Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ask Parvati 27: Addiction - Part 1: Where Is Addiction?


Dear Parvati,

I have recently been coming to terms with the fact that my parents were alcoholics and I have many tendencies that are typical for adult children of alcoholics. As I come to grips with this, I'm also beginning to see that my partner behaves like someone with an addiction - yet he does not use alcohol or drugs. What is addiction? Is it the inability to stop using something known to be addictive, like alcohol, drugs or cigarettes? Is it addiction if I spend a lot of money on clothes? How can I best support my partner and myself if I am in relationship with an addict? Or if I am one myself?


Thank you for these important questions. Addiction is very prevalent in our society, I believe far more so than most of us realize. We live in a society with many contradictions. We can praise behavior and habits that may in fact support addiction, and also publicly acknowledge the harmful affects caused by addiction. We consciously speak of the harmful effects of addiction, yet we often bury our heads in the sand when faced with its painful expressions, root and ramifications.

Years ago, there was an excellent article in the Yoga Journal (Nov-Dec 1996) exposing the world’s largest private cancer treatment and research center for heavily investing in the tobacco industry. On one hand, we strive to eliminate diseases; on the other hand, we encourage them. We celebrate many leaders in our entertainment industry, admiring their lives, wishing for their successes; yet too easily ignore the often accompanying struggle with addictions and deviant behavior. Indeed, we are a culture full of paradoxes.

As a musical touring performer who is immersed in the music industry, I have seen how the old paradigm of sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and excess has been glorified. Addiction has taken the lives of many young artists; yet, for the most part, it is the addictive behaviours that seem to make them more popular.

We may think of addiction and think only of someone strung out on crack or someone who lives at a bar. But addiction is much more pervasive and insidious than these more extreme cases. Often unseen and unheard, addiction can seep its way into our lives for years before it becomes a blazing problem we can no longer ignore. I believe this is partly due to the way we socialize, the way we accept and often encourage behavior that feeds addiction.

We commonly accept cigarette smoking as part of society, not questioning it much, not necessarily seeing it as an addiction, yet we also publicly acknowledge its addictive and lethal qualities. Much of our income thrives on the manufacturing and sales of cigarettes and alcohol, which ironically feed addictions that in turn increase medical and social complications.

Though tobacco has a place in the herbal healing arts, as all herbs do, the way it is consumed socially is not medicinal. It feeds addiction and debilitates health. In the same way, though some can argue that small amounts of alcohol can be medicinal, and some like the taste, I believe that the general tendency is to consume alcohol in an attempt to medicate psychological and emotional issues that require clear headed sobriety in order to heal. Native Americans historically called alcohol “fire water”. That was no accident. Alcohol embodies a seductive energy that has the power to fool its user into thinking he or she is in control and can even destabilize an entire culture.

Addictions come in many forms. People can be addicted to drugs, alcohol, pills, sex, gambling, shopping, over- and under-eating to name a few. At the root of addiction is wanting, a hungry force that is never satiated. When we are fueled by wanting, we attempt to medicate and dull uncomfortable emotions though external distractions. Happiness cannot be found this way. Wanting can rule our lives to greater or lesser degrees. Most people have wanting. For an addict, wanting is the way he or she identifies, the way he or she perceives life. If we are to explore addiction and addictive energies in our life, we must be willing to see in which way we have allowed wanting to run our lives.


1) Look around you today and observe the way we socially support the notion of wanting in our advertising, in our media, in our interactions, in the way we think.

2) Go within and explore in which way wanting drives your life.

3) Notice the ways your wanting is co-creating with the wanting images and messages around you.

4) See if you are willing to open to the possibility that there is an entire reality beyond wanting, beyond feeling disconnected and lacking. See if you can allow yourself to rest into the notion of perfection in this moment, of being ok with what is.

(Continued tomorrow with What Is Addiction?)

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