Hooked: The Cause Part II
In my last post I talked about how particular sins (usually physically inclined ones) can become addictions through the sheer force of pleasure. Yet, we tend to seek pleasure to fill a void. And this void is the major cause of why we go back to the same things over and over again. Ideally, the void would be filled with something that brings us satisfaction or more lasting happiness: human love and connection, ambition toward a vocation, helping others less fortunate than us, etc. It is when these things elude us–a relationship ends or love is not requited or steps toward our desired vocation are stifled or disappointments of that sort–that we pour sins into our void and they become repetitious acts to keep the nagging void at bay. We replace what we should want (but rarely do) with what we shouldn’t want (but often do). It’s easier to eat poorly than to eat well, and it’s easier to fulfill our cravings than to attend to others’ needs. If what we should want eludes us, then we go after the things we shouldn’t. What was once glucose becomes sugar; our void grows larger as a result; we give it more sugar to temporarily suppress it; finally, our health is deteriorating to the point of death. Addictions generally appear, in other words, because our God-given wants are not easily reached, and we don’t like things that are not easily reached.
Take, for instance, the quintessential film alcoholic: Don Birnam, from Billy Wilder’s movie The Lost Weekend (1945), based on Charles R. Jackson’s novel. He knows why he drinks: “The reason is me–what I am, or rather what I’m not. What I wanted to become and didn’t.” Don was a good writer, and he wanted to become a better one. He would have a couple of drinks to get the juices flowing. But, before he could articulate everything in his head, the vision would vanish as the alcohol wore off. “Then there was despair, and I’d drink to counter-balance despair. And then one to counter-balance the counter-balance.” Before he knew it, the aspiring novelist was nothing but a broken-down addict who couldn’t write a page if his life depended on it. The typewriter haunts him; the bottle calls him. Don discovers that there are two of him: “Don the Drunk and Don the Writer.” The tragedy of this character lies in the fact that his problem began with a noble, healthy desire: the ambition to become a professional writer. He relied on a crutch to supplement this ambition, because it’s rather difficult on its own. Soon the crutch became everything, and the ambition went out the window. In the throes of addiction, his aspiration is no longer attainable; it is a dream destroyed by disappointment. The moment Don Birnam fills his void with alcohol, as opposed to the hard work and practical steps which would lead him to becoming a novelist, he is on the path to his entire life becoming a void only transiently satiated by more alcohol. We all, like Don, have two of us. I’m not merely talking about a fleshly, sinful side and a spiritual, Godly side. I’m talking about a side which seeks purpose and a side which seeks pleasure. A driven side and a lazy side, if you will. Addiction usually sinks its teeth in when we feel that we can’t satisfy the driven side. The hard-working, loving family man is too difficult to grasp, so we settle for the intermittently hard-working, occasionally affectionate but often hot-tempered family man, nursing a booze or drug habit on the side. Ambition is God-given; but the desire to run to pleasure at the first sight of failure is not.
Brennan and I have both talked before about Requiem for a Dream (I covered some of this in my post on that film). But, the message bears repeating. I have to admit I’m relying heavily on Mike Lorefice’s passionate, in-depth look at the film. You can find it here: http://www.metalasylum.com/ragingbull/movies/requiem.html. It’s an excellent analysis and certainly worth reading. To quote Lorefice, “This is such a powerful anti-drug movie because it essentially says if you think you have problems now, if you try to fill the void with drugs, wait until you see what the drugs do to you.” It sounds simple, and perhaps it is, but the film’s visualization of this phenomenon is no less profound. Each of the characters has issues which are not worked out (relations with parents, lack of self-esteem, weight gain, etc.). In an attempt to forget about such issues, they numb themselves to them until the effect wears off. Yet, the characters also have dreams. They experiment with using or selling drugs as a sort of means to an end. Their desired ends are good, but the means are poisonous. Soon, instead of aiding their fulfillment of the dreams, the drugs crush their ability to pursue them. Hence, the title of the film. Lorefice sums it up perfectly: “To look at this simply as a drug movie is totally missing the point. The heart of this film is the dream and the void. Almost everyone will admit to having a dream, but a void can be a tough thing to get out of a person because either they are too close to see it clearly or are afraid to admit how they’ve failed so far. Fulfillment of the former and filling the later are two of the toughest parts of life.” The gap between pursuing a dream and pacifying a void is where self-delusion comes into play, and in my next post I’ll focus on this issue with regard to the opus of Eugene O’Neill.
At the risk of repeating myself in either this post or the earlier one specifically on the film, I’ll wrap up by saying that Requiem for a Dream illustrates the exact process that I’m speaking of. Often, we seek pleasure and involuntarily acquire addictions to aid our seeking of noble goals. Or, we have difficulty achieving our dreams and simply decide to take the easy way out. But make no mistake: no one plays around with drugs or booze or what have you in a conscious attempt to destroy their lives. No one, in other words, holds the intention to kill themselves when they do it for the first time. There are quicker, easier, and less painful ways to do that. We go in innocently and come out severely scarred if alive at all, like the characters in the film. I don’t mean to sound like the concept of moderation doesn’t exist, because it does. But it’s nevertheless a dangerous one and one that easily becomes a justifying excuse or crutch. I don’t mean to say that all pleasure is bad, that one should avoid a piece of chocolate for fear of becoming addicted. What I am saying, however, is that the process is generally one that is invisible to us. It’s self-knowledge that is the answer, not self-ignorance. But I’ll get to that later. Check out Requiem for a Dream if you haven’t already, and prepare to be pulverized.