ADDICTION II: Taking back life
by Derrek Burton
In my previous article, I dove into the specifics of what my substance addictions entailed. In this article, I will elaborate on the experiences and methods of my journey out of a life of substance abuse and into sobriety.
As I mentioned in the last writing, I was 20 years old, 3 years into a heavy heroin addiction, when I decided to kick the habit and seek a new life for myself. I had a yearning for something different, for something wholesome. I just didn't know how to obtain it. My battle with addiction was still to rage on. I had replaced my drug addiction with a heavy drinking problem. Initially, I didn't even really think it was that big of a deal. Most of everyone I knew in my immediate circles drank beer every night and would really let loose on the weekends. Being in a blue collar industry, it was really just the norm. And so the next couple of years passed just like that. Get home, crack open a beer, drink until it was time to go to bed, and do it again the next day. The weekends would then become a free for all. It would be nothing to spend one hundred dollars in a night at the bar.
But as this became my life, I would hear a voice in the back of my head. It started as a whisper, but grew to an overwhelming shout. “You haven't changed!” It would say “You have simply switched one vice for another!” it would continue “This is no way to live! THIS IS NOT LIFE!” It shouted with firm finality.
And at 22, after drinking myself silly, I listened. I agreed. It was no way to live. I had not really changed. I had yet to actually face myself and I had yet to begin searching. After a solid 8 years of smothering myself in drugs and alcohol, constantly trying to escape myself and running away from life...I had to ask myself, how do I learn to live again?
This was a question I pondered to great length. It was crazy to think that the last time I was really of a clear mind was when I was about 14 years old. So to approach sobriety was, in a way, to be born again.
So where did it all begin? It was springtime. The air was still crisp, but the sun was beginning to shine bright and warm. I used to walk a lot. Walking helped me think and process everything running through my mind. And one day, walking along the ocean, it hit me. Just run. My pace quickened until I was running along at a comfortable jog. At first my breathing was heavy and ragged, but soon my stride and breath joined together in harmony and I felt at peace. I think I ran 2...maybe 3 kilometres. Nothing outstanding, but I was thrilled. I couldn't remember when I really went running. I was reminded how much I enjoyed it. I played sports all through high school. My passions at that time were karate and rugby.
I would say that that run was one of those pivotal moments of my sobriety. I felt alive. I could actually breathe!! Anyone who has quit smoking cigarettes will know the experience of being able to breathe again. I made a routine of running about 30 kilometers a week.
As my running routine became more cemented as a foundation of my recovery, I began to learn and explore breathing techniques. This led to another pivotal moment in my journey through sobriety. I was walking home from meeting a friend for coffee one evening and I walked past a buddhist meditation center. With nowhere to be and nothing to lose, I pushed open the door and walked in. I can only imagine the sight, long haired metalhead with a studded and patched jacket walking in. I remember the monk seated at the front of the room looking up to me, smiling and asking: “Hello, what can we help you with?”
“I'm here to try meditation....” I replied.
His smile got even bigger and he motioned to a seat: “Absolutely, please come in! Have a seat.”
I did. I sat. I closed my eyes, listened to him speak, followed his instructions, and I felt a monumental breakthrough inside of myself. Another piece of that foundation was being built.
I would sit with this group 2-3 times a week. Zopa (the monk) was one of the kindest people I had ever met. He never judged me, was never bothered by my appearance or my past. He was just there. Kind, caring and patient. He taught me a lot and those experiences greatly shaped who I am today.
Over the next 5 years I focused intently on my practice. I began sitting in regularly with a Zen class as well and met some friends who had started a Dharma Punx style meditation group as well.
It is these practices that form the core pillars of my foundation. Meditation, breathing and exercise. The deeper I dove into these the more I was able to understand myself from the inside. I began to reflect and reexamine all my past pain and trauma and I began to realize it was all caused by me. No matter how negatively someone acted towards me, it was ultimately me who chose to hang on it, dwell on it, let it consume me or react negatively in return.
As I meditated and ran more and more I was able to begin to let go and to truly understand what that meant. To LET GO. Clutching to anger is like clutching a hot coal. The tighter we hang on, the worse we get burnt. To avoid harming yourself, we just got to let that shit go.
As I began to truly incorporate this into my life, I was able to start approaching my life with a clear and calculating mind. I began to set goals for myself. Daily, weekly and monthly goals. Goal setting is one of the most powerful tools we have to reshape our lives. In truth I could write a whole article on this alone, and I am sure this will be a large subject in the live discussion. Goal setting helped me rebuild my confidence in myself. Every time I set a goal to run 10k a little faster, I could look back and reflect on the process. I could say "I did it. I did it and this is how."
The modern incarceration of goal setting in my life is to do 30 day challenges. I pick something (kettlebell swings or sigils are common) and I do it every day for 30 days. I make myself accountable to myself to give myself the time of day. And at the end of those 30 days I feel renewed. My focus is sharp, laser accurate. I feel confident to tackle something big.
It has been 12 years now since I have put down the needle. And I had 5 years totally sober before I chose to drink beer again. I feel the need to say that I don't live an entirely sober life anymore. I enjoy some casual beers on the weekends, but my understanding and my approach to indulging in it has changed dramatically. I enjoy a nice beer on a friday night before bed. No longer am I a slave to that vice. I have no desire to drink myself to sleep every day and waste all my money on toxic products that sap my energy and lust for life. I simply choose to live and enjoy living in every way I can.
ARF: We will have a live stream about Derrek's journey Sunday 4th July, 11am PDT/ 8pm CEST. If you have questions you would like us to address please write them in the comments. If you read this article past that date, the interview will be saved on the @alliancerisingfire instagram account.
Author: Derrek Burton
Trail wanderer, kickboxer, kettlebell enthusiast