Addiction

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I don’t quite know why the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman has made me so sad. Maybe it’s because I really, really loved his work as an actor or maybe it’s because we were just about the same age. Maybe it’s because I am, like he was, an addict. Maybe it’s an amalgamation of those things and more. Whatever the reason, I’ve been sad since his death.

I didn’t know him, and for all I know the man could have been a complete jerk. But wow, could he act! He played some of my favorite characters. I wonder what it is, this connection between the highly creative and the addicted. We see it so often. Of course, they don’t always go together, but they happen often enough that surely there’s something there.

As for me, I’ve been lucky. My addiction to prescription pain medication was caught early on. It started early in my teen years, when I was first diagnosed with classic migraines. Back then, there weren’t a lot of preventative treatments, so the neurologists that diagnosed me just gave me a shitload of percocet. Not good for a young man who had a family history of drug and alcohol addiction a mile long. I’m very lucky to have had a mother who stepped in a few years later when things were getting really rough to help me get clean.

Here I am though, almost 44 years old, and the “rapacious creditor” of addiction still plagues me. I still have to be extremely careful with alcohol. It doesn’t take much at all for me to drink everything in site and black out. A couple of years ago, I developed pneumonia. The doctor prescribed a cough syrup with hydrocodone in it. I thought, yeah, i can take week’s worth of syrup as prescribed. It was gone in less than 48 hours. And god forbid I get a hold of an unlimited amount of money. I still struggle with smoking, having started that nasty habit at the age of twelve.  I could go on all night, listing the addictive behavior I’ve been enslaved by, but I’ll spare you the gory details.

What is it that causes this craziness? As a former therapist, I know the theories, yet I’m still perplexed by this problem which plagues so many people today. And I’m even more perplexed why some people are able to get free of these demons and some aren’t. I had heard in a few placed that Phillip Seymour Hoffman was clean for over 20 years before his most recent relapse.  For me, it’s been a cause of despair at times.  When will the maddening temptations end?  “Some say that the only way to be free of the desire is to give in,” we hear from some recovery literature.  Yet that same recovery literature promises that a higher power can and will deliver you if he/she/it is earnestly sought.

I never found that to be true.  God never showed up.  At least not in a discernible way, a way that he/she/it seemed to for so many others (at least, the way they claimed).  And that, in part, is why I don’t really believe anymore.  It may sound sad to some, but it’s my story.  To me, it’s not sad at all.  It was very liberating to shake the dust from those sandals, to finally speak those words that, for so long, I was afraid to say:  “I don’t believe in you.”  So I found something else.  Meditation does it for me now.  I don’t have to rely on the whims and fancy of someone or something “out there” to save me from myself.  In fact, I’m learning that I don’t even need to BE saved!  I have an innate goodness, built right into me.  I am a Buddha.  I am recovered.  Yet at the same time I am still wounded and broken.  I am both, and.  It’s when I sit, breathe, and I’m really connect that I am no longer plagued by the crazy compulsions anymore.  It’s then that I’m really at peace.

Buddhists believe in reincarnation.  I don’t know about that.  Christians believe in Heaven.  I still like that thought, to be honest, but I’m really not sure what happens after we die.  My hope for Phillip Seymour Hoffman is that he continues on, but without the suffering that he had here in this life.  The gifts he shared with us will certainly be missed.

I’m not sure any of this made sense, but if you stuck with it through the rambling, I thank you.

Becoming Buddhist

baby buddhaMy decision to “become a Buddhist”  occurred slowly (as if one every really “becomes” a Buddhist, when in reality they adopt Buddhist practices – “Being a Buddhist is more of an action than a state of being, at least IMO).  I had been having such a very had time with the faith I was raised in: Catholicism.  Well, perhaps not with *that* faith per se, but with the whole concept of God, especially as He is presented in Catholicism specifically, and in western religions generally. 

See, I just didn’t *get* God.  Or maybe “He” didn’t get me.  Intellectually, I understood the concept of a creator, an un-created being, a deity, a non-contingent reality.  And for most part, I still buy into that concept.  Where I couldn’t quite connect, as say, my wife could, or many of my friends, was the whole concept of a “personal” God.  “Someone to hear your prayers, someone who cares,” as Dave Gahan sings.  Sure, I’d had what I *thought* were real experiences of this God, this Lover of Souls who “knows you better than you know yourself,” but when I look back on these experiences now, it’s easy to think that these were just fabrications created by my mind, made to feel more real due to emotional impressionism and a desire, a wanting, them to be real.

Maybe they were.  I really don’t know.  How can I?

What I DO know is that I have very real, very tangible doubts (can a doubt be tangible?) about the existence of a loving, personal God.  I’m not saying that He *doesn’t* exist.  To say such things would be the height of hubris.  But what I *have* been saying, at least to myself, is that I desperately want to know.  I crave understanding.  But how can I get that understanding?  Ultimately, I can’t.  I’m convinced, at the present time anyway, that there simply isn’t any way to know – and I mean to know in an experiential way – that He *really* exists.  And so, what am I to do?  Well, what I *did* do is seek out a philosophy that made sense to me.  That “met me where I was at,”  (I sure hate that expression) and what I found was Buddhism.

What struck me about Buddhism, as a practice, as a manner of living, as a philosophy, was that it is highly experiential.  Observable.  As one’s sitting practice of meditating develops, one can directly see peace, tranquility, and a calm mind developing. And it doesn’t rely on faith in some God “out there,” to provide grace in order for one to wake up, become enlightened, become actualized, whatever term you wish to use.  Now, there may BE a God out there providing grace but Buddhist practices don’t rely on one’s supplication and sacrifices to that deity.  Just practice.  Meditation.  Calming the mind.  Detaching from one’s attachments.  Practicing compassion for others.  Loving one’s self and other living things.  It’s all very simple.  No dogma, no infighting about this doctrine or that tradition.

What a breath of fresh air this has been!