Perhaps the only useful aspect of my tendency to self-mythologize is that I am very attuned to my own personal development or lack thereof. It is vital to my sanity to feel as if I am going somewhere, if not literally, then figuratively. I’ve been “standing still” in Ohio for about a year-and-a-half now, but I’ve been on an inner journey of self-improvement all the same. The outward results have been ehhh, pretty negligible. But the point is, at least I’m thinking about shit.
Sue me; I’m trying.
One challenge I have yet to overcome is addiction. In all of its forms. I’ve never struggled with hard drugs, but everything else — booze, cigarettes, love, Twitter, booze, booze, cigarettes — is familiar territory for me.
People talk about having an “addictive personality,” and frankly, I don’t understand how there is such a thing as a NON-addictive personality. I mean, where are these people who have two glasses of wine or just one bite of cheesecake and then think to themselves, “That was great! You know what would be better? Stopping!”
I mean, more power to ya’ll, but if you’re not a Mormon, I sincerely believe you to be an alien masquerading in a suit of human flesh. Not that I don’t respect stability. On the contrary, I envy it very much. But straight-laced people kinda creep me out, truth be told. I’m unable to relate to vice-less people, because frankly, I assume they’ve never had to claw their way through any really deep shit. It’s like those unfortunate people who have been gorgeous their whole lives and never really had to develop other dimensions. Personally, I’m drawn to people who have their fair share of cracks and weaknesses and scars. It’s good to get a little beaten up by life. Puts you in touch with your fellow man. Perfect people are just so…blegh. I like people who’s battered soul looks like Seal’s face.
Plus, perfect people tend to have the sense of humor of a wet soda cracker.
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: the above statements do not apply to recovering addicts. You folks are the most funny, interesting, AND wise. High five.)
But I digress. I am not a perfect person and I have a lot of vices. In my inner quest to better myself, moderation has forever eluded me. I don’t even have a point of reference. For Christ’s sake, I’m bipolar. I’ve been a frantic teeter-totter of emotions since birth, and any respite I’ve had from these extremes of temperament lasted a week or two, tops. It’s just not in me to be even-keeled about anything. For me, good is great and bad is worse and the only blessing and the only curse (cool, that part rhymed!) is that nothing ever lasts.
And a soul bound to extremes is a soul prone to addictions.
And being me, I have spent countless hours ruminating on this problem, trying to get at the root of my addictive nature, admonishing myself for my repeated failures of moderation. Thinking, ‘what is it about booze/cigarettes/french fries/love that I like so much? Why can’t I just do without them?’
And then I realized that it’s not the vices themselves that I’m addicted to at all, it’s the feelings they give me. And not just the good feelings, either. ALL the feelings. I’m an absolute glutton for them. Positively insatiable. I could care less what the feeling even is. Elation, despair, hilarity, infatuation, self-loathing, restlessness, generosity, anger, pride — makes no difference to me, as long as whatever it is is passionate.
Anything but boring old peace. Peace is no fun. I have no use for it. It doesn’t create anything; it just is. Peace is antithetical to my entire sense of who I am. This may sound insane, but I get terrified when I start to feel it. It just feels like a dark whirlpool of nothingness to me, threatening to pull me down into it forever. It doesn’t feel “peaceful” at all; it feels like a part of me is going blind somehow, like everything is all the same pretty color. And I can’t fucking stand it because there’s nothing else for me to paint with.
I am literally afraid of peace. Either that, or I’ve never actually felt it. Either way, it scares me.
And moderation leads to peace, so I avoid moderation. When you’re addicted to feeling, the whole world is a gateway drug. A glass of wine, a funny man, a song on the radio, a lost dog, a piece of ice cream cake. You just want more of more, no matter what it is.
It perhaps goes without saying that this is a common thread among all addictions — a desire to feel something. People compulsively clip coupons to feel in control. People drink alcohol to feel brave. People shoot heroin to feel nothing.
But I’m talking about an addiction to feelings in general. Maybe that’s all bipolar disorder really is, who knows. A feelings addiction is more benign than most in that it doesn’t require an especially potent or dangerous means to a high, but bad in that pretty much everything can be turned into a drug, and is. Substances, people, relationships, creative projects, even experiences in general are sought out solely for their capacity to produce strong emotions, not because they are good for us. Feelings addiction short-circuits our discriminatory faculties. We attribute value to limiting things and people just because they make us feel something; anything.
We have chosen to become slaves to our own feelings.
And sometimes we need to put all the feelings away for a second and just tend to the mindless, emotionless tedium of life.
I am forever resenting those around me for remarking upon my messiness and disorganization. ‘So my room is a complete mess; so what?’ I think to myself haughtily. ‘So there are 4,000 empty mineral water bottles in the passenger seat of my car. Who gives a shit? This is not the stuff of life. This is in no way important. If I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t give a flying fuck about the cleanliness of my car, so why am I going to worry about it today? Why do people worry about these things at all? We’re all rolling along on an inevitable crash course with death fighting tooth and nail for self-actualization and global contribution, for Christ’s sake. Who has time to iron?! I don’t feel a goddamn thing when I iron! Fuck ironing!’
And I suppose I make fair points, there, but this is my addiction talking. It doesn’t want to iron. It doesn’t want to clean its car. It doesn’t want to admit that there is any value whatsoever in these tasks.
When I actually do them, when I’m forced to actually stop for a moment and attend to the banal details of my everyday life, a funny thing happens: I feel peaceful without panicking. Mind you, I can’t maintain that feeling. Once my shirts are clean or my parking ticket is paid, I become aware of the terrifying peacefulness and run right back to my comfort zone of extremes and melodramatic existentialism. But for a moment, anyway, my mind goes quiet without me realizing it, and some part of me knows this is very good for me. That I need this periodically or I’ll accidentally “kill myself trying to live,” as Chuck Klosterman would say.
We can’t feel everything all the time. Sometimes we just need to keep busy.
I’m talking to you, fellow artist types. It’s fine for us to make our homes up in the clouds, but sometimes coming back down to earth and making friends with the mundane is exactly what we need. Maybe it’s not what our art needs, but it’s what we need, and much as we prefer to think otherwise, we are not our art. It comes through us, but it doesn’t and shouldn’t define us. Our body has its own needs. Our mind has its own needs. And sometimes that means taking a break from our latex & denim decoupage mural of the British parliament and cutting our goddamn toenails for once.
When I figure out how to do this, I’ll let you all know.