Hooked: The Cause Part I
In matters spiritual and otherwise, to offer a cure, one must pinpoint the cause of the problem. The question of “Why do have addictions?” is not synonymous with the question “Why do we sin?” We tell “white lies” to appear better than we are, for instance, or to get out of doing something we don’t want to do. We envy because we feel we deserve what they have, and we hate because we’ve been wronged. These are all selfish reasons–not to say that addiction isn’t inherently selfish–but addiction goes deeper than something we pull out at a moment’s notice to save face. I’m not minimizing the severity of those sins; I’m simply separating them from those repeated sins that we keep going back to though we want to stop (“pet sins,” some call them). What hooks one person may be completely unattractive to another. So where do they come from?
On one level, the pathology is far from complicated: we derive pleasure from the sins that hook us. Someone could surely become addicted to lying or stealing (the thrill of it or something like that), but I would venture to say most people do not find these things pleasurable. For example, if a cashier gives us back more money than they should have, we’re likely to keep the money, justify the theft and deception with a pithy saying, and act like we deserve it anyway. But we don’t feel good about it. A lot of sins feel ugly while we’re practicing them: envy, hate, physical violence, etc. Some, however, tap into physical stimuli and often push the ugliness until after the act: alcohol, drugs, premarital sex, extramarital sex, pornography, etc. It’s difficult to make a blanket statement, because again, what draws someone in will leave another cold. A person may bow to the throne of chocolate but have little interest in marijuana. Even something that is not inherently sinful, such as watching television, can become sinful in excess. Therefore, I want to avoid generalizing too much. One person may feel miserable in the very act of premarital sex, while another derives pleasure while shop lifting and feels bad about it later. But for the most part, the most physically enticing sins often hide their ill effects until the thrill has lifted and the ramifications begin: hangovers, unwanted pregnancies, broken marriages, guilt, and of course, a seemingly more elusive possibility of stopping. Despite potential consequences that could ruin our lives–or despite consequences that already have–we continue to indulge in our addictions because….well, they’re still pleasurable. Our head has no place when our body reigns.
The film Trainspotting (1996) speaks candidly about this point. Mark Renton tells this to the audience: “People think it’s all about misery and desperation and death and all that which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. After all, we’re not stupid. At least, we’re not that stupid.” After listing the miseries of the “safe” life, Mark says, “I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?” In some ways, it’s that simple. The things that hook us are fun (on some level). Rational thought goes out the window, and all we want to do is that which gives us temporary happiness. When the “happiness” subsides, we need to do it again to ward off the after-effects. Weeks or years later, we wake up and realize we can’t stop. In my opinion, the most chilling depiction of this phenomenon can be found in a film that is not really about drug addiction, although it plays a pretty major role: The Fighter (2010). It’s a short scene, a short monologue that’s appropriately inarticulate, and it’s treated as a completely authentic moment without unnecessary “dramatic” touches like swelling orchestral music. Christian Bale delivers these lines with such startling precision that it burns into your brain. It’s as if he lived every word: “You smoke crack, you know, you feel so much lighter. You know, you feel young. Like when everything was in front of ya, everything was just…everything was…just…in front of ya. And then it fades and you gotta get high again, you know.”
On one hand, then, addiction is about the pleasure. Surely this is not revelatory, but it’s the initial level. In my next post I’ll continue to examine the cause, but I will delve into the deeper aspects of it. Look at Requiem for a Dream. For those characters, the cause goes far beyond pleasure.