A new monthly blog first Monday of the month by Vimalasara Aka Valerie Mason-John
When I came to Buddhism 22 years ago, I would never have admitted to being an addict. After all I was doing what everybody else was doing in my work and social life. No one I knew was in a 12 step program, or thinking about sobriety. We were in our 20s, happy go lucky and indulging in our hedonistic lives.
In fact when I first mentioned I was going to stop drinking, my friends were horrified. “What? Not even champagne?” How could I refuse such an offer? “Okay champagne only.” That’s how I became the champagne Queen. People knew not to offer me anything else but the fizz.
By the time I was 28 I got to a place in my life where I knew I had burnt copious holes in my brain. Something intuitively told me meditation was the answer, despite the fact I had never formally meditated before. However, I knew the brain was capable of developing new brain cells, and therefore it needed something like meditation, learning a new language or simply doing headstands to revitalize it. Meditation I thought was the easiest option.
Thankfully, visiting a Buddhist Temple was much more hip among my friends. After all, we all needed something to balance our lives in the fast lane. It was safer than therapy, and not considered navel gazing. The fact I could go to meditation class, and go out clubbing all night after, was acceptable.
I drank Aqualibra and so nobody noticed I wasn’t drinking. I could meditate for half an hour, get up from my cushions and feel high. I could go on a week retreat, and feel like I was tripping. My addict had found something else to obsess with. I hadn’t bargained for the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha, or for reciting the five lay precepts, one of which was ‘abstaining from taking intoxicants.’
There came a point that I had to admit listening to dharma talks was having an impact on my life. Alcohol and stimulants began to fall away. Even some friends too, but most were inspired by the fact that I had found a natural way to be high. I got addicted to guarana, a native American plant, and kola nut, an African caffeine bean. I had gone from being the champagne queen, to the Duracell battery, as I had more energy than anyone who had popped or snorted something.
I began to realize that champagne, stimulants and natural highs were all about my external ego. How sad was that? As soon as I realized this I began to let go. However, my root dis-ease, root addiction, was food. From the age of 16 I struggled with anorexia, and then became a chronic bulimic. I could not walk past a food shop, or a table of food without eating. I could not refuse food, and would steal and lie to get my choice of drug. I could not eat food without throwing it all up. And so I was on the pendulum of craving and aversion.
Amidst this whirl wind of partying, and natural highs, meditation had cultivated a gap. It was this gap, that led me to recovery. In the gap, I had to discover my own truth. That I was an addict, and I needed to change. Not just an addict to food, but I was addicted to life. I didn’t want to age, get sick or die. The irony was that I was living a life that could accelerate all of these things. I didn’t want to see the ascetic, the fourth sight of the Buddha. To witness the man begging, was too much of a harsh metaphor. It would mean having to let go of how I made my money, how I lived my life. I would have to question my ethics.
The four noble truths came to my rescue. Next month, some of the things that shaped me before I was graced with the Buddhist core teachings: The Four Noble Truths.