I also re-read Alexander’s writings on the Rat Park experiment.
I light of that in particular, I was contemplating what is missing in the the life of most people, at least in the developed (and developing) world that seems to lend itself to the misuse of various chemicals. Aside, of course from those who promote both addiction and the conditions that promote addiction, for their own personal benefit – from drug dealers to Big Pharma to Banksters to the MIC.
As recounted elsewhere:
At about 15, I came into possession of a cache of liquor. I sat in bed at night reading and listening to the radio as I drank about 8 ounces of good bourbon. I didn’t think much about it until I happened to go camping with an uncle and cousin. I was unable to fall asleep. Understand, that normally I could lie down in a pile of rocks and be asleep in two minutes, but I was sleepless. I thought to myself, “Damn, I wish I had a glass of bourbon.” I was immediately shocked by my comment and realized how I had become ‘hooked’. When I got home, I dumped all the booze and didn’t have so much as a glass of 3.2% beer for the next two years. Alcoholic did not suit my self-image. Years later, something similar happened when I stopped being a smoker because it was ego-dystonic.
In the ’60s, I worked in Manhattan and lived in Greenwich Village. Single and suitably affluent, I lunched in fancy mid-town French and Italian restaurants, had supper in Italian or Mexican places in The Village and midnight snacks in whatever places catered to night owls. I started having a glass of wine with my lunches and dinners, then progressed to two glasses. From there, I went to half-bottles and eventually full bottles. A bottle of Burgundy or Cabernet with lunch, a bottle of Valpolicella or Soave with supper and a Moselle or Bernkastler Doctor with bread, apples and cheese at midnight. Three bottles a day, for 4+ years. During that time, I worked intensely, accomplished a great deal in my field and prospered greatly, exhibiting no symptoms of alcoholism. (Also learned a great deal about the wines of the world).
One thing I noted was that whereas my colleagues drank a lot more hard liquor than I did, they seldom drank wine. I recall ordering two bottles for four of us at a business lunch. The other three had one glass each and got quite tipsy. I ended up drinking all but the three glasses and remained sober. Something similar happened on a job interview when my prospective collegues took me to lunch and plied me with wine – the ‘in vino veritas’ technique – to find out what sort of chap I ‘really’ was underneath all the Human Resources bullshit such occasions involve. They got smashed and I had a nice lunch with some excellent wine. (And maintained my privacy, much to their disappointment).
I also remember bumping into my personal limit when I drank two bottles of Burgundy in under an hour. It was the only time I ever saw double or got a hangover. I had to close one eye to know which hotel door to enter and crawl to the bathroom, which totally nonplussed my room-mate, a college student still wet behind the ears. Hey! When you gotta go and can’t walk, you crawl. 😀
In 1969, I got married and no longer had the time or money to spend on luxurious dining and wandering NY’s bistros. My wine consumption plunged to nearly zero – perhaps a half-bottle shared with my wife when dining out every month or two.
I did not physically or psychologically miss the wine; no symptoms at all of alcohol addiction. Why not?
With virtually unlimited (and free) hard liquor as a teenager, bullied at home and school, ostracized and with few and shallow friendships – why didn’t I descend into alcoholism? I certainly saw the danger of it and reacted defensively. But later in my Manhattan years, there was nothing ‘driving me to drink’. Indeed, I was chasing wine rather than being chased. But 3 liters a day is more than most winos drink and it did not ‘hook’ me – and I hadn’t forgotten the lesson of my teen years and would quickly have recognized and reacted to any signs of incipient alcoholism. It didn’t happen. Why not?
Dr. Alexander’s experiments and observations, as well as the experiences of many former heavy drug users after Vietnam (and probably Iraq & Afghanistan) seem to confirm that addiction is a response to an intolerable environment. The exact reasons a particular environment is intolerable undoubtedly vary from person to person, but it seems intuitively obvious that if life is a steaming pile of shit, escaping into drugs would provide at least short-term relief. If life continues to be shit, it becomes a continuous string of short-term oblivion.
One of the blogs I follow is by a young woman with serious PTSD from her service in Iraq. The VA has done whatever they do, but it’s obviously not sufficient. She is basically on her own, without effective physical, psychological and emotional support from government, family or friends. If I had a way to contact her, I would offer her a place to harbor and heal. It hurts to see someone in that much distress. Part of her medical history involves fuck-ups at the VA, resulting in addiction and involuntary withdrawals. She’s really a very strong person, but faces severe obstacles that present a constant challenge for the mere mechanics of life. So far, she has learned the danger of addiction and has managed to get and stay ‘clean’. I have noted that there’s a distinct correlation between her problems with medications and the circumstances of her life at any given time. More indication that use of mind-altering substances is a response to a shitty life.
Peoples have used mind-altering substances for millennia, probably since a hungry (or curious) forager bit into an odd mushroom or a very thirsty Egyptian discovered beer by drinking water in which a grain had fermented. It is pertinent to my point that the use of various substances under such conditions was a matter and process of celebration or even religious experiences rather than a matter of addiction.
It all depended on why one wanted to escape from the mundane here-and-now. In the Glorious Sixties, living in Greenwich Village, I knew many drug users. A few were addicts but most were not, even though some of them consumed significant amounts of drugs on a regular basis. One of the finest artists I ever knew took a lot of ‘speed’ without any noticeable effect beyond his intense focus. (Whatever you’re doing on speed better be something you want to do for the next several hours. He would draw elaborate ink sketches for hours or play guitar until his fingers were bloody).
I experimented for a time, not to escape and watch the SuperTechincolor MindMovies but to investigate the limits and capabilities of my mind, and I approached it accordingly. I eventually learned what it had to teach me and I stopped that particular method of research. I never had a ‘bad trip’ . A co-worker inquired about LSD and I strongly advised against it. My gut feeling of where his head was at, his psychological state of mind told me he didn’t have a secure enough anchor to reality and his sense-of-self to tolerate the disruptive effects of ‘acid’. He took it despite my warning – and he had a very bad experience, including months of flashbacks. He took it for the wrong reasons and without proper guidance and mindset. Acid is not an addicting drug, but can be equally disruptive – I’ve known people to ‘get high’ and never really ‘come down’, such as Mel Lyman, the most talented harmonica player I ever heard (albeit a very weird guy).
What then? What sort of life is proof against the need for misuse of these chemicals? What culture and lifestyle proofs against the tribulations of existence that make chemicals a viable alternative?
First, I would suggest – just off the top of my head and without any research – that improper, destructive drug use is minimal in people who are secure physically, economically and – particularly – emotionally and socially. A life which minimizes trauma and stress; which abounds in rewarding interpersonal relationships; which provides reasons and circumstances conducive to happiness will not likely have a lot of people getting stoned to escape. It may have some geting stoned to explore and expand their understandings and ability to experience life more fully, but that does not result in addiction.
Conversely, a society high in uncertainty; lack of security; high in stress; basically with few reasons or occasions to feel good will be a society in which drugs offer relief. And if the social, political, economic and cultural situation is or appears to be permanent, you get permanent drug use and addiction. Think the ghetto; think unemployed or underemployed; think the millions who have jobs which are meaningless beyond the paycheck; think generations of poverty and discrimination, of hopelessness and despair. Or think even of the denizens of the Great Middle Class who live with the daily stress of possible job loss, losing the House In The Suburbs, paying off student loans and a completely unsatisfying and soul-stunning jobs. Or the elite whose trauma consists largely of having nothing meaningful in their lives; who have never known the satisfaction of challenge and accomplishment. They have been insulated from those aspects of life that make us human.
Countries such as Portugal have decriminalized drugs and accompanied that decriminalization with wide support. Not just the usual ‘recovering addict’ support, but support of ‘life problems’ – jobs, housing, healthcare, social therapy. It works. Drug use drops sharply; addiction drops sharply; drug-related crime drops sharply. The criminal drug suppliers are out of business or severely curtailed and the cost of taking proper care of the users is significantly less than previously dealing with criminal users and suppliers.
Imagine if you will, a society where everyone is assured of food, housing, healthcare, employment at something which is meaningful to the employed (rather than at something which suits only the elite), political security against external threat, freedom to engage in activities which are personally satisfying and pleasing, participation in a social millieu which provides the interpersonal contacts all primates (and many other species) seem to need. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts the sort of drug use we see today in America would be pretty much non-existent.
What would it take to implement such a society? First the recognition that our current lifestyle is not only unsustainable but is in fact undesirable and destructive collectively and individually. Once that sinks in, we can begin to look for ways to move from Here to There. It cannot happen overnight but it can – and must – happen. Our current world is ‘not long for this world’. It’s just a question of what’s going to replace it. Some of the obstacles we will encounter are already known but there will undoubtedly be surprises. The only thing that will get us through to the far shore is a firm goal, an agreed-upon vision, a shared Social Narrative.
It’s time – and past time – to build that Social Narrative, that picture in our minds of who we are, who we want to be, how we want to live and the world we want to live in.
Wise Old Indian – a responsive reading:
Who are you? – One fucked up people, at least for the time being.
Where do you come from? – A desert, in terms of humanity.
Why are you here? – To build a Human Society.
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