Some time ago I asked folks to submit their experiences of success through their Buddhist practice. Well, today I received this incredible story from a lady who wants to be known simply as Lodestar. Thank you, Lodestar, for your courageous act of sharing your story of transformation.
I’ve called this article ‘liberation’ because it’s about how I freed myself from the prison of addiction, and how chanting helped me to do this.
My story is about my addiction to cannabis. Yes, I know many people believe cannabis is not an addictive drug; I used to believe that too. I thought you couldn’t be addicted to something like cannabis, only hard drugs like heroin or cocaine. Well, my thinking changed on that one because of my own long personal struggle to control my dope smoking, a struggle in which I repeatedly and utterly failed, but which failure led me to realise that I had only one choice and that was complete abstinence. The other thing I didn’t know then was that there was a way out of it that was easy, joyful and without struggle! But more of that later.
I first smoked dope as a young teenager in the late sixties at the height of the Hippy era. It took me a lot of smokes to actually get high, and then for years I only smoked occasionally. What changed was when I went to live in London in my early twenties, and experienced a loneliness and disconnection I’d never felt before. I found that a smoke of dope lessened the difficult feelings and I felt cocooned in a safe world of my own, from which I could enjoy the enhanced sounds and colours that the high created for me. Of course at the time I wasn’t consciously aware of the whys and wherefores of all this, I just did it and it felt good. It seemed to be harmless too and there wasn’t even a hangover afterwards.
Fast forward 30 years, it’s a different picture. I can no longer delude myself that the way I smoke dope is OK. In fact I’ve known this for much longer. I was a conscious spiritual seeker from the age of 30 onwards, and the insights gained over the years from meditation, extensive reading, self-awareness practices and therapy made me look deeply into myself. I knew the way I drank alcohol and smoked dope was crazy, but ‘knowing’ was never enough, by itself, to stop. Even knowing ‘why’ I did it wasn’t enough. I was trapped and so I carried on, and on.
The drinking was the first of my addictions to bring me into crisis. This was before I was chanting in the Nichiren tradition, but I practised Tibetan Buddhist meditation in a loose fashion along with some other awareness practices. The stress from a prolonged and extremely distressing series of family problems had caused my drinking to go off the dial, culminating in a nasty accident. The massive shock of the accident made me realise I had to stop drinking completely. It was my personal rock bottom and I knew – at last – that I would never be able to control or master my drinking. I started the 12 step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous and almost instantly I experienced the miracle of a complete release from any craving for drink. However, although I could stop drinking, the damage that the drink had done to my mind and body took years to heal.
All through this I carried on smoking cannabis. My priority was to stay off the booze and I still believed cannabis was harmless to me, especially in comparison to alcohol. I did my best to ignore the fact that the 12 step programme means abstinence form all mind altering substances. It still seemed to work for me. I used to feel proud that I never seemed to get the down side of smoking dope, well known to me from other smokers, especially the lethargy and paranoia. I used to say if that ever happens to me I’ll give it up. In fact, when high I would be the opposite – energetic, clear, sociable, blissfully happy and creative.
Looking back, it did start to change shortly after I’d been about 2 years in AA. The insight I gained into the nature of alcoholism started to spin off into an awareness that the way I craved and used dope was addictive. Put simply, I had no control over it. But I just rationalised this growing awareness away. When I couldn’t do that I went sporadically to NA (Narcotics Anonymous) but I found it hard to relate to, as cannabis is a more subtle drug than the Class A drugs that most people there were struggling with, and it was too hard for me to identify with.
More years went by and stayed off the booze and even managed to quit tobacco, smoking dope in a pipe. I gradually noticed more and more that my experience of being high was changing. No longer was I so clear, happy, creative and sociable. I just put it down to the poorer quality stuff I was smoking as the good stuff was by now all super strength skunk, difficult to get (for me anyway as by now I hardly knew any other dope smokers) and ludicrously expensive.
I had by now joined the Soka Gakkai and was chanting diamoku daily. I was fascinated that I could chant for what I wanted! It seemed almost sacrilegious to use a spiritual practice for this, but one of the things I most wanted was to be in control of my dope smoking, so I started chanting for it. I was smoking all day every day from early morning onwards, except before work and even there I occasionally cracked. I chanted to be able to ration my habit to weekend evenings only.
My chanting began to bring benefits in all areas of my life that I focused on, except for the control I longed to have over my dope smoking.
Then a strange thing happened, considering I was chanting to control and reduce my smoking – through circumstances changing I suddenly had access to an unlimited supply of top quality grass. It scared me as the only brake had been the difficulty of getting it; now there would be nothing to stop me going over the top. The paradox of chanting for control and then being faced with the ultimate temptation to lose control completely puzzled me. I redoubled my chanting but was totally unable not to smoke to excess, even when I didn’t want to, a sure indicator of an addict in the grip of the addiction. Within a few weeks the quantity I consumed ramped up the ill effects to the point where they could no longer be ignored. The paranoia, lethargy, depression, anxiety and self-isolation became wildly exaggerated: unbearable and undeniable. At the same time my partner of 20 years and fellow dope addict was going through the very same thing. We suffered together, talking about and mirroring to each other the catastrophic effects it was having on us, but we still carried on smoking it! That is the true hell of addiction: when you want to stop but you don’t; you can’t. I started chanting at long last to stop smoking dope completely and become entirely free of all craving for it. I also chanted for this process to be easy and free of struggle.
Within a few days we decided we would stop on a date within the next week. I was so scared, I couldn’t imagine life without it, but by now I also couldn’t imagine life with it. We made a list of all the reasons we wanted to stop. It was shocking to see it all there in black and white, what it was doing to me, to us. Could this be the stuff that had made always made me so happy, so ‘spiritual’, so light? But in truth that had no longer been the case for years. Now on the list were things like feeling no confidence, no energy, pervasive fear, hopelessness and a sense of menace that never went away. I saw the very paranoia I had always thought I somehow didn’t suffer from, right there in my own life. It had crept up on me without me even realising what it was.
I chanted with renewed determination to exit the addiction speedily and easily. The day came, we smoked our last pipes and threw away all our paraphernalia, scattering the last of the grass to the earth and the wind in a final libation and farewell; a goodbye without regret, just extraordinary relief.
That was it, I was free at last.
After this I had one bad day, but even this was relieved by being able to spend it with a recovered alcoholic friend and 12 stepper, who understood exactly what it’s like to be emerging from the grip of addiction. Other than that one bad day, I can honestly say that not only has it been entirely painless, it’s been joyous, liberating and energising! In my desire to quit easily and painlessly I got everything thing I chanted for and much more. My low mood and anxiety have disappeared. I’m positive and capable, my memory has come back and I feel more truly alive than I have for years. Even people who don’t know anything about my addiction have said how much happier and relaxed I seem and how much more positive I am (especially at work, an area of my life I was particularly struggling with).
I’m finishing this article a couple of months after writing my story and altogether it’s now 5 months since I quit my addiction. The extraordinary early joy of liberation I describe above has now morphed into more of an everyday, yet still very welcome, sense of relief and safety. I am especially grateful that my initial chanting to gain control did not ‘work’ and what did work was when I chanted for complete liberation. I learned from this experience how a deluded desire can be transformed into a true – or enlightened – desire by engaging with and trusting the innate Buddhahood within.
The power that this practice has given me to recover is truly awesome.