It has taken me seven years' attendance at Byron Katie's New Year's Mental Cleanse to get this...
For the uninitiated, the Cleanse consists of several days of inquiry, plus an optional juice fast, which I always opt for. And, every year, without fail, I have experienced some sort of existential crisis and resolution. Even with complete nourishment, there is something about the lack of solid food plus The Work that turns my perspective on my life into an absurdist drama...and then something breaks through, perhaps a glimmer of awareness that I am not this body, nor am I the labels that adhere to its surface, like travel stickers on an old trunk.
It's no secret that I like to eat; no secret to myself that I often turn to food for emotional reasons: boredom, greed, depression, wishing to fit in, or simply to give myself something to do.
After spending a couple of days feeling completely fraudulent and questioning my existence, my motives, and my relationships, I wrote a Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet about people not seeing me (whether you see me as wonderful or terrible, you lose; it's not me), accusing them wanting me to be "something" so they could have a reference point and some self-validation. It was all pretty cosmic, and the thoughts were getting in my way. A friend kindly facilitated me through the entire piece, and I emerged with the understanding that of course no one sees anyone; everything we see is projected. How do I see myself? This is a projection also; I have mistaken the stickers on the suitcase for the suitcase. When I say I am these labels, I have not unpacked the contents to discover the blessed emptiness.
I have come to see that addiction, for me, whether it's reaching for a substance or reaching for attention, is a distraction. It's not merely escapism; it's actually a way to cement the story of the self. It can feel un-grounded not to chew and swallow; the addiction, it appears, is not to the substance, but to being and doing. Why am I working so hard to hold onto this Carol-story that I don't even like?
Without our addiction to the story, we are left with nothing.
The good news is, there is an empty suitcase, roomy enough to hold everything.
This is not to say that I will never eat chocolate or drink coffee again; or that it would be wrong to do it. But when I make these things part of a routine and feel upset without them, what is it that I'm really feeling upset about?
Source has no need to escape itself, to compulsively check email, seek out new lovers, drink or drug to excess, numb out on TV. That would be the "I," the sticker. What's underneath? Do we dare to peel the labels and see? What if there's nothing, emptiness, no meaning? So what?
Let's continue the inquiry and the discussion. I am not an addictions expert, but I feel I've cracked the code for myself. It's a beginning, I realize...and I look forward to experiencing whatever happens next.
I am also interested to support others who wish to find out where their addictions come from; not so much to stop the madness as to understand and make friends with it.