This interview is also included in the February 2020 Freedom Inside Newsletter on Freedom and Addiction that was sent to over 300 inmates in the US and Canada.
My history with drugs started from curiosity. I was drawn to the beautiful feeling of euphoria that drugs gave me. I tried different drugs, different highs. Eventually, I started chasing that euphoria every which way I could.
As human animals, we are creatures of habit. Every day we get up and we shower the same way, we brush our teeth the same way, we put on our shoes the same way, we say the same things over and over in the same way. I am a human animal, but I have learned the hard way, through experience, about choice. I have learned that I have choice and that choice matters.
I used to think that I had to move off every impulse, every desire. I didn’t understand I had a choice. If I wanted a cigarette, or I wanted a drink, then I had to go get me the money I needed for cigarettes and drink in any way I could. Same with the drugs—cocaine, methamphetamine, whatever I was using at the time. No matter what it took to get the money to buy the drug, whether I was taking it from a loved one or from someone I didn't know, I would do whatever I had to do to satisfy that urge.
I spent years and years satisfying those urges. Years and years going in and out of prison, dealing drugs, stealing cars, or just getting caught up in really stupid stuff. Whenever I was in prison, I would be contemplating a better way to steal or new ways to get the money I wanted for drugs.
Whether I was getting my drugs in prison or out on the streets, I would experience the same vicious cycling of my mind and emotions. There would be the impulse to get high, and then the strategizing how I was going to fulfill that. Once I was through using, once I was coming down from the high, I’d be kicking myself again wondering why I kept taking myself through the same pattern over and over: Why was I doing this to myself? Why did I keep going to prison? Why couldn’t I live my life like everyone else? Over and over the same patterns and the same mistakes, the same cycle of desire and then the same shame—and you can’t shake the shame.
I find that the more we judge ourselves, the more it releases a kind of psychological toxin that I believe is deadly to our awareness. The more shame and negative self-judgment, the more the toxin, and that toxin itself makes you want the addictive substance all over again. It becomes a vicious cycle: more self-hatred, more toxin, more craving for release.
When I first got out, I was doing pretty good. I was a vegan, I was celibate; I wouldn’t even let anyone with negative energy around me. Then, after just a few months, the stress of trying to make a new life on the outside got to me. I fell back into my old habits. I started using drugs again, and then I fell into a deep despair. I didn’t want to go back to the streets, I didn’t want to go back to prison, but I felt such a strong urge just to escape.
I looked back at my life and all the drugs, all the crime, all the immorality and negative behaviors, and I saw how I was allowing myself to fall back into it again. I felt like I was just throwing away all those long days and nights of meditation in my cell, all those hours and hours of reading Gangaji, Papaji, Ramana, and Eli. I was so deep in my mess and sorrow, beating myself up, that I felt suicidal. I felt I didn’t deserve to live. I was like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs, walking out in front of a car and wanting it to hit me. I wanted to give up, to throw my life away. I didn’t care what happened.
In that despair, through grace and prayer and through Gangaji’s voice inside my head telling me to “let go,” I saw myself again truly. I met myself anew. I saw that this was what all my yearning had been about my whole life. All of my cycling in and out of addiction had been about this yearning to meet myself, to know myself, to have contact with the All. It was a profound experience of grace telling me, “Look, I love you. You know I love you. I am you. You are who I am.”
I would encourage anyone going through the same issues and the same mess to stop right where you are and observe yourself, step outside of yourself, and see what everyone else is seeing about what you are doing to yourself. That is the first step in your journey home. Instead of trying to find an excuse to continue your old habitual ways, turn up your awareness on yourself and begin to watch yourself on a daily basis as you go through your life. Watch the thoughts going on in your head, and take a step back from believing that your thoughts are real and that they have the authority over your life.
As I walk through life today, I am very aware of my thoughts and actions. I believe every thought has a purpose, and that purpose is either toward positive growth or a regression back to old ways that weren’t working. You’re either moving forward or you’re moving backward. The choice is yours. I have found that I can choose which thoughts I allow into my life. Whenever particular thoughts and urges and impulses come to seduce me to falling back into old ways, I just don’t entertain them. If I don’t engage with those thoughts, I don’t act on those thoughts. If I let those thoughts just roll off like water on a duck’s back, then all is okay and I don’t lose myself again
No matter what we may go through, grace is always here. You can trust in this grace, this inner self. Trusting yourself is enough. It’s all about letting go, surrendering, and giving yourself to the All. Regardless of our day-to-day journey, we're just living out our destinies. No matter what happens in life, it doesn’t have to be taken personally. It's just a journey, a short visit on this Earth. The Eternal doesn’t sweat the small stuff. We can be grateful for all the experience and all the beauty of the journey. Even though I’ve been through some rough times, I laugh now and I say, “Oh my god, I'm so grateful to experience this Earth!” It’s a beautiful ride.
Karlis D. Williams was in and out of prison for 22 years, most of his adult life, and mostly for drug-related crimes. During his last two years in prison, he was enrolled in Gangaji’s Freedom Inside course in Self-Inquiry. His final parole was February 27, 2018.
Karlis is currently working his own construction start-up in the Midwest, is newly married, and is happy and grateful to be living a free life. Earlier this year he spoke to us about his struggles and realizations around addiction and the long road to recovery.
Learn more about Gangaji's Freedom Inside program for inmates.