Addiction and Sobering Up

BY Parvati

Hello from London, where we are keeping busy putting together a photo shoot, and gearing up for three workshops at the lovely Nutmeg Spa in Hemel Hempstead, beginning tomorrow (Monday) evening with a YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine workshop at 10:00 a.m. If you are in the area, please join me.
Even in the UK, we have been hearing the news about Toronto’s mayor. Rob Ford’s situation reminds us of the humility we all need to embody a sober life, free from substance and ego addictions.

Photo by Sunciti Sundaram -
Photo by Sunciti Sundaram –

You may find my series of blog postings on addiction relevant at this time if you are feeling triggered, angry or judgemental towards addicts who are unwilling to admit that their lives have become unmanageable.
In the same spirit, I share an excerpt from the “Sobering Up” section of my book Confessions of a Former Yoga Junkie: A Revolutionary Life Makeover for the Sincere Spiritual Seeker.

In 2004, I came across Debbie Ford’s book The Right Questions. It showed me how to let go of trying to fulfil other people’s dreams and find the courage to fulfil my own. If you have not read it, I recommend it. It is short, to the point and useful.

In it, Debbie reminds us that where we are today is not the result of a single decision, but due to repeated choices we have made over time, usually at an unconscious level. She puts forward the idea that if we find it hard to live the life we want despite our best resolve, it is likely because we have not been asking our selves “the right questions” to help us understand the thoughts and choices that have guided our lives.

If we are to understand what drives our choices, we must look within. We must understand what is called in Sanskrit our “vasanas”, our painful tendencies, that thwart our ability to fulfil our dreams. Everyone has self-perpetuated interference patterns that block their joy. From a yogic perspective, we carry our vasanas from our previous lives as a result of our past karmas, and choose our parents and life circumstances accordingly. Our vasanas are expressions of tendencies we were born with and patterns we will carry with us. We need to be mindful of them until we reach an enlightened state.

We can see our interference patterns taking shape in our early childhood in relation to our primary caregivers. You may find it hard to understand how you could still be affected today by your early caregivers. Perhaps you feel that you had a great childhood, or that you have done your inner work and your adult interactions with the world are no longer coloured by the effects of your upbringing. However, the effects of these early years go very deep and powerfully shape our psyche. It is only once we transcend the sense of “mine”, therefore the ego, that we will truly be free of our vasanas.

You may not want to know, for example, that a deeply buried part of you is still stuck in toddlerhood craving your daddy’s love and it affects how you relate to partners, how you perform at work and what you unconsciously expect from the world. But what I have seen in my years of practice and teaching is that most of us carry our childhood experiences with us, even those who feel they have done the work, and they have a very real effect on how we interact with the world.

I do not believe it is wise to blame our parents for our current life. But exploring how we interacted with them will shine light on our unconscious tendencies that created our life today. Our relationship with our mother generally shapes our patterns towards our inner world, the world of love, nurturing, self-care and sustenance. Our relationship with our father usually sets the stage for our relationship with our career and outer, social life.

We all come to this planet with a predisposition towards certain tendencies. These tendencies will unconsciously drive all our choices until we wake up to the story of our life. When we explore our early relationships, we can see our tendencies. Each child would react differently in any given situation because we are all unique. Where one child would have fought back, another would have run to hide, and another would have not noticed any issue at all.

When we take a look at what went on in our childhood, how we felt in relationship to each of our parents, we can see the early seeds for what drives our unconscious choices that created our current life. For example, we may have felt abandoned by our mother, so we tend to unconsciously recreate situations in which we do not feel supported or nurtured. Maybe we felt aggressed by our father, so we tend to attract work or societal situations that are dissonant with who we are or even abusive. Or maybe we just feel unwelcome in our work environment and become an overachiever or workaholic.

A couple of books in particular helped me touch places in my psyche’s basement that I hardly knew existed. One is Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child. She suggests that many children tend to develop aspects of their personality in reaction to their environment, and as such, lose aspects of their true selves. Because we want to please mommy or daddy, we do something that is not in alignment with our highest self and develop tendencies that eventually sabotage our deepest joys. The book suggests steps to move towards understanding, grieving and healing.

I also respect Wayne Muller’s Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood. Muller suggests a gentle and mindful approach to uncovering our hidden scars, from which we may find spiritual strength. This book is more spiritually driven, unlike Alice Miller’s more psychological approach.

We can understand from the word “tendency” that a vasana tends to remain. There is nothing wrong with this. If you are attached to wanting to be free from old pain, you may try to push that pain away and adopt personality traits that cleverly work around it. But if you see your vasanas as grace, they will guide your way home. They remind you to let go of the idea that something out there will finally make you OK, even if it is the idea of finally arriving at a perfect sense of self.

Our vasanas keep us humble. The way they played out to create our childhood, and the life we currently have, reminds us that we are constantly creating our reality. As we wake up and sober up, we learn to make different choices. In so doing, we will let go of our ego and create a different life.

Wishing you ease, peace and freedom,