Addicted to a Universe in a Nutshell

Carl Sagan famously suggested that human consciousness is the way the universe comes to know itself. Long before, Hamlet had showed the tragic irony of this position by knowing, but never acting the way he could or should have.

The life of an addict is very much the latter. I insist this because I am one, just like a lot of us.

Another amazing irony about addiction is as follows: I am scared and don’t want to feel vulnerable so I engage in behavior that becomes compulsory until that behavior starts hurting me and leaving me vulnerable until I am constantly afraid of everything and now must most definitely engage in said compulsory behavior because it will actually work this time.

This is maybe one core paradox of addiction, but I want to, for the moment, put that bit of madness aside and look at another weird aspect of this thing I have only so much control of.

It’s been a pretty good chunk of time since I’ve imbibed in booze or drugs (and honestly the only real good chunk of time will be demarcated when I hopefully die sober in some old man bed somewhere) which I thought would make me less of an addict (and in many ways does… kind of, this is all deeply complex) but that initial impulse to control how the world affects me in order protect myself that then dovetails into a whirligig of misery is alive as hell.

Here’s a major thing I’ve realized lately, for the past couple years I’ve fallen asleep to some kind of video on my laptop. The LED narrative kind of sinks into the first couple layers of my subconscious and gives a laugh track to my dreams. I’ll wake up mostly exhausted and get on with the day. Now, there’s nothing initially terrible about this behavior (don’t listen to all those damn blogs about the dangers of sleeping with your phone, you aren’t going to hell for it, and we’ve all got better fish to fry) I refused to pay attention to what I was feeling laying in bed, waiting to nod off. And I was ignoring on purpose. I would lie in bed knowing what I was feeling, but suppressing it enough that the word never popped into my head and then maybe I wasn’t actually feeling it, but hey hearing other people laugh on a screen did make it (the thing I refused to admit existed) ebb just a little. And nothing big made me realize it, probably I just strained my neck to hard and thought “Jesus I feel lonely.” And I did, like painful lonely that intimated I was never close to anyone and never would be and the whole world was robbed of my rich inner life and that inner life would collapse like the sacked city of Troy if I didn’t have someone to vomit it onto and ultimately this all meant that I truly didn’t matter and could never be loved or even feel loved because if that was the case I wouldn’t be lonely. And if that sentence made total logical sense to you, perhaps you too should watch your inner state before bedtime.

Because I was doing the exact fucking thing I did when I was drinking. I was trying to deny a very real emotional reality, or at least lessen it’s phenomenological impact by distracting myself. And booze is effective. And TV is effective, but not as much as booze. And so when I found myself spending hundreds of dollars on Amazon using money I didn’t have for back issues of New X-Men because I thought it could plug that God sized hole, I refused to look at what was actually making me so desperate.

Look, here’s the thing, we humans have it stacked against us from the start. Desire itself is structured in such a way that it can never be truly satiated. As soon as I possess the thing I lusted after, it is no longer the thing I lusted after, but simply the thing I possess. This cycle is almost endless (unless we learn to simply sit with that desire and see it for what it is, just another drive, another mood). This is difficult enough, but when you weave in our healthy and human need and want to belong and our ability to believe we do not possess what we actually might, this endless emptiness becomes our own little black hole, a dark god that calls the shots as it tells us to shut our eyes.

I have found, through a whole lot of angst rolling around on the floor while I listened to The Cure or The National or Beethoven or anything edgy and dark (maaaan) that the best thing I can do turn and be humble enough to accept that that loneliness, or desire, or emptiness is what I should feel in that moment. All of it. As painful as it is I can take it simply for the fact that I am alive and conscious and if it really was too much then I wouldn’t have the faculty to feel it. And I love this choice that isn’t a choice. I can suffer or I can say yes, I will suffer and suffer. And when I do the former I hide like dog from a thunderstorm and when I do the latter I grow resilient for the next time I have to do it again.

Of course community and family and support networks and exercise and love and love and love and also love are also needed, but it is that bizarre little choice with big consequences that helps me free myself from self-enslavement through addiction.

I might add to Sagan’s maxim: there is no point in knowing the universe if we do not attempt to know ourselves first, and to Hamlet: keep dreaming of that Walnut shell and you’ll never escape your own torment enough to see the universe as it might be.

Thank you for reading. I hope you could take something from this. Thank you.


Love! Like Lightning, Life, and Light!

What’s a heart break? It’s strange to ask that question.

I think that, like light bulbs, people hang in the dark when disconnected. Thin glass skin simply letting pass what exists outside already, the warm sun of the day, the visible dark of the night. But, link us up, connect us, and that thing that was always there starts to heat, to burn, to immolate with an innate science of survival that lets us really hear each other and ourselves.

We are not so strong alone. I am not. Together we come into the joy of our own light. We exist, and declare we exist, and make note we exist because we are light in that moment.

When I was in my heartbreaker’s apartment (this is an entirely unfair way of referring to her as, like all people, she’s vastly more complicated than her relation to me, but I only have so much to work with here so give me a break) I remember being tired and low blood sugared, but kind of soppy with hormonal curiosity. And we were both sitting on stools in her studio apartment and the counter was smooth and I was leaning on it and looking at her face and eyes and lips. And I asked her, based on some stuff about her sister having her shit together and not knowing how to run her own life, did she see herself as broken? And, with a crusted edge of defiance she looked at me and said yes. There in the dark and cold, ready to bear the whips and scorns of some petulant judgement from me, no doubt a readiness from her own inner flagellations (something I’m also trying to quiet) and I said I wanted to hug her. Really I wanted to kiss her, but a hug would be good too. The critical part of me tells me it’s because I get off on saving others (a critique that’s so bland and common that it’s hard to take seriously anymore) and the better part of me admired the strength it took to be so vulnerable. I wanted to hold that vulnerability. So we hugged and as I clutched her, and squeezed her back and felt the goosebumps on her arms against my own skin, I fell into that forgotten yet familiar state in which physicality gets lost amongst a person’s being. Holding their body is holding them. And in that moment I felt something stitch back up in my, as if I was a torn pair of jeans mending itself, a pocket watch resocketing itself, I felt a primeval hurt, one all of us are born with, receive the first moments of awakening analgesic.

It was a surprise to get a text saying she wasn’t interested. I spent the next couple weeks pulling my hair out, like any infatuated teenager, parsing with friends whether to text back or not (again, something familiar that I’d forgotten about, and in this case wish I hadn’t started to remember). And, besides for that part of me that believes everything exists in perpetuity (my parents will never die, my dog will never die, I’ll feel this way forever, this misery will never change, the US will always exist, love will exist to the last human and then even further, I will never die), most of me is ready to “move on” (what is moving on? Fading feelings? Heaping mounds of time on a coffin of memories? Regrowing an old limb?) But I can’t help feeling tinges of bitterness and cynicism and self-hatred and confusion and desire and plain ole hurt. I can’t. These things will all pass (except that part of me that thinks they won’t) and that part of me wants to celebrate my ability to feel these things at all. Structurally I’m capable now of feeling this kind of nasty stuff because I’ve fought tooth and nail past flat out depression, and it reminds me I am, right now, alive. But, there’s something else I’d like to do. You see, I hate the weird impulse (I don’t know if it’s cultural or social or what) to hurry pain out the door like an unwelcome guest. I’d like to sit with it, not so we can both hang in my own filth, but to hear its story. Pain and suffering speak in many ways, with many other voices, sometimes violently, with passion, sometimes in a drone. However if can be brave enough to be quiet enough to get to the point where we can simply sit was pain proper we can here its whisper like the song of a ghost. And it says, to me at least, my pain, something like this: delight that this all passes, not because it is hard to stand, but because it is the most intimate way we humans get to know the world as it is, by watching the whisps of time rend everything apart, sometimes gently, sometimes cruelly, and delight in this constant change because it will happen so often, so frequently, that all this will occur again and again and again, just like its new, and even then, as you live this all again, delight.
When we listen to this quiet song we are reminding of things joy forgets. We are reminded of the past in a sober light, with a certain serenity. Joy would have us exist only right now, and that is good, but we are nothing if now the time given to our stories.

I’m sorry if I’ve been talking to you in an overwrought manner, it’s just another way of dealing with hurt, to dress it up. I could be wrong, and pain just hurts and I just need to wait for better days. Maybe. But then again, I’m never one to pass up a good story, even when it’s from something deep inside that sometimes feels like a haunting. Let’s not banish our ghosts, but learn what it’s like to hang with them.

So what then is a heart break? It’s hurt. It’s frustration and all that joyless stuff. It’s also the effervescent weave that frays and braids in those forces larger than us: Time, Love, Memory. It’s life, man. However banal that might sound.