Dying Daily #35: Mindfulness and Recovery

I don’t mind admitting that I used to be addicted to a few different drugs and alcohol. I think I’ve been pretty honest about the complete shitshow my life was for a very long time, and I’ve tried to be as honest as I can about the reasons.

Here’s the thing though:

I do not consider myself an addict any more, I don’t consider myself in recovery and I have a dislike for all the people and programs that told me I would struggle for the rest of my life.

I don’t struggle.

Rehab and Twelve Stepping and counseling helps a lot of people. I work with them almost every day.

For the people who connect with AA and NA and find resonance there, nothing is more effective.

Many people need rehab to get their feet underneath them and gain the skills necessary to thrive outside of it. I know these interventions gave me the skills to build a foundation, but they did not give me freedom.

It wasn’t rehab or counseling or the one year Christian recovery camp where the director told me God had told him that I would be dead in 6 months if I didn’t commit myself there that brought me freedom. It was a gradual process of applying the things I had learned over many years  in rehab and in counseling and changing the way I saw myself and the world.

The thing that really changed everything for me was the slow accumulation of readings and practice in Zen and Quantum Mechanics and an obsession with the stoicism of the Samurai.

This somehow brought me to a place where I realized that my problem wasn’t with “needing” a substance, it was with the comparison to how it would feel to have one.

It’s like having an itch. The problem isn’t the sensation itself, it is with the comparison to how it would feel to scratch it. Try it the next time you have one. Instead of just scratching it, observe the sensation without comparison, without labeling it as pleasant or unpleasant. See if you can just notice it without judgment.

This isn’t necessarily important with itching, unless you have poison ivy or something else that makes it unbearable, but it is very important when the “itch” is compelling you to do things to yourself that are harmful. This can be drugs, drinking, cutting, burning, cheating, pornography, eating, just about anything. I’ve met people who pull their eyelashes out or pour bleach on their hands all day or cannot leave the house because they get caught in a loop of checking things like the stove.

Mindfulness has been helpful with all of these things, and when viewed as a lifestyle rather than a practice it can change everything.

So much of our suffering comes from wishing things were different, and it is hard to think of a better way to understand addiction than living with a constant, desperate need for everything to be different.

Give it a try. The next time you feel compelled to do something, give yourself permission to sit with it for a few minutes. Observe the sensation, see what it feels like without the labels and judgments the mind offers.

What happens when you simply experience, without comparing?