A mate recently posted on a networking site: “Never drinking again after that horrible hangover I had this morning.” Quite – for not one of us has ever said that before, in the dark morning of regret after a heavy night’s pursuit of some satiation of the soul.
Of course, that’s the problem with poisoning yourself a little bit for pleasure (which is exactly what the consumption of alcohol is, all self-delusional denials aside): it’s addictive. We all claim (at least publicly) to be unable to understand the allure of auto-erotic asphyxiation, BDSM, extreme sports, drug abuse and other dangerous or dubiously-provenanced pleasures but, essentially, none of them are anything more than extensions of the same kind of craving – a desire to dance with the tantalising thrill of illicit pleasure, laced with an enticing element of danger. Still, at least we’re better than those junkies with their uppers and downers – just so long as we have unrestricted access to caffeine and alcohol, right?
Ultimately, I think that the problem may be a part of the human condition: there are points in all of our lives where the search for some sense of meaning to existence appears to be a fruitless pursuit, where hobbies feel like nothing more than attempts to kill the time between now and death, where entertainment smacks merely of deliberate distraction from reality, and where taking an interest in politics and society switches from bringing illumination to your soul to magnifying the darkest, deepest pits of your cold, empty heart.
So we seek alternatives that are purported to be able to open up our minds. Pah! I’ve dabbled with drink and drugs and I’ve found that they can, indeed, elevate you to another level where you are able to see everything with a heightened sense of perception – the trouble is, there’s still nothing there: it’s just a different perspective of the lone and level sands stretching far away. I’d imagine it’s even worse with serious heavy-grade stuff like heroin, too – look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nonetheless, that doesn’t do anything to stop us. Once we’ve eventually given up on our hopes and aspirations, once we’ve abandoned our quest for an all-defining love, once we’ve accepted that there really aren’t any deeper meanings and that everything truly is as banal and vacuous as it appears, isn’t it inevitable that nothing more remains for us but the quest for oblivion – the single desire to simply block-out the soul-sucking emptiness of it all with an ultimate, lethal high?
Well, no – that’s a loser’s perspective, and it’s one that you’ll only suffer if you choose to lose. There’s plenty of inspiration out there if we can be bothered to find it. I mean, sure, a lot of contemporary culture is absolute rubbish, but we only get served with that because we are apathetic and indolent enough to accept it. Besides, there’s a whole world of alternatives that we can go and explore instead of just sitting in front of our television sets, necking cheap lager and carping that nothing ever happens.
Until very recently I was a committed smoker; now I’m a recovering smoker, using patches to ease myself off after twenty-five years of being pretty much constantly self-medicated. That may seem an odd term to use but smoking strikes me as being largely a form of anaesthesia, insofar as that the craving for a cigarette is the desire to be numb, to feel less, to reduce perception and emotion and to deaden the sense of isolation and separation that self-awareness inevitably brings – it is effectively an addiction to painkillers and is very similar to alcoholism, in that respect.
People often say that they smoke when they’re bored and this always fascinated me because I smoked for years and never found it to be remotely interesting; but I think that now I finally get it: smoking and drinking both supplant the need to be entertained by curtailing the mind’s desire for input and reducing the sensation of time. It’s exactly the same as the ‘treatment’ that they give to psychiatric patients to keep them quiet, except that we are administering the tranquilizers to ourselves and, moreover, we are paying through the nose for the privilege.
Just at the moment, I’m halfway through a course of antibiotics which prohibits consumption of alcohol for a fortnight, and the main result of this seems to be that I’ve come to remember exactly why it was that I started smoking and drinking in the first place. Once one reaches a certain level of stone-cold sobriety, it becomes necessary to look at life with absolute honesty – I believe this is what is known as a moment of clarity – and to address everything which is less than satisfactory. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been poisoning myself for quite a number of years that everything feels so raw, but life rather feels like an open wound filled with the seeping pus of failings, losses, regrets and disappointments, shored up by the railings of guilt and responsibility. That’s yet another reason to admire our Olympians: I imagine that they have to deal with this kind of shit all the time.
Still, at least I’m awake now – even if it is only to existential angst.
So I’ve been trying to occupy this newly-realised void in myself by exploring alternative possibilities: making the effort to go out and visit places of interest, reading more, widening my musical catalogue and generally exposing myself to a broader range of influences. One rather surprising discovery I’ve made has been that really good art can make me cry. Then again, really bad television can get me pretty upset too, so that may not mean all that much.
Whatever, there is still plenty in the world to take pleasure from – and if the way you choose to enjoy it means that you occasionally like to poison yourself a little bit for pleasure then go to it: just be careful not to go too far. For myself: I may appear to be meditating but there’s a strong chance that I’m actually just counting down the days until that next beer.