I will not use the word “God” in this writing because there are as many conceptions of this word as there are people whether that conception includes belief, absence of belief, or indifference. Furthermore, all religions make the same conclusion in different ways. I myself will not acknowledge whether or not I believe in a God, I’m merely sharing an experience of consciousness which some may refer to as a spiritual awakening in seeking recovery from a depressive state of mind that has burdened me by manifesting into anxiety and addiction for almost 30 years without my knowing.
Entering into adulthood I was told many things through implications by my surroundings. Sitcoms would show me that if you have good friends, you have a good life. People around me would look up to success and fear the burdens of poverty. My high school professors would tell us how they’re preparing us for college as if it’s mandatory. I was told family is everything, the world is my oyster, if I work hard and form meaningful relationships with others I will have success and with that success, I will find joy.
My friends went off to establish themselves as active members of society while I went a different route, I got addicted to drugs. At the age of 23, I saw where my life was headed, that I wouldn’t find the joy people talk about if I continued on this path. So I got sober and stayed sober for six and a half years. In that time of sobriety, the pursuit of success was the drive and sobriety was a symptom of that drive. I couldn’t see myself getting far in life with drugs in the picture so I didn’t use them.
Now here’s the strange thing, the more I accomplished the more empty I felt. I remember being 27, a cashier at Sam’s club making $10 an hour while my friends were buying their first homes. While I felt this embarrassment with how others saw me at that time I wasn’t too dissatisfied with where I was at. I ended up getting a degree and landing a prestigious job as a digital marketing director at a tech company and I felt more empty than when I was as a cashier. I went further to achieve some level of fame and notoriety as a creator on YouTube, and I felt more dissatisfied. I was not only dissatisfied with what I had I was constantly obsessing of what I don’t have or of losing what I had gained. I would lose sleep worrying about what could happen in the next month, what has happened in the past month or being resentful that I didn’t have more.
The symptoms got worse and worse as success was gained to the point I shut down. I went through severe depression and anxiety, at one point I had to walk over trash stacked up in my place and didn’t leave the house for 72 hours. I remember being on my knees in a trash-filled room begging for it to relent and followed my pleas with action. I tried every faculty to heal my body and mind of this relentless feeling of emptiness including what many consider healthy. I went back to school, cleared clutter, I went to support group meetings daily, I got a sponsor, I worked the 12 steps, I went to a mental health rehab, I dieted, I got a personal trainer, I tried CBT and DBT therapy, I tried Yoga, I built and fostered meaningful relationships, the list goes on and on for over a year. At times I would feel some relief, it was like getting a glimpse of joy almost as if I was drowning but could at least see the sun wasn’t far away but I’d always eventually get anchored down into the depths of nothingness. What made it worse is I didn’t know the cause, I was told since entering adulthood I would be happy if I had fame, money, and meaningful relationships – I had all those things so why was I drowning?
Eventually, I tried using drugs to cope with insomnia and worry at night, I thought I’d just smoke weed to calm the thoughts at night. This led to a severe relapse because drugs worked, they filled the emptiness, but the fact I was using them to solve this deep pain made the addiction more suicidal than anything I’ve encountered in the past – it wasn’t for recreation in the slightest and eventually, they stopped filling that emptiness making it worse by destroying my environment. I got sober on my own then went to rehab and the emptiness remained, now I had officially tried everything I could think of and it’s still there. At this point, the idea of ending my life seemed like the only way out.
But there was something I hadn’t tried and that was being honest with where I’m at. When people asked me how I was doing I was good at putting on a smile and saying a passive “I’m good, how are you?” I decided to tell anyone who asked that question “I’m depressed.” I went as far as to tell my entire audience, at the time of writing this over 430K people have seen me share about this emptiness that I used drugs to escape. This was my “rock bottom” so to speak, the hardest thing I had to do was be honest with where I’m at today and the fact it was with such a large number of people made it that much more difficult. The desperation I had to find the solution was so immense I would give anything a try at this point.
Before I share what I’ve found that has healed this seemingly hopeless state of mind I will disclaim that I’m not sure if it is what I found or my willingness that has healed me. The desperation in and of itself is a powerful force, the fact I was so desperate to get better could have been the solution in itself as I put full focus on getting to shore swimming as hard as I could. I will also share that I’m not an advocate for psychedelic drug usage, though they’re a significant part of my story my feelings of them are neutral neither to promote or demote their medicinal properties until there are enough data and science to back up broad claims. I will also disclaim this isn’t a dogmatic close-minded 12 step approach though it may sound similar at times – we all perceive them in our own way.
My solution started with speaking with an old friend of mine I’ll call Steve who had been sober 38 years, he described a similar situation he faced at the age of 31. He told me he had a new way of living where he realized that managing his own life didn’t lead himself to a sustained sense of wholeness – he felt empty though on the outside many would say he was doing well and like me, he was able to put on a smile. He shared about how he stays close to a higher power and asks that power for guidance trusting that this power would provide his needs if he took action on the direction it pointed him which was usually taking care of himself so he can serve others. It sounded as if he uses prayer as a grounding technique to keep himself in the present focusing on doing the next right thing and when he’s concerned with his needs not being met he trust that this power would provide for him.
I’ve often heard the dogmatic preaching of “we need to find a Power greater than ourselves” and people sharing how they have a relationship with this power. I’ve acknowledged external power, but having a relationship with this external force is something I couldn’t comprehend. Seeing Steve I couldn’t doubt he had a sense of calmness about him, I couldn’t deny he found joy in helping others or that he didn’t describe my problem verbatim and seemed to have found a solution that works for him. At that point, I realized maybe the solution isn’t outside of myself, maybe it has to do with my perception of the world and my foundation for living. The way he described it still didn’t make much sense to me but maybe I could find a way to make sense of it for myself.
I was never told to find the power within myself inside of a recovery setting. I’ve been told “you need to find a power greater than yourself” so I always looked to the external for that power. But here’s the thing, the word yourself implies I’m two separate entities for your implies ownership of the self. I later read a similar revelation from Eckhart Tolle where he said “I can’t live with myself” and he realized he identified himself as the “I” and “myself” two separate entities in one. Who is the “I” and what is the “self” became a focus for him as well in a different way.
Identifying and distinguishing the separation was the only thing that worked for my depression and anxiety. I started with identifying the “I” by reflecting on past experiences breaking through on DMT – a profound psychedelic compound that caused me to experience astral projection. I left my body, I not only wasn’t aware I did a drug but I wasn’t aware that I was human, I was in a place where there was no past, future, anything I could identify yet I still was. I was observing this place and in my opinion, I was in my most pure fundamental form what I now call “the observer” for this very reason. This experience was the foundation for discovering the “I” but past reflection wasn’t enough to sustain that learning experience I had to reconnect with it and perhaps foster a relationship with what I was in that space.
(when I say realized or recognized below it’s absent of thought, I didn’t think in these states moreso felt a natural intuition)
I started practicing deep meditation, I will say guided meditations didn’t work for me and I believe everyone meditates in their own way but I experimented. I found myself visualizing a glass box that nothing could penetrate and I was floating in space with lights all around. I went deeper into the meditation by making the box shrink further and further until there was no box. I let go of all things self as was merely a conscious being. In this meditative state, I got naturally very connected with my breath recognizing it’s my consciousness that makes me breathe and not my mind. I started to see myself as not my mind or my body but something much deeper. I then realized that all living things are something deeper connected through this consciousness which controls breath, that the body and mind are merely obstructions providing unique learning experiences and those are unique but at the core level, all living beings are the same consciousness.
Upon awakening from this state, I was quite perplexed. I never knew meditation could go that deep or that I was capable of it, I always told people I was too “ADD” for meditation but what I was actually saying was “my mind is so obsessive with the external it would be painful because I need it too bad.” The desperation was key for me to give it a solid chance, and upon giving it that chance I discovered a higher power that exists within and outside. It exists within me and it also exists as a collective consciousness of all living things and I understood how I can have a relationship with this power.
Ever since then the depression has been lifted immensely. When I am feeling empty, depressed, anxious, afraid, anything that can distract me I ground myself by asking life to remove the pain so that I can better serve whatever meaning I am here for then I take action. The guidance I receive from the force of life is pretty simple and intuitive, it’s either taking care of myself so I can better serve or to serve others. It’s as intuitive as doing the next right thing and being honest when I’m doing the next wrong thing, it’s simple, it doesn’t take a lot of thought. When I worry about the future or my needs not being met I trust that life will provide what is needed. When I am facing difficulties I see it not as a burden but as a challenge to walk through it with integrity and honesty to further my relationship with the spirit of life.
Following this path of doing the next right thing focusing on what I can control – my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors have naturally led me to a better life externally but now I see success as something that’s not pursued but it ensues. It’s doing what our heart commands us to do and success just falls into place. I’m now active in a community, have healthy goals, meaningful relationships, external symptoms of a man who lives in the present but those aren’t what fill the emptiness they are merely changes on the outside as a result of changing on the inside. They aren’t something I “need” to do they are things I’m inspired by life to do. I wake up like a kid on Christmas and see every moment where I can serve this greater meaning an unwrapped gift. I no longer dread the past or obsess about the future, I am.
I now realize I was trying to heal my body and mind relentlessly, but by healing this deeper source of being the body, mind, and environment corrected itself. I kept falling because I was chipping away at the surface, it was like I was pulling weeds but failing to dig up the roots to prevent them from growing back.
I was told by Steve that eventually, this new way of life becomes a working part of the mind, at some point I won’t have to ground myself 100 times a day but it will come naturally without thinking like touch typing on a keyboard. Even though I do have to ground myself frequently, I have hope, I’m no longer seeing the light from the sun under a sheet of water but rather I’m beginning to bathe in its warmth. There is a solution and the solution was there the whole time, I just had to get desperate enough to look in the last place I would look – within.
Philip Markoff (Associate of Science) is an online influencer and thought leader on addiction education; he is known as his alias “CG Kid” who’s obtained a large audience primarily on YouTube as a vlogger and journalist. His current sobriety date from polysubstance chemical dependency is June 9th, 2013.