Thursday, May 27, 2010

Addiction... Path to enlightenment! No, Really

I have been using tobacco (Copenhagen specifically) since I began serving in the Army about 15 years ago. The Oh-My-Buddha! early mornings, unit PT on top of the 2 hours of "extra PT" I put myself through, combined with my wife's pregnancy, new children, etc etc, I grasped for my crutch, anything to keep me alert for another hour or two.

When I left the Army and got a "real-job," I continued with this learned habit.  I used rationalizations similar to the ones described above, and further more ramped up my intake of alcoholic beverages.   I was like a hungry ghost, looking for the wrong fuel to keep a nuclear chain reaction of work-sleep-work going for as long as possible.  I made myself impervious to my "soft" civilian co-workers' disgusted looks as I spit brown crap out of my mouth.  Alcohol, combined with "Crackenhagen" is a potent combination resulting in a dangerous cycle of consumption.  The more I dipped, the more I could drink, and the more I drank, the more I wanted to dip.  Since I loved both, and honestly believed that no-one suffered as a result of my behavior, yay for me!  Party-on.

Alcohol was the first to go.  I took the Bodhisattva vows and have been working on how to apply them in life and through my job.  I always believed in physical fitness as a gateway to better living, but after taking the vows and studying them, I realized that in order to save beings, I had to be strong, both physically and mentally.  One look in the mirror was all it took for reality to hit.  I had allowed alcohol into my body and it wreaked havoc.  How could I presume to be a protector of all beings and still be forty pounds overweight?  Since I really had no physical dependency on beer, leaving it behind was more like burying a beloved pet.  It would be tough for a little while, but I could get past it.  The precept to abstain from intoxicating substances used to make me laugh a little.  Now, after of month without even a sip of wine,  every aspect of my life has improved.  I've lost fifteen pounds and am getting back into great shape.  I no longer lose days to headaches and hangovers.  I sleep a hell of a lot better.  Meditation practice has gotten much much deeper, and I'm better able to face all the challenges of the day with equanimity. I'm not laughing at the precept now :)

The tobacco however,  wow.  How many tries, how many times?  I've tried a number of times to quit.  I've done cold turkey, gum, even drugs.  In the end I always fell off the wagon.  Yesterday, as I saw, really saw with Buddha mind, my youngest son.  In a flash of light all at once I realized that in poisoning myself with tobacco, I was also poisoning my children.  Every time my kids saw me pack a can, or spit into a cup, they got the message that "this is what grown men do"  Over and over and over again.

To be continued...

So, it's been about a  week without tobacco.  Here are my observations:  Mindfulness training has helped a great deal.  Cravings inevitably appeared.  By observing them arise, acknowledging their existence and letting them go their own way, I have been needing to concentrate very deeply, often while doing things like driving, reading, teaching working out.  Cravings have become a mindfulness bell... Thank you craving :)

One Month Later...

It's no big deal, but I fell of the wagon this week.  In my weakest moments,  "the wagon"  reminds of the corpse wagon in Montey Python's Holy Grail, and I feel like the guy saying : I'm not Dead Yet."  In my attempts over the years to master myself, I have learned a few things.

1.  Being angry with one's own failure's is counterproductive. It only reinforces attachment to craving and quitting.

2.  Cravings get worse as time goes on, not easier, but one's ability to cope with them gets better.  This leads to a tenuous balance, like walking a razor's edge between craving and release. Only constant meditation keeps one from falling over.  The more consistent the meditation, the easier it is to resist nicotine cravings.  This time, I found less time to meditate and as a result, became unbalanced.

3.  Once one succumbs, the way out again is to go through the quitting ritual again, without judgment.

4. Repeat as necessary.


  1. Hi Scott,
    I'm working on that one too. Over and over again.
    For going on seven years now...

    Shaving the head again and again,
    Those bonds of attachment,
    sure are hard to cut!

    Your's in practice,

  2. Thank you Jordan. I'm not sure how this particular effort will turn out, but mindfulness has helped more than the gum and the drugs. Awake in craving, I want to sleep... in waves.

    With Metta


  3. Hi Scott,

    Nice post. I've struggled with addiction too, and even though I'd already given drugs away it wasn't until I had about three years of zazen under my belt that I was able to finally get on top of tobacco and alcohol and kick them to the kerb. Like you say, it's all about observing the cravings as they arise, acknowledging them, and then just letting them go. Easier said than done though, as I'm sure you know.

    How's it going now you're a month or so in? As for me: After plenty of failed attempts I've been smoke-free for two years now and pretty much alcohol-free for the same period. I say 'pretty much' with the alcohol because I went 18 months without a drink at all, and have recently started enjoying the occasional small glass of red wine with dinner – never enough to cloud my head. I've gone completely off beer though... I've had my fair share of that stuff, and more.

    Kind regards (and Good Luck!)

    PS Have you considered putting your email address on your blog?

  4. Oh, that would probably be a good idea, thanks! Congratulations on two years of freedom, I admire your accomplishment. I have fallen back off the tobacco wagon once since this post, and it occurred simultaneously with a break in practice.
    Oh well, nothing special, just getting back to right effort.

    A bow to you

  5. All support to you. I have recently given up smoking tobacco 2 mths+, and had hoped that daily meditation I started 4 mths ago would help. I can't say it does directly. In fact recently I have felt so sad and depressed, I stopped meditating thinking perhaps that was the source. But research shows it more likely having given up nicotine as the years of use (or abuse) have changed the body chemistry which is now readjusting. The sadness and depression has always been there but masked by self medicating with alcohol, tobacco, overwork etc. So in meditation if sadness comes up I allow myself to feel it for as long as it takes.
    I think it is part of relearning how to grieve especially being from a dysfunctional upbringing. Maybe it's just grieving the loss of a habit, that has given me my sense of identity. Anyway I'm taking one habit at a time, one day at a time. Good luck to you.


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