Category Archives: Alcohol

Insight Meditation

Meditation

Meditation

I recently wrote about my struggle with addictions.  Yes, multiple addictions.  It is just now coming out that the root cause of addiction is abuse at some time in the addict’s life.  It is true for me.  I turned to addictive behavior to get a feel good in a life that incorporated pain or suffering stemming from the abuse.  

The mental pain or suffering arises, and I seek to eliminate or blunt the pain with the feel good.  It can be alcohol, food, exercise, sex, tobacco, work, drugs, shopping, gambling, music, or other obsessive behaviors.  I tried most of them, and they worked-briefly.  The pain returns.  Another round starts, but it takes a bit more to drive the pain away as the guilt and shame grow.  The wheel turns. 

The result? I have had a lifetime of suffering with futile attempts to escape.  The addictions have not been all-consuming.  I have a good marriage, a comfortable retirement, many interests to keep me occupied and engaged, and a family I am close with.  I have had years of therapy that helped in some areas, but the addictions remained.  The addictions have consumed a tremendous amount of time and energy.  All this stems from events in my childhood continuing to haunt me. 

Well, that was then, and it is now.  So, why addictive behavior when the abuse happened so long ago?  We store the feelings from abuse in our minds.  Those feelings and sensations stay with us and arise later as suffering.  They exist as neural connections in our brains.  Those connections and stored memories and feelings are not permanent or hard wired.  The brain is plastic and those old demons can be dealt with, the connections altered or eliminated.  

There are a number of techniques, including 12 step programs, cognitive therapy, psychoanalysis, immersion in a religious organization, and other therapies.  Some work, some don’t or are just mental band-aids.

Recent neuroscience research indicates that insight meditation is an effective means of altering or eliminating those old neural pathways.  In many cases, ten or fifteen minutes per day seem to be effective.  In deeply entrenched addictions, fifteen minutes is not enough.  I try to do a forty minute meditation along with the morning fifteen minute session every day.  I also attend two formal insight meditation meetings per week. 

Insight meditation is fairly simple.  Find a comfortable position where you are not likely to fall asleep.  Observe your breath.  It may be your nostrils or your abdomen or chest rising and falling. Just focus on the breath.  Thoughts will arise.  Just note and name them.  Hungry, hungry.  You will find the thought changes or fades, leaving you a moment without thoughts arising.  When they do, note them name them, and observe them changing.     

You will find yourself drifting away, planning, worrying, most anything.  When you notice this, gently return to the breath.  I find it useful to say a short prayer several times until I am able to return to the breath.  At times, it seems like all I am doing is praying, with no stillness.  Other times I can return to the breath right away. 

The process is frustrating at first, because it seems like there is almost no time just watching the breath.  No big. Deal, just keep it up.  You will find those thoughts arising with less frequency and intensity.  You are reprogramming your brain. 

Insight meditation is used in schools, some workplaces, in prisons, and in psychotherapy.  It sometime seems it is the next big thing.  Well, no.  It is a Buddhist practice in use for twenty five hundred years.  It is not really a religious practice.  It is a practice used to get rid of all the mental clutter so one can lead a life free of the suffering all that clutter causes. 

Next time I will illustrate the process with my own experience.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Addiction

addictI have an addictive personality.  My first addiction was to chocolate.  In grade school, Teddy and I found a box of Hershey chocolate bars lying in the street.  Not realizing this was a true case of finders keepers, we hid in some bushes and ate the whole thing.  No, I didn’t get sick. 

I remember sitting in a twelve step meeting when one of the guys said he had to have his “feel good”.  He nailed it for me as well.  I am not sure I have more unrest and pain than others, but I have always sought the “feel good”.  

For the most part I can overcome the addictions.  I quit a three pack a day cigarette habit after five years.  I have quit drinking several times and started again, convincing myself I can control it.  Later I realize I have gradually ramped up into excessive drinking and quit.  I have probably done this seven or eight times, starting in high school.  This time I have been sober for a year.  I’m pretty sure I am done with booze forever.   

I have smoked a haystack of pot.  At one point In the late 1970’s I was buying a quarter pound at a time.  I would go to work, go out on my rounds and light up.  Parties were lots of booze and weed for a lot of years.  One day at work I realized I couldn’t remember things I had done the day before.  I have had about two tokes since.   

Food is another matter.  I am something of a binge eater.  My main weakness is ice cream, chocolate, of course.  My pattern is much the same as with alcohol.  I will eat too much, scare myself, lose some weight, than ramp up again.  I weigh about 215 pounds now.  At one point I was up to 260.  The problem is that I can’t give up eating altogether.  So, I struggle.  And then there is caffeine.  AA meetings always have coffee. 

I think you can see the pattern.  I probably won’t kill myself with my addictions, but they have consumed vast amounts of time and energy I could have used productively.  The addictions are accompanied by a lot of obsessing and compulsive behavior.  I have repetitive thoughts and rituals around the behaviors, from rolling the joint, lighting a cigarette at every change, such as standing up, or sneaking ice cream out of the downstairs freezer.   

I am currently engaged in the spiritual practice of letting go.  This means letting go of everything keeping me from staying in touch with my true self.  This is not an easy process, and I am sure I will be engaged in it for the rest of my life.  “Trapped on the wheel of desire.”  The problem with desire is that it cannot be satisfied.  The new BMW, the Bud Lite, the new clothing style, cool Adidas sneakers, whatever.  The proper number of bicycles to own?  N+1; N being the number of bicycles you currently have.  

Addictions are just the most pathological of this phenomenon.  Our consumer society is driven by desire.  Chasing money, chasing stuff, chasing the latest hit, it all pulls us away from our true selves.  I want to get in touch with my true self, which means letting go.