Addiction, Inner Work, Mental Health, Personal, Sobriety, The Mind, Transformation

The Glory of Sobriety

You never could have convinced me that being sober was going to be this awesome. From the drunk side, sobriety looks like it sucks. It looks like the thing you “have” to do when your drunken behaviors sadly catch up to you, like you have to sit down in a room full of people and say things like “I’m an alcoholic” with a bunch of strangers. The idea of sobriety seemed very depressing and fluorescent-lit and full of bad coffee and store-bought pastries. It felt stale, and I really had (what I thought was) fun getting drunk.

Interestingly, there are probably only a few individuals in my life who knew how bad my drinking was. When people find out I’m sober, usually they say something along the lines of “I didn’t know you struggled with alcohol*.” To most, I probably looked like something of a “normal” drinker who occasionally overdid it. I’d never lost a job to it, I didn’t drink and drive, I didn’t become violent while drunk or use other hard drugs… I just drank. A lot. Still, I managed to keep it just to the side of the line most people deem problematic, and only talked about it with people who were very close to me.

However, I knew that drinking was a destructive behavior rooted in the need to avoid generations of pain and also as a way to maintain my energy (which, as it turns out, can get pretty ridiculously high). I felt deeply ashamed of the way I routinely sickened myself. My father was an addict and I was addict and I felt like would only ever perpetuate this issue in my family. Hiding it was part of it.

I knew it was a problem by the time I was in my early 20s, and by my mid-20s I was launching all kinds of “cutback” campaigns: A four-drink max, a month off here and there to make sure I wasn’t physically dependent, a relinquishing of hard alcohol, etc. I suspect anyone reading this is familiar with the game we play before we’re finally hit with the understanding this has to stop now. It takes all of us something different to get there. As this game went on, I still hated the idea of quitting full-stop, in part because I thought it meant I wouldn’t be social anymore.

But you know what’s so awesome about being sober now? I still party. I stay up til all hours in conversation, I go to shows, I dance my ass off, and I meet amazing people. I definitely had to sit totally alone eating cake in front of a TV for about 8 months before I got to this point, but my travels have taught me that I can still be outgoing and do even more fun stuff because I’m not nursing hangovers and/or feeling awkward without a drink.

The flipside of drinking is that, in time, it totally erodes your self-confidence. You begin to only feel capable of interacting with others in a real way when you’ve had a beer or two. You start to drink out of habit, alone, while writing or reading and don’t even care to interact as often anymore. Even if you don’t feel you cross the threshold into “addiction,” it really does begin to isolate you and keeps you from pursuing a more interesting life. Alcohol becomes your bestie, and all kinds of opportunities slip away.

For a good number of us, drinking slowly yet predictably becomes warm, easy, and eventually life-denying.

*Just because I get asked so often: No, I don’t smoke weed either. Although the physical effects are far less damaging than most other drugs, the path to true freedom is about releasing attachments without exception. That includes weed, my loves.

I’m not going to bullshit you: The work of getting sober is the work of a lifetime—that’s because it’s you, literally reclaiming your life.

And you should be prepared for literally everything to change as a result of getting sober, including those things that seem fine right now. It is possible that once you are in a clearer, more elevated headspace, certain friendships/relationships/employment situations won’t feel right anymore. You’ll start to get a sense that much more is possible for your life if you can give up drugs and alcohol.

I now consider getting sober to be something of an overall “life upgrade” rather than simply the illness-oriented idea of “recovery.” Yes, we’re recovering, but getting sober changes your mind dramatically as you heal your brain and body. If you upgrade your mind by clearing it of toxins, you’ll also upgrade your perception of reality (a function of the mind), as well as begin to uplift other people’s as well. I don’t know if that sounds too hippie-dippie for you all, but this is my experience with getting sober.

Some things will immediately improve (my skin was smoother and shockingly not-dehydrated after about two weeks), and others will take some time (feeling confident enough in my writing to launch this blog, submit fiction to publications/pursue writing in a real way, peace out on my life to move to an ashram with no guarantees, etc.).

In any case, if you stick with it, changes will occur.

I want to be clear that none of this is about “changing your relationship to alcohol.” That’s what I thought I wanted to do for a long time. Now, when I talk to people about sobriety, I hear them say these kinds of things, but I don’t buy into the rhetoric. It reveals that they still think alcohol is a “good thing” they’d like to “be able” to partake in. It is not that. Drinking actually sucks; we’ve just all been culturally programmed (and then psychologically and physically programmed) to believe otherwise.

From where I sit now, this sentiment appears to be little more than a bargaining chip the mind uses to keep us entrenched in its existing patterns. The mind will rationalize and justify in many (MANY) sneaky ways why it’s okay to keep doing what the real You knows needs to stop. Odds are that you’re going to end up just as drunk as you always were in a short amount of time. Alcohol is a drug of dependence; that’s its whole thing. No one is special and immune, it’s just that some of us are more sensitive than others.

The sane way to give up alcohol (rather than the disease-oriented narrative) is to see it clearly: Alcohol is poisonous and consciousness-lowering, end of story. Are any of us trying to “change our relationship to arsenic”? No, we are not. The primary difference is that we are all heavily socialized to believe alcohol plays a vital role in being an Adult™ and many of us cannot imagine our interactions without it. Just because it’s the drug of choice for the masses that doesn’t mean it’s safe, healthy, or something we should be using like we do.

Having said all that: I love my friends and family members who drink (which is pretty much all of them) and hold no moral judgment in my heart about… well, anything really, especially this pattern of behavior I understand so intimately. I still like being around drinkers and feel no temptation in their presence. I will wholeheartedly support anyone in their path to sobriety, and wholeheartedly accept anyone who isn’t even close to thinking about being sober. I do love all human beings without exclusion and see my Self in them.

Personally, I just don’t drink anymore. The result? I’m clear-headed, not saying/doing stupid shit while intoxicated, I remember everything, I don’t fall over when I dance or make out with people I wish I wouldn’t have, I hold cogent conversations well past 2AM, and when I wake up I feel great, like, every single day. Even when I get two hours (or zero hours) of sleep, I feel great. On top of that, I get to post things like this and feel really good about it.

Really, the only downside of sobriety is that my energy is sometimes off the charts. I wake up and I want music going, loudly; I want hot coffee while doing jumping jacks; I want to run, to sing, to dance, to create. Nothing is fast enough. I think all of this is generally part of awakening spiritually, of being labeled “bipolar,” and of being creative. We go hard naturally and alcohol helps to keep us somewhat palatable and even, so much that we often end up abusing it. I’m still learning how to best maintain my energy without lowering it in that way, and when I feel I have it more streamlined, I’ll share that wisdom for sure.

Instead of alcohol, what feels warm now is laying my head wherever I happen to be sleeping, listening to music and feeling my heart expand, going over whatever I’m writing and knowing without a doubt that I am getting better. When I say “getting better,” I don’t even mean recovering from alcohol addiction. I mean as a human, I am rising and improving, little by little, just by virtue of not clouding my mental space with the toxic and emotional baggage that comes along with drinking and smoking.

It’s a beautiful life, even when I uncomfortably feel kinda like a rocketship. Though life be uncertain, I know alcohol could never be a replacement for the solidity of knowing for sure who I am.

– lish

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Awakening, Conditioning, Enlightenment, Mental Health, Spirituality

Personality, Mental Health, & Conditioning

There is this misunderstanding that the spiritual life buffs all people into one personality type. When I talk of transcending the egoic personality—and go on to say that all personalities are egoic—what I mean is that “personality” is a conditioned feature in the human being. Ego and personality are two sides of the same coin, meaning that we confuse ourselves with our personal features. As far as most of us are concerned, we are our sense of humor; we are our fears; we are our various traits. There is no space between the identifiers and the sense of “I.”

The origin of the assumed identity (ego)  is as follows: We “make ourselves up” at a young age according to what is rewarded and punished by those around us. This reward-and-punishment process is generally carried out by those who were no more privy to the truth than we were. This understanding forms the basis for the logic of forgiveness for what we perceive to be the ways we were “unfairly” brought up, as well as the many injuries we endure and dole out as adults. To burn away this conditioned information within one’s consciousness is the aim of inner work: We seek to be restored to our innate nature in God rather than the various ways we have been taught to be. If you don’t like the word God, call it your true self—late into the journey these words are revealed as identical.

We enter the world in great fullness, alight with beauty, potential, and enthusiasm… yet the community, while well-intentioned, chops us down to size. We are taught well to temper ourselves and to back away from anything resembling extremity. Should extremity be expressed, it is quickly disapproved of, and in this way, we learn which parts of us are “okay” and which ought to live in shadow. Shadows do not disappear, though: They can only torment us with their supposed wretchedness, and in time they rear their heads in one way or another. The shadow parts are time bombs within us, and can only be defused through honest listening and love.

Ultimately it is the same soul we seek to strip down to, and I suppose this is where the notion of “spiritual people being all the same” comes from. What is missed is the fact that this greater soul expresses itself through each being in a different way: No one is special, but everyone is unique. It is as if the light gets “filtered” through our energies and comes spilling into the world based on individual virtue and flaw as well. The Perfect radiates through an imperfect lens of its own creation. The light is all the same, and the ego is the lampshade.

When the past loses its weight in the psyche and the mind touches that great zero, the personality built on past conditioning vanishes as well. The code is wiped clean from the chip that is the brain, and the relief from this code is incomparable. You become a great body of clear water with no bottom or surface, whereas before you were more like a mud puddle. You, as consciousness, are reborn while in the same physical body; this is the essence of being “born again” in the Christian sense. This rebirth can be, in a word, alarming.

The accompanying silence may feel sterile: When blaring thought has been a lifelong companion, the quiet seems hostile, an exaggerated version of how we often feel uncomfortable in external silence. You will seem different, because “you” are not “you” anymore. What I am speaking of here is the nature of a spiritual awakening, especially one that isn’t tried for. It will almost certainly leave you unsteady and confused for a period of time. Peace will visit you, and then you may ascend into madness. You will feel infinite and on fire and then be expected to go back to your desk job. There are no easy answers if you’re coming out of “standard mode” and into deep spiritual freedom; there is only one answer, it seems very hard, and I have said it before: Yield to the soul.

When people change too much too fast, it is perceived as “bad” to others. Just as we are attached to our own assumed identities, we are attached to other people’s as well. If one’s assumed identity is dropped or thinned, they may give off the sense that something is “off” or “wrong.” Watching someone else undergo the process of ego-annihilation can trigger immense discomfort. When you don’t want to play along anymore, you’re generally perceived as a nuisance, like an actor in a play who goes off-script or has a seat onstage while everyone is trying to keep on performing.

Society at large is generally nowhere near that great zero, and so it pummels forward, confused as to why you’re doing things differently. It will assign you negative labels and constantly try to coerce you into playing along again. You can do this if you so desire, the difference being that you know you are not the role anymore. Whether or not you try to show others they’re not their role either comes down to matter of fate; not every realized being becomes a teacher. The Buddha didn’t even particularly want to teach the dharma at first.

In time, you relearn everything. Yes, you lose some (or all) of the old personality, but gain the power to pick up whatever personality feels most suited to the moment. So we see that a spiritual person is not without personality; they are without a fixed personality, though beneath their flickering masks a steady “sameness” remains. This fluidity is their greatest strength, and a blinding joy is always near at hand.

In medical literature, “mania” is undivorceable from “bipolar disorder.” I admittedly recoil at the term “disorder,” as the word itself is a judgment. No matter how we try to overcome stigma, they very concept of a “mental disorder” says: Something is wrong. You are Not Normal and that is problematic. You cannot be trusted.

The following must be taken into consideration in any serious discussion on mental health: The mind that is considered “in order” in this world typically takes part in an overall process of unconscious destruction, is blissful only on rare occasions, full of mechanical reactions, and disinterested in challenging these qualities in itself. This mind is an amalgam of whatever its culture makes it to be. We have to ask: Does being without a diagnosis of mental illness alone mean that one is well? My answer is a clear No, not at all. It takes no education to know this, only a cursory glance at what it means to be a normal person.

I want to be very clear, because the way mental illness is understood is inaccurate and harmful and there is no sign of this turning around: The individuals who have historically defined “mental illness” have merely been of the acceptable societal conditioning, which is to say they are also not in touch with Reality. They are not sane, just crazy in the normal way.

It is tremendously frustrating to see this from the inside of such an episode: The whole world is backwards and your doctor’s the one who’s insane, but everyone is saying they are worried and that you must take these drugs. Your care is entrusted to people who know far less about you than you do. They force you to alter your consciousness, down to where you become once again malleable enough to accept what they say: You have an illness, you have an illness.

Not only that, but the rules are different in the mental hospital: Strangers are allowed to touch and grab you if they feel such treatment is merited, and there is no regard for the trauma this might instill and/or re-ignite within an individual. I was threatened that I’d be forcibly given a shot of antipsychotics if I did not swallow the pills willingly. You are constantly watched, but expected not to be paranoid or upset by this. Though there have been improvements, being a “mental patient” gives the staff license to laugh at and violate you, and sometimes they do, always underneath the condescending narrative that the whole production is “for your own good.” Many are completely unaware of the severe fragility and sensitivity of those they are trying to treat: We know you do not know us or what we’ve seen. It is infuriating, and even worse: All external manifestations of this fury are used as further ammunition to affirm the individual’s sickness.

Of course I am only presenting my side of the events, and I assign no blame anywhere. In all unjust events, people are merely responding to their conditioning; it is unconscious and therefore forgivable. Yes, people arrive in psychiatric wards due to instability, but often the hospital makes us less stable. When one’s condition is worsened by that which is supposed to “help,” we have to question what we’re doing.

Let us cast aside this idea that some are mentally ill and others are not. As far as I can tell, there are three categories we fit into:

  1. Those whose conditioning fits the society well enough. These people are deemed mentally healthy.
  2. Those whose conditioning does not match the society’s expectations, and/or who are seeking to expand beyond all this conditioning and find themselves. These people are deemed ill or strange, either formally or informally.

Both parties suffer, though one is generally more aware of their suffering, perhaps because the suffering is louder or because they’re paying more attention to it. Either way the effect is the same.

There exists the small third category of unconditioned human beings, and these people have always existed. To me, unconditioned humans are the only sane people the world has ever seen: They are full humans without culture or context. They may impact culture but take none of it on themselves. They can slip into any crowd and find a shared humanity over trivialities such as dress and social customs, without ever compromising the truth of their beings.

There is no way of knowing how many sane human beings have existed or do exist at present. When religions speculate on this, they are only doing guesswork; there are no fixed laws about “how many” can be realized at any given time. These people do not boast about their sanity. Indeed any time I declare myself “healed” or highlight my own “progress,” I am actually still indulging the remaining ego. We see it there, hungry, looking for crumbs of pride or validation in some way. It wants to show how “it gets it.” In seeing this we must smile and again recommit ourselves to the work: The wish to be completely free must trump all of our wishes to be seen as advanced, wise, and good.

– Lish

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Addiction, Conditioning, Consciousness, Culture, Mental Health

Empaths & Addiction

Tomorrow would’ve been my father’s 65th birthday, but he fatally overdosed on methadone when I was 17. He passed along his addictions and disposition to me, and I feel that in some way I atone for his life by living mine in this way now. If I do not follow in his footsteps and instead run in the opposite direction, his life was not a waste—though of course it is true that no life is ever “a waste.” That very notion is heavy with judgment, and I do not judge him or anyone else for the times they have fallen. I dedicate this post to him.

I said in this post that addiction is not a disease on its own, and I want to clarify that statement.

Obviously addiction is a serious condition that requires intervention as soon as possible. As far as I’m concerned, anyone struggling with any addiction (even if it’s just a “small” problem) would serve the world best by dropping everything and prioritizing their recovery now. Of course that would require us to live in a society where we took care of one another, one where people could unashamedly take a much-needed break from money-work and focus on their wellness. That is not where we live. Why is this? Unconsciousness, particularly the belief that we as “certain individuals” are “more deserving” of services and a happy life than other human beings. Also, we’d need effective treatment modalities that meet people where they’re at rather than trying to force a one-size-fits-all approach to addiction, but that’s another topic.

Why do the richest people not share more of their money? Ego and unconsciousness. Why does our society not have sane healthcare and rehabilitation policies? Ego and unconsciousness. This is always the root of that which we call greed, selfishness, and evil: The spell of the ego, the hypnosis that convinces us to act like we are not all of the same exact fabric. The only long-term strategy to lift ourselves out of this haze is to become like “carriers” for consciousness, to dispel darkness in this way. It is out of this internal process that external changes are born. The egoic human mind is what requires overturning first and foremost: Without pulling this ignorance up at its root, we are still doomed to self-destruction, no matter how democratically it is carried out.

Those that get labeled “addicts” are often intelligent, sensitive people. Not long ago, I told a friend that sometimes I feel like “the dials on me are cranked all the way up”: I mean the dials for absorbing emotions, noticing others’ needs, frustration, and impatience, as well as picking up on their underlying anxiety. These things strike a chord because they also live in me, but they are heightened in group settings. I’m sure that many of you understand this: Some people call it being a Highly Sensitive Person, or just being an empath. As an empath, daily life means taking a lot in on an energetic level, and that’s just one piece of it. Being an empath is a strength, not a weakness, but it can make life more painful.

Then there’s the intellectual part, which looks around and recognizes that the jig is just about up on civilization as we know it. We see the swarms of desperate human beings, the thirsty, the hungry, and those who will be cooked by the heat of the sun due to our current mode of living. We see the last of the snow leopards, the toxic air, the end of rainforests. I confess that I’ve sobbed at the thought of a caterpillar being run over by a car (it was a rough day). Even if it is not in direct view, we can intuit what is coming, and it’s not great, to put it mildly.

If you really see what may very well happen—what is happening—it is not an option to “spin” these images. Also, this isn’t merely a negative view I am taking: These things are just as much a part of our world as beauty is, and to turn a blind eye to either is to live in delusion. In those moments when I’ve been crippled by the sheer magnitude of suffering we’ve created, said beauty is cold comfort. We are doing our damndest to stamp beauty and biodiversity out as fast as possible for no reason other than collective insanity.

When you feel these things as part of your own being—not to mention whatever personal history you’re trying to renegotiate—it is natural to want to deaden these feelings. (It doesn’t help that booze is fashionable and totally normal in our culture.) We have no escape from a world that is infuriating and saddening—unless we choose suicide, which also occurs at a higher rate for addicts. The second-best option is to escape from the mind. We are not encouraged to speak out, to discover our light, or call bullshit on all of these systems. If we do, it tends to feel ineffective and slow, like we are still missing something (indeed because we are.). Growth is an uphill battle. On top of all this, we still have to eat food and make rent, and the things we have to do to survive can be emotionally taxing in their own right. In such a bind, what else is there to do but get wasted?

Non-addicts look at addiction and think it is irrational. But to an addict, engaging in addiction makes perfect sense. Quite frankly, I don’t understand how billions of people manage to not get drunk or high most nights of the week. I also don’t understand how billions of people aren’t losing their minds. What world are they living in that feels at all tolerable? How do they not rush to become numb as the apocalypse unfolds? (In any case, they do numb, only in a much less life-disrupting way.)

As Glennon Doyle says, what we call “the mentally ill” are like the canaries of the world. We are the ones trying to warn others of what is going on here, but we don’t yet know how to do it. All we represent is an exaggerated version of what lives in others, and that is also why mental illness is often regarded with such extreme fear. And here is something I have said and will continue to say: If some individuals are mentally ill, it is because we are collectively mentally ill. The statistic for “mental illness” in the US stands at 20%. What does this say about our culture at large? To make mental illness and addiction “some people’s” problem—to assume that there is something unique about “our” constitution that is problematic, ignoring the larger mechanisms in this stage of human existence—is shortsighted and honestly ridiculous.

The human species is like one organism that is itself ill. The most perceptive cells simply take on this illness at a higher, more obvious rate. Paradoxically, I also believe those who get labeled “ill” in this way are closer to health and sanity than those who aren’t as energetically privy to what’s happening on Earth: If you notice the presence of poison before it actually kills you, you’re one step ahead of those who don’t notice it at all.

There is also a predictable progression of the illness of conditioning that strangely involves going deeper into it before you recover. In this sense I am talking about the spiritual process, which we are all undergoing, though to varying degrees: All of your neuroses, attachments, and fears will be intensified for some time. The mind and ego pitch an intense fit at seeing their numbered days. But then, at last, one day you’re finally in the clear. I also suspect that this temporary intensification is what’s to come on a much more widespread human scale, though I hope to be wrong about this.

Back to what I mean when I say “addiction is not a disease on its own:” The precise definition of words like “disease” doesn’t concern me; everyone is always using these kinds of words differently anyway. However, there is one condition—one kind of mindset—that makes us susceptible to all other disorders and afflictions: It is the one that dreams our lowercase-s selves to be ultimately real. In this state, we feel powerless and threatened regularly. We actually mistake ourselves for the substances which temporarily stop the pain. When the mind is ignorant of the Self, it attaches strongly to anything that soothes it. Freeing ourselves from this dream is the greatest thing we can do to heal, and it is the only way to dwell in deep happiness that does not depend on anything else.

Recovery is to reenter that state of purity (the Self) which is always with you. This alone can alleviate suffering; it changes everything in ways that are as-yet inconceivable. There are practices we can take up to abide in this space, but it also goes a long way to simply be reminded that it—you, in your innate perfection—really do exist.  

– Lish

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Inner Work, Mental Health, Personal

Lessons Everywhere

I wake up. I remember I am moving to an ashram/retreat center in Texas, and that this is exactly what I need to do right now. I reflect on some of the events that have led to this moment and this decision. I think of the things I have destroyed and the things I have created, of choices that have unfolded into both beauty and horror. On some choices I am still overwhelmed with remorse and shame; on others I laugh and think yes, that was exactly the right thing to do. Most are just a big question mark, like who am I to decide how this whole thing is supposed to go.

Throughout this whole process, I do know I could’ve created less suffering if I’d better understood what was happening to me. It is for this reason that I write. It is for this reason I do not give up on myself, why I stay sober, and why I encourage others to expand themselves by dropping one habit and belief at a time.

On some days, my moods have covered the whole spectrum within a few hours. I no longer believe that rapidly-changing moods are indicative of illness, at least not in the medical sense. Still, this instability absolutely makes life difficult: When you feel differently about something—everything—every few days, it is exhausting and absurd. You just spin your wheels, overthink, and feel like shit about it. With growth, I am happy to say that the worst is getting further away and quieter. With each breath my mind loses the power to drag me into Hell. This is the power of becoming self-aware.

Right now, my day-to-day life feels like little more than treading water. I’m somewhere in between the next thing and yet I feel I’ve (finally) survived the hardest parts of the Big Terrifying Awakening. And I know it would be a mistake to chop this experience up into “phases” and/or a progressive timeline, because life doesn’t work like that. It actually works in no particular way. As soon as we think we’ve got it all figured out, life is sure to dole out a surprise to knock us down a few pegs.

Although I feel a bit like I’m here “just waiting,” I know there are always lessons to be learned. To the true student, every situation and person is a teacher. Life ceases to be split into that which is Buddha and non-Buddha. Therefore I am trying to soak up whatever remaining lessons are in this space where my time is definitely not spent wisely (case in point: Two nights ago I watched 2 hours of Parks & Rec, ate a burrito, and went to sleep at 8PM ). My energy feels pretty depleted overall, and I know it is because my body is not where my soul is moved to be. For practical reasons, I am putting energy into tasks that my soul is resistant to, and this is the arrangement of our entire society. When we do this—fight ourselves—we should expect to feel tired and disenchanted. It makes no sense to believe we can be vibrant if we engage in stagnation.

One thing I keep relearning is how much pain I can create for myself by trying to be both attached and non-attached to people, routines, and things. It’s like standing on an iceberg that is cracked down the middle, my feet slowly drifting apart while freezing water sloshes below. I’m practically doing the splits, hesitating to make a decision about which way to go. If I keep living like this I will be uncomfortable forever.

So often we play this game where we try to bargain with the soul: We want to have our cake and eat it, too. We want to keep our little selves and their comfortable arrangements while also surrendering to the vastness of life and going where this stream moves us. We cannot have both. If we want it All, we can’t have our precious “personhood.” I say this not only for any readers but also for myself, because it is one of the hardest pills to swallow. It usually has to be hammered in several million times in the forms of confusion, anxiety, and cognitive dissonance before we finally accept it: We cannot have both.

This is not a statement about how spiritual growth requires “sacrifice” because “sacrifice” implies loss. There is no real loss here, except of those things you will one day be glad to be rid of: Ego, false identifications, attachments, and neuroses. Rather, it is about soberly accepting that a bird must jump from the safety of the nest in order to fulfill its destiny, that discomfort and insecurity are an irremovable part of this thing.

We don’t get one without the other, and yet we always try to argue with this. In our immaturity, we want safety and growth, vibrancy and security. We want risks with guarantees. Basically, we want the evolutionary experience to be something other than what it necessarily is.

Occasionally I still think I’d like to be a wife and/or mother, and yet to pursue such a course would negate whatever lies for me when I take a step in an unknown direction. I suppose there is still time to choose such a life if it felt right, but there’s also this undeniable pull to teach, to write, to be, and just not get caught up in arranging my circumstances intentionally. It really feels like it is no longer up to “me” to decide what occurs or what I become. Yes this has always been true, but only recently have I begun to actually give up the illusion of control.

My heart could stop beating any moment, and I’m pretty sure the Pacific Northwest is overdue for a huge earthquake. Any number of illnesses could be incubating inside of my body, and no matter what, death is assured for me and everyone I love. These aren’t meant to be depressing statements: They are just true, and when we get totally clear on this fact, life changes. Suddenly, freedom is not a thing to put off. Love and joy are not things to put off. The excuses we use to get out of becoming ourselves don’t work anymore because death is just right there, daring us to blink. We can often accept our “lack of control” in theory, but to actually surrender to what this means brings about an entirely different way of being.

I also often come back to the way intellectual understanding is small, and how consciousness does not get “understood” in this way. I want to bring it back to teaching: Many people accept the teachings of Christ in theory; they go to church and they are kind, but very few practicing Christians recognize that a true implementation of Christ’s word would ensure a complete breakdown of society as we know it… in the end it would be for the better, but it would a breakdown nonetheless. Hierarchies of all kinds would fall, even those supposedly built around Christ.

This is precisely why so many of His teachings have been edited and shunned and “disallowed” over many centuries: If we commoners were to fully realize our perfection, drop our neediness, and accept that we are alive, how might we spend our lives? Would we work for undeserving masters (and by this I don’t mean specific people, but an overall system which drives us into insanity and ruins our planet)? Would we dull ourselves and live the same unfulfilling way day after day?

I don’t think we would. Not for a moment longer.

– Lish

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Consciousness, Culture, Depression, Inner Work, Mania, The Mind

Bipolar Disorder & Consciousness

I have tried to make this post as simple as possible since this topic is very important to me. It’s about bipolar disorder and the (incomplete) way it is viewed in mainstream psychology/psychiatry. It’s about how you can heal from it. It’s about how being diagnosed with bipolar disorder can have advantages, though it can be difficult to overcome without a sincere commitment to yourself.

My advice to anyone reading this who has the diagnosis (and really anyone else) is this: Be a badass, get to work on yourself, and become who you really are. Anything that is stalling your growth has to go. Yes, the cost seems high, but there is no other way, and in the end you will see that you didn’t really “lose” anything at all. I know, I know… “easier said than done.” But I promise, it is worth it a billion times over.

I hope this will be of use to some reader, somewhere, someday, who perhaps has had what we call “a manic episode” and cannot make sense of what really happened to them. That’s how I felt for a long time after I was hospitalized. My experience felt so real, because it was real, and to go along with the story that “I just have this illness because—oh wait, no one really knows for sure” felt unsatisfying and kind of like a lie.

I’ve read a lot about consciousness and bipolar disorder, but the most important thing is that I’ve lived it, just like I’ve lived addiction, awakening, and recovery. That is why I feel qualified to say these things. They come from my experience, and I don’t fully trust any authority who purports to understand that which they’ve never gone through on their own. I know these things firsthand, the same way you know you love your family and that the sky is blue:

  1. Ultimately, what you are is a thing called consciousness. You defy quality. You are limitless, formless, genderless, raceless. You are beyond mental constructs including “good and evil;” you are perfect beyond the concept of “perfection.” Also, you are not separate from anyone or anything else, except as the mind imagines it. In case it isn’t clear: I do mean this all quite literally, and I encourage you to realize these things for yourself. I would much rather you do that than take anyone’s word on it.

  2. In society, the “normal mode” of existence is called ego-consciousness, or the ego-identity, or simply the ego. Identity is just a thought. In this mode we do not feel limitless, genderless, or anything-less. We feel like particular people with stories and quirks and opinions. We have fears and comfort zones and certain people we close ourselves off to. There’s nothing “wrong” or “bad” about the ego—this sense of separation and individuality is what allows us to have our life experiences at all. This mode is useful for getting by in daily life: My ego is a writer who doesn’t use intoxicants, for instance. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a server who will move to an ashram in about a month… and yet I am also this Great Big Thing, not as measured by my “value” to society, but as to how I experience my own self.

    It is very important to know and remember that the ego is but a limited mode of being. It is like an ice cube in the ocean: Small, contracted, rigid, and ultimately subject to melting one day. When you believe this ego is all that you are, problems are created immediately. You worry about protecting this ego and everything that said “protection” entails. Here’s the thing: You can know your full, unlimited self and become truly healed, but doing so will require you to expand beyond the ego. This is an evolutionary process. This kind of growth is not something our society encourages, because the entire world order requires that we all take our egos seriously; that we believe sincerely in the machine we are a part of. Just as we have our individual egos, these little egos combine to create one big cultural ego. If that big ego were to be seen through in this instant, the world would probably look even more chaotic for a while, even though that is exactly what we need to survive as a species on this planet.

    One who transcends the ego (or who is trying to transcend the ego) can look “crazy” to those who have never seen beyond it. This brings me to bipolar mania.

  3. Bipolar mania occurs when we are unaware that we are trying to transcend our egos. This is evolution we’re talking about. It cannot be halted, and when we try to suppress it, it rushes up like a freshly released spring if given half the chance. Bipolar mania is an unplanned, unskillful expansion in consciousness, which explains why “feelings of expansion” is one of the main symptoms. These episodes can occur when our egos are severely threatened, like if too many changes in life occur within a short amount of time. They can also occur when we alter our consciousness through lack of sleep, drug use, or the abrupt stoppage of regular drug use. All of these things can trigger a deeper consciousness to emerge. The ego—not knowing that it is false, and not yet wanting to know this—believes it is dying, and rushes to defend itself. This is why we have delusions of grandeur and other self-beliefs that are out of touch.

    Part of this occurs because the mind is using every trick in the book to maintain that the ego is real, but the other part is simpler: You really are capable of much more than you were ever led to believe. When we are manic, we can catch glimpses of our potential, which might be much bigger than anything our small selves could’ve imagined. It is important to me to say that spiritual awakening/enlightenment does not lead to things like fame and wealth and all of these egocentric things. The highest “goal” is to become who you are, and whatever comes after that won’t matter in the same way at all. However, due to our conditioning about what “potential” means, the mind tends to go there if the ego is dying.

  4. Severe depression represents a contraction in consciousness. You think you’re worthless, small, and terrible. All of these things are functions of a mind that believes more strongly in the “little self” and is very caught up in what “we” have done or whatever we’re not doing that we believe “a good person” does. This contraction often occurs out of our awareness, so of course no one is to blame for any of their moods. Still, beneath all of this, consciousness is trying to emerge. The friction between consciousness and the unconscious ego can create depression in the first place. We resist change and/or looking at life in this new way because to do this represents stepping into unknown territory. The unknown is frightening to the ego, which likes to maintain and preserve its safety (even though its safety is an illusion.).

    Furthermore, our social/world structures—again, built from billions of little egos—are not currently interested in what is best or most joyful for human life. These structures are interested in perpetuating themselves, plain and simple, and in their unconsciousness they spiral onward even as they kill the host. One goal of a spiritual revolution is to create a world that leads to joy within humanity and other living beings, rather than this world where humans serve The Machine. Our structures (if we need them) should work for us, not the other way around. We should be quite clear about this: Even the people “at the top” live in service to this machine. They are not free by virtue of being at the top of the pyramid, and perhaps even less so than one who is “lower.”

  5. A healthy spiritual path should guide one to expand their consciousness little by little, until the entire ego is seen through for its ultimate illusory nature. I am a huge advocate for gradual, sane spiritual awakenings (when possible). Some of the kundalini-and-LSD stuff I’ve heard about really shows me that most people have no idea what it is they are dealing with or what their aim is in spirituality. This is not to say I’m anti-kundalini or even anti-drug, but that very often these things are approached naively, without the support of an experienced teacher, and these experiences can make us a little (or a lot) insane. Those of us who have had what they call “a full-blown manic episode” know that there is nothing fuzzy or cute about expanding in consciousness even though it is necessary, and even though doing so does lead to ultimate Truth.

  6. The solution to overcoming bipolar disorder (and other mental disorders) is to train in the gradual expansion of consciousness. We are on the path whether we want to be or not. The most hardcore atheist is on the spiritual path. Serial killers are on the spiritual path. There is no difference between that which is “spiritual” and that which isn’t. The sooner we accept this and consciously get to work on ourselves, the better.

    Finding your own path may mean things like giving up drugs and alcohol, taking your nutrition more seriously, meditating regularly, praying (whatever that means to you), reading books on consciousness, journaling, changing your friendships or your job, becoming more solitary, finding a doctor who actually supports and listens to you, talking to your family about what you really think is happening, finding a spiritual community, etc. It’s a whole new life, not a hobby, not a “take this but leave that” deal. The main takeaway here is this: We cannot expect to be healthy and well if we continue to live in damaging ways, or if we keep trying to live the way others think we should live. Every time we do this, we resist who we are. We push ourselves away, but this method is ineffective: Consciousness can’t and won’t go away. Unless we commit to a significantly different way of life, the cycles of bipolar disorder are likely to return.

    Another perhaps-difficult pill to swallow is this: There is simply no “halfway” when it comes to finding your true self, though we often like to act like there is. Many times in my life I have begged and wished to “just be normal,” ignorant of what it was I truly wanted. Turns out that God (which is also consciousness) is not interested in social normalcy or upholding our current world order—not in the slightest, and in fact the opposite. Any wish that is not in alignment with your true self will go unfulfilled, and this “just be more normal” wish usually falls into this category. We’re talking total transformation with the possibility of becoming Yourself, not whatever you and others expect that self to be. It is so important that we keep going, even when it feels impossible, even when it feels endless, and even when it seems like it isn’t getting better.

    I promise, even if it doesn’t feel like it, it is improving.

– Lish

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Addiction, Conditioning, Culture, Transformation

Addiction, Society, & Transformation

Getting sober is a long-term transformative process that cannot be boiled down to the sole act of not using. For instance: In the last year I drank, I felt more “sober” than I did as a precious young “totally normal” binge-drinking 23-year-old. Even though I got drunk regularly in 2016, I was becoming aware of the effects alcohol was having on my consciousness and how that translated to the rest of my life.

Before, it was more like “okay this seems like it’s becoming a problem,” but simply eliminating alcohol never felt appealing. What would ever be the point of cutting out this great numbing agent if we’re otherwise going to be living the same life? If we want to stop numbing, we must also begin to rid ourselves of the aspects of our lives that feel numb-worthy. There is much more to this thing than giving up our drugs. And unless we begin to develop long-term vision for our lives—who we are and what we’re about—addiction has the very fertile ground of ambivalence to sprout in.

The most compelling factor for maintaining my sobriety is that I know it is foundational to everything else I will create in this life. If I did not believe this, I would drink, and I would not care, and I suspect this lack of long-term life vision is one of the many factors that keeps addiction steadfast within us. 

Not that it is anyone’s fault. I do not believe in fault or blame, and find that these are only hurtful concepts. They ignore the truth, which is that there are many millions of unconscious factors hatching in every single moment of our lives. I will say though that the hivemind greatly discourages us from developing deep vision for our lives. We are rewarded only for a very restricted type of intelligence in school, and these limitations create wastelands within our minds and souls. No one can say how much potential has been lost due to the way our children are currently brought up.

People do not usually stay sober for those they love. This has never been the case, and addicts should not be faulted for this. One’s journey towards wellness (or not) is not about their families and cannot be about their families. It is about their individual thread of consciousness and what its evolutionary aim is this time around—indeed that is all life is ever really about. We can never know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes of the people who present themselves to us, though if we look closely, we may have some idea. Beneath outward appearances, there is a galaxy of things sorting themselves out, working and gestating and becoming. Sometimes people have to destroy themselves for a very long time, maybe even until they die, and this destruction is really never about you.

When threatened, the addict very often chooses drugs over his/her family, because the drug at least provides them with comfort unconditionally. Some amount of this battle lies in the fact many of us have never truly felt loved unconditionally, even if it was professed. We live in a culture of transactional acceptance, and this often bleeds into our family lives.

The reliability of the drug to provide us with temporary comfort is therefore revolutionary; it makes us, in a way, fall deeply in love with our chosen substances/activities. We know nothing and no one else like it: It never rejects us, is always there, not afraid of us, and accepting forever and ever. That’s the thing: Our loved ones (and we ourselves) are generally sometimes understanding. Alcohol and drugs always are.

Along these lines, society is quick to withdraw love when we do not follow its rules, as if doing so will get us to shape up. This isn’t how it works. It would be a much healthier world if our policies and treatment of addicts reflected this truth. Furthermore, “love” that is doled out and/or taken away is not actually love; it is merely conditioned approval. We know this and are wise enough not to desire this knockoff. Or maybe we do do desire it, but usually find that it never does the trick for very long.

It is entirely possible to get high off of our mental states whether or not there are drugs involved. We get a little high off of fantasies, projections, and delusions alone. We escape reality in our daydreams and imagined lives, rarely taking the risk to bring them to fruition. If we do, the result is almost always less than what the mind has blown it up into. The thing about the mind is that it exaggerates and distorts, making the mind itself seem more appealing than Ultimate Reality, which is an entirely different thing than the “reality” our conditioned minds allow us to see. This is one of its tactics for keeping us in its grips: Living in it feels nicer than seeing the truth.

Similarly, inasmuch as we become addicted to substances themselves, we become addicted to the entire thought process behind using. There is an inner battle we become fixated on: Will I or won’t I? And the energy we expend on these internal discussions is enormous. During these times, we often also relish our seedy secrecy. Our shadows are delicious even though we feel terrible about them, and there becomes a horrendous thrill about self-destruction.

This is romanticized in popular culture, in part because we like seeing people do the things we know better than to do (but kinda want to do.). And there is some truth behind the romanticism of addiction: Until we break free, there is no greater feeling than the mounting tension of desire for that which we are addicted—followed, of course, by the breaking of the tension and the surge of some very yummy brain chemicals. The drama is delectable. The ego adores it.

The part of us which cannot stand living in this machine (the biggest and truest part) often resorts to addiction, and that is why addiction is so much more than an “issue” for “some people.” We know that we are out of touch, and are all at least a little distraught by our current status as a species. In this culture, we are all addicts trying not to feel the pain of being very far from home. We struggle to sit with ourselves and often avoid silence and solitude at all costs. There must always be “background noise.”

When I say “home,” I mean our true home in consciousness, but also an actual physical place which would be much nearer to the rest of creation: In the trees, breathing fresh air, drinking clean water, and freely enjoying the abundance that the Earth churns out generously and joyously. Somewhere in history we thought we could do better, or perhaps we allowed our fears of death to so totally corrupt us that we tried to manipulate this already-perfect system. We have failed miserably.

In this equation, the only question is whether our addictions are “acceptable” or not, and what is “acceptable” is defined by whether or not it keeps the machine running. This entire civilization functions as an addictive process, after all: Destroy, grow, consume; then it’s onto the next. We must only stay in the “normal” parameters of addiction (“binge-watching” comes to mind), and no one bothers us. When we go too far—usually beyond our capacity to contribute to said machine—we get the “addict” label. When we don’t go far enough, we become hermits and weirdos and Luddites.

This is all to say that addiction is an intensely divided space to exist in. Clearly, addiction thrives in those who do not feel whole, and I say this as someone who doesn’t even feel whole all the time. (That’s precisely how I know this is true.) This lack of wholeness weaves its way through generations; it is as if we are born with a sense of craving. Culture exacerbates this not-wholeness—or more likely created it in the first place—and provides us with endless Things to feign wholeness with: drugs, food, shopping, porn, gadgets, dating apps, “being busy.” Our friends, equally confused, often encourage our addictions.

This is all unconscious and so I assign no blame to anyone. Nevertheless, it is what we do. We live in a shared sense of not-enoughness and rarely question this sense of scarcity which is, when examined thoroughly, Totally False.

There is no way to be engaged in an addiction while not being lost about who you are and what you’re doing here. They go hand in hand, and that’s why recovery is so much more about the latter than the plain relinquishing of drugs. If you want to be sober and free, there is no greater tool than to begin developing a vision for who it is you want to be. I assume it will be a large vision, and that is beautiful, whether or not it feels actionable or realistic.

Total transformation is what getting sober is all about. I encourage you to get high off your own imagination and delusions to start, because at least these are happy seeds and they don’t put holes in your brain: What is the most incredible thing you could imagine for your life? Does this vision include periodically lowering your consciousness and poisoning your body?

– Lish

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Addiction, Inner Work, Mental Health, Sobriety, The Mind

Getting Sober Without AA

Full disclosure: As of this writing, I’m “only” 8 months sober. I put that in quotes because—if you’re like I was—8 months might sound like an unfathomably long period of time without alcohol. When you’re regularly drinking, going 3 days feels like a stretch. So, to many sober veterans, 8 months ain’t nothin, and maybe they’d think I should shut my mouth because I’m so new to this thing. But to a drinker who is trying to quit drinking, 8 months feels like forever away. (Also, I know I’m not going to drink again.)

In 2015, when I first googled “Getting sober without AA,” this article by Mishka Shubaly popped up. It’s a great article, the heart of which is this: No one gets to define sobriety for you but you, and there’s no “one right way” to get there. If you give up booze but take mushrooms one weekend, you can still hold yourself in high regard, knowing you aren’t about to fall off the rails. Also: People have really whacked out ideas about what addiction is. I loved the article. I wrote to Mishka about my struggles with alcohol, he wrote back, then I got sober… and two months later I was in the mental hospital experiencing a full-on ego death. (I did not write to Mishka about that.)

Even though I thought (and still think) Mishka is a stunning human/writer/recovery story, the answer to my googled question never really appeared. I knew there had to be people who gave up drinking without Alcoholics Anonymous. Where were they? What did they do? How’d they subvert the demon of alcohol addiction without the meetings?

Basically, I’m writing the post I wish had existed for me when I’d gone looking for it a little over 2 years ago.

Also: The first thing that came to my mind when I asked myself How *have* I managed to stay sober for 8 months? was this: I have no clue.

It’s a miracle as far as I’m concerned, but that’s kinda how I feel about life in general. Then I got to thinking and realized that there have been all these things I’ve done; they’ve just so fully become parts of my regular life that they hardly feel worth mentioning anymore.

  1. Start paying attention to how drinking really makes you feel. With rare exceptions, you are not going to quit drinking the first time you try to quit drinking. Or the second. Or the 20th. And that’s fine! You’re still cultivating awareness about this thing (I think AA calls it “gathering information”), and part of that means you’re still going to drink. However, you know now that you don’t want to do it forever. You can use these times of drinking to consciously notice a) How the body tends to physically reject things like hard alcohol, b) How much harder it is for you to hold your train of thought and maintain an intelligent conversation when you’ve had a few, c) How dull and sleepy your mind feels after even one, d) How your head/stomach/soul feel after a big night out. Bringing awareness to the total lack of awesomeness here did a lot for me. Most beautifully, alcohol genuinely ceased to be enjoyable.

  2. Start paying attention to the ten million stories you (consciously or unconsciously) tell yourself about alcohol. Things like, “it’s fun,” “I need it to socialize,” “I just like it,” and/or “it’s relaxing.” Underneath every single one of these justifications there’s an accordion of self-investigation just waiting to unravel, i.e., Why does the mind interpret becoming less conscious as “fun”? There’s a whole lot of stuff to look into just by questioning the basic premises of your “whys” for drinking.

  3. Journal about all of this. Go to an art supply store and get yourself a rad journal you’re going to want to write in. Pick something that feels new and hopeful, and just get to writing. I’m willing to say it doesn’t even matter what you write, except that you do it. Writing relieves pressure from the mind and allows you to see your own “logic” on paper. It’s you talking to yourself about yourself in the privacy of You. There are highly therapeutic opportunities here, provided you’re able to be honest with yourself.

  4. Check out Hip Sobriety. I’ve never taken one of Holly’s courses, but I follow her on Instagram and I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything on her blog. Holly’s is an amazing story about a woman who once appeared to “have it all,” except that she was semi-secretly crumbling beneath the weight of several addictions. I have more than a suspicion that a lot of us (see: many millions) fall into this category: We’re normal, busy, hardworking people… who kinda just have to poison ourselves into unconsciousness to make it through the stress/confusion/Groundhog’s Day vibe of our daily lives. (Does this ring a “that’s really messed up” bell to you? It does to me.) Holly’s all about getting sober because being sober equals freedom, and about challenging the stigma of addiction so that we can actually be given the chance to survive this totally preventable and totally curable disease. Even though I’ve never met her, I love her, and her work has been incredibly inspiring to me. Along these lines, it doesn’t hurt to just stock up on addiction memoirs, binge on addiction blog posts, etc. This just helps to remind you you are not the only one working on this thing! Not even close.

  5. Do anything else. You heard me: Anything. Else. Okay, maybe not harder drugs, but I mean all those other little things you avoid out of guilt. Things like eating a whole box of macaroni and cheese and a pint of ice cream for dinner? Go ahead and do that. I am not encouraging you to transfer addictions, but to let yourself off the hook completely for every other thing you chastise yourself for. For instance, I ate a lot of cake. I bought an unnecessary amount of tea. I smoked cigarettes. I got Indian takeout (appetizer/entree/naan) and ate all of it in the span of several episodes of Arrested Development. Give yourself a fuckload of credit for dropping the sinister drug out of your life, and take it one step at a time. Giving up too much at once is a recipe for disaster, so just try to be gentle with yourself.


There are a lot more, and when they feel timely, I will of course post them here.

It feels important to say that navigating life sober is still nowhere near easy or comfortable for me. I’m pretty sure I only ever liked large groups of people because in our society, they usually come standard with alcohol. No, I don’t know what to do with my hands except be awkward, and there is no magic pill to snap you into being totally at peace in your sober skin after years of ingesting a dependency-causing neurotoxin. I’m sorry, but discomfort is the name of the game for a while. Luckily, discomfort doesn’t kill—addiction does.

Oh, and guess how much time I spend alone? Almost all of it when I’m not at work. I know this is best for me, being that I’m still in the “spiritual cocoon,” but it does get pretty lonesome. I have always appreciated solitude, but sometimes I step over the line into that bad word, “isolation.” Still, I’d rather risk isolation than try to force conversations I don’t know how to have naturally anymore in situations I don’t feel like myself in anymore.

My point here is this: Don’t be surprised if something bigger starts to shift in you when you give up huge, identity-bolstering habits. “Being a drinker” is probably something you’ve built into who you think you are. Letting that go means your assumed identity will take a hit, and the assumed identity (ego) really doesn’t like this.

BIG, BLARING WARNING: Your ego will use your mind to retain its solidity, and this is not a maybe. It 100% will happen that your ego uses your mind against you. This is when you start to think things like “oh but such-and-such holiday is coming up; I can’t be sober for that,” or maybe you casually envision yourself on a camping trip with, of course, a beer. These are the sneaky ways the mind lures you back to those behaviors which maintain the old identity you’re (rightfully) trying to outgrow. In this case, your own mind is literally holding you hostage. Don’t let it win.

Very infrequently, my mind still does this. I imagine myself some years in the future, drinking straight from a bottle of red wine, blasting Rihanna and dancing in somebody’s living room. This delusional projection is always  a super fun and sexy time. Pretty quickly, I wise up: I see what you’re doing, mind, and it’s back to reality, which is something like me folding socks alone and listening to Rihanna.

The most important thing I want to instill you with if you’re considering giving up alcohol is this: You can get sober and live an amazing life. It will not be without its difficulties, but you can handle them, because you’re incredible and perfect and strong. I know that’s true.

– Lish

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