Every time an addiction winded down in my life, I had the same insight. It was winding down precisely because there was more immediate, direct awareness on the sensation or emotion driving the craving whenever it arose.
I remember the first time I noticed this phenomenon. I was sitting in a restaurant a few years after I had already quit drinking alcohol. Although I wasn’t drinking anymore, my mind and body were still craving the liquid from time to time. As I sat there, I noticed that a gentleman at a table near me had just gotten served a perfectly frosty beer in a cold mug. I felt the salivation in my mouth. But before the thought, “I want a beer arose,” my attention went immediately to the sensation in my chest. With attention immediately and directly in the sensation, the thought about wanting beer couldn’t get off the ground. Shortly after that, I noticed that every time I had a craving for beer, attention went directly to the sensation. After several weeks, the craving for alcohol disappeared completely.
I saw the same insight around every other addiction that eventually dropped away – sweets, caffeine, etc. Mostly when I was in my head about those substances, the cravings felt strong and unmanageable. My attention was focused outward on getting those things, on getting something sweet or getting a coffee to medicate that bodily sensation. But near the end of the dissolving of those addictions, again I noticed how attention went directly to sensation the moment the sensation arose. It’s so much more efficient to go to the source than to try and manage addiction through thinking or through behavior (e.g., by TRYING NOT to eat sweets). Willpower is clumsy and just not that effective.
This insight has been such a big part of my recovery. Marina, a lead facilitator at the Kiloby Center, said a few months ago that thoughts are always pointing to emotions or sensations felt somewhere in the space of the body. She was noticing too that an important aspect to the falling away of addiction and so many other kinds of suffering has to do with being aware of and allowing sensation or emotion directly and immediately, as soon as they arise. That kind of direct experiencing is not about fighting, changing or getting rid of the bodily sensation or emotion. That would just be more addiction, more “trying to fix how we feel.” It’s about fully allowing it. It’s about not doing anything but feeling it without thoughts on it.
At the Kiloby Center, we see the importance of clients “getting this” experientially. That kind of direct, immediate experiencing of emotion or sensation seems key when it comes to addiction finally quieting. Most clients need help with this, daily help, to undo the natural habit of looking outward or staying in the head about addiction.
Most of the tools we use at the Center are about helping people see for themselves that when we are looking outside ourselves, we are usually thinking.
Thoughts are pointing to unfelt and unconscious emotions or sensations.
When we stop looking so much at what seems to be pulling us from the outside and we stop being overly concerned even with the content of thought, we finally have this wonderful opportunity to really see that addiction is just about escaping what we are feeling in the moment. We go straight to the source. This is the most efficient way to heal addiction and the most effective.