Monday, January 25, 2021

The Variety of Addictive Experiences

We welcome Chris Kingman, LCSW to the Real Deal as a regular Contributor with this post!  WATRD Editor.  Taking an historical perspective often illuminates complexity while simultaneously deepening our understanding of the subject in question. In thinking about addiction, it is valuable to remind ourselves that human beings have been failing miserably in their attempts to control themselves for the past – oh, let’s say – 3000 years or so:

  • In ancient Greek lore, Ulysses (the main character of Homer’s Odyssey) decides to tie himself to the mast of his ship because without that external constraint, he knows that he will succumb to the temptations of the sirens – those seductive creatures who were well known to lead many a man toward his demise.
  • In the Bible, Romans 7:15 (New International translation), St. Paul says – “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do – but what I hate, I do.”
  • During medieval times, religious institutions served as the primary arbiters of what was good (healthy) and bad (unhealthy) – and thus the reigning narrative about compulsive/obsessive/self-destructive behaviors revolved around the idea that “the devil made me do it.”
  • Over the course of the Enlightenment period and into the industrial revolution era, human behavior that was obsessive/compulsive/self-destructive – particularly related to alcohol and narcotics use – increasingly began to be addressed by the medical community, with these aspects of human life falling more and more under the umbrella of illness/disease.

Out of control in contemporary times

While the modern concept of “addiction” (as a bio-psycho-social-spiritual illness) came into existence (over the past 200 years or so) in relation to alcohol and narcotics, it is increasingly being used these days to describe our obsessive/compulsive and self-destructive behaviors in relation to a wide range of other “things,” including: gambling, debt, sex, clutter, food, cigarettes, love, video games, under-earning, work, emotions, co-dependency, sugar, pornography, social media, shopping and more.  Given the explosion in the number of addictions that are said to be afflicting so many people, one might be unable to resist (pun intended) speculating that we, as a culture, are addicted to discovering new addictions.

How shall we understand this?

To answer this question, our first priority must be to remind ourselves that ALL concepts are complex social phenomena that serve a variety of functions in societies and are multi-dimensional, ever-changing and fluid in their meanings. This is as true for the concept of addiction as it is for other concepts that inform our lives, including love, marriage, universe, god, energy, depression, knowledge, justice, etc. One example that really drives this point home is from a few years back when the astronomical community came together to decide that Pluto no longer met the criteria to be called a planet! It was then that I began to realize that the “meaning” of any concept is forever a work in progress.

So – back to our discussion about addiction: how shall we understand the explosion of how we use this term and what shall we do about it?

These are some of the questions I hope to explore in this blog, going forward, ever mindful that in the meantime the REAL answer is already being lived – one day at a time – all over the world, by fellow sufferers, family members, professionals, clinicians, scientists and others. In other words, the “answer” to human suffering is not something conceptual (that can be written down), rather it is something we do, create and live together in our relationships with each other.

Chris Kingman lives with his wife in Park Slope, Brooklyn and has a full-time private therapy practice in Manhattan, NYC where he works with adults and couples.

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