We’re all addicts

How profound is that? I mean, you read that and you think you’re right on the verge of a Beat welling of thought and drug-maddened prose that will enlighten you on the human condition while obfuscating — well, everything. The Beats were like that.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about today.

There’s something wobbling about in my head, and I can’t quite find it. So, as is my habit (and a fine habit it is — not a habit, though — it doesn’t tie in with the addiction thing), I’ll use all of your foreheads as my sounding boards. I’ll hear my voice echo off your faces, some bemused, some bewildered, many impassive and reaching for the next hyperlink, and the returning sound will show me the shape of my surroundings; a kind of philisophic sonar that only 43 years of evolution can produce. Nature’s miracle, that’s me.

I’m the fruit-eating sort, though. Get someone else to keep the moth population down.

Rambling. Right.

Addiction. The addict stands, near collapse in a dirty public restroom or a back alley, a spike in his arm, his eyes turned upward toward the grace of white powder and glazing over from that blessing. We can all sneer, if we like, or turn uncomfortably away and hurry home to warmth and safety, to places filled with people who aren’t doing that to their lives — using them up so quickly and for so little.

Except, y’know, we can’t. There are, perhaps, no such places.

Heroin, sure. And other fine powders. Alchohol, let’s not forget it. Tobacco, chocolate, Coca-cola. Gambling.

Whoops, we seem to have included a behavioral disorder in with the chemicals. Social convention has placed it there, though, and I’m not going to be the one to remove it. So. Gambling is an addiction. I know a couple, so I can, if so moved, kick in with an anecdote or so to demonstrate solidarity with the consensus.

The behavioral addiction sheds light on all the others, though. The common noise I’ve heard about the source of addiction is heredity, emotional scarring, that sort of thing. The addict indulges his behaviors (chemicals, whatever) to get away from the pain of being — whatever he is.

Okay, sure. I’m willing to stipulate.

At this point you are all, wise people all of you, waiting for my pounce on these unsuspecting ideas, waiting for the venom that I’ll drip, the bile I’ll spit, the cliche of your choice emitted in an unseemly way from my metaphor’s body. Sorry, no blood today kids.

I think that’s kind of right, but it falls short.

Low Self-Esteem. Go ahead and shudder at the term. We’ve seen it driven into the ground, and it really out to be there. It doesn’t explain anything, it doesn’t enlighten. “Oh,” we say, “He’s got low self-esteem. That’s why he’s always down on himself.” We think we’ve said something. We have; we’ve uttered a tautology. We’ve said that someone acts like he’s down on himself because he believes that he is worth being down on.

Not going to fix or poo-pooh that one, either.

The thing is, we can look at the addictive behaviors for just the barest moment and come up with a list of commonalities. Go find a book on codependence and recovering addictive behaviors and you’ll get it. I almost don’t know why I’m even talking about this, except that I covered that in the third paragraph.

Like this: Alph, a nice enough guy who, for whatever reason, feels he is dispicable, cannot reconcile what he feels he should be with what he can or will do. He starts acting out in ways that make someone mutter, “low self esteem – tch.” I don’t care what Alph does at this point; spikes, snorts, rolls of the dice, whatever. They are, I think, very nearly trivial.

Yes, I said his addiction is trivial. Let it go.

The result of his addiction is not. It is, maybe, I think, the goal.

Our behavior defines us. We aren’t really just who we are inside. We are what we do, and we all believe that. You don’t believe that? ‘S’funny, you act like you do. Anyone who exercises good grooming and table manners is demonstrating that he believes that to some degree.

And addict has bad behaviors. He’s a bad person, or he wouldn’t have made those choices, grabbed the syringe, screwed fifteen sailors in one night, beaten his wife or kid, played the video game until his spouse ran to the arms of another — hey, have I defined those as addictive behaviors?

Well, then, let’s now. Addictive behaviors are, I suppose, behaviors that one has difficulty in stopping, and, the more one indulges them, the more one wants to or needs to.

So let’s take the wife beating as addictive. Alph doesn’t live up to whatever standard he thinks he should. He thinks he’s a bad person. He is deeply unhappy with that and, in turn, beats his wife. Now, Alph is not totally without feeling, and he knows that he’s pretty shitty as a person if he can beat his wife like that. In a perverse way, that pats Alph on the back. “I thought I was a shit, and look — I beat my wife. I am a shit.” Good on Alph; he called that one right on target. Thing is, he feels even worse about himself now. He had been a bad person for what was inside. Now there’s this behavior outside. He’s a real loser. It makes him even unhappier, and a little afraid, too; his wife, if she has any sense, would leave a loser like Alph. Say she doesn’t. Now Alph thinks less of her, so maybe it’s a little bit okay that he’s such a disappointment to her. He still knows that he’s a loss as a human being, though, and is less happy than ever. More beatings. See the cycle? Sounds addictive, doesn’t it?

If he keeps it up, he proves himself as a bad person, just like he thought he was. Satisfaction. If she takes it, she loves him in spite of his faults, and that feels good. But if he’s beating someone who loves him that much, he’s an even bigger shit than he thought, and that makes him hate himself more, so more beatings ensue. Eventually she leaves him.

Oh, good, Alph thinks somewhere way in the back where even he can’t hear it. I really am a worthless shit who can’t be loved, and now I get the shunning I deserve.

Take out the wife beating and put in gambling the family’s money away. Or buying drugs with the money. Or ruining the family by screwing anything that moves. Or ignoring the family until it disintegrates while you play games, overwork, whatever.

I think that addiction begins (I find, as I’m telling you all these things) with a conflicting set of emotions or expectations that aren’t being directed toward resolution. That results in predictable failure to meet one’s own expectations, and then a leap of false logic to which humans are all too prone kicks in. The false syllogism is this: If I am failing to meet expectations, I am not worthy as a human being.

I am prone to this. My addiction was spread over a few things; taking on even more responsibility until I could not help but fail, self-flagellation (metaphorical, but very vocal), and monstrous amounts of passive-aggression. I mean, like, rabidly hostile passive-aggression. I wanted more addictions, meaner ones, and actively considered them. I pulled back, though.

Now here’s where I don’t know enough. I stopped. All of it. I still fight with the conflicts, I still try to flagellate, to die on the cross, to punish myself until someone feels guilty. But I stop myself. I don’t want to be like that, and so I don’t. I like being me, when I’m good, and I love the people I am around and don’t want to hurt them — and addictive behaviors of all sorts are group sport, participation required of all on-lookers.

That’s the part I don’t understand. I know addicts. I know they love the people they love. They can see that they are hurting those people. But they don’t stop. I did it. I didn’t use twelve steps, I didn’t go to a higher power or get my demons exorcised (although I had suggested that holes in my skull to let them out might be a good thing). I did go to a shrink, but the patient does the work there. I went to speed things up, not to get saved.

I am not that special. There is nothing I do that everyone couldn’t do, if they wished. Some might have to try harder (or less hard, I suppose), but they could do it.

Is it a refrain of the unworthiness creed? I suck, so even though anyone could break the cycle of behavior, I can’t. I suck just that badly. Maybe, but that’s an addictive behavior as well, and I had that one, too. I don’t know how often I said, “I can’t help it, I have to, I have no choice.” Ask Ed; he probably kept some sort of score. Like, every time Scott says that, I’ll sip a beer.

Wow. That’s a lot.

So. Hm. There it is, I guess. A lovely thesis all prepped up, but no conclusions. I imagine that Ed is suggesting as a conclusion, “they don’t stop because they’re stupid.” Well, can’t fault that diagnosis, but it doesn’t explain much more than the low self esteem one.

Well. That’s all sorted out, and I’m sure I’ll figure a conclusion some time soon. I’m going to go do some blow and go to bed.

Crossposted from Epinepherine & Sophistry