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.

6 thoughts on “We’re all addicts”

  1. I think that what was left out of your equation was substitution.

    Alph may be driven to beat his wife, etc., by a desire to beat himself, but on the surface, he does it in order to feel good about himself. He substitutes the actions that normal people might do to feel good, happy, strong, and so forth, with the action of beating his wife. This makes him temporarily feel better about himself– gives him the illusion that he is strong, powerful, in control of his life. These feelings are the closest to happiness he can feel in this state, and even though they dissolve into self-loathing, he was still able to feel “happy” for a while. Thus the cycle repeats.

    Now Alph may be a smart guy, but he has fears like everyone else, and as an addict, his greatest fear is that there is no substitute for beating his wife. Nothing else will be able to make him feel so good, so he is afraid to try to recover, and in fact denies that this is a problem.

    Big, bad, wife-beating Alph is too scared to stop his behavior, and will not, in fact, even admit it is a problem. He will probably rationalize it with some version of “she deserves it.” When she leaves, he will either bottom out and realize that his behavior was wrong and that he should do something about it, find someone else and start the cycle over, or move to another addiction (although he probably already has a secondary addiction like alcohol).

    Perhaps you or Ed can argue that fear=stupid, but mostly it seems simply to lead to stupid behavior. Perhaps the equation should be fear+inaction=stupid.

    Anyway, hope that helps. Proud to allow my hollow skull resound however briefly with such deep thoughts.

    1. I understand what you’re getting at, and the way in which I fail to agree with you is helpful to me. So. Thanks. 🙂

      I seem to believe that (working on the suspect postulate that people know what they are doing) addicts actually seek out the destructive behaviors (instead of more harmless addictions, like, say, humming Macarena) for the reprecussions.

      I think they actually want the rejection, trashing of their lives, and doom that lie down those paths, and that’s why they seek out the addictions.

      1. Hmmm. I am not sure that your comment intrinsically contradicts mine. Or at least I’m not sure I disagree with yours, while not feeling I need to change mine.

        I think that it is simply that I do not see people as doing these things entirely consciously. Initially I think it is more of a lizard brain function; “this action makes me feel good”. The repercussions come later and are not part of the initial thought process. People have an incredible capacity for rationalization and an immense ability to blame others.

        So, the rejection is simply because others are jealous, and the loss of job is because the boss hates them, and so on.

        However, once a person has decided they have a problem, and/or are on the road to recovery, then the are able to make a conscious decision. At this point, I agree, if they choose the destructive behavior, they do it for all the reasons involved, bad and good.

      2. I agree with four_paws, people don’t normally know why they are doing what they are doing. Introspection is uncommon and when it happens at all the introspector is usually able to place the blame for his or her actions elsewhere.

        YOU tend to let circumstances dictate your actions, rather than the other way around. Or you used to. I don’t see how that’s an addiction, but I think the word addiction is being used to refer to so many things that it’s in danger of becoming meaningless.

        What do you mean by this: – and addictive behaviors of all sorts are group sport, participation required of all on-lookers.

        1. addictive behaviors of all sorts are group sport, participation required of all on-lookers.

          People involved in destructive addictive behaviors tend to ‘splash’ the people close to them with the effects of their actions. An obvious example would be pawning the family TV (or your wedding ring) so you have money for drugs, gambling, etc, but the ‘splash’ includes the conflicts that arise from those behaviors, the deterioration of the relationships with the behav-or, and so forth.

          The people around the addict might not have to be codependent if they don’t wish to be, but even if they choose to withdraw from the relationship, there’s an effect.

          I will agree with you that ‘addiction’ is becoming an overused word, but I can’t help but notice that the effects are the same regardless of what one is addicted to.

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