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Both of us tuned into the light!

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My recent submission to Shambala Sun Magazine and the Interdependence Project (http://theidproject.org/)

The first time I tried heroin about 13 years ago…I remember so clearly my immediate inner dialogue...”Oh shit, I am in trouble.”

Fast forward to about 2 years ago, age 31, the first time I attempted to engage in Buddhism as a recovery tool. I remember so clearly my immediate inner dialogue...”Huh..this feels so natural.”

I am only now ready to admit and discuss in an honest way the path in-between these two moments. It has been a long, at times almost broken, lonely, scary, confusing, very dark and easily the most painful journey this heart has ever endured. I dwelled about my situation,this dark path..but when I chose Buddhism to help guide me through my travels, this path of pain,guilt and negativity became my path towards recovery. It is said that only during moments of true suffering that transformation occurs. I began to see that the only unfortunate part of this would  be if I were not aware of the positive potential of my path. I began to feel change, as promised. Transformation had begun. I started crawling down this path with new eyes and awareness.  It was not long before I began to stumble, but soon learned to walk tall and proud. I found meditation and the Eightfold Path, and began to recognize a true awareness of myself, my intent and began to take responsibility for my actions. It began with an awareness of my thoughts, which ultimately create my world. This path also led me to my soul mate Erin, an integral influence of my interest in Buddhism. Erin has become a driving force in my journey, adding insight to my stumbles, reminding me of my amazing strength and sometimes being the only source of light during dark times.

The times when you are suffering can be those when you are open, and where you are extremely vulnerable can be where your greatest strength really lies. Say to yourself: “I am not going to run away from this suffering. I want to use it in the best and richest way I can, so that I can become more compassionate and more helpful to others.” Suffering, after all, can teach us about compassion. If you suffer, you will know how it is when others suffer. And if you are in a position to help others, it is through your suffering that you will find the understanding and compassion to do so.

-Sogyal Rinpoche

Buddhist principles, at the core, are reflective of the very basic principle of not causing harm to yourself or others. Addiction, at the core, is the exact opposite concept. In my addicted life, I harm myself, physically, spiritually and emotionally; I also harm all of those that orbit my sad and pained little world. In my addicted life, I also affect the lives of many others in far reaching places of the world.  My addiction has a causal relationship to the suffering of drug mules, dealers, and many other lives in between. I estimate that every time this little junkie needed her fix, I caused harm to at least 10 individual lives.  Although I had a million personal reasons to face my addiction, I was now faced with the reality of the scale of suffering I was causing others.  As I enveloped myself in Buddhist thought and practice, I began to be able to imagine a world without the pain and suffering I had been causing myself.  I began to see that drug addiction directly insults The Five Precepts, which gives good basic moral ground on which to stand. However, it was the more spiritual side of Buddhism that would be crucial in my change, as I knew that what I did was wrong, on so many levels. But it was in the ‘how’to start the change that I truly struggled.  As I began to reflect upon different Buddhist concepts and how I could apply them to my recovery, I began to see connections with Buddhism, my thoughts, my actions and how recovery could be possible.

Chopping wood and carrying Water”. As I understand this Zen saying, when you undertake a task, try to live in the present. If you are chopping wood, think only about chopping wood. To think about something else, including what task you will do afterwards is to devalue the present moment. As an addict chopping wood, you are thinking about when and where you will score next. You are thinking about where your money will be come from, what lie you will need to tell about where you are going or where you have been. Whatever you are thinking, you are definitely NOT only thinking about chopping wood, and you probably won’t even get to carrying water! Who needs water when you need to get drugs?! Even your wood pile will only be half done. For me, staying present is CRUCIAL. Not only does this mean not thinking ahead, but more importantly for me it’s not thinking back in time. I often get stuck in thoughts of the past and focus on the guilt, the lies, and the hurt; there is a memory bank full of negative thoughts from which to choose. These thoughts carry emotion along with them. Thoughts are elusive, our poor bodies cannot tell if the message it receives is from a memory or from a real-time occurrence/situation. It responds the same. These thoughts about using and about the negative past create butterflies in my stomach, as it did when it first happened. It is also how we explain why certain brain functions get activated in scans when addicts are shown certain drug related imagery. The physical self thinks it is in the present. This is concept of staying present is relevant for me, and has been a struggle, but it can be the difference between a relapse (at which point all bets could be off, and this could be a whole other story…), or remaining with my breath, thus remaining in the now.  The now for me includes rebuilding my relationship with my mother after many years of neglecting my family relationships, feeling my creative spark find life in the form of words rather than in music as it did once before, and really having the most simple and beautiful aspects of life return. They are ALL within my reach. And should I find myself needing to chop any wood, I will not think of what lie I told this time, I will engage in how the axe feels in my hand, think of how useful that wood is, feel the muscles in my arms and focus on my breathe with each piece of wood that I chop. Also, (in my true Buddha-nature), I may even offer to carry water when done.

Compassion sadly becomes an impossibility when addiction is involved. I am a giving, loving and compassionate soul. But when struggling for the most basic things in life because you’ve spent all of your energy obtaining the very thing that is killing you, your unhealthy state keeps you from helping anyone else. It also does a remarkable job of keeping pretty much everyone else at bay. How can you be of service to another when you can’t quite help yourself? The day I found compassion for myself, was the day things started turning around. When I reached the point where my health started to turn around, I could then start giving and loving again. I now gain my greatest strength from my compassion and in my ability to love and be loved.

Meditation has become a daily chance for me to find my center, regroup and focus.  It allows me to find peace and direct positive energy and thoughts outwards. I try to do this twice a day, once in the morning and again at night. It isn’t always easy, in fact most times it’s not easy at all. I know it is a process, and one that I am engaging with more and more. I know I will get through the frustration, the restless mind, and the background noises that I allow too easily to distract, if I am persistent and stay connected. Meditation is the most difficult of all the Buddhist practices for me. All of the other aspects just seem so natural to me, sensible even. When I discovered Buddhism, it felt as though it were already inside me, waiting to be recognized. It was there all along, at my core, just waiting to be activated. Mediation has proven to be a challenge. Even during moments of difficulty, I feel that at the very least it’s a chance for quiet reflection and nice smells; a special and personal time I allow only myself. This is ME time, and it feels like even if I’m not ‘doing it right’ I walk away feeling serene and peaceful. Then there are times I feel as though something very special has happened. When I meditate, posture wise, I have an easier time feeling rooted and connected to the earth’s energy when I have one hand touching the ground in front of me, similar to the position of “Earth Touching Buddha”. I truly feel a connection when seated this way, and I visualize the energy from the earth activating all my Chakras starting from my Base Root Chakra up to my Crown Chakra. Those rare moments ( hopefully these become less rare as the last remnants of heroin and who knows what else, are cleansed out of my body, and I move further along the path of healing) make me feel almost superhuman. And I have at times focused this energy outwards, towards those I love or in a healing sense to other addicts who continue to suffer.

Pema Chodron has become an important figure in my life. And although she is an aware person, I know she isn’t aware of how much of an impact she has had on my life. Pema’s wise words on suffering and pain, that somewhere in those horrible moments are the greatest chance for change, have literally changed me! Pema’s notion that during serious times of pain, Buddhism can become as important as medicine, is an idea I have embraced. In fact, for me it is completely true, and incorporating Buddhism in my life has literally saved my life. And in saving my life, so many others’ lives have been positively influenced. From family, friends, and my gorgeous soul mate Erin to countless others in the future, all of this positive change in my life will continue to emanate.  I remain grateful for everything I have, and all the love I feel. My gratitude will never be forgotten, and as a way to express this, I wake up each morning and thank Erin for something new that she has brought into my life.

As I continue down my ever evolving path of recovery, I nourish my body as well as my soul, and really DO believe intent is everything. I am finally living a life where I can be honest, my life’s pages are open and available for all to see, and it feels good to have nothing to hide. I have come this far by engaging in Buddhism, loving myself again and recognize that there is a lifetime more to experience and learn about. My inner strength has been magnified by realizing what my true nature is, my Buddha Nature. I am more than grateful and proud of my changes. I feel strong in who I am, give back the love I get from Erin, and continue down this path that has given me not only a second chance, but the chance of living a true, real, honest life, one full of love and compassion.

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Moving through thoughts and feelings…and allowing them to move on through!

“The mind calls it wrong,because it expected something else’. – Eckhart Tolle

Life is unexpected..which should ideally be the only expectation we have. When we do expect a certain outcome,action,feeling etc…we open our door to being let down. Sounds very simple..and it can be when we are aware and willing to work on our awareness..but it takes work. And in between the moments that we allow life to simply unfold..are moments of expectations! Practice..practice..practice.

In myself, I have come to realize that I allow moods and feelings to sit and stay with me too long. They become a part of me..affecting me both too much and for too long. I really don’t know if this has been because of drug use..or is just the way I work..if I look back at my youth and younger days I do recall being very sensitive..and a simple feeling of being let down early in the day would still have me feeling down by dinner time. The drug use did play a part in all this later on in life by distorting/numbing/avoiding my feelings and how I processed thoughts. It also gave my life an overabundance and un-needed dose of negativity and provided some very real bad situations. So, all in all I was probably over sensitive and predisposed to dwell and brood, and adult drug use did NOT help the situation.

I am currently staying at Onsite in Vancouver B.C, which is above the safe injection site called InSite, and have months of clean time, access to counselling/therapy and the time to really, REALLY focus on myself. Stable and clean and without typical ‘responsibilities in life’ I have been given the chance (or more like gave myself the greatest gift) to refocus, rebalance and become clear. When I stated in my initial post that I am lucky…I meant it. Not many get a chance like this..regardless of addiction issues..I have time to focus, meditate, do yoga (ten times a day if I like…and most days I hit 2 or 3 sessions/day..not quite at ten!…and sometimes none…I know…ssshh!), all the while having the most supportive person whom I love dearly never losing faith in me. Leaving the home we shared was the most difficult thing I have done in a long time..as dysfunctional as it was at times, it was home. I now realize I am doing what I need to do to become whole, and give my relationship and myself the best version of me possible. The ‘Larissa’ I am by nature..to have this chance is rare. And I am taking full advantage of it all, and feeling fantastic.

Feelings though..are difficult. For everyone..aren’t they? I have made huge strides in allowing  them to simply be what they are and move on. Through meditation I have found a visual aid in actually ‘seeing’ them move towards me,  then enter me..and instead of becoming stuck like usual…I see them leave me…and float away.

Buddhism calls this ‘impermanence’. Everything ends. Even the good things. The good part of this is that when things end..it leaves a new spot for something else.. I try to remind myself of this. And it’s  been working..I can feel it. I’m realizing it’s ok to experience sadness, but it’s not ok to act as though whatever caused this feeling needs to be cut from your life ..or allow your day to be tainted because of a sad occurrence. Not even that it’s not ‘ok’…more importantly it’s not healthy. Same with good feelings, when we expect the bliss to never leave us..we will then be sad when it eventually (and it will…) ends. Meditation has helped a great deal in this.  Ajahn Chah once said, “If you let go a little, you’ll have a little peace. If you let go a lot you’ll have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you’ll have complete peace.”

Coming,and going. All things do. I am learning to accept this, stop struggling this fact and seriously, my life is noticeably easier. This makes the lives  easier and better for those who orbit around me.

Let go of expectations, and free yourself of keeping feelings..allow them to do what they have always done, and will always do…come and go.

-Larissa

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This is where my life and the mountains i move blast out of secrecy and into the light…

“To see ones predicament clearly is a first step in going beyond it” – Eckhart Tolle

Yours truly getting Auricular Acupuncture

So much to say and yet I stare blankly at this flashing cursor…where to begin? First off, I am many things..but for the purpose of this blog and my initial post I will narrow thousands of ideas and thoughts down to a few that are important. I decided to start a blog after my steps down this new path became more solid..a path from allowing heroin and other drugs control my life,and having negative thinking keep me in a very dark place. Almost half my life (I’m 33) has been struggling to still function and be socially active while sneaking drugs into my arm. Or ankles. Or hands. As long as it entered my body, my ‘job’ was a success.

At first glance you would never know I lived in such a dark place..visiting my dealer as I carried multiple overfull Whole Foods bags home. Never allowing the rot that was happening inside from showing..it may have been more obvious after being awake for 7 days..During my self-made homeless ‘vacations’ . But usually..I hid it well. Too well..I’m certain I managed to even hide it from myself most times! I’ve been robbed, gotten into fights, seen people overdose (some die.some not…yet), lied, stolen and spent time with a group I would, under any other circumstances, cross the street from. During using times, I befriended those who were at the top of Local and National most wanted lists…most recently I witnessed a woman fall 6 stories to her death. Landing 10 feet in front of me. She hit the side of the building, screamed and landed with a sound I had never heard before..and I know deep down I was not (nor is anyone) designed to compute that sound..or those visuals. She was pushed out a window from a nasty cockroach infested building I would score drugs from..sometimes 20 times a day.Women have ‘fallen’ out of windows here in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side often..too often…usually to settle drug debts. Like 20 dollar debts. This aint Vegas where debts are hundreds of thousands of dollars…The desperation in addicts here means you may be stabbed, beaten, pushed into traffic etc…for 10 dollars. Sometimes ‘just because’.

I could tell all kinds of war stories..however I would rather share the positive aspects of me climbing out of this shit hole. By not talking about all of them, I am not trying to forget them. There are too many and they have too much weight to ever forget….but instead I prefer to not give them life again. I have learned that we really DO create our world with our thoughts..and as my thoughts have changed, my world has also been changing…big time. And THIS is what I want to share. How I’m trying to change.We all know how to get INTO trouble…it’s how we get out and soothe our damaged hearts that proves most difficult. Enter Buddhism into my life..and my direct invitation for it to become part of my framework and foundation for recovery. I had always entertained the idea of becoming more involved in the teachings..moving past having books on Zen and reading Koans for the ‘ah-ha’ moments. Almost two years ago I met a beautiful soul, a gorgeous physical being as well..someone whom I had an instant appreciation for, and a profound knowledge and feeling that we shared many things, and knew right away we would share our lives together. I never experienced so much love, desire and deep down felt as though we were just a different part of one another. Erin was and still is a great knowledge on Buddhism, and effortlessly became a propellant for me to delve deeper into it..and in essence giving me the tools to save my life. And in the meantime, giving me the possibility of having my true soul mate with me for this journey. This woman rocks my world, and I am and will be forever grateful for having the rare chance of feeling the deepest parts of my soul massaged..I am very lucky..and I know it.

And so…I am working on being as aware as possible of all my actions, and the most basic of Buddhist principles is ‘not harming ones self or others..’. knowing even the most basic principle it meant that my use had to stop. I was harming myself and others. It was time to start living my life differently, to not just ‘think’ about fantastic things and absolve myself of my harm because, well deep down I knew I was a good person dammit! I was a good person doing very bad things. Buddhism views being born a human a very rare and special chance..and here I was not using my potential. What a crime. And I knew it.

Pema Chodron (who I cant get enough of..) spoke about pain and Buddhist Teachings..noting that most students in North America took instructions in a superficial way until they “experienced pain in a way they couldn’t shake. When their lives fell apart,the teachings and practices became as essential as food or medicine”. I am ready..I am truly ready..and when we are actually HONEST with ourselves,regardless of being an addict or not…,we can feel when we are genuine in our desire to change.We FEEL it..no longer do we simply talk about it. I am there. I have found incredible strength in Buddhism, and this blog will serve as a vehicle for me to share as much as I can as I move down this new path. Fear is still present,as it is whenever the ‘unknown’ becomes a large part of life..but I understand that doing what I DID know got me to some very dark places…and so it is time to try something new. Feel free to try this at home! I’m not positive what this blog will contain in a few months, but I have every intent to keep it HONEST and REAL, and am very open to feedback. Something within me has clicked, and i cannot deny that. And so I will share it..because,as they say, it’s what I bring,not what I take that brings me freedom. And I desire very much to be free…and I wish this to all who suffer.. -Larissa-

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