People who have never taken recreational drugs find it hard to understand the attraction of drugs, but they also find it hard to understand how a heavy drug-user feels after giving up.
For most, it is a sensation of being hopelessly stuck in a rut, of not knowing what to do with your life, of not knowing what the purpose of your painful and empty existence is. Many believe they will never feel good again and that for the rest of their life they will have to battle with their addiction. This is not necessarily the case. I was supposed to be an addict unable to ever be cured of my ‘disease’. Nevertheless, I now can’t imagine anything more unpleasant than taking drugs or drinking to excess, but this comes from within me. For me, turning down drugs is free choice rather than something I have to work at or reinforce at meetings. This is because I continued the journey that the drugs initiated, but I recaptured the highs holistically.
I believe that the idea of ‘once an addict always an addict’, is an old way of thinking. From a body/mind perspective, what you think affects what you are: believing that you are diseased for the rest of your life is not beneficial. This whole concept of addiction as incurable has arisen because most recovery programs to date have tackled the issue intellectually and accordingly have had a very high failure rate. In my personal and professional experience, you need to integrate body and mind to heal and if repair/ recovery is approached holistically, drugs simply lose their attraction. This approach entails changing diet, taking supplements, exercising regularly, doing chi building and meditating. This is a long-term plan but you also need to quickly tackle the inevitable post-drug depression. If you are an addict or regular user, the drug is like a lover and once it is gone you have the same feeling as you would have after a relationship break-up. This sounds bizarre to a non-drug user, but in TCM it is logical because the emptiness, pain and lack of self-worth that are the core of post-drug depression (or any other form of depression) are imbalances associated with the heart. In TCM, the heart belongs to the fire element. Drugs force the fire to burn brightly. This is why you can take ecstasy, cocaine or speed and feel overwhelming love, inspiration and excitement. However, according to my research, these drugs over-stimulate the heart and the fire element and regular use harms the organs and the balance of the five elements. Depression, anxiety, insomnia and emptiness are the result.
It is this sense of emptiness that drives you back to a substance to fill you somehow, whether it is nicotine, alcohol, food or drugs. This is a spiritual emptiness, though tied in with self-loathing and fear, and substances cannot fill it. It has to be tackled via the organs and elements, and in particular the heart and the fire element. The heart is the seat of love and unless you repair / rebuild this physically as well as spiritually, you won’t feel love again or be able to love again, either yourself or anyone else. As excitement is the emotion belonging to the heart, a major component of healing any form of depression is to identify the things that initiate feelings of excitement, inspiration, love and joy and actively pursue them. This helps redress the weaknesses or imbalances in the heart and its relationship with the fire element. In my experience you do this by being creative in arts, crafts or music on a daily basis.
Even though my drug taking ended a long time ago, I still have times where I feel ‘flat’ however, one of my major weapons against this feeling is to compose and play electronic music. This is something I love and it allows me to generate excitement and inspiration. I put aside time each evening to make music and I then replay the tracks the following morning while I am cooking my breakfast porridge. Listening to this generates excitement and inspiration and I can feel this moving through my body and healing my heart. In Eastern spiritual traditions where celibacy is required monks often play instruments to activate the heart. They may be in a loving relationship with their God or Buddha but that is an abstract relationship, playing an instrument is the contextual application, it strengthens the heart.
Creativity is not only important in terms of recovering from depression, but also for anyone committed to the path of health and happiness. The path ends up becoming one of discipline and repetition. I follow the same two-hour regime of exercise, chi-gung and meditation every day and I restrict my diet to nourishing foods. The music counters this discipline and offers pleasure without relying on substances. Inspiration and excitement can be generated by any form of creative activity – beading, sewing, painting, ceramics – anything where you feel excited and inspired to create something. I have many patients who say that they can’t draw or are not creative and ask if sport can be their creative outlet. I don’t categorise sport as creativity as it activates the function of other organs such as the liver and liver yang. This is not always beneficial as it can lead to an initial excess condition which will develop a deficiency over time, just like drug abuse does. The idea is to take up something that engages with inspiration and imagination – the properties of the heart.
We are all creative and we all have rhythm – it is an integral part of human nature. If you have no idea where to begin, a good process is to identify who inspires you; it may be Michael Jackson, Paul van Dyk, or perhaps Jackson Pollack? If someone inspires you, it means they have triggered something in you and once you identify the seed of this you have a starting point. Think of a person who inspires you and what they represent. Michael Jackson’s dance skills may indicate that doing dance classes will develop inspiration. An appreciation of a musician like Paul van Dyk might indicate an interest in electronic music or rhythm generation. If you don’t relate to the role model idea then consider different mediums. Try working with clay, wood, metal or paint. We live in a society where we have hundreds of new ways to become depressed including drugs, food, environment and stress, but we also have hundreds of new opportunities to be creative and balance this out. I am not talking about taking up a hobby here but about seeing a creative practice as a necessary element to repair and develop the organ system. Being creative is a key component on the path to health and happiness, but to reap the rewards you need to understand the laws underpinning it. Take lessons, find a teacher, practise daily and develop skill. Otherwise you will go in circles and it will become frustrating instead of joyful.
It all sounds good in theory but if you are feeling depressed, empty or sad it’s highly unlikely that you are going to throw yourself passionately into a new artistic pursuit. This is the last thing you feel like. The hardest thing is to start, but if you surround yourself with as much inspiration as possible, you will make it easier because environment can be stronger than willpower and, as your willpower is weakened, which is part of the root of depression, the more help from the environment the better. Plaster your walls with pictures of the lifestyle you desire. Read books about pain, destruction and redemption – in particular books where authors use practices such as chi-gung or yoga to transform painful lives into bliss and happiness. Avoid people who resist and oppose your intent to change until you are strong enough to withstand the pressure.
If you are an ex-drug user with a peer group of drug-users, then ideally say good-bye to the old ways and start a completely new life. I did this by moving to Australia where I didn’t know anyone or anything and, most importantly, where no one knew me. This meant that I could be judged by my intent and my future, not by my past. Admittedly this happened unintentionally (I was escaping national service or jail) but I realise now that it was the best thing that could have happened. If I had stayed in Germany and cleaned up my act, I would never have had the exposure to natural medicine and alternative thinking that Nimbin provided for me, so I wouldn’t have been able to continue the journey via holistic means. I would have felt empty permanently. Also, my family had decided that I was a loser, screwed-up, immature and incapable of ever getting my act together. My ideas were constantly dismissed and no matter how much I changed they stayed the same. This is powerful programming and there was a pretty good chance that sooner or later I would be back in my old drug-taking lifestyle.
Even though I haven’t taken a drug for nearly 20 years there are still close family members who are more comfortable with me as a ‘loser’. They behave the same as they did decades ago and in their company I have to make a concerted effort not to fall back into the role they assigned to me. But resistance is part of the path of self-mastery, and anyone who wants to change will meet resistance. I believe that we all incarnated on this planet to heal ourselves, and build ourselves. The more effort we make the more reward we reap, and feeding the heart by generating inspiration and joy is an important part of this.
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