Technology means I’ve never felt more connected; it also means I’ve never felt more disconnected and alone. Connection enabled by technology is junk connectivity, and in the way junk food provides no nourishment, technology provides no fulfilling, deep human connection that we all need to thrive.
“If the brain region that allows us to imagine the future is synched with the brain regions that propel us toward our goals, and if that linkage is practised and reinforced, so that synaptic highways become smooth and efficient, then addiction need be no more than a stage in the development of the self. And that often seems to be exactly what it is. Despite the misery they may have experienced, quite a few former addicts have told me that they wouldn’t be who they are now without the struggles they endured while trying to quit. As a neuroscientist, I view this passage the way a city planner might recall the construction of an overpass to relieve snarled traffic. As a developmentalist, I see it as a vivid instance of the role of suffering in individual growth. And as someone who has known addiction personally, I recognise it as the bounce our lives can take when they hit bottom once too often.”
from The Biology of Desire by Marc Lewis, a fascinating book that explains addiction as a part of regular human development and desire. 💯
“Just say no” (to drugs, gambling, eating, sex etc) is the least helpful advice that you can say to a human being caught up in any addiction. If they could say no, they would. The whole point of addiction is that people are compelled to it by suffering, trauma, unease, and emotional pain. If you want to help people, ask why they are in so much pain that they are driven to escape from it through ultimately self-harming habits or substances. Then support them in healing the trauma at the core of their addiction, a process that always starts with nonjudgemental curiosity and compassion.
~ Dr Gabor Maté
Ash is scared to walk out those doors. Rehab is one thing, but the real world is full of triggers.
There are loads in the house where he’ll be living, where there are still holes in the walls from his fists.
“But now every hole I’m patching up, it’s patching up an old scar.”
He believes in AA’s 12 steps.
“I’m not one to believe in too many things, but these steps have actually given me a pathway. Instead of going right, I’m going straight. Before it was just like a figure eight, I just kept going around and I always kept coming back to the same point, which was daunting.
“I’d seen psychiatrists, psychologists and all that, but until I came in here and saw things clearly, it was very scary, very scary. I was only in survival mode, I was just getting by. I wasn’t living week by week, I was living day by day.”
Now, too, sobriety will be a daily proposition.
“I don’t think I’ve felt like this for a long, long time. I’m happy but scared at the same time, but I know we’ve got a brighter future. I’ve just got to keep the faith, as my nan would say. I’m doing it for my kids just as much as I’m doing it for myself.”
A well written insight into alcoholism and rehab for addicts; well worth reading.
This is a 7 minute talk I presented recently at my local Toastmasters club.
Heroin. Sex. Facebook. Gambling. Working too much. Exercise. Alcohol.
What’s common about all these things?
They are all forms of addiction.
One of my favourite philosophers, Alain de Botton, once said: “almost everyone is an addict, when addiction is defined as a manic reliance on something as a defence against dark thoughts”.
Also, Russell Brand, a rather famous former alcholic and heroin addict once said “I look to drugs and booze to fill up a hole in me; unchecked the call of the wild is too strong”.
But is addiction this bad? Can we overcome?
There’s a common belief about heroin addiction that if you take heroin enough times then you will become a heroin addict.
This came from a series of experiments last century where they put a rat into a small cage and they gave the rat two choices: water and water mixed with heroin. What they found over and over again is the rat would drink the heroin water and then couldn’t stop drinking it, ultimately overdosing and killing itself. This same thing happened over and over again leading us to think what we think about heroin addiction.
But imagine you seriously injured yourself today. You’d probably be taken to hospital in an ambulance and you’d most likely be given heroin. It would be much like street heroin, only more pure and effective. And when you discharged from hospital, chances are you’d continue on with your life. You wouldn’t be a heroin addict. But this contradicts what we think about addiction.
In the seventies there was another series of experiments with rats. Instead of putting a single rat in a small cage alone, they built a much larger cage, called Rat Park, and put lots of nice things inside: ramps and amusements, fresh food and lots of rats. Rats could connect with other and have sex with each other, and they provided the same drinking options: plain water and water mixed with heroin. But what they found this time around is whilst some rats tried the heroin water out of curiosity, not a single rat became hooked, not a single rat overdosed, not a single rat died from the heroin.
It seems the original rats died from lack of connection instead of addiction.
But what about seemingly good addictions? Like exercise, or working hard all the time?
Can “good” addictions be bad?
These seemingly good addictions are bad because they are about avoiding inner thoughts of our mind. They’re not about connecting with others.
I’m a reader and big supporter of The Big Issue magazine in Australia. The Big Issue is a unique publication in that it’s sold on the street by homeless people who become street vendors, they each get to keep half of the cover price which is currently $3.50 of seven bucks.
But I’ve read numerous stories about the biggest difference being a street vendor for The Big Issue makes to a homeless person’s life isn’t the income, it certainly helps, but the connections that are created between the vendor and their customers. Having customers the vendors get to know mean they start establishing human connection: something that is missing for a lot of homeless people.
We may never overcome addiction, so the key is to choose the least harmful one.
Get addicted to connecting with and helping others.
Johann Hari once said “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety; it’s connection”.
I recently saw the sequel to the cult classic 90s film about heroin addiction called Trainspotting. I’ll leave you tonight with a quote from the sequel to that film:
“You are an addict, so be addicted. Just be addicted to something else. Choose the ones you love. Choose your future. Choose life.”
Audience erupts in thunderous applause.