Note: This was my first blog post ever (April, 2012). My heart was racing when I shared the link to Facebook, knowing that I had just revealed my double life to all my friends and neighbors. And though my views about the relationship between self and community are different and more complex now, I still think honesty is the cure for many of our social ailments.
"Be very afraid."
That's what the little voice inside my head keeps saying. It keeps telling me to be afraid of what people might think, of how people might react, of what doors may be closed, of what friends I might lose. Might, might, might. That's the problem with fear. It is always based on what is NOT known. But I know this: that which we are most afraid to do is precisely the next thing we should do. Thank you Tony Robbins for that one!
So let me just face this fear right now and say it: I am a drug-addict. Have been for 21 years, with a couple short stints of sobriety. I have been addicted to everything from cough-syrup to crack; to anything that made me dizzy. But my longest "drug affair" was with heroin.
There! I said it. It's out there. The fear is gone now. You know the funny thing about the things we fear? It's always mental. It's never real. And as soon as you move one step to face it, it runs and hides. Fear is weak...if you so choose.
Here is the good news: I am clean. I started living life – as opposed to resisting it – 10 months ago. That may be a surprise to some folks because I worked really hard at portraying the life of a "normal" person. However, I learned as an addict, that as humans, when we try to fool those around us, we really only end up fooling ourselves. In fact, addiction itself, I believe, is the attempt to fool ourselves. It's our effort to keep ourselves from the truth.
Since I started living clean I have noticed two things in society which trouble me: First, almost everyone is an addict. Secondly, we all lie. Especially to ourselves.
Now, hear me out. I am not trying to paint humanity with a pessimistic "broad stroke". Quite the contrary. I see people living amazing lives all around me. They inspire me to live mine, so that's what I'm gonna do. I am doing what will bring me fulfillment for fulfillment's sake. Doing that requires being honest. Love begets love. Hate begets hate. Honesty breeds honesty.
And lest I be accused as some self-righteous dick, let me say it loud and clear: I lie. I am a liar. I have told lies. And, though I strive to be as honest as nature exemplifies, I imagine I will lie again. But I learned something about honesty through being dishonest with myself: that honesty is necessary for living life. And when I say living I don't mean surviving, I mean thriving.
Drug-addicts and alcoholics everywhere will attest to the importance of being honest. We know this! But do we understand? We have heard it in our AA/NA/CA meetings: "Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." That means being honest! Yes, we have all heard it. Honesty has been portrayed as being the moral fabric of society for millennia, yet how many of us live it? Unfortunately, honesty is something I think most of society has backwards, and addiction is the byproduct of that backwards thinking.
Addiction is easy to recognize in its stereotypical forms, e.g., gambling, pornography, drugs, alcohol, etc. However, that is not the addiction I wish to address, though it certainly is included. The addiction I am referring to, that I see everywhere, is the addiction to anything that pulls us away from having to face the fact that we aren't living up to our potential.
Here are some of addiction's other, less recognizable forms: work, hobbies, exercise, food, leisure activities, sports, TV, books, web-browsing, entertainment, the list goes on. Kind of a tough pill to swallow, huh. I mean, everything I just mentioned is something that can certainly be "good". Alcohol and drugs can be good, too. Addiction isn't entirely based in behavior. It is primarily based in motive. What sucks about addiction though is that it's never easy to uncover those motives. They are masked beneath layers of self-deception. I think most of those layers stem from a desire to have these things: recognition, admiration, respect, popularity, love, friendship, acceptance, success, and esteem.
Let me give you an example. A tired businessman has an inclination to do something meaningful, to say something nice, to perform some work, but ignores that thought and resorts to watching TV, surfing the web, playing sports, whatever. He lets either fear or procrastination get him. Then, because he let fear beat him, it builds in him, almost imperceptibly. If the guilt/fear/procrastination is not dealt with, it necessitates the drive to avoid these emotions. Addiction, in a simple sense, is the attempt to avoid dealing with emotions through compulsive behaviors. It feeds on itself. It is cancer of the mind, quite literally.
The more we avoid the truth, the more we engage in compulsive behavior. It is escapism. Once we give in to this voice of fear and procrastination we tend to justify our actions, unconsciously, with compulsive behaviors that stack up on each other one at a time until we are addicted and don't even realize it. Addiction is a sneaky little devil. As CS Lewis wrote in The Scewtape Letters: "Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
Hell is not a place of fire and brimstone. It is a life wasted – plain and simple. Addiction is any behavior that gets us in the repeated act of wasting our lives. How do I know this? I've been an addict for 20 years. Much like a near-death experience gives a person new vigor to live, so too does the realization that you've been dead for over a decade.
Psychobabble bullshit? Maybe. Off my rocker? Absolutely! Here's the thing, all this addiction stems from dishonesty with ourselves. It starts when we begin to give credence to social norms and the pressure to fit in, to be part of the group, to go with the flow. I would venture we have all experienced both sides of this coin: that of selling out in order to be accepted, and that of sticking to our guns at the risk of losing acceptance. Which felt better? Then why do we continually lie to ourselves, and to others, in order to gain approval, to appear successful, to be deemed as honest or likable?
You wanna know the dichotomy here? My addiction always showed itself in engaging in risky behaviors. But what I was really addicted to was an idea: being the object of the good opinion of others. I never overcame my compulsive actions through willpower or a desire to quit. I overcame them through a desire to live a new life – my life.
If we hold any addiction to a "thing", "activity", or "behavior," it is most likely because we are really addicted to an idea that is causing us to be dishonest with ourself. That idea is some lie that society is selling us. You know the worst part about being concerned with fitting in? Regardless of how confident I thought I was, there always came a day when the esteem of my peers mattered more than what I thought of myself. And I have never been one to care much about what other people think. Today, I will not allow my self-worth to be tied to a constantly swinging pendulum between approval and non-approval.
People, that is our sickness – that we are so damn preoccupied with fitting in. So what is the solution? The answer is You. Me. The individual. The answer is not in attempting to re-write cultural norms but to re-write our personal code for living. That means owning who we are, as individuals, and embracing ourselves wholeheartedly. Ownership is freedom. Example is the greatest teacher. Living an authentic life is the best cure for the inauthentic life. Consider why you do things. Reject the idea of doing something just because you are "supposed" to do it. Question, test, reason and then choose to live your life, not the life that is constantly being prescribed to you. Next time you find yourself doing something because it's expected of you, ask yourself: Is this really how I want to live my life? Then, live the life you want. On the other side of fear of fitting in, there is freedom, integrity, and happiness that is not dependent on external feedback.