I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve woken up after a night of epic partying to hear stories of myself doing things I couldn’t remember. Sometimes the mystery acts were recalled with laughter and sometimes with anger. There is no way to describe the empty pit feeling that arises in the stomach when hearing the narration of your own blackout.
After multiple episodes of substance-induced amnesia, I grew angry and tired of constantly destroying trust and respect in my relationships. I lost several friends and my husband gave me an ultimatum: get it together or get packing. It took me several years of therapy, yoga practice and meditation to accept my toxic association with alcohol. Accepting your own dependencies and failures is simultaneously humbling, revealing and surprising. A lot of the process just plain sucks, but is eventually beautiful.
Now I notice addiction and substance abuse showing up in my life, even when I am constantly attentive to my own weaknesses. The Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism teaches Four Forces to use for purification as preliminary steps for effective meditation. I utilize these four powers to help navigate the tumultuous ripple of pain substance abuse continues to create in my life.
1. REGRET: Stop the growth with intelligent, visceral regret.
Go into your failure and really look at it. When contemplating moments we are not proud of, we naturally want to move our attention away, BUT DON’T turn away from it. The key is to consciously think of this moment in your life and truly feel revolted by it. Keep your mind focused until you arrive to the conclusion that "this is messed up - whatever I did to get here, I don't want to do this again.”
2. REFUGE: Understand there is a way out.
Inner wisdom will tell you there is a way out of this vicious cycle because you are constantly changing. You can do something about it – this is excellent news! Think also of the people who are still caught up in the unending wheel of suffering and feel sincere compassion for them. Remember you were there yourself not too long ago.
3. RESTRAINT: The power of regret facilitates the flowering of restraint through awareness and understanding.
Remembering what came from your actions in the past and making the connection to the unwanted condition of the present, the desire to act the same way eventually dies. Stay mindful that humans are habit-driven. The most effective way to utilize restraint is to marry it with REJOICING -- each time you observe your ability to stop the behavior, acknowledge the application of your personal power by giving yourself a pat on the back. When you feel the urge arising, even if all you can do is stop for one day, one hour, one minute, take as long as you can to feel the satisfaction of success. You had an impulse to react and you stopped it from taking over – that is huge! This detail avoids dysfunctional regret, i.e. guilt, discouragement, and exercises the muscle to stop ingrained habits from hijacking your free will.
4. REMEDY: Balance the act with something good.
Make up for the poor decisions you have made in the past by making a heartfelt, sincere action that contributes to someone else’s health and happiness. Action motivated by love and compassion is truly balancing and purifying. Through selfless effort, you will record a memory that continuously reminds you of your inherent goodness, strength and willpower. The more you can bank evidence of your sweet side, the less you will revert to the monster with harmful habits who continues to perpetuate a cycle of pain.
This method works for me because I am actively engaged in the transformation of my reality. Addiction and substance abuse make me feel helpless, but my practice empowers me to harness my focus and direct it toward that which I can actually control and improve. My teacher says, “Rejoicing is the fertilizer - take notice that there is some obstacle and utilize it to facilitate progress on the path.” Realizing struggles are opportunities for growth, we can rejoice knowing that we are truly the divine masters of our own universe.