“Beat of the Street” article–The Idle American Part I

Barb’d Wire.                             

                     The Idle American–Part One      By RJ Wordsmyth.

I want to tell you a story. This is the story of a guy who lost his way, as sometimes people do. He grew up in the suburbs–this guy–and knew very little about the city life. He was an ambitious fellow with big dreams. He started his own business because he always wanted to be his own boss. He worked hard. He paid his taxes. He was, for all extensive purposes, your typical entrepreneurial American.

    At some point the economy took a downturn and his business went bust. This made him very depressed because he was losing all the stuff he worked so hard to build up. He had to sell all his equipment and the lenders foreclosed on his building. Twelve-plus years of hard work and it was all broken into pieces and sold off to the highest bidder. This made him very sad, but not angry, because he did not blame others, but took responsibility for making some poor choices. Still, there was things that were completely out of his control, like the recession, and this too he understood but could not change.

    Then all of a sudden–BOOM!! He got hurt in a car accident. He recovered fairly quickly from the accident, although his lower back would never be the same. In addition to the disability, he also had a new set of problems. Problems he neither understood, nor had any experience with. He became addicted to pain medication. When the physical therapy ended, and the doctors stopped writing scripts, he did something that he swore he would never do. He turned to street drugs. Opiates. Heroin. Dope.

    He never wanted to be an addict. He, like most young people, felt like he was invincible, like the world was there for the taking. He was an American, and everyone knows in America if you “work hard and play by the rules” you can slice off your own big fat piece of that oh-so-sweet American apple pie.

    Yet, there he was, out of money, out of work, no place to call home, and the worse part of it all–he was strung out on dope. He stayed in shelters, sometimes he slept in the park, in an abandoned building, or a burned out car. He didn’t want to stray to far from the city, because he was always within walking distance of a hot meal at one of the soup kitchens, and where he could always try to hustle up enough money to “get right.” Some mornings he woke up cold and dope sick, so he would get up just as the sun rose and try to panhandle a few dollars just so he could function. It was a hard life. Everything he knew about the American dream now–he put in a needle and shot into his arm.

     Then he got arrested. Arrested and sent to jail. This was long before they gave prisoners any type of medication to ease the suffering of a cold turkey heroin detox. They call it “cold turkey” because of the way your skin looks, and they call it “kicking” because you cannot control the way your legs jump around all night. As miserable as he was, and he was truly miserable, he saw others who were coming off large doses of methadone–and they were even worse. Some would not eat a scrap of food for thirty days. Some even attempting to take their own lives, due to the unbearable nature of a methadone detox. It was his first offense so he didn’t get too much time. And he swore on everything he loved–he would never go back.

     But he did. Addiction, you see, is an insidious monster. He knew how bad it could get, he knew what the experts said was all true–it always ends the same–jails, institutions, or death. Even with the clean time, the miserable detox, the lesson of prison, and the promise to himself–even with all those things, and a loving family who wanted him to get better–even with all of that–he still relapsed. He. Still. Relapsed.

This is part one. Read the next edition of “Beat of the Street” to find out more about the adventures and tribulations of “The Idle American.”



On the Nature of Addiction: An Addict Speaks

On the Nature of Addiction–An Addict Speaks.  

         The worlds scientific, psychological, and medical professionals have spent countless untold hours, and endless amounts of grant proceeds to try and answer one simple question–What is the root cause of addiction? Modern technological advances in M.R.I.s and computer models got us closer for sure, but still only told us part of the answer.

       Now a new study seems to suggest that connectedness, or a lack of it, is one thread that runs through every addicts experiences, and therefore could be a defining piece of this very allusive puzzle. As you already know, people from all walks of life can be defined as addicts–rich, poor, older, younger, it doesn’t discriminate and it doesn’t play favorites. Although I believe this study is important in our understanding of “the making of the addict” it still seems a little vague and general and might be more of an indicator than an actual cause.

   Others may look for the secret sauce of addiction in the chemical make up and interconnectedness of brain function, and in that way find the next million dollar drug to peddle to the masses. While others still are searching the psychological landscape for common experiences, in that way pointing the problem in the direction of nurture instead of nature. Every one of these, and countless other approaches, are valid in their desire to unlock the dark mechanism that makes one person in a family an addict, while siblings from the same household all remain free of the scourge. But yet as of this moment, the question still has no real definitive answer.

    The medical community decided to classify addiction as a disease, which had a very meaningful effect on treatment options and probably helped funding purposes, this is progress and should be commended, but still the core of the quagmire remains as elusive as dark matter. The religious community might tell you it’s the devil and leave it at that. Thanks for your help…but no thanks. Maybe there is no single root cause we can point to for the ah-ha moment. Maybe every individual reaches the same place by taking a different path, their own path.

    The way I see it, there is one thing that all these expensive studies are missing. The fact that power and money are as much an addiction as drugs and gambling, and sex, and any other activity classified as negative. The way most people see it, is an addiction is only an addiction if it is causing negative consequences. I say, who’s to judge whether my activities chosen by my own free will are negative, for all we know they could lead to something (most people) would consider fantastic.       Allow me to present this example: A person who loves to play poker, decides he wants to try to become a professional. Unfortunately for our player, he is just not as good as he thought, and he loses consistently. Some people would say he is addicted to gambling and needs help, he on the other hand figures it’s just the learning curve and eventually he can turn things around. So the definition of addiction mandates that he is no longer in control of his behavior because the urge to gamble is too strong. Who is judging that? In his eyes, he is evolving, in the eyes of the so-called professionals, he is clearly addicted to gambling. Sure maybe he needs to take a break and re-evaluate his game plan, but don’t we all need this from time to time.

     I honestly feel my experience with heroin and other drugs were a necessary part of my spiritual evolution. Maybe I was never an addict at all, maybe I a was a spiritual work in progress. Really though, this is two sides of the same coin, labels can change, and it doesn’t change the misery of addicts and their families, so you might conclude this is not helpful, and I would probably have to agree.

      One thing that we do know is helpful, simply because of the track record, is groups like AA, NA, and others following the same formula. One of their most basic requirements is that the individual concedes that they have lost control of their life and need to surrender to a higher power. This group therapy idea does indeed speak to the desire for connectedness, while the letting go part speaks to the power of the universe, or god if you choose, to heal our sometimes self inflicted wounds. These principles work because they address something conventional medicine does not, and I believe it is this, that is the genuine root cause of addiction.

    When you start to expand your idea of what constitutes addiction to include people addicted to power and money, and even religion, then you have to rewrite the entire narrative of who is an addict and why. Yet there is one common denominator that is a fundamental part of our emotional construct–the ego.The ego wants us to be noticed, to be somebody. The constant bombardment of ever pervasive media attempting to drill into our psyche this product driven definition of what success should look like doesn’t help, this only leads to frustration for a whole lot of people who subconsciously compare themselves to that unattainable ideal, leaving them with feelings of frustration, anger, resentment towards the haves, and in some cases depression and loneliness. My intent here is not to blame the media or anybody else, but to understand the ego’s part in the problem of addiction as it is currently defined.

    Some might argue that since attaining power, status, and money, are considered productive activities they can not be classified as addictions. Addictions don’t have to be only negative, they can certainly work in our favor, in which case they may be called obsessions or hobbies. So am I saying we are all addicts on some level? The only answer I can give is–yes and no. Everyone does indeed have an ego, and it is that ego that desires to define us, while our minds, the problem solver, will look for problems to solve, and if it doesn’t find enough, it very well may just go ahead and create some. We don’t all have to have unresolved childhood trauma, or any of the other standard indicators, some of us are just risk takers who don’t find enough adrenaline rushes throughout the course of the typical work week. Some of us don’t fit into any profile at all. But we do all have egos and since we live in the land where “anybody can make it with hard work or a good idea” if for whatever reason we aren’t “making it” then I guess we are just too stupid, or too damn lazy. Obviously I am saying this to make a point.

    Have I answered the question–what are the root causes of addiction? Probably not. Hopefully what I have done, is helped those of us fortunate enough to have illuded the beast, to understand that an addict is a person going through something. It is not who they are, no more than a person with cancer is just a walking tumor, or just a cancer patient. They are people, just like the rest of us. Shame, and stigmatisation are products of fear. We see someone with an issue such as this, and something in our subconscious knows how easily that could be us, that we are sometimes just one bad decision away from being in that exact spot, it is this reality that creates fear as a defensive response. Again…the ego. The cure for all that ails us is really quite simple my friends–live a love centered life. That is a topic for another time, so for now, just try to remember….let’go of that ego…

                                                                         This is the Wisdom of the Smyth.

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