Friday, February 19, 2016

Addiction – Fine lines

Changes in life, my increasing attention to my meditation practice (supported by the wonderful talks provided at our Monday night meditation by Sharon Cohen) and the ever-growing body of understanding of how our brains and bodies work have all contributed to  my increasing awareness of fine lines in our existences.  I feel them as fine lines because, as ”spiritual beings living a physical existence”,  we live in physical bodies working with physical brains that are both miraculous and limited.  The combination of miracle and limitation seems to precipitate some adventures in this life that require awareness for us to foster health and make the most of being here.  Without awareness, we can wander from the healthy side of some hard to identify line to a less healthy side and not really know why.  More importantly, we don’t know how to get back to the healthy side when we inadvertently wander too far over the fine line we didn’t see.

I mean, think even of scar tissue.  It is the body’s way of stabilizing the area around an injury with the goal of preventing pain and promoting healing.  However, scar tissue has its limits in terms of the benefit it can provide and the body doesn’t seem to have too many ways to undo scar tissue when it is no longer beneficial.  

To me, addiction is similar.  As Gabor Mate indicates, addiction is "human development gone askew".  As he also shows us, addiction is, in fact, a continuum.  When the dopamine and opiate pathways that create many of our most critical human tendencies, e.g., caring for our children and attaching to our parents among many others, are pushed beyond some difficult to anticipate limits, it is very difficult to rewire the patterns they create that are no longer beneficial.  How do we stay on the healthy side of things or recognize if we are no longer there? 

Addiction arises not only with respect to substances we ingest.  Unconscious viewpoints that were created during our childhoods, before we had adequate power or resource to deal with stress in our environments, create habitual patterns for many of us.  These habitual patterns of thinking and responding keep us from taking full responsibility in our lives!  How many of us have "habits" of low self esteem or anger that rises up and takes us over when we just think of a certain person or situation?  How many of us suffer from views of and vows about money or ourselves or other people that keep us from living as freely and joyfully as we could?   Feelings created by experiences in the past and synthesized by a complex interplay of chemicals in our bodies that keep us from being fully aware and responsible for our own happiness are all addictions. Some allow us to continue to function, some don't!

I will not try to summarize huge body of information on addiction but would like to provide some links to sources of information from a few of the amazing humans who have studied and are studying our addictive tendencies.   

The Buddha gave us all a good start by pointing out how our aversion to discomfort and addiction to comfort create suffering of all sorts.  If you Google Buddhism and addiction, you will find a number of helpful blog posts on this topic, including Marc Lewis and his blog.

The Buddha’s wisdom came from simple observation of the human condition without the benefit of supporting evidence from brain neuroscience.  Scientific and psychological research about the brain, ever increasing in speed since over the last century, has validated the existence, evolutionary benefits, and modern-day challenges of our aversive and addictive tendencies.   The Buddha’s Eightfold path and the writings of many researchers and recovered addicts both lead us to understand that the human capabilities for compassion, mindfulness, right effort, and right action, are needed when dealing with addiction.   It is good to know that all these states can be cultivated.  We can understand ourselves and others and switch back to the side of health when we have crossed a line somewhere.

This week, an internet conference called Recovery 2.0, hosted by Tommy Rosen, is offering us the opportunity to listen to approximately 5 speakers each day who are helping humans increase awareness of and recovery from addiction of all sorts.  The talks are free for 24 hours and you can have recordings of them all for $97. It is already day 3 of the conference – I just listened to a great interview with Jack Canfield about his new book The Thirty Day Sobriety Solution - so though we’ve missed some of the free talks I’m sure many of the speaker’s websites are full of information.

One place to start regarding food addictions, Susan Pierce Thompson has developed a Brightline Eating program for those for whom a 12-step program doesn’t quite fit.

Dr. Gabor Mate’s book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction is an amazing, rich, and compassionate and deep look at addiction.  From his website:

From street-dwelling drug addicts to high-functioning workaholics, the continuum of addiction cuts a wide and painful swath through our culture.  Blending first-person accounts, riveting case studies, cutting-edge research and passionate argument, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction … takes a panoramic yet highly intimate look at this widespread and perplexing human ailment.   Countering prevailing notions of addiction as either a genetic disease or an individual moral failure, Dr. Gabor Maté presents an eloquent case that addiction – all addiction – is in fact a case of human development gone askew.
Alice Stone visited my website and asked me to pass on links for, which raises awareness on the dangers of addiction and helps local communities stay drug-free and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, which also promotes drug abuse prevention and treatment. They’re both organizations that work hard to improve the community around us.

Thank you, Alice, and all people who are helping us with improve our awareness and compassion around this complex issue.  There is A LOT Of information on the web.  May we all find joy in discovering the ways we are not able to support our own health and more joy in seeking the support and inner strength to change.

"May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering".