Prisoners On Addiction | Thubten Chodron The Thubten Chodron Teaching Archive Sat, 25 Feb 2017 20:24:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The allure of drugs Mon, 09 Jan 2017 07:03:34 +0000

As a teenager I looked down on drug addicts. I couldn’t understand how a person could be so weak. Why couldn’t they just stop? They know it’s bad for them. I was much of a loner as a young adult, until I met a couple named Scott and April, who invited me to a party. Everyone was having such a great time. Endless laughter, lots of affections, carefree attitude. Everyone was so nice. I went from having no friends, to having a whole family of new friends. Everyone was so inviting, girls dancing, hugging, and coming home for the night. Wow! I felt like I was finally living life!

Two young men sitting on a couch smoking weed.

This was the life. Having fun with friends. (Photo by ∞GUV’NOR∞)

My parents were happy for me. After a few weeks I decided to invite the crowd to my place. I didn’t live a lavish life but, for a bachelor’s pad it was a perfect place for a house party. There was lots of drinking and smoking weed. Nothing more. I had never smoked weed until the age of nineteen. Oh my God, was I missing out! This was the life. Having fun with friends. A little drinking and weed never hurt anyone.

When I turned 21 I decided to get my CDL (commercial driver’s license) which meant that I would be subject to regular drug tests by my employer. I had heard that weed can be detected in a urine sample for up to 30 days. But, cocaine can only be detected for up to 72 hours (3 days). I asked a co-worker about this and he agreed. Next thing you know, I graduated to doing cocaine. No more grass, I am messing with the real deal now!

The high was more intense and I didn’t have the slow effect that comes from grass. I didn’t feel stupid. I was more confident and aggressive. I felt real. I am tapping into my higher potential. No more shyness or doubting. This drug was nourishing my confidence.

After three years of doing cocaine I was no longer confident. I was embarrassed about myself. Because of my addiction I stole from work, pawned my possession, lost my so-called friends, and lost my job, my car, and my dignity. I never saw it coming. What happen to the fun times? This drug had diseased my mind.

Now I find myself in prison, thanks in large part to my irrational decision-making while hyped up on drugs. Believe me, no one tries drugs with the intention to loose everything of value; including one’s self-control and freedom from incarceration.

Think of all the wonderful things people have done as a result of doing drugs. Now, think of all the destruction–the truth that drugs give birth to.

Being happy and confident doesn’t require a chemical. Having true friends doesn’t mean you need enough drinks for everyone. By loving yourself, sobriety is true bliss. Having to be high is like saying that you are not strong enough in sobriety. You have the will power within you to care about and nurture yourself. You can do it. And there are plenty of people who care enough to help you along the way.

Addiction Mon, 09 Jan 2017 07:02:57 +0000

When addiction has you, it feels like there is no way out. Part of you wants desperately to quit. It seems as though there’s a second part that is full of madness that keeps dragging you to the hell of getting the next fix. Why do I continue this? How did I get here? Will it ever end? You remember before this torture when you had control of your life, when you weren’t blowing paychecks on drug binges. You’re embarrassed by new habits. When the money runs out, you start to scheme to keep the dope coming. You lie to your family. You steal, and sell your possessions. Chasing an imaginary utopia that is really a place of agony and turmoil. It seems like it would be easy to just let go and gain control. But both the mind and body have been captivated by the illusion of desire.

Young man with eyes closed, smoking.

Why do I continue this? How did I get here? (Photo by Matthew Montgomery)

The first step to recovery is to admit that we need help. It is extremely difficult to battle addiction on our own. There are compassionate people and organizations that are willing to help us. It is important to open up and admit our addiction to others. We may initially feel defeated and embarrassed; but we are only defeated and only remain an embarrassment while we lack the courage to change for the better and to help yourselves to be healed. Just as the addiction was gradual and not deepening in one night, the steps toward recovery require nurturing time in order to heal. But you can make it, my friend. I have confidence in you! By loving yourself and getting the help you need, you will free yourself from the poison of addiction.

The sangha in us all Mon, 09 Jan 2017 07:02:16 +0000

If I had to guess, there are probably far fewer Buddhist centers on the Atlantic coast than the Pacific region of America. And for prisons in the Carolinas it is rare to find any Buddhist services. Or is it? ….

Statue of Buddha.

Silly mind, do you not understand that the buddha nature is within all? (Photo by Ronja H.)

I happen to be a chaplain’s clerk who enjoys greeting others, no matter what religious service is being held in the chapel. There are Christian, Islamic, American Indian, Moorish Science, and Messianic Judaism services. In my eleven years in prison it has been rare to find a fellow Dharma practitioner, a so-called member of the sangha. But the true Dharma eye needs no service. With right understanding, service is held in every breath, with every step, in every thought, word, and action. The sangha includes every precious sentient being, each a beautiful jewel towards whom we have compassion, patience, and loving kindness.

“I can’t stand gang members, they are so loud. Damn junkies, always stealing. Gay people make me sick. Muslims are a bunch of terrorists.” Thoughts like these are thoughts of dukkha (suffering). Silly mind, do you not understand that the buddha nature is within all? “You, the richest person in the world, have been going around laboring and begging, when all the while the treasure you seek is within you,” Huang Po.

Instead of ridiculing, judging, being enamored, or lacking empathy, understand that the sangha is all-inclusive.

In ignorance we separate ourselves. Make your understanding as broad as the sky. Make your compassion as vast as the oceans. We are all a bit different and yet the same in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. We each hold a beautiful and worthy point brush (our minds) that must be dipped inside a collective heart. Gently and nurturingly we bring to life a colorful work of enlightened art! – Clearing the moment’s path.

In the new year, each and every day may we be mindful that the Buddha nature is within all, the Dharma is the truth of existence and phenomena, and the sangha is all-inclusive.

Service in every breath, sangha in every smile.

Practising and upholding the precepts Sun, 21 Aug 2011 02:00:28 +0000

Whoever is overcome by this wretched and sickly craving, his sorrows grow like grass after the rain.
— the Buddha

I am a Buddhist practitioner, and I am also an alcoholic. I have seldom heard people address these labels as being related, although I am not suggesting that only addicts suffer due to craving. However, who but an addict would have a better understanding of the second noble truth, in which the Buddha states that the cause of suffering was craving?

A gold buddha statute on a river.

The Buddha said, “Until the craving that lies dormant is rooted out, suffering springs up again and again.” (Photo by Akuppa John Wigham)

A substance abuser’s suffering is blatant. It is also relatively easy to identify the cause of this dissatisfaction. Not only are we linked to our addictions psychologically, but also physically as well. Even after many years of being clean, we may be struck by the urge to use mind-altering drugs or alcohol.

I have been clean and sober for about six and a half years and now have no desire to use drugs or to drink. I regard my sobriety as a spiritual experience. There was no blinding light, no prophetic revelation from the Buddha. Rather, it was a process. By learning the basic principles of Buddhism and trying to practice them in my life, I began to change. There was an upheaval in my character defects. My values changed, and I began to have a new belief system. Vowing to uphold the precepts, I swore to abstain from taking intoxicants. Sounds pretty simple, huh? I just gave my addiction up.

Over the past several years that I have been clean, I have slowly ceased viewing myself as an alcoholic or addict. That is a fragment of my past. I began to identify myself more and more with the label “Buddhist.” It sounds so much more pleasant than “dope fiend” or “falling-down drunk.” Somewhere along the way I decided that I was fixed. “I have no desire to be drunk or high,” I thought. “So obviously I am well now. I will never use again.”

A review of past and recent events has led me to question these statements. It has brought me back to the realization that, in fact, I am an alcoholic. I am a drunk. I am a dope fiend. It’s just that I am not currently practicing those behaviors. The Buddha said, “Until the craving that lies dormant is rooted out, suffering springs up again and again.” My addiction lies dormant. I have to acknowledge that and recognize that all it takes is for me to use one time and the addiction will again be active. If I get just one taste of an intoxicant, it means my return to a nearly constant state of suffering.

What is to be done with my addiction? Can I eradicate this destructive desire from my life? Can I become well through faith? Maybe will power can sustain me? I don’t know. The only answer that I have right now is to search for more answers. What I do know is that this is a serious issue. The collective recidivism rate for prisoners in the USA is high. So many of these people are high or drunk when they make the decisions that lead them back to prison. And they are the lucky ones, aren’t they? Being a Buddhist didn’t stop Dan from shoving a needle into his arm not long after he was released. Taking a vow to abstain from intoxicants didn’t stop him from dying due to the craving from addiction.

So what do I do? I continue to investigate my mind and stay constantly on guard for shortcomings in my thinking process. I seek to correct the thoughts that lead me to engage in destructive behavior and investigate how my feelings often control my thoughts and vice versa. I must be mindful of these things as well as of the consequences that others and I will suffer if I choose to drown my body and mind in drugs and alcohol. I have to have solid recognition that I have a disease, and at the same time, to know that the Three Jewels offer me a remedy.

He who … is ever mindful—it is he who will make an end to craving.
— the Buddha

Intoxicants Sat, 18 Jun 2011 17:15:11 +0000

It should have been obvious that fateful day that the use of any intoxicating beverage would, at best, be extremely foolish. After all, I had witnessed firsthand the devastation alcohol had caused my own family.

Rather than recall the painful memories of my childhood, seeing my father laying unconscious on the front porch of our home, or the living room floor if he was able to actually make it inside the house, urinating on himself, or returning home after a night of drinking to beat and abuse my mother, younger brother and myself, I ignored those telling memories, and indulged in drinking alcohol.

Empty beer bottles and trash on the ground.

Intoxicants can make our otherwise peaceful and pleasant personality change to a more aggressive and coarse one. (Photo by Malingering)

It was a simple enough act in itself, and one that most people wouldn't think twice about. However, for the biological son of an alcoholic, it was to be the harbinger of death and destruction. After consuming half a case of beer, my otherwise peaceful and pleasant personality changed to a more aggressive and coarse nature, to the point of becoming provocative. As a result, when confronted by a young man who found it offensive that I was in a drunken stupor in a public park and threatened to summon the police to have me arrested, I argued with the person briefly, and then repeatedly shot him until he was dead. In my drunken and confused state there was no rational thought process at work, nothing that would leap to the forefront and say, "This is terribly wrong. You cannot take a life." Instead, within a few short irrational minutes, I had taken the glorious life of another human being. These events took place more than 33 years ago, and as a result, I have remained incarcerated since.

In the brief time it took to commit the irrevocable act of taking a life, I also forfeited my own life in many respects. In a convoluted way, I succeeded in bringing devastation to the families and friends of two human beings. People who played no part in the actual event became victims as well.

Throughout these many years since that terrible day, I have relived those events time and time again. And while I am genuinely remorseful, I realize that there is nothing that I can say or do that will ever bring my victim back to life. What I should have done should have been done before I ever took a single drink. I should have acknowledged the fact that alcohol consumption can and often does result in tragedy, and acted accordingly. I should never have imbibed.

If asked today, I would caution anyone against the dangers of drinking alcohol. This should be fairly obvious to anyone, not only in terms of such common place things as traffic fatalities, but in the number of people held in jails and prisons across the country, who committed any number of crimes as a result of intoxicants. There is no way to underscore the dangers strongly enough!

Choices and consequences Sat, 18 Jun 2011 13:50:45 +0000

Venerable Thubten Chodron: One of my Dharma students, who is in high school, asked me what to say to a friend who was into taking drugs. I referred the request to B. F., because he’s currently serving a 20-year sentence for drug possession and dealing. The following is his advice to young people in high school who are into drugs.

B. F.: Even though I graduated 29 years ago this June, I remember high school very well. I went from being a jock as a freshman to being a “stoner” as a sophomore. I started smoking weed and doing speed and downers when I was 13.

Unlike many of my contemporaries, I haven’t developed a selective memory of those days as I have aged. I never married and settled down or had children. I partied pretty hard almost all the way up to the time I was arrested at age 32. Drugs, booze, and partying were a big part of my life because I was in the drug business. I grew up in the drug culture of Southern California in the late 60s and early 70s, and it was a wild time. Interestingly, I had been clean for five or six months when I got busted. I made the decision to get straight and sober before I was arrested and sent to prison. So prison wasn’t the reason I quit, although it did reinforce the decision that I had made before I ended up in jail.

I don’t claim to be an expert on drug addiction and alcoholism. But I am knowledgeable because I have experienced it first-hand and, in recent years, have studied it in college. I have literally spent years in thought and reflection, actively studying the things I did, the motivations behind them, and their results. I’m not interested in judging anyone else and don’t want to dictate how others should live their lives, but hope my story may help in some way.

I started smoking dope and eating pills at 13. Coming from an alcoholic family, I had already been drinking for three years by then. By the time I turned 15, I was already doing large amounts of LSD, mescaline, and peyote. We were using a lot of downers and booze back then, too. We took barbiturates like Seconal and Phenobarbital as well as Thorazine and Methaqualone, etc. When I was 16, I started using heroin and opium, including pharmaceutical morphine that we used to score from a guy that worked at a hospital and Tussinex which is a synthetic opiate in cough syrup. By the time I was 18, I was using anything and everything. We were doing PCP, synthetic cannabis, THC, cocaine, crystal meth, Dilaudid, quaaludes, etc, etc, etc. We smoked, snorted, shot up, and drank, whatever. All the time we were using drugs, we were drinking too—whisky, vodka, beer, tequila, Bacardi rum, anything. My point is that I have been there and done that.

Personally, I hate it when someone who doesn’t have first-hand knowledge tries to give me advice. Sure, you can learn a lot from a book about many things, but when it comes to booze and drugs, the best advice comes from those who have been there.

I remember very well the time in my life around 18 or 19 years old. I think more than anything I wanted to be accepted by the group. I wanted to be popular and “cool.” Trying to fit in, be accepted, and be cool is still probably the biggest thing for most young people. For guys, that time in life is also really crazy because there’s all this testosterone running around in our veins making us crazy with overwhelming sexual libido. From 15 or 16 on up, we guys aren’t really thinking very smart; we’re thinking about sex. That’s one of the biggest reasons we need to be accepted and need to be cool. Cool dudes always seem to get the chicks.

Depending on the crowd that you run with, booze and drugs come into play in varying degrees. Booze is more prevalent than drugs in some circles, like the jocks and the goody-goody kids. Drugs and booze are the thing for the stoners, surfers, and partiers. Even in the partying crowd, there were the people that took it to the extreme, the party animals.

To those of you using, I won’t say “Stop!” or “Don’t do that!” You are young adult human beings who must make your own decisions. Let me tell you something much more important though, a concept that you may not have considered yet. It’s what I like to call the “truth of choices and consequences.” It is a very simple yet often overlooked truth. For example, if you choose the stay up all night, what happens? You usually wake up late and are late for school or work. Or you might not get enough sleep and be tired and irritable the next day. Or you might be late for an appointment and get a speeding ticket because you were in a hurry. Or a million different things could happen as a result of you staying up late.

A teenage male sitting on a curb smoking weed.

Take an inventory of your past decisions, to pinpoint and recognize them, and then look at what the decisions led to. (Photo by kynan tait)

Choices and consequences: I would like to stress that you start to take an inventory of your past decisions, to pinpoint and recognize them, and then look at what the decisions led to. Especially the “seemingly unimportant decisions” or “SUDS” of the past and present. Examine and try to understand the powerful consequences of the SUDS. When you choose to use drugs and booze, you are making a choice. This choice is a SUDS although at the time it may not seem like it. The choice to use drugs and alcohol may have consequences that follow you throughout the rest of your life. The decision I made at 13 to smoke dope made all my subsequent decisions about drugs pretty much a foregone conclusion. That decision that I made 33 years ago still affects my life every day. When I look around and see the bars, the concrete, and the razor wire, when I miss my home, my family, and my freedom, I know that SUDS I made over the years all contribute to my being here. I know now that this prison that I have been locked up in these last 14 years is partly a consequence of that decision I made when I was 13.

I think the thing you need to understand more than anything is that the decisions you are making right now—good ones, bad ones, whatever—will lead to more decisions in the future. They will color and flavor those future decisions. These decisions in the [glossary_exclude]aggregate [/glossary_exclude] will determine who you are and what your life will be. Simply stated, life is the end result of the choices we make. Period! Yes, sometimes outside influences and chance happenings will inexorably change your life, but your decisions are what place you in the position. Your decisions are an integral part of your karma. The better your decisions, the better your karma.

The decisions you are making right now as high school students or young adults will affect you for the rest of your life. They will affect the people you choose to have in your life, and those people will affect what you do, where you go, and what you experience. You are currently writing the opening chapters in the book known as your adult life. You are making the decisions that will determine your life. Dad and Mom used to make decisions for you, but it’s no longer up to them. You are becoming adults and with adulthood come many responsibilities. Good decision making is crucial at this point in your life. However, as teenagers we usually aren’t qualified or experienced enough to make good decisions yet. I certainly wasn’t. That’s part of the irony of teenage—we’re adults physically and sexually, but we’re not adults mentally and emotionally. But we think we are! We think we know what it’s all about. But we don’t. When I was 16 I knew everything. I’m 46 now, and I clearly see that it’s taken me 30 years to figure out that I don’t know anything!

As teenagers most of us don’t look at life as choices and consequences. We don’t look in the long-term. Teenage is synonymous with spontaneous. Long-term is next week or next year, not 30 years.

The stupidest things I’ve done in my life were done when I was shit-faced drunk or loaded out of my brain. In the beginning, it was fun to drink and drug, but as I aged, it became less and less fun. Drugs turned from fun, to subtle addiction, and then to obvious addiction. Booze turned from being cool and part of the crowd, to unbelievably horrible hangovers, drunk driving tickets, and regrettable actions. It went from being one of the most seemingly innocuous social activities, right up there with cigarettes, to one of the most damaging habits a person can acquire.

There were many adverse health affects from drinking and drugging—some are subtle and insignificant short-term. Others are powerful and negative. Do too much coke and see how fast cocaine-psychosis turns you into a paranoid schizophrenic. Shoot heroin a few times, get that monkey on your back, and you’ll sell everything you own and steal anything of value to get that next fix so that you won’t get dope-sick. Snort or crystal meth hard-core for a couple of years and watch your teeth fall out and your complexion turn to sores, scabs, and leather. Eat LSD for a couple of years and you won’t even be able to remember your Grandma’s phone number that you’ve known by heart your whole life. Drink to excess and sooner or later you’ll get a drunk driving charge and an overnight visit to the pokey, if you’re lucky! And if you’re not? Drunk driving is the biggest killer of young people under 30 years old. Every substance you use has negative health effects of varying degrees. These short-term and long-term implications need to be considered.

Drugs and alcohol are the underlying cause of the deaths of many of my family and friends. If drugs and alcohol didn’t exist, there would literally be dozens of people that I have know throughout my life who would still be alive. Car crashes, suicides, overdoses, degenerative physical [glossary_exclude]conditions[/glossary_exclude], loss of mental acuity, etc., took the lives of many people I knew and cared about. Long and short term, booze and drugs will have an ultimate negative effect on our lives. Take some time to think about what you’re doing to yourself.

Before you get drunk, smoke greenbud, or snort crystal, think about what you’re doing to yourself, your body, mind, health, relationships, goals, and dreams. Make a list of your long-term goals and then think about what it’s going to take to get your life to where you want to be. Choices and consequences—think about it.

I won’t tell anyone to quit using drugs and booze. That’s not my decision to make. But I will talk about choices and consequences. If I told you to quit using drugs and drinking, that would make me a bit of a hypocrite because when I was that age, I was a hard-core party animal. But I will tell you that if I had it to do over again, it’d be very different. I have many regrets about decisions I made in the past. I know now the importance of doing what is good and honorable, of doing things that are necessary to point our lives in a direction necessary to find a lifetime of happiness, contentment, purpose, and satisfaction. My life is now so much better without drugs, booze, and tobacco, and I plan to stay clean and sober for the rest of my life.

One month later

I hope the advice I gave the two young men does some good, but I have my doubts. Why? Because I remember when I was that age. Most of the time, I didn’t listen to anyone older than me because I thought I knew a lot. I’m smiling right now, remembering that brash, energetic young man that I once was. Boy! Was I really dumb or what? I was ignorant of many things and too arrogant and full of myself to have a clue. It seems funny now, in a bittersweet sort of way. Lots and lots of SUDs and poor choices/decisions. Yet here I am, still alive at 46 and in reasonably good physical and mental shape.

One thing that I’m really cool with at this point in my life is that I know that now my choices/decisions are much more sound. They are not made impulsively. I’m not the spontaneous youngster of 20-30 years ago. Now I’m a pragmatic middle-aged man. Peer pressure, hormones, and material wealth no longer influence me like they once did. The result is that my decisions are based on right and wrong, good and bad, and where I want to be 20 years from now instead of 20 minutes. My decision-making process now considers one thing I seldom used to think about: How will this affect other people? It used to be all about Me, but now that doesn’t wash. I like being this age, I sort of wish I could stay in my 40s for another 10 or 20 years. It’s a good stage in life because you finally have some sense, and the sexual pressures and fitting-in dilemmas of the teens and 20s are long gone.

You asked me what made me decide to quit using drugs. There were several reasons, but I think the most important one was that I was terribly unhappy with who I had become. I had gotten to a point in my life and in a relationship with a woman where I was just so screwed up, it seemed I couldn’t do anything right. My life had become a revolving carousel of money, lust/[glossary_exclude]love[/glossary_exclude], material possessions, and drugs. I was miserable and was slowly killing myself. I made the decision to get straight Thanksgiving Day, 1989, and quit using drugs, but it took me months to extricate myself from the relationship.

The choice to quit using drugs and booze was one that I had to re-make almost every day until I got busted. If I hadn’t had gotten in trouble with the law, I might have “broke-weak” and gone back to using. To get from where I was at with drugs to where I’m at now, where I have no interest in them whatsoever, has been a long road. I feel for those young people, because peer pressure and wanting to fit in are so strong and as a teenager one’s “base of wisdom” has not yet been well formed. That comes with the accumulation of years and of life experiences. That’s the screwed-up part of the teens and 20s: You are making life-long decisions—or decisions with life-long consequences—at a time in your life when you are ill-qualified to do so. With a bit of luck, hopefully they’ll figure it out sooner than I did. Part of my problem was all my authority figures and role models were screwed up too, so I lacked examples of how I could be different than them. I hope these young people can see the example of adults who are together people.

Leading ourselves out of addiction Sun, 26 Jul 2009 18:47:36 +0000

Man slouched in a dark corner.

We are the ultimate source of our salvation and refuge. (Photo by chandrika221)

Nobody really enjoys feeling dirty and ignorant. Once I realized I was the person in charge of this situation and these feelings, I committed to doing the work. We are the ultimate source of salvation and refuge: there is no omnipotent creator out there responsible for what we are and capable of making everything perfect again. We create the causes that produce the effects. How could I hope to see the cessation of suffering within my mindstream as long as I continued to create new causes for future suffering? If I claim to be nonviolent and compassionate, how can I keep using substances that harm myself?

We can use the blueprint of the three principal aspects of the path: renunciation of the three root addictions (sugar, caffeine, and nicotine) and the subsequent addictions (drugs, alcohol, etc.). We must make a commitment to turn away from the belief that these substances would provide lasting, real refuge from whatever appears unsatisfactory. We need to determine to rise above these negative behaviors and replace them with positive ones.

I’d read that habits carry over from one life to the next. Liberation was not going to happen if I continued to hold onto habits and addictions. How could I claim to be working towards enlightenment if I had nasty habits I wasn’t willing to renounce?

Wisdom and compassion are important. We have to be smart enough to see what hurts and compassionate enough to not do it.

By having compassion for ourselves, we quit hurting ourselves and determine to rise above the addictive destructive behavior not only for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of others. The suffering caused by addiction is always a shared experience, affecting family and friends, harming the very people we care the most about.

Of course we’ve affected the people we love with our addiction and negative actions. Suicide isn’t the answer, neither is carrying around a deflated sense of self, based on guilt produced by our actions. They happened. They weren’t a good thing. Now we’re in the present moment. Don’t do them now. Don’t do the things that hurt others.

With wisdom, we reason and investigate every aspect of our lives using a mind that is not impaired by intoxicants. Through this, we are able to abandon the false view that cessation of suffering comes through using addictive substances. We gain confidence in the path and our ability to apply the healing elixir that springs from our own heart. Through the experience of getting clean, we see for ourselves that we function better on every level. We don’t have to rely on faith to see this. We see for ourselves that our previous belief in external sources of pleasure and suffering was not accurate. We see that all we experience relies not only on previous causes, but is also shaped by the way we filter, condition and react to things as they occur.

One of my sources of strength was seeing that there was an aspect of myself that remained pure and unconditioned and that the potential of this immutable aspect allowed for Buddhahood. I saw my conventional mentality was being poisoned with substances that kept me from being able to realize my intrinsic Buddha nature. I could intellectually infer this but couldn’t abide with it, and felt that if I could purify my body and thoughts I could meditate on the Buddha nature. I vowed to myself and to my future Buddha that I’d quit using things that hurt me and had a negative effect on my body, which is the basis for Dharma practice.

Drug rehab

As someone referred by the court to a drug rehab center, I had no intention of stopping. I just wanted to play the game so I could go home. Everyone else committed by the court was just like me. We put our net out and kept each other from being busted. We hid dope for each other and walked someone around when he took too much. We learned how to talk in the counseling sessions so it would look like we were participating. The counselors thought we were really trying and they also thought they were doing a good job as drug therapists. None of us came out of that program clean though we all “graduated.”

Traditional drug rehab only works if the client-patients have already decided to heal themselves. Once a person makes that vow to himself or herself, the healing can happen anywhere, even in prison. The real prerequisite is the individual’s disgust with their addictive behavior. They have to be sick and tired of repeating the cycle of suffering perpetuated by their dissatisfaction with their life and compounded by their belief that the substances can make them feel better.

Addicts are fearful. They’re afraid to admit it of course. They are so afraid that they do dangerous things to themselves and others in an attempt to avoid all they fear.

Love for ourselves must get established on that narrow strip of beach-head perched between the ocean with its nectar and sharks behind and the steep cliff ahead which they must climb to reach a place of health and happiness. Hard work is always painful. It’s easier to just give up and slide back into the waters, tasting the nectar until the sharks come again and bring blood and pain. Climbing the cliff is hard. There’s little confidence that it will be any better up there anyway. This is where meeting a true path can prove effective. A rope that works in the beginning brings some immediate good effect that instills confidence and compassion for self. In the middle it shows a methodology that is consistent and believable to a battered cynic. A foothold is established if someone can be convinced to alter his or her diet and activities, exercise moderately, read, study, do yoga and meditation of a non-sectarian nature. They will get calmer and some fear will dissolve.

During my drug days, I would spend more time running around trying to find the substance of my choice and more money daily using it than I would ever have working a straight job. I was miserable because I didn’t have a good-paying job, but I spent money and time that could be used in getting one on drugs and alcohol. If I had used my time and money wisely, I wouldn’t have had to blame anyone else.

Most addicts want to get clean, but they lack confidence in the system, the clinic and the therapists. Now in prison, I counsel others. I talk as a recovering addict. My motivation is based on compassion and the wish to benefit (not some kind of agenda to get them to change). If they don’t see it and believe it, they’ll never come out to meet me in the middle. Sometimes people thank me for helping, but I remind them that they did the work. They cleaned up their lives on their own, without a clinic or a therapist. They were their own therapist. Clinics and drug rehab programs need to empower the individual.

Happiness: outside or inside?

An essential point is to see that outside people, objects and events do not make us happy or miserable. Our happiness or misery depends on how we interpret things. We have to stop blaming others for our unhappiness. Do we blame outside because we have no self-esteem? Do we really find ourselves worthless and incapable of helping ourselves? Or are we caught up in the myth that exterior things bring internal peace, happiness and meaning in our lives?

Nothing outside ever makes us completely happy. My life wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I felt unhappy with who I was because I felt incapable of correcting what was missing in my life. I was incapable because I kept looking for the big help to come from outside. The big miracle was going to be out there. In Buddhism I’ve learned that no lasting peace can be found in material things because they’re constantly changing. I’ve begun to look inside for the source of happiness.There’s no happiness to be found in the past or the future. Neither of them is happening right now. We exist solely in the present. Maybe it’s called the present because it’s a gift. It’s in the present moment that we receive the gifts of life, of loving kindness, of happiness. We all want happiness that is, not was, not will be. Those things do us no good now. Now is where we want to be happy.

The difficult situations are really excellent opportunities. When we are confronted with something that would have sent us running for the dope-house, the bottle, the needle, these are the times we test our progress and resolve. The same type of circumstances seem to happen throughout our lives. We can change the way we react to them. That’s how to change our life. We must be able to adapt to change, to react to whatever comes up not as though it were something we had no choice in, but as some things that we do have a choice in. We choose how we react, we choose how to look at the situation.

I can be in a cold concrete cell in prison and complain and be miserable, or I can see it as an excellent opportunity to meditate and practice patience. There is plenty to do in this cell. This “I” is where all the work of a lifetime must be done. I have the tools, the place, the worker—they are all inside me—what else could I request? I have a relationship with a compassionate teacher; I have access to Dharma books enabling me to learn the path. I have everything necessary to do the work that needs to be done inside. I can’t curse the people who imprisoned me. They are giving me the opportunity to meditate in a private space where I can do the most important work of my life. Instead of blaming them, I turn my focus inward towards the real source of unhappiness in my life and take this opportunity to get some work done. There is always work to do on ourselves. We can never be bored.

We have to accept our own share of responsibility for what comes to us in this life. It’s scary at first. If we relate fear to an exterior source, we feel incapable of dealing with it other than through escape. See fear as self-generated. Throw it outside with the other useless things. We have to throw all the stuff we don’t like about ourselves out. This is the process of getting clean and empowering ourselves. I was never really not empowered, I just believed I was. It was easier to blame something outside so that I could be excused from doing my share of the work.

The healing all gets done in our minds and hearts, here in our mind where the therapists can’t see and where we hide things from them and mock them for believing that we haven’t used in three weeks. If we can look into our minds this far, then we can start to move the mental furniture around. We may need help at first, like sometimes we need a professional mover. But we can get the hang of it ourselves. We know we can penetrate deeper into these rooms than anyone out there can. We can keep things in our mind and keep things out. So let’s keep happiness in and throw blaming others out. Just as we kept our drug addiction a secret by keeping it locked inside, let’s lock our healing inside and send the addiction outside with all the other stuff we have no use for.

One doesn’t need to be Buddhist to successfully stop using drugs. In my case, it made me additionally determined to eradicate addictive behavior.

Teachers and friends

An honest relationship between a qualified teacher and the disciple can never be emphasized enough. I was looking ahead to a time when I would meet a guru and engage in the transformative process. I knew at some point in my life I would need to make commitments to mind training and knew this involved purifying my actions and letting go of attachments (addictions). I knew I needed to do some work prior to making a commitment to a guru. There would be delicate moments when defilements and old temptations would arise in the future and I was determined to have a head start on acting ethically when it mattered.

Friends are also important. When we use drugs and alcohol, we surround ourselves with others who also use. When we try to clean up, it’s nearly impossible if we continue to hang out with the same people. They continue to use and have all the rationale that we had for using and none of the rationale for stopping. Caring, good friends support each other. If I have a weak moment and want to backslide and am with addictive “friends,” I will fall. If I’m around ethical, clean friends, I’ll be able to rely on their safety net. They’ll be able to rely on mine as well. I think support groups work better when the participants are working on removing all their addictions, instead of leaving the “root” substances unaffected.

An appeal to Linda Sun, 08 Oct 2006 16:41:39 +0000

Linda has lived a fine and noble life. If she never does anything in life again, her great work and legacy will continue for generations to come. She will be loved and cherished by family, friends, neighbors, and many others throughout the world. As a Christian, she has been a trend setter at home, work, church, community, and in other countries too.

A black and white photo of a woman bending down her head smoking a cigarette, her hair covering her face.

A healthy Linda is what we all seek! Please stop smoking, Linda. Now!! (Photo by Alessandro Giangiulio)

Perhaps since I have been confined to prison in Illinois for almost 40 years, I should be the last one to push, ask, and appeal to Linda to do more. Nonetheless, since Linda has played such a major role in my life for years, I simply desire to give something back to her.

Linda is a cigarette smoker who enjoys her cancer sticks. Linda has earned the right to live her life as she sees fit. However, young people could benefit from Linda’s work and example. Therefore I am asking Linda to become a godmother to a poor child and use her cigarette money as a trust fund for the education of a poor child who has no financial means that would allow him or her to be able to attend college or university. The end result would be that one or more children from a poor family would receive a higher education paid for by Linda. I am asking Linda to accept the noble vision of becoming a godmother for a poor boy or girl who has no one to care and provide for him or her.

More than one billion people live off less than $1.00 per day. Two billion people live off less than $2.00 per day. The money that Linda spends for cigarettes could be used to help poor children to rise out of poverty. The cost of a well for fresh water, cows, goats, sheep, camels, and llamas could make a major difference in the lives of poor children and families.

If Linda continues to smoke the hated cigarettes, her life is headed for sickness, cancer, and an early death. The love that I have for Linda causes me to want only the best for her. Linda is a gardener, worker woman, choir director, and activist. Therefore there is much that she can give of value to young children. As a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, worker, friend, and neighbor, she has many lessons to share with others. She is an excellent cook, baker, and seamstress too. Her quilts have won prizes. On the computer she is simply a whiz. All in all we want, need, and desire to have Linda in the world of living people. Anyone can give up, die, and become food for earthworms, rodents, and other creatures.

Many wise people choose to live a noble life of service to others. I call upon my beloved sister-in-law Linda to quit smoking now! I request her to live the rest of her life as a godmother to at least one of the poor and needy children who number in the millions. This is a noble reason to quit smoking cigarettes.

After one quits smoking cigarettes, it takes years for the human lungs to be restored to good health. A healthy Linda is what we all seek! Please stop smoking, Linda. Now!! We want you, we need you, and we love you.

Without a vodka bottle in my hand Mon, 30 Jan 2006 05:51:19 +0000

Like you said about the other inmate you know who will get out soon, my biggest problem will be to stay away from drugs and alcohol when I get out. Not so long ago, I think that was a major setback for me, but I really don’t think so anymore. I mean I know that I’m an addict. That won’t ever change I guess, but I really don’t have the desire to be high or drunk anymore. For a long time I would say that I won’t ever get drunk again, that I won’t use when I get out. But I was just saying that because it was logical, not because I really meant it.

An alcohol bottle with the label Poison and a wine glass with some alcohol inside, a hand in the background.

I want to live life now. I can’t do that with a vodka bottle in my hand. (Photo by Great Beyond)

I have not been high since ’99. Not drunk since ’98. I guess there are a lot of reasons that I don’t want that anymore. Part of it was that I drank to medicate my problems. Some of those problems I no longer have. Of course that doesn’t mean all my problems are gone, but I’m not so overwhelmed by them anymore. My self-esteem is markedly improved to begin with. I’m more patient and less angry. I am better equipped to deal with both the highs and lows of life.

In fact, I think that it is when things start going well that I should watch out the most. It’s kind of like the man who never goes to church but is lying on the bathroom floor throwing up drunk. He prays to God and swears he will never drink again if He’d just stop him from being sick. But the next day after the puke has been washed out of his hair and he has a little pep in his step, it’s easy to forget about his prayer by the toilet. When I’ve got my feet under me, it’s easy for me to think I’ve got all the answers. When I’m lying in the gutter, there is no doubt in my mind that I need some help.

The whole drinking and drugging scene used to be part of my identity. I no longer want to be seen that way. That’s not who I am anymore. Another thing is that I know, without any doubt, that if I get out of here and drink, I will come back. No question about it. Chodron, I’m done with this place! It’s not fun anymore.

I have a lot of regret for things that I did in my life, but the things that I regret the most are the things that never happened. Wasted opportunities. The person that I could have been and the people’s lives that I could have touched in a positive way. I regret having let so many people down, not because of things I did, but what I didn’t do. Those thoughts are sobering to me (no pun intended). I want to live life now. I can’t do that with a vodka bottle in my hand.

Who’s poisoning me? Fri, 17 Oct 2003 18:00:26 +0000

When I was 18, I did a lot of hard drugs and ran with a lot of rough people. I sold drugs, burglarized houses, and hustled stolen checks to buy drugs and to live off of. One night three of the guys that I committed these crimes with decided for some reason to kill me.

Cross stitch of bottles of medicine and the words The drugs don't work.

Staying away from it when I get out will be a challenge, but I think I can make it. (Photo by Christin)

We were snorting cocaine all evening and ran out of it about midnight. I was watching a documentary about Mike Tyson on TV. They were huddled together on the couch discussing something. Out of the blue, John tells me that he’s going to score some more coke. The other two guys, Tim and Eric, continued watching TV.

John came back about 15 minutes later and separated four lines of coke on a mirror. Then he rolls up a dollar bill and snorted his line. But instead of snorting it, it looked like he blew it off the side of the mirror. I just thought my mind was playing tricks on me because I had no reason to believe these guys were out to get me.

So I snorted my line next. And as soon as I snorted it, I thought that coke shouldn’t burn your nose this bad. Then I lost my vision for about 20 seconds, maybe longer. When it came back, there were thick red rings around all the lights like a red rainbow. My head felt like it was split open, my teeth were clenched, and my heart was racing a thousand miles per hour.

I looked over at Tim and Eric, and they were scraping their lines onto a piece of paper and folding them up, saying that they were saving it for later. Well, drug addicts don’t save drugs for later. I knew right then that they had poisoned me.

I looked back over at the TV, trying to keep my composure while I figured out what to do. But I couldn’t think because of the poison and the fact that I was panicking. Then I noticed that someone turned the TV off. I don’t know how long it was off. But I’m sure they noticed me watching a blank screen.

I decided that I had to get out of there fast. So I looked around the living room and noticed that two of John’s kids were sitting on the floor playing. So I didn’t think they would resort to violence if I got up and left. The only problem was that I didn’t have my car there. So I took a gamble and told Tim to give me a ride to the store. They all looked shocked, but Tim agreed.

I chose Tim because I went to school with him and knew that he couldn’t fight. He was a thief, but not a man of violence. Anyway, when we got in the car, I told him to give me a ride to my mother’s house, 30 miles away. He tried to talk me into going back to John’s house, but finally gave in.

He didn’t say anything on the way. But he kept glancing over at me out of the corner of his eye. I didn’t confront him though. I was too busy trying to hold my composure together. I was debating whether to have him turn around and take me to the hospital. My heart kept beating faster and faster, and my headache was getting worse. Before I had made up my mind, we arrived at my mom’s house.

I went into the kitchen and got gallon milk out of the fridge and started drinking it. Then my heart started to skip beats and slow way down to one beat every five seconds. Then it would start racing again. It kept doing this over and over.

I thought, “Oh well, I guess they got me.” So I got a piece of paper and wrote all their names on it along with a sentence saying they poisoned me and stuck it in my back pocket. Then I grabbed the cordless phone and the gallon of milk, went into my mom and stepfather’s bedroom, and sat down in my stepfather’s recliner. He woke up and asked me what I was doing. I told him that I felt sick and was sitting there in case I needed him to call an ambulance. He didn’t say anything else. So I sat there for the next three hours, saying every kind of prayer I could think of while drinking the milk.

I woke up the next day in my old room, and my first thought was to go find a gun and shoot the three guys. But by the time I took a shower and got something to eat, I realized that they didn’t try doing anything that I wasn’t already doing to myself. The cocaine, crack, and acid that I was doing were all poisons. And if I’m voluntarily using these poisons, why should I kill these guys for giving me a different one?

So I decided not to retaliate and laid low for a while. I got a job in a trailer factory and moved back in with my mom for a while.

That was the last time I used hard drugs. Unfortunately, I soon got hooked on alcohol, and it is worse than all of them. I quit using drugs, drinking, and even smoking cigarettes, but I still crave alcohol. Staying away from it when I get out will be a challenge, but I think I can make it.