Right Relationship with Substances, and Guan Yin: The Goddess of Compassion
By Contributor: Alison McQueen, MA, LPC
I’m not a “just say no” therapist. Humans of every culture, across the globe, since the beginning of time, have used plants and other substances to alter their consciousness. There’s nothing new about substance use; in fact, it’s a normal aspect of being human. Clearly, a number of personal and cultural problems are normal as well, and substances and addiction can and do play into this. So we must attend to our own individual relationship to substances, and determine on a personal level what it is to be in right relationship. We must look through and beyond what our current culture, or family, says about it; we must dig deeper. Our work is in tapping into a deep inner knowing, a felt sense experience of health, sanity, and self-compassion.
These are the questions I ask myself, and my clients, so that together we can assess one’s relationship with substances. The questions could be applied to anything one could develop an addiction or unhealthy relationship with— from drugs to alcohol to shopping or social media. I’m offering these questions to you so that you can begin to assess for yourself what does and does not serve you.
This leads to my first and most important question: Is it serving you? Can you give examples of how the substance is supporting your life, your relationships, and you being your best self in the world?
Is the substance highly addictive? Have you done thorough and unbiased research on the consequences of ongoing use? Would doctors, holistic healers, and other practitioners who you respect support you if they knew the type of substance it is, dosage, and frequency? Are you keeping your use a secret from close loves ones whom you respect?
How does your use affect your job and relationships? Are you more productive or less productive because of it? How’s your health and immune system?
What would happen if you stopped using? Would you be willing to abstain or fast from the substance for a while to find out? Notice what happens in simply imagining doing without it for one lunar cycle (28 days)?
And finally, does your use of this substance line up with your personal values? When you really think about what you value most in life, what makes you you, does the substance or medicine you're using support that in some way?
You are the expert here, not me. What did these questions bring up for you? Are you noticing an openness to the questions, a defensiveness, or something in between? Is there any shame coming up? Or perhaps pride? Substance use, medicine use, drug use— it’s an incredibly personal experience, and because of the way our culture handles these things (often with a lot of misinformation, shame, and blame) we often have the tendency to hide them. That’s why I’m writing this really. Because chances are you’re alone somewhere reading this, curious about what right relationship actually means for you, perhaps sick of the medical model or traditional therapies related to addictions— which can so often feel as if they are somehow infused with some version of “there’s something wrong with you.” And from where I sit, there’s nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with you. There’s a brilliance within each of us, within you, within your particular way of being with substances. And I’m fascinated— incredibly fascinated by those inner workings, inner longings, cravings, “addictions.”
I hope these questions are useful to you, and that you continue to work with them. And whatever’s coming up, I hope you peer into it with deep compassion. I’ve intentionally attached an image of Guan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion, above as a gift for you. Guan Yin, she who “hears and sees the cries of the world” offers boundless love and comfort to all people, easing the inevitable pains of human life. She’s a wonderful presence to invoke as you work with these questions. I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out and let me know what this self-assessment process was like.
To learn more about bringing goddess wisdom into your life, check out my upcoming series Myth, Art & Movement Part 2: The Goddesses of Spring. Join Karina Maria and I as we facilitate a sacred circle of women exploring goddess mythology and storytelling, as well as intentional movement and art practices designed to activate the Goddess wisdom already within you. More info here.