As an active alcoholic and drug addict, my mind became a constant and persistent judge and critic. It was relentless and overpowering. My thoughts were always focused on when and how I was going to once again obtain the ease and comfort that came from that first drink or drug. No matter what activity or event I was participating in, I thought only of once again numbing my feelings and my body.
There was absolutely no connection between my mind and my body other than the fact that I hated them both. My mind reminded me of what a loser, disappointment, and screw-up I was while my body never measured up to even the basic benchmarks of acceptance. I hated me and me hated I. What a miserable existence to endure day-in-and-day-out.
My thoughts were centered on me, myself, and I. Obsessed with my own little plans and designs, getting what I needed and wanted, looking a certain way, trying to get everyone to like me, and constantly disguising or hiding the chaos I was feeling inside, became a way of life. I learned to pretend that everything was fine when I was literally dying from despair.
My mind became a fog horn of thoughts that convinced me I could use and drink in safety, that I was absolutely disconnected from those I loved and everyone else, and a barrage of comments on how much I totally sucked.
This is not about self-pity. It is about a devastating brain hijacking that cannot be arrested without significant willingness, help from others, intention, and practice. But first I had to get clean and sober.
I have often said that my biggest problem was that I tell myself something and I believe me. When I was using, I told myself things like “No one knows I have been drinking,” “It is ok if I only smoke pot and don’t do the hard stuff,” “Tomorrow I will stop,” and “ See, I don’t have a problem, I haven’t used in a few days.” For years, these lies extended my suffering and the suffering of those that love me.
Perhaps worst of all was the crap my mind told me about what you thought of me. I convinced myself that I was never a part of any group, gathering, family event, or friendship. I told myself over and over again that I did not belong and would never belong. I was certain that I was somehow unique and different from everyone else and that you would never accept me just as me.
This story of me, myself, and I was so exhausting. The internal environment cracking at the seams while the plastic smile on my face tried to convince you otherwise. Just look good, pretend to be happy and in control, and all will be fine, I thought. Only to find out this story of me, in which I starred, was actually killing me.
Finally, after many starts and stops, I managed to get some clean time together.
But my mind, like a child who constantly throws temper tantrums and scatters his or her toys all over the room, did not relent. Even in sobriety, even after having put down the drink and the drug, my obsessive thoughts that tossed me to and fro like a ship out at sea during a hurricane, continued to exhaust and deplete me.
I had put together some significant amount of sobriety only to realize the chatter in my head had gotten louder! I really thought that all I had to do was not drink or drug. That was my problem: the booze and the dope. Come to find out, they were actually my solution. Once I put down the drugs and the alcohol, the internal critic, the child throwing the tantrum, the solitary lone wolf, and more demoralizing states reigned within my innermost self in a way that was now magnified and omnipresent.
I had no idea where to turn to control all the fluctuations in my untrained mind. It seemed it was above and beyond my reach. My thinking was so undisciplined and my thoughts so tirelessly constant and self-observed, I feared it would lead me back to relapse. This fear was the glimmer of desperation that gave me enough willingness to look for solution.
That solution turned out to be meditation.
It was in December when I picked up a yoga magazine and found a local studio. I had no idea what I was in for. There was one clear thought, an intuitive one, a hunch, that it might be a good thing for me to try. Because I was not polluting my soul with drugs and alcohol, I heeded the call for a new experience. If I had ever known the treasure of serenity that eventually awaited me, I would have gone much sooner.
After many yoga classes and some loosening up of my death grip on life, I attended a Friday evening talk on meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn sat on a stool and casually talked about the affects of quieting his mind on the quality of his life. When he cited Rumi’s poem, The Guest House by heart, I remember being so incredibly inspired. It was as though he knew exactly what it was that I had been searching for. That evening, through Jon’s way of being, his connection to himself and to those of us that were with him, and his words, I began a journey of starting to know and name that inner peace and to get a sense that I might have this thing too. I opened my mind and my heart to becoming a person who meditates regularly, although at the time I did not know it.
The journey began with curiosity. I bought myself books, CDs, a meditation cushion, and fancy chimes. I read Jon’s books and went to places where he was speaking. I read articles about other people’s experience with trying to learn how to meditate. My quest would at times be full bore and at other times barely a trickle. It evolved as if I was an infant reaching for adulthood.
Surprisingly, for the first time in my life, I actually didn’t quit something. Not even when it got hard or frustrating. Or even when I felt inadequate and told myself it would never have any benefit for me. Despite the self-doubt, I kept returning to just sit and watch my breath.
My effort consisted of trying to sit for a few minutes every day. Some days I didn’t make it to my cushion at all. I somehow managed, despite myself, to let go of that I suck mentality that had paralyzed me in so many other areas of my life. I just kept trying without judging the One Great I.
Slowly, over time, I noticed that my thinking, my reaction to life, and my overall happiness level had started to change. This change was only evident in the rear view mirror most times. I would recognize that a person who used to irritate me no longer had such power or that I was less easily frustrated.
My recovery from substance abuse began to be deeply integrated with my meditation practice. As my mind grew the ability to quiet the constant self-barrage of negative thinking, I noticed a new freedom of peace, serenity, kindness, and hopefulness begin to settle in. The cultivation of stillness in my daily sitting meditation practice translated into a way of being in the world that brought a new level of acceptance no matter what conditions I found myself in.
All my troubles and difficulties did not disappear; however, my perception and reaction to them changed. I no longer lingered in the dark places – I didn’t go as deep or stay as long.
I am grateful for the journey of learning to meditate. It has brought wisdom to the ups and downs of learning to live without drugs and alcohol. I continue to be a student of my own mind. It seems I have a new built-in pause button that gets activated when necessary. My untrained mind now watches itself and keeps itself in check. I experience resiliency where I used to fall apart. Most importantly I think, is I have remained clean and sober.
Perhaps one-day meditation will become a part of our culture in a way, say, jogging did forty or so years ago. We give our bodies so much attention and yet allow our minds to run rampant and unchecked.
Here are some lessons I have learned along the way:
- Just start
- Stay with the practice. Just keep going back to it again and again
- Get some formal instruction
- It is not another thing on the to do list. No pressure !