nutshell, I became very intimate with my joys, fears, desires and judgments—to name a few newfound friends.

During this period when I was still craving and dipping in on occasion, I began the practice of parenting myself; I imagined who I truly desired to be, and took the first steps towards bringing the woman of my dreams into manifestation.

Firstly, I had to become present and aware of how I was truly feeling from moment to moment; if I craved a cigarette, instead of just picking it up, I considered; how would I feel if I did that? Sometimes that would be enough—other times not, and I’d allow myself to enjoy whatever it was, only this time very slowly—I’d turn it into a practice, noticing how I felt as I inhaled smoke, exhaled…how did my mouth taste? What was my body saying? How did I feel after? 

Patiently and persistently, I lengthened the interims between picking up my addictions, wading slowly into the water—allowing myself more and more time without the beer, cigarette, joint or boyfriend, and feeling into my emotions without always running to something or someone to deal with them.

Over time, this became less and less of a practice, and more of a natural inclination.

I offered myself loving reinforcement for the times I succeeded, and patience (mostly) for when I did pick up, looked honestly at all I had been through and all the steps I was taking to move forward. But even in these last incidences of dabbling in substances, with this method, I never went overboard and out of control again.

I learned to replace my unhealthy habits for healthy ones.

I traded beer and cigarette for a yoga class, the joint for a hike in the woods. When a man showed interest, I learned to take the time necessary to know whom I was dealing with and whether it was honestly my truth or not.

Interestingly, since I slowed down and became curious in this way, I became much more comfortable in my own skin. I avoid a whole lot of drama and now have the space and time to love myself by focusing on my own needs and creative process rather than always giving my time, energy and power away.

Eventually, the addictions fell away.

I look back now in awe and wonder as how it ever was that I’d gone so far from myself—why I would have wanted to be so unclear and messed up. Now, I’m on the flip side of it all. I no longer have cravings, although admittedly, there are times I’m a bit repulsed by it all. My insecurity and pain has transformed into strength, confidence, belonging and contentedness.

Transforming your being is the challenge of the fish in water; a fish cannot understand it’s very life-breath until it is pulled out of its environment. We, like the fish, lack insight of the potential of other perspectives, a thousand other ways of seeing and being. Flopping about on dry land, the fish becomes more than aware of what it is missing. It is the challenge of any society, community or individual, to be willing to step out of familiarity and comfort zones to see and understand the nature of our own patterned habits and ways of being.

Like all of humanity, I needed to experience true love, and live with meaning and purpose. Most sobriety programs would tout my response to the lack of these things as ‘my disease’, but some part of me knew there was more to it—more than solely my personal weakness and inability to cope within a healthy environment. Indeed, the levels of addiction within the west are not merely due to faulty personal genetics or childhood traumas; it is as much a socially manifest disease.

As Krishnamurti stated, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

Nonetheless, it was true that the only way I was going to have a chance to participate and be a part of creating the change I sought was to be willing to take responsibility for myself. Otherwise, I would only be contributing more to the problem.

If it serves to see one’s addictions as a disease and affliction to simply get rid of, then that is a good path to take. However, there is another option; rather than get rid of certain parts of myself, we can honor these intense energies by transmuting them as gifts and talents that serve rather than destroy our well being, in ways that offer meaning and purpose to ourselves and to the world.

I can focus my addictive qualities into the practice of yoga or obsessively writing a book. I can support another by compassionately hearing their pain or sharing stories. It is up to each and every one of us must make the willed choice to offer love to the world, through the unique expression of our gifts, our talents and ourselves.

Know that if your greatest challenge is cutting down on the number of coffees you drink a day or the internal war waged to let go of that daily joint, this is a good reference point—because if I could do it, than surely, so can you.

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Assit Ed: J. Andersson/ Ed: Sara Crolick

{Photo: via Grosso}

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