As I celebrated my birthday sober this year, I had to reflect on the ingrained nature of substance use in our culture and just how long I've been on the socially acceptable merry-go-round of alcohol use and others, not as acceptable. At this point in my life I have spent more years intoxicated than being free and clear. Over the past 3 years I have been pioneering my way through much of my own shamanic work, finally gaining freedom and purging my life from such afflictions. Having finally broken free, I felt called to share this, as I'm sure there are others who are ready to get off the carnival ride and find out what its like to be themselves, unhindered. Addiction is in fact a major part of life experience. The human vehicle gets increasingly good at counteracting and adapting to anything that challenges homeostasis and that is, for the most part, a good thing.
For many of us substance abuse has actually served as a symbol for taking control back. This does seem contrary as you initially examine the predicament. For those of us who experience compounding traumas in childhood, being able to modulate our internal state with a substance feels like a reclamation of power. In a world where we feel powerless, having control over this one part of our experience is a huge gain. It's as if you slip into a dream world out of this dark corner of your mind and escape the usual troubles, thoughts, and sensations. In fact, all pleasurable sensations take precedence and you're able to fully surrender to the language of the body. Sounds good right?
Imagine, if you will, a lifelong negative thought stream interrupted by a world of bodily pleasure and a different outlook on life. Temporarily wiping the slate clean and expanding perception on what you believed was possible can be a liberating feeling. Depending on the substance, a limited mind may even be pried open. Holding a space of reverence and awe at times, ideas of transformation become a possibility. It is clear that this experience is the reason most people turn to ongoing substance use. As this relationship progresses, however, the respect for the substance is lost. We abuse the substance, and it in turn starts to abuse us back. Great thinkers have said that everything is medicine or a poison depending on quantity. This is where the human mind falls into a trap that it believes more is better. We fail to navigate this fine line when using medicinal substances and they become poison. A great many fall victim and succumb to a destructive path crossing the line and causing great devastation. It is to those people who now wish to lift out of the fog that I address this simple method.
Redefining your relationship to substance. . .
As a person with a neuroscience /psychology background, who has also studied extensively in yogic traditions, I have personal experience using these technologies in overcoming several heavy addictions and transmuting that desire into foundational work with the physical body. You could say that I am a professional quitter when it comes to addictive substances and compulsive behaviors. It is my intent here to shed light on this aspect of experience and offer tools for those currently grappling with this demon.
The first word of advice I can offer is to chip away at one variable at a time so as not to shock the system. Next is gradually cutting down in manageable increments where the withdrawals are not noticeable, meanwhile filling the gaps in time with other rewarding and meaningful experiences (picking up old hobbies that used to trigger positive neurotransmitter release). Even turning to fancy teas or smoothies as a reward you enjoy during downtime between major tasks and accomplishments can come in handy. Breath work and receiving massage will boost rewarding neurotransmitters and has been shown to lessen mood affliction through scientific analysis (volumes of data have been published so far). The other crucial component, in my professional experience, is personal journey work that gets to the bottom of each ingrained belief system. This is especially important if the habit has been so persistent that it has colored large spans of time and you've found yourself reliant and dependent on the substance( more on this later). Here are the important steps in bite size format:
1 - Measure baseline consumption level and find quantifiable way to regulate and keep track of daily use.
2 - Choose increments small enough so not to trigger withdrawals. For example, a quarter cigarette or half of an alcoholic beverage. (One full beverage difference is often enough to trigger withdrawal migraines and other symptoms which snap you back into the pattern).
3 - Drop down an increment every few days or stretch out your plateaus (periods of steady consumption) over a course of a week, but never return to previous dosage. Here we want to fly under the radar of the ego so the gradual decline is not a perceptually huge loss -some weeks you may want to hang on to a plateau and that’s fine.
4 - Add activities to stretch out the time between use and make sure some of them are exciting and enjoyable, not all chores and work. Make a list and resolve to complete a certain number of tasks before giving yourself the reward.
5 - Cardio and remineralization. Nothing boosts endorphins like endurance activity. You will need this to become your body’s go to high and re-establish your relationship with the physical world. Make sure you add the water soluble minerals that your body needs in order to make vitamins and fold proteins. Addiction depletes these quickly and daily effort needs to be made to replenish.
6- Breath work. Breathing is the only function that is both autonomic and voluntary. By modulating breath, we learn to focus and fire up self control, in essence taking control of your physiology and homeostasis. The key is to pick a breathing pattern and hold it for an extended period of time, then inhale and hold at the end of the cycle to seal the practice. (One of the most fundamental and crucial tools for recovery, so do not skip this).
7 - Remind yourself that you are safe and all things are temporary. The substance is always there if you ever want to pick it up again, so don’t stress out about this being the last time. The fear of loss is what disables our ability to let go. Reassuring your ego that this is not a permanent separation is useful, even if it's not 100% true.
8 - Dwindle down occurrences of use in a compassionate way, carefully replacing with respectable activities that give your life meaning and a sense of accomplishment. Think back to what you used to be proud of in your historic accomplishments and introduce more of those types of goals.
9 - Eventually the day will come that you say goodbye to your last dose and it is ok to have a little ceremony around this event. Burying it in the ground or pouring out your last drink to the earth in a ceremonial fashion and stating your relationship has ended and this substance is no longer welcome in your life. Saying your goodbyes is a gratifying activity that you should enjoy and cherish for you have done a tremendously beneficial thing for yourself and others in your life.
***supplements should be taken to reintroduce vital minerals and nutrients. Chronic use depletes the liver stores of vitamins and should be counteracted to heal your system.
Shamanic journeying should be used to inquire into the aspect of the self that is wounded. This could mean rewriting old programs or retrieving soul pieces from the time behavior began. For this piece I am happy to work one on one in the journey. We will pin point the hang up and convert it to usable energy again. Please pass this on to anyone who might benefit from this work and is grappling with addiction. This is a time of restoration of true power within the individual and we need to help each other heal any way we can.