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.