Some reflections on the journey from dysfunction to sobriety.

The Ego is formed in the early years, as a response to the realization that the world is not just solely about us. It serves to establish a balance between our base desires and impulses and helps us to conform to the dictates of society. As we begin to observe the vastness and complexity of society we adjust ourselves according to how we can fit into it. In my case, this was no less than an adjustment to already existing trauma. My family was literally falling apart at the seams, riddled with psychological disease, shot through with addiction. So I learned very early that addiction was an important component of my position in the scheme of things. An unavoidable fact of life. This was what I learned from my parents as they transmitted their sickness and how I related to them in the absence of any real connection, intimacy or affection.

The natural course from this point, as it was almost impossible for me to function in any productive way, was to get lost in the excitement of the youthful experimentation that was happening all around me, which involved using whatever mood- altering chemicals I could get my hands on. This was not something that I pursued on my own, all of my friends were attracted every bit as much as me, some even more so, to the variety of substances that were available to us. Some of us could take it or leave it, most of us went on to develop some degree of attachment to one substance or another. My own journey was the classic drug ladder, beginning with ‘’soft’’ drugs and alcohol, and ending up with much harder substances like heroin and crack cocaine, and covering pretty much all of the ground in-between. Before I knew it, I had lost sight of everything else in my life and surrounded myself with people, places and things that all served to support my new found lifestyle.

As well as being a very useful way of avoiding and anaesthetizing pain, the drug culture offers a common shelter and mode of living for those who can’t quite make the criteria for and follow the conventions that describe “acceptable” society. It nurtures a bond, which can feel very special and comfortable between like-minded souls, with substances forming the basis of seemingly deep friendship. Of course, these friendships can turn out to be very shallow if the active ingredient of the drugs are removed and reality begins to break through. It is standard practice to use the persona associated with addiction to hide one’s vulnerabilities. The decadent bad boy image provides a very useful front to cover up the insecurities of being a human in an increasingly pressured and dangerous world.

I had realized at an early age that I needed to form an identity of some kind if I was to survive amongst the hordes of people, all vying for some kind of social position in the community where I grew up.
Everybody had a fixed image that they projected onto the scene, many of them shared the same, or at least, very similar ones and a lot of these were centred around drugs or alcohol, often both. This was the perfect hiding place for me at a very painful time in my early adolescence and served this purpose very well for quite a few years.

I knew that I was starting at a disadvantage, from a low point of social disgrace, as a result of our family’s status in the town – we were known as poor and quite undesirable – and I had already begun to immerse myself in the drug and alcohol world, which seemed to meet all of my, otherwise neglected, social needs very well.
As time went on and I became established in this ubiquitous sub-culture, I realized that it has its own, largely unspoken conventions, rules of conduct and behavioral codes. All of which are very important to functioning in the system and can mean the difference between being safe and respected or feared and despised, the latter result can be very dangerous.

These attitudes and behaviors became very ingrained in me and soon began to replace the general social programming that I had been immersed in during the first 15 years of my life. I was lucky enough to have managed to keep a healthy enough distance from the lowest end of the drug scene, that I could maintain work at a functional level and therefore keep a foot in ‘’normality’’. This, though, proved to be a tricky maneuver at times, as I had to hide my more hardcore habits from the general population, who couldn’t accept anything other than what they had collectively decided was ok. Copious quantities of alcohol were fine and some, but not all, ‘’soft drugs’’. I’m sure that I don’t need to highlight the glaring discrepancy in logic occurring here, but they didn’t see it at all.

So on the one hand I was acting out a persona that fit well in one end of the culture, the bad boy, I don’t care, self destruct image, and on the other hand I was attempting to appear like a responsible member of society, holding down a relationship and a job, albeit tenuously, and presenting a respectable front in order to maintain some sort of footing in the ‘’real world’’. Part of my initial awakening was realizing that there actually was no fixed or reliable paradigm to adhere to in the ‘’real world’’, just an insanely complexed matrix of avoidant and addiction patterns, that enable people to continue investing everything in the commercial swamp that we’ve all been nose deep in since, who knows when.

Breaking these patterns and adjusting to the ‘’norm’’ has been the single most difficult task of my adult life, and once I had broken the chemical dependency (easy by comparison), I entered into a period of the kind of emotional rawness that a baby must feel when it is wrenched out of the safety and comfort of the womb into this, an alien world. I had to entirely re-evaluate my attitudes and behaviours and form some kind of identity, with which to enter into the new(for me) game.

Buddhism has offered the perfect framework for this transition, teaching me that, ultimately, I can’t rely upon any notion of a fixed self. Personality is merely a conditioned psychological response to an imposed social demand to fit in with the status quo, which is basically a blanket state of Samsaric trauma, accumulated since beginningless time. My default mind set is a mode of craving for and manipulation towards anything that seems to offer the potential to anchor me safely in the game, thereby eliminating the possibility of rejection and abandonment. And since this level of security is impossible, due to the incessant vicissitudes of Dukkha, there is nothing left to do but seek an Other Power solution.

Namo Amida Bu(  :

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Comment by Robert Joshin Althouse on October 29, 2020 at 15:22

I really appreciate your courage and honesty. 


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