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Lions Roar : January 2017
THIS DHARMA LIFE The Breath of Love When life was at its worst, breath was her companion. Now in recovery, REV. SARAH SIEGEL finds the breath is still her path to love and a sense of peace. PAVLAHAJEKPHOTOGRAPHY/GETTYIMAGES WHETHER I KNEW IT OR NOT, dur- ing the years I spent in active addiction to opiates and working as a stripper, my breath was my most loyal and kind companion. I used to view myself as a victim of circumstances at best—and a complete failure at worst. My first night working at the strip club was dismal. Despite the armful of heroin and handful of Ati- van I had downed in the dressing room before my first dance, I was shaking with anxiety and self-loathing as I climbed up the stairs and onto the polished stage. I looked out at the men perched at the edge of the stage and thought they all looked so sad and desperate. Despite the plastic smile, lingerie, and six-inch heels, I too looked sad and desperate, because I was. Before climbing up those steps, I paused and took a breath. Breathing was the closest thing to self-compassion I could muster. Beyond that, drugs were my only comfort. I had started smoking pot and binge drinking when I was thirteen. I was a hyper and self-conscious child, uncomfortable in my own skin. From the beginning, I often drank to black out. I put myself in unsafe situations, and experienced traumatic events as a result. The memories of those events, and the emotions that accompanied them, became further fuel for the “using machine,” and so the merciless cycle of addiction began. The first month of my junior year, I found harder drugs. Strangely enough, it was around then that I first wandered up the steps to a local Buddhist cen- ter and joined a meditation and study group. Some of the teachings resonated with me, but I wasn’t ripe for further practice or study. I would have to go through many more years of active addiction and experience a great deal more suffering before finding my way back to the dharma. Eventually, I revisited meditation prac- tice in one of the many substance abuse treatment centers I attended. I couldn’t do it for longer than a minute before sobbing uncontrollably. A steady stream of thoughts and memories of traumatic events floated to the surface immediately, SARAH SIEGEL is an ordained interfaith minister, recovered drug addict, and mother of three young children. and I was consumed by gut-wrenching fear and pain. A part of me realized that my thoughts were like a brutal dictator, and I was a slave to them. I would come to find out, by studying Buddha’s teachings on the four noble truths, that it was clinging to the thoughts that was the cause of my suffering—not the thoughts themselves. I needed to learn how not to take them so seriously and let go of the habit of grasp- ing at them. Meditation helped, but it still wasn’t enough to keep me clean and sober at the time. When I finally experienced a breakthrough that resulted in lasting LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2017 25 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE