Beginning Buddhism in the Throes of Addiction

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In the past, I had meditated for relaxation and stress reduction when I was suffering from health issues, but I had not really pursued a spiritual practice and had no idea what spirit really meant. I had studied Buddhism a little. It appeared to offer tools for calming the mind down, like meditation. I did remember, similar to Christianity, it talked about suffering, but it seemed like the philosophy had applicable practices for the here and now to get rid of suffering. Less like a religion and more a technique of working with the mind. Maybe the Buddha could help me?

Any type of formal study of Buddhism will usually begin with the four noble truths which is the main part of the Buddha’s first sermon after he achieved enlightenment, and also the foundation of the practice.

The  first noble truth is often translated as “Life is suffering.” I read this and wanted to throw my book across the room. Ok! Yes I get it. I am suffering right now. Please tell me something I don’t know, but I was desperate enough that I stopped myself from continuing this automatic reaction. I thought about the fact that this is a really old philosophy and a lot of people I respect have said that Buddhism has changed their lives.

The Pali word dukkha which is translated as suffering in English, also refers to anything that is temporary or conditional.  Even something precious and enjoyable is dukkha, because it will end. This is the nature of life and also the nature of death. Now I was even more depressed. There was no hope nor a way out of this labyrinth of suffering?

The Buddha taught that this suffering in life has to do with our perception of who we think we are rather than who we really are. Before we can understand life and death we must understand the self. I realized right away because of my own study of  psychology in college that the psychology of Buddhism has a different view from the west. In the west we conceive of a self as essential, important, real, and fixed. Yet Buddhism is proposing a self that is a fiction, a delusion.  What the hell does this mean I wonder?

 

Survival at its fittest

4 years ago I was a childless 39 year old woman who lived alone! My parents got me a goldfish because I was going through a divorce and they were worried about me being alone. I kept it alive for almost 4 years. I remember hauling the tank over to friends’ homes whenever I went out of town for a few days. The dirty fish water sloshed onto the floor of my car. Probably cut several years off of the poor creature’s life. I should have just had someone come to my place to feed it once a day, but I didn’t want the fish to mostly be alone for all of the days I was gone. I didn’t get another fish for the tank because I was never convinced that my goldfish wanted to share the tank. He or she seemed perfectly content on its own.

When bad things have happened to me I usually wallow for a bit in my misery and then try to come up with solutions. I believe I have had the typical dose of bad crap in life from my parents divorce to my own divorce. I battled with painful health issues for over 2 years in my late 30’s. But overall I kept on. I did not lose my world or myself. I kept my job, my friends, my life mostly intact throughout my mishaps. I hurt. I was miserable at times, but I knew I was going to come out of it and be ok. I had a history of alcohol abuse especially during my divorce, so when I started having health problems I sobered up and changed my diet. I still smoked occasionally, but nothing like I used to. Gradually, I got healthier and this gave me a great deal of confidence. I had learned a tremendous amount about physical balance in the body. I loved the feeling of calm I got from taking such good care of myself. I biked everywhere and that became my regular exercise. I meditated daily for about 10 minutes. I took a writing class. Made some new friends. I had financial stability. I had  been single for over two years and was enjoying it. I had some trips planned with friends. I was in the perfect place in my life to welcome a new relationship with a man who would forever change my life. What I didn’t know at the time was that maybe like my goldfish I was perfectly content being on my own.

I hope you can follow me on this very crooked path of hard won transformation as I separate myself from an extremely abusive relationship with a narcissist. It wasn’t until I was untethered from this relationship that I realized I did not know the person I married. And even worse I did not know myself. He sucked the life out of me until I felt forced to choose between living and dying. Anytime I got a bit of strength back in me he came back for more and the destruction happened all over again. He was like a vampire and I was his highly tolerant, empathic victim desperate for love and approval, willing to feed him my life blood; he held all of me in the palm of his hand. At the time I had no idea what was happening and I certainly would not have claimed I was being abused. I had no idea what trauma and abuse can do to a person, but I would find out.

I would like to use blog posts to describe my journey not unlike Echo’s story of suffering and disappearance, but that it is possible to have a better life after loving a narcissist. Yes I went through an incredibly destructive relationship, had tremendous difficulty leaving, and establishing no contact. I traversed a variety of avenues of healing and recovery and have struggled with discipline and effort. I will explain what worked for me, what didn’t and why. Also, I would love to hear from anyone in the world. Any and all comments are welcome.

 

Alone

2011-10-20 14.30.17-3‘I truly am all alone. There is no one here that can help me. I need someone who knows what this is like. To show me where to start, so I can just be OK again. Tell me what to do. Hold my hand. Yank me up hard out of this misery and torture.  I cannot think for myself.’

This is something I wrote in my journal right after N moved out. I was in a whirlwind of emotion, confusion, and at a loss for what to do with myself. I wanted to hear a story from someone who made it out of this painful labyrinth. A person who had a better life now. Then I wanted to be told there was hope and a future with a real soul mate. But most importantly, I wanted to know how they did it. Where did they go?  What did they do? How did they keep going? Because amidst my pain, it seemed impossible to me that anyone could survive.

I knew about 6 months into the relationship there was something off about N, but his behaviors didn’t seem to match up with what I knew about typical abuse. I observed he could be full of rage and scary, but it had not been aimed at me. I ignored this because I loved him desperately. After we broke up, because the rage had been aimed at me, I still loved him, wanted him back and hoped every day he would come for me.

No one in my life could grasp this insanity. I had nowhere to turn to get support for these very dissonant thoughts and feelings. Whether we were together or not I could not take the pain of being abandoned by him or even the thought of it. I felt like I was running on empty lost in a desert. No protection from the elements of life.

The worst part was I had intense anxiety about being alone. In fact I couldn’t live alone after the initial break up because to me I equated being alone with death. It stirred up that much anxiety. In flight from this fear; I moved in with my dad and stepmom.  I lost my job two weeks after that. I was fired for lack of caring. I had been at the same job almost 11 years. After that I drank every night at a nearby pub with my friends popping a xanax here and there. Then fled Seattle to visit my friend in Calgary for a week.

She peeled me off her doorstep and held me while I cried off and on between panic attacks. I was a mad mess, but she is a therapist and knows about trauma. Her presence was amazing. I did not talk to N the week I was there. I had only seen him a few times after he had moved out. I was proud of myself because I had gone to court to get the papers to file for a separation. He owed me a significant amount of money, so I wanted something in writing. He seemed incredibly surprised when I presented the papers to him. I was on the right track keeping my distance from him and contact to a minimum. This did not last.

When I returned from Calgary I felt like a salmon swimming upstream, his bait came in swift. I was pulled out of the water with an elaborate hook, all of my previous effort wasted, only to fall right back into his stream of lies and manipulation. I became a liar. I lied to everyone about when, how much we talked, and what our conversations entailed. I became angry and volatile, I was unable to focus, read, watch tv or movies, my mind was clogged with thoughts of him. I vacillated between love and need versus extreme fear of being hurt by him again.

He had told me I was not ok. I was not good enough. He did not want me. He never loved me. These thoughts had come to roost in the center of my mind. They had taken over and had a life of their own. I became paranoid about him and other women. This became an obsession. The thought did not cause jealousy, but absolute terror. I was unable to set boundaries with people and if I did, I would allow them or myself to violate them. I could no longer rely or trust myself to do any decent self care. I only wanted to drink to the point of disintegrating into a puddle and then flow right down into the sewer where I belonged. I didn’t really want to die even though I had suicidal thoughts.

I liken my experience at this time to having been kicked out of the human tribe, left to survive on my own. The fear felt so real and severe that I wondered if the break up had triggered some horrifying unconscious trauma like my own mother had left me perhaps hanging by my hair from a lone Joshua tree in an empty desert. So my body is turned on high alert wondering if I am going to make it or not.  I wanted to be rescued. I wanted the fear and pain to stop. But there was also something else, I wanted something to rely on that did not change day to day, something bigger and more powerful than I could ever be. Something beyond an all loving mom or a safe womb. But first how to stop the acute pain. I had no idea.

I knew that I needed to find out what was eating me from the inside out. Why this overwhelming fear of being abandoned and alone? I decided to go online and see if I could find anything that might explain it and what to do about it. While I was searching I ran across a moving quote by Pema Chodron (a Buddhist nun who herself had gone through two divorces).

“We are fundamentally alone, and there is nothing anywhere to hold on to.  At least Moreover, this is not a problem. In fact, it allows us to finally discover a completely unfabricated state of being. Our habitual assumptions—all our ideas about how things are—keep us from seeing anything in a fresh, open way. We say, “Oh yes, I know.” But we don’t know. We don’t ultimately know anything. There’s no certainty about anything. This basic truth hurts, and we want to run away from it. But coming back and relaxing with something as familiar as loneliness is good discipline for realizing the profundity of the unresolved moments of our lives. We are cheating ourselves when we run away from the ambiguity of loneliness

When I read this, it stopped me for a moment in my tracks. I was so afraid of my feelings; all of them especially loneliness, but why? I had no idea what I was running from and furthermore didn’t know what I was running to. I was exhausting myself doing the same thing over and over again to stop the same thoughts and feelings yet I didn’t know really what was going on. A mob of thoughts had established a meeting place in my mind that I was not invited to and wanted to avoid as much as possible. They had staged a revolt. I was getting overthrown and was terrified. I tried to hide in my bottle of wine  I didn’t exactly know what I was up against  because I had always used the outside world to help me escape from my rabblerausing thoughts. I was afraid my pattern of running was not working this time.  My problem of using alcohol and pills to survive was not enough to keep the fear away. Unless I stopped I could not focus long enough to read and absorb anything let alone try something different. I needed to sober up before I drowned my mind permanently.

 

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