April 24, 2008

Addiction

I am an advocate for words. I have faith in their objectivity and power. I am perturbed and often feel the need to defend them when they are shackled by connotations, either positive or negative, and forced to mean things they do not necessarily want to mean. Armed with dictionaries and thesauri, I see myself as a benevolent arbitrator for words sentenced to miscomprehension.

So ladies and gentlemen of the jury, today we will be hearing the case of the word addiction and its derivative addict. These words have been hijacked by the war on drugs and its conservative puppet masters. When presented with the word addict, most people are forced to imagine dirty sex-fiend junkies, wallowing in their own filth as they follow every hedonistic urge, but I am here to argue that we are all addicts dealing with our own unique compulsions, and if we expose our addictions, we will see that we are all obsessed with many things. I will prove that the very nature of life is addiction. The question is not who is an addict and what is their vice, but rather how do we face our addictions and see them for what they are?

I have been an addict for as long as I can remember. Before you judge me, please let me present the word on trial for closer examination:

someone who is so ardently devoted to something that it resembles an addiction

What is addiction you may ask?

The condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or or involved in something.

If we look at the definition above than it could be argued that we are all ardently devoted to something. When seen as passion, we applaud addiction, but when we become obsessive, we are told we have a problem.

Perhaps I have gone too far down the wrong track, let me back up and better explain my case. I was in the third grade when I first became cognizant of the emptiness that would cloud the rest of my life. Even as a child I was fully aware of a small void that seemed to fluctuate in size and follow me everywhere I went. The mistake I made as child was feeling that I would have to spend my life trying to fill this empty space. It was then at the age of ten that I started my obsession with filling this emptiness. I forced myself to constantly function in a state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that was psychologically or physically habit forming to such an extent that its cessation would cause me severe trauma, in short I became addicted to finding meaning in my life. I became obsessed with trying to fill a hole that was never meant to be filled.

Throughout my life, I have been addicted to many things, but as I look back I see that every obsession was rooted in one addiction, a desperate attempt to fill this emptiness.

I am here to argue that everybody is addicted to filling the emptiness in their lives on their own terms, but more importantly I want to share the lesson that I have learned, which is that this void need not be filled, on the contrary it is vital that it remains to allow us room to breath. This nothingness is the source of all life and not only do we not need to close it, we must learn to nurture and cultivate it.

Reality is empty and meaning is an illusion. Life need not have meaning. When we try to assign experience with value we are clouding the emptiness of reality. Don’t get me wrong, I am not an nihilist, I am simply arguing that it would behoove us to simply sit and become aware of the emptiness of life. We should not be afraid of it.

The more we throw into the abyss, the more traumatic our lives will become. We will find ourselves in a state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming to such an extent that its cessation would cause severe trauma, the definition of addiction.

I have also realized there is no healthy way to fill the empty space. Some people try to fill the gap with: love, god, politics, social-action, music, art, and family. We think of these actions as healthy, while other peoples’ choices are looked down upon as vices: money, consumerism, sex, drugs, war, and violence.

A few weeks ago, as my life was falling apart around me, I crawled into bed in the middle of the day with the shades drawn and confronted my emptiness. I saw all the things I had used to feed my addiction to finding meaning in life. I saw my vices and virtue swim in-and-out of the abyss in the darkness, when I suddenly realized I didn’t have to try so hard. I am here now to air my list of addiction as a way to expunge them and make room for my emptiness. I invite you to take a look and think about what you use to fill your emptiness.

There is no judgment here, there is simply an addict dealing with his addiction to life. Some of my habits may appear virtuous and worthy of praise, while others may seem manic, neurotic or down right psychotic, but these labels serve no useful purpose. Because as I said earlier, any attempt to fill the void is a mistake. I am trying to learn how to swim in the nothingness of my life. I have spent so much time and energy chained to my habits that it feels good to let them go and float about in this darkness. Below are the things I have used to fill the emptiness in my life:

Art, the need to connect with other human beings, music, literature, words, language, drugs, alcohol, love, friendship, tattoos, technology, politics, social justice, near death experiences, film, writing, the search for god, spirituality, women, poetry, teaching, traveling, being an outcast, fitting-in, work, communism, socialism, Buddhism, capitalism, vegetarianism, the end of isms, philosophy, education, concerts, food, television, fatherhood, the need to share every aspect of my life with as many people as possible, blogging, photography, science, rebellion, revolution, marriage, gadgets, clothes, sense of style or lack there of, and gardening.

I am sure I could think of more, because ultimately everything we do is an attempt to escape from simply sitting and seeing that life is empty, and that this emptiness is okay.

After I quit drinking and using drugs a few years ago, I thought I had cured my major addictions, but now I see that drugs and alcohol are merely minor aspects of addiction. I will always be an addict, until I can sit and observe reality and become comfortable in the void I discovered as a child.

So what do you use to fill the void? What are you addicted to?

6 comments:

  1. Sorry Mr R - I haven't had much time to comment, or send you an email, although I have been faithfully reading your blog. That sounds so pathetically like a bad excuse that I am tempted to erase it but instead I'll go on with my reply.

    I don't know about this "emptiness" in life. I don't think I have ever experienced it, or maybe I am simply oblivious to it while I am doing so. I don't know. I am pretty happy with how things are shaping up.
    My major addictions have been in reading (and I don't think this will ever be over) and computer games. The truth is, sometimes I feel that simply by labeling something as compulsory - for example, homework - we take away the chance for it to be fun. Any day I am far more inclined to go read or watch a movie or play mindless shooting games rather than that which I am *meant* to do.

    As for philosophy, and thinking about things, I do it all the time - in the car, in the shower, at school, while doing homework - but I don't really think it is an addiction. Sometimes I have good ideas, and MUN has helped me develop my search for answers to worldwide problems, but in truth I am not addicted per se in that I would abandon other tasks for it.

    Also, I guess I feel like a nihilist sometimes, though that seems like a very radical term. Whenever I think of peoples' relationships, and complex emotions, I cannot determine if all this is caused by neurons in the mind or if there is something more. I hesitate to reach out for another solution lest I start seeing something not there out of fear that there is nothing, but I am uncertain even in that.

    Also, the words "fitting in" and "being cast out" caught my eye. I have never been very good at fitting in, and there have been times when I have tried very hard to be different, special, unique. But again I would not call these addictions - simply day to day parts of our lives, a part of development and growing up.

    Before this reply gets more convoluted I'll finish, but I guess the fundamental point I'm trying to make is that there is not necessarily a void. Or perhaps it is a mere fantasy of mine to hope that eventually, when school is over, I will be able to settle somewhere in the mountains and live a content life.

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  2. I am addicted to thinking...

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  3. Anonymous5:41 AM

    Just leave the void alone, stuff falls into it when you least expect. Enjoy the void! A very black sense of humour helps. Anyway, wanted to say have you seen the film The History Boys by Alan Bennett? One of our current favourites. Also, have you shared any Wallace and Gromit films with your little girl? She's probably old enough now. The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave, A Grand Day Out, my daughter (one of your 8th graders) loved them from about the age of two, and more recently, Wallace and Gromit and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Good for when you all need a laugh. Good Luck.

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  4. I've read almost all ur write ups and nad found that u r a highly thinking man...u writes frm ur heart not to impress anybody..I personally dnt know u but I confess that I identify u...I am eager to wait 4 ur write up..keep whistling...

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  5. I hear where you're coming from but also challenge you with a few questions of my own. This comes from my biases as a web professional as well as my long term explorations of online life, culture and behaviour - and the politics that surround those.

    One of my heroes and formative influences, Howard Rheingold, wrote a great piece about internet "addiction" for the Atlantic a while back. Please check it out.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/citation/wc990909.htm

    His book The Virtual Community - see the last chapter, should appeal to you:
    http://www.rheingold.com/vc/book/

    Howard is thoroughly grassroots. Spends most of his time computing from his garden. He was one of the editors of the whole earth review in SF back in the 70s and coined the term Virtual Community in the early 80s. He is also one of the founders of The Well. He is one of the few people to have taking a "holistic" approach to online life and culture and repurpose our activities in more mindful and humane ways. The type of internet Howard envisioned and the current version are quite different. But those of us who engage in his model, have a very different experience - we're more selective in who and what we engage. Howard is also quite deeply Buddhist and would be the first to talk about authentic connection - though he is also able to articulate how that manifests itself in electronic communication as well. A more nuanced perspective than you'd get from somebody who doesn't understand the relationship between the earth/nature, Buddhism, consciousness, psychology AND virtuality. Few have this rare perspective.

    here is a link to his vlog as well:
    http://vlog.rheingold.com/

    Lastly, those who do not understand virtuality or virtual consciousness are likely to be the first to deride and dismiss it - usually from the point of view that it is unhealthy or disconnected from "real" experience. These arguments, when they are grounded in genuine understanding of the web as well as genuine addiction, are absolutely relevant. But when they spring from nothing more than disconnection or misunderstanding, they ought to be just as thoroughly interrogated (for what they do not know).

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  6. I'd also like to add that the "fitting in" being "cast out" thing is consistent with a late majority caught up in status and popularity. I think this appears to be part of your journey - clearly - from what you said. As a number of you addictions seem to be not inspired by authentic connection but the fear of "not knowing" ... by absence, disconnection - rather than presence.


    Rereading your post, I recognise that the real issue concealed in all of this is close to addition but has more to do with the Buddhist idea of attachment/non attachment in the form of your motivation to do and be things.

    You might want to explore Vajrayana Buddhism a bit. It's also a very good fit with the "teacher" in you. But a very difficult path - a lot of hard work involved:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vajra

    It's slightly more hardcore than some of the other schools in its relation to authentic Tantra (tantra in the true sense of being so tuned in and CONNECTED to things around you that everything buzzes with energy).

    In this sense you become truly connected to the world around you. All the small things become more resonant and everything is stimulating. Eventually you reach a place of no highs and lows but very neutral acceptance of the world around you. The energy flows through you rather than you getting caught up in its absence or presence - or needing to connect or disconnect.

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