Released on July 10, 2019, this Reflection is about a topic both personal and difficult for many people: addiction. If you are suffering, never be afraid to reach out to those around you. There is always hope, and you will be caught by kind and loving hands if only you have the courage to admit that you need help. We are all in this together - let us prove it to one another.
I want to talk about addiction. It is a perennial issue, something to which some people seem to succumb while other people seem to soar through life without ever even suffering a hint of these issues. Many books have been written on the subject, some blaming childhood issues, some blaming the addict, some blaming society, some blaming the substances themselves.
Personally, I have beaten my demons. I was not a hardcore addict by any stretch of the word, but I was first a food fiend, a video game fiend, and then a booze fiend. During my last years as an addict I was prescribed ADHD medication and my usage of that stuff definitely ventured into abuse territory. Throughout the darker days, I remember despairing to myself why I could not simply avoid drinking on a Friday night.
Every Monday, I would say to myself, ‘nope, not this week.’ Invariably, I would find myself craving the beer after a tough week at the slog of work. I wanted to have fun, to escape from my woes. Friday I would be back at it, guzzling enormous amounts of alcohol along with my friends. It would be a hungover Saturday, perhaps a repeat of Friday’s activities on Saturday night, and then it would be a depressing Sunday as I contemplated a return to work.
It was a terrible way to live. I became anxious and depressed and sad. I thought that my life was shit, escape was all that I had. Sure, I had friends and romantic partners throughout, but I felt such a disconnection. And I believed it: the disconnection.
I mean, I was a militant atheist who believed that he had all of the answers. Life after death was a foolish thought and all religions consisted of a bunch of indoctrinated people indoctrinating people. I never believed in the notion of the mystical experience, at least not without the intervention of psychedelic drugs and even that was ‘a bunch of chemical activity’ in someone’s brain.
Sure, I had a deep misconception of God, thinking that what people believed in was some separated force, perhaps personified by an old white dude on a throne with a penchant for caprice. Blessing some and fucking others, God was something used by the weak-minded to deal with the vagaries of fate. I did not realize that what I was looking for was both the observer and the observed: my own self, as it were.
Like I said, it was about disconnection. From my environment, from other people, from my true self. The cure for my addictions was, at its core, a reconnection. I mean, really, none of us are ever really separate from reality, even if we believe it to be so in our ignorance. We simply buy into the notion of separated self when we are kids.
It wasn’t always this way, you know. For all of the ignorance we attach to the primitive ways, you would not have found a druid wandering the forests of England or a shaman in the Americas who believed in a separation of reality (and the druids might be gone, but definitely not all of the shamans). All was connected, all had meaning. Sure, there were charlatans then as there are now, but mysticism, or direct experience of the divine, not dogma, was the fuel for many spiritual leaders.
The observed separation of observed and observer is the lynchpin that allowed for the growth of science and our technological marvels (and for a power-hungry priesthood that denied that anyone but a priest could communicate with God). Separation and random chance is a necessary ingredient to the mind that conducts science. And yet, beneath it all, without a balancing sense of something grander to the world, it is the rot that leads to addictions. Including our addictions to money and oil and capitalism and unchecked growth.
As far as I can see, disconnection is the problem. And there is science that supports this idea. The rat park experiments in the ‘70s and ‘80s demonstrated that rats who were isolated in boring cages would binge on cocaine-laced drinking water (instead of the offered plain water) and plummet into addictions. The ones that were given communities of other rats and things to do would thrive and avoid the cocaine water. It can be inferred that whatever pleasure the rats received from the cocaine paled in comparison to the joys of togetherness and activity.
What activity, though? I mean, rats are rats, and giving them little tunnels and toys are exactly the stimulation that would seem to be sufficient to make them happy. But human beings are more complex. We like different things. Music, books, movies, plays and other art forms are just as important as getting time away from it all in nature.
Art. Creation itself. It comes in so many forms. And in a roundabout way, it was exactly what I was looking for. The thing is, all of the creation stories in the scriptures can be read metaphorically as what is going on in people who become artists. Creation does not require anything more than surrender. The best artists are the most skilled at putting down their weapons and armour and allowing. And art does not just mean making stuff. Properly viewed, art is a life well-lived. The music and novels and stories and paintings and sumptuous feasts are just a side-effect.
They say that life imitates art and art imitates life. Well, if this is the case, the creative process is not limited to the amount of time we spend in the kitchen or at the laptop or before the easel. Beauty can occur in life as well as a finished product if only we allow it. This is God, the creator.
The problem we all have is seeing nature as separated from ourselves. We do not trust ourselves, our instincts, our intuition. Intuition is idiocy, the purview of mountebanks who pretend to be able to read crystal balls and have people call in on the phone to get their fortunes read. There are anti-intuition societies, formed in response to what is seen as predatory behaviour on the part of people who hold themselves out as masters of reality.
To some degree, that is correct. There are those people who take advantage of people’s desire to find some meaning in this world. And yet, that is not the entire story.
I am going to throw another Biblical reference at you. Satan. The Great Deceiver. He is also said to be God’s greatest lover. In some traditions, he readily accepted his role as the grand tempter, the one who would pull people off the path. If you take this idea literally, some red-arsed devil awaits you in the afterlife if you drink and smoke and shag hookers.
If you understand Satan as metaphor, you can look at it from another angle. In Hinduism, there is the idea of maya, or the illusion of life. The apparent separation of everything, making me an island over here and you an island over there. We are all born into it and moksha, or liberation, is seeing beyond the veil of reality and penetrating to understand the core mystery.
The mystery is not the truth of reality. Every religion on the planet talks about oneness and unity in one way or another. The mystery is not knowing how things are going to play out. Hell, as far as I can see, is being able to predict the future. And why is it so hellish? Because it is a bore. There is nothing fun in knowing what is going to happen. Sure, you can reread books or watch movies multiple times, but is there anything as fun as the first time? Every time I see someone on Reddit posting about a beloved fantasy series that they haven’t read yet, someone will chime in to say, ‘I envy you.’ As in, I envy the experience that you are about to have in revealing the mystery.
This is what it all comes back to. This mystery. A ready surrender into the mystery is how splendid art is made. Every time I finish a story or an essay, I look back over it and marvel. What wonder is creation! What beauty! What incredible delight!
And then I look back over my own life, and guess what? What wonder is creation! What beauty! What incredible delight!
I am grateful for all of it. For the darkness, for the addictions, for the light, for the bending and winding road taken and the utter mystery of what is to come next. That is God, to me. It has nothing to do with burning heretics and secret clubs and putting myself into a tribe that separates me from anything. It has everything to do with the thrill of it all. And that is what rescued me from addictions and unhappiness.
Surrendering to the thrill of life entire: that is my prescription for addiction.