I’ve had a number of people in my life who have struggled with various forms of substance addiction. I myself have struggled with it at different times in my life. One of the most significant qualities of substance addiction is the obsessive desire to consume the substance of choice and the longing to change ones state of consciousness. There is a consistent feeling of aversion to the usual state of consciousness which can involve painful emotions the addict has suppressed and is not prepared to deal with often related to unresolved past trauma. A dissatisfaction with the usual state of consciousness. This is also present in people who choose to take psychoactive substances to alter their consciousness although in non-addicts there is a lesser degree of aversion to the normal state as well as the absence of the compulsive quality. Almost everyone consumes substances to alter their state of mind, consider not only alcohol, marijuana and psychedelics but also coffee, tea, sugar etc. So there is nothing particularly unusual about this.
There is no question of the destructiveness of addiction in our society however there is another element within this process that I’ve recently begun to explore. I’m calling this the hidden wisdom within addiction. The unwavering desire to change one’s state of consciousness out of a profound dissatisfaction with the usual state can be seen as a healthy motivation and possibly as a distorted representation of a spiritual drive to realize freedom. If we consider the normal state of consciousness of the average person in our society it becomes easy to understand why people would be dissatisfied with it. Most of us live in a mind state that can be characterized as subdued madness in my view. The baseline collective consciousness is one that is based in separation/isolation, low level fear/anxiety, low level depression, a very limited experience of the world based on a tight set of mental filters and most importantly a disconnect from source or spirit. Is it any wonder that so many people feel such a drive to alter their state of consciousness given the limitations and stifling isolation of everyday consciousness? The desire to expand conscious experience can easily be seen as a powerful urge to grow and evolve.
Our society however does not reward or encourage expansion of consciousness and spiritual growth, in fact it often punishes it. As soon as psychedelics began to be seriously researched in the late 50s and early 60s and its potential as a healing tool was realized it was immediately criminalized. The evidence suggested further study and potentially powerful positive effects from careful intentional use in a wide variety of contexts from the treatment of mental health issues to the use as a spiritual tool. We are conditioned into limited perspectives and beliefs about our world and how life should be lived and most of us to some degree buy into these limitations. Psychoactive substances temporarily dissolve these limitations but they are an imperfect solution because their effects cannot be maintained without continuous or repeated consumption. However they provide a window or a glimpse of other states of consciousness and a reminder that our usual state is only one possible perspective. If the desire behind addiction can be channeled into a spiritual path that is uniquely tailored for the individual’s needs and personality that desire will have another outlet besides addictive use of substances or other behaviors. For many this spiritual alternative may include mind altering substances used with a different intention than what we find in an addictive context. The intention of truly achieving personal freedom rather than escaping from unpleasant experience.
The value of seeing this aspect of addiction is not to condone the destructiveness of it, rather it is to see that there can be a positive underlying motivation that is needing expression. This helps to let go of judgment, blame and shame which are the truly enabling aspects of addiction. If we can see the that there is a wisdom that is trying to be expressed through it we can approach it in a creative way that aims to redirect the expression rather than forcefully stop it out of judgment. It is a common aspect of addiction that when people forcefully stop their addictive use of a substance, the addictive behavior is often transferred to another substance or behavior. It cannot be stopped but it can be transformed. Transformation is only possible with acceptance however. With acceptance the inner battle ceases and we have many more options open to us to grow in a creative way. The prevalence of addiction and the use of psychiatric drugs in our society suggests that we as a society are screaming for true paths to freedom and growth. Those path are available if we can open our minds to what is possible and if we have the courage to face our inner demons.