Life is complicated. If you’re new to recovery, it can feel overwhelming. You are coming out of a nightmarish world filled with terrible decisions. It may be your first time taking on life without substances. You may be going through withdrawals or facing long-suppressed trauma. On top of all that, you’re almost certainly wondering how you’re going to begin sorting through the mountain of consequences stemming from your behavior as an addict. At least that’s where I found myself. All that running away from problems surely seemed to compound them.
For a recovering addict, leading a sober life requires continuous effort. There is a lot more to sobriety than abstaining from using. In this respect, my first attempt to sober up was a miserable failure. I neglected to put in the work to retrain my mind and develop mental stability. I lasted about 6 weeks—a depressing 6 weeks—before quickly spiraling into a darkness I’d never seen before.
This time around, I’m doing everything I can to lay the foundation for lasting sobriety and happiness. And you know what? It’s working. The most effective treatment for me has been reading about and practicing, practicing, practicing the teachings of the Buddha. The Four Noble Truths, the foundation of Buddhism, are the diagnosis and antidote for all forms of suffering, including addiction. You don’t have to identify as a Buddhist to benefit from the philosophy.
As complicated as it can be to navigate the mind in these times, there are a handful of terms I always fall back on the moment I notice Mara (ding, ding, ding!) creeping in. Here’s a list of powerful words with my interpretations as they apply to Buddhism and addiction recovery.
At the bottom of this page, I will address the way I have effectively averted nearly every anxious moment during my recovery by combining these words into one coherent thought.
As mentioned on the page Meet Mara, Mara is the metaphorical embodiment of unskillful emotions such as:
Although the emotions listed above are all negative, Mara is not inherently seeking suffering. As addicts, Mara leads us to use because it is the fastest track to feeling pleasure. Mara is the driving force behind suffering: cravings for pleasure, aversion to pain, self-centered delusions.
The consciousness or awareness of all the phenomena one is experiencing—emotions, thoughts, and sensations.
Mindfulness meditation is a practice that allows us to process all of the phenomena we are experiencing in the present moment while refraining from judgement. We acknowledge our feelings and thoughts without engaging in them. Through meditation, we begin to realize the extent to which the mind tends to drift out of the present—dominated by fantasy, past or future. This happens even while we are deliberately focusing on the present. It becomes obvious that our idea of ‘self’ is largely a nearly-impossible-to-control mind that seems to have its own agenda. We also realize that we don’t have to obey it.
With awareness of the wandering mind, we start to notice how frequently this occurs through our day to day activities. As we continue to practice and develop the skill of mindfulness, we can catch our wandering minds and return to the present. This skill not only helps with overcoming cravings from addiction but allows us to truly experience our lives. We can get better at this with time but the battle never ends. We’re going up against fears and delusions that have been instilled in us through countless years of evolution. The mind fears awakening.
THE HUMAN CONDITION
“The characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence, such as birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict, and mortality”
The human condition is simply being human. We are born, we grow old, we fall ill, we die, we enjoy pleasures, etc. These are innate aspects of existing as a human. They are not personal traits of ours. Addicts have elevated levels of cravings but there is nothing wrong with them. What they are experiencing is nothing more than the human condition. Which brings us to the next word:
Whether we are feeling shameful about our past behavior during active addiction or having cravings to use again, we must not take them personally. We are not flawed. We are human. We didn’t choose to be human. These experiences are all part of the human condition.
The action or process of forgiving or being forgiven.
In relation to addiction, it’s important that we quickly get to work on forgiving ourselves. Forgiving doesn’t excuse anyone of the consequences of what they may have done in desperation while using. But progress cannot start until one forgives themselves. What’s done is done. Don’t cause yourself or others any more unnecessary suffering. This is one of the first steps to take after committing to abstinence.
This is one of my favorites. Nothing is permanent. Everything ends. The universe is undergoing constant change.
Because everything is impermanent, we must not cling to anything. We can enjoy pleasures but the moment we cling, the pleasure become pain. Addiction is the craving for a permanent state of pleasure in an impermanent world. We have to embrace the the truth of impermanence to let go of our addictive behaviors.
Awareness of the impermanent nature of every single thing that is and ever will be is a wonderful tool you should employ to enjoy the present moment and calm yourself when times are tough. Feeling down? The feeling will pass. Feeling good? Awareness of impermanence will allow you to embrace the moment before it passes instead of taking it for granted.
Happiness is not synonymous with pleasure. Happiness is an awakened state of consciousness—an understanding of the truths of existence. We often resist the truth, putting up mental blocks all around us. We spend our lives struggling to surround ourselves with things we enjoy and avoid the things we don’t enjoy. In an ever-changing world, there is no end to this battle and it will always present new challenges that cause suffering. To be truly happy is to be at peace with the nature of existence. This can only come from within.
How all of these terms have successfully reduced unnecessary suffering throughout my recovery to date.
Through the practice of mindfulness, we are made aware of the phenomena we are experiencing in the present moment. With the objective outlook of mindfulness, we are able to identify the presence of Mara (Hello, Mara!), thus allowing us to respond wisely. Knowing that Mara is an innate aspect of the human condition, we can view them as the impersonal traits they truly are. We don’t need to judge ourselves for being human. Instead of resisting any negative feelings, we can begin nurturing them with compassion and forgiveness and allow them to pass. We know they will pass because we know that all things are impermanent. Having acknowledged and addressed Mara in a healthy way, we can then shift our attention to positive thoughts, being grateful for the present moment, and look inward to discover true happiness.
Those 7 terms, and the above statement, apply to all aspects of our lives, not just recovery. And as true as they are today, they will remain true throughout the eternal present. Having no need to ever back track and further confirm the truth therein, we can confidently reference this statement at any given moment and begin to reestablish our peace of mind.
Mindfulness, Mara, the human condition, impersonal, forgiveness, impermanent & happiness. Words to live by.