Saturday, January 09, 2016

I want something else to get me through this semi-charmed kind of life

I had a couple of hours free this afternoon while the kids were at a friend's house, so after making an effort to deal with the seemingly endless detritus that my children leave in their wake, I sat down, fished around for something interesting on HBO, and settled on a documentary about heroin abuse in Cape Cod. Apparently it's a huge problem. All these kids from solid, middle class families, good students who play sports and have friends and are loved by their parents - they get caught up with drugs out of boredom or peer pressure or, most depressingly, because they suffered an injury for which they were prescribed Vicodin or oxycontin and got hooked and graduated to the harder stuff, which is cheaper and easier to come by.

The documentary features interviews with young people, including young adults with children, who want so desperately to not be slaves to their addiction, but who can't kick it, and end up overdosing or in jail or jumping from one detox program to another, or just living horribly depressing lives in which every day consists of getting high and then figuring out how to get enough money to get more drugs so that they can repeat the same pattern tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow after that.

One of the kids mused that every person on Earth is an addict.  Everyone is addicted to something.  The shitty thing for him is that he is addicted to heroin, and it will probably kill him.

When I heard him say that, my first reaction was to scoff and say, out loud, "not me."  And from a physiological perspective, it's true.  I used to smoke socially in high school and college.  I know plenty of people who have smoked and tried to quit, but had a terrible time with it.  I've heard that for some people, nicotine can be as addictive and as difficult to quit as any opiate.  But I could totally take it or leave it, and when I decided that I didn't want to do it anymore because I wanted to train for a half-marathon, I didn't.  I didn't miss it, I didn't crave it, I didn't need it, and I don't remember the last time I either touched - or wanted to touch - a cigarette.

Same with alcohol.  I like to have a glass of wine, or a cocktail if I'm out for dinner or a drink, but if someone told me I could never have another sip of alcohol, I would shrug and say, "fine."

Even with opiates, which I have taken for pain after surgery or when I separated my shoulder, I enjoyed the buzz that they gave me, but once it wore off, I didn't care and didn't need to seek it out again.

But the kid in the documentary wasn't just talking about physical addictions - he was speaking more globally.  And after initially taking the superior attitude that I was above that sort of thing, I couldn't get what he said out of my head.

What are the different things that people crave, and what does it do for them when they attain them?  Material possessions?  Status?  Sexual conquests?

It made me think about people who collect things - stamps, spoons from the different states, glass figurines, baseball cards, dolls.  I never understood the desire to collect anything like that, largely because it always struck me as such a fundamentally unsatisfying venture.  As soon as you got that rare stamp, that new doll, that baseball card you were seeking, you'd enjoy it for 5 minutes and then start thinking about the next stamp, the next doll, the next card you want.  You're never done.  You never truly have what you want.

But what about cravings or obsessions that are more intangible?

I know people who have an overwhelming need to know things - to memorize dates and facts, to always know the answer, to acquire knowledge for the sake of knowing more than the next guy.  Or people who flit from one romantic venture to the next, never settling down with one person, always looking over the shoulder of the person they're with to find the next person they want to be with, out of a fear of missing out or a fear of being tied down or a fear of getting bored with one person.

It makes me think of Rose Castorini, the mom in Moonstruck, who knows her husband is cheating her, and she keeps asking the men she encounters, "why do men chase women?" What do they get out of it?  If they have a good woman who they love, why would a man need more than one woman?  And the answer that she lands on is, "because they fear death."

That revelation leads to the great line when her husband comes home after being out with his mistress, and she says to him, "Cosmo, I just want you to know that no matter what you do you're going to die, just like everybody else."

No matter how many books you read, no matter how many people you sleep with, no matter how many mountains you climb, you're going to die, just like everybody else.

On the other hand, maybe our addictions are what makes it all worth it - if we're going to die anyway, we may as well go after what we crave.

So what's my addiction?  It's not drugs, it's not stuff.  As much of a know-it-all as I am, it's not knowing everything.  It's not sexual conquest.

I actually know what it is.  It's the thing that, for me, has always made life more worth living than anything else, and which has led me to the poorest judgment and the biggest mistakes.  It's just hard to say it out loud.

What's yours?


  1. I never feared death, ever. For me, drinking and smoking were actually my version of a slow suicide. I've been a recovering alcoholic and an ex smoker for over a decade, and for me and a lot of my recovering friends, booze was not so much about fearing death as it was about fearing life. Dealing with my feelings and social anxiety was too much for me. A good drunk numbed the feelings and stopped the chatter in my head. Same w cigarettes. A huge part of my sobriety is learning how to navigate my feelings, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and paricipate in my recovery community to both get and give help.

    1. I so appreciate hearing your perspective. I got the sense that this was the feeling for people in the documentary - they used heroin as a way of making life interesting and of avoiding the mundane sameness of a life that to them was stultifying - having a job, paying bills, never doing anything that they viewed as exciting. One of the guys talked about how when he was clean (which was never for long), he missed not only the high from the drug, but the rush of stealing stuff and being on the run from the cops and living a life that was risky.