Six Compassionately Funny Books For Millennials Fucked by Anxiety and Addiction
Love is hard. Life is hard. Waking up is hard.
So what if you smoke weed all day so long as you’re doing it “medicinally” to treat, you know, whatever? So what if you check your battery usage on your phone and realize that you spent quite literally 5 hours today on Facebook? So what if you need a drink to get to sleep at night? So what?
So what is one day you’re going to wake up 42 years old and realize that you can’t remember the last ten years of your life because at some point your bad habits stopped being bad habits and became full-blown addictions.
Yeah, you know, they say that the truth fucking hurts.
My mom is a sober alcoholic. In the process of forgiving her for her addiction (and coming to terms with my role as a co-dependent enabler of said addiction), we have spent many quiet, sad hours talking about how she does not remember years of my childhood because of her illness. She regrets losing a lot to the thirty-some years where White Russians ruled her life. And I bet if you talked to other addicts in recovery her age, you’d find similar variations on the same tragic theme.
Since I moved to Brooklyn six months ago, I find myself surrounded by what I can only recognize as the nihilistic normalization of addiction. Trump won so I guess we’re all just inveterate chain smokers now? Every time I get on the subway, there’s some cheeky new ad encouraging the rider to indulge themselves in a weekend-long Netflix binge. God, even the Equinox signs all over the financial district downtown are begging me to get high on exercise bulimia and sex addiction.
No, people, this isn’t normal.
I haven’t been writing much lately because I’ve been preoccupied with other things, namely a city council election and coming to terms with my own addictive proclivities surrounding men, hating myself and self-flagellation. I’m not proud of falling. I’m not proud of using drugs under the pretense of keeping myself grounded when in reality they were keeping me buried.
I’ve written before about how I think millennials are self-medicating with ironic addiction. Today, I just want to spend a minute offering some books to those who might also be suffering as I work through this grueling process of picking myself again off the floor.
Stage 1: So you think you might have an addiction…
I read Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz after college, at about the same time my mom was getting sober. The timing was, to say the least, kismet.
I was in my in my first year of graduate school and very, very depressed. New to a city where I had virtually no friends, I was lonely as hell. As poor as I was sad, I found myself sneaking flasks of vodka into bars so that I could at least keep up with the few friends I was making by going to random trivia nights around Cambridge. Drinking myself pretty stupid, I suspected that I was liking the sauce a little too much.
Reading this book helped me to better empathize with the emotional context in which my mother became an alcoholic in her twenties, after a divorce from her first husband left her feeling abandoned and alone. It helped me to understand why I wanted to be intoxicated so badly, a cheap, sad consolation for the closeness and intimacy that I really wanted. For that, I’m truly grateful to Julia and her commitment to honest expression and I would recommend this book to anyone who suspects they are using to escape from the pain of now.
Stage 2: You conquer one addiction only to realize that you’re addicted to practically everything, especially dick and your phone
So what happens when you, like me, kick one addiction only to realize that — FUCK! — you’re addicted to practically everything? One of the major reasons addicts often move from one substance to another (a phenomenon recognized as cross-addiction) is because what addicts are addicted to isn’t the substance per se but rather the intoxicating experience of their underlying anxiety being temporarily numbed.
The scary part about this is that if you’re my age, a millennial, you’ve been brought up on AIM, texting and Facebook, trained after almost two decades of “social media innovation” to have your dopamine system completely hijacked all day by endless scrolling and notifications. You were literally socialized to be an addict. Don’t believe me? Try to quit Facebook for a week. Try leaving the house without your phone.
You’re being set up to fail.
So Sad Today by Melissa Broder is a pretty graphic memoir of cross-addiction. Every chapter is filled with Melissa’s lifelong struggle with using everything from starvation, alcohol to sexting to stave off being alone with her own thoughts for five minutes. If this sounds judgmental, I promise you that it’s not — I recognize a lot of myself in her pain. Which, of course, is the point.
The pain is universal; the addictions are just any of the ways we’re using at the time to distract ourselves from it.
Stage 3: So you’re ready to take this addiction shit seriously, so now what?
When I tell millennials about the 12-step program of recovery, they often balk: “But don’t you have to believe in God for that?” A common misperception since so much of the language refers to a higher power. But actually many of the most profound writings on the subject of 12-step recovery that I’ve read come from Buddhists, who don’t believe in God.
(Unless, of course, you believe yourself to be God and then, hell, we definitely believe in you.)
Two excellent books about 12-step recovery from the Buddhist perspective come from heroin and sex addict Russell Brand and alcoholic Mel Ash. Both offer tender, funny reflections on their own illnesses but each follows the same path through each of the 12 steps to recovery. If you’re at all curious in what the 12-step program is about but have been put off by the God talk, I would seriously read either one.
And if you’re still not totally down with the 12-steps program, I would recommend practically anything written by the Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön. Two titles that stick out in my mind as especially pertinent to the subject of recovery are Start Where You Are and When Things Fall Apart. Both are indispensable texts that I return to constantly in my practice because they are thoughtful meditations on how difficult it is to find peace within ourselves.
“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.” — Pema Chödrön.
When my life seems to me irredeemably cracked and I find myself lost to mindlessness, it’s these books that I turn to to set me back on the path. With any luck, maybe they can help you get back on yours.
Anyway, those are my book recommendations for those struggling to stay clean in a dirty world.
Good luck, godspeed and good riddance.