If you meet someone who has an addiction, chances are, as is true when you see a lone ant in your house or a single door-to-door religion peddler on the street, it isn’t the only one.
He drank whenever we went out. He offered, after the issue came up, that he would limit his drinks to three. I remember thinking that was a good and fair concession. I’d like to go back and have a talk with that woman.
It was years ago, back when I thought, oh I don’t know what the hell I thought. That I could get through to him? Get him to understand? See?
An active addiction always comes between people in a relationship. In effect, two people reaching toward one another, will be thwarted by the presence of an addiction. They have to reach around it. This is what I tried to tell him. I even drew a picture that looked like this:
Addiction doesn’t necessarily resemble a loaf of French bread, but you get the idea – I am confident, Reader, that you do. He didn’t get it. As I redid my illustration to show it here, I see something in it I’d not considered before; it’s hard to tell if the addict is really reaching for the other person – or the “fix.”
I just watched the first season of Nurse Jackie. It was edgy, interesting and fast-paced (a good show, not a mind-blowing one). The main character is a nurse in a busy emergency room and she’s also an addict which she, in the first season anyway, is successfully hiding from almost everyone in her life. She’s married with two girls and has a lover on the side, the hospital pharmacist and frequent drug source, who she rendezvous’ with on the job.
I watched a few of the Special Features and in an interview, Liz Brixius, one of the creators, made a peculiar statement. She said: “Is Jackie an addict? Yes. AND she’s a great nurse. Is she an addict? Yes. AND she’s a great wife. AND she’s a great girlfriend. AND she’s a great nurse. She’s all of ’em.” (If Brixius had thought to, she’d likely have added “great mother” and “great friend.”)
This sensibility – that a person can be an addict AND be great at their work and interpersonal relationships -caught me up short, especially given that the other producer in the interview, Linda Wallem, comments that, “We [she and Liz Brixius] are both in recovery.”
One of the best definitions of addiction I’ve heard is a person is doing something they know is bad for them but they can’t stop (alone). If someone is successful or great in all or almost all areas of their life – despite tendencies toward excess – perhaps they are not in fact an addict, but something else. Because so far as I understand it, addiction is not static and it takes prisoners, not only the user but the other people in the user’s life. It worsens. People are hurt. To suggest someone (albeit a fictional someone in this case), could be a great this-and-that as well as an addict is troubling (the term “functional addict” notwithstanding). Because the addiction, whatever it is, always comes first. And if the addiction comes first, that which comes behind it, either suffers or gets less, whether it’s a job, a spouse, children, family, or friends. That certainly has been what I’ve observed in real life.
I watch a smattering of reality TV, although I’ve never seen quite a few of the well-known shows since I don’t have cable (and if I ever went out of my way to watch those online I’d think my life had reached a new low). Anyway, although I’m not a regular viewer, I’ve occasionally watched pieces of the network weight-loss programs. These shows invariably make me cry – and I’m not being sarcastic.
I believe addictive and compulsive behaviors, no matter what they are, spring of the same sources, i.e., emotions. Many addictions and compulsions can be hidden to a certain degree, but a food one is different. It’s different because the evidence of it is obvious to others and because, unlike other addictions, we all have to eat.
The participants on weight-loss shows are undeniably vulnerable and exposed. There is no hiding, not emotionally or physically. The things many of them say completely pull at my emotions. It isn’t pity but empathy I feel. Not because I’ve been in their situation but because no matter how orchestrated the show might be, there is no denying the authenticity of another human admitting to their deepest shames and needs, nor the actual physical and emotional demands placed on those who undertake significant weight loss on such shows. Yes, for adults (less so children), they got themselves to that unbalanced position in the first place, but it takes guts to want to turn things around.
Admittedly, I also feel glad I’m not in their shoes. Someone who loses and keeps off significant weight has to change almost everything in their life, everything they relied on, and in the process trust strangers – trainers, nutritionists, doctors – even when it seems like the people who are supposed to be helping are coming off mean or aggressive. That is a lot to ask. If someone was yelling at me about doing “one more pushup!” and not being a “quitter” and worse, when I am sweating and heaving and feeling like I’m going to die (or would prefer in that moment to be dead), I really don’t think I’d take it well. Not to say, all the folks on the receiving end DO.
I cry when the women get to try on and wear cute clothes for the first time in years or ever. When a woman says now she’s no longer afraid she won’t be alive to attend her children’s weddings or see her grandkids grow up. When a man stands a little taller and can’t stop grinning. Or feels he may now be more attractive to his wife and can stop withdrawing and withholding from her. When a child feels like he’ll be able to keep up and play with the other kids now and maybe have friends. It all gets to me. Because again, no matter how manipulative or even exploitative shows of this type are considered (by many?), the emotions are real. The person’s reality is genuine. When they succeed, it makes me vicariously happy. I’m excited for them.
It’s very odd when you begin to see your peers die from their habits. A whole new terrain. I knew a bright, charismatic, albeit troubled man, who drank and smoked, heavily. I remember thinking (privately) that it was a race to see which would kill him first. One tried and the other finished the job. I miss him. I can’t abide waste and I really hate it in people.
One of the better definitions I’ve heard of addiction is: any behavior done to excess that a person wants to stop or should stop, but can’t on their own.
This seems like a good measuring stick, whether the subject of excess is food or smoking or caffeine or alcohol or drugs or work or hoarding or spending or relationships or cat-owning or the internet or exercise or gambling or… anything.