This article is the third of a series of articles excerpted with permission from The Rebel’s Guide to Recovery by Jost Sauer and published by Centre of Dao, Maleny, Australia. Jost addresses the issues involved in overcoming addiction and gives practical, life-changing advice based on his own experience and that of his many clients.
The aim of most recovery programs is to take away the substance you abuse and get you back to normal. But taking things away is never the solution. Drugs and alcohol often provide real support for people and this needs to be replaced. As for ‘going back to normal’, once you’ve had the experience of being extraordinary, ‘normal’ is setting the bar way too low.
The Daoists would consider going back to normal as returning to what they call the ‘acquired self’. This is the part of your identity that has been constructed by your upbringing, socialisation and the input of peers; it is the self formed by society. It is called ‘acquired’ because it is something you pick up over time. It is not the real you. The acquired self wants to fit in and be like everyone else. The acquired self feels wounded by the words or actions of others; it seeks revenge; it has judgmental opinions; it criticises politicians; it fights with your partner or kids; and it wants security –oh so badly.
Your cosmic self is the real you. It is accepting of everything and everyone, it has no opinion, it understands the big cosmic picture, it knows that everything you need is within you and that we are all souls on a journey of discovery. The cosmic self knows that we don’t come from society, we come from Dao. Being in touch with your cosmic self makes you happy.
We are all destined to experience this and, as drugs give you a sample of this, it’s no wonder we like drugs so much, no wonder that recreational drugs are one of the biggest businesses in the world, and no wonder that being high feels so right. It’s also no wonder that if you quit drugs and just return to normal (to your acquired self) you’ll crave drugs.
Developing an acquired self is something that happens to everyone and partly because we believe that the ‘acquired world’ or ordinary reality is all there is. But it isn’t. Understanding this is critical, because you will lose your place in the acquired world sooner or later. You might be evicted through your drug use, or by the loss of your job, your possessions, your reputation, your health, your relationships or your social status. Or when you join the ranks of the elderly abandoned in retirement homes, or other social outcasts. If you don’t know that you have a cosmic option, life can quickly become depressing.
By the time I was 21, I’d been thrown out of college for taking drugs and was living in the underground to avoid the military police who were after me for desertion (German national service) and the local police for, um, other matters. It was only a matter of time until I got hauled off to prison. The speed was no longer delivering extraordinary experiences and, as I thought going back to normal was the only option, I couldn’t see a future for myself. I had no idea that I could escape mundane reality, have a purposeful life and continue my cosmic adventures without drugs.
Never give up your desire for cosmic adventures
We are not here to be normal
None of us is here to be normal (acquired). We are here to be extraordinary (cosmic). Escaping reality is our duty. Even though every drug user has had a sample of how this feels, they usually tell me that all they want to do is ‘quit drugs and go back to normal’. No one questions this goal, but wanting to go back to normal is like voluntarily returning to captivity after being set free. Imagine the greatest escape movie you’ve ever seen where, after the wrongly accused and falsely imprisoned hero, who has battled every injustice and obstacle and finally escaped, suddenly decides to get the bus back to prison. It goes against the natural order.
Trying to return to normal after having experienced your true potential is equally unnatural and it will impact negatively on your spirit. It will lead to a separation of yin and yang. If you want to be normal you have to hide your past, because normal people just don’t do the sort of stuff you did. Not just the excessive sex and drugs and illicit activities, there’s the outright weird too. During the peak of my drug-induced delusion, for example, I took to dressing in robes (which I made myself) and, accompanied by my trusty goat, Schroeder, (yes, really) went on a very public mission to save the world.
I’d like to say Schroeder and I did some good, but I don’t think that was the case. Schroeder ended up relocated to a farm. Thinking back, if anyone needed the rural relocation it was me. Schroeder hadn’t even done any drugs, he was just slightly confused about his role. I was completely confused about mine.
My messianic visions eventually faded, I put my robes away and may have appeared more normal, but there was no way I’d be discussing my mission with Schroeder at suburban barbecues. It was abnormal behaviour by any standards, as was pretty much everything I’d done since I was a teenager. So I faked normalcy while making sure no one ever found out the truth about me.
Don’t return to captivity after being free
The extraordinary truth
On drugs you have one life with your substance buddies and another with people who don’t do drugs. You don’t want to repeat this split personality ‘trip’ after drugs by pretending to be someone you are not, or pretending your past never happened. Pretence is a characteristic of your acquired self. Pretence stops your chi flowing and encourages yin and yang to separate. Every time that you are not true to yourself you cut off from Dao and feelings of loss, purposelessness or emptiness intensify. Pretence creates pain, which makes you crave drugs.
When you are true to yourself you reconnect, chi flows, yin and yang are more balanced and you feel supported and strong. I discovered this after I became a lecturer in Chinese medicine and realised that I could use my past experiences of addiction, madness and mania to explain the intricacies of Chinese medicine to my students. As most of them had taken plenty of recreational drugs, my unconventional approach to teaching Chinese Medicine proved very popular –until I got fired for not following the curriculum.
I went on to write books and articles adapting ancient Chinese secrets to health and happiness to contemporary life. This led to public lectures and bookshop talks. As heavy drug use accelerates the path to ill health and unhappiness, I started using my crazy drug experiences to illustrate what not to do, and how not to live. It proved an entertaining way to get the message across and I’d often have audiences laughing uproariously. I can confirm that there’s nothing quite as liberating or empowering as letting everyone know the truth (as long are you are genuinely okay with the truth). It was then that the emptiness inside me finally started to fill.
By this time I was running my own health centre; so using my past in this way worked for me personally and professionally. If I’d been a bank teller, however, it would have been different. So I’m not suggesting you place ads in the local paper revealing all your deepest darkest secrets and risk freaking out your employers or your granny. It is normal to hide things about yourself that you don’t like or think others won’t like, but according to the Daoists, we are destined to rebel against social norms that encourage falsity. All ex-users have an opportunity to do this by being true to ourselves, accepting everything we have done and pursuing the cosmic self.
Use your past to change your future
As drug lifestyles usually begin when you are young, another flaw in ‘going back to normal’ is that you probably don’t know what this means. What most people consider abnormal has been your normal.
Scoffing down my parents’ Valium when I was 12 felt normal to me. And everything I did after that –including mushrooms, LSD, mescaline, peyote, heroin, amphetamines, prescription medications, cocaine, marijuana, hashish, opium and various other concoctions –also felt normal. Living in the underground was normal as was smuggling drugs into jail, and dealing drugs. A mohawk and mascara was normal; sleeping during the day and partying all night was normal; taking to the streets with a tennis racquet to hit smoke bombs back at the cops was normal, and driving around with a goat in the passenger seat was normal.
I treat a cross-section of people, but I’ve yet to see someone who was, say, living a normal life with a spouse and kids in the suburbs, who took up a reckless drug-fuelled party lifestyle during middle age. There probably are drug users like this, because there is every kind of drug user imaginable these days. Anyway, someone like that could have a goal of going back to normal because they know exactly what that means. But for the rest of us, saying you want to be normal is more likely about you no longer wanting to be where you are, physically or emotionally.
Life on drugs might be fun to start with, but at some point it tips into becoming stressful and then gets more so by the day. The side effects creep up on you, and you’re always watching out for someone to rip you off or arrest you. You’re under financial pressure, as you need much more money than people who don’t do drugs, and your physical and emotional pain constantly increases. The stress becomes so unbearable you can end up in the truly abnormal situation where you take drugs to fantasise about being normal.
This is based on a mistaken belief that non-drug-using people live peaceful, pain-free lives (news flash –they don’t). This becomes glaringly obvious when you quit, attempt to return to normal and, instead of peace and happiness, you feel emptiness and depression. In our culture this is considered a normal post-drug condition. But it doesn’t have to be. Rebel against normal expectations.
Don’t go back to normal, go forward into new territory
Don’t look back
Going back to normal is an outdated concept. It belongs to a time when rehabilitation meant making you fit back into the acquired world. But we have alternative lifestyles now and I propose adding a new one to the list: ‘extraordinary after drugs.’ There are certainly enough ex-drug users now (multi-millions and counting) to make this a big movement. Our manifesto will be to recapture the highs.
Let me just say here that there is nothing wrong with the desire to be normal, and some people may well achieve a return to normal after drugs. I’ve probably not met them because they’re functioning well. The people I treat can’t make sense of the normal world, or feel that they don’t belong there. Just thinking about another day of ordinary reality makes them want to cry.
If you want to go back to normal, give yourself a couple of months after quitting to rebalance your system and you should be there. But if incessant cravings for drugs and a longing for intensity plague you, and if the only time you feel engaged and inspired is remembering your drug highs, just keep in mind that you can take up the ‘extraordinary after drugs’ option at any time.
Rebel against all normal expectations
….To be continued next issue
Jost Sauer’s Kindle book: ‘LOVE-LIFE: Too little sex, too much sex, love and heart break’ can be found here: http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B018IS1JCS/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb
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