This article is the second 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.
Plenty of people will advise you to admit you have a problem so that you can seek help. But admitting you have a problem is part of the old system that focuses on the negative. This creates chi stagnation which, in turn, increases your physical and emotional pain. A positive attitude, however, allows chi to flow. Start thinking about having a solution and all sorts of possibilities appear.
Thinking you have the solution to anything might sound farfetched, particularly in your early post-drug days when you’re a gibbering wreck, but if you took drugs to feel confident, socially at ease, happy, creative, empathetic, nurtured, accepting, blissed out and cosmically connected, you have experienced the attributes of your cosmic self. You have a template for what you can achieve again after drugs.
Using a drug past in this way is not such a crazy, or even new, idea. Back in ancient China, some of the mystics deliberately used mind-altering substances to get what they called a ‘peak ecstatic experience’, to sample their cosmic self. They then sought to recapture what they’d felt without the substances. We have an opportunity to do the same after we quit. Even though the initial intent of contemporary recreational drug use is different, or is assumed to be, all roads can lead to Dao –the fundamental, eternal guiding principle of the cosmos.
As an aside here, although I’m suggesting working with the positives of a drug past by identifying what you got right on drugs, it doesn’t mean I’m pro-drug, or anti- drug for that matter. You don’t need drugs to experience the altered, enhanced or insightful states that drugs can generate. But if you’ve already done drugs, I believe you can make that experience into something more valuable than just having had some fun.
Don’t admit you have a problem; admit you have a solution
Rewrite the past
You can revise your past from a solution-based perspective whether you have just stopped drugs or whether it is ten years since you quit. Seeing yourself purely as having had a problem –or thinking your past was one big mistake –wastes all of those experiences, not to mention the considerable sums of money you invested in mind-altering substances. Value add instead. Rethink your past drug experiences from a new angle and you can convert even the most sordid chapter of a drug past into a potential source of insight.
In the late 1970s, for example, the shine had worn off the drugs for me. I was squatting in derelict buildings in Amsterdam and my only interest was in being high. Each day revolved around scoring and using drugs. For a long time I thought this was just another wasted period (in both senses of the word), but in retrospect, somewhere in there was the seed of something right. Not the part about living desperately in a dingy squat –that’s not good for anyone’s spirit –but rather that I was prioritising my internal state over all external concerns. All drug users have done this, and if you do it again after you quit, you will have a massive head start on finding your cosmic self and happiness.
Your drug past will hold plenty of material that can assist in creating an extraordinary future. In fact, I now view every part of my progression from nice German boy through pill popper, paranoid dope-smoker, tripper, speed addict, delusional nutter and alcoholic to a depressed chain- smoking suicidal outcast, as having value. Instead of seeing all of that as a waste of time, I understand that I had the right intent –to keep feeling extraordinary –but that it backfired because drugs and other substances are not a sustainable method for achieving this. I went on to find the sustainable method –chi –and my life changed beyond recognition.
Make the switch from drugs to chi and you can forget about problems and instead ‘admit you have a solution’.
Get a new perspective on your past
You’ve got the power
Quit drugs with the radical view that life after drugs doesn’t have to be dull, that your symptoms aren’t permanent and that everything can change. The more drugs you took, the more challenging it will be to maintain this positive mindset. Especially if you’ve crossed the line from doing drugs to feel good, to doing drugs so that you don’t feel bad, as most dedicated users have. Once the side-effects –stagnation, frustration, irritation, paranoia, fear, panic and madness, to name a few – take over, recreation leaves the building. Addiction and its band of followers–pain, guilt, shame and wrongdoing – enter.
You feel like crap; so it is all too easy to start thinking that everything you did was wrong. But believing this, or that you’re bad or that you’ll never feel good again, is not useful. You took drugs because you wanted to feel good, and that intent was correct. Wanting to feel good doesn’t end when you quit drugs. Given that, spending your time apologising, admitting powerlessness or cleaning toilets in rehab, is counterproductive. It puts you in a position of weakness and you will be more likely to believe the subtexts of ‘you did something wrong –naughty you’ or ‘something went wrong –poor you’ which underpin mainstream recovery.
Guilt will sabotage your quest to find your cosmic self, as will thinking that addiction is not your fault. Some studies do suggest there is a genetic predisposition towards addiction, but even if this is true, the addiction has to be activated. You did that. No one dragged you out night after night and forced you to have a good time (unfortunately). There is always a moment of choice. You chose it, you said ‘yes’, and you repeated it. You held the power when you did that, so you own everything that happened after that as well.
Don’t throw that power away when you quit or you’ll fall into the slave class of voiceless, ashamed and powerless ex-drug users. The recreational drugs industry is one of the biggest businesses in the world. I think it’s time for the slaves to rise. Join the rebellion, not by trying to change the opinions of others (that’s not your job), but by daring to identify some value in what you have done, and then using that knowledge to change your future. We have to fight for success in life in any field; so think ‘no surrender’ instead of ‘I’m powerless’.
Wanting to feel good all the time is correct
Shame and apologies
That’s the theory. The application is another matter. Disappointing, betraying, scaring, upsetting, ripping-off or embarrassing those close to you comes with the territory of serious drug use. People have been frustrated, angered, hurt and disappointed by your actions, and reactive cycles have been initiated. These usually keep spinning long after you quit. Some people believe you are a loser who will never change, and regularly share this belief with you. Some may want their TVs back; others want emotional resolution. This fuels shame and reinforces your conditioning to think that drugs are bad and you’re bad.
It reinforces the old solution too, which is to admit guilt and make amends. We’ve all seen those confessional TV shows in which the offending party (drug addict or alcoholic) apologises to the person they have offended (usually the parents or family), then they fall into each other’s arms sobbing and, we assume, go home and live happily ever after. But emotional resolution is not usually that simple. We don’t see those same people later when the old reactive patterns creep back. Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not against apologising. If your desire to do so is genuine, it can be liberating and meaningful for both parties. This isn’t the case for the majority of people I treat though, and it wasn’t the case for me.
Although I was uncomfortable with the negative effects my drug-fuelled activities had had on some people, there was something about being high that felt so right I could never bring myself to ‘admit’ that I was wrong. But, because I was physically and emotionally weakened and confused for years after I quit, I also couldn’t fight the general consensus that I was a hopeless addict, alcoholic and loser, and that nothing I said, did or thought could possibly have any value. Underneath, though, rebellion brewed. So I reacted. My attitude was that I didn’t see why I should be the only one apologising when, as far as I was concerned, everyone else had screwed-up their lives too –just not on drugs. Basically, there was no way I was saying sorry to anyone.
Recreational drugs are becoming increasingly potent, and the associated behaviours are becoming more extreme as well. I regularly treat clients who have sold the family home or car for drugs, run amok through the streets, been violent or destructive towards people and property, and then been forcibly restrained and arrested or taken to psychiatric hospitals. Dozens of people may have been involved in these incidents from police to health workers to bystanders. Something more than an apology is needed to counter the scale of the negative aftermath.
Don’t get trapped in thinking that drugs are bad and you’re bad
The types of activities that create shame and necessitate apologies are carried out in altered states. You are disassociated from accepted social values. So the solution also lies in altered states and disassociation. Shame doesn’t hit you when you are performing sexual acts on your dealer for drugs, stealing from family or friends, selling your body, smashing up bars or committing crimes, because you have either consciously gone through a barrier (and once through, that’s it, you can keep going), or you are so out of it you are not aware of your actions.
The shame accumulates though and, after you quit or sober up, memories of your drunken, drugged, shit-talking activities will eventually surface and sabotage your attempts to feel okay about yourself. It might be the next day, it might be years later. Even if you do manage to forget what you’ve done, those around you probably won’t. Apologising doesn’t make their memories go away. Time might pass, but the drug elephant remains in the room.
Trying to ‘pay your debt to society’ by doing good works is not the solution either. I’ve come across plenty of ex-addicts who became social workers or participated in charitable activities to make amends. This was my motive too for getting into youth welfare work after I quit. I’d been a burden on society and I was going to get a haircut and a job, and do some good for a change by helping young people with their drug and alcohol problems. My new vocation was supposed not only to make up for the trail of destruction I’d left behind me, but also to give my life meaning. It didn’t, of course.
All I had to offer back then was the same old ‘repent and reform’ approach to recovery, which hadn’t worked for me, and it didn’t work for those I was supposed to be helping. As this became more and more obvious, my post- drug depression and disillusionment grew. My weekends slid into drug or alcohol binges, and eventually I left the profession defeated.
This is a common outcome for many ex-addicts who seek to make amends through charitable actions. A better approach is to be charitable to yourself first, by living in a way that builds your chi and allows access to altered states (disassociation), joy and happiness again.
Make amends creatively
The cosmic solution
In the big cosmic picture, if you generate negative outcomes, whether physical or emotional, a balancing action is called for. Make finding your cosmic self your recovery goal and you will not only neutralise your internal resistance to yourself –which is what shame is –you will have a positive impact on everyone around you. This creates balance.
Lao-tzu, the sixth century BC philosopher reputed to be the founder of Daoism, and the author of one of my favourite books, the Dao De Ching –one of the most translated texts ever –said that ‘sympathy for others is good, sympathy for self is better’. He got that right. Pursue the cosmic self and you will glow with health and vitality, be fully accepting of everything in your past and be positive in every relationship and interaction. You will also have something other people want. Your presence alone will inspire others to change.
If we ex-users all changed ourselves in this way, it could start a chain reaction of not only personal but also global improvement. The party people would come to the rescue of the planet. What a great way to use a drug past. Everybody wins. This is how you make cosmic amends. As the cosmic version of yourself transforms all your past actions by using them to benefit yourself and others, the triggers for guilt and shame are also defused.
Your recovery goal is to find your cosmic self
If you want to fast forward your life, the book is available for download from Amazon for $2.94.
Jost Sauer’s Kindle book: ‘LOVE-LIFE: Too little sex, too much sex, love and heartbreak’ can be found here: http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B018IS1JCS/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb
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