I am a victim of severe addiction to porn, masturbation and overeating (vegetarian food). My history has been one of million attempts of recovery followed by trillions of relapses and I’m afraid that another relapse is just nearby. This has stunted my spiritual life and consumes all my mental energy. I’ve had a decent childhood and not sure why I’m like this. My father was abusive but he used to beat me only for my benefit and I’m not sure if this could be a reason for my addiction. Maybe it has to do with my previous life’s karma? I’ve been an addict since my childhood and I’m 34 now, married and have a son. I’ve always been reserved and a loner type of person. People around me think that I’m decent and well behaved, but my heart is dirty due to this problem. Often it seems like I absolutely have no will power. What techniques are available for me to adopt in order to come out of this shackle permanently? Is there any hope for me?
Thank you for writing about an issue that many people think is taboo, and do not openly talk about, although they struggle with and feel guilty about the same problems. If guilt is there, then you will not be able to overcome the addiction. A very important piece to successfully managing your addiction using Jiva Vedic Psychology is that you are kind and gentle with yourself, accepting that you did what you did because it was the best thing you knew how to do to deal with your feelings at that time. Please do not feel guilty about your addictive behaviors. You are okay, and you are not a dirty person. You are a courageous person to bring this issue to light, and your sincerity to know the truth is very much appreciated in our forum.
When we identify with the body, we seek pleasure with the body. Food and sex are the greatest pleasures. If people are unhappy, they eat a lot. Desire for sex is a disturbance in the mind. Your mind bothers you so you have sex. Just like having an itch and needing to scratch it. Sex is like having a thorn in your foot, and you remove it and you feel happy. But is that really happiness? That is not happiness. You just got rid of the pain. Basically, there is suffering. And you get rid of the suffering and you think, “Ah, this is happiness!” So that is the confusion.
Our life is basically nothing but our thoughts and desires. We make decisions automatically based on desires, without much thinking – I smell some object, I get a desire to eat it, and then I eat it. You may think that you are making the decisions, but it is actually some past impression that is driving you to act in that way. The stronger the past impression, the stronger your desire, and the more difficult it is to resist acting upon it. Desires are like thieves who steal the senses and we are left with no wealth. We are left with no energy for spirituality. But, your addictions are not more powerful than you. Just as you acquired the addictions, in the same way, you can drop your addictions.
To work with addiction, the mind is very important to observe. Spirituality starts with controlling our mind by observing and then managing these past impressions, so they do not manage us. In addiction, we are not aware of our own mind, about our own thoughts and emotions. They are just happening, and we are acting mechanically on them. Childhood experiences of abuse can cause a person to feel worthless, angry and empty inside, and they try to fill that emptiness with food, drugs, sex, or other material things. We misidentify with the body and try to please it. It would be like trying to put dahl and chapati in the gasoline tank, thinking that this is the fuel that the car needs to run. It sounds silly because we all know that the car needs petrol to run. No matter how much dahl and chapati one puts in the car, it will not make it go. Same is true for addiction. A person continues taking more and more of something, but is never satisfied. No matter how much food you eat, or porn you watch, the feelings of unworthiness and emptiness still remain. The more empty we feel inside, the greater the addiction, and the more difficult it is to break. However, this empty feeling can never be filled by something material, because the cause of it has to do with lack of love. So, the ultimate and permanent solution to that empty feeling is to satisfy the soul.
There are multiple steps in breaking an addiction, and it is a slow and gradual process. This answer will only advise on the first step. The first step in breaking any addiction is to become completely and totally aware of your mind In particular, your thoughts and feelings that are driving your addictive behaviors. Here is one way to do so:
1. The next time you are having some urges for overeating, porn, or masturbation, stop what you are doing. Get a piece of paper and pen. Sit down. Shut your eyes. Relax. Take 3 deep breaths from your belly.
2. Now, watch your thoughts. Write down the answers to these questions:
3. Next, let yourself act on your desire. If you are feeling like overeating, go for it. Partake in it with wild abandon. The only difference this time, is to become aware of your thoughts and feelings as you are engaging in the overeating, by doing the following:
4. Once you have completed the exercise, review your notes, and see if you can find an intervention point – a place in your thoughts or feelings that you could tell yourself something different, to get you to not act on the thought or feeling the next time.
5. Write down the new thought that you can tell yourself next time you catch your thoughts trying to get you to act in an addictive manner.
For example, if your notes about your thought said something like: “I was thinking that I have such a dirty heart, and I have tried millions of times already to quit. This is never going to work, so who cares anyway, I will just keep on eating now.” Then, you could tell yourself a different thought like, “I feel unworthy and I am trying to fill this empty hole up inside me with food, but I know this is never going to work. I am going to try a different activity that will satisfy my soul, and fill me with love, like chanting, kirtana, or reading sastra.” Each time you acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, but then do not act on the old desires, they will slowly, slowly die off. Each time you successfully manage your mind in this way, you are creating a new habit. And eventually your mind will become strong enough to automatically choose the path that will satisfy your soul.
6. Next time you have an urge to act on the addiction, read the new thought that you wrote down to help manage your mind and urges so you do not act on them.