This article was written as a follow up to the interview we featured with Karlis Williams in February. It was specifically created for the Freedom Inside Newsletter to help those in prison and out who are struggling with addiction.
The most devastating and tenacious form of self-betrayal I’ve ever experienced in my life had to do with addiction to alcohol. I drank to excess nearly every day from the time I was 18 years old until I was 35, a solid 17 years. There was a time when literally years went by with some level of alcoholic hangover each and every day, accompanied by a sickening feeling of disappointment in myself. Every day I would promise myself anew that I would not drink that day, and the following morning would find me in the same predicament.
I didn’t understand why I couldn’t seem to get through even one day without alcohol. By the time the afternoon rolled around, and the first inkling of desire for a drink would awaken in my brain and body, I would be overtaken by a kind of amnesia and simply obey the impulse to reach for it. Gone would be any remembrance of the pain of my repeated broken promises and self-betrayal. Over time, this ongoing sense of failure broke my heart and chipped away at my confidence and self-esteem. The resulting depression and sense of helplessness only contributed to the escalating cycle of addiction.
I didn’t know much about alcoholism at that time, nor could I fathom what a multi-layered beast addiction really can be—biochemically, psychologically, emotionally, developmentally, and spiritually. That understanding would only come later through much research and education, fellowship in AA, earnest prayer, and the willingness to look at myself honestly.
The single most important element in finally getting clean and sober was the discovery that what I really wanted more than anything else was to know myself truly, to find the peace within, to know my own goodness. That journey began at the most fundamental level. The first most necessary step was to end any denial that my drinking was a problem. I had to stop hiding it from myself and others. I had to tell the truth.
The most powerful component of staying clean and sober was learning that I had the ability to watch my thoughts. I didn’t have to obey their every whim. I discovered in the midst of the most intense craving, if I didn’t allow another thought about it, if I didn’t let myself imagine in any way the pleasure that that substance might deliver, the craving would diminish and then disappear. I got really good at this. With even the most subliminal thought or remembrance of what it would feel like to satiate that impulse, I resolved to turn my attention elsewhere. I learned that any desire always passes, no matter the intensity. Before you know it you’re on the other side of it, standing free with the promise of new life.
Facing up to addiction is a tremendous challenge that doesn’t necessarily resolve itself easily. Time and again I was brought to my knees in a prayer for help from any force in the cosmos that had the power to help me. Slowly, over time, one day at a time, a new way of being was revealed. That fervent prayer eventually brought me to a meeting with Gangaji; and because I was truly open to what she had to say, I caught a glimpse of my true nature and it changed my life irrevocably.
My personal journey with alcoholism ultimately turned out to be one of the greatest blessings of my life. It was a real revelation to discover that there was a force more powerful than my personal will could control, despite my best intentions. Without this kind of egoic humbling, I likely would never have discovered the secret of surrender. For me, letting go is always both a prayer and a choice. No matter how intense the inner experience, I always have the choice to face it, to stop in the middle of it, and to inquire into it with courage and curiosity.
Throughout those years of drinking I thought that I was living a good life, a free life, a fun life, and in many ways I was. But I also thought that freedom meant the freedom to satiate my desires whenever I wanted. What I learned over time, and most especially with Gangaji’s support in self-inquiry, was that humility, surrender, and ruthless truth-telling are the real doorway to true and lasting freedom. I guarantee it with my life. In opening myself to a power greater than I could know or control, that power revealed itself inside me to be none other than my most natural core self. As I sit here today, I bow to the immeasurable gift that nearly 30 years of sobriety has been, not only to myself but to those who love me and care about me.
Why is it so hard to tell the truth to ourselves about addiction? Because it is a very powerful and complex system of suffering and reward that can be difficult to intervene on. When I was able to identify what I wanted most for this life, deep in my heart and soul, it gave me the strength and the courage to stop my addictive behavior and finally face the unknown. Did I want a life of bondage to a substance that would steal my health, my relationships, my capacity to love myself? Did I want a life of numbness and temporary relief, or did I want to live a true life connected to myself, available to others, at peace within? I chose the latter, and I continue to make that choice every day in all humility. When you are willing to tell the deepest truth, that truth is effortlessly and undeniably self-evident, and it is absolutely trustworthy. I am grateful beyond words to know myself as I truly am: pure consciousness, beauty itself, the infinite peace of being.
I love you all. May my story somehow inspire you to realize beyond all doubt that you are also this peace of being. This peace can never truly be taken from you, no matter your circumstances. Simply by virtue of being alive, you are never separate from who you truly are.
Shanti is a member of the staff at the Gangaji Foundation. With the support of Gangaji and director Barbara Denempont, she produces your Freedom Inside monthly newsletters and inquiry worksheets. Shanti has been involved with Gangaji’s Prison Program since its inception in 1994.
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