On addictions and how to recreate ourselves in a world of uncertainty and social isolation.
When thinking about addictions, one often brings up either the image of narcotics, heroin and cocaine or social drugs like marijuana and MDMA. Of course, not forgetting the various hallucinogens out there, recreational in their nature, they have in the last twenty years responded to another level of cultural and communal demand. People have increasingly found themselves gathering together as a tribe experimenting with their effects in ceremonies rather than the chaotic festival scene from the 60s and 70s.
Nevertheless, all the above are drugs of some sort. And the quality that unites them is the power they have to alter the conscious state. In that sense, it is important to add alcohol, tobacco, chocolate and coffee to the list, for they too have an effect on our sleep, behaviour, moods and energy levels.
What about the people who drink coffee, have the occasional glass of wine and yet they are not suffering with an addiction? Perhaps, simply using a ‘drug’ does not lead to an addiction?
What does lead one to an addiction?
How is the addiction formed in us?
Are we all susceptible to one?
It would be easier to clarify what is an addiction before we attempt to answer these questions.
Addiction is the compulsive need to reach out to something. The inability to travel in life without the external ‘support’ of that which is innately destructive and damaging to our health, relationships, jobs.
And addictions have often been studied through the substances, which of course gives a very useful information of their nature.
Food addictions have been related to love, and the lack of love. People experiencing addictions have often presented with traumatic past where they have been deprived of love, suffered separation, loss, or traumatic upbringing and abuse.
And yet, what of the people who have suffered trauma and not become victims to addictions. And what about those that are addicted to substances and do not present with such traumatic past.
It is clear, the lack of love is at the bottom of our answers, but that is just the bottom. What is the addiction filling us up with, what do we lack?
Romantic love, parental love...what is it that causes us to become so utterly incapable to go in our daily life without reaching out to something, be that behaviour or a substance, that we know is destructive to us, and is slowly killing us!
Bruce Alexander conducted a 38 year-long study and concluded that ‘drug addiction is not the substance; it is the cage you live in”.
He had mice addicted to heroin in two separate kinds of cages. In the first cage, the mice were few or just on their own. in the second cage, there were toys, other mice, and a whole community. Both cages had pipettes with heroin and the mice were free to choose if they should go and drink from it.
The mice in the community were content without the heroin. The mice without community needed the heroin.
Although addictions are often related to substances, it is widely known that people get addicted to shopping, gambling, sex and many other activities which carry no harm in their description.
So, perhaps Alexander has already given us the answer, the lack of community is what causes us to reach out to destructive compulsive behaviour and use drug substances in a health deteriorating manner.
For it is clear it is not just the substance. In fact, many studies over the past fifty years have shown the healing effects of certain drugs, especially the entheogenic and hallucinogenic.
CBD oil is widely used in helping MS and other motor-immune diseases. Much research has been done on MDMA for depression. LCD was used to help heroin addictions. Many people travel to the other side of the world to take part in shamanic ayahuasca ceremonies with the hope to cure their anxiety and in search of self-discovery. Unfortunately, many of these experiences end up with controversy for they have become a trend, a market as any other, and in many places charlatans have taken the seat of the shamans.
So, what is it that community gives us? Love and self-discovery. Perhaps the love yes, yet myths and tales often teach us that we need to leave the community to re-discover the self.
And how do we do this in a world with social distancing and groups and gathering restrictions. How do we re-discover ourselves alone? How do we break away from the cage of isolation? How do we reach out?
I begin with gifts. When we give...we extend ourselves. We are no longer for ourselves, we have past something onto the other.
And where do we buy these gifts from? They don’t sell them in Waitrose, nor in TKMaxx. The gifts that created and kept the community were the gifts that came from the hearts of the people.
So before we reach out for the next cup of coffee to give us some energy, knowing we won’t be sleeping tonight; before we pour a glass of wine just because the clock says 6pm, before we mindlessly light up a cigarette in a search of fresh air and a five minutes break, before we take the next piece of cake, the lonely bar of chocolate we eat whilst staring into the screen...before do go for any of our compulsive behaviours, before we go online to waste precious time...before any of these, we go in...we look in, we look into our hearts and search for our gifts.
We no longer have the community to guide us into any of these, not into the self-discovery, nor into the looking within, but it is not all lost, we still have the Other within. The one that is waiting, patiently for us to stop our obsessive compulsive looking out search for love, and look within... We have it all there, we have ourselves waiting for us to recognise our gifts and past them on. That is how we will recreate community, that is how we rediscover ourselves, and how we share our gifts, pass them on and let them grow.
A Cage Breaker (former Cage Maker)