sober lifestyle


So we could also call shenpa ‘The Urge’ — the urge to smoke that cigarette, to overeat, to have another drink, to indulge our addiction, whatever it is. Sometimes, shenpa is so strong that we’re willing to die getting this short-term symptom relief. The momentum behind the urge is so strong that we never pull out of the habitual pattern of turning to poison for comfort.”

— Pema Chödrön

The Urge is strong with this one. It has been all week. I could feel it building, or more like steadily pulsing in the center of my chest, and I described it to my therapist as feeling like I was plugged in to the Tesseract…you know, from the Marvel Universe?

She knew. Thank goodness. Nothing more awkward than when a pop culture reference falls flat. 😉

It’s an apt analogy, too: an indefatigable, incredibly powerful energy source that will not stay frozen or buried and can reawaken at any time and threaten to destroy everything. That, my friends, is the compulsion behind addiction.

It distressed me that at nearly 14 months sober, after several dull, sleepy — one might even say balanced — months, my old core issues had seemingly jolted back to life. Why now? What triggered this familiar, scary rush of need, to buy things, exercise all day, scroll through Twitter and Facebook, snap selfies…and write blogs on blogs on blogs?

All of the above = healthier than drinking tequila. So, there’s that. At the same time, it’s plain to see that the mere absence of alcohol does not remedy the underlying problem. It merely exposes it, more raw and real than ever before.

My “shenpa” is showing, as my dear Pema would say. And like any sickness, manifesting symptoms, it’s driving me to look, where I know to look, for relief.

I should note that I just started taking medication for bipolar depression, as prescribed by a psychiatrist. She specifically chose this drug because it was “less likely to activate” my manic side. Is this a failed experiment? It’s only been two weeks. Maybe it will level out. Or, maybe when I see her again in a couple weeks, we will have to go back to the lab.

If this shit gets exhausting to read, trust me, it’s not super fun to live through. At the very least, I can say my will to live through it has never been stronger. The Tesseract doesn’t necessarily emit negative energy…it’s all in how you channel it.

Thank goodness for therapy, and my husband — did I tell you he doesn’t drink anymore, either? What a dude! What a lucky girl!👩🏼‍🤝‍👨🏻❤️— and the Buddhist teachings I’ve been feebly trying to apply to my daily life for several years. I discovered Pema Chödrön in my bleak mid-30s, turning to “When Things Fall Apart,” thinking it could help me prevent that very thing from happening. 🙅🏼‍♀️ Clearly, it takes a lot of time and persistence to even begin to grasp this kind of ancient wisdom, and holy mackerel, my Type-A personality is poorly suited for the calm, quiet, stillness of meditation. I can’t help but wish I’d started this process much earlier in life.

I’m not out to adopt any established religion or explicit creed, but Buddhism certainly aligns with the way I view and experience the world as a sober person in search of a well-rounded recovery.

Shenpa is the root of human suffering, and in seeking a temporary salve, we all adopt addictions to some degree. We all feel “The Urge,” and instinctively look to comfort ourselves, whether it’s with a salty snack, an electronic device, a lover’s affection or a souvenir cup (stamped with the faces of Bryce Harper and JT Realmuto, photos fading after a year’s worth of runs through the dishwasher) filled with poison. Not all addictions are equally destructive, but they all distract from the real issues at hand.

It gets exhausting, trying to hunt down those issues, grapple with that irrepressible energy source and channel it toward salvation rather than destruction. I mean, think about it, there were like 10 Avengers — with superpowers, or at least with magic suits or ninja skills — working together for like 4 movies, and they (SPOILER 🚨) didn’t all make it out alive.

Speaking of exhaustion, I’m writing this at 2:42 on a Sunday morning, with a cup of pumpkin spice coffee at my side. Does that sound insane? Dude, it’s Starbucks 🎃☕️‼️

I’m no superhero, much less an austere Buddhist sage. I’ve only been on this sober, spiritual journey for 412 days, after 41 years of, like, shenpa on steroids. Who knows why this force of old habit feels so strong all of a sudden, but the difference now is, I have protection. I have the power to keep things from falling apart.

If I stay the course and channel it wisely, “The Urge” can be a great opportunity for growth.

Those of us with strong addictions know that working with habitual patterns begins with the willingness to fully acknowledge our urge, and then the willingness not to act on it. This business of not acting out is called refraining. Traditionally it’s called renunciation. What we renounce or refrain from isn’t food, sex, work or relationships per se. We renounce and refrain from the shenpa.

…I recently saw a cartoon of three fish swimming around a hook. One fish is saying to the other, “The secret is non-attachment.” That’s a shenpa cartoon: the secret is—don’t bite that hook. If we can catch ourselves at that place where the urge to bite is strong, we can at least get a bigger perspective on what’s happening. As we practice this way, we gain confidence in our own wisdom. It begins to guide us toward the fundamental aspect of our being—spaciousness, warmth and spontaneity.

Source: “Getting Unstuck” by Pema Chödrön

1 thought on “Renunciation”

  1. Thanks Jen. The “fundamental aspect of our being”. Pretty intense. But, for me, fascinating and exhilarating. I can see that it’s uncomfortable to share these experiences sometimes but I do thank you for it. For me, it has always been in the seeking, not the discovery.

    Thanks for doing this.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s