Health: Dealing with addiction
Free Press Health Columnist
I screw up sometimes. Duh, I’m what you’d call human and I’m reviewing some mistakes right now.
Last year I wrote an article called the “Pleasure of Addiction,” conveying my experiences, perspective and the help I’ve received along with way in dealing with my own addictive history, most obviously alcoholism.
At the time I wrote it, I was sober and writing a short-term success story. Only I didn’t stay away from alcohol. I let it creep back into my life while my friend was dying and my short marriage was ending.
On reflection, my behavior is both alarming and fascinating to me — the sneaky tenacity of the unconscious that can so easily catch us unaware, or worse, invite conscious harm. Perhaps we all experience invitations to seek pleasure or avoidance at the detriment of self, but these are particularly obvious in the genetic tendency known as addiction.
When I initially gave up alcohol for 18 months, it was on the heels of a slowly escalating train of ingestion. I nearly drowned while kayaking the Colorado hung over. Pretty stupid.
Now it will be a year next month I’ll have been clear of alcohol again, and this time it has been much more difficult. Why? Because this time I gave it up at a time when I didn’t want to and when the stress was still particularly high.
I did it because I needed a “win.” I believe the key lies simply in willingness. I see it clearly in people who give up smoking, in the three-legged dog or in the wife who leaves the raging alcoholic. In giving greater effort and energy to making the conscious choice, we triumph over the fraudulent presentation of our unconscious that we are not strong enough to do so.
Recently I discovered several revealing moments in a video, “Nourishing the Ego: The Precept of Not Taking Intoxicants,” by Roshi Joan Halifax (a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist and author based in Santa Fe, N.M.).
This is my favorite quote from the movie: “We’ve all fallen from grace. It’s inevitable you fall from grace every few minutes, if not more often.”
Reading those words are like the relief experienced from a cup of chamomile tea at the end of a long day, my nervous system unwinding along each steaming curl. There is an allowance that says, “Yes, that is a part of being human.”
I feel the resonance when I seek grace in everyday life. That ease comes more readily to certain pursuits, depending on who we are. For me, one of those is movement on skis over fresh snow. It also means that some pursuits are going to be harder, like dealing successfully with addictive invitations.
Most stressful days I feel an invitation to drink alcohol. I also have the support system in place that helps me deal with those invitations; regular sessions with my therapist and, for a long time, AA meetings. Without a doubt, sound nutrition also makes a big difference, especially ample protein and less sugar, the latter of which essentially is metabolized in the body in the same way as alcohol.
Remember that it is important to get at the root cause of one’s own addictions and the addiction dynamic (this is where a competent therapist can really help), so that you are not ignoring the co-dependency inherent in the addictive relationship, or simply replacing one addiction with another.
Have you ever noticed how much coffee is served at an AA meeting?
Yes, we will all make mistakes. I’ve been sober 11 months now with the intention to never drink again. I’m grateful to Roshi Halifax for a final appropriate Zen adage, “Fall off the wagon 53 times, pick yourself up 54 times.”
GJ Free Press health columnist Dr. Lepisto graduated as a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace tailored medical advice. For more information, visit http://www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.
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