In the new year, we often think about new habits that we want to cultivate, and old habits that we want to let go…
I have always loved New Year, because it is an opportunity for a clean slate, at least in my mind…Generally I make lots of resolutions, and tend to never keep them. But this year, something feels different. I feel that I have identified a key factor which prevented me from implementing all my other new year’s resolutions. And it has to do with addiction.
I spent some time with a couple of ex addicts over the holidays, and learned a lot from them about addiction. It’s a topic which has always interested me, as my grandmother was an alcoholic, and her life, my mother’s life, my life, and my children’s’ lives were deeply affected by her addiction.
I have never touched a substance, whether drugs or alcohol, as I have always feared addiction. But I realise I am an addict in other ways… Maybe less harmful ones, and certainly more subtle ones, but addictions nonetheless…
Addiction can be defined as “not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you”.NHS Choices. (2017). ‘Addiction: what is it?’ [online] Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/addiction/Pages/addictionwhatisit.aspx [accessed 28 Sept. 2017].
What I learned from my friends is that what causes addiction is a desire to escape one’s reality, and usually the feelings that are in that reality. So if you feel trapped, uncomfortable, in pain, fearful, depressed, inadequate, or exhausted in your current circumstances, you will want to escape these feelings by indulging in the substance or behaviour of choice, in order to feel better.
So it could be that you drink, or take drugs, which are the obvious ones, but the more subtle addictive behaviours are engaging in compulsive communication on your phone or social media; thinking and/or communicating obsessively with a loved one; having an affair; over-eating or under-eating; and — one that I’m guilty of — outsourcing my wellbeing to a whole number of therapists, energy healers, life coaches, etc… exhausting myself in the process, and losing sight of my own inner compass.
Another less obvious one can be helping others at our own expense. While helping those in need is a healthier form of addictive behaviour as much good can come of it, it can easily tip into co-dependence, which is a form of addiction to helping others in order to escape our own lives, often to our detriment. Helping others when it’s not detrimental to our own wellbeing is of course healthy and healing, and to be encouraged!
These last few months have been particularly painful for me, as my husband of twenty years and I separated. So it’s been a time when I have been particularly vulnerable to wanting to escape my reality through various addictive behaviours.
As Marie Forleo said, “you gotta feel it to heal it”. It’s what I tell my children as often as I can. In order to heal, we need to let ourselves surrender to what we are feeling, without trying to escape it. It’s a simple idea, and one that is expressed eloquently in many beautiful books such as Tich Nhat Hanh’s “Peace is every step”, Michael Singer’s “The Untethered Soul”, Jon Kabat Zinn’s “Wherever you go, there you are”, or Pema Chodron’s “Start where you are”, and many others from great thinkers and spiritual leaders.
My new year’s resolution this year is to no longer run away from the life I have, but rather to create the life that I want. And in the moments when life won’t go as I want it, and I am confronted with the inevitable suffering of living, I will be aware of the things I do to escape the unpleasant feelings in my reality, and force myself to stay with them. I feel that this one actually has a chance to stick, as it’s tied to my daily meditation practice.
As I sat on my meditation cushion this morning, I realised that one of the reasons meditation is so helpful is because it teaches us to surrender to whatever is present at that moment. We feel our bodies. We are aware of our thoughts, and we are aware of our feelings. Whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, we observe them without judging, which leads us to see them clearly, accept them, and let them go.
Through meditation, we learn to accept our present reality, which enables us to see it clearly, which can bring us insight. We learn that it will soon change. That unpleasant feelings will eventually be followed by more pleasant ones. We learn not to escape our reality into daydreams, escape plans, substances or behaviours that make us feel better, but to sit with whatever we are feeling in the moment. Because only when we become aware of what we are feeling in this moment, can it give us clarity and insight into our lives, ourselves, and our relationships.
And awareness is the first step to healing. In becoming aware of what we are trying to avoid without retreating from it, we learn to avoid addictive substances and behaviours. And it’s only when we avoid these addictive substances and behaviours and sit with the life we have that we can focus either on changing that life so that we are happier in it, or if we cannot change it, being at peace with whatever unpleasant aspects we cannot change. Either way, the end goal is greater peace and happiness.
So here’s to 2018, and to sitting with whatever it brings, pleasant and unpleasant, without trying to escape and distract from either. Happy New Year 2018!