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Addiction & Plant Medicine

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

Cigarettes

I wish to share some personal stories about addiction. I used to be a social smoker for a long time until I moved to Indonesia and became addicted to the clove cigarettes (kretek) which in part was related to vicarious trauma – I was volunteering with a lot of orphaned orangutans and seeing the devastation of the forests related to the palm oil trade. I used the cigarettes as a way of coping with a lot of intense emotions I was feeling at the time with seeing this destruction and the distress of seeing caged apes - the organisation were desperately trying to buy up land to release the orangutans and many orphans needed to be with care-givers for many years before this release process could occur - yet there were so many of them and they had a policy to never turn an animal away which meant that the enclosures were not always ideal and this was hard to see. I also was carrying unresolved trauma at the time. The clove cigarettes were really strong (delivering more nicotine and carbon monoxide than conventional cigarettes) and they used to hurt my lungs, so I began smoking Marlborough. I hated the taste of them so I would drink something such as jasmine tea or coffee at the same time to disguise the taste in my mouth. Soon I began to feel really uncomfortable with the habit – I could feel it was getting out of control and I was smoking non-stop throughout the day, sometimes chain smoking, just as my grandfather had done.

So what are we doing when we're smoking? I was breathing deeply and trying to relax - I was trying to 'get back my breath' while repressing the feelings or emotions which were causing such a distraction for me. It could also feel like a ritual and a connection with the element of fire. I was using them to relax my nervous system and connect to my breath - but there are healthier ways of doing this that I was not taught in society such as breathing techniques, using incense, yoga, qi gong or meditation. I now use Tibetan incense sticks which I inhale each morning which help me connect with the element of fire in a healthy way.


The Blessing of Plant Medicine

A few years later, I was determined to quit but it wasn’t easy, particularly since many people in my social circle were smokers. I tried using replacement sweets which didn’t work – I went cold turkey which made me irritable and I buckled. I fell into a lot of despair about it and eventually decided to ask for help from a plant medicine. On this experience, I was shown a vision of myself on a breathing machine – a mechanical ventilator helping my lungs to breathe. I was saddened and frightened by the vision and the following morning, I had a strong calling to read a book that I had stored on my computer for over one year without reading it yet – it was Allen Carr’s ‘Easy Way to Stop Smoking.’ I read the book and didn’t touch a cigarette that day and I’ve never touched one since – a blessing had been bestowed upon me by the plant medicine in that I felt disgust for cigarettes, and I was determined to win back my freedom and health.

'Here is a piece of a troll herb which nobody else but me can find' by John Bauer


I feel it is important to mention here that from experience I have found that using plant medicine with intention, requires humility, research and a good guide. I think it's important to never use plant medicine to spiritually bypass or avoid facing and feeling our emotions - but if we are called to use them, they may provide valuable insight or healing. I haven't taken plant medicine since 2013 since I needed time to integrate and consider them to be potent and transformative.


Cravings and Codependency

I seem to have an addictive personality - I think, if we were truthful, many would admit similar experiences. Addictions can be subtle; some people have addictions to substances, sex, gambling, dating, gaming, internet, television, toxic relationships, certain emotional states such as sadness, or alcohol etc. Codependency is a form of relationship addiction and can be karmic - we are tested by the universe until we learn what needs to be seen and can find the strength to step forward into a place of equality where we no longer seek approval from others or try and 'fix' them. In karmic situations, people may use manipulation to 'keep' us stuck - they may threaten to keep the children away, they may threaten to turn everyone against you, they may threaten to do something destructive if we leave, they may become violent or abusive or erode our self-esteem - we may doubt ourselves and our intuition and forget what is true and soulful. It is important not to judge or blame the person - when we take responsibility for our choices and emotions we can decide what we wish to co-create with others. I would like to mention that although I have experienced a lot of codependency I have also been blessed to have very beautiful connections with people and consider every connection to have been a blessing where I did a lot of growth, learning and sharing of love. I am grateful for the friendships or relationships of my past, but sometimes I have been in challenging situations in which I've needed to do a lot of healing and growth.


These are soul tests - will we buckle or will we find the strength and will power to follow our true path and heart and remember that we are all worthy of peace and happiness? Getting out of a situation like this can feel like a withdrawal from drugs since the dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin levels will change - these feelings can be intense and unpleasant but feeling them and accepting them rather than trying to satisfy them can help us get out of codependent situations. I am speaking and sharing here from personal experience and feel it is so important to be compassionate to ourselves if we have experienced a situation like this - these patterns and energies can be intense and difficult to get out of and it's ok to ask for help. Sometimes we can benefit from the wisdom of others with experience, who may be able to aid us if we are in a difficult spot. Twelve step programs, spiritual practises such as meditation, therapy, life coaching and energy healing can all be really helpful ways to overcome addiction - I have found that it's good to be discerning and to ensure that I never give my power away to anyone; I always follow my intuition and what is right for me. These needs have changed as I went through different cycles of maturity so I have found it helpful to keep checking in regarding what is working and what isn't.


Epigenetics


Addictions can be genetic. The following is an interesting research paper about genetics and addiction: "Both genetic and environmental variables contribute to the initiation of use of addictive agents and to the transition from use to addiction. Addictions are moderately to highly heritable. Family, adoption, and twin studies reveal that an individual’s risk tends to be proportional to the degree of genetic relationship to an addicted relative."


Addiction is a disorder in the brain's reward system and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of addictive phenotypes have been discovered in some studies. Epigenetics refers to the study of heritable phenotype changes and these changes are thought to be from environmental factors. In one study, epigenetic inheritance of anxiety and depression-related phenotypes were also discovered.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4931607/


I have struggled with food addiction as another way to avoid facing my emotions. I’m getting better at handling my cravings but I’m not perfect and perhaps never will be – I am a soul in an imperfect and eternal play of life - but life feels manageable for me right now. I have a small sign on my computer reminding me to only check my social media three times per day and I have turned off ‘notifications’ in my settings to reduce any dopamine-driven behaviour.

My great-uncle on the farm in county Mayo, Ireland.

Choosing to Feel

The patterns or energies in addiction can be powerful and intense, but when I bowed down to them, I gave them power over me. When I practised self-control, I regained my will power and this is growing stronger within me - I am moving from slavery to mastery and accepting my emotions and feelings. For anyone working with addictions, I would highly recommend the work of Gillian Riley who talks about neural chemistry, addiction and the brain's addictive impulses in regard to food and cigarette addiction in particular and she has written books focusing on both of these topics. Her techniques focus on the notion of accepting your free choice and not imposing rules upon yourself - yet also choosing to observe the impulse feelings when they arise and not satisfying them until they subside. This kind of technique is used in Vipassana-style meditation retreats where we are invited to sit with any feeling or emotion that arises.


“Any time you allow yourself to feel your addictive desire, it makes a huge difference to remember that you are choosing to feel it. You don’t have to feel it because you could satisfy it. It’s your choice. If you forget that you have choices, the addictive desire becomes exaggerated…by choosing to feel this desire, you finish your meal still wanting more. You let yourself feel unsatisfied. This is incredibly powerful, because then you directly confront the addiction. When you simply let yourself experience those feelings of desire instead of feeding them, and without getting upset about them, then you are in a very strong position of control. You are able to say ‘Yes, that second helping looks wonderful and I know I would enjoy eating it, but I don’t have to satisfy this desire for more.’ And you’ll be able to do that any time, with any food you desire.” Gillian Riley, from ‘Eating Less: Say Goodbye to Overeating.’


Have you experienced addiction in life and how did you work with it? Have you found something successful? I would love to hear about your experiences. Thank you for reading.

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