Tomorrow would’ve been my father’s 65th birthday, but he fatally overdosed on methadone when I was 17. He passed along his addictions and disposition to me, and I feel that in some way I atone for his life by living mine in this way now. If I do not follow in his footsteps and instead run in the opposite direction, his life was not a waste—though of course it is true that no life is ever “a waste.” That very notion is heavy with judgment, and I do not judge him or anyone else for the times they have fallen. I dedicate this post to him.
I said in this post that addiction is not a disease on its own, and I want to clarify that statement.
Obviously addiction is a serious condition that requires intervention as soon as possible. As far as I’m concerned, anyone struggling with any addiction (even if it’s just a “small” problem) would serve the world best by dropping everything and prioritizing their recovery now. Of course that would require us to live in a society where we took care of one another, one where people could unashamedly take a much-needed break from money-work and focus on their wellness. That is not where we live. Why is this? Unconsciousness, particularly the belief that we as “certain individuals” are “more deserving” of services and a happy life than other human beings. Also, we’d need effective treatment modalities that meet people where they’re at rather than trying to force a one-size-fits-all approach to addiction, but that’s another topic.
Why do the richest people not share more of their money? Ego and unconsciousness. Why does our society not have sane healthcare and rehabilitation policies? Ego and unconsciousness. This is always the root of that which we call greed, selfishness, and evil: The spell of the ego, the hypnosis that convinces us to act like we are not all of the same exact fabric. The only long-term strategy to lift ourselves out of this haze is to become like “carriers” for consciousness, to dispel darkness in this way. It is out of this internal process that external changes are born. The egoic human mind is what requires overturning first and foremost: Without pulling this ignorance up at its root, we are still doomed to self-destruction, no matter how democratically it is carried out.
Those that get labeled “addicts” are often intelligent, sensitive people. Not long ago, I told a friend that sometimes I feel like “the dials on me are cranked all the way up”: I mean the dials for absorbing emotions, noticing others’ needs, frustration, and impatience, as well as picking up on their underlying anxiety. These things strike a chord because they also live in me, but they are heightened in group settings. I’m sure that many of you understand this: Some people call it being a Highly Sensitive Person, or just being an empath. As an empath, daily life means taking a lot in on an energetic level, and that’s just one piece of it. Being an empath is a strength, not a weakness, but it can make life more painful.
Then there’s the intellectual part, which looks around and recognizes that the jig is just about up on civilization as we know it. We see the swarms of desperate human beings, the thirsty, the hungry, and those who will be cooked by the heat of the sun due to our current mode of living. We see the last of the snow leopards, the toxic air, the end of rainforests. I confess that I’ve sobbed at the thought of a caterpillar being run over by a car (it was a rough day). Even if it is not in direct view, we can intuit what is coming, and it’s not great, to put it mildly.
If you really see what may very well happen—what is happening—it is not an option to “spin” these images. Also, this isn’t merely a negative view I am taking: These things are just as much a part of our world as beauty is, and to turn a blind eye to either is to live in delusion. In those moments when I’ve been crippled by the sheer magnitude of suffering we’ve created, said beauty is cold comfort. We are doing our damndest to stamp beauty and biodiversity out as fast as possible for no reason other than collective insanity.
When you feel these things as part of your own being—not to mention whatever personal history you’re trying to renegotiate—it is natural to want to deaden these feelings. (It doesn’t help that booze is fashionable and totally normal in our culture.) We have no escape from a world that is infuriating and saddening—unless we choose suicide, which also occurs at a higher rate for addicts. The second-best option is to escape from the mind. We are not encouraged to speak out, to discover our light, or call bullshit on all of these systems. If we do, it tends to feel ineffective and slow, like we are still missing something (indeed because we are.). Growth is an uphill battle. On top of all this, we still have to eat food and make rent, and the things we have to do to survive can be emotionally taxing in their own right. In such a bind, what else is there to do but get wasted?
Non-addicts look at addiction and think it is irrational. But to an addict, engaging in addiction makes perfect sense. Quite frankly, I don’t understand how billions of people manage to not get drunk or high most nights of the week. I also don’t understand how billions of people aren’t losing their minds. What world are they living in that feels at all tolerable? How do they not rush to become numb as the apocalypse unfolds? (In any case, they do numb, only in a much less life-disrupting way.)
As Glennon Doyle says, what we call “the mentally ill” are like the canaries of the world. We are the ones trying to warn others of what is going on here, but we don’t yet know how to do it. All we represent is an exaggerated version of what lives in others, and that is also why mental illness is often regarded with such extreme fear. And here is something I have said and will continue to say: If some individuals are mentally ill, it is because we are collectively mentally ill. The statistic for “mental illness” in the US stands at 20%. What does this say about our culture at large? To make mental illness and addiction “some people’s” problem—to assume that there is something unique about “our” constitution that is problematic, ignoring the larger mechanisms in this stage of human existence—is shortsighted and honestly ridiculous.
The human species is like one organism that is itself ill. The most perceptive cells simply take on this illness at a higher, more obvious rate. Paradoxically, I also believe those who get labeled “ill” in this way are closer to health and sanity than those who aren’t as energetically privy to what’s happening on Earth: If you notice the presence of poison before it actually kills you, you’re one step ahead of those who don’t notice it at all.
There is also a predictable progression of the illness of conditioning that strangely involves going deeper into it before you recover. In this sense I am talking about the spiritual process, which we are all undergoing, though to varying degrees: All of your neuroses, attachments, and fears will be intensified for some time. The mind and ego pitch an intense fit at seeing their numbered days. But then, at last, one day you’re finally in the clear. I also suspect that this temporary intensification is what’s to come on a much more widespread human scale, though I hope to be wrong about this.
Back to what I mean when I say “addiction is not a disease on its own:” The precise definition of words like “disease” doesn’t concern me; everyone is always using these kinds of words differently anyway. However, there is one condition—one kind of mindset—that makes us susceptible to all other disorders and afflictions: It is the one that dreams our lowercase-s selves to be ultimately real. In this state, we feel powerless and threatened regularly. We actually mistake ourselves for the substances which temporarily stop the pain. When the mind is ignorant of the Self, it attaches strongly to anything that soothes it. Freeing ourselves from this dream is the greatest thing we can do to heal, and it is the only way to dwell in deep happiness that does not depend on anything else.
Recovery is to reenter that state of purity (the Self) which is always with you. This alone can alleviate suffering; it changes everything in ways that are as-yet inconceivable. There are practices we can take up to abide in this space, but it also goes a long way to simply be reminded that it—you, in your innate perfection—really do exist.