Love People, Use Things. Then What?

By Calliope · Feb 20, 2016 · ·
  1. Calliope
    I've been addicted to a series of drugs, often more than one at a time, for about 30 years. Been using for closer to 40. I don't think I will even stop. I'm pretty functional in many ways, but at the same time mostly pretty miserable and fucked up. I think I understand my use, my addictions, yet this doesn't seem to be enough for freedom. But I don't even like that word here: I've never felt free.

    Recently I spent 5 frightening days in hospital with intercranial pressure almost double what is normal and safe and at times blood pressure on the order of 225/190. For a while I thought I would never get out. Not alive. I was as terrified of my mother finding all the drugs in my bedroom as I was of ceasing to exist. More terrified, truth be told. I live a double life, perhaps a triple one. Respected and valued member of my community, stable and hard to lose job. Material advantages. Decent looks, a very good mind, and a genuine concern for my fellow creatures, one I act on regularly and I think with good effect. But I can't seem to help myself: I've never felt whole.

    A central dynamic seems to drive most drug (ab)use, dependence and addiction: Seeking happiness (or perhaps a flight from unhappiness). This is hardly a groundbreaking idea, but it has been on my mind a lot lately and I have come to the conclusion that clarity about the nature of happiness and unhappiness is crucial in avoiding and overcoming the problems drugs so often bring.

    Abd Al-Rahman III, the 10th-century caliph of Córdoba had a life of astonishing luxury, power and fame, reigning for more than 50 years. His riches, pleasure, power, and access to practically anything available to humans in the 10th-century were astonishing in scope. And yet he said looking back on his life, “I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: They amount to 14.”

    The man who pretty much literally had everything was happy less than one tenth of one percent of the time. Something is awry with the idea that luxury, power, and pleasure add up to happiness.

    Wealth, money, is crucial to happiness, but only insofar as it eliminates sources of unhappiness. Valuing wealth above more intrinsic goods appears to lead to unhappiness, dissatisfaction and even poor health.

    Our biology drives us to seek high calorie foods, wealth, sexual pleasure and variety, fame, social recognition and reputation. Humans who have none of these do not effectively pass on their genes compared to those who do. But evolution gives zero fucks for our happiness. Being well positioned to reproduce successfully does not equal having a high level of well-being as an individual.

    [IMGL="white"][/IMGL]When our lives lack meaning, when we are deprived of basic human needs, food, shelter, health, love, family, friendship, community, meaningful work and projects, we naturally seek to make up for this lack. But often this leads us into disaster. In the moments we head towards the obvious things we crave, fame, wealth, pleasure, we become hedonistic materialists. This mistake can have heartbreaking consequences. Redoubled emptiness, alienation, craving, anxiety, shame and anger. This is the truth, one of the noble truths of buddhism, that the cause of our suffering is attachment. Lasting satisfaction can't come from a cycle of grasping at these things which we crave and enjoying the only momentary satisfaction and relief they might provide. It is upadana, the cycle of craving and grasping, described thus in the Dhammapada:

    The craving of one given to heedless living grows like a creeper. Like the monkey seeking fruits in the forest, he leaps from life to life... Whoever is overcome by this wretched and sticky craving, his sorrows grow like grass after the rains.

    This kind of life is a life of loving things and using people. It is upsidedown.

    Love people, use things.

    All this makes sense to me. I try hard to live it. But it isnt enough: I've never felt comfortable in my skin, entitled to happiness, hopeful or more than holding on by the tips of my fingers. And that hasn't changed in the face of a real health scare. So I still don't think I'll ever stop taking drugs.

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  1. Joe-(5-HTP)
    It's very tempting, especially for people with as you put it 'a very good mind' to search for some reason for unhappiness..

    However there might be some simple boring reason. Maybe your brain chemistry is just unfortunately prone to negativity, for some boring scientific reason that we don't currently know about. Or maybe it is the effect of addiction.

    I've recently discovered what it's like for the mental state to be at the mercy of biology, unresponsive to reasons or to anything I could do for it.

    If it were to last indefinitely I would absolutely go back on drugs to self-medicate, after trying quite seriously to learn meditation, move to a different country, try a life of traveling, stuff like that. However while it may be a last resort, drug use is absolutely on my list of 'fixes' and I suppose I take some comfort at that.

    So I can't disagree too much with your decision. It's obviously yours to make, and for all we know it might be the best one. Who knows. Life is a hard game.

    :( :)
  2. Beenthere2Hippie

    I'm sorry for your pain, the weight of which your words make quiet clear. I cannot imagine its depth, from what you've said and feel terrible, as your friend.

    But wait.

    I'll never get off drugs, either. And as you age, the drugs (fun and not so much) add up even higher; it's just a fact of modern times.

    Calli, all the good times are not behind you--even though that convincing midnight voice can almost make you believe it true. You've had a huge amount of blows in the past few years, healthwise and personal. Each takes a slice of you as they go, leaving blood that slowly heals over, giving way to scar. Almost ironically, scars are tougher than the skin used to be. For a reason.

    And for note: You are one of the sweetest and most giving women I know on DF, and, to a large degree, the main and most important sponsor of the group of members who donated to the migration fund, so that DF will not fall into complete disrepair. Or worse: away for good.

    You did that--which makes you a wonderful woman--much loved by the community who thank you. Don't ever forget that this is your home, and you're family.

    We will each help the other get through.
  3. Gradient
    You're certainly on to something here, silly 'boring' comment aside. The brain is an adaptation engine, and is not capable of maintaining a state of elevated mood for a prolonged period of time. So, if happiness is the feeling one gets after some stimulants or an opioid, it's inevitably fleeting.

    Calli I think your entry brings up some interesting points about which I've been chatting with my friends recently regarding whether there are actual practical differences between happiness, contentedness, satisfaction, euphoria, etc. Of course these are all words that don't translate to discrete brain states, but I think we can talk about them as though we could re-sculpt them to do so - and they are probably a primitive effort to distinguish positive mood states.

    I think you didn't grow up in the US, but perhaps a similar sociological dynamic occurred up in your stomping grounds. Several generations here have been raised with the notion that the pursuit of as much happiness (whatever that is) as possible is ultimately life's goal - and, perhaps, a life without happiness is a failed life. For many people, that's translated to becoming as wealthy as possible - but for others, perhaps it's translated to deep disappointment?

    Without getting into the obvious discussion that we all define happiness differently, etc., I think it might've been healthier had my cohort been raised with the goal of achieving stable contentedness that lasts for months, and is resilient to tragedies and other externalities, rather than happiness. This is probably something we've all considered, and it definitely verges on semantics, but I think there's a substantive difference between being happy and being content. I'm probably not 'happy' right now, but I'm content with the way things are - and it's taken many nights of reflection to come to terms with the fact that the bliss I know the brain's capable of generating (thanks to drugs) is only reserved for the most profound life experiences that seldom occur.

    If I were just pursuing happiness, I'd definitely amend my trajectory. Sitting in a lab for 14 hours straight, waiting for an experiment to conclude - or spending several days straight doing nothing but eating/sleeping/writing to pump out a book chapter or article (as I'm sure you've endured) - doesn't make me happy. But I'm content until the point of discovery that most scientists/academics live for, which I'm confident will come, at which point I taste some of that happiness.

    These kind of distinctions are normally the kind that nauseate me, but I do think there's something substantive to the distinctions between different positive affective states. And perhaps this may translate to some people becoming unsatisfied with affective states that aren't the kind of bliss that certain drugs can induce, which may result in addictive tendencies. I'm not sure though.
  4. aemetha
    That just is incredibly insightful Calli. You summed up how I also feel in a way that I couldn't even begin to describe. Words to live a life by.
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