I was going to write about addiction then realised it was too fraught a subject. Then I thought about obsession, and thought the same: too dangerous. I didn’t want to have a torrent of words aimed my way telling me I know nothing about either of those things.
Once upon a time I had a friend who was a heavy smoker. He gave up smoking several times a year, usually declaring this time it was for real, he’d done all the research and this was the way to do it. As a lifetime non-smoker, my opinion about it was somewhat savagely discounted because, as a non-smoker I could have no possible idea of what nicotine addiction could be like. Of course I couldn’t. Only direct experience of it would mean that my thoughts on it had any value.
But I’ve wanted to a long while to explore the why of addictions. Bear with me as I blunder through.
Addictions, compulsions, obsessions and all the behaviour that comes with them are complex, deeply personal experiences. While various programs exist to help people escape their addictions, and many with great success, for me it seems the question boils down to this: what does the addiction do for you that you can’t do without? In the case of substance addictions, the answer might seem simple, because once your body has become addicted to a substance and the experience it provides it’s obvious precisely what you cannot do without. Your physiology and your psyche adapts to fit the substance into themselves, and it can become a virtually fixed part of who you are. I cannot address this, because I have no expertise or experience in this field.
But other non-substance addictions and obsessions are equally powerful. Gambling. Shopping. Sex. Power. The list is endless. Some seem quite trivial to an outsider, yet it’s the inside that is what holds the power.
Imagine some thing, some activity that you enjoy, to the exclusion of all others. Now how would you feel if I said you can never do/have that again? Think about it.
Most of us have a good few of that sort of thing, and the thought of never being allowed to do them any more might well have made you feel ever so slightly sick or panicky. That doesn’t mean you have an addiction, though. It means you are human and you like something, a lot.
For me, that kind of liking can become a way of hiding from myself. Compelling obsessions distract me from…well, from what?
That is the question. I don’t know the answer, really. Sometimes the fear of that answer seems to lurk like the ghost at the feast, unseen to all but bringing a chill to the proceedings.
I’ve thought a lot about the methods people use to try and bring some relief from depression and anxiety. Medication. Exercise. Therapy(of a million varieties). Shopping. Sex. Alcohol. Recreational drugs. Religion. Science. Frantic busy-ness & overwork. Holidays in the sun. Art. Music. Blogging. Writing.
I’ve written several million words. Some of them are quite good. I’ve explored the lives of fictional characters who have become closer to me than living folks, in the shadows of the night when the unwelcome thoughts intrude. I’ve lived those lives like a petty god, controlling and directing and watching. There are a lot of stories on my hard drive. They’ve been my way of trying to make some sense, not of my own life, but of life itself. I’ve created stories where justice of a sort exists, the random unkind accidents have meaning, where people reach a form of personal equanimity through their sufferings. I’ve lived vicariously through them, the way probably all writers do, but now I find I cannot write (whether a short term thing or long term or even permanent I do not know) I realise I cannot lose myself in the telling of tales and it hurts. There’s a persistent, nagging aching emptiness at the core of me, familiar to me from finishing a book, but it’s growing. Like an alcoholic needs booze to feed that hunger inside, I feel the need to write, and yet there is nothing there. Ideas that seem fabulous when they first flare, fizzle out and become rags of the robes of ancient kings, hints of past splendour but reeking of decay.
It comes down to this: is writing, my obsession/addiction for over forty years, a means of hiding from myself or a means of finding myself?