Is it possible to overcome addiction through diligent, daily meditation? According to Thomas Wright of House of Walking Spirits, it's one of the best ways to get through severe withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse. Thomas now writes, lectures, and teaches on the techniques that led him to adopt a sober lifestyle. Today, he offers us a brief look into his recovery.
AT: Thanks for meeting us today and sharing your recovery advice, Thomas. For those who have not read your ebook, it might help to provide some background. Could you tell us a bit about your past, your experiences with drug treatment, and how you arrived at your recovery?
TW: Absolutely. I was first introduced to heroin by a friend of mine. At first I would only smoke it occasionally. However, as things go, I soon found myself shooting speedballs several times per day. My addiction ran, on and off, for many years from my early twenties to my early thirties. My parents, bless their hearts, didn't have a clue as to how to handle it. They helped me get into several rehabilitation clinics which only seemed to patch the problem temporarily. In fact, even during these programs I had very little success staying clean. It wasn't until one fateful day that, unbeknownst to me, my life took a turn that lead me down a path of the several sequential events that changed my life forever.
My manager at the time was using with me. And, for some unknown reason, she decided to call the cops on me while I was in my office. The next thing I knew, I was pleading into The Felony Drug Court system here in Salt Lake City, Utah. For those who aren't familiar with this, it's a court regulated rehabilitation system set up to suspend any judgment based on your performance in the system for two years. If you failed,you go to prison, if you pass, your charges are dropped and you get a "good job" pat on the back.
After about three months of the program, I began having an extremely hard time with their rehabilitation methodologies. I felt I wasn't learning anything of value, and I was heavily against the concept of forced sobriety. There were even some aspects to the program that I felt actually encouraged drug use and dependence. Frustrated and angry, I packed up and ran from the law only to be caught four months later. The sanction imposed by the judge for this infraction was to complete the CATS program in the Salt Lake County Jail system, which usually takes about 6 months from booking to release.
I had lost all hope. I was angry, afraid and still addicted. During my imprisonment, my anxiety was so high I could barely sleep. My heart was racing with adrenaline constantly hammering on my nervous system and I began to break down. The detention facility was being very apprehensive about giving me any type of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. I had to do something. I couldn't live for six months in such a state. I needed a way to calm my mind and body without medication or freedom.One day, the librarian brought in a cart of new books. Among them was a book called, 'Opening The Energy Gates of Your Body' by Bruce Kumar Frantzis. It was a system called, "chi gong". I wasn't familiar with it, but it looked like tai chi, and it promised control over one's mind, body, and emotions through meditations and body movements. This was the pivotal moment in my recovery. I practiced the meditations daily. In fact, sometimes I would stay in my cell and meditate for up to 5 hours on end.After a few short weeks, I felt like a different person. My anxiety was at a minimum, I was much happier, I was more interactive with the other inmates, and most important of all, I immediately recognized the immense power of meditation. I even began to notice a slight decrease in my cravings. From that time forward, I was hooked. After my release from jail, I found an instructor, bought as many books as I could afford, and dove right in. It took daily practice and perseverance, but the final outcome was a complete recovery, an increase in my self-esteem, and a drive for life I had never before felt. It was at this point that I knew I found something that all the programs I had been through were missing. A legitimate method of rewriting the inner self, and deleting "addiction" from the inner code.
AT: How do you define meditation?
TW: Meditation is a tricky thing to quantify and qualify. I think many things can be considered a subcategory of meditation such as prayer, self-talk, concentrating on your homework, etc. However, there are definitely certain types of meditations that can be utilized for different purposes. So – in my eyes, meditation is any exercise that strengthens or alters any aspect of that which we consider part of or relating to consciousness.
AT: You claim that addiction can actually be overcome by meditation. How difficult is it to reach the sub-level of consciousness necessary to kick addiction, and is everyone capable of reaching it?
TW: Let me tackle that last part first. Yes! Absolutely! Every single last human being on this planet who is capable of self-recognition and analysis is capable of reaching even the highest levels of meditative consciousness. Some practices would have you believe that you have to meditate for 30 or 40 years to reach these levels. What I've found is that this isn't necessarily true. Many of these groups are run by a teacher who decides when and who is given the next "secret step" toward mastery. It's actually a pretty standard misconception that these levels just kinda happen at random increments so long as you meditate every day. The truth is that there are step by step approaches available, though often quite hidden and protected, that will lead a practitioner with relative ease to the highest levels of practice.
How difficult is it? It really is dependent on the individual and their natural strengths. However, meditation is a practice just like anything else. As long as the practitioner is willing to put the effort in, they will get results. The key is to practice regularly and diligently. Even if you can only spare, ya know, 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night, as long as it's daily and regular with a legitimate regimen, you'll see astounding results in as little as just a few weeks. One of the best parts about this is that there are even little cheat-meditations you can do to get results nearly instantly while you practice for the real deal.
AT: Many drug addicts have failed recovery attempts because they have little self-control or self-discipline. Are these traits (to some degree) necessary prerequisites for meditation, or are these learned in meditative practice?
TW: Yeah, this is a great question. A lot of people think you need to be extremely controlled and disciplined to benefit from meditation. In actuality, control and discipline are benefits that come from regular meditative practice. To give an example, previous to my arrest, for years, I was diagnosed with ADD. I took adderall on a daily basis, and my attention span was so horrible that I would get lost driving even on familiar roads. I had an incredibly difficult time with homework and school and would often find myself off in la-la land during even the most interesting conversations. Now, I no longer have ADD. Not even in the slightest. I'm now a computer programmer for a living and I can hold my attention on any subject or concept for as long as is necessary. This actually came from the meditations themselves. So, someone like me was capable of getting on this path, anybody can. The self control and discipline which a person can develop with regular meditation practice, even at the beginning levels, is enough to give an addict what he needs to overcome his addiction.
AT: What does meditation have to offer recovering addicts that traditional treatment cannot? Do you believe it’s a more effective method, or is it just a “different fit”?
TW: Oh man, the list of benefits is unreal for a recovering person. One thing that meditation can give someone who wishes to overcome an addiction is the sense of mastery over their own life. Most treatment methods, in my opinion, hand out crutches.They teach you that you are not in control and to release yourself to a 'higher power.' I have seen time and time again, people who have been attending AA meetings for the last 50 years of their lives. They are taught, "once an addict, always an addict," and that you will always be in recovery. I don't subscribe to this because I know it's not true. What I teach in my system is how to completely supersede your addiction. When you decide to stop being a victim and stop being an addict, and use meditation to realize this, you actually become your own 'higher power' in a sense. Not only do I believe meditation to be a more effective method, but I believe it is the only method available that one can use to truly rid themselves of their addictions, no matter what they may be.
AT: In your ebook, you talk about “butterfly thoughts,” or thoughts that come and go during meditation that you resist indulging in. Is the process of fighting addiction similar to this? Is there another way you would describe the nature of meditation working against addiction?
TW: Yes, definitely. The "butterfly thoughts" exercise teaches the practitioner how to separate themselves from their thoughts. This is an extremely important part of using meditation in recovery. Understanding that you and your thoughts are separate by viewing them objectively, one gains a sort of ability to analyze themselves in ways not previously possible. In later exercises, you learn how to guide, control, and even block your thoughts before they even surface. You can literally train your mind to automatically block certain thoughts while they are still meta-thoughts. After sometime, they appear less and less. This is just one of the methods used to defeat addiction. You can learn how to interface with your subconscious mind in a meditative environment where you can literally speak to and confront parts of your inner self. I teach techniques which allows the practitioner to prepare for and face each aspect of their inner self that keeps them bound to their addiction. Many of these techniques require some training previous to the encounter, however. I want to make sure the practitioner is ready to face certain parts of themselves, otherwise it can actually be a somewhat damaging experience. But with proper care and training, the practitioner can overcome anything. In fact, many people, including myself, have found that, when they were ready, memories that they had blocked from their childhood will surface and be dealt with in the most effective manner. There is no end to what can be accomplished with meditation where the self in concerned.
AT: There are many people out there who don’t consider themselves to be “spiritual” and may be turned off by some of the metaphysical elements of meditation. What would you say to them, and can meditation still be an effective recovery practice for them?
TW: This is actually a really common question for people to ask. I'm glad it came up. Meditation is becoming quite a mainstream focus of study in the fields of psychology, neurology, and other scientific fields of study. Everything I teach is backed up by solid peer reviewed studies and information. In fact, I take a dualistic approach and explain everything from a purely scientific point of view with the optional addendum of some metaphysical philosophy for those who are interested. Everybody can practice meditation, whether they are atheist, agnostic, theist, spiritualist, Christian, Muslim, Wiccan, or whatever. Many of the studies I site were actually started to find a scientific basis for so called, "religious experience." So, yes, definitely – it doesn't matter what your personal philosophical disposition is. Meditation works the same for everyone. I specifically designed the eBook and videos to explore meditation from both; scientific and philosophical points of view. I want everybody to feel comfortable in this program despite their personal beliefs. Meditation works for everybody and I would hate for someone to miss out on its benefits because the method of delivery didn't agree with their personal views. I think this is a huge pitfall for AA and other anonymous groups. Although, admittedly they have made some strides to make those who aren't specifically spiritual more comfortable.
AT: Is there any other advice or topics you'd like to elaborate on?
TW: Meditation isn't a quick fix. It does take time and patience. However, the reward of a full and healthy recovery is well worth it. In fact, I would say it's one of the most respectable and worthy reasons to start meditating. After just three months of daily practice, just like physically working out, you will notice such an incredible change within yourself that you'll never want to go back. Unfortunately, in today's world, something that takes time for addiction recovery isn't well received by law enforcement. Hopefully, as these paradigms take hold and the mainstream starts to see the legitimate benefits and ultimate fruit of this method, we will see the legal system begin to change their approach to drugs and addiction. It is a fact, provable with statistics, that forced sobriety has never worked. I see kids return again and again to drug court. If one truly wishes to literally overcome and dispose of their addiction, one must dig deep inside and repair the root causes of their symptom. I know I didn't really go over this earlier, but it is my experience that we have been treating addition all wrong. I believe addiction is not a disease, but that it is a symptom of a greater socio-economic problem. Through meditation and through these exercises, one can learn how to step above the "collective human organism" and relieve the bonds that kept them addicted and attached to the problems of the world.