While we all sit around and shake our collective heads at the sad state of Michael Jackson's lifestyle of prescription drug abuse in the months (and increasingly as it sounds, years) preceding his death, it would behoove you to also look straight ahead at the man (or woman) in the mirror.
Because no matter who you are, you probably walk around hiding a dark secret: you're an addict, too. If left unchecked, your inner Addict can ruin your self-respect, your relationships, and your happiness.
And unless you want to beat it, even Deepak Chopra won't be able to help you. You have to go first.
Though your drug of choice might not be found at a pharmacy or on the street, each of us partakes of a pain-numbing, reality-fuzzing substance in our own unique ways. Perhaps your so-called protection against the intensity of life is found in food, or sex, avoiding confrontation, maintaining control, saying yes to cigarettes, abusive relationships or being abusive, or one of many defenses we employ to keep further sorrow at bay.
If your Addict is controlling your ability to find your independence and happiness, then read on: only you can stage an intervention , to begin living -- and loving your life like you may have only hoped could be possible.
We each have a dark side that tends towards dysfunction. Stress, uncertainty, family dramas, even intimacy and the potential for success can trigger it. In order to steer far clear of pain, We have created a collective epidemic of coping -- reaching outside of ourselves for something (or someone) to make us feel better the moment we feel unstable and afraid.
It's understandable -- "Life's a Bitch", the T-shirt reminds us, and on one level, the Buddha agrees with his pre-bumper sticker slogan: "Life is Suffering"
However, as the Buddha explained, life's natural disappointments don't have to keep you holding onto your pain. It can be empowering, and radically transformative... If you learn to contain, diffuse and use the lessons in discomfort and pain for your benefit, instead of numbing to it, and allowing your withdrawal to destroy you and the things you love.
There's been talk of Michael Jackson having a hole inside that he couldn't fill. Well, welcome to the human condition.
Fact is, we dig that hole deeper every time we reach outside to fill something that can only be remedied from the inside. Regardless of how much love other people try to give to you, how much adoration, no matter how much you drink or how many pounds you pack on for padding, you will never, ever get the relief you crave -- because you're too busy not giving it to yourself.
There's nothing wrong with calling a friend when you're a mess, having a well-timed stiff drink after a terrible day, or letting your defenses get the better of you once in a while. We're human and sometimes venting to others or letting off steam can be part of a healthy process.
However, problems arise whenever you begin using anyone, or anything outside of you as a lifeline, you begin to need it more than you want it, and are unable to self-generate the strength to act constructively. That once-in-a-while drink, dysfunctional relationship, defensiveness, or even pills, becomes a regular occurrence, a crutch, one that keeps your humanness bottled up deep inside, wreaking more havoc, and causing far more pain than healthfully processing your experiences.
Instead of drawing inside productively during moments of stress, to process our fears, take our own counsel and become more self-reliant, we tend to reach out for the first available way we can resist having to feel discomfort on any level.
I notice this in yoga class whenever we move into a challenging pose. People start getting wild-eyed, looking for the next available exit from the sensations they're feeling. Some give up, some simply harden, trying to force their bodies into the position out of a need to push the outcome.
True balance is in softening the need to control every damned thing and see the hand we're dealt not as a victim, or a dictator, but as a partner. Only then are you free to use your experiences, no matter how upsetting or confrontational, as an opportunity for inner strength, personal growth and ultimately, transcendence.
I'm not aiming to treat severe drug or alcohol addiction here, nor suggest that if you've been prescribed medication, you should cease "coping" with it. Many times, medicine, therapy and support groups are lifesavers. However, anyone can get more "radical" with their inner addictive nature: literally, "to pull out by the root", those habitual ways you overly lean on other people and other substances, instead of learning to have your own back.
I can't tell you how important it is to work on releasing your iron grip around that perspective, that thing or person "out there" that you think will save you from further pain. In yoga, we call addictive behavior "samskara," or "ruts", and the more you practice the destructive ones, the more entrenched they will become.
All the myriad ways we try to control the world to make its heartbreaks and disappointments more manageable can end up being pure self-sabotage. Michael didn't learn this in time. But you can.
The hidden tragedy of pain-suppressing choices is that they take away your ability to be real -- to love, to feel the good stuff, right along with the bad. My drug of choice used to be emotional withdrawal, and I'd employ it whenever someone got too close, thereby avoiding the precious and fleeting gift of intimacy as well as any possible heartache.
Along with the pain, unhealthy coping can prevent you from living life in all its raw honesty, and block you from learning the deep lessons and receiving epiphanies about your capacity for strength, your personal truth and your next best move -- all of which can spring from the depths of your despair.
The flip side to your Addict is, when you begin to let go of your addictive behaviors, you'll also start realizing your own power to survive -- and thrive -- whatever life throws at you next, or already has.
I can tell you, from someone who has experienced deep trauma -- I was raped at 18, then cycled through years of abusive relationships, looking for love in all the wrong places -- that transcendence is possible. Hell, real success and love and joy are possible. Not in spite of those hard knocks, but because of them. I'm getting married in two weeks to a wonderful man. And I deserve it.
No matter what has happened to you, or how well you've been suppressing it, you absolutely have the power to seek a healthier, more authentic way of dealing with it, starting today.
And when this happens, I promise you: the high is higher than you'll get from any coping mechanism out there.
4 Yogi-Approved Steps to Moving Past Addiction into Authenticity:
#1: Out Your Addict:
When your Addict is triggered, if you try and deny what you really want to do, which is run away screaming, drunk dial your ex, or whatever your "drug" of choice, you'll be denying your reality, and it is likely get the better of you.
Recognize your inner addict with a simple sentence, beginning "What I really want to do now is__________." Consciously call yourself out, and then you'll be more free to move on to the next steps. After all, no addict likes the light turned on.
Great Yoga Pose: Child's Pose: See video for instruction!
Not only does this posture promote security, it gives you a moment, folded into yourself, to flip the circuit breaker of your Addict's neediness, and more calmly let you hear yourself think.
#2: Contain Yourself
Just for 30 minutes, refrain from calling your friends or reaching for your unhealthy "support". Don't judge it as bad, just as not the most constructive choice. As you feel your fear rising -- which is at the root of all pain--begin to breathe. This is the beginning of reaching in, not out as a first move.
One big secret of emotional success is that most people reach outwardly too soon, because they're uncomfortable. As you breathe, try not to take a reactive action. Cry, swear, do what you must between you and yourself--but keep breathing. Your feelings will become almost too much to bear, and then, suddenly, mercifully, you will be released to a place of inner calm. You will.
You just have to wait a little longer than you think.
Great Yoga Pose: Cat/Cow: See video for instruction!
Arching on your long inhale, and rounding your back on the exhales is an amazingly powerful yet simple way to dissolve the heat of emotional shocks. You'll be more able to do your good work when you employ this pose to walk you through the fire.
Mantra: "This Too Shall Pass".
#3: Know Your Options:
Make two lists. One is what your addict wants in the moment you're triggered. "To dive under the covers and hide", or "stopping by the bar after work to calm down." Once you know what your Addict wants, make an alternate list of healthy options that are what the rest of you wants and needs in your triggering situations.
Maybe the first becomes "dive into meditation, get back to center and process the situation with myself first." The second could become "stop by the gym and pedal it out in spin class."
Once you have a menu of choices, be strong and brave enough to choose from your health menu instead of the one that will bring you more grief.
Great Yoga Pose: Seated Twist. See video for instruction!
Not only do they detox your body, twists release endorphins, and also remind you that any situation has two roads: the one that gets you closer to your ultimate goals, and the one that moves you farther away. Which one will you choose in your pivotal moments?
#4: Repetition is Magic
To transform your Addict into inner strength, Repeat your new habits anytime you can catch the Addict and re-route its behavior into a constructive one. Even though you might feel shaky when letting go of your old reactions, try this sub-rule:
Fake it Till you Make It.
Even if you don't feel like it, make your body take these empowering actions, and after you do them, you will feel empowered. Just like the act of smiling releases happy endorphins, faking it at first will begin to rewire your brain to default to healthier patterns instead of toward your Addict.
After a while, you will see that dysfunctional reactions aren't your first choice, but rather you more naturally practice reflection into positive action. Instead of an Addict, you'll become an Alchemist, turning the lead weight of intense emotions into the gold of inner strength and true freedom.
Great Yoga Pose: Bridge Pose: See video for instruction!
A body-clearing inversion and a heart-opener, Bridge helps you span the gap between what your Addict needs, and what your Alchemist wants.
Once you've moved through this process, you'll become clearer about who you really are, beyond your addictive tendencies, and can walk your own personal path of balance with sure footing.
For more free video tips on living from your Core Strength, visit me at www.SadieNardini.com