41 to 35: Addiction

The anti-ritual.

For the briefest, most transcendent of moments, I lie still, mind empty, enjoying the peace and comfort of my bed. Then the past crashes into me, and I’m back, like a fallen surfer who manages to get his head above the water for a breath before being tumbled back beneath the surf.


In a 36 hour period, I’d stayed up all night living a tearful breakup with a woman I loved. That day, on almost no sleep, I went in to my office to learn that my project of 8 months, only weeks from shipping, was cancelled. I barely noticed. I was elsewhere.

I left work early, to head to her. It wasn’t over… not quite yet. Because things were about to get worse. I had lied. And she deserved better. And I deserved better. So I came clean. And that was the hardest part of all, because finally, I was facing the mistakes I had made, what I had done, this was my fault, my guilt, my shame.

So I wake, a handful of hours after leaving her place for maybe the last time. Struggling for consciousness, I begin my morning routine. I reach for my nicotine. My body sparks even as I reach, the anticipation a physical surge. I bring the box connecting battery to kanthal to fruit flavored relief to my lips, and inhale, feeling the burn in my lungs and the quieting, calming embrace of the nicotine.

Something deep inside me revolts in disgust, and I fling the device into the corner of my bedroom. I lay in bed and sob, having nothing but my pain and loss and shame to hold on to. But they are mine, I chose them, and I’ll be dammed if I’m going to hide them in that little box.

In that moment, I saw my addiction clearly for what it was, and after that it lost all power over me. I haven’t touched nicotine since. To be honest, I’ve never really come close, despite a 10 year relationship with the drug. Like most illusions, once you see behind the curtain, the magic is gone.

I was stuck in a feedback loop. Craving breeds want, unfulfilled want breeds anxiety. Fulfillment brings satisfaction, and an end to the anxiety. Problem solved.

But anxiety is not a problem to be solved. Anxiety is an alarm, warning of a problem to be solved.

I spent a lot of time this fall getting comfortable with my anxiety, with my sadness, and finally, with my anger. Listening to them, learning from them. They had a lot to teach me.

But not the least thing that I learned was how much effort I had been going to to run from them. Whether it was nicotine, alcohol, food, television… the reason these things were so hard for me to set down was that I was uncomfortable with the default state my mind was in when I didn’t stimulate it.

But by accepting these so called “negative” states as they came, by getting curious instead of immediately looking for a fix… I found I had a lot more voluntary control over what behaviors I did and did not engage in.

I talked yesterday about using the power of ritual to shape my mental state. I think of addiction as an anti-ritual — an unconscious compulsion to shape ones mental state. The line between ritual, habit, addiction can be tricky at times, but it is there. I suppose ultimately we come back to execution, and value alignment, and whether this behavior is drawing you closer to the person you want to become, or simply hiding from you the uncomfortable truths about who you are.