Everyone has someone they want to be. They want to be thinner, or happier, or more relaxed. And they’re perpetually disappointed by their inability to change into that other person. The reason that change is difficult is because they’re trying to change into someone they’re not, rather than trying to be fully themselves.
For instance, addicts don’t really want to give up their addictions. In my practice, they’re always the slowest to sign up. They’ll call and discuss the idea with me for some time before committing. The reason is they get the sense they’ll actually quit with me, so part of their journey is acceptance of the idea that they could actually imagine themselves as a non-addict.
I’ve had a lot of success helping people kick everything from painkillers to cocaine to alcohol. The interesting part is, I didn’t do that by trying to get people to kick painkillers, cocaine or alcohol. Rather than getting them to stop enjoying the islands of numbness that dot their otherwise painful life, I got them to start enjoying the seas in between those islands. Eventually they very naturally come to the point where they don’t stop drinking, they start living. They knew the islands were there, but they were simply less attractive when the sailing was good.
Can you see the subtlety in that? If you try to change, you will feel resistance to change. If you accept who you are and use that as a foundation to grow into the person you intend to be, then there is no resistance—you’re like a sailboat following the wind. There’s nothing forced about that. You’re not struggling against a headwind to go in some direction because you think it’s right. Instead you’re working with your own nature, going the way that makes sense. You do it all the time, but you don’t think about those things like smoking or drinking or drugs.
That famous experiment with the rats taking heroin instead of food until they died? The one that proved how powerful addictions were? Well that experiment’s been redone except they put the rats with the source of heroin into a space that included rat maze with a bunch of fun stuff to do. And you know what? No addicted rats. They had some heroin, but over time mostly they just played on the available toys and habitats.
AA and the like ask you to push against your addiction. They encourage you to make the addiction very real every day. They even tell you you’ll always have it—that it will define you for the rest of your life. I have trouble hanging around many AA “successes” because all they do is talk about not drinking. Well I’m sorry, but talking about not drinking is just another way of talking about drinking. If AA’s helped you and you’re loving your life that’s terrific—I truly am super happy for you. But in most cases what I see in the AA approach is tension and a fear of failure. Everyone feels like they’re clinging because they feel like they’re constantly battling the “fact that they will always be an addict.” Well that simply isn’t true and I have a lot of examples of people who prove it by living differently.
First off, don’t feel alone. Remember that a large percentage of the population is anaesthetized with either alcohol or some form of legal or illegal drug. Other than people who’ve only been using for a very short time I have yet to meet the addict who’s not trying to quit. But that kind of quitting will cause you to beat yourself up and that will only serve to make those islands even more attractive. Forget how ugly the seas feel and focus instead only on your sailing. Get to enjoy that and the islands won’t seem anywhere near as important and you certainly won’t feel motivated to interrupt a good time sailing just to stop at one.
Stop trying to change. Accept who you are. You will only change by following your bliss and you will naturally grow into the next—and bigger—version of yourself. But like water finds low ground you must choose your path by nature. You must not try. Simply move towards what feels good. Eventually whatever you’re addicted to will simply fade in value next to all of the goodness you will have accumulated.
Enjoy your day.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.