Citation: CarsonZi. "Meditation & Pranayama for Opiate Detox: An Experience with Yoga Practices (exp101753)". Erowid.org. Sep 6, 2016. erowid.org/exp/101753
This is an autobiographical account of how I became an addict and what helped me through the all the different layers of withdrawal (physical, emotional, energetic, etc)and bring me to an ongoing experience of 'wholeness.' My apologies for the length of this story, but I found it hard to give the correct context when even small sections of the story are omitted. My hope is that this story can provide hope and inspiration for personal healing.
I was born in April 1981, the first of four children, in a small town in Alberta, Canada. I have always been very spiritually oriented and for the first 12 years of my life I considered myself a Christian. I would regularly “witness” to kids at school and it was not uncommon for me to spout Bible verses in response to both verbal and physical attacks from my schoolmates. I deeply believed a more literal interpretation of the ‘no one goes to heaven except through a personal relationship with Jesus’ statement. I believed that all humans are born sinners, that we all need salvation, and that salvation can only be achieved through being a Christian. And only if you were a Christian would you go to heaven when you died.
At the age of 12 I began to question exactly why I believed that a relationship with Jesus would save me from death. This new-found need to inquire was the direct result of a peak experience triggered by smoking marijuana. The first time I smoked pot the “veil of illusion” momentarily lifted and I experienced a clarity of mind that was, for me at that time, unparalleled. During this experience of clarity I realized that I was being conditioned to believe a specific interpretation of a collection of stories, and that this interpretation was undeniable, universal, and absolute truth. I realized that Truth was something that could only be experienced, something that could only be poetically spoken of, and that I needed to find a way to perpetually experience this unending, unspeakable Truth.
This experience of clarity led me on journey through the many dimensions of consciousness exploration through the use of chemical alterants. I began smoking large quantities of marijuana every day, drinking heavily several nights a week, and experimenting with a variety of different psychedelics and entheogens on the weekends. I began to devour the writings of Jung, Kant, Nietzsche, Crowley and more. And after reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” I started to practice ‘dialectic conversation’ as a means to discover the Truth. As you might well imagine, my home-life quickly became a warzone of concepts, ideals and deeply identified resistance and we all understood that it was not healthy for us to continue to live under the same roof. So, I moved in with my best friend from school.
This friend and his family kindly allowed me to work at renovating their home as payment for room and board while I continued to attend high school. The environment was generally peaceful and relaxed, but it was also spiritually stifling, and the no-longer subconscious craving for Truth was now blazing like a forest fire inside my belly. I needed space.
I lived there for 8 months before I decided to make a stand on my own. Well, in all honesty, this wasn’t actually something I decided to try because I felt I was ready. This was actually the easiest solution to being caught sleeping with a girl from school, who happened to have a police officer for a father… but I digress. I switched schools, moved to Calgary, began a new job, and continued going to high school which I miraculously managed to complete in 1999.
Not long after I had completed school I realized that I wanted to play music for a living. After a particularly premonitive dream I decided to take out the largest loan I could and get as much credit on as many credit cards as possible. I then spent all the money purchasing musical instruments and recording gear, starting a band and opening a recording studio. I had previously achieved a Royal Conservatory Grade 6 level in piano while living with my parents so I knew I was musically capable, but I had never tried to write my own songs and I certainly had no knowledge of how to record music. Regardless, throwing caution and perhaps logic to the wind, within one month of having this dream I had purchased guitars, amps, pedals, microphones, computers, recording software, mixers, a PA system, started a band, and built my first recording studio in the basement of a rented house I was living in.
By the age of 24 my ‘post-hardcore’ band was playing several shows a month, I had recorded dozens of albums for an ever expanding collective of bands both local and national, and I was fully addicted to my now beloved heroin/methamphetamine speedballs. I had amassed a collection of hundreds of legal, illegal and pseudo-legal drugs and I was getting high all day, every day. On top of my half-dozen daily speedball injections I was eating heroic quantities of psychedelic research chemicals, using quarter gram Ketamine injections to fall asleep at night, and was smoking a quarter ounce of pot every day… religiously. Perhaps obviously, these addictions began to alter my personality. I became increasingly intolerable to everyone around me… including me. My girlfriend and I were breaking up and getting back together several times a year, my band-mates were becoming more distant than ever and had nicknamed me “The Music Nazi”, and I was only speaking with my family a couple of times a year at best.
In hindsight, a Fibonacci-like pattern of suffering and self-medication had emerged. Feelings of extreme anger and alienation would lead to larger and larger doses of drugs in an effort to cope, which would lead to increasingly severe physical and emotional withdrawals, which would cause more anger and frustration, which expanded the feelings of despair and alienation, which led to more drugs, and on, and on, and on, until in one single day the whole pattern attained critical mass and imploded.
It started when my band-mates called a meeting and informed me that they would not be going on the CD release tour we had been planning for the last year; a tour that was due to start in less than a month. They politely explained that they did not want to tour with someone who was as emotionally unstable as I was, and that although they wanted to continue to write music together, they could not handle living in a van with me even for a few days. Telling me this was the equivalent of setting off an atomic bomb inside my body. The anger and hatred that flowed out cannot be accurately spoken of… there are no words can explain the energetic and emotional eruption that took place.
The reason this announcement was so devastating for me is because this tour was to be the product of several years of personal work and all the money I had been able to get my hands on. I had maxed out all credit and had spent everything preparing for and promoting this upcoming tour. Backing out of it would mean certain bankruptcy and the likely closure of my studio. In essence it meant I would have to get a “real job,” and dealing with the emotional and logistical ramifications of this was far beyond my capacity at this point.
Locked into a solid rage, I raced over to my girlfriend’s house and spewed angry frustrations like a volcano bursting with self-importance. This epic outburst resulted in me realizing that she had very likely cheated on me during a recent vacation and that she wasn’t nearly as interested as I thought she should be in my woes. She and I had been together (admittedly on and off) for over 7 years, had been engaged for 6, and I was still very much in love with her. But we had played this game many times before, so in typical fashion I exclaimed “It’s over!” But instead of the “I’ll change! We can make it work!” response I usually received, and was aptly prepared for, I received a, “You’re right, it is over.”
In complete shock and utterly destroyed by my failed attempt at relationship manipulation I began to quickly spiral out of control. Losing my relationship, on top of losing the band, the tour and the studio while being at a point in my addiction where I was looking at my neck and my groin for places to inject was enough to completely emotionally dismantle me and had looking for any way out of the seemingly endless cycle of pain and suffering. The only option I could see in my blind fury was to push restart on Life. So I left her house resolved to fatally overdose on heroin.
In general, I’m one who does everything a hundred and ten percent… so in keeping with my natural tendencies, I loaded a needle with as much heroin as possible
in keeping with my natural tendencies, I loaded a needle with as much heroin as possible
, slammed the needle into my arm and pushed the plunger. The next thing I knew I was waking up, very dope-sick, in the psyche ward of a local hospital. When I realized I was not dead and was going to have to deal with the pain and logistical nightmare of being alive, I began to sob uncontrollably. I cried for three days straight. I did not eat, did not sleep, did not go to the washroom, just sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed, lamenting the fact that I was still alive.
After three days of crying something inside me broke and I was graced with my first experience of “inner silence.” In Sanskrit this is called “samadhi.” This was a very abrupt shift from torture to bliss, and I’m always at a loss for words when trying to describe the transition. In essence, the whole inner monologue of how tortured and unfairly treated I was completely ceased and I was literally unable to find these or any thoughts at all. My mind was completely silent, yet I was conscious and aware. In this experience there was no ability to identify with anything I had ever believed myself to be. The concepts related to being human were gone, the concepts (and experience) of suffering were gone, the concepts of time and space were gone, the concepts of love and hate were gone, all ability to speak or comprehend language was gone, and I was left in a state of radiant, silent awareness… a being-ness that could only be poetically described as “pure bliss consciousness.”
After about an hour of abiding in this ‘space’ the concepts and thoughts slowly started to come back. The first thought I remember having was; “WOW.” And then I spent at least another hour reveling in the afterglow while trying to fit the experience into some sort of a verbal framework. After coming back to a point where I could think reasonably cohesive thoughts again, I vowed to dedicate the rest of my life to finding a way to perpetually experience what I then coined “inner peace.” I felt that Life had given me a second chance and there was no way I was going to waste it.
At this point I made the decision to get on the methadone program for the heroin withdrawals. It seemed like the “mature” thing to do and I knew it would allow me some space to begin sorting out my life without trying to maintain a functional heroin addiction at the same time. I claimed bankruptcy, sold the majority of the recording gear, and started looking in the newspaper for jobs. And it wasn’t long before I was blessed to get a shipping and receiving job for GE Transportation despite having no background in either warehouse work or the railway.
This is when I was first exposed to yoga. I was originally introduced to hot yoga by a friend who had healed his back practicing it and recently gotten his certification and opened two studios. So I went to hot yoga classes regularly for a while, but although it made me feel good, it didn’t seem like it was going to bring me ‘inner peace’ so my attendance became increasingly sporadic. I didn’t totally write yoga off at this point but I did feel that it had limited potential.
The same friend who introduced me to hot yoga then gave me a copy of “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananada, which I read cover to cover in just a few days. It was my first exposure to meditation being the core of yoga and that it was a means to enlightenment. The book struck a chord inside and the experiences Yogananda wrote about intrigued me, so I wondered if perhaps Kriya Yoga could be the way for me to get back to a living experience of Truth. So I decided to send away for the lessons and soon began practicing the Self Realization Fellowship’s Kriya Yoga as written by Paramahansa Yogananda.
It was now about three and a half years after the suicide attempt and I had been trying to get off of methadone almost the entire time. But every time I tried to take even just a few milligrams less than usual I would end up in incapacitating withdrawals. It was infuriating and defeating.
After repeatedly failing to drop even a single milligram off my methadone dose, feeling defeated and broken, I consciously let go of the goal to be clean from opiates. I relinquished all hope of ever conquering my addiction. I was miserable and depressed and knew that I would forever be chained to the pharmacy, the social stigma and the side effects that come from being addicted to methadone. But it was on this exact same day that I found myself bored and on the internet typing into a google search. The first link was to a discussion thread. I read through the thread which discussed some differences between Kriya and Advanced Yoga Practices, was intrigued, and decided to look around the rest of the site. I found over five hundred free lessons on meditation, pranayama, mudras and bandhas, self-inquiry, tantra, samyama, advaita and yogic philosophy as well as countless Q&A lessons It only took one sentence before I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had found what I had been looking for. I began to read with fervor as everything that was said in these lessons felt like it was written specifically for me.
The website explained that AYP is an open and integrated system of yoga practices designed to bring us to a living experience of enlightenment. It explained that at AYP we begin by cultivating “inner silence” (often called “the witness”) through the twice daily practice of Deep Meditation, a mantra meditation using the mantra “I am.” Once we have become established as the witness we start to actively cultivate ecstatic energy (often referred to as “kundalini)” through spinal breathing pranayama and other advanced yoga practices (asana, mudras and bandhas, tantra and more). Then, the merging of these two polarities, inner silence and ecstatic energy (which is the same as the merging of Shiva and Shakti talked about in many ancient yoga traditions) results in an unfolding of natural ecstatic radiance, often called “enlightenment.” The website continued on to explain concepts and practices designed to help develop skills in “self-pacing,” with the aim of assisting every practitioner in becoming self-sufficient in yoga and awakening their “inner guru.”
Starting that day I established a faithful AYP practice. I began with twenty minutes, twice a day, of Deep Meditation using the “I am” mantra to go beyond thought and cultivate Inner Silence. I did this everyday for four weeks before I felt I was ready to add the recommended next step; ten minutes of Spinal Breathing Pranayama before my twenty minutes of Deep Meditation. What happened next still astonishes and humbles me to this day… within one week of adding Spinal Breathing Pranayama to my daily routine I began to get increasingly high off of my regular methadone dose. But it wasn’t until I fell asleep at the wheel of my car, crossing five lanes of freeway traffic to wake up while driving my car into the ditch, that I started to wonder if perhaps my tolerance had been decreasing because of my yoga practices. Not getting into a fatal car crash that day was in itself a miracle, but it didn’t stop there.
I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe that I was feeling so wasted because of the yoga practices but I decided that it seemed logical to try and cut back on my methadone dosage. So the next day I took approximately one third less than my usual daily dose and waited for the withdrawals to hit. One hour… two hours… four hours… twelve hours… one whole day passed and there were no withdrawals.
One hour… two hours… four hours… twelve hours… one whole day passed and there were no withdrawals.
One day turned into two which turned into a week and I was still taking only about sixty-five percent of my usual dosage and I had not felt any withdrawals whatsoever. In fact, I felt better than ever!
So after one week at a reduced dosage I decided to try and drop another third and see what would happen. I took approximately thirty three percent of my original dosage and anxiously waited for the withdrawals to come. Again another week passed and the withdrawals never came. I was profoundly grateful and admittedly confused. In just two weeks I had dropped two thirds of my daily methadone dosage and I wasn’t in withdrawals! This was a miracle by any definition.
At this point I figured it would be best to tell the doctor who prescribed my methadone that I wanted to drop my dosage from 90mgs a day to 30mgs a day. When I requested this he threatened to call the police and accused me of supplementing with illegal opiates since there was no way to have dropped that much off of my prescription and not be in severe, potentially life-threatening withdrawals. I assured him I wasn’t supplimenting (which I soon proved with a urine test) and that I would bring the excess methadone back to the pharmacy the following day. He agreed, I did so, and he willingly dropped my prescription down to just 30mgs a day.
In total it took only ten weeks to completely stop taking methadone and I experienced no withdrawals at all. This is a miracle by any definition and can only be understood when viewing the experience through the understanding that consistent application of effective yoga practices results in the purification of the human nervous system.
It would be very easy for me to end this story right there. And I would be lying if I said there were never any thoughts about wishing it did. But the story doesn’t end there, so I continue…
My daily yoga practice continued to grow and evolve, incorporating more and more of the AYP techniques described in the online lessons. My daily routine grew to between an hour and an hour and a half long, twice a day. The benefits I was seeing in my daily life were immense. There was a subtle, yet unmistakable sense of abiding peace under all actions, there was a deeper level of connection to everything around me and there was a sometimes overwhelming sensation of ecstasy beginning to course through my body.
As these practices continued to transform my living experience, I felt called to share them with others. I was instinctually inclined to first try and share them with other addicts. So I got a part time job at the local homeless/rehab shelter and began to informally share the practices with the people there. As more and more people started practicing and seeing tangible benefits it was suggested that I start running formal classes. So I asked my immediate manager if I could post some flyers and start leading a weekly meditation class. Not a problem.
One week before the classes were to commence I was called into the manager’s office. On the way in I already intuited what was about to happen. I was informed that the meditation program conflicted with the center’s emphasis on the Twelve Step program and that they didn’t want me to offer it there. Nor did they want me to continue to employ me.
In the past I would have been so angered and blinded by hurt that I could have easily done something that would have resulted in imprisonment. But the peaceful, calm awareness remained untouched and I smiled, shook his hand and thanked him for allowing me to work there as long as he had. And I was absolutely sincere.
This response is so far from typical for me that it might as well have come from a different person. I surprised even myself with this reaction. I left the center with an unshakable knowing that my yoga practice was doing amazing things for me and resolved to share the practices with others.
So I began looking for a teacher certification program that had some emphasis on all eight limbs of yoga. The goal was to become Yoga Alliance certified and then design a new AYP inspired “full spectrum” yoga class that could begin to expose mainstream yoga studios to a yoga practice that included more than just asanas. Eventually I found a one month intensive Hatha certification program that offered a scholarship to the student with the most compelling reason for sponsorship. I wrote in explaining why I needed the scholarship and was fortunate enough to be blessed with a free Hatha yoga teacher certification.
I continued to practice AYP twice a day while completing my Hatha certification. This meant that I was doing no less than eight hours of practice every day. After two weeks of practicing at this fevered pace I went to bed and drifted quickly into the most lucid dream I’ve ever experienced. In this dream I was with two of my fellow teacher trainees. We walked into a gymnasium that had a banner above the door that read, “Kundalini Facilitation Program.” Inside the gymnasium there were a dozen or so people dispersed amongst a few rectangular tables. The three of us sat down at the table just inside the door and apprehensively assessed the situation. The young girl sitting next to me quickly challenged another girl who had an air of authority about her, to ‘zap’ us newcomers and this girl just as quickly agreed.
She placed the palm of her hand on top of the first man’s head leaving her thumb in the center of his forehead. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and he dropped to the floor like he was dead. This bewildering young girl then did the exact same thing to the second of my companions; his body hitting the floor like a bug hits a windshield. She then locked eyes with me, crossed the table and placed her hand on top of my head and her thumb between my eyes.
I felt one enormous pulsation at the coccyx, then energy shoot up my spine and out the top of my head leaving me in the blackness of the void. My paralyzed body hit the ground with an ‘oomph’ and the girl landed on my stomach like a cowboy riding a bull. She leaned over my lifeless body and whispered in my ear, “I’m your daughter… my name is Amrita Grace.” Then she gently kissed me.
Upon waking from this dream, every cell in my body was charged with vitality. The kundalini energy was pulsing up and down my spine yet simultaneously radiating from every cell and my perception felt like it was heightened a hundred fold. Every moment felt like a divine synchronicity and I was embracing each one with undivided attention. But this dream was not only profound because of the energy awakening it caused… this dream was also daringly prophetic. Right before leaving for the teacher training, my wife and I had found out that we were pregnant with our first child. We were only two months along at this time so it was too early to know the sex of the baby, but this dream had me convinced we would be having a girl and that we should name her Amrita Grace.
I left the teacher training and headed back home feeling charged with enthusiasm and determined to share the revelatory potential of full spectrum yoga practices with every soul who happened to cross my path. After returning home I quickly got to work creating a weekly Deep Meditation group, began teaching classes at a local youth oriented rehab center, and started leading eight week, pre-registered AYP programs. But the ability to properly instruct students in a way that was both coherent and precise did not happen automatically. I found myself prone to long-winded explanations and challenged with meeting the students where they were at personally. But imbued with a willingness to change in whatever way was needed to be an effective instructor, I slowly learned to let the instructions flow through me, not from me, and the classes quickly became well-attended and eagerly anticipated by many students.
As successful as the classes were however, I soon ran into the same problem at the youth rehab center that I had had at the homeless shelter. There was an ideological divide created when it was understood that there were specific meditation instructions being given in the classes. Even though the eleventh step in the Twelve Step program is “meditation,” there seems to be an unwritten protocol within the rehab community (in Calgary?) not to give specific instructions for meditation as this can create ‘sectarianism.’
So I decided to try consolidating my efforts and create a class I named “Sweat, Breath, Meditate.” In this class we would use the AYP asana sequence in a warm room to loosen the body for sitting practices, then sit for Spinal Breathing Pranayama and Deep Meditation, finishing with a five minute savasana and brief yoga philosophy lesson. These classes created a bit of a buzz and soon several other yoga studios in the area were offering similarly formatted classes.
After becoming comfortable with leading these classes and settling into the ‘yoga teacher’ role I began to find myself presented with numerous opportunities to lead AYP retreats all over North America. But being that I have always suffered with a tendency towards egoic inflammation, finding myself in a teacher role quickly became unhealthy for me and I suspect for at least some of the students as well. This, combined with the challenges that come from having an awakened kundalini and from over-practicing the extremely effective AYP techniques, had me stricken with a severe case of inflated self-worth. Instead of decreasing the amount of separation I was experiencing, my application of these yoga practices was actually increasing the amount of separation I was feeling. I had perched myself high up on a pedestal and was reveling in the glory of my own self-admiration.
This teacher/student dichotomy continued to play out for much longer than I care to admit. I staunchly refused to look at my tendencies and the fact that over-practicing and being in a teacher role were aggravating them despite the nagging sensation that something wasn’t right. It felt so good to be wrapped in yogic ecstasy and to be looked up to (mostly by myself) as a model of inspiration and I didn’t want it to end.
But as life often has a habit of doing, I kept being put in situations that made it increasingly difficult to miss the lessons I needed to learn. In early January 2012 I found out that my corporate job was going to be eliminated due to a office closure. I thought for sure this meant that I would be laid off and that I would have to start teaching yoga full time in order to make enough money to pay the bills. But instead of being laid off, my employers offered to train me for the role of technical support in a railway traffic control tower. This new job would pay significantly more, would put me in the executive environment and turning it down would be certain career suicide. So I accepted the offer and quickly began training for the new position.
What I didn’t immediately realize however was that this new job would have me working twelve hour rotating shifts… two weeks of day shift followed by two weeks of night shift; with no regular days off. This meant that I could no longer teach my yoga classes. The sinking feeling in my stomach and the increasingly familiar sense of “you knew this was coming” had me instantly aware of the fact that I was deeply identified with my role as a teacher. And once this was seen, it was like watching a car accident in slow motion; I couldn’t look away until I had seen to the very bottom.
Seeing my identification with the role as a teacher resulted in several dramatic changes. Most importantly though, it opened something inside of me and caused a dramatic increase in sensitivity to absolutely everything. I became hyper-sensitive to my personal tendencies, to energy, to all spiritual practices, to the subtle cues from Life and more. It took about a month for me to become willing to admit to myself that I had been overdoing my yoga practices for years and that I needed to take some time off and find balance. But eventually I could ignore it no longer.
In total there were eight months spent without yoga practices and this was undoubtedly harder than anything I have gone through yet. I saw that I had been able to use my practices and the sense of well-being they caused to bypass looking at myself and fully facing my shadows. I went through an incredibly painful ‘looking’ process in which nothing was sacred and every belief had to be investigated to the core. I had to relive the events that had triggered troublesome emotional conditioning, I had to face the tendencies driving every single action and I had to dive into the center of each personal belief; the ones I loved and the ones I didn’t. The end result of this process was to have every ideological foundation I have ever stood on dismantled and forced me to learn to accept ‘not knowing.’ This is still an ongoing process, but after eight months of intensive looking and no yoga practices I realized that a balance needed to be achieved between the ecstatic compassion generated through yoga practices and the raw pain generated by the process of looking at my naked self.
I slowly began to test the waters of meditation again and after some trial and error found that if I meditated only once a day and only on the days that I went to work, I could achieve a balance between looking at myself and ‘cosmic bliss.’ This balancing act can sometimes be a bit challenging to explain since for some it may seem like living in ecstatic bliss should be the ultimate goal; but for me the goal is balanced clarity, and that requires me to be grounded in my humanness.
So, this has become The Path for me… balancing heaven and earth and living with as much present moment awareness as possible. And life continues to shower us with blessings and miracles. My wife and I have been blessed with two extraordinary young daughters, Amrita Grace and Akasha Chance, who were born on the same day, two years and three hours apart. Both births were entirely magical; Amrita being born two weeks early in a hospital in the Rocky Mountains and Akasha being born two weeks late and in the bedroom of our home.
I was also recently graced with another opportunity to face myself in the meditation instructor role. This time however I found myself instructing executive level leaders of major corporations to meditate, not students in a yoga studio. Luckily, this time there has been a heightened level of awareness to my tendency towards self-admiration, so teaching has not had the divisive effect it did previously.
With life’s blessings though come life’s struggles. And life continues to support me with a varying degree of challenges, each one coming with a pertinent lesson. Unfortunately the lessons are not always learned the first time around as I’m often very stubborn and thick headed. Luckily there has been enough work done to now be able to enjoy the process of bringing the personal conditioning into the light of awareness no matter how painful. I am currently dealing with the result of failed inner ear surgery and am mostly deaf in my right ear and partially deaf in my left. This is forcing me to face many things about myself and I suspect there are several lessons to learn before I will be allowed to move on. I know that there is still some unconscious attachment to the physical senses that must be addressed, there is still some identification with suffering that needs to be dropped, and I suspect there is also a lesson here regarding listening from the heart… but even in learning these hard lessons there is joy and happiness and light. The process is perpetual and unending and there will be more lessons to learn after these ones have been confronted. And so it goes, joyously onward, ad infinitum.
In an attempt to conclude a story that has yet to be completed, I will leave you with a poem by Vigdis Garbarek.
Dare to look at yourself.
Learn to know all about yourself,
so that nothing is unfamiliar to you.
You must want to see the whole,
that which you like to know about yourself,
as well as that which you do not want to know
What you want to know, runs forward like a willing brook.
What you do not want to know,
is like the water hindered by twigs and dead leaves;
in the stagnation it is changed slowly,
from being the life-giving, into the brackish water
that poisons your life.
All you run away from follows you, in order to set you free.*
*Taken from page 36 of the PDF version of “Conversations” by Vigdis Garbarek
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