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, Conditioning, Mental Health, The Ego, The Mind, Uncategorized

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

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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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