How the Ego-Identity Perpetuates Addiction

After my last post, I felt compelled to write more re: the ego, the mind, and addiction. It is my steadfast belief that transcending the unconscious ego (also know as the “assumed identity”) holds the key for solving every mental health issue that plagues humanity, and truly every issue that plagues humanity. That includes addiction.

I’m going to make my standard disclaimer that “understanding” the ego and consciousness occurs on different level than the conceptual mind. You might wonder, “how else can something be understood if not with the mind?” And the answer is that there is another part of you, an infinite dimension within that has always and will always be there. It is your ultimate destiny to experience this limitless nature eternally. This “limitless true nature” is not something fuzzy or conceptual. It is not an idea or a belief. It is as real and enduring as the blue sky or your beating heart—more real, even.

If you’re lost and don’t know what to do with your life—a common ailment in our society, particularly for young people—take heart. There is really only one thing to do: Find that limitless dimension and dwell in it. Put this at the top of your “to do” list, and let life take care of itself.

The Disease that is Conditioning

Addiction is not a disease on its own, but a particularly noticeable symptom of a greater disease. Words like “disease” and “illness” mean very different things to me than how they seem to be used colloquially. All conditioned minds are, in their own ways, diseased, and probably 99% of minds in the world are conditioned. Conditioning is the single, overarching illness of mankind. Its symptoms are myriad: fixation, neuroses, depression, anxiety, fear stories, preoccupation, worry, rumination, confusion, delusion, projections, chronic unprovoked anger, all the way up to psychosis and extreme attachment.

This is what addiction is at its most basic: An extreme attachment to a person, activity, or substance. We can study biochemistry, genetic predispositions, and environmental factors, but when it comes down to it, addiction is nothing more than a strong psychological attachment rooted in the false identity.  Attachments can be broken—we have all done this with ex-lovers, toys we outgrew, and friends we’ve lost touch with. Overcoming the addiction largely depends on how much damage has been done to the body while engaging in the habit and how severely one’s identity is wrapped up in said person, activity, or substance.

This second part brings me back to the ego-identity: For one to transcend their ego, the ego must fully accept its nature, which is not ultimately real. This “great revealing” is often referred to as an ego death or a psychic death or any other number of depressing phrases, usually ending in the word “death.”

Although I have experienced this annihilation and can attest that it does feel that way, I find these phrasings to be unnecessarily frightening. There can be no death for something that never existed in the first place, and the “imagined you” never really did. “You”—as a particular person—have always been a thought or a dream; it’s just that you take the dream Very Seriously up until the moment you wake up. This is why the waking up is glorious and beautiful and hilarious… until it isn’t anymore, because the ego almost always resists its death (which is not actually a death.).

Why Your Ego Uses Your Mind Against You

Just as any animal fights with everything it’s got to avoid dying, such is true with the unconscious ego. So, when our attachments (addictions) become a large part of who we think we are, the ego fights to keep them. This is because you threaten it when you take away the things it imagines it is: A gambler, a drinker, a smoker, a pothead, the partner of someone who isn’t nourishing to you, an over-shopper, a bulimic, an anorexic, a depressive, etc. It doesn’t want you to give these things up, because losing part of the identity is still felt as a loss, even if the “losing” is of something that’s hurting your body and mind.

The ego’s response is to resist. This is the crux and hook of addiction, and why addiction seems so hard to overcome. We identify with the activities we do regularly, so when we stop doing these activities, our identities feel that they are dying. The ego responds by weaponizing the mind, which will sporadically come to throw some seemingly unbearable cravings at you, usually when you’re right at the cusp of leveling up into a more free state. This will go on for some time, and I will write more about how conscious awareness is the only long-term solution for this. In this way we see that eliminating the false identity altogether holds the key to a full recovery, not only from addiction but from everything else we find so troubling about our lives.

I do not know how many treatment modalities specifically address the ego-identity (and/or fully acknowledge that this construct is always illusory), or the way giving up addictions threatens it. I’m sure there are some, and there are probably books that include this kind of language, and that is all very wonderful.

My wish is to see these things well-enough incorporated into mainstream discussions on addiction that people don’t have to suffer through dozens of ineffective treatment programs and do all their own research to find this stuff out. I want to also say that this isn’t even spiritual “woo” stuff we’re talking about: We’re talking about who you think you are, whether that image is rooted in reality, and how your mind maintains this supposed identity for better or worse.

What it Means to be Recovered

Just as I believe almost everyone has the illness of conditioning, I find that very few people are “recovered” and “sane.” To me, this means we have completely overcome the psychological illness that is conditioning, and that we abide in our true selves at all times. It sounds impossible, but this is partially because we treat ultimate liberation like an impossible myth. It is not that.

It is very sad to me that so many people seem to believe “you’re always in recovery,”  or “never really free from addiction.” My genuine advice here is to constantly remind yourself that can be fully liberated from your demons. Whenever a therapist/doctor/friend says something along the lines of “well you’ll always be recovering,” internally tune that shit out and listen to your inner self, which is always seeking to abide in everlasting freedom. You will not seek all your life, nor will you be recovering all your life. It may be a long, dedicated process, but to call it “endless” strikes me as a lowly way to view humanity and we are not meant to be lowly creatures, even if we often act like it (out of ignorance.).

I generally reserve words like “sane” and “well” strictly for the unconditioned mind, i.e., the one that does not falsely imagine itself to be a particular person in this particular world. (I do not claim to have this mind, though I have glimpsed its reality.). This mind is very, very different from the one we normally operate in:

It is still, clear, unattached, unconcerned with time outside of practical matters, free of suffering, and utterly impersonal. In this mind there is no psychological “drag” which brings the past into the present. It is alert but not anxious. It does not identify with anything in the world. Its sense of self is universal, meaning that it sees that it is literally the same as everything and everyone else. This mind—the mind of Christ, the mind of the Buddha—wants nothing for itself. All notions of the “small me” vanish, and we become pure consciousness in human form. This is a person who enters the stream of the universal energy rather than fighting it, like we so often do no matter how this harms us. This mind leads to harmony and peace within the individual, and often moves them through the world encouraging others to that end. This is what your mind has the potential to become, if you just take your chance to look.

And these are the key differences between “recovery” as it is understood through the common lens and the kind of recovery I am talking about: One desires a functional member for society; the other desires total human potential and nothing less. One does not presuppose a true end to all suffering; the other does. One does not help the individual fully understand his/her existence but rather helps them “maintain” in a very base way; the other understands that until we know our true nature unshakably, we are impoverished. One puts limits on how beautiful, expansive, and equanimous life can feel; the other discourages all limitations because it knows all limits are false.

It may sound like a high bar I have in mind when I write about recovery and/or human potential, but to suggest anything less would be deceitful. We should not settle for anything less than what we truly are.

– Lish