Thursday, November 4, 2010

Getting Clean

Thinking about addiction…

The first thing that comes to mind is various drugs.  Alcoholics, pot-heads, coke-heads, crack-heads, meth-heads, pill-heads…jeez you name it, I more than likely personally know and/or love someone who was or is on it.  Folks I grew up with -- people in their early thirties -- have died from meth rotting their bodies and from cocaine-induced heart attacks.  One of my brother’s college roommates drowned in a hot tub one New Year’s because he passed out in it.  Jimmy – the first fully fledged alcoholic I ever met whose eyes were perma-bloodshot.

I did my share of hard drinking, but having started at age 16, I was burned out by age 21.  Throwing up every Saturday and Sunday morning lost its thrill, especially when I still had loads of homework to do and a serious case of perfectionitis (i.e. having to do everything perfectly or the world will end).  Now, if I have more than three beers or two glasses of wine, I feel like total shit the next day.  It just isn’t worth feeling crappy anymore.    
Smoking took longer to kick.  Because all my friends did, I started when I was 18, and I kept going long after most of them quit.  I tried to quit several times in college, but I would usually end up bumming from my roomie or smoking her butts (yes, I know how gross that is) until I broke down and bought a pack.  I used patches twice and quit for 3 months both times.  Both times, I went back to smoking. 

I suppose that, if I had also quit smoking pot, I might have been more successful.  The first boy I ever loved is the first person whoever offered me pot that I accepted.  It was laced with opium, and afterwards, I sat on his sofa and watched two episodes of Outer Limits followed by watching him and three other guys shoot a Coca-cola can with a blow gun…a real freaking blow gun with barbed darts and everything…for two straight hours.  My head felt like Mr. Mackey’s in that episode of South Park where he does drugs and his head becomes a giant balloon that floats around in the breeze.  The only other pot experience I had of that caliber was when I took two hits off a pipe with a chip of a hash bar.  OMG.  I think I stared at my friend’s dog and giggled for three hours.  My only contribution to the conversation was, “What?  Shut the fuck up.”  

Pot replaced booze.  With the pot came the migraines.  Once I finally quit smoking weed, my migraines almost completely stopped.  I didn’t quit smoking cigarettes until I was 29.  And after all the previous tries, what did it for me was seeing a student of mine, who was actually 2 years older than me, hacking up a lung outside the math building before he wheezed his way into my classroom.  Once the nicotine was out of my system, the migraines stopped completely. 

They say pot is a gateway drug, but other than the one time I took G, went berserk, and then puked for an hour, I never ventured beyond pot, even when two people I loved and trusted begged me to take X with them, because I knew these things:

     1) I have a somewhat addictive personality
     2) I am too high-strung for uppers
     3) I am too paranoid to completely relinquish control of myself to something else, especially since I know how I strongly I used to react to certain people when all my protective barriers were down.
But, what it all came down to in the end was that I made the decision to live in the real world with as few influences on my consciousness as possible, even influences that came from inside me of which I wasn’t really aware.

“W-What?” you ask.

A dear friend of mine (the person who taught me how to love myself) suggested that I check out the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?”  I have to say that some of the people interviewed for it seemed like complete whack-jobs, but there are a lot of physicists, biologists, psychologists, mathematicians, doctors, and so on who contributed as well.  Part of the movie dealt with addiction, and it had nothing to do with drugs. 

The main character we follow throughout the dramatic part of the movie is a photographer with self-hate and ex-husband issues.  Her boss sends her to a wedding to take pictures, and she watches how the guests interact with each other at the reception.  During this portion of the movie, the biologists and doctors discuss addiction to emotions. 

When you become angry, happy, in love, aroused, sad, or what-have-you, your body produces hormones (neuropeptides), which you can become addicted to just like any other drug.  You become dependent on feeling those emotions because they make you feel alive and vital and part of the world, no matter how fucked up they are.  Even if they are bad, they are better than feeling nothing.  You get high on your rage or your misery, and the hormones responsible for fueling your body’s reaction to those emotions (increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, etc.) feed your habit and increase their numbers of receptor sites, making you want more.  It can get to the point where some of your cells lose receptor sites for nutrients in favor of neuropeptides associated to the emotions, and when those cells reproduce, they don't even have receptors for things the body needs to heal itseelf, cleanse itself, etc. 

The movie bit has a bunch of gummy bear-looking “hormones” running around egging on various reception attendees, but it’s a very good way to visualize what happens.  Check out a condensed version of the scene here:  "Addiction" 

It made me stop and think: what emotions am I addicted to?
Hate of myself and others
Anger at the world, my students, my boss, my parents, my ex
Sadness about things that weren’t how I thought they should be
Intellectual snobbery
Many, many more…

Once I began paying attention to how I fed myself on those things, I could stop it.  Oh, did it take a lot of practice and meditation.  It takes a lot of painful self-analyzing and a strong desire to want to change, but I have to say that I feel better and happier and more like the person who I feel I am at my very core than I have since I was a child.  That is one of the most incredible, life-altering, beautiful feelings I have ever experienced.  When I chose to be me again, instead of this hate-filled creature living in a husk that looked like me, I wept. 

It would be far easier to stay addicted, to nourish myself on hate and fear.  I still have major issues with self-doubt and self-hatred.  I still get absurdly angry about inconsequential things.  When that happens, I have to rehab myself -- rewire, rewrite, reassess -- and move forward.  Getting clean is an on-going process but one worth the effort.             

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