Addictions, Truth, & Living in the Moment
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
"Life is a very difficult business. It’s fatal, and it’s full of suffering. It’s full of betrayal and malevolence. There’s nothing about it that’s trivial. It is all profound." ~ Dr. Jordan Peterson
I need to tell you something. Yes, you, whoever is reading these words in whatever moment you find yourself reading them. Life is a tricky business. It is very often hard and unfulfilling precisely because none of us know what we’re doing here, how we got here, or why. Maybe you believe in a god or deity. Maybe your religion guides your moral compass, provides answers to life’s unanswerable questions. But maybe, all of that is nothing more than a belief. A useful one, sure, but a belief nonetheless.
I am often pulled into wondering how and why we are here. I contemplate the most meaningful or fulfilling things to do with my time. There is a part of my brain that says, “fuck it” to everything, since I’ll die someday, anyway. There is another part of my brain that knows the usefulness of discipline, the importance of believing in something, the satisfaction that arises when a difficult task is done well. What is the meaning of life, other than to exist? Other than to make the world we inhabit a somewhat less shitty place?
Dr. Peterson said that life is a difficult business. He said nothing about it is trivial. It is all profound. After hearing these words, I couldn’t erase them from my brain. In many ways, he is right. It is all profound. It is all so big and intoxicating. Life is a beautiful, fleeting thing, and it is such a shame to waste any of it. "What is a waste of time?" You might be wondering. Well, probably anything that takes you away from the truth. Probably anything that is not right and good.
One of life's most difficult lessons is to pursue the next right and good thing, to not get swept up in planning for the future but to stay harnessed to this moment, this one, the one that is right here. Immediacy is a powerful thing. Be in a moment with someone you love. Be present. Be patient. Focusing on the next good and right thing is the most manageable way to look at life. Make loose plans for your future, sure, but you can’t get married to them. If you count on a future plan that doesn’t happen, life is worse than it ever had to be.
But I just mentioned the truth, didn’t I? What is the truth, exactly? The pursuit of the truth necessitates facts. It necessitates evidence. It necessitates divorcing your emotions from your decisions and sometimes, it necessitates loneliness.
I moved to Southern California in 2017. Four years later, I could finally afford my own place, a tiny shoebox of an apartment half a mile from the ocean. Growing up, I never imagined myself near the ocean. Growing up, I never imagined my adult life because I was focused on the present. I was focused on chasing the next good and right thing. Sometimes, I got it wrong and chased a thing that was not good or right. But life has a way of righting itself, and whenever I was pulled too far off course, I found myself being tethered back.
Gloria Steinem said that “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” There are things we all agree are true, that the sky is blue, let’s say, or that waves will never stop beating the shoreline. But we only know these things are facts because we see them, every day, with our own eyes. Truth then, is what we know. It’s what we see, but it’s also what we have evidence of. And sometimes, truth is nothing more than a hard-set notion of what is good and right. The rub occurs when what is good and right does not align with what you want. The truth is not always a lovely or easily digestible thing.
When I entered treatment for my eating disorder, I had to grapple with the truth that I had a problem. The acceptance of this fact did not occur overnight. There was nothing and no one who could convince me I had a problem until there were enough facts and evidence to prove otherwise. The truth was that I was sick. The truth was that I was enabling my sickness through my behavior. The truth was that I was deeply, insatiably unhappy. The truth was also that I needed help or else the downward spiral would blossom into death.
People like to joke about having addictive personalities. People with real addictions though, will tell you none of it is a joke. One drink will turn into bottles. There is no other option. One donut will turn into a dozen. One pill will turn into a years-long obsession. Addiction ruins lives. And because we live relatively easy lives, addictions are everywhere. We need distractions. We need to feel things. And sometimes drugs, sex, gambling, alcohol, or in my case, starving, is the best way to feel something that seems profound or to feel nothing at all.
My addictive personality manifests in other ways. In running, in writing, in seeking the truth. I have lost nights of sleep to ceaseless thinking. But, if I run hard enough or work out long enough or write until my fingertips go numb, I can usually sleep just fine. Once, I was addicted to starving myself. Now, I’m addicted to living. I don’t want to say "no" to anything. I don’t want to go back to my skeleton of a life. I want to make up for lost time and all the experiences I missed during the years that were stolen by my eating disorder.
P.S. Watch Dr. Peterson's lectures here, buy his books here, or listen to his podcast.