TAKING CARE OF THE SELF: Recovery and Addiction
I’ve had a lot of karma with addiction in this life: starting with conception and my parents’ addictions, then coming to do volunteer counseling at a residential treatment ranch, and then embarking on my second professional career as a psychotherapist and addiction specialist. Often I’m asked if conventional treatment is necessary for people struggling with addiction or if it can be enough to just practice Dharma. Generally, it seems to me that transforming our minds through the practice of Buddhism can resolve all our mental afflictions. But, it also seems to me that there are some things from conventional addiction treatment that might inform our struggles. I’m suggesting our approach doesn’t need to be either/or. Of course, Dharma practice can resolve all our sufferings, but not all of us have minds that never need another approach, another entry point or a way to take a different look at things.
In the field of addiction treatment, there’s an ongoing controversy about what comes first: addiction or diagnosable destructive emotions? There’s also a controversy about where addiction come from: is it first the brain that is different so people become addicted or is it people become addicted and then their brain changes? It seems to me that all kinds of what-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg arguing is symptomatic of an underlying either/or point of view. It was such a relief to meet the Dharma after working with people and addiction for 12-plus years and find that in Buddhist psychology these arguments just didn’t matter.
In Buddhist psychology addiction is a mental affliction primarily characterized as attachment-based. Addiction is both there in the beginning and develops as people move along through their lifetime. Grasping attachment is often where we start, and that imprint and habit can become stronger and more destructive as time passes. And, of course, some addiction issues are especially difficult to transform because that grasping karma of attachment has developed over countless lifetimes.
According to James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente’s stage theory, people manifesting addiction are typically described as being in different stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and relapse. This stage theory is readily translatable into a Dharma view, which can be a more powerful way to help people with addictive issues because of where the teachings come from, the profundity of mind training practices, the impact on karma, and so forth.
When translated into a Dharma context, it is useful to think of pre-contemplation as that time when people are not even introduced to mindfulness or the idea that their reality comes from their mind. Contemplation is that time when people can begin to develop some mindfulness that helps them then to see the grasping which has overtaken them. Preparation is transitioning from mindfulness to analytic meditation on the specific afflictions of a particular person’s mind. Action is practicing the four opponent powers, meditating on the eight worldly Dharmas, committing to engaging in virtuous actions, using lojong slogans to further train the mind in the development of method and wisdom, and using tong-len to deepen compassion for self and to serve others. Maintenance is finding the meditations and practices most helpful for transformation of the mind and staying inspired to continue with joyful perseverance. And relapse is what happens because although aspiring to have our buddha-nature fully developed into the enlightened mind, many of us are still aspiring for and have not, as yet, actualized the end of suffering!
When we see that theories like Prochaska and DiClemente’s can be mapped onto Dharma practice, we realize that an either/or mentality causes us to sacrifice useful tools for personal transformation. And as any addict (or practitioner!) will tell you, in wrestling with the mara addiction, it is best to be open to all the different kinds of available help.
Amy Cayton has been serving FPMT as a consultant since 1998 and has been integral to the development and facilitation of service trainings for the organization. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology, a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology, and over twenty years of counseling experience. In 2001, she founded Skillful Strategies (now Balanced Mind), a business psychology and consulting firm that facilitates positive transformation in the workplace. Amy has been a serious Dharma student since 1997 and has attended a number of long retreats with Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Amy was also the partner and staff trainer for Gelatomania, a universal responsibility project for engendering world peace in Santa Cruz, California.
Tags: addiction, amy cayton, recovery