Part Five of the Mindful Path from Addiction to Serenity Series
I’m putting together an eBook for people interested in using mindfulness to overcome addiction problems. I’ll share the chapters on here as I write them. Here is part five in the series – you will find links to earlier posts at the end of this one.
Recovery Meant Waking Up My Assholishness
One of the benefits of referring to myself as an ‘alcoholic’ was it provided me with a handy explanation every time I messed up – which was a lot. I truly believed all the stuff wrong with my life would automatically be put right if I just stopped drinking. I now find such naivety kind of hilarious given how things actually turned out.
My life definitely did improve once alcohol was removed from the picture, but I didn’t automatically transform into the ‘great guy’ I predicted I’d become. Truth be told, it soon became obvious that I was an even bigger asshole than I’d ever imagined.
This awakening to my assholishness was disturbing until I understood what was happening. It was like my first attempts at meditation when I became more aware of my thoughts. It felt as if I’d pressed a switch, and my thinking had moved up 10 gears, but this wasn’t what was going on at all – I’d just become more aware of what was happening inside of my head.
It’s highly unlikely that I’m going to be able fix a problem until I’m aware that it is a problem. The real gift of quitting alcohol wasn’t that it made my life perfect, but it opened my eyes to all the stuff that needed fixing. Being an asshole wasn’t the problem, it was being an asshole and not knowing I was one that was the problem.
What if recovering from addiction is just another way of saying waking up to our assholishness?
The word ‘asshole’ may sound offensive to you, but I think it is a fair description of the majority of our species (I’m talking roughly 99.999%, but it could be more). I certainly don’t mean my use of the word to be used as fuel for self-hated. Let’s be honest with ourselves though, we mostly live in a half-asleep state where we are constantly hurting ourselves and other people in our attempts to be happy – if this isn’t being an asshole, what is?
I know it is my assholishness that divides my world into ‘us and them’, puts conditions on my happiness (I’ll be happy when I’m earning better money), and teaches me to avoid feelings as a way to deal with them. It is this same assholishness that encourages me to believe my own thoughts are somehow superior to the nonsense in the heads of the other 7 billion nutcases on the planet.
How Substance Abuse Sustains Assholishness
The thing that made alcohol such a bad tool for achieving happiness was it greatly increased my blindness towards my own assholishness. I’m not saying that I didn’t have plenty of excuses for beating myself up back then – I certainly did- but these were all just part of my blindness. My lack of awareness meant I was constantly colliding with reality, but I had no real insight into why it was happening. Alcohol did bring some additional problems into my life, but the main harm it caused was by drastically reducing my awareness.
One of the five main precepts in Buddhism is to ‘avoid intoxicants’. This recommendation isn’t there because Buddhists are puritans or because they hate seeing people having a good time. The reason alcohol and drugs are discouraged is the affect they have on our awareness. It is lack of awareness that causes most (if not all) of our problems in life, so it shouldn’t be hard to appreciate why using a substance that reduces this faculty so dramatically is a terrible idea.
Waking up Can be a Painful Business … But it doesn’t Have to be too Painful
Unless you choose new ways of avoiding life, your awareness is going to increase when you quit your addiction. If you commit to a regular mindfulness practice, this rise in awareness will be boosted even further. The giant boulder that kept you stuck for years has now been removed, but you are only at the start of your awakening.
The transition from being mostly numb to your thoughts and feelings to finding it almost impossible to ignore them can be intense and disturbing. In the recovery community, they commonly refer to this adjustment as the ‘emotional rollercoaster of early sobriety’.
In part 2 of this post, I’ll explain how to deal with this awakening so you can survive the ups and downs of early recovery