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i’ve been thinking a lot about addiction. i’ve been wondering how we are doing, given the current circumstances.

addictions form as a way to numb out. to turn away from feelings that are so painful, it feels impossible to face them. they feel inescapable. we mostly think of addictions as object-identified: food, sex, alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping. let’s think more broadly about addiction as numbing/distancing, as behaviors that shut down possibilities for change, growth, relationship.

let’s consider shame, blame, and guilt as forms of addiction.

there are roles for shame, blame, and guilt to serve us. they are signals that we are waking up and are taking notice that something is off with the stories we’ve been told, the part that we have and continue to play. we begin to sense that we are in fact interconnected, our liberation bound up with one another.

and yet…just as we touch on this tenderness (Sanskrit word “bodhichitta” meaning “noble, awakened heart”), it scares us. rather than “leaning into the sharp points” of that pain , we numb it out. we turn away. we shut it down. and with it, all possibility. shame, blame, and guilt are the addictive reactions that satisfy this impulse. it’s too much to face the reality that the self we are trying to secure and firm up and feel good about, ain’t got nothing on the history of humanity. we’re a mere speck in a massive web of life. bless our hearts, we flail. we utter again and again, “but what can i do?”

a few weeks back, i experienced outright rage as a group of white leaders kept circling the drain around shame/blame/guilt. especially guilt. the rage intrigued me. and so i knew it had something important to teach me. and you guessed it: my rage was at my own feelings of guilt that still arise in the face of reality. yep, my own guilt addiction is still alive…

and i ain’t having it. we got no time for this. these addictions are the very thing that move the engines of injustice, fueled by fear. they work to keep us in our place.

what if we began to see shame/blame/guilt as harmful, addictive reactions?

unlike most other addictions, these addictions are performed on a social stage to project positive representations of who we are. i’ll admit there have been times when i felt compelled to play the “guilt card” to illustrate how woke i wanted to be perceived, how good intentioned i was. it wasn’t that i didn’t, in fact, feel guilty about my white “privilege” (more on that “privilege” in another blog post…) but i felt a sense of duty to proclaim it loud and clear. in a way, guilt can serve as a badge of honor.

and in this way, it reifies the very system that we are advocating against: a system of us vs them.

if we began to see shame/blame/guilt as harmful addiction reactions, might we have more courage to lean into the sharp points? to see things as they are and make a different choice? a choice that invites change, growth, relationship?

“lean into the sharp points” —Chogyam Rinpoche
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