Getting Sober

Let me be clear. This page isn’t about advaita. It is about addiction. And addiction relates to substance abuse.

That substance can take the form of a drink or a narcotic. It can take the form of an activity that one feels compelled to do even to one’s own detriment: like sex or work or exercise. And it can take the form of an ideology or belief system and the culture surrounding it: like religion, communism or scientism.

The substance itself is neither harmful nor beneficial. It is designed to produce a certain effect within the individual. The issue is addiction. And one can become addicted to pretty much anything one can imagine: a car, a person, a pet, a hobby, a lifestyle, a habit, a group, a job…

And what addiction does, is it reorders the reality we perceive and structures it according to its own agenda. It hijacks the basic intelligence of the body and brain and allows it to operate only in accordance with its own perspectives. And the body and brain comply and are even stimulated by this process. Because they need an outlet for expression, even if that outlet isn’t one that is natural to itself.

Addiction is an internal Stockholm Syndrome whereby our substance of choice holds us captive and refuses to release us. And in the process we fall in love with our captor and rationalize its actions as good.

No matter what kind of addiction one has, this is the dynamic. An irrational love for the substance, even in the face of abuse, often accompanied by a sense of self-loathing.

Like I said, the substance can be anything: a liquor, a narcotic, a person, an ideology…

In truth, everyone is an addict in some way or another, to one degree or another. That’s because a sense of “lack” is almost universal within human beings. And it seems that the journey for most people is about how to resolve that feeling of lack. While part of this feeling of lack may be conscious, most of it is unconscious. The void we feel inside goes deep.

What we call “life” becomes nothing more than a series of strategies to fill that void.

Some believe that material objects will somehow satisfy that lack. So, they are driven by a need to acquire a vast amount of money, assets, homes, businesses and so on.

Some believe that emotional experiences will fill that lack. So, they are driven by a need to find the ideal partner, start a family, maintain a large circle of friends, acquaintances, social networks and so on.

Others believe that theories and concepts will fill that lack. So, they are driven by a need to acquire knowledge, build systems of thought, beliefs or ideology.

Still others believe that having spiritual or mystical experiences will fill that lack. So, they are driven by a need to attain altered states of consciousness, peak experiences and mystical union.

No one seeks in purely one direction. Most people are simultaneously seeking in more than one of these arenas of life. However, there is always one area that is most dominant when compared to the rest. And that is what informs our primary identity.

The “holy grail” is the one-size-fits-all solution that people are in search of that will perfectly resolve that sense of void. And that holy grail may take the form of “extreme wealth”, “the perfect love”, “a unified theory of everything” or “enlightenment”.

Yet, the hour of disillusionment is always inevitable. It is the moment when one realizes that no matter how much one accumulates in the direction of their choice, it can never fill the void for long. The sense of lack is always lurking in the background. The void is a bottomless pit.

However, rather than fully facing up to this fact, most will simply change their seeking strategy.

If acquiring material wealth did not satisfy, perhaps starting a family will. If that doesn’t eventually satisfy, then perhaps embarking on a spiritual path will. Same “holy grail”, different form.

When every avenue has been thoroughly exhausted one always ends up back where one started. In the midst of a void that cannot be filled….
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I was speaking to someone yesterday, who has arrived at exactly this point. Realizing that no external object nor internal experience will ever satisfy, he finds himself at an impasse. He has exhausted all his avenues. He has seen that they are all dead ends, including the “spiritual” path. Yet, the “truth” eludes him.

He holds on to this notion of THE TRUTH that he feels is beyond him. He has arrived at the conclusion that perhaps it is just too complex for him to grasp. That he should probably make his peace with the fact that he may never “get” it.

To which I responded that the case is actually quite the opposite. Truth is the most obvious and evident thing there is. And it is so simple it can’t be grasped by an idea. To seek it is to miss it, because seeking makes one look away from it.

Truth is simply what you are looking at. Call it “life”, “universe”, “all that is”, none of these words can do it any justice. It’s much more obvious than what these words imply.

Look around, I said. Look what’s in FRONT of your nose. Has this ever not been there? Don’t try to say or define what it is. Just look at it. It’s always present.

But how about what’s looking? He asks. That feels different. What about the “internal” life?

Look at that too. What’s BEHIND your nose? That has also always been present. You could call it a “self” or a “me” or a “Shiv” or “awareness” or whatever. But none of those words do it justice.

But it FEELS “separate” from what I’m looking at, he says.

It IS separate. In its form. In the way it appears. In the substance it seems to be made of. But notice something else. The two always exist together.

What is in front of your nose can’t exist without what is behind your nose. The two realities arise together and recede together, they ebb and flow as one even if they appear entirely different. Like the heads and tails of a spinning coin…

Truth is the whole of it. Always right here. Always obvious.
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The “void” is what we create through the force of our denial of the truth that is always staring us in the face. And every attempt to “fill the void” is really a reinforcement of that denial. It is a refusal to accept what is real and present, by envisioning an “alternative truth”; an ideal reality in which no such void exists.

Hence, the irony, that it is the “alternative truth” that creates the void. The void is the CHASM between the truth and its alternative. Between what is and what could-be.

Which is why facing the void and sitting smack in the middle of it is the only reasonable thing to do. It is usually the last resort option that people arrive at when there is nowhere left to go. And as unbearable as it feels for a time, the very act of sitting and being present with it is HOW it transforms.

As the pull towards an “alternative reality” gradually loses its hold, the reality surrounding us comes to the fore, gradually becoming the only benchmark of experience. And the truth that is inherent in its presence becomes increasingly more evident.

This is what the process of “getting sober” looks like no matter what the addiction:

It begins with a firm willingness to sit with the void, a refusal to succumb to the substance of addiction, a long period of withdrawal animated by acute suffering, a newfound sense of clarity that comes with sobriety, a period of disorientation and readjustment to daily life.

It is in this final stage that many who become sober eventually relapse because they are yet to fully become grounded in their sobriety. It still feels too unfamiliar. This page acts as a resource for such people.

Getting sober is a tough road in itself. But it’s in STAYING sober that the mechanism of addiction eventually resolves.

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