In 1925, Gandhi shared a list that conveyed the idea that there are behaviors that don’t support community and the good of society. Pleasure without conscience is one of them, that attitude of why not just have fun. Another one is knowledge without character, where one knows better but does the destructive thing anyway.
It’s so easy to say that these things are wrong, but what does it take to overcome an addiction?
In January 1990, I stood on the deck of a cruise liner. The moonlit Caribbean ocean was in front of me. I had a glass of scotch in one hand, a cigarette in the other. I had candy bars in my pocket and a midnight buffet awaiting me. I had an adoring nephew gazing up at me. I had everything I wanted and all I could feel was the bottomless pit inside of me. And at that moment I could finally feel it and I realized, no matter how hard I tried, I would never fill that bottomless hole. But I did not have the willpower to not do what I was doing. I was using everything I could to try to keep my life together. My 18-year relationship had ended. I was hiding deep insecurities and pain of the past. I could finally see that life on my terms wasn't working. And at that moment, I gave in to the fact that I had to find another way to live.
What I learned, when I got off that ship, was that it's not willpower that I needed, but the awareness that I had a problem. I never believed in God because I believed in science. But I learned I could believe in a power greater than me and that I could turn my life over to that Higher Power. I learned to trust that Higher Power. I learned to clean up my side of the street. I learned to help others. One night, in a meditation, I had a visualization. I got into my red Toyota Corolla and I drove up La Cienega Boulevard to Santa Monica. In the visualization, I could see myself parking near the pier and walking down to the beach. It was nighttime and my Higher Power had built a crackling fire in a firepit. She had put cushion-backed benches surrounding the firepit. I sat down next to her and we cozied up together in front of the comforting fire. I felt safe. Beyond the fire I could see a huge plastic round tank. I walked over to see what it was. Inside the tank were all my addictions, all the things I had been using to try to avoid my pain: alcohol, food, money, sex, shopping, drugs, people, relationships. Everything I used that kept me from connecting authentically to myself and others. It was all piled up in one place staring at me. I asked my Higher Power, if I give all of these things to you, what will you give me in return. I wasn’t going to make this easy on her. She pointed to the left. I looked to where she was pointing. Along the beach bike path was a woman walking towards me. I thought, great, a new partner. But as the woman walked closer, I realized—it was me, a free me. And all I had to do was let go.
Because it’s not about just having fun. It’s about love in the open hand, no thing but that. And it’s not about knowing better and doing the destructive thing anyway. It’s about using my knowledge for personal and public good.
I revisit the beach visualization often and I talk to my Higher Power. I no longer connect to the past or project into the future. I accept things for what they are. I check in with myself to see where I’ve been dishonest or have hurt someone else. If I have, I make amends to them. I treat myself with the same kindness and love, making amends to myself if I beat myself up. I practice gratitude. And I help others.
It sounds easy, but it isn’t. One can’t overcome an addiction, but one day at a time, I can choose to not practice the behavior. I know I can’t live this way the rest of my life, but I’m going to commit to live this way today.
I said to the wanting-creature inside me:
What is this river you want to cross?
There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road.
Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or nesting?
There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no tow rope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!
And there is no body, and no mind!
Do you believe there is some place that will make the soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.
Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don't go off somewhere else!
Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,
and stand firm in that which you are.
Your description of everything you were holding in your hand on the ship reminded me of Easter Sunday and Monday. I had it in mind to get through Easter and was really careful with what I was eating. I told myself then, on Easter, I could have anything I want. The problem being it went to the other extreme so that I ate so much junk on Sunday and Monday. I had made a goal and was determined to eat all the jelly beans, and then chips and pretzels. I ate so much that on Tuesday, I was sick for a half hour throwing up. I felt both like the absentee parent who takes the child to the amusement park and lets them have whatever they want. Then the child is brought back to the mother who now has to deal with the consequences. And as I was throwing up, I was telling myself ‘you did this to yourself.’ Now I’m pissed because I am now the mom having to deal with my child. I believe it’s good to have fun and good to enjoy and good to celebrate. But the mindlessness of it and determination of it, I am going to have fun and eat whatever I want. In a way, it was good because after all that purging and realizing I made myself sick, now I feel so much more centered and willing and wanting to eat healthy and be lighter in my body and in my spirit. But I did it to myself.
We do it to ourselves. I don’t know how many times I gave up drinking and then at 5pm on a Monday, I’m staring at a glass of scotch in my hand wondering how it got there. Magic.
Thank you so much. What a personal, powerful story. The poem that you read touched me so much. I’m going to print it and hang it on my wall. There aren’t words for it right now, it just touched me.
Shirley has a digital folder of poems that she finds and saves. She says just pick one. I close my eyes and move my mouse and clicked on one. This is the one that appeared today. This one about the wanting creature inside me, it’s a great reminder to let go.
The other day, someone spoke of connecting their Higher Self to someone else’s Higher Self. We have a lower self as well that communicates. I appreciate you talking about all the things you had from a worldly, material point of view in your hands and yet, there was an emptiness. I appreciate you talking about your addictions. I have a family member who is smart but irresponsible with so many addictions. As I meditated, I saw myself writing her a letter about how I grew up as an outcast because of my sexual identity. I could relate to her how it felt to be an outcast. The words began coming. I want to write to her and tell her it’s okay where you are. But there is another way of being and I believe in you. Try to point out the good things about her. They’re sometimes hard to find, but they are in there.
When one has an internal hate, it’s hard to hear that one is doing good or is loved. It’s important to share your experience, your strength, and your hope. To share what it was like, what happened for you, and how your life has changed. It’s better to talk about yourself than what the other person is like. I ended my reading by saying I can’t live this way the rest of my life. I can’t. The only way I gave up drinking was I didn’t. I decided I’d give up the ordinary drinking but if there was a special occasion, I would drink. It’s the only way I stopped drinking. A friend of mine said, I’ve got a hangnail, special occasion, time for a drink. I finally learned to let go of that. Today, I’m not going to have a drink or do those things. I don’t know what I’ll do tomorrow.
And we can find strength through the stories of other people. I have friends who said come out to your family, they’ll still love you. The change has to begin with ourselves. Sharing stories help.
Thank you. You are so honest. I appreciate it so much. It’s a timely subject for me. I was in the ER the other day and things are so hard. They told me I had a problem which I looked up. Waist size and exercise are factors. I’ve been eating a lot and I haven’t been walking. I know exactly what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, and I can’t stop. The risk factors aren’t stopping me. I am beating myself up. I’m in so much pain over my family’s situation. I need to figure out how to control the behavior and not beat myself up over it.
No amount of willpower can overcome an addiction. If one is in so much pain to eat over it or drink over it, one will. I will. I did. No amount of willpower helps. The first step is to let go of that idea, that my willpower can overcome this. It’s to realize I have a problem and that problem makes my life unmanageable. The next thing is to believe that a Higher Power can restore me to sanity. I can’t do it, I have no willpower. This behavior is making me crazy and destroying my life. It’s that awareness and having a belief in some Higher Power can restore me to sanity. That Higher Power can be anything—the sun, a god, a tree, a doorknob. And then turning my will and my life over to the care of that Higher Power so that I am in the hands of that Higher Power. That’s the process. If you can do that, you can free yourself of behaviors that are destructive.
Thank you for sharing your story. I loved when you mentioned seeing that woman coming towards you and you were happy about another relationship, but it was your free self coming towards you. Isn’t that the truth about addiction? My addiction is definitely food, it’s a struggle for life. It’s the candy I go to for life’s stresses. I loved what you said about checking in every day because every day is different. We can say I’m on a good streak and exercising, and then I can go on a binge. The freedom for me is the check in, this is my struggle, this is how I cope; maybe it’s not the healthiest thing, but I know why I do it. And to do what you do and say this is today and I can’t promise tomorrow I won’t indulge, but to just accept and take one day at a time. Because if you look at the big picture, I’ll never be thin and trim and happy, it can look hopeless. But if I go day by day and change my habits daily and have a bad day or week, it happens. I’ll pick back up again and check in, and allow that free person back from what happened yesterday, recognizing why I did that. But I’m done with that and today is a new day.
One thing I learned it’s not the food. It’s not what I’m eating, it’s what’s eating me. Learn to separate. With alcohol, I just don’t drink. But with food it’s harder, we have to eat every day. We have to separate out food for sustenance from food for feelings. Over the years, I’ve had food abstinences, meaning I eat three meals a day and nothing in between. I’ve been maintaining a food abstinence for 14 months. I started it just before the pandemic, and I cursed myself out for doing that. I couldn’t eat between meals over all this Covid fear. I’ve stuck to my one-day-at-time commitment to three meals a day and I’m grateful.
When you said you can’t avoid using things from the outside in, I know that. I also feel that I’ve had my heart shut down for so long, it’s hard to remember what it feels like to feel. Not wanting to be vulnerable. I was blessed during the meditation to have our new kitten lying on my chest and feeling his purring in my chest. I know it’s the outside in, but I can get a reminder of what it feels like and it’s a start. It was sweet to feel through him what it is like.
That’s wonderful. We do need things from outside. Things that feed us and feed our Higher selves and Higher soul are wonderful. I used to think it was a glass of scotch that would give me that. But I’ve learned to look at nature and feel sustenance from it. So feeling sustenance from a kitten is wonderful. That feeds are souls and not our addictions. That‘s a great place to be at. Thank you for sharing that.
Thank you so much for joining us today on this journey. Thank you for letting me share my story of my journey becoming aware and getting in touch with my Higher Self. I appreciate all the reflections you have shared today. I love this community. Thank you so much for participating and being willing to be here. I hope you have a gentle and blessed day. Thank you.