I have clients with addiction issues. Don’t look smug; we are all only one event away from our own addiction. Drugs, work, booze, the Internet, exercise, money, sex, porn, sugar, your cellphone… you name it and you might become addicted to it. Once you have experienced the debilitating effects of addition, you are changed for life. You never labor again under the misconception that you have absolute control. You realize that it is all one big negotiation—it is how you look at yourself, your life, and your future.
One of the issues we address first is improving the client’s self-image. With that positive change, anything is possible and without it, nothing. From time to time we discuss the benefits of extending your sense of yourself outward. When you do that it seems to help free yourself from that dark repetitive, stagnant “now” of addiction, and for a time, extending it all the way from a distant—but all too familiar—past to a deeply desired future. The question always arises: How do I turn this abstract idea into an exercise, a method, for recovery, for whatever you want to call the next stage? I am not a therapist, or psychiatrist. I am a coach and I look at different things. I am interested in process, the client’s process… not chemistry.
So I ask myself: What on earth do I have to offer in the way of process to front-line people living with addiction? What can I offer that’s tangible enough to help real people struggling with addiction in the here and now? Well, an idea finally came to me while I was meditating this morning. I do sometimes get good ideas while meditating. I’m no expert in meditation by the way, and I know you’re not really supposed to be thinking things through while meditating. But hey, sometimes new perspectives just appear, and who turns down a good idea? Not me.
Here’s what was on my mind.
What if, either alone, or maybe during in a guided meditation context, or perhaps in coaching, the aching craving, the dreadful fondness, the unwelcome attraction of getting high in some way resulted in trip down the slide of time, from the present back to the past. After all, those cravings don’t really belong in the present tense, do they? You don’t want them there, do you? Your present isn’t their future home. Your future can never be their home in your new life.
Those cravings come from long ago. From some oppressive helplessness that followed something awful, some period of abuse or chaos in your life, right? Did they come from a depression that started when you were a teen…in college? Do you even know? Mine started with a particular event. And they show up again and again in the present, in the now, in the “should I or should I not?” of today. And as visitors in your life, they are by far the most determined of visitors. They continue day after day to visit you in the present. Like unwelcome guests, they don’t leave when it’s time for them to go, even though they’re taking up half the house.
Now imagine the whole continuum of your life as though it were a grade school slide or a gentle rolling slope. Can those desires slide backward in time? As they slide back, can you follow them, observe them, see where they land in the past? Look where they really belong, like an observer on an archeological expedition and see what happens. When I try that exercise, I get a rush of self-compassion and self-awareness and, as a bonus, present tense cravings pack their shit and clear out for a while.
When I try that kind of imagination exercise it’s like seeing, or feeling an overcast sky when the clouds start to part and little bits of sun filter through. And then you realize there’s a whole blue sky waiting on the other side of the clouds.
If you can stand the imagery, keep going with the metaphor. Imagine the slope, the rolling hills of your life continuing upward, rising, unfurling, as it opens into the future landscape. That future really is different from the past; as different as it is from the present. This is not an imaginary construct; it’s a completely different place. It may be a place that you’ve never been, and it’s a place that sends wisps of possibility, rays of hope, back to you, now, in the present. These possibilities and hope come to you in that present, where you’re sitting wondering about and hungering for freedom and change. Freedom from your cravings and change in your life, even if you don’t really know what you will change into…as long as it’s positive change.
Or maybe a better image is that of a cone…maybe a snow cone. After all, there’s only so much mileage you get from a rolling hill. Maybe picture a snow cone and let all that slush sink to the bottom, which invariably starts to leak through the paper cup. So the slush leaks out the soggy bottom of the paper cone, and what’s left on top is…I don’t know, the good stuff, the untested flavors? The good stuff on top.
I haven’t really found the right image yet. Any ideas would be appreciated. It would be nice to develop this metaphor so that I could actually talk about it, elaborate it, and teach it effectively to my clients. I have another image that might be more beneficial, because you can see the “bad stuff” draining downward and out the bottom while the “good stuff,” the really possible future, radiates from the cool mouth of the snow cone.
Try it and see what you think. For me, this really is unfinished business, a kind of a very rough draft. But I, for one, know that there’s a palpable feeling to letting the present tense sludge slide back into the past, where it really belongs, and then… I don’t know, the only limit is your imagination?
What do you think?
Want to try it?… go ahead…it’s only meditation, and how can that be bad for you?
How are you feeling about yourself?
Schedule some time and we can talk about how things are going and where you want them to go from here.