How One Student Used Dharma to Kick an Addiction

The following post was written by a student at KMC SC who has utilized Dharma teachings as a method for kicking a fairly serious drug habit over a period of several years.  It is offered here in the spirit of encouragement and inspiration, and it is not at all meant to suggest that Dharma is the only way, or even the best way, to address an addiction problem.

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The Drug Daze: Identifying the Problemconfession buddhas


I never self-identified as being an addict.  I didn’t use bill money for drugs.  I didn’t miss work because I was too hungover to come in.  I didn’t rob my friends and family in order to buy drugs.  For me, it was just part of my social life, ever since college.  For the most part, the drugs I did seemed to me to be pretty “minor”.  It was totally normal to go out drinking on the weekends or to hang out in someone’s living room smoking weed.  And it still seemed pretty normal to me to take some Adderall any time a social situation arose (or when I needed to clean my entire house), and then to take Xanax for an easier come down off the Adderall. And combining all of the above, yep, totally normal. I even prided myself on knowing how to mix the perfect amounts of this and that for an “ideal” experience.  Smoking weed became pretty much an everyday occurrence and the drinking and pill use was typically for that extra kick on the weekends.  I had been in the scene so long that I was basically like a fish in water and it didn’t occur to me that there was anything wrong, not normal, or damaging about the habit I had created over the better part of 13 years.


And then I started trying to focus my mind.  I tried meditating.  I tried holding my mind to virtuous objects.  I wanted more and more to let my mind relax in positive spaces.  And it was then that I realized my drug habit was indeed hindering my ability to grow and to find happiness.


The more I wanted to avoid engaging in chatter about other people, to practice only kindness, to in every way possible be a good person, the more I felt I didn’t fit in with the alcohol/drug and party scene friends I had spent the last 10 years of my life with.


I found that when I tried to control my mind and tame it that, my lord, I was an intensely moody person.  My mind was all over the place.  The artificial highs and lows I was created via chemicals inevitably caused really nasty crashes and swings in my moods.  I still do kind of marvel how folks at the Center had (and still have) so much patience with me considering I was so hot and cold.


Something needed to change.


But… Change Ain’t Easy.


I started really recognizing the faults in my drug use.  I saw how it was functioning to make me unhappy even though I still had a very strong habit of thinking that it was what I needed to calm down, to zone out, to relax, to socialize, etc.


It was a bit of a bumpy transition.  I knew I should stay away from parties, but that’s where all my friends were, and I still really enjoyed the idea of “letting go” on the weekends.  So I’d go to the parties… and then be miserable the next week and whine to my Teacher about what a dumb idea it was to even go.  I would receive wonderful advice on the nature of attachment, the importance of practicing acceptance and relaxation, and would receive constant gentle encouragement.  And then a few weeks or months later, I would repeat the entire cycle again.


This went on for a year.


And each time I indulged the drug habit, each party I went to, my understanding solidified a little more and more that this was NOT happiness.  This was NOT contentment.  This was NOT “letting go”.  This was miserable.  Finally, a class on the importance of concentration and all of the amazing benefits of concentration was the straw that broke the camel’s back (coupled with a particularly ridiculous party that I went to soon after) and I decided… I’M DONE.  I meant it.  I even sought out another friend from the Center to try out total sobriety with me and they thankfully agreed to take it on.


White-Knuckling DOES NOT Work.


I was so happy to be sober once I decided to go for it.  I held tightly to my new conviction to be clean and not falter.  I didn’t even want to go to parties.  I didn’t want to associate with my old crowd.  I wanted to trail blaze into the world of sobriety.  And I did so quite happily for awhile.


And then I did so not quite so happily.  The newness of the idea wore off, the summer approached, and I got restless.  I missed feeling included in my old friend group.  I missed that familiar “part of myself” that I was so accustomed to.  I felt a sense of loss and a bit depressed.


I began to realize that I had been pushing too hard and “white knuckling” my way through the process.  My first year of sobriety came and went and then I realized that I couldn’t maintain this new, healthy habit by brute force.


Surprise surprise, I was going to have to practice Dharma in order for the habit to stick. 🙂


Dharma Practice DOES Work.


And so I re-took some of the best advice that my Teacher gave me very early in my Dharma days and realized that I was just going through some growing pains, and that I should be happy to be going through it.


Instead of focusing on all the perceived things that I was missing out on, I focused my mind on all the good that had come from getting sober.  My moods were more stable.  My mind felt less clouded.  I was much less distracted.  I was able to actually hold my mind to Dharma and not get derailed into deep attachment every week.  These were all REALLY good reasons to be happy to be sober.


And I learned that I needed to take refuge in things that would give me what I was looking for.  I wanted to be relaxed.  I wanted to feel accepted.  I wanted to unwind.  By practicing formal meditation and by practicing contentment and acceptance in my day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute experiences, I could find the calm and fulfillment that I had been seeking for so long. (And then I had zero interest in a substance to artificially alter my mind.)


Friends, the things you desire give no more satisfaction than drinking sea water, therefore practice contentment.”  – Atisha


Chemically altering my mind and my mood was not and is not going to cut it.  I know from my experience that the only thing that really works is practicing Dharma.  Thank goodness for KMC South Carolina.

photo credit: camerakarrie via photopin cc

4 replies
  1. Heather McCalman
    Heather McCalman says:

    Thank you for this very powerful post! How wonderful to see how Dharma can work to help us solve each and every problem we face.

    I do want to mention that if anyone ever has an issue with quitting alcohol or a substance, if they find that time and again they are unable to apply Dharma successfully and quit for good, and especially if the substance abuse begins to threaten their lives, they may want to seek professional help to augment their Dharma practice.

    It is so marvelous the author above was able to stop using Dharma purely, and it doesn’t mean that someone who cannot use Dharma purely to stop is at fault, a failure, or unable to stop. There are people who cannot stop using religious practice alone, and for these people, there is real help, **in addition to** (and not in lieu of) their practice.

    I am the mirror-image of the author above, wherein I got clean and sober before beginning my Dharma study and practice, and I have found my recovery and my practice fit hand in glove….and I don’t worry about which is the hand and which is the glove. I just do it. 🙂

    Thank you again!

  2. Brooke
    Brooke says:

    Thank you for being so brave as to get sober in the first place and of course to share your story. Much of it resonated with me and I hope other young people are able to take something away from it if they are considering the same path…thank you!


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