Reflections on the high cost of addiction.
My name is C Rage and I am an alcoholic. I said that once, many years ago at an AA meeting. It wasn’t a particularly revelatory exclamation to myself or others. I knew it as did those around me, in my life and at that meeting. In my life owing to my irresponsible behaviors; in that meeting owing to my admission and presence there.
I came to the meeting reluctantly. I had been drinking pretty steadily since I was about fourteen – by that point I was about 44. Thirty years of drinking had taken a heavy toll; my attendance at that meeting was a coin in the basket. A great personal dissatisfaction, alienation of my loved ones and diminishing returns on my work output/income were the real unhidden costs. And still, with escalating negative physical reaction and all the other negatives howling at me, I kept at it.
It was a family tradition, you see. My father was a lush so my mom decided to become one so they could drink together, apparently the logical choice for someone committing their own and their children’s futures to the delights of substance abuse. When I was older, I became one too. Seemed the logical choice – for a lush. Because to live in a house with substance abuse is to experience substance abuse. Some substances are necessarily more abusive than others. In my parent’s house, alcohol was the choice to beat.
I came of age at a fascinating and very dangerous time for impressionable young idiots. Vietnam was hot and heavy and the opposition was growing and becoming more vocal, more insistent. The counter-culture was in full swing, (the backlash at the oh-so-proper and boring 50s), and sex, drugs and rock and roll were my defining cultural ethos. As my preteens turned to my teens, the 60s turned to the 70s and I got caught up in all the druggishness.
I remember seeking drugs (a lid – I had no idea what that was) in late 1968 at the offering of my friend and neighbor, John. Roaming around in the dark in the fairly bucolic Santa Rosa hinterlands, I remember stumbling in a creek and going down hard, slamming my leg on a rock. It fucking hurt. But there was no pot forthcoming and we stumbled home empty-handed, acquainting me with the reality of my first drug run: pain and failure. I was ready.
Perhaps surprisingly, it wasn’t John who got me interested in drugs. It was the government. In 7th grade, they sequestered the students by gender and had us watch some films. Government propaganda films. While the girls watched films about why they were bleeding in certain areas during certain periods, the boys got to learn about the dangers of drugs. Drugs. (Sorry, I can’t type that to make it nearly ominous enough. You’ll just have to take my word.)
At that point, I was still too much a kid to know about drugs. Sure the Beatles were singing about stuff that had little to do with their girlfriends or dancing all night, but by the release of the White Album, I still didn’t understand. By Abbey Road, I did.
The movie, to my recollection, warned a bunch of silly little kids (and some seriously fucked up ones too) that certain drugs would lead to all manner of anti-social decay. Then they showed someone smoking a joint and seeing themselves in the mirror with the face of a gorilla. I kid you not – the makers of that movie suggested that smoking cannabis would hasten de-evolution. Spontaneous de-evolution. Pretty fucking impressive if you ask me. Then they showed how taking LSD would turn the flame of an oven range into a beautiful flower, which the crazed acid-head would presumably attempt to pluck and sniff, leading to all manner of hilarity when officials recounted the story over cocktails. Stupid hippies.
I was sold. I mean if the authorities went out of their way to tell us that drugs were that cool, who was I to argue? Perceptional de-evolution? Come on! I was a kid so the racist undertones completely escaped me, but with my folks smoking and drinking and taking Big Pharma’s finest, clearly druggishness was the course laid out before me. I followed the path, however hazy, poorly lit, raucous, or downright terrifying – it has led me thus.
In retrospect, it appears that this was deliberate: offer enticements through compulsory media and then categorize people by which ones they respond to. Makes accounting much easier – and social engineering. I don’t know of anyone that kind of film would dissuade from trying drugs; most thought it hysterical. By my way of thinking, the adventurous spirit isn’t hastened in the meek or dissuaded in the predisposed by poorly realized propaganda. We who would drug do so readily. Those who would not, do not out of fear. But not fear of monkeyface or hotnose: fear of social stigma, fear of lack of personal control, fear of self-realization.
Euphoriants and psychedelia are a different breed of drugs from the socially sanctioned ones as they tend to enhance, not deaden. Where alcohol and pharmaceuticals make things fuzzy or even blurry, soften the sharp edges, make hideous fuckable, euphoriants and especially psychedelics tend to sharpen the focus, on occasion making the fuckable hideous where not downright hilarious. Socially demonized drugs (euphoriants and psychedelia) sharpen focus and come with no appreciable body count; socially sanctioned ones deaden focus and rack up huge numbers. Considering the drugs used by the majority, this can’t be emphasized enough.
Seriously. Cannabis, designated a Schedule 1 Drug, is categorized with heroin, a deadly narcotic. How many people does heroin kill every year? According to the CDC, heroin kills about 2,000 citizens of the USA each year. Marijuana? There are no numbers available. The CDC, the USA, the UN Convention on Narcotics, FBI, DEA, AMA: none of them can point to a single death caused by ingestion of marijuana. Ever. And not for want of trying.
The legal drugs? According to drugwarfacts.org, the AMA stated that in the year 2000, tobacco was responsible for 435,000 deaths while alcohol provided for 85,000 funerals. Pharmaceuticals take out a minimum of 100,000 of us a year and, according to the DEA, are the biggest drug problem facing the nation. One wonders if the fact that since the Reagan 80s Big Pharma has been advertising on TV has any correlation.
Don’t get me wrong, cannabis has many sedative properties and when used by lazy minds, produces lazy thinking. Just like most drugs. But as one who has used both drugs in conjunction, and each separately, I’ve made some personal observations, and they seem worthy of consideration in a nation with 100 million + people loaded up on one compound or another. Or a bunch.
After about 13 years of combined use – pretty much every drug available combined with booze and pot – I went clean. And by clean I mean that I stopped taking drugs. Well, except for alcohol, caffeine, the occasional pharmaceutical… I’m a dirty, dirty man.
Anyway, I did the family thing, cut my hair, got jobs no smart man would ever take, struggled to sell my work in a place that had no interest, and I drank. And drank.
Now, owing to what I do, I have a fairly decent memory. Reading and writing both place demands upon the memory, pump it up. In order to be a decent writer, one must read. In order to retain as much as one can from their reading, it behooves one to write. Writing is very good for the memory because the building materials of literature are uniquely interchangeable, and one must constantly seek the precise combination in order to effectively express themselves. Writing is good for the memory because we have to remember how to spell the words we use to do it.
The times of my life I found to be the foggiest were those during which I drank and watched TV. Watching is a passive activity, drinking a numbing one. Combined, I found they impacted my memory as well as my social and professional life, impacted them negatively. The more I drank, and I drank a lot, the less I worked my mind, the worse my memory became. The worse my memory became, the worse my outlook on life. It became hard to remember the good parts and easy to focus on the bad ones. Without knowing what I was trying to forget, I found that I was drinking to forget all the same. And it worked. A bit.
I found it easier to give up TV than, well, pretty much anything else. I turned it off at around 13 and have had a very tepid relationship with it since. It seemed to me that in being the good viewer, I was sacrificing my real life to watch people get paid to portray fictional ones. I had better things to do. So I drank and wrote. My memory improved. A little.
Finally the bottle took its toll and the last real doctor I had told me I had a choice: I could stay alive or I could continue drinking and die. Fairly horribly. He said my liver tests indicated that it was about halfway wasted. He suggested AA.
I drank. After diminishing myself a little while longer, I went to AA. I heard a fellow say that he woke up one morning, pulled himself together and went out. The first guy he met was an asshole. Then the next person he met was an asshole, too. He finally realized that the asshole was traveling with him, that he was the asshole. That’s when he went to AA.
AA is much lauded but doesn’t really have that great a success rate. I suspect this is owing to their approach to substance abuse. In order to get with the AA program, one has to admit they are totally helpless and require the help of an imaginary friend to overcome this. Then they call real drunks. This strikes me as utterly untenable: addiction is that very mindset – I am helpless.
Isn’t that the real problem with substance abuse: looking to an external source to contend with issues we have created for ourselves? Is not alcohol that more powerful force that we’re surrendering to? Drugs? Isn’t supplicating one’s self to a notion almost guaranteed to fail in the face of the tangible? I can pray to divinity all night and come up empty, or walk down to the corner store and fill myself with spirits in the immediate. Helpless?
Bullshit. I’m not helpless, I’m lazy, I’m weak, I’m a boy in a man’s body. To embrace their ethos I must supplicate as that boy, beg Daddy for forgiveness and admit that I have no will of my own. I must then seek out those I’ve embarrassed myself around and beg their forgiveness. Huh? For being a drunken jerk? If everybody in the USA who got drunk and acted idiotically were to do that, we would grind to a halt nationally in a weepy cluster of pathetic recriminations and self-pity. To drink is to act stupid. Considering what we know about drinking, to drink is to be stupid. If my drinking has harmed you or yours, I offer my deepest apologies. Hopefully we can leave it at that.
But owing to its unique properties, particularly its effect on memory, it is not a surprise we do it or that our world suffers for it. Drinking to forget is a very real phenomenon. Numerous studies show that alcohol consumption lowers the individual IQ as well as lowers the IQ of one’s progeny. If you’re stupid enough to drink when you’re pregnant, don’t be surprised to find your offspring even stupider still. IQ and recall are inextricably linked.
People drink when bad things happen, to help them through it. If it does in any way, and I can’t say that it has ever helped me, it seems it would be in the dimming of the memories. Why does civilization continue repeating the same imbecilic behaviors over and over and over? It’s as if we can’t recall what came before, and worse, that we don’t care about what comes after. That is alcoholic thinking, alcoholic on a downward spiral.
Alcohol is a principal cause of automobile accidents, workplace accidents, domestic accidents, domestic abuse, incest, rape, egregious assault and murder. Cops drink it. Soldiers drink it. Jocks and their sycophants drink it. Our political leaders drink it. Our religious leaders drink it. Our economists drink it and we, the people, drink it.
Consider our world: the physical USA is a shambles, regions made wastelands, seething toxins, our infrastructure collapsing – like the body of a wino; our economy is a complete disaster, unemployment and escalating and irreducible debt plague us – just like the finances of a drunk; our authorities are angry and violent, prone to crazed outbursts and remarkable cruelty for even the tiniest perceived slight or challenge – like the besotted asshole in the bar; our nation at war with the world, trying to impress everyone with how tough and cool we are as we stumble all over ourselves swinging wildly at everyone who even looks at us funny – like a teenaged boozehound on a snort. Our citizens, afflicted with diminishing memory and personal resources, find themselves lost and confounded by a world spinning out of control around them. We live for the moment waiting for our next drink to wash our horrid daze away: the lush life.
How insidious a drug that makes you feel terrible, makes you behave embarrassingly, makes you pick fights and argue over trifles, makes you harm your friends and loved ones, makes you look stupid, makes you feel depressed and then makes you forget all of it as you prepare for the next sip. Cool and refreshing, ah, that’s nice.
What are you looking at? Jerk!