Monday, 30 May 2016

Chasing The Scream - The Opposite of Addiction

For a (very) short while way back in the day I dated a girl who did heroin: I’d watched her chopping lines upstairs at a party. A week or so later, we were fooling around (no sex) in my rented flat in Putney, and when we stopped and were lying there kinda peacefully, she said “This is how heroin makes me feel”. She was taking heroin just so she could feel like she’d been fooling around for a while? How freaking bad were the rest of her hours? It turned out, as I slid into alcoholism, that some of my hours may have been as bad as some of hers.

Addicts and drunks are made, partly by genetics and partly by upbringing. Psychologists are learning that harsh emotions are real, chemical storms and floods that destroy one set of synapse links in the brain and make others, and affect the autonomic nervous system as well, so that stress hormones are released at the slightest provocation, because when the addict was small and helpless, the provocations were always serious. I’m sure we will learn that good experiences also create permanent changes in the brain and autonomic nervous system that lead to increased an attraction to, and pleasure from, social events and the company of people. Those without the good experiences or with too many bad ones can learn to behave like an emotionally-balanced person, but they will never feel like one.

In his insightful book about the War on Drugs, Chasing The Scream, Johann Hart suggests that isolation keeps addicts addicted, and connection with people and society helps them get off the drugs. Addicts do improve when they have a job, a medical-grade supply of their drug, someone to listen to their stories, a partner and a place to live. The people who run those programs are decent, caring and practical and the world needs more of those programs and less bullying by politicians. Normal people who find themselves using drugs to cope with extreme situations - the Vets who came back from Vietnam and the patients who come off heavy post-op opiates - don’t live without the drugs because they have “human connections”, they live without the drugs because they are normal people and they don’t need to cope with an extreme envirnoment anymore. The addicts who don’t stop are people whose intolerable environment is internal, not external: that’s why “geographicals” - moving or travelling for months on end to try to make things better - don’t work.

“Connection” is either an euphemism for sex, and that’s just drugs, or it’s about doing stuff together or sitting around talking, and that’s like watching British TV: it seems okay at the time, but when you’re on your own again, you feel cheated. There are a handful of people I can spend time with and feel that time is well-spent, but most hanging-out time is not, minute-for-minute, worth an episode of Elementary or Angel.

There’s a reason people in the 12-Step programs call themselves “recovering alcoholics” or “recovering addicts”. They understand that no-one stops being an addict, and alcoholic or any other kind of dysfunction. What they can stop is acting out on their addiction. The opposite of (acting out on) addiction is living a routine life without excitement or drama, and it’s the vanity and obsession to attend a day job, keep orderly digs, exercise, eat right and read challenging books so that you don’t turn into a tub of lard. It’s getting out of bed and go about your day because you woke up alive again. Most of all, it’s taking chronic low-level emotional un-rest, dis-ease and emptiness, and handling the occasional flare-ups into real emotional pain. It’s those flare-ups that send so many addicts back out again, and what attending 12-Step meetings is can help manage.

Some addicts reach a moment in their sobriety when they finally accept that nothing and nobody can make them feel better. It can be an awful few weeks while they deal with the idea that they never will know peace and rest and love. They really are on their own, and they learn that the reason for telling the truth is the same as the reason for having a day job is the same as the reason for being honest and thoughtful is the same as the reason for being healthy and organised is the same as the reason for keeping people at a polite distance: it’s less effort, it keeps their lives simple, and you don’t have to remember what lies you told to whom.

But in this realisation lies freedom. The sober addict, in their emotional emptiness, can live for any reason they choose, except the search for an impossible emotional rest and ease. It’s the people who can make “human connection” who wind up as slaves to marriage and fatherhood and all the games that women and children play, and all the threats that wives and employers can make. The sober addict, knowing that “connection” is for them ultimately unsatisfying, can reject the idea that “the real meaning of life is other people” and find a meaning for themselves. Even if that meaning is simply a simple defiance of their condition: showing up and living sober despite. This isn’t easy, but that’s a whole other story.

No comments:

Post a Comment