I apologize in advance. This post is down, depressed, maudlin. Stop reading here if that’s not your bag.
When I was a CPOS, a sex addict, sex wasn’t a source of joy for me. While my ventures into massage parlors, hotel rooms, strip clubs all brought pleasure, of a sort, they didn’t bring joy. They brought pain, sorrow, sadness, loneliness, resentment, anger. A sure sign that I’m in a bad way? If I find myself angry at those who cross my path. And that’s almost always the case if I act out sexually – I’ll be annoyed by the presumptuousness of those whom I encounter before, after, a session of acting out.
It was a revelation, some weeks into my participation in a 12-step program, some weeks into my then-nascent meditation practice, that just because I wanted something, craved it desperately, even, I didn’t need to have it. Somehow, I had organized my life around the principle that if I wanted something, I therefore had to reorganize everything so I could have it. This was entirely mindless, unreflective, and all-consuming: I’d be landing at an airport after a business trip. It’d be 11 at night. I could go home, to my wife and son, or I could take myself to some dark massage parlor, and get home at 1:30 or 2, having gotten my rocks off. That latter decision won out, 100% of the time. Not out of weakness as much as out of confusion: I genuinely didn’t perceive the other option as viable: going home, seeing my wife, my son, and not getting jerked off by some (new?) 22-year-old. I wanted that – honestly, who wouldn’t? And so I had to have it.
Something went wrong in my wiring, as it does in so many addicts: this is how we think. “I want x” seamlessly, effortlessly, is transformed into a sort of all-encompassing hybrid of “I need x” and “I deserve x” and “I will die if I don’t get x.” Any addict recognizes this fallacious thinking, but we can’t see it’s fallacious until we sit around a table with others who’ve told themselves the same stories, and we tell the stories to them, hear them tell those stories to us.
Thankfully, I have a different relationship to my desires today than I did back in the day. Sure, they’re intense, urgent, all-consuming even. But here’s what happened over the last couple of days (without going into too much detail).
I’m in a period of remarkable, astonishing stress. On one level, it’s self-inflicted; on another, it’s not. There are multiple contributors to my stress, ranging from the mundane and honestly, minor, to the epic. And a note there: if you read me closely, you know that I meditate. When my practice is robust, I meditate well over an hour a day, including at least one 45-minute session. In recent months, it’s been more like 20-45 minutes a day, typically in 15-20-minute sessions. There is a qualitative difference between meditating for 20-25 minutes and meditating for 30-45 minutes: in those last 15-30 minutes, my mind settles, my vision clarifies, and the benefits of meditation (primarily, clarity; to a lesser extent, peacefulness, occasionally – offset by the occasional mania) exponentially increase. Lately? I’ve been in a period of scrambling to find 20 minutes; clearly, what I need is 45 (or 60, or 90). One of the benefits that comes from the clarity associated with greater meditation for me is greater peace. Not relaxation exactly, but rather, a greater equanimity associated with the less… happy… aspects of existence.
So here I am, wrestling with stress. My shoulder is in a knot – as it has been for 10 days now. My feet ache. My solar plexus is wrapped tight. And what I want? Mostly, things beyond my control – I want the well being of others in circumstances I can’t affect. I want a certain ease and comfort for those I love that life seems unlikely to grant them. And, in the absence of wants that are readily satisfiable, I want, more than anything, a cigarette.
I stopped smoking almost a year ago. But I know – I remember clearly – that smoking eases precisely the symptoms I’m describing. (Of course, I also know that withdrawal from nicotine creates precisely those symptoms, but hey, who cares?)
So here I am, and I want…. I want the best for those I love, I want a cigarette, I want a redhead, I want the various challenges I’m facing to go away. In an unthinking moment earlier this evening, I popped a Klonopin. (I believe the last Klonopin I took was in March 2009, before I began meditating.) The Klonopin has done nothing that I can tell, except make me feel slightly… hazy.
Want is a horrible state. But the difference between the “want” that characterizes humanity and the “want” that characterizes a hungry ghost is the difference between life and death.
Don’t misread what I’m saying: I’m secure in the safety of my want. Want is something that requires respect, honor, attention, but not indulgence, not action. This is what I’m doing today. No danger of my smoking a cigarette, or hiring a redhead, or trying to control the weather (the equivalent of what I’d have to do to satisfy my various other wants).
But the life of a hungry ghost is not an easy one.