A Deeper Truth | Addiction as Spiritual Process
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Addiction as Spiritual Process

Addiction as Spiritual Process

Spiritual-flamboyant-3254164-1152-864Let’s ponder something for a second. What if addiction, continual substance abuse despite negative consequences, is a misguided spiritual process? Now, many people have said this, but they seem to be more focused on the idea that substance abuse or use is a “substitute” for meaning or spiritual transcendence. But what if the use of substances are the vehicle to a higher learning that one must then “return to earth” in order to make sense of? And the problem we see in this world, called addiction, is the lack of mentorship around how to build a solid spiritual foundation from the altered state of consciousness found in being “high” or “drunk” or whatever.

People do all sorts of things to find themselves on the spiritual plane. Why can’t substance use be one of those ways? We don’t really know it isn’t. We already know that many people have spiritual experiences while intoxicated with drug, and that many writers and thinkers have used descriptors of drug experiences that express transcendence and aliveness. So why wouldn’t we really try and understand the ceaseless returning to drug for the addict as a real and honest search for something profound?

Of course this search becomes warped by the pleasure and desire for “more”, but that does not mean the grounded aspect of the process isn’t about something profound. The addict must be reminded what her soul is after. The addict must be mentored into using his drug or drink in such a way that produces growth and depth. Zen masters will make their students do chores immediately after returning from a profound meditation where they may have even found nirvana.

Maybe, just maybe, we have lost sight of the use of substances for spiritual experience. And maybe the addict has not been given this information. Maybe the addict knows, deep within his being, that his use of drugs is more than recreation, more than an escape from life or a numbing of feelings. Maybe she knows that she must keep going back until she has figured out what this experience is really about. But he has no mentors. He doesn’t understand any longer. So he just gets lost in the cookie jar with no guidance. He thinks he’s just enjoying sugar, good feelings, fun times, heightened sexual encounters. But she misses that this is always pointing toward something much more profound. Something of real “substance.”

But everyone has forgotten. No one sees anymore. There is no longer a place in the culture for this understanding. There is no longer an understanding of rites of passage and eldership around the experience of altered consciousness.

Think of the profound and more fluid process of therapy for substance abusers if instead of working to get them to stop this problem, they were guided further into it to find what they are truly looking for – and not elsewhere, as in addiction as substitute, but right in the middle of excess use of substances.

Just a thought.

  • Kat Peoples
    Posted at 15:43h, 27 April Reply

    I’m curious at what that would look like practically. If I have a client who abuses heroin, how would I help that client in terms of staying within the excess use? If my client is nodding off throughout a session, how would that work?

    • JMac
      Posted at 16:52h, 27 April Reply

      Hi Kailla, I don’t think it looks the way you described. It’s more about helping them to contextualize their using so that when you do meet, it is about what they experienced in their altered state of consciousness – what they “find” there is often a specific and individual solution to their lives. So it would be more like making sense of psychosis, not in the middle of psychosis, but after it is over.

      Just doing what you described would be continuing to do therapy with a client who only saw their drug use as some problem. As they become more aware of the journey they are on, they begin to take more responsibility for what is really going on. Then that person begins to come to session with you focused on making sense of their “addiction” or return to altered consciousness.

      It’s about re-contextualizing their use and then using that re-contextualization for therapy. But if someone continues to be in the “powerless” to pleasure and escape paradigm, therapy should utilize more motivational interviewing to help them slowly understand what it is they are actually “after”. Then you can get to work.

      I find it is empowering to clients to help them see their return to drugs and alcohol is for very specific and individual reasons. It is not random, it is not just a numbing out and escape, it is not just a disease. It serves a very specific purpose in what it “provides” in the actual experience of being high or drunk. So it isn’t just a moving away from something such as pain and stress (although it can serve that purpose) it is a moving toward something intentionally that they found at some point in their using of that substance.

      Also, what I am proposing here would require an even larger social overhaul in our understanding of substances. There would be lots of questions of what this “therapy” would look like if they are continuing to use “in excess”. But you can do the therapy that is at least about exploring what it is they find in their altered state of consciousness.

  • thickened light
    Posted at 16:42h, 29 April Reply

    I have personally used drugs to help me develop spiritual insights, and I still do. Sometimes, as with the psychedelic experiences I had along the way, it has taken a lot of work to integrate those insights into day to day living–but then it also has taken a lot to integrate the ecstatic meditative experiences I had while seriously practicing kundalini yoga, as well.

    Reading the poetry of Rumi and the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari I am struck by the unappreciated role of intoxication for helping people to access experiences that are usually impossible in the day to day world. Intoxication and altered states of consciousness allow us to see things differently, which can be used defensively, but also for good as well. I think you’re right that we have lost mentorship around this. The dionysian and the sacramental have devolved into “partying”.

    I have been thinking of (at least the mystical version) of spiritual development as involving the process of becoming more and more able to experience union with the divine even under totally “ordinary’ circumstances–kind of becoming permanently intoxicated in the sense of living in a profoundly altered state of consciousness that is also fundamentally stable and grounded. I know the more I give myself over to the contemplative process in day to day life, the weirder and stranger and “drunker’ things become.

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