A life in addictions: alcohol

Initially it was my intention to start my series of articles about addictions with the addiction to alcohol because it is such important one in my family and such a persistent and insidious habit overall.

Unlike smoking, the consumption of alcohol is still widely accepted and even seen as a welcome act. There are many advertisements that show a happy person, a joyous couple or a merry group of friends drinking or about to drink. Or not even drinking, but being associated with a drink. I recall an advertisement of whiskey that shows an attractive couple in a woolen shirts, all done in a warm brownish color scheme,  laughing.  Then a brand of whiskey is shown whose colors scheme matches that of the clothing and surroundings of the couple.Drinking beer is associated with friends and couples(lovers) having fun in pubs, bar or at concerts and the like. Fun is no fun unless you drink alcohol. That is the message.

Why do people actually drink alcohol?

The simple explanation is: because everyone else does and because alcohol is a relaxant. It helps in socializing. Like many addictions alcohol is one that you pick up from your friends and family.  You drink, because they drink. And if you refuse to drink you are frowned upon or even made fun off. Alcohol is almost an unique addiction because other people, not companies, actively promote the use of alcohol.

“A round of beer for all!”

“Yeah!” the group of friends roar.

“Not me.. I want a spa.” A lone figure raises a finger..

Ho-hum. Everyone thinks.

Eventually you don’t need your friends to drink : you learn to drink alone. I got a friend like that. He is also an alcohol addict. He has been off the bottle for years now, but it never let’s you go I understand. He has been off the bottle several times.  I asked him why he drank and he said that he gets lonely and then drinking makes you forget that. At least for a short while. Then you drink some more and eventually you try to be continuously intoxicated: just to forget your misery. It mirrors his inability to properly connect to people. That is because people suck. Most people have such high demands of others or better: the perceived demands of others, that you can never live up to.

My father was also an alcoholicus. Even more than I thought he was. He would start drinking in the afternoon and by seven in the evening he was so drunk he fell asleep on the couch. I think he would have had something like two or three liters beer. Perhaps even more.Years later I heard from my mother that he would rise late in the evening and then go to the local dinner and buy himself some more beer. This whole procedure would then be repeated the next day. And the next. And the next. On and on.

My mother drank wine. She didn’t drink like my father did and certainly not every day. She somehow never got into the habit or if she did I didn’t notice it. My brother never drank.

A few years ago I started to become annoyed with drinking. It is fun to drink at times, but I was starting to make a habit of it. I would drink a set amount at a set day. Mostly to keep it in check, but even then I noticed I needed more to get the sense of ‘happiness’.  So overtime I started to drink more and more.  I started to busy myself with combinations of beer. Like drinking beer in order of alcohol percentage. I also started to experiment with more stronger beverages, like vodka. Vodka can be mixed with something else to make it more interesting. Coca-cola for instance.

A year ago I decided to stop drinking unless there was something special like a party or a dinner. The reason was that it got in the way of my art and writing aspirations. I would drink and feel drowsy unable to do much more than play games.  The next day I would feel groggy. It prevented me from doing what I wanted to do.

So I stopped basically because I wanted to write about it. Seems this is good from something. At least for me.

I still do not like the way people consistently downplay the use of alcohol. Especially their own. I have worked for companies that arranged parties near highways because that made it easier for the employees to come. Many would drink one beer or one glass of wine, because they knew what they were doing, according to themselves. Over time one becomes two or three.

“But I know when to stop.” they will say, “I am in control.”

Thing is.. if you are really in control you would not need to stop: you would not have started at all.

And stating that you are in control when drinking while you know you are going to drive home later in the evening is an statement of the reverse. You are not in control: the alcohol is.

As I said before: it is an insidious habit helped along by people telling you it is cool, while they are making excuses and glossing over that they are consistently and persistently drinking, even at times that they don’t need to.

What is more is that alcohol is also almost unique as an addiction as  it can kill other people. It probably causes more deaths than any other addiction. Deaths of others I mean.

You might wonder yourself how addicted you actually are. Try and stop for a while or try and refuse a drink offered by another or try and have a dinner with someone else and not drink(or smoke). You might be surprised how often you drink and how it is slowly taking over your life.

Bottoms up!

A life in addictions: madness

The pictures are Merit.. Merit is an avatar I made in Second Life. I made Merit represent me everywhere on the internet.  You can say Merit outgrew Second Life and lives in cyberspace. Merit is a figment of my mind that is something more than a fantasy. It is a desire. Not that I want to be like Merit, but Merit gives me a way to be something I can’t be in real life.  And that is madness for you.

merit-profile merit-fashion-jumpsuis copy 48f

Madness represents the psychological component that every addiction has. Addictions are often described solely for their physical components, but there is also a strong psychological component as well. In fact madness alone is a very important addiction, probably even stronger than any other because most people deny its existence. And things that are denied have the strongest effect.  But it’s greatest strenght it ties in with all the other addictions.

Addictions develop not out of the blue. Instead we are ushered into them. And that ushering is mostly done by ourselves.  When people start smoking it is not because tobacco they like it’s taste. Most smokers will tell you that the first time they smoked they did not enjoy it at all. When people start drinking it is not because they liked it. Alcohol is actually not very tasty and when taken in excessive quantities causes hangovers. Many addictions are not nice or enjoyable. That is because they are not about nice and enjoyable, they are about surpressing stress.

Addictions develop because we want something and it persists because we need to lessen our stress and this stress is mostly brought about by ourselves. We want to belong, we want to be part, we want to excel, we want to be better, we want to be richer, we want to be popular and we want to stand out while remaining part of a whole.. This creates stress. Stress is the gap between what we want and what we can achieve.

The dominant western culture learns us what we need to be. We need to be smart, pretty, sexy, fun to be with, a good mother, a good father, a successful worker, a caring community member, the best of our sports club. Feel free to extend the list. We should be the best and only want the best. From ourselves and others.

Like a friend of mine. Who is very popular with women. It is a kind of magic he has, which I can’t define. Women like him and you would expect him to be able to pick the best of all the women that like him. It doesn’t work that way.

You see the only woman he wanted did not want him. She was a lot younger and felt she needed to learn a little bit more of life before settling. So she said no. And he had a hard time getting over her. Unfortunately the consequence of her rejection was that she became the imaginary touchstone of all other women he met.

Imagine that you painted a picture or a statue that is your ideal partner. You ascribe all the best of qualities to it and then you compare all the other people to it? They will fail to match her or him. Nobody can beat an idealized fantasy

There is a short story about that, written by Clark Ashton Smith called ‘the last incantation that describes this idea. http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/short-stories/112

Our dominant western culture is one where success by any means has become the norm. It doesn’t matter anymore how it is achieved, as long as it is achieved. Success has become the only means to value people and unfortunately: few people will be successful.

This means stress and this stress is lessened by having addictions. Addictions are basically repetitive predictable patterns of behavior that lessen our stress. The whole procedure involving addictions is predictable. And so is the empty attempt to get rid of an addiction. The drama involved, the pointless attempts and the failure to kick the habit in the end,  is done to avoid the ultimate truth: that you are a failure. And double edge as everything is: to beat an addiction becomes a token of success. Choose your addictions wisely because you can be a success by beating your failures.

Don’t you think that it is amazing that in such a culture the rate of suicides does not grow to huge proportions or addictions abound?  It is actually not amazing at all if you take into account that a lot of people simple turn crazy.  Like me.

The culture of success grinds people to dust and madness is a way to deal with it. Psychological stress leads to derangements ranging from depressions to hyperactivity. The cause of this problem is never really addressed because that would require a major cultural change,  it is the consequence that is fixed. Depressions and burn outs are mostly caused by the constant pressure to achieve success, but instead of stopping the machine that creates these illnesses, we  patch up the victims and send them back into the ratrace. There is a movie about that: it is made by Charlie Chaplin and called Modern Times.
Do you recall that Charlie gets crazy in the movie? Perhaps he was on to something. Crazy is what one becomes.

It is clear that I am mad. Of course people will deny that. Say: you are not mad at all. What they fail to see is that I can fake sanity very well and I fake it by inventing make belief people like Merit. Or the dozens of characters that now inhabit my writings. I slowly publish them to the internet. Not that I think it helps. But it does give me a lot of things to write about though.. Maybe I reach success that way!

Who am I kidding?

A life in addictions: tobacco

Smoking is one addiction I certainly can’t blame my parents for. My family did and does not smoke and I can’t recall anyone ever smoking in the wider circle of our family, except for my granddad on my father’s side that is.. I remember a picture of him sitting in a easy chair holding a cigar in his right hand. One day, when I was still very young, someone told him smoking was bad for his health. He probably nodded, put down his cigar and never smoked again.

Some years ago I was going through my grandfather’s legacy and  I found  some old black and white pictures from family parties from the fifties. The tables had white coffee cups filled with cigarettes. Like snacks you could take one if you felt like it. I think these didn’t have filters either so the rooms on those pictures were definitely cloudy. Smoking was a social activity like any other and everyone seemed to be happy and joyful. The spectre of cancer had not yet risen.

I did smoke because of my family background, I learned to smoke when I was in my early twenties when I started to study history at the University of Amsterdam. One day I was paging through a series of role play books in the American Book Center in Amsterdam,  when someone approached me and asked me if I liked those books.  I said yes and he introduced me to a role playing group.

People of this group also played in another group  and via that group they knew other people who roleplayed too.  It turned out there were a lot of people about my age who studied at the university and played role play games. Roleplaying soon became just one of the activities that we did: we went to movies, hung out in parks chatting till the sun came up or sat at the home of a good friend of mine playing risk and watching MTV and TMF. In those days those channels still broadcasted mostly music clips. I think they stopped doing that nowadays. At least whenever I happen to turn on the television and switch to MTV the channel is filled with anything but music clips.

It  this group of people that started to smoke. Actually some started to smoke as an extension of smoking weed. Weed was introduced by someone who made a  weed cake. People liked it, but making a cake like that took too long  and  therefore we bought weed to mix with tobacco. Later on hashish was also introduced. It also was cut up and mixed with tobacco.

Soft drugs are however expensive, so the habit developed to smoke tobacco in between the weed and hashish. And that is how smoking as a habit developed. After about one and a half year of doing soft drugs, everyone suddenly stopped. It was over like that. Just like you flipped a switch.

Smoking tobacco however did not stop that sudden, but lingered on for a long time. Some friends never smoked (I have to grant them that), some smoked for a very short time, others smoked for a very long time.. till their forties.

Here is a wicked formula that you might recognize: Alcohol and smoking are intertwined. Smoking increases the desire for drinking, drinking increase the urge to smoke.. Add salt to the equation and you might not find it strange that some bars hand out free salted peanuts. Salt creates thirst which is quenched with alcohol, alcohol creates the desire to smoke.

Still, over the years, one person after the other stopped smoking.  Two friends kept on smoking however, until one suffered a collapsed lung a few years back and the other got diabetes. They both were urged by their doctors to stop smoking because of health reasons: they had to.

Nowadays smokers in my country have been marginalised. I am currently in France where people are still allowed to smoke in cafes and restaurants. In the Netherlands this is forbidden. This policy started some years ago when a law was passed to protect employees from working in conditions where customers smoked. Everyone knew this law was an just an excuse to prohibit smoking. It is interesting how anti-smoking we have become. Interesting because we are far less strict regarding that other big drug: alcohol. Interesting also because smoking mostly affects the smoker, but alcohol has a tendency to affect others as well. But alcohol is too big to be touched.

People found a way around the law though:  if you did not have employees, the law did not apply. Hence bars develop where the owner ran the bar without employees.  However, this was just a stay of execution: this year the law was amended. Now smoking is just prohibited in any public place. It won’t surprise me that the next law will prohibit smoking altogether except for smoking in your own home.

I sometimes see the odd collection of smokers huddling together at the entrance to the office building I work in. If they don’t get some smoke related disease they stand a fair chance to catch a cold, for they have no shelter against the weather.The smoker has become the modern day pariah.

Poor smokers, I sometimes think, until I sit on a terras in France having my lunch spoiled by some French smoker blowing wafts of tobacco in my direction. Then I appreciate it that someone banned smoking from our public spaces.

.

A life in addictions: caffeine

One of the saddest things I see in the morning when I travel to my work are teenagers slurping cans of soda. Their day has just started and already they are drinking unhealthy stuff.  A large percentages of those cans are energy drinks: Red Bull and the like.. I always associated Red Bull with lots of caffeine and sugar, and to be fair to them I looked it up. According to the wikipedia an average can of Red Bull contains less caffeine than a cup of coffee, but twice as much as a coke has. It contains the same amount of sugar as coke.

It  is not as bad as I expected but it doesn’t sound healthy either. Somehow seeing people drinking these things in the morning when they might drink something more healthier makes me feel sad.

What do I drink on a day?

I took stock. I usually drink milk and orange juice. But when I am on my work I drink mostly coffee. In fact a lot of coffee. Perhaps as much as eight cups on a day, maybe even more and not much else besides. It is important to note that the coffee on my work is rumored to be stronger than average. Maybe that is a joke, but it feels like the coffee is stronger than normal. It kind of burns in my stomach.

Whatever the truth of this, it is obviously that I am drinking too much coffee.  I read that drinking more that 400 ml of coffee might be considered unhealthy. And since one cup contains something like 80 to 95 ml, five coffee should be the maximum. I drink however perhaps ten on a day.

How did this come about?

Caffeine, the defining part of coffee is a drug. “It is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug, but unlike many other psychoactive substances, it is legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world.”(wikipedia)

It is a drug and we are addicted to it and companies like Red Bull are making the most of it by supplying, mostly young, people with a drug to make a buck. Is it that harsh? It is.

It must be interesting to work for a company that basically panders a drug. Do their employees and stockholders worry? Do they ever? They just say: we make the stuff, we don’t force people to drink it. Or: if we did not make it, someone else would.

Sounds familiar?

One can say: where there is a demand there will be someone unscrupulous enough to supply it.

But where did this demand come from?

Did we not create a demand out of nowhere?

To do that you start as young as possible. You slip in coffee into soda drinks and other,  like in Coca Cola or Red Bull for instance. Then you make it look cool to drink it. It is interesting to note that you see this with kids. They refuse to drink things that their peer group do not like and vice versa: they drink that what others find cool.

If I look back at my youth, I can’t recall when I started to drink coffee. I do know we drank Coca Cola long before I drank coffee. Does coke lead to coffee?

I really don’t know.

But once you are used to it, it’s not that easy to get rid off. I am trying now, sometimes drinking only tea and water. It is easier to not drink it when you don’t have it available.

Perhaps that is where you have to start.

Just throw it away.

That is what I did. Now let’s see if that works?

 

James Bond: drink zero and be a hero.
James Bond: drink zero and be a hero.

 

images
Men in fast cars..
red-bull-spends-30-to-40-percent-of-its-revenue-on-marketing-and-its-paid-off
..get girls like this. At least for a brief moment.

 

 

 

 

Also here: http://meritcoba.weebly.com/1/post/2013/07/a-life-in-addictions-caffeine.html