Light in my Shadow

Overcome Addiction

This post is bloody long, because my addictions were whoppers. Learning how to overcome addiction was one of the most difficult challenges in my entire existence. It was the headlining theme for more than two decades of my life.
My own addiction story is woven into this post, but the point of it all, is how I got out. Seriously if I could do it – anyone can. My addictions weren’t mild, they were monsters.
It’s hard to write this post because shame comes up. But my desire to use my experience for good is stronger than shame could ever be. So fuck it. My past with addiction is what led me to where I am now. And these days, I prefer to view my past as ‘purpose’ because that’s what I’m creating with it. So….*gulp* let’s go.

More and more of us are struggling to overcome addiction.

But these days, it’s not just the big guys like drugs, alcohol, gambling, food and gaming anymore – we’ve found more things to get hooked on like shopping, sex, plastic surgery, porn, Netflix, TV, social media, exercise, the news – even busyness.
Our addictions start out feeling good a couple of times. We get a little rush, it distracts us, or amuses us for a bit, so we do it again and again – until it becomes a habit that’s hardwired into our neural pathways.
Now we’re the puppet who gets jerked around by our addictions, often even when it’s causing us great harm we still can’t stop. Our habit brain wants to do it. We need it. Life gets dull without it. This is the danger zone.
overcome addiction
Addictions distract us from ourselves. We think these things help us to cope with stress, boredom, our emotions or pain. They distract us from looking within and they distract us from facing our problems.

I have a huge interest in addiction itself, but more-so, the methods (that actually work) to help people overcome addiction.

I’ve had a very intimate, damaging journey with addiction and it sucked really bad. Not just for me – but for people around me like my friends and loved ones.
Every time someone mentions they have/or had an addiction, I get curious – I wonder which ‘thing’ they’re talking about. Because this post is about my journey in overcoming addiction, let me put my brave-pants on and I’ll tell you about mine:

I'll work backwards, starting from the more 'socially acceptable' addictions.

I smoked cigarettes every day from age 14 to around age 42, when I finally gave up. For years I was ‘that person’ who’d find other people’s butts when I had no money, collect the tobacco and roll my own – I’ve done it thousands of times. I even had those nicotine-stained yellow ‘smokers fingers’ which is totally gross.
I had a heavy weed addiction from 14 until 41. By ‘heavy’, I mean all day, every day. Bongs for breakfast, waking up in the middle of the night for cones and I couldn’t sleep without it. I’d still be ripping bongs when I got bronchitis, and I’d get serious anxiety if I couldn’t get weed (a little pro-weed disclaimer: I’m all for plant medicines – but it’s how you use it. Back then I used it terribly.)
From around age 15, I had an increasingly serious alcohol addiction. I drank cheap red wine every day unless I had a horrid hangover from the day before. I didn’t sip, I gulped fast. The only reason I drank was to get as drunk as I could, as fast as I could, often to blackout stage.
I developed a methamphetamine addiction in my late 20s. During my mid 20’s speed turned to ice, and the grip of addiction became much more serious. It started as ‘sometimes’, which became weekends, and often crept into during the week. I’ve had several lengthy periods of my life where this addiction became heavy and ALL CONSUMING.

*cringe* yes there's more...

I also had a very serious addiction to gambling. It started at around age 18 and over the decades that followed it grew to be the biggest monster of all. It cost me everything.
After my rock bottom, I quit the drugs (booze and gambling took a while longer) and I transferred my addiction to eating, and I put on 15 kilos in 3 months.

I was literally trapped in the grip of a monster that controlled my life.

As far as the old ‘psychiatric labels’ go, I’m diagnosed with Substance Abuse Disorder, Gambling Affected Disorder as well as PTSD from developmental disorder.

Addictions can often be traced back to a root cause.

Before I get stuck into how mindful drawing helped me overcome addiction, it’s important to look at the root cause of why I had these addictions. Addiction usually has a root cause – the tricky part is, the root cause is often hidden from the reaches of the conscious mind. It’s buried out the back in the shadows of your subconscious.
I didn’t know why I was an addict. I never stopped to ask myself the question. My addictions were a part of me for so long, they were actually ‘normal’ to me – I had no other existence to compare it to. It was only after I began doing my inner work, that I gradually began to get some insights into why addiction was such a huge problem for me.
As a kid, I was highly sensitive (I still am, but it’s a positive thing now). Something traumatic can happen to five people, and the Highly Sensitive Person will be most affected. They feel everything more – good and bad.
My childhood was made up of traumatic events that created a lasting imprint on me, which I won’t go into in depth here because I talk about this in a different post, Managing PTSD. But I will give the short version because it’s intrinsically linked to my shit fight with addiction.
I raised in cult where we were isolated from the ‘world’, and we were subjected to psychological and physical trauma. When I got out at 15, I was disowned by my family (my Mum and stepdad), which created a program of lack of self-love, unworthiness and good old rejection issues. I wasn’t consciously aware of this, as in, I never stopped to think about it.

But this strong emotional imprint created a background program hidden in the shadows of my subconscious mind.

At 15, I entered ‘the world’, and from day one I swung like a pendulum from strong control, into no control. I had an aversion to the word “No”, I had no self-discipline and I hated authority. All I knew about discipline, was that it involved squashing me into line with fear, a belt and bruises.
No one ever taught me about ‘self-control‘. Side note: it’s not my Mum or my step dad’s fault – I have great love and compassion for them these days. I’m aware they are literally brainwashed by religion, and they simply passed down their own unhealed trauma to me.
So we don’t have another generation of trauma passing itself off as culture.
At 15 I began to have flashbacks, emotional triggers, and graphic dreams of the end of the world – or hell – what I was told was real every day since I was a child. Fear was instilled into me from the day I was born (it’s how they control us). I found smoking marijuana stopped my dreams, and it helped me shove my emotional discomfort away.

Around the same time I learned that alcohol helped me suppress my emotions, and I became dependent on it.

I also wasn’t able to socialise without huge discomfort, because aside from a few people in our church, we were not allowed to have friends. So socialising brought out constant insecurity, anxiety, unworthiness and lack of confidence. Booze helped push this discomfort away, mostly because I was drunk and didn’t care.
From the first time I gambled at 18, I was hooked. I didn’t know at the time, but looking back, I absolutely see the flags. My gambling grew progressively worse over the years and exploded in severity after my dad’s suicide in 2014.
Gambling addiction is strange to explain. I know it runs in my family so perhaps there is something genetic, but I also now know through learning about epigentics and my own experience – that genes can be ‘switched off’ and deactivated – it is NOT a life sentence.
Gambling for me was never about money. It simply stopped me feeling for as long as I was doing it. It gives you a feel-good dopamine rush, just like all addictions. And if it gets its hooks in like it does for so many people? You can’t stop – even when it is taking EVERYTHING from you.
I always got absolutely plastered on $3 red wine, which they will KEEP serving you – even when you’re hammered. Each glass of red wine I ordered was gone in four big gulps. I’d order wine from 10am in the morning, waiting for the bar to open (I honestly cannot believe I was this person, yet I was).
I got hooked on meth the first time I smoked it. Meth became a very dark dangerous drug to me because it was the strongest. It was the most effective at stripping away all my uncomfortable emotions that poked me from my shadows. It wiped away all my self consciousness.
Meth addiction is a terribly dark force. It energetically swings open the door to a very low vibration darkness like no other drug I’m personally familiar with. It is literally darkness itself.
I could hold my addictions (most of the time). I was high-functioning. My tolerance was high. I could drink most people under the table. I used to pride myself on being able to pull bongs bigger than most guys. No one really knew about my gambling addiction. I used to steal meth that my partner was selling because I was totally dependent on it. I NEEDED IT. Shit hit the fan ALL THE TIME. It was a highly dysfunctional time.

And then it got worse.

A little bit about my dad: He left the church when I was 5, so we were forced to disown him and cut him off. I didn’t have a relationship with him again until I left, at 15. At that time, I was disowned by my Mum, but got my Dad back. We had a good two decades of him in our lives, but in November 2014 I lost him again, this time to suicide.
I don’t remember much of the two years that followed, but what did happen was my addictions went through the roof in an attempt to cope.
I couldn’t process the weight of the emotion. It didn’t fit in my brain, heart or soul. I already was running so fast from my emotions – I was doing everything I could to keep them swept under the rug. But this triggered an emotional crisis for me. I was literally grasping urgently at larger levels of addiction in an attempt to get by. And it crept up so incrementally I didn’t realise how bad I’d gotten. I was that frog in the pot of boiling water.

In January 2016 – just over a year after my Dad died, my Mum (who we had recently rekindled our relationship with) was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer. I have almost no memory of this time. All I remember is visiting her in Peter Mac after a stem cell transplant – and that’s it.

And gradually the walls started closing in on me.

Every single month I was threatened with eviction. I spent all three of my housemate’s rent money on my addictions and was always late. There was a constant stream of debt collectors calling and texting my phone every day which I never answered. I changed power companies every two months because I’d spent all the bills money. I pawned all of my items that had any value and I stole all my food from the supermarket.
Around this time I also started borrowing money from the community gardens I created. When I ran out of my own funds, I told myself I was ‘borrowing’ it from my future wages – and I meant it.

But I did it over and over again, until I became horrified I wasn’t going to be able to pay it back – a monster was growing and I didn’t even see it until it was too late. None of my enormous mess was created intentionally – but nonetheless, I created it and I was fully responsible for it.

It wasn't long before my mental health started to decline.

My brain got wired into fight or flight, because I was skipping it around repeatedly. Every time anxiety, stress, emotion or a flashback from decades before entered my head, it triggered me, and I’d move my brain fast to get away from it. This happened constantly – maybe a hundred times a day.
I started to have a weird sensation of a white noise in my head, like a high-pitched screaming sensation, which I’m sure are warning signs of a nervous breakdown.

The stress of rolling over 50 huge problems every day was becoming impossible to carry. I was being worn down by lying to cover up my addictions – lying goes against every part of my nature. It creates horrid anxiety and disharmony inside, and lying repeatedly to cover up the mess I’d created was making me mentally sick.

And one day I reached the 'red zone'.

One morning, on the verge of some kind of full short circuit, I walked away from everything – my friends, my home, my beautiful dog Loki (my baby) who I shared with my ex. I left the gardens I worked so hard to create, from nothing but a dream. I destroyed my reputation and I hurt so many people who loved me.
And I handed myself into the police and got arrested. I was pretty sure I’d committed a crime because I now couldn’t pay this ‘loan’ back. I was sure I was going to jail. I texted everyone related to my community gardens and I told them what I’d done. I think I even announced it over social media in some kind of psychosis.

In a matter of days I lost everything because I had allowed my addictions to take it ALL. (sidenote: Six months later the police dropped the case. No one wanted to charge me. Everyone had nothing but compassion for me and wanted me to get well. Over six years later, I still cry with gratitude every time I think about this kindness.)
I went from a noisy, busy, social life full of amazing people who I loved so much, and I moved into my nephew’s toy room, at my sister’s house on the other side of town.
During the first year I sat down at rock bottom. I couldn’t comprehend what had happened. Around here I started going to a lot of addiction recovery groups (which are great for support, but getting to the root cause is hard and ultimately, they couldn’t help me).

I went to psychologists, counsellors and psychiatrists. On my way back I’d get blind drunk and gamble all my money away because I couldn’t deal with the vault of old trauma being opened.
I’d go to AA and GA blind drunk, crying and blabbing about god knows what. I would drink red wine from the bottle at my sisters and I’d leave drunken voicemails to myself like a Dear Diary. All of them blind drunk, rambling and crying. I can’t even remember doing it, but I found them on my phone not long ago. I can’t listen to them – I tried but the pain I heard in that version of me is too much.

But I still wasn't able to stop drinking or gambling.

I’d often raid my sisters booze cupboard drinking whatever disgusting concoction I could find. As long as it had alcohol in it I didn’t care. I’d stopped smoking bongs and meth when I moved to my sisters, and in its place I developed an addiction to food.
I put on 15 kilos in around 3 months, because every ping of emotion was now being distracted by eating. Still I had no awareness of why I was like this. I had no fucking clue or insight whatsoever. It’s just the way I was.

How mindful drawing gradually helped me to overcome addiction.

Halfway through my second year, I picked up the pen and started drawing. And something began to change.
Several weeks into my new daily practice, I noticed the focus and concentration was starting to ‘unwire’ my brain from stress mode. My racing mind started to slow down. And as I was fully focusing on what I was drawing, I wasn’t thinking. For the first time in my life, I put the brakes on my thought process. I began to crack holes in the program.
I began to feel a little bit of joy at what I was drawing. Now I could feel a little bit of gratitude and sparks of long-lost lifeforce. It became easier to get out of bed because there was something to look forward to.
I also began to observe myself – instead of just being me. I could observe my thoughts and my emotions. Slowly I began to see I was using addiction to suppress both my emotions, and old events that kept haunting me.
Writing in a journal became my best friend as well as an important emotional outlet. I began the slow path of self-acceptance – I had to or I simply could not live with myself. I took responsibility for my actions and began forgiving myself.

Two years after I lost my dad and stopped running mentally and emotionally, and I finally began to grieve.

All this trapped grief that was locked away inside of me, finally began to MOVE. I began to be able to sit with this full body heart pain. It hurt terribly but it felt right. Mindful drawing became like an anchor to me – it holds you, while all these background repairs are going on. It works because through full focus, your MIND is not ticking over. It’s no longer suppressing.
Once when I drawing, I went ‘somewhere else’ (which I now recognise to be the high gamma brainwave state). I was able to obtain a giant piece of my puzzle and I came ‘back’ with a chunk of information that existed outside the reaches of my conscious mind.
In a split second, I ‘knew’ that what happened to me as a child was NEVER about me. I wasn’t unlovable – this event, had NOTHING to do with me at all – it had to do with them. Same with being disowned. I was never rejected because I was unlovable – it wasn’t ABOUT ME AT ALL.
In an instant this awareness neutralised a decades-old, rock-solid destructive program and removed it from my personal narrative. I’d pulled TRUTH into my subconscious mind that immediately cancelled out my programming. This removed my root cause of addiction.

Learning to overcome addiction however, wasn't this easy.

Addictive behaviour becomes hardwired into the ‘habit’ brain through repetition. It still took work to gradually ‘fade’ these neural pathways and create new ones in their place.
It took another year of ever-so-gradual decrease in relapses but gradually I became aware of my triggers, like boredom, feeling low or having money in my hand. Being drunk was terrible for me with gambling, so I stopped getting drunk. Ever-so-gradually this helped me overcome addiction.
The ‘habit’ brain still thinks THAT’S WHAT WE DO – but when your root cause is healed, now you’ve got a tiny bit of wriggle room where before there was NONE.
I’ve had well over 100 relapses. Each relapse was followed by despair and self loathing. But each time my determination got stronger because I could not fucking live like this. The shame, guilt and hurt I’d created became my fuel and every relapse made me a tiny bit stronger.

Gradually I found the tiny, powerful pause between stimulus and response.

I expand on this in the benefit strengthening impulse control, but gradually my tiny seeds started growing bigger because I put in CONSISTENT PRACTICE.
Carefully I grew these tiny seeds of self-awareness, self love, insight and self discipline. I started highly valuing my new-found-clarity. I was falling in love with my connection to source energy which I began to feel all around me – this was thing I looked for, ever since I was a little girl.

Slowly I began to be able to manage my emotions because I was allowing myself to FEEL them, along with compassion and patience to myself for every one of my 100+ relapses.
And gradually I began to see a powerful truth: that I could create or delete parts of my personality that were not beneficial to me. We are able to create ourselves. We can take our power back and become free. When this truth gets in, the lies and false programs fall away.

These days I can spot something with addictive potential a mile away.

Everything that has the potential to control us is my enemy. Largely because of my upbringing, but also because I was puppet who had no control over my actions when I was an addict. Addiction destroys lives and creates so much suffering.
I will always fight for freedom because the biggest prisons on our planet do not have walls. Our prisons are the programs in our minds. And the system, creates them.
Addicts can be judged and written off so easily, but underneath the addiction there is a person in pain. They are our mums and our dads. They’re our kids, our brothers, sisters, friends and our community.

Our prisons are full of people who’s addictions have grown into monsters and robbed them and others of life. These people are ALL ME. These people have a wealth of beautiful things to offer our world, but this potential is locked away and disabled by addiction.

Our addictions are keeping something swept under the rug. The questions is, what?

Whatever that thing is, it’s one of our keys to freedom.  Sometimes it’s our own shit. Sometimes its global. We live in system that is not conducive to life – it creates fear and suffering (not by accident). Many of us are not okay because we’re feeling the illness of the world we live in. Especially those of us who are sensitive.
Mindful drawing can push pause on your thoughts and programs and get to the answers underneath.
If you are suffering from addiction, or you are hurting because of the addictions of your loved ones. I see you. You’re not alone. Mindful drawing is one vehicle that can help overcome addiction and access the truth within you – I can teach you how to do it right here.

Never give up. Keep on trying and you WILL get there.