Shadows of Addiction
I sat on the edge of the bed of our guest bedroom. My dad sat in front of me at the computer. I watched him play those earliest games, Duke Nukem, Doom, and Commander Keen. As he would manipulate the character on the screen, collecting points and fighting bad guys, he would take a sip from the beer can sitting on the desk.
“Can I try?” I would often ask, always to be met by a short, “No. Not until you’re older.”
I wonder now, why I wanted to taste his beer. The answer comes to me and it is the same answer to many of the questions of why we try new things: curiosity. Our motivation to explore the unknown is innocent and powerful. It has led us to self-discovery. Yet, what it unearths isn’t always of light. Sometimes, our curiosity can reveal a shadow inside that we didn’t know was there.
Eventually, my dad did let me try his beer. It would be another five years until my next drink, a shot at a bar in Florence, purchased by my brother. Innocence and curiosity still characterized my interest in alcohol, but as I went through adolescence and experienced the joys and sorrows of that time, it took on a wild and compulsive nature.
I remember passing back and forth a water bottle filled with the strongest spirits in a parking lot before a pep-band performance in high school. Or, smuggling a bottle taped to my inner thigh to an after school event. The joys of alcohol were fresh then and continued to be so in college, where, after having been introduced by my brother, I began to smoke weed, which brought a sense of wonder and awe to the world I was so accustomed to.
Alcohol, marijuana, and coffee all became a part of my life. Later, while traveling South America, I explored cocaine and acid. By this time, my dad was in AA while my mother was in Al Anon and I carried a fear of falling into an addictive spiral, reinforced by the worries of my parents. This fear did not prevent me from filling the loyalty punch card at the liquor store across the street, but it was with me, like a shadow.
In reflection, I see myself struggling with many fears. Though I craved partnership and love, I was afraid to speak to women, and found a solution in slosh. Though I desired a deeper understanding of the universe, I had no tools of envisioning and no mentorship, yet found a solution in marijuana. Despite the morning hangovers and the high paranoia, I still felt these substances were my allies--tools that were aiding me.
Subtler were the forces behind my use of coffee and cigarettes. Coffee brought me euphoria and an energetic state of mind where I could be the person I wanted to be. Similarly were my experiences with cocaine. Using this energy, I could tackle my inhibitions head-on, heart racing, eyes wide, wide open. Alternatively, cigarettes were an escape and a comfort, like the computer games or fantasy novels of my youth that would bind my attention for hours, something I could do and experience that took me away from the simplicity of a walk or the emptiness of unplanned time.
Traveling through South America, I had all of these substances orbiting my life like planets around me. My fear of addiction, ingrained so deeply by my parents and society, demanded I expunge one of them and when I did my ego would rejoice at the victory. But, like whack-a-mole, the cigarettes would inevitably be replaced by alcohol, alcohol by weed, and my ego would fall. And every morning, sitting in a hostel or a cafe writing about this or that, my coffee would drip, drip, drip. But I felt safe, because I had my fear by my side.
I came back to the US, leaving behind the ecology of the Galapagos and history of Machu Picchu, but among all the souvenirs and sentimental objects, I returned with what were my growing relationships with substances. As I settled in San Francisco, I settled into coffee, weed, cigarettes, and booze. If each was a planet, they began to orbit more and more frequently and closely around my solar system, kept at bay only by the repulsive force of fear.
I would have daily drinks, but only one - and my fear would say, 'then, that’s okay.’ I would smoke weed every other day, but not every day - and my fear would say, ‘then, that’s okay.’ I always had a pack of cigarettes, in a desk drawer, but would only smoke infrequently - and for my fear, that was okay.
In this ‘balance’, the forces of these drugs were weighted against my fears of addiction. But like all things, change came into my life in the form of my Yoga Teacher Training. Writing these words, my heart is gratitude, like the frosty grass before the morning sun. Registering for the training was an act in defiance of fear and in connection with Self. Going deeper wasn’t a choice - stronger than alcohol, weed, or cocaine, it was curiosity again that drove me there.
Those 200 hours were simply a beginning, a taste of what it was to crack open the shell of fear that I thought protected me. Fear was a closed room, and it offered protection from the outside, but also confined me inside. During the training, I stood in the doorway and felt the sunlight of acceptance from those around me. Most of all, I began to feel acceptance from myself.
As fear began its first retreats, the force that had held these substances at bay was weakened and their orbits began to collapse. I didn’t want to be afraid of a dark, addictive spiral. I began to explore my relationships with these substances. Indeed, I began to call them ‘relationships’, and if there would be a breakup, I was stubbornly set that it would be from a place of truth and love, as opposed to fear.
Quitting my job in San Francisco was a strong dose against fear. It was the leap of faith and it was just another leap of faith on my path, like stepping stones across the divine garden. In Peru, I completely let go of my fear of the daily dose and embraced my compulsion to smoke. I would not hide anymore, I told myself.
Smoke followed me like the lover or partner I saw her as. I denied the shame of tobacco or the fear of losing control that I’d assumed from my parents and society for so long. I recall a conversation in the kitchen of my brother’s apartment, he and his wife, doctors both, yelling at me to stop smoking. I was close to tears and left. The fangs of fear draw the blood of brothers.
Not without my own tools, what was planted in Yoga began and has continued to sprout. Like limbs shooting forth from a tree, self-reflection, visualization, presence in body and breath, and clarity have always and continue to emerge from me. In this, I began and am beginning to see the substances in my life less for what they are as objects outside of me and more for where my higher self is taken by them.
As Don Miguel Ruiz has written, many of us are living in a dream of hell. The agreements we’ve made with our mothers, brothers, coworkers, and even strangers, bind us against our natures. Perhaps you enjoy painting, yet the dream of your mother tells you to make money and the dream of your father tells you painting is wasting time - and in your silence and out of your power, you agree. Then, as with shackles, you’ve been bound to a city, a job, an apartment, a car, a husband or wife--an entire life--that you don’t enjoy.
Where I still stand in this doorway between dreams, I look at the dream of heaven. It is a dream of love, vulnerability, truth, and life. It takes courage, clarity, self-connection, presence and willpower to take that step. Ever the student, I must be patient with myself. As I stand there, I begin to see where the dream of hell still grasps my ankles and binds my heart. I am beginning to see the pain I carry in my body and emotions, which I try to cover with smoke. I am beginning to see the pain of judgement and shame, which I try to wash away with coffee.
From this vantage point, which is actually the simplest, eternally available perspective of looking inside, I am beginning to see the pain that forces a fake smile, a false word, or a half-hearted choice. In this dream of hell, there is pain everywhere, like the fog that hangs over San Francisco at night, heavy and thick, and I see that I’ve put myself to sleep, not only through smoke and drink, but also in the jobs I’ve taken and the decisions I’ve made. How many precious moments of life have passed me by as I’ve dreamt?
Still I sleep, though each passing day a light inside is brightening. I stir, and my eyes are beginning to open. The fog that has blanketed me, cold and heavy, is beginning to burn away. I am seeing all these drugs, places, and people, once planets orbiting around me, then a fog surrounding me, are beginning to reflect the growing light inside of me. I am seeing each plant I’ve consumed, each place I’ve traveled, and each person I’ve touched, are each their own suns, each reflecting my own light, and seen together we are blindingly bright.
I met Kula's Coby and Ananda on a surf trip to Troncones. They held my first cacao ceremony, but not my last. I returned to my job in San Francisco, but later after quitting, I'd meet back up with them in Peru for more ceremony. I help the Kula market their life-changing trainings and retreats - it's a perfect way to promote openness in the world and follow my internal compass towards the nomadic life.