In the last article we introduced Michael W. Clune, English professor at Case Western Reserve and author of a recently-released memoir, White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin, which is about his addiction to heroin in the early 2000s. In an interview with Tao Lin on The Believer website, Clune points out that in an effort to stop using, lots of addicts will write themselves notes telling themselves not to use: “You try to use writing to create a kind of artificial set of memories and instructions accessible at those moments of danger… And of course it doesn’t work at all. Writing isn’t actually good at that.”
Habits and meditation can help keep you sober
What does Clune think works? Habits and meditation. Sober for ten years, Clune discusses how they’ve helped maintain his sobriety:
“The practice of getting out of myself has been crucial for staying off dope…My experience with addiction convinced me that there was no getting out from any place within myself. My memories, my impulses, my reflexes, my relationships, my goals, my future, past, and present were all terminally infected. So to escape the memory disease—to escape addiction—I had to start over, outside me. How to get outside? The first step was forming new habits. Every night, I just wrote a list of things that are good to do, and the next day I read the list and did them—did them until I didn’t have to read the list anymore. Brush my teeth. Eat a banana. Work on my dissertation for three hours. Take a walk. Go to an NA meeting. Repeat. Pretty soon I’m a different person. The self isn’t really that solid; it’s mostly composed of things from the outside world. And habits are the tape and rope and staples that get things outside stuck in us.”
Clune here has made explicit the idea that we’ve been hinting around at in the past few articles, which is that our identity isn’t as solid as we believe it to be, that when we get down to it, we aren’t much more than our habits. This idea is nothing new, nor is it confined to the spheres of addiction and self-help. Theories abound about the fluidity of identity in cultural and literary theory, philosophy, and sociology.
Garbage in, garbage out
Thus, much of what forms us is external to us. One of the bluntest ways to put it comes from the world of computer programming: GIGO. This acronym stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out and is the mantra computer programmers use to remind themselves to write clean code.
Meditation is the second step Clune took to achieve sobriety. Clune explains the way out of himself, the thing he found to be “crucial for staying off dope,” took a couple of steps. First he formed new habits, and second he started meditating. In his interview, Clune shares with Tao Lin the realization he had about meditation: “When I was writing that scene about meditation, it hit me that what my friend Cash had said all those years ago was true: the thing I find in meditation is the thing I found in heroin—timelessness in time, stasis in motion.”
Clune is talking about something similar to “flow.” Meditative activities induce flow. When we are doing something that absorbs us completely, time falls away. Everything–worries, urges, desires, stress–disappears, which makes flow highly pleasurable and conducive to sobriety because you don’t need or want weed when you’re in a flow state.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his TED talk titled “Flow, The Secret to Happiness,” explains that he has been interested in what makes people happy since he was a child. His research revolves around the basic theory that money, after basic necessities are covered, does not contribute to happiness. For the last forty years he has interviewed many people to find out when they feel most happy in their everyday lives. The answer that emerged from his extensive research was the concept of flow.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness
Next article: More about Flow