Friday, 9 August 2013

Beneath the Glass

The dedication or devotion to a thing, in an immoderate and/or compulsive standard or quantity. What I've just paraphrased, folks, is the Oxford English Dictionary's online definition of the term addiction.
            Alcohol, drugs, food, exercise, loud music, reading, sleeping. Can we be addicted to any of these?
            I've never tried drugs but the others, conglomerated together, occur during parts of my day. On Monday I downloaded Dream Theater's single, The Enemy Inside, in avid anticipation of their eponymous album. I had my bass speaker turned up; canorous melodies, thought-provoking lyrics, and a technique, style and structure to be heard playing over and over and over and...see my point?
            What else have I done this week? Well, I read a lot, for starters; I have exercised – football, tennis, walking, thinking (my favourite type of exercise as I can be lay down for this one). I have consumed food. Sausages, potatoes, mussels, bread, fish, fruit, vegetables. And haven't most of us eaten many of those things, and exercised and listened to music loudly? I've slept, unlike...some people. Ah, and yes, I have indulged in the occasional libation. Yet, have I over-indulged in any?
            The aureate aura surrounding the sheer wonder, the marvellous mystery, of a gin and tonic, of a glass of red wine with oaky overtones or a Chilean, spiced style. Doesn't matter, I still drink it. (Thank you for that encouragement, Father.)
            In my first year at university, my thing was Gordon's Gin. Most of the time, I consumed this wondrous mix of juniper and whatever else with Indian tonic water. Once or twice, a stiff shot was the more necessary course. As a student, the tonic water - from time to time - wasn't that important, when I had to fund the gin itself. A lime wedge, three cubes of ice, and I was set. In that first year, the writing day got going when the slight tang wet my lips, when the first sip of strong booze broached my senses' awareness.
            What followed was a lot of poetry. Oftentimes written whilst listening to The Smiths, too. Gin: Mother's Ruin, eh?
            One day before a football match, a friend asked me if I had consumed alcohol already. I hadn't (shock) but he didn't believe me. That I played reasonably well helped my case. After the game, which my team had won, the lads traversed the town, clubbing, playing drinking games, chasing girls who just might have been interested. I don't know, I was in my room with a Word document open and a glass of Gordon's cradled in my hands. Each to their own, my friends.
            Was this an addiction - did I feel devoted to this drink? Was I dedicated to exploring the rich taste, the powerful sting of tactile sagacity being weakened? Was I addicted to gin?
            From research, reading and experiences all around, addiction presents itself as a problem not considered as egregious as it really should be. "Oh, he's an alcoholic." Some students in Aberystwyth, and probably everywhere, view an individual's capacity to consume threatening amounts of alcohol as a symbol of social triumph. "I could drink you under the table." This is a challenge that holds beneath its surface of rivalry, beneath establishing deference and cementing some intangible position in a hierarchy, a whole lot more. That people view alcohol (a life-weakening drug) as a method of separating the men from the boys, shows a change in how alcohol has transformed in its function. Now, alcohol is the weapon each gladiator chooses on his epic adventure into bars; alcohol is the libation of courage before the inebriated "misunderstanding" that occurs outside of the bar, too. Perhaps for a lot of people, alcohol isn't the addiction - but social supremacy? Perhaps, for some people, everything is a tool, with a function towards superiority?
            Don't get me wrong. Alcoholics, true alcoholics, no doubt do need a drink every day, at certain times, of certain potency. And this, my friends, is where we must tread the treacherous paths of distinction between addiction and obsession. Between geas and function.
            Addiction forges obsession. To be obsessed is to see your thoughts and feelings succumb to the desire of an idea, thing, person, lifestyle. To be addicted is to devote physical energy into the satiation of this desire. And when, through rehabilitation or a financial penury, the object of the addiction is revoked, rejected and forced away, there can be trauma. Severe trauma. Trauma impels us to see a desire as a need.
            Desire and necessity. How many times have you heard somebody say "I need..." when what they usually mean is "I want..." - how many times?
            Water, food, shelter, clothing. These are needs human beings still struggle to acquire in certain places. They are so basic, and ironically, so crucial to our subsistence, that they are now taken for granted in the "First World". Are we all to blame? Has inundation of a resource led to profligacy? Is being able to splurge away what our ancestors risked their lives for an act of sheer wastefulness?
            Whether or not you see it so, these basic commodities have paved the way for indulgences to become such commodities, and each to their own. Does a teenager need to play a video game for 12 hours a day; does a child plied with sweets need that extra chocolate bar; does the man earning millions of pounds a year need that annual 5% pay rise? These desires we see as attainable, and so we promulgate that we need them, because to declare need is to arouse the attention of those around us. To encourage sympathy from them, to awaken the "what if roles were reversed?" gambit. And lo! Often, now, in this decadent world, greed is sated, if only temporarily. For that is the rub with addiction, is it not?
            Social supremacy - the need to be superior amongst a group of friends, colleagues, whoever. It exists. Oftentimes it can be mistaken for determination, drive, ambition. Alas, in such instances, these elements of the human drive have merely been tainted by the solipsist's desire; they have been made a need through constant application by people who need (or desire?) to be seen as a leader.
            But they are not leaders, they are bullies. Seeking to demonstrate superiority. This addiction is a perfidious path indeed; however, not always a path we choose. For need born of desire is not the raw, inchoate need to survive, it is a vengeful sort, filled with envy, jealousy and a refusal to see the goodness in the world around us. Leading, ultimately, to a railing against goodness; towards an ingratitude harboured by not possessing something somebody else possesses, be it materialistic and thus avaricious envy, or something internal, deeper and therefore, stronger. This creates bullies.
            Was I an alcoholic? Not in the slightest. I lived the student life, I knew when to stop during a time of deep thinking. How do I know I wasn't addicted - there was no obsession. Never were my thoughts bound by alcohol, never have I needed a drink, only desired one.
            Thus, I cannot comment on what it is to be an alcoholic, but addiction more generally - why, everybody loves sweets and games when they're young, don't they?

Credit and thanks to the Oxford English Dictionary for definitions of "addiction" and "obsession" which I have paraphrased.


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