I was with a group of folks recently who were discussing the fact that addiction is as much a problem of the mind as of the body. Yes, it is a physical disease, but it is also a complex of emotional difficulties and turmoil that can ruin a person’s life, even years after they have put the cork in the bottle or the tracks have faded. This true of all addicts who get clean but fail to make the necessary changes. Call it a “dry drunk, “stinkin’ thinkin’” or whatever you will, it is one of the main things that lead to misery while technically still clean and sober, and often relapse.
The specific topic was how folks sometimes think they can go ahead and drink or use other drugs socially. When they get back into recovery (if they do), they usually admit they convinced themselves that they didn’t have to remain abstinent; that they were sober long enough that they’d be able to handle it. Often this was a result of discontent. In some cases, they had been concentrating on some terrible thing that someone had done to them. Sometimes they simply forgot to look for the good in their lives and concentrated on the bad stuff. Whatever the path, eventually acting out seemed like a reasonable alternative to the way they were feeling — a sort of biochemical “screw this!”
Which got me to thinking.
One of the things I’ve learned from meditation is that I do, indeed, have a reasonable amount of control over what I think. When we meditate, we try to concentrate on something without intellectual content — breathing, say — to the exclusion of outside thoughts. This allows our subconscious to percolate uninterrupted. To begin with it’s hard. All sorts of thoughts about all sorts of things come along unbidden, and you get really pissed off at your inability to do anything about it. Then someone tells you that such things are a normal part of meditation, and that the idea is not to fight them, but just let them arise and then bring your mind back to the breathing, or mantra, or Hail Marys, or whatever you’re using as a meditation tool. The key is this: we can’t stop thoughts from coming to our mind, even over and over, but we can control whether or not we concentrate on them.
Instead of drinking the poison of resentment and then waiting for the other guy to die, we can choose to turn our minds to something else. We can do it over and over, until eventually we’ve distracted ourselves into thinking about other things entirely. This is true of all obsessions, whether it be drinking, unsatisfied sexual urges, the desire to hit the casino, or the new toy that we think we need desperately. It is within our power to control those thoughts — not to pretend they don’t exist, or fail to acknowledge them, but choosing not to dwell on them. In doing so we rob them of their power, instead of giving ours away.