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Chapter OneThe Craving Behind Addiction
As far back into my childhood as I can remember, I was searching for something I could not name. Whatever I was looking for would help me to feel all right, at home, as though I belonged. If I could find it, I would no longer be lonely. I would know what it is like to be loved and accepted, and I would be able to love in return. I would be happy, fulfilled, and at peace with myself, my life, and the world. I would feel free, unfettered, expansive, and joyful.
I have tasted that possibility many times and in different ways: as I sat on a hill, infused with reverence and wonder, watching the splendor of a sunset spread across the sky; as I came upon tiny spring flowers pushing their way through the frozen earth; as my heart swelled with the power of the hymns and the voices and the beauty of the stained glass during a Christmas service in church; as, with joyous abandon, I galloped my horse bareback down the long, warm sandy beach and splashed into the ocean for a swim; and when as a new mother I looked into the perfect, miraculous face of my newborn child.
I saw glimmers of that prospect during those moments, however fleeting, in which each filament in my experience suddenly seemed to come together; it all appeared to work; everything made some sort of nonverbal sense. It might happen as I worked in my garden, when I prayed or meditated, while I was walking with a friend in nature or sitting at the feet of a wise elder.
I also remember sampling what seemed to be the promise of freedom, connectedness, and love as I received praise from a revered teacher, a colleague, orappreciative guests after hours or days of frantically working to prove myself. I thought I felt it as I nestled into the arms of lovers, swallowed a Valium, devoured yet another brownie, or drove my car too fast.
And I knew I found it in the delicious oblivion of alcohol. My boundaries melted, the pain disappeared, and I was, I thought, free. I felt comfortable within my own skin and felt connected with a carefree vitality that told me I could do anything. I was at ease with people in a way that was impossible in my daily life. I felt included, accepted, and cherished until alcohol turned against me.
The Addict as Spiritual Seeker
Since I began my recovery from alcoholism, I have listened to many recovering people discuss their search for some undetermined experience of unity and freedom and remember the territories to which their quest has taken them. They have described the dear, uplifting, and loving moments in their lives as well as the destructive or self-destructive periods in which they convinced themselves they were on the right track. In other peoples' stories and observations, I have recognized numerous familiar elements and themes that appear repeatedly in my own history.
Many alcoholics and addicts portray themselves as dreamers or as creative in some way, sensitive to the intensity as well as the beauty of life. We are idealists; legions of us talk about wanting to assist others or about helping to solve the world's problems. Some have been graced with spiritual experiences, often starting in childhood. We may find it difficult to deal with the complex and demanding world around us, as well as with the intricate emotional, psychological, and spiritual mosaic within. We have responded by developing elaborate and ingenious mechanisms that allow us to survive or to escape the challenges of our existence. Most of us feel different from other people, isolated and lonely, as though we are on the outside looking in at the rest of the world. We often experience ourselves as inadequate, shameful, and less important, intelligent, or effective than other people.
And we frequently feel a pervasive restlessness, a desire for something more. This yearning takes us into destructive or self destructive relationships, activities, or substance use that may seem temporarily to provide the missing piece. Rationalizing or denying the implications of our conduct, we go back for more and more. At first, our sexual encounters, eating binges, use of alcohol or other drugs, gambling, or other potentially addictive behaviors seem to satisfy us. I have heard many people say, "When I took my first drink or my first drug, I felt that all my problems were solved. I was home."
A woman who grew up in an alcoholic home recounts that as a child, she vowed never to touch alcohol, having experienced firsthand its devastating potential. Finally, as a young bride, she gave in "because my husband drank, and I didn't want him to be lonely." With her first glass of wine, she said, "A whole new world opened up to me. I realized what I had been missing all my life. At that moment, I felt complete."
Eventually, we find ourselves caught in a ruinous addictive cycle that threatens our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. We can no longer control our relationship with whatever substance, activity, or relationship we have chosen as the answer to our problems. We think about it incessantly, plan for it, and habitually participate in it. We become increasingly helpless when faced with the object of our obsession, until something forces us to change.
When we hit bottom, when we are confronted with the realization that we can no longer continue our addictive activities, many of us begin for the first time to find what we have been searching for. By surrendering, by releasing our old, ineffective ways of being, we slowly discover acceptance, love, inner harmony, serenity and a sense of fulfillment.