Ah, addiction. A topic not a lot of people want to talk about, and yet what addicts need is actually MORE connections, not less. Sharing our stories enables connection. So here I go.
No, this isn’t really about sex. But it’s about a relationship… of a kind.
It’s about my relationship with alcohol.
See, even though I live alone and don’t even have a tree, there was a gift for me on the morning of December 25th this year.
It started with my cat meowing bloody murder at 7AM or something. I woke up to pee, only to see potential evidence of an actual murder on my bathroom floor.
It was covered in red… not quite blood red though. More like a deep raspberry red, as if I’d spent the night stomping on ripe blackberries that grow along every road in my town. There was also water everywhere, and two towels bunched up just out of the way, against the vanity. And it smelled… oh it smelled. No wonder my cat was upset: even I didn’t want to step foot in there.
Red was splattered in every corner of my small bathroom. There was a coulis of it down the vanity, starting on the counter and slicking down to the floor, sticking to the doors. It had splashed on the door frame, on the door, even on the carpet outside of the room. There were splatters of it on my toilet, on the tub, on the cat’s litter box. It seemed to have pooled on the underside of the vanity, where there also lived bits of undigested prosciutto.
Some of it was dry, but some of it was still sticky and shiny and moist, maybe from the water that was everywhere else.
For a minute there I considered whether I had actually died, and whether my blood had come out the colour of deep crushed berries because all the wine I drank—especially that bottle of deep red Sangiovese, whose contents had apparently travelled to my bathroom via my body—had made it into my veins.
It seems that at some point after my guests left on the 24th, I ended up in the bathtub. I remember that part. (I also wonder how I managed to not drown myself.) Now, I’m wasn’t certain whether I threw up before or after I got water everywhere, but something happened for sure, because my bathroom was a vomit-covered disaster zone.
In my black-out intoxication, only equalled by my famous drunk dancing videos episode on the same day in 2015, I had apparently vomited everywhere—except in the toilet—and crawled my way out of the bathroom without actually staining my bed.
I suspect I threw up before I made it to the toilet, decided to take a bath to clean up, splashed water everywhere, threw up some more, got two towels to somehow clear a path back to my bed, and then made it there without ruining my pyjamas or my sheets.
But don’t quote me on this: I don’t remember.
What I remember, though: the immense shame at seeing the evidence of five-too-many (or maybe it was ten), at leaving a mess so disgusting that my cat refused to go near it, and the sudden realization that, for the third time in a few months, I drank until I blacked out.
It’s hard to say “I’m an alcoholic” and really see what that means. I wrote something similar two years ago, where I skirt around the word and don’t quite commit to it. But I have to come to my senses and admit that I have a fucking problem.
It’s become almost cliché to say that admitting an addiction is the first step towards recovery. Except, I’ve known I’ve had a problem for a long time. I’ve known I have a tendency to binge for, literally, years. But I was unwilling to let go of this crutch of mine, because I still found some value in the release from worry that alcohol brought me. It was a sort-of conscious addiction, the kind you keep holding on to because one part of you just doesn’t want to deal, and the other says, “I’m in control because I know I’m an addict.”
But, as I grow older, the costs are getting higher… too high. The financial cost is one; the health costs are another. And I have to be honest: I can’t drink away my money, my time, or my life anymore. If I really mean it when I say that I want to make a difference in the world, I need to face the fact that my drinking gets in the way of that, if only by the fact that it disables me for the evenings (sometimes entire afternoons) when I drink, and for a day after a binge.
As a new psychology student, I’m starting to see a lot of things from a different point of view. For example, I wrote a piece about sex addiction for Kinkly that argues that it doesn’t exist. This forced me to do research about models of addiction.
In short, we’ve gone through three models of addiction in the West: moral, substance-based, and now medical-based.
The moral model holds that addiction is a failure on the individual’s part. Under this model, addiction is a sign of moral depravity. Basically, if you’re an addict, you’re a bad person. Quoting the United States’ Surgeon General Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health:
Historically, our society has treated addiction and misuse of alcohol and drugs as symptoms of moral weakness or as a willful rejection of societal norms…
Nobody likes to think of themselves as morally weak. We all want to believe that we’re fundamentally good people (or most of us at least). I believe that most people are fundamentally good. The treatment under this model is to “rectify” someone’s moral character… usually via prison. (This is the main problem highlighted by the above report.)
The substance-based model holds that there is something inherently addictive about certain substances. The treatment: abstinence. But there is plenty of evidence of people using substances recreationally, without abuse. Plenty of people I know can have alcohol without a misuse problem. Plenty of people I know can have pot without a misuse problem. The substance-based model isn’t held up by even the most anecdotal of evidence, and can easily be rejected.
So what is there left? The medical model, which holds that addiction is a disease. I don’t quite understand all of it yet, but there is plenty of well-supported evidence that certain substances, when consumed in certain ways, cause changes in the brain that basically make you crave the substance, and reduce your ability to control your impulses. Most importantly, addiction makes you less sensitive to pleasure and rewards of all kinds, not just the ones associated with the substance itself. So the whole “I don’t have fun if I don’t drink” is rooted in changes in brain function.
Now, the question is: are there some people whose brains are more likely to be wired to respond to addictive substances? If we hold the evidence of a genetic influence on alcoholism as true, for example, the answer would be yes.
But as with everything behavioural, everything is at once biological and psychological. Some genes require certain environmental triggers to express themselves.
But what kinds of experiences and conditions can trigger something as devastating as addiction?
To me, addiction is a disease of connection. Not everyone has the time to read Johann Hari’s Chasing The Scream, so here’s his TED Talk:
I’ve heard addicts talk about their substance as “my best friend”. And if you hear this in the context of connection and bonding, yes, it makes a lot of sense.
Sometimes I reflect on my addiction when I’m sober. (I hope to be sober for a while.) If addiction is a disease of connection, what connections am I missing? What bonds am I lacking that makes me drink?
I know that loneliness and boredom are my triggers. Alone at home, overwhelmed with stress and worries about school, work or money, I’ll pop by the liquor store or my medicine cabinet, get myself a bottle of wine or swallow a Tramacet (sometimes with wine). But technically, I am not alone: I have friends, partners, people who care about me.
But I also often feel alienated from everything. Being a country apart from my family and my home, my language and my culture, sometimes weighs on me. I’ve made a new home here, and I’d be reluctant to leave, but I have to admit some longing for hearing my language and being around family.
Sometimes I feel like no matter how hard I work, I can’t seem to make any headway into life. None of my recent contacts with potential clients has panned out. I’m constantly worried about making rent, about feeding my cat and myself. The successful writer I want to be still feels hidden to me, kind of there but not wanting to come out yet.
I feel unsupported by a culture that values monetary success and extroversion above all else. I just want enough money to live on with dignity: a roof, food, the internet. I want enough money to live on without sacrificing my entire life to its pursuit. I want enough money to keep me alive and warm while I do the work I want to do: write.
When all of these concerns—loneliness, alienation, financial stress, inability to follow my soul’s yearning fully—come crashing together, well, that’s when I drink.
I’m often angry about a world that allows poverty, oppression and hate to exist. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make everyone accepting and loving. I think that most of all, I drink to drown this existential anger in me. I drink to forget about my inability to help everyone, to make everything okay.
I drink to forget about how angry I am at myself for not seeing my ex’s emotional abuse.
I drink sometimes to forget about the choices I haven’t made, about the paths I haven’t taken.