We’re all looking for that magic switch that will get us off alcohol and on to freedom. Nick found overcoming addiction with meditation was the key for him.
A Boozy Beginning
I grew up in Jolly Old England where the idea of socializing without alcohol is rather a strange prospect.
“You’re not drinking? Is everything Ok?”
I have a wonderful family and had a fortunate and peaceful upbringing. But, like most families in England, we are big drinkers. Almost every one of us treads that line between acceptable and problematic.
Where is that line anyway? Is any amount of poisoning yourself acceptable? None of us in my family would say we’re alcoholics, but then, who would I guess?
When I was 13 or 14, my friends and I started drinking 3 litre bottles of Wild Oak cider on park benches. We’d buy six-packs of Stella Artois and boxes of Benson and Hedges cigarettes from the local corner shop. It started as a one-off, but in the end, it became every weekend, drinking cider and smoking under the shady tree at Bernard’s Heath. Slurry, blurry days, watching the sky as it spun in circles above.
Then the parties started. Bottles of vodka empty on the kitchen table. Nights spent on the bathroom floor. Pale white evenings and morning panic. Apologetic text messages for whatever I’d done the night before.
I was always a sensitive person. Many people who drink heavily are sensitive, in my eyes. When we got a little older, and our network grew, I felt a powerful and devastating social anxiety. I went to a boys’ school, so the prospect of talking to girls terrified me, and large groups made me nervous. They still do today! Luckily I had the perfect medicine to cure me of my ailment.
After a few years, people came to expect me to be drunk – it was funny, it was ridiculous. I’d be that guy at the party, talking with obnoxious overconfidence to conceal the anxiety hidden beneath the surface. Everyone knew of course, or at the very least they felt it. They could sense that something was amiss – people always do.
Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark
In my first year of University, I met a guy from America. His name was Nick as well. He was older than me and I had a lot of respect for him. He was funny, he was smart, and most of all – he drank even more than I did! “If he’s drinking so much, I must be fine. I’m not so bad after all.”
We became drinking buddies. We’d go to bars every day and drink. Play pool and drink. Talk to each other and drink. Go back to halls, listen to music, and drink, drink, drink.
I’m not going to lie and say that I regret it. I actually enjoyed it and I miss those days, but one can’t go on like that forever. These are fleeting moments, best left as memories. If we allow this to become our permanent reality, the joy and love in our lives will fade, drowning in a sea of alcohol.
It was during this time at University that I began to realize something was wrong. This was not just for fun any more. Lying in a haze of smoke, the taste of stale beer and cigarettes in my mouth, I wondered if I would ever be able to quit.
Of course, it continued throughout University, and all the way through my 20s. The whole time, I knew there was a problem.
At 21 years old, my girlfriend at the time (wife now) broke up with me after three years together. At that point, a switch flicked in my brain.
I went through an agonizing process of grief. It stripped down the layers of self-deception I had built over the years and left me naked in the dark. I had to face the truth: I was weak because I had never learnt to be strong. I had never learnt how to overcome my fears or face challenges head on without the aid of a toxic drug.
So there I was, naked and alone, with the pain that had built up in my subconscious for years, spilling out into my life. I felt like I was going to implode. Everything I thought I knew began to peel away, stripping reality down to its core. I knew only one thing – something needed to change.
This marked the beginning of my spiritual journey. It was the most painful experience in my memory, but in the end, was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. And don’t worry! My girlfriend and I got back together after I’d learned what I needed to learn. We got married a few years ago and now we have two children together.
After the debaucherous University years, I had to get away. I felt on some level that England was to blame: the culture, the people, the cities.
So I moved to China, where I drank. Then I moved to Thailand and drank. I moved to Abu Dhabi and drank. All the while, I was aware of how this habit was destroying me, cell by cell. I knew that one day, I would need to confront these demons. But not now! Oh please God, just not right now!
But in Thailand, something happened to me….
Was it because of Thailand and the friends I made there? Was it getting away from England and the distance from my family and friends? Was it the documentaries I’d been watching on consciousness and spirituality? Or was it a part of my path that was always written – a soul’s journey, destined to manifest as my reality?
I have no idea why, but in Thailand in 2011, I started to meditate.
After only a few attempts of sitting in meditation, I felt that this simple practice could be the answer to my problems, my addictions, and the deep pain that made me drink.
As someone who felt the value of meditation early on, I was relatively dedicated for a beginner. But still I only meditated a couple of times a week.
Funny thing about meditation! We don’t understand its true value until we practice consistently. But we don’t practice consistently until we understand its true value – kind of a catch-22. This is why so few people make meditation a daily practice. My best advice: do a 30-day challenge that gets you practicing every day early on. You don’t need to waste time like I did.
Over the following years, I meditated more and more. I learned about spirituality and read self-help books. Then, when I was 27, I read This Naked Mind. That is when I started learning about overcoming addiction with meditation.
This Naked Mind
Annie wrote This Naked Mind with such compassion, non-judgment, and hope. It fills the reader with positivity and you can feel the love radiating from every page. It makes you see that you don’t have to live forever wearing, “Alcoholic” on a chain around your neck. Nor do you need to visit murky rooms for the rest of your life, telling a room full of strangers that you are an addict. Even if you haven’t drunk for 10 years! That prospect was pretty bleak to me.
This Naked Mind made me see that I could become free – truly free. At this point, I had started to assert at least some degree of control over my drinking habits.
Shortly after, I joined the spiritual community, Ananda. This community follows and shares the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, the great Saint from India. Over time, I was deepening my meditation practice and healing my pain. I was getting the help I needed.
If you’re interested in learning more about overcoming addiction with meditation, you can also preview the book. Start reading This Naked Mind today!
Quitting is Easy. I’ve Done it a Thousand Times (Twain)
After 27, I started to quit drinking on a regular basis. I would quit again and again, but for some reason, I could never make it past twenty-one days. Something about three weeks! After that point, terrible confusion and pain would arise. Hopelessness, depression and anxiety bubbled to the surface.
“I’ve quit drinking. I’m supposed to feel great. This clearly doesn’t work.”
Then I’d reach for the beer and drown the sorrows down. But as we know, sorrows can swim! They don’t go away; they just get buried in the subconscious for a while where they grow stronger before resurfacing.
And when I started drinking again, I really started drinking! On weekends, it was wine with breakfast and whisky with dinner.
In the movie Awake, about the life of Yogananda, a disciple says to him, “Master. I want to have a few beers now and again. I want to keep sleeping with women and having fun whilst I continue on this path of meditation.”
Yogananda, after a pause, replied, “Son, you keep doing those things.” The disciple looked a little confused, but then the Master continued.
“But I cannot promise that as you follow these teachings, you will want to continue doing those things.”
What perfect and non-judgmental words!
As I meditated, the prospect of destroying myself became less and less appealing. That is what alcohol was doing – destroying my body and mind, destroying my chance for peace and happiness. Meditation was doing the exact opposite in allowing me to repair my broken self and find peace within. So the desire to drink began to fade. I found I was overcoming addiction with meditation.
For the first time in my life, at thirty years old, I quit drinking for real. I let myself feel the inevitable pain and depression that arose after three weeks. But this time I knew what was coming and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
I did not drink again for six months. In that time, the healing that took place in my body and mind was profound. I had to face life without the crutch of alcohol. I had to go into social situations where I would usually drink, and I had to do it sober.
I began to rewire my brain and subconscious mind and discovered that I didn’t need alcohol to survive in this messy world. The whole damn thing was a mess. I was a mess. But maybe that was all right!
The Rover Returns
While I was heading back to England over the summer just gone, (I teach in Abu Dhabi) I started worrying. How could I be around friends and family when we have always drunk and had fun together? Who would I be if I wasn’t drinking? What if I was the boring, sober guy that was no fun to be around any more? Most of all, what if they didn’t like me sober?
And so I started drinking again!
Again I lost control; I lost touch with my spiritual practice, lost touch with my peace and joy. I would have to wake up at 5am after late nights of drinking to look after (if you can call it that) my two small children. Let me tell you, that should be enough to put you off drinking for a lifetime.
After the summer was through and I went back to Abu Dhabi, I quit drinking again. It has been 3 months now, but this time it feels different. This time I have no intention of going back to drinking and it has been easier than ever to not drink. I have done it before, and I know the obstacles I have to face. This time I’m committed to overcoming addiction with meditation.
My greatest challenge will be when I go back to England next summer, but now I have all the tools I need to succeed. The only piece left in this puzzle is learning how to be around old friends and family as someone who doesn’t drink. The rest is a chapter in my life that has ended, the pages worn and dog eared. It is tempting to read the same old story over and over again, but we have to move forward, especially when we have so much to learn.
It has taken me the best part of 10 years, heaps of suffering, and many tears, but I am now free from the shackles of alcohol. Thanks to Ananda, thanks to meditation, thanks to Annie, and thanks to my loving wife.
That is one of the greatest things I have learned on this journey: when we are in trouble, we need to seek help. We need to lean on others who can help us when we are in the depths of suffering.
If you need support, don’t try to do it alone. Admit that something has gone awry and reach out to someone who can help you. Many people, myself included, are more than happy to help.
Overcoming Addiction With Meditation
There is a body of research now into how meditation can help us overcome addictions. If you’d like to read some of these studies, check out the resources below:
But research cannot yet probe the depths of what meditation does or how it helps to free us from addiction. We have to feel this through our own personal experience. Here is how meditation helped me in my journey to overcome drinking:
Meditation made me more sensitive.
It helped me get in touch with my true feelings and broke down my protective shell of self-deception. I noticed that caffeine was making me more anxious than alert. I also realized that alcohol, far from making me confident and bold, was actually making me weak and afraid.
Meditation helped heal my pain.
In meditation, painful emotions would come to the surface. I learnt to accept them and allow them to be there, rather than pushing them away or choking them down. As my pain was released, my need to drown out the pain with alcohol became less and less necessary.
Meditation helped me accept myself as I am.
I learned to accept myself and all my feelings instead of hiding beneath a veil of drunkenness. I could allow myself to be anxious, or awkward, or afraid, without rejecting myself as a result.
Meditation replaced my drinking habit.
Over time, meditation became more important to me than drinking. The peace and joy I found in meditation was what I had been seeking all along. I had just been knocking on the wrong door.
Meditation helped me connect with spirituality
Without spirituality, a huge piece had been missing from my life. In meditating, I realized that there was something bigger, something deeper than my little ego. This transformation and growing wisdom helped me to see the insignificance of my problems. It instilled in me a wish to work towards something higher and to help others who are in pain.
Share Your Story
Nick is a certified meditation teacher and owner of twostepsfrombliss.com. He offers a free meditation starter pack on his website and is now creating his first meditation course. He also plans to build a course on how to use meditation to free you from alcohol and other addictions. If you have story like his on overcoming addiction with meditation please share your story to help others!