Monday, January 11, 2010

Addiction and The Wheel of Life

Yesterday's service at our Buddhist temple featured a Dharma talk by our minister's assistant about samsara, the Wheel of Life, and the Three Poisons. She brought in a visual aid, a large mandala depicting the Wheel of Life, very much like the image I found and posted here. The wheel is held up by the god of death, Yama (considered a protector of Buddhism in Tibet.) She described him holding a mirror to those of us locked in samsara, or the cycle of birth and death marked by suffering. The upper part of the picture shows where the bodhisattvas are, those who have escaped samsara and are pledged to help everyone else escape. The center shows the Three Poisons, which are desire or attachment, aversion or hatred, and delusion or ignorance. These are the causes of our suffering.

These Three Poisons are the heart of Al-Anon and S-Anon's concepts of how we are affected by another person's addiction.
  • Desire, or attatchment, is known in the program as our fixation on the actions of others, and our desire to control them in order to control our own fear. We are attached to the idea of how we want the addict in our lives to act, and how we want to act ourselves.
  • Aversion, or hatred, is something easy for anyone who has lived with active addiction to understand. We may not have aversion or hatred for the addict (and if we do, we learn in the program to separate the addiction from the addict, and to see addicts "as sick people, not bad people.") But we do have aversion/hatred for the disease, and for the unmanageability of our own lives as a result. We may have aversion or hatred for ourselves even, as a result of trying to live with addiction. This also speaks to the resentment that we have to deal with. (I think SA and AA deal with the concept of resentment much better than the Anon meetings I go to do.)
  • Delusion, or ignorance, is our denial. Our denial has certainly caused suffering, which we term unmanageability. One of the first things we have to learn in the program is how to see life as it really is, not how we have struggled to believe it is. Interestingly, it is also one of the main goals of Buddhism, to see life as it really is and to be "free from all delusion."

In between our birth and our death, we suffer, and this is inevitable as long as we are locked within the cycle. We suffer because we cannot overcome our desire, hatred, and delusion.

I struggle every day with accepting the reality of addiction in my life. I don't have much difficulty separating my husband from his addiction, but I do struggle with seeing the behavior caused by addiction as something he does despite a desire to do otherwise. I love my husband, and I am proud of the work he has done in the last year to improve his life and his attempts to behave differently than his addictions seem to dictate. But I still cling to the notion that I didn't ask for addiction to be a part of my life, and I am angry at the number of ways I am forced to live with it. It may be true that I didn't ask for this, that it isn't fair that we have to deal with all of the negative consequences of addiction and its associated behavior. But it is still the reality of this life. Wishing for things to be different doesn't make it so.

Fortunately, there is also the concept of impermanence. However I am feeling right now, whatever the circumstances of life are right now, they are not permanent, nothing is. What will follow may be better or it may be worse. I'll still probably struggle with accepting that as reality when the time comes. But whatever my feelings are in a moment, or my life circumstances, these things feel permanent in the moment. I will never be happy again. I will never trust again. I will never life a life without the behaviors caused by addiction. But of course, you don't have to be a Buddhist to realize that this simply isn't true. Life is constantly changing, and one day we will no longer even experience life at all.

While I notice suffering in the moment, it helps to understand that this too shall pass. If I am able to learn to stop clinging to things, good and bad things, if I can see things as they really are and not how I want them to be, if I can free myself from hatred, then I can stop suffering. It doesn't matter what others are doing all around me, and this is the essence of Al-Anon and S-Anon as well as Buddhism. I don't know if it is harder for me than other people. Probably not. But it feels so hard to not desire things to be a certain way. I am still working on it, and still learning.

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing, crystalline-clear post reflecting on addiction through the lens of Buddhism; absolutely wonderful, and enlightening. This really helps me as well being an addict, because on many days I feel like I can never overcome this monster. I am not my addiction, or so I thought. But it is part of me, and therefore we are inextricably entwined for life. I cannot make it go away, but I am trying my best to make peace with it and learn from it. It is our enemies oftentimes that are our best teachers.