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May 3, 2015

Redeemed: How Meditation Practice Helped Cure a Lifetime of Addiction.

Jeff Beaudoin, Ph.D.

Editor’s note: elephant journal articles represent the personal opinion, view or experience of the authors. This website is not designed to, and should not be construed to, provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment.

 

It seems in vogue these days to regard addiction as a weak mind on too much of a good thing, but the downward spiral from “I like it” to “I can’t live without it” is a great deal more complicated and tragic than poor impulse control.

For over two decades I battled a humiliating addiction and can attest to it being a miserable state of utter servitude.

Addiction is a Band-Aid for pain. Whether comfort is found in alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, food, or checking Facebook, the underlying mechanism is always the same: a compulsive distraction from feeling.

Here’s the cruel irony: the pains of addiction eventually over-ride and add to the deeper pain it’s covering up.

Too much of the medicine can be worse than the disease, and you can’t heal something you aren’t willing to look at. Yoga and meditation practice cured me of addiction by showing me how to deal directly with my pain and re-wire my brain.

My addiction began at 14 in one intoxicating moment far removed from the 13 agonizing years of abuse I’d just endured. A chemical rush of pure ecstasy flooded my senses and numbed my pain.

The contrast was like deliverance on steroids, and I was hooked.

I wanted to feel that way again, so I began seeking ways to replicate it. Each time I acted out I went easier and deeper into a trance-like outer body state, and further into dangerous, risky behavior.

Getting high was freeing, but the profound sense of shame on the downside always drove me to act out again. However high I got was exactly how low I’d have to go. By age 16 I was caught in a deep cycle of self-inflicted pleasure and pain with seemingly no way out. It completely over-powered me, and became a ritual I could not live without.

I wanted to understand my affliction, so after the military I went to college and majored in Psychology. I didn’t really want a cure; I just wanted relief. Being a full time college student with a full time job while acting out my addiction meant very little sleep and relentless depression. Even so, I finished my Ph.D. in 11 years Sum Cum Laude with an emphasis in Transpersonal Psychology.

I learned that us humans are creatures of habit not as far removed from animals’ as we’d like to think. Yes, we possess self-reflective awareness that gives us the power of choice, but choice is mostly lost in an overwhelming attachment to the condition of desire. When craving becomes compulsion, a person is no better off than a dog on peanut butter.

I also learned that what really drives human behavior is avoidance of pain. Insecurity feeds addiction like jet-fuel on a wildfire, and I was full of it. As a child it was routinely reinforced to me that I was dumb and worthless. I believed it and the school principle confirmed it, telling my Mother I would end up in prison one day.

Excuses aside, it was clear why I’d become an addict: a traumatic childhood, parental abandonment, an easy way to numb the pain, and so on; and so forth. But understanding the dynamics only made the shame of not being able to quit worse. Knowledge is power, but ignorance is bliss.

By 29, I was living like a zombie promenading through hell.

Years of trekking the peaks of desire and valleys of shame had agitated the currents of my mind into a deep torrent. Already I had two failed marriages. Therapists offered no hope, just noxious anti-depressant drugs. I learned how to tie a noose and began searching for the courage.

I hadn’t hurt anyone but myself, but it felt like God had shunned me.

I hid in the shadows and stayed lonely all the time. Still, there was always a faint flicker of hope that would not go away, a glowing ember of light cloaked behind the heavy clouds of my self-hatred. That light was the only thing that kept me off the bridge to see my 30th birthday.

The poet Rumi wrote,

“The angel is free because of his knowledge, the beast because of his ignorance. Between the two remains the son of man to struggle.”

I’d known both the angel and the beast; to be free I’d have to decide which one would survive.

I began practicing yoga and had an intense emotional catharsis, then lost my job and ended up homeless for a stint. Failing to see the correlation, I stopped practicing and reverted back to my old wretched ways. When things got bad enough I’d begin practicing again. This contrasting ebb and flow where yoga gave me power over my addiction and invariably tore my house apart continued for the next seven years.

By 37, I’d realized the chaos was just a reflection of my mental states. My outer world was being reorganized parallel with my inner transformation. “As within, so without.” My need was my prayer.

Meditation practice has cured me of addiction by helping me to understand that anything I am aware of is not what I am; the subject of one level is the object of the next.

If you are suffering from an addiction, you may have noticed certain stressors that trigger it, and even developed a ritual for acting out. Hope springs eternal! Begin to cultivate a meditation ritual instead. Take time out every day to be alone, sit quiet and be still. Close your eyes and practice watching thoughts and feelings arise. Don’t judge or criticize, just watch whatever comes up without trying to change anything.

This will take courage and discipline, which you already have, and little by little it will set your soul free.

It has mine.

 

 

 

Author: Jeff Beaudoin, Ph.D.

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Author’s Own

 

 

Relephant Read:

 Fight or Die: Finding My Light Through the Darkness of Addiction.

 

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