There’s this part of the addiction cycle called the “Pretend Normal” phase. Pretend normal is when you start….you guessed it….pretending everything is normal when it really isn’t. You act like nothing ever really happened and that you’re the same person you were before you engaged in whatever behavior you engaged in. You’re just back to normal.
Except that you’re not normal. You did heroin again. You stole a car again. You went on a crazy shopping/spending spree again. Notice, it applies to all sorts of addictions. The one’s I dealt with mainly were sexual addictions and drug problems (of other people, my own freaknesses shall remain hidden for the current time).
At the moment you engage in any of those behaviors that are destructive in some way, you are no longer normal. You’ve done something that you’re, by definition, more likely to do again (once you’ve crossed a threshold it’s easier to cross it next time). Yet, there you go, pretending that it was just a blip in the road.
That’s fine for small things, but it has one massive effect when it’s associated with an addictive behavior: it increases the likelihood of you doing said behavior again, and thus, repeating the cycle. The reason is because, instead of focusing on the factors that lead you to use and alternative mechanisms for dealing with those factors, you leave the blueprint or train tracks of that path in place and therefore more likely to ship the addictive behavior right back to your front doorstep. Put another way, it’s like getting shot and, instead of getting your wound taken care of, you simply walk on like you aren’t slowly needing to death.
When pretending things are normal becomes the norm.
I bring all this up because I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about what he calls “little moment’s of clarity.” His little moment of clarity isn’t like that of an alcoholic; rather, what he’s talking about are these moments where he realizes that so many people are just carrying out addictive behaviors over and over again and pretending to be normal in virtually every facet of their lives, but in reality, they’re just in the middle of some kind of Schopenhauerian malaise of the meaninglessness of their lives.
He talks about people that are miserable at their jobs thought they’re good at them, realizing one day that they’ll likely end up retiring at those jobs. He talks about people that love their spouses but every now and then realize that, really, they’re not all that great and just about any other person would’ve been likely as good had they been in the right place at the right time. He talks about realizations when you’re in your group of friends in your 30’s and you’re all kicking around and having college-like fun, but then you know secrets about how each and every person there is somehow falling apart, and you realize it’s all a lie, putting off the truth: you’re all looking to stave off misery for one more minute…and it’s not really working anymore.
I told him that it was a dark idea, but I think there is also some merit to his “moments of clarity.” People may indeed be living lives of “quiet desperation.” People are often fronting about how well they’re doing and how good things are. People might just accept what’s around them without challenging themselves. Most importantly, people might try to zone out of those realities with a myriad of narcotics they call life (the internet, shopping, blogging…ahem, sex, tv, whatever).
But ultimately that’s the argument Schopenhauer made that Nietsche would later address: It’s MY life and it’s IMPORTANT to me. It has meaning by it’s very existence, so it is the only truth.
Another way to look at it might be through the existentialist lens. Existentialists say we’re all running away from pain and loss; however, loss is all there really is. Whenever you make one decision, you annihilate millions of others: ie. you LOSE those choices and possible different paths. And every second that passes brings millions more choices that are loss. Loss is what life is and so, pretending that things are just normal instead of dealing with them in a more constructive way is really a misadaptation we have to cope with the reality and subconscious disappointment from all of that loss, our holding on to the few things we do have so we don’t lose them too (though we most certainly will in the end).
The Lie of Life
I rather see it myself as one gazing unflinchingly into the mirror of the great lie of humanity:
YOU CAN DO/BE ANYTHING YOU WANT.
No, you can’t. And that’s a horrible truth. You have to be born into certain places and times cosmically with certain resources and dispositions in order to become some things. And even when you become those things, you end up realizing it’s not quite what you thought it was going to be, so you didn’t even really become what you thought you wanted to be.
And that truth starts hitting you somewhere around the age of 30. It’s that point where you’re young still but undeniably an adult. And the world no longer hides things from you. Worse, if you’re like me, you progress in certain professional circles and realize what bullshit a lot of it is: how they don’t do what they say they’ll do, how too much of it is about gaming the system, how they fuck people over in a myriad of ways, how they posture about knowing more than they really know. And I suspect that’s true of almost every profession.
The point is: the brutality of that truth that life won’t necessarily work out like you want it too becomes overwhelming and suddenly you have to cope with that while watching the clock tick faster and faster. Is it any wonder people would anesthetize themselves with all manner of diversions?
Though, I’m not talking about only true addictions, but self-delusion of life. You can be addicted to always needing to be right. You can be addicted to “your responsibilities” that keep you from doing anything that’s truly remarkable. You can be addicted to making your community moral (so that you don’t have to entrain working on yourself). You can be addicted to not sitting still instead of stirring the pot with anger. And on and on and on. You can do all these things and then just pretend they’re a normal part of life that you’ll try to get better at but aren’t really all that out of the ordinary. You can pretend normal all you want.
Pretending that things are normal is killing you.
But let’s be clear, pretending things are normal is very destructive, again, because it sets you up to continue doing the same stupid things over and over again, until one day you end up looking like Rock Hudson right there at the very end.
That ability to pretend like everything is going well when it’s not or to ignore the house fires burning in your daily tasks is slow suicide by thousands of little paper cuts. It’s not one thing usually, it’s almost everything., and at least once a year, I go back and look in order to see what the truth really is about things, even if I’m not going to change them. “My job’s good compared to others, but I’m not helping people nearly as much as I’d like to think or portray myself as. My girlfriend (if I have one at the time) is nice and pretty , but there are those other two girls that I was interested in that didn’t say yes first that might have been just as good. My friends are not just being the boys: they’re being dangerously immature and I have to watch myself around them lest I become stupid around them too.” The list goes on and on.
And at the end, I make a list of goals to accomplish that I think fight against that ability to pretend normal. The places where I want to be and the values I want my life to emulate. I figure that in a spreadsheet look at the statistics of life, if you add up all the time you spent trying to emulate your values and getting close to the mark, if that number is high, you win, regardless of what you pretended. But then again, that may be a self-delusion too.
The little kid that says , “But!”
I find the thing that keeps coming up when I try to live my values consistently and face the brutal truth is that I have this inner voice that says: “BUT!”
It says it like a child screaming.
“But I want this and it’s not happening fast enough. But I wanted that and it’s never going to happen now. But why does it have to be like that?! But when will I finally get what I want?! But this isn’t how it was supposed to be! But I worked so hard! But what if it never happens?! But what will I do instead?! But but but but!”
Here lies the lesson: that “But” is the truth that we try to drown out with our addictions.
It’s the not pretending to be normal. It’s what I really feel and what I really think when I’m not putting on the stiff upper lip. And I believe we’re all like that somewhere.
And then, if I’m consistent enough, I find myself telling the little kid that it’s going to be okay and to not worry so much, though he never shuts up. Ignoring him, though, is just one more paper cut, so I listen to him when I can and try to relax him when possible. But the reality is that some things just suck and you have to deal with it.
So, I’ll end with a suggestion for everyone: figure out your addictions and what you’re pretending is normal. Listen to the kid inside throwing a tantrum. He/she is onto something.
PS, Sorry this was a long deep and serious post. Boobies.
- Women likelier to be addicted to Facebook (dawn.com)
- Sex Addiction and Change (beingabeautifulmess.wordpress.com)
- Tips to Help Addicts Kick the Habit (jbournesblog.wordpress.com)
- Addiction and its Casualities (jenlynn401.wordpress.com)
- Facing Love Addiction Part 4: Love Addiction in Pop Culture (mapletreedruidry.wordpress.com)
- RICHARD P. HIMMER | Are you an addict? (kitsapsun.com)