My name is Marie, I'm seventeen and three months ago I stopped smoking. From an early age I started to abuse this addictive and, at times, fatal substance. As it does for many others, smoking became part of my life without me really being aware of it.
Then one morning, I woke up and felt the harmful effects of smoking inside me: the taste of tobacco in my mouth, some difficulty in breathing, this sensation of being dirty and contaminated, this feeling of dependence resulting in an overriding need for a cigarette that I couldn't do without. I was enslaved by an addiction that would cause me nothing but harm.
From then on, I knew I had to stop smoking and think of my health which is more important than my cravings. Since giving up I feel I am living a better life physically as well as morally. Now I am 'free' from my addiction and don't miss it.
Despite the destructiveness of tobacco addiction, I have learnt something: smoking can become a reflex just like breathing. A cigarette is lit, smoked and thrown away finished. But for all those of you who are addicted, smoking is rooted inside your body and mind. I also know that in spite of this story and message of hope, the decision to give up smoking cannot be enforced from the outside; it has to come from within. Giving up, however, is not impossible. It 'only' takes conviction and convincing yourself you can do it!
Marie Chauveau, France
(translated by Gail Trevelyan)
Alcohol was always a big part of my family life. Whenever I saw my father he had a drink in his hand. Around the age of nine I started stealing spirits from the family drinks cabinet daily. I loved the burning sensation of Bundaberg Rum! My parents thought it best to introduce me to careful social drinking. After starting with small quantities of alcohol, my intake became larger and larger. My father had taught me how to deal with hangovers and how to keep out of trouble when drunk, so I felt it was all going well. I could stomach large amounts of alcohol which made me the envy of all my friends.
It was my cousin who taught me how to smoke dope when I was thirteen. I was able to buy dope, LSD and speed from older friends at school. We spent all our spare time together doing drugs and alcohol. This habit was becoming costly so I financed it by stealing cash and goods from school, family and church. By the time I was fifteen I had started injecting heroin and speed because the other drugs had become boring. I was pretty lost and totally removed from my family.
It was at this point that I became suicidal with the feeling of being trapped in my own cocoon. I attempted to inject oxygen into my blood, over-dosed on prescription drugs and tried hanging myself. I attempted suicide twelve times, four of which doctors said should have killed me.
My friends helped by selling me more drugs and teaching me how to take them, often daily before going into the school grounds. Of my group of sixteen friends in 1994, all had serious problems, like physical and mental abuse from their families, and all of us had a heavy drug dependency. We supported each other through difficult times by sharing drugs. There was no point individually drowning our sorrows, so collectively we
often got stoned.
From this group of sixteen friends only four are still alive. All twelve deaths were drug related.
Late in 1996 I was dating a young medical student who was a practising Buddhist. I was heartbroken when she told me she would not continue the relationship because she could no longer cope with my life-destroying and destructive behaviour.
This girl was the only moral support I had, and losing her was one of the most painful things in my already painful life. It was only then that it dawned on me I was pushing away the people who loved me.
The next day I decided to give up the toxins I was on and clean up my life. I took myself to the doctor for the first time in four years and found out the extent of the damage I had done to my kidneys, lungs and stomach. He told me I had to give up alcohol, amphetamines, even caffeine, if I wanted to live any more than fifteen years.
Until then I had never discussed my lifestyle with my parents. The truth is I had not had a decent conversation with them for four years. Now I needed help, but my parents couldn't help me without knowing what I had been doing. I was scared to tell them because I knew they would feel let down and inadequate as parents. In fact, they reacted perfectly, supporting me through D-tox and helping me look towards the future.
It took me two weeks to sweat the drugs out of my body, one week for my mind to catch up and then two months to get over the psychological addiction to everything. In the first three weeks I suffered cramps, nightmares, insomnia and disorientation. During this time my parents removed every dangerous object from my room. They supported me the whole time by being there, and helping while I had no idea what was going on around me. I then had to live without drugs and alcohol which meant reacting to problems differently and learning how to deal with life.
Yet there was still something missing. I had taken out the distractions but still felt empty. I was not happy or fulfilled. So I went shopping to find something honest that would replace the rubbish in my life. I bought books on many religions and philosophies. I settled on Buddhism as it was something that helped me live day by day. My ex-girlfriend had impressed me by her ability to deal with any level of problem that she encountered.
Religion gave me moral precepts and changed my thoughts about life. It showed me a way to live by. It is eight months since I took vows to refrain from taking life, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicants which lead to carelessness.
I've learnt to deal with my problems by taking time out everyday to reflect on the right moral choices I need to make. Only through this quiet time can I make choices that won't hurt other people or myself.
Still, life is not always easy though it is better than before. Nowadays when I think life is hard I just have to remember the years of darkness and pain. It helps to try and be there for other people and to be interested in their problems.
My father has been on a similar path to mine and found his answers through Christianity. A few months ago he apologised for his actions of abuse while under the influence of alcohol. The need to apologise came to him while he was having his quiet time. It was the best and most honest apology that I have ever received, and finally broke the last barrier between my father and myself. It healed the deep hate I had felt for him since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.
I have made the changes in my life with God's help. The challenges I have faced over the past year would have been too difficult to overcome with my own strength. This new strength comes from my quiet time - everything from apologising to workmates through to clubbing and partying with friends. My strength comes from silence.
Lachlan Walters, Australia
If we take a close look at ourselves we find that we are all addicted to something or someone, although some of us are addicted to more harmful things than others.
People tend to be reluctant to use the word addict. I am certainly a culprit of this which is why my addiction became so harmful. I believe that if we are aware of our addiction and are prepared to admit to it we are half way there to ridding ourselves of it, if that is what we choose. I have many addictions, one of which is delicious foods. I am on what you call a "see food diet", meaning I see food and I eat it. This can be upsetting to my figure but I assure you I have it well under control, so it's a non-damaging addiction. My other addiction by contrast is far more damaging both mentally and physically. It is one that I fight with daily to control - the battle of alcohol addiction.
Seven months ago I was a very different girl; I was unhappy, mixed up with a crowd of people who really did not care about my wellbeing at all. My relationship with my parents was far from OK and life had no purpose, and very little meaning. As for values, what were they? I was on a dead-end road with no goals or ambitions. The only thing I did know how to do well was to drink away the problem. In fact, I was becoming an expert at drinking away days, weeks, months and eventually years.
Alcohol was not only used as a means of socialising, it became my crutch. It propped me up and gave me a lease of life that was lacking. Spiritually I was dead but alcohol kept me going. I was slowly becoming an addict. People would ask me not to drink so much. When they questioned the quantities I was consuming I would defensively tell them to stop nagging. I was fine. Denial was the final definition of my addiction. I reached a stage where I was not capable of socialising without alcohol. I couldn't cope without it. If difficulties crossed my path I'd have a drink and hope they'd go away, but they didn't. As well as a dreadful hangover I would also wake up to yesterday's problems and the day before's and the day before's. You see I couldn't drink them away. They would always be there waiting for me, waiting for me to wake up to myself. My addiction had completely taken over. Unlike my delicious food diet I had no control over this addiction, it was my dependent. It had created a dysfunctional, insecure, unconfident young lady, who was upsetting her parents and the people who loved her. I had to reach a state of total self-disgust and despair to face the realisation that there had to be something better than this.
Freeing myself of this soul-destroying addiction is no easy ride but it is one of great personal growth and self-satisfaction. It has opened many doors to wonderful and meaningful friendships. There are days that I find hard and feel the temptation to find answers at the bottom of a glass. But it is then that I ask myself the question, 'Natalie do you want to be an addict forever?', and the answer is always NO. So now I live without leaning on my false crutch and feel a whole lot better for it. I feel as though I have finally slowed down and have stopped running from life. I have let life catch up with me, and have faced the problems I was running from. I feel free to identify with my mistakes rather than be afraid of them. My addiction was never the answer to my problems - it was more than likely the cause of them.
Natalie Porter, UK
I've never asked myself if I have an addiction, and if someone had asked me I would have said no because I hardly drink, I don't use drugs and I don't smoke. But chatting with a friend I realise that I do have addictions and lots of them. In fact we all do, big and small.
I have discovered that I am addicted to work. I have to be doing something all the time. I can't seem to enjoy a nice view, stare at the ceiling or sit in a chair and relax. Furthermore, I'm forever trying to do two or more things at once.
Recently I took time out from my usual hotel work and study and realised the importance of silence and being still. I now believe that whilst it's good to work hard, it's crucial to make space each day to recharge one's energies.
Graciana Garcia Iribarne, Argentina
It was on a day on which I toured one of the houses for auction in an expensive new estate that I realised how empty I was inside. There was no furniture within the walls of that house, no pictures, no pot-plants. And all the houses surrounding it were the same.
I don't think it's easy making our way, as young people, through today's world. The increasing incidence of addiction - to tobacco, alcohol, drugs, exercise, or whatever - is evidence that things are difficult. These types of addiction are often, I believe, attempts to fill an emptiness, a craving for spiritual nourishment. They are a means of injecting some kind of ritual into an otherwise chaotic life; an outward indicator of the stresses and expectations of today's world.
In a stimulating book, entitled Edge of the Sacred, David Tacey talks of alcohol and drugs as 'one of the few forms of shared social ritual we still have left today' in the Western world. Many families rarely share meals together, let alone set aside time to talk. Tacey maintains that we long for some sort of "ecstatic experience", something that gives meaning to life. Since we have lost a sense of spirituality, or moral vision, we resort to drugs, alcohol, and countless other addictions, in an attempt to regain this meaning or at least to release us from the rational boundaries of the everyday.
Addictions such as alcohol, drugs, work, even sex, shopping, or travelling, allow us to move outside of ourselves. As humans, we need to get outside ourselves, to be freed from our egos - this is part of spirituality. But we become addicted to unsatisfactory methods of escape precisely because they are unsatisfactory. These things are not necessarily bad; in fact, some of them can be a pleasurable and important part of a balanced life. But addiction to them, when they are invested with inappropriate spiritual longings which they can never furnish, is destructive. We never feel fulfilled by drugs, for example, and so we go back and back for more in the hope that, one day, we will be.
For this reason, addiction can only be "cured" by a change in spirit. It is very difficult to break away from familiar rituals when our individual, or cultural, esteem is low. The challenge is to understand why we have become addicted, for only then can we begin to do something about it.
We expect, or at least hope, to gain ecstatic experience from elements of our material world: political ideologies, human relationships... But, too often, we are disappointed, and we substitute our harmful addictions in an effort to find release, to escape from the bonds of rationality. Empty emotionally, we sense that there must be more to life (for, otherwise, what would be the point?) so we seek it in whatever ways we can. However, spirituality is not often an option put forward by contemporary sources - the media, advertising, society at large. So, although our souls are crying out for nourishment, we don't know how to feed them.
Some practical ideas which I have, and continue to find helpful in overcoming addiction...
No one can force us to end an addiction; it must be our own choice. But as we break away, we are increasingly able to see the possibilities open to us, rather than the dead ends of addiction, and breaking away becomes easier. We realise the opportunities for truly "ecstatic" experiences!
I would love to hear of the experiences of others regarding addiction, of whatever kind. Please send stories/ideas to The Editors.
- Talk to people who've overcome similar addictions - they are living proof that what may seem an overwhelming problem can be beaten.
- Write down some short-term goals. This forces us to take stock of our situation, which is important because when we are addicted, we often have only very vague goals, or none at all. A person who is addicted is likely to lose sight of what it is that they're doing. Consciously planning out what we want and are going to do, can make breaking the addiction easier.
- Think of something you've always wanted to do, or been interested in, and spend time doing it, rather than engaging in your addiction. Remember, it must be something you genuinely enjoy!
Nicci Long, Australia