We’re all addicts, of one sort or another.
I used to talk to a life coach who told me that his entire childhood, he had been convinced by his father that they were poor, and would always need to worry about money. His father used it as the impetus to inflict all sorts of abuse on the family.
It had been ingrained in him from such a young age that it had become his own central preoccupation. The life coach told me that if he ever made a billion dollars, he’d be a poor guy with a billion dollars. It was a self-conception that went so deep, reality could never touch it. Even now, as a 50-year-old man, with his father dead.
Being poor was his addiction. And like any addiction, it was all about the emotional jolts he could give himself, getting high on the chemicals released by his brain when he dwelled upon his money problems and made himself miserable.
At times, when a little bit of money did trickle in, he would feel high with the hope that maybe– just maybe– he was on his way out of poverty. But these high and low swings would always match each other in intensity, keeping him spiraling on the emotional roller coaster.
Now, being a life coach, he eventually made sense of this addiction, identified it and came to terms with, and was able to minimize it. As he told me (and as he learned in AA), an addict is an addict for life. You’re never “cured” of alcoholism. You just become a sober alcoholic.
He’s got a wife and two kids, and his wife manages most of their finances. That’s because he still, deep down, holds the belief that they are going to end up on the street eating out of dumpsters, no matter how financially secure they are. He laughs about it, and knows it’s completely irrational, but he recognizes his addiction.
If I ever sleep with a thousand girls, I’ll be the guy who is a loser with women, who slept with a thousand girls.
Deep down, on some primordial level, that’s who I’ll be. I can never escape that, I can only acknowledge it. My formative years– the first 22– solidified my confusion, fear, isolation and rejection when dealing with girls. It got wired into my basic circuitry as I grew.
When my parents got divorced, I was 8, and I wasn’t equipped to understand what was happening. Certainly no one explained it to me very well.
I was imprinted with the image of my seemingly-pathetic dad, who we drove away from on a cold Manhattan night, leaving him in the middle of a big, terrifying city by himself, because my mom didn’t want him around anymore.
My subconscious, my addiction, is always looking for reasons to prove that I’ve become that twisted version of my father. I’m always secretly waiting for a girl to hurt me. Even if I own her soul and body for months and push her away on purpose, if I can’t get her back, it’s the exact same feeling of deep, soul-crushing rejection trying to surface.
My addiction shows itself in the times when I am lonely, or tired– when my willpower is lowest, and my most basic emotional needs cry out like a baby wanting its pacifier.
At these times, it is tempting for me to “get high” by sending provocative texts to girls who have hurt me, or looking at Twitter and Instagram feeds, torturing myself thinking about the new guy she’s having these experiences with (who, my subconscious tells me, is cooler, stronger and sexier than I could ever be).
But if I give in to these temptations, it throws my entire paradigm off-kilter. As the alcoholic would tell you from AA, “The first sip gets you drunk.” It’s the decision to give in to your addiction that gets you high, not the actual consumption of your vice.
When I, or any other addict (which probably includes all of you), go through long periods of stability, I don’t have the high highs and low lows that one has in the thrall of addiction. Life is steady, stable, sure-handed and building momentum. It is a ship that is sailing forcefully– confidently– and heading toward virgin waters which hold treasures yet unknown.
In this sense, it’s an almost laughably-bad decision to give in to your baser urges, once you have your ship sailing steady. Being a better man, standing at the helm of your life’s ship, is worth more than can be measured. It’s an immensely valuable commodity.
But if you let go of the controls, the ground wobbles. You can quickly grab the wheel and right the ship again. But if the wobbling gives way to tilting, and you don’t take quick action to remedy it, eventually the whole thing can go sideways. Or capsize.
Once you have momentum in your life, it’s easier to keep it that way. It’s a state you should savor, for it demonstrates that you have transcended your base addictions, your animal nature, your self-destructive impulses, and found peace and purpose in life.
Those are the times you’re ready to let the small things– the things that make you a small person– float by.
And you sail on, ever forward, blazing a path toward the horizon that is just out of reach.