Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Addiction

Scott Weiland died on December 3 from an overdose due to a variety of drugs in his system, complicated also by his regular medication, as well as his asthma and heart disease from years of cigarette smoking. I love my 90s music, which is heavy on the Grunge, and I've seen too many of my rock favs die from drugs. Just off the top of my head, I think of Kurt Cobain (if the gun didn't kill him, the drugs would have), Layne Staley from Alice in Chains, Bradley Nowell from Sublime, and Shannon Hoon from Blind Melon. Addiction is a terrible thing. Phil Anselmo from Pantera OD'd on heroin and died for nearly five minutes before being resuscitated. James Hetfield from Metallica had the sense of going to rehab before alcohol and drugs could take his life. And there are many more out there.

I've been blessed with the realization that I, too, am an addict. By God's good graces, He has saved me from being addicted to alcohol, however I have always struggled with weight and, at one time, cigarettes. Normally, I'd smoke two packs a day, except for nights that I'd hang out all night with friends - then I'd hit three packs in a day; I did this every day for over a decade, until it became too expensive to smoke cigarettes anymore. Some people say that we should raise the prices on junk food the same way we've raised it on cigarettes, but I don't think that's right. As an addict, I'm still going to try to buy junk food or order out - it's just that the quality, like with drugs, will get worse and worse in order to buy the cheap stuff.

Scott struggled with faith, going from a practicing Christian to an atheist by the time of his death (I still hold on to the hope that he had a change of mind as he lay dying, or that God, in his infinite mercy, understood that Scott wasn't in his right mind for decades as he struggled with drug addiction, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia). But I remember hearing the line in his song Barbarella, "Let go - let God, they say..." and as I read the Alcoholics Anonymous book, I realize now that he was quoting what he must have heard in his many, many trips to rehab. The key to any 12-Step program is the Third Step, when you realize that you are powerless to fight against your addiction and you turn everything over to God: God, I offer myself to Thee, to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always! I am sure part of his atheism stemmed from those countless times when he prayed that AA prayer, trying to let go and let God do it instead, and felt no change, no cure, no relief from his struggles. That is why I cannot judge Scott or any addict (not that we should judge anyone - criticizing or condemning sinful actions is quite different from "being judgmental", as the Bible indeed tells us to be judgmental of sinful actions - but we're told to not judge the person; we are not better than that person. They are not evil for what they do or did. We can never say a person is going to Hell for any reason. THAT is the judgmentalism the Bible warns us about).

No, I cannot judge alcoholics or other addicts because, despite many Americans believing that there's no such thing as eating as an addiction, it very much is an addiction. The same chemicals are released in the brain when an addict gets their fix, be it food, alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, or whatever it may be. Your body and brain then starts to crave those waves of feeling good, so you keep doing that bad behaviour. The AA book says that for the addict, this is an allergy; an addict reacts differently than others to a certain stimuli. Just like an alcoholic can't have *just* a single drink, or maybe two, someone like me can't *just* have a handful of something unhealthy. I hear that often, like from people at work, where they know I struggle with food and support me when I try to eat healthier, but the moment they are having a party or cake or something and you say you don't want any candy or cake or chips, they say, "Oh come on! Just a little bit won't hurt!" Yes, for an addict, it will. People just don't believe that overeating can be an addiction - to most people, I'm just fat and lazy and should just stop eating. Simple as that. Well, yeah, and all Scott Weiland had to do was just stop using drugs. Easy, right?

The theory behind the "allergy" is that when an addict has "a little bit", that's never enough. For the addict, we react in a manner completely unlike "normal" people. Whereas a normal person might buy a bag of Doritos and make it last several days, I'm lucky if a bag lasts me more than an hour. Alcoholics react in this manner, as do sex addicts or porn addicts or whoever - a little is not enough; we need more! And you go until you can't go anymore. It might take me an entire medium pizza, an appetizer of cheese fries, a bag of popcorn, and a pint of ice cream to feel satisfied, but until I reach that point, then I'm going to keep eating. This isn't normal; it's compared to someone's allergic reaction to certain foods or pollen or bee stings - for some people, these things affect them not, but for others it creates a major reaction, one that could even be deadly.

The AA book also explains how addicts have an "obsession of self". When I read this part, I knew it was me. Let's say I'm at work and my coworker starts talking about how he's going to eat Chinese food when he gets home. Now, I could have gone all day - all week - without once thinking about Chinese food. But now he's planted the seed and "obsession of self" takes over. I start thinking and thinking and thinking about how good Chinese food tastes and I start to imagine eating it. I think about what would really hit the spot: fried pork dumplings? Egg rolls? General Tso's Chicken? And I just keep thinking about it, even if someone changes the subject. Even if I forget about how badly I wanted to get Chinese food and I go home and eat something else, the obsession comes back the next day, and the next, and the next until I finally get it out of my system and bring home some Chinese food. The AA book acknowledges that this isn't normal, that other people don't have this reaction.

It doesn't help that some research is indicating that food producers are purposely manipulating the ingredients in our food (mostly junk food) in order to keep us coming back for more, like when the tobacco companies were manipulating the nicotine levels to keep people addicted to smoking.

James Hetfield, singer for Metallica, wrote about addiction in their song Master of Puppets: "Taste me, you will see more is all you need; You’re dedicated to how I’m killing you!" Whether the act or item is killing us physically, mentally, spiritually, or all the above, it's the quandry of addiction - you know it's killing you, but you don't really see a way out. When I see those old pics of myself from five years ago, the healthiest I ever looked and felt, I can't help but think how absolutely far away that seems now, and how nearly impossible it feels that I'll ever be that size again. "Come crawling faster. Obey your master. Your life burns faster. Obey your master."

The biggest challenge is admitting you need help, and that's a process; many addicts will lie to themselves and to others, never wanting to realize they need help, but for me, I know I need help. Last year I spent nearly as much on food as I did on rent - had it been spent on cocaine instead of food, I'd probably be dead by now. Chances are, I might be dead soon anyway for all I know. This is the third time in my life I've exceeded 300 pounds and twice before I've lost over 100 pounds in order to get to a healthy weight - the human heart wasn't made for that kind of stress. But I trust God. I try to remain in a state of grace, even if that means going to Confession more than once a week, just in case my time comes, for the Lord promised that he can come "like a thief in the night, at a time we least expect". I stay close to God in the Sacraments, the Scriptures, and with prayer. Scott asked God for help and when it didn't happen right away, he probably thought that was his *proof* that there is no God. As for me, I do believe in God and in "all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches because [God] has revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived." I pray that Step Three prayer every day, and every day I wind up falling on my face, still spending money I don't have, in order to pig out another day, diabetes be damned. But that's not proof that there is no God; it's just proof that I haven't finished Step One yet: We admitted we were powerless over [food] - that our lives had become unmanageable. Scott and I parted ways over Step Two, which acknowledges that there is "a Power greater than ourselves [who] could restore us to sanity." I do believe in God and I do believe he can restore me to sanity - but it has to be after I've accepted Step One, that my life is unmanageable and that I am powerless to defeat the problem. As I said, it's a process - an expensive one, coupled with all the aches and pains and embarrassment of having so much weight on my frame; I literally have to lose half of myself in order to be a healthy weight. But then I'll hear Scott's lyrics from Creep in a totally different way than how he meant it when he sang, "I'm half the man I used to be." That day seems so far away...

My heart broke when Scott died, because I had always hoped he'd make it through this trial. I wasn't surprised by the news, but it was still sad. And all I can think in retrospect is, "there, but for the grace of God, go I." For me it's food, but it could have been drugs. It could have been alcohol. I could have been like Charlie Sheen and bed-hopped until I got HIV. It could happen to you; it's currently happening to me, but thank God it's not drugs, alcohol, or sex. But losing Scott was sad for me. I've heard Scott's singing for the last 22 years, even running a website dedicated to Scott and STP back in the OLD days of the internet (I named the site Comotose Commodity after a line in a song from their third album, my favorite of theirs). He was like a cousin that you never see, but you know they exist and you care about their welfare - still, they are far away and you don't really think about them until they do something stupid, which Scott did very often over the past two decades. Sadly, he'll probably be remembered more for his addiction and the way he died, which is sad because he was super-talented and he made some great music with STP, Velvet Revolver, the Wildabouts, and his various solo stuff. Still, his addiction feels like a wakeup call for me; perhaps it's enough to push me from Step One to Step Two and finally attending Overeaters Anonymous. I'm sure I won't think about it again all weekend, as I eat Christmas leftovers and Christmas cookies. But maybe my first New Year's resolution I've ever made could be to give OA a chance, to see some worth in those silly meetings, that this is a burden I can't carry on my own. Maybe that's why God is taking his time with me, so that I learn to lean on other people for help, something I don't like to do.

Since his death I've been watching tons of videos of Scott through the years, seeing him slowly shrivel into the wiry, gaunt, stick figure he became - slowly losing his voice and talent - and I just shook my head and asked, "What's wrong with us? Why do we do it? Why is it so hard for us?" As God would have it, Scott died from his addiction before I could die from mine, but that doesn't mean I have all the time in the world to get my act together, though.

No, I can't judge the behaviour of addicts, for I am one. And I could really use your prayers. Rest in peace, Scott. May the immeasureable mercy of God grant you peace and enternal rest, for hopefully you knew not what you were doing. God's mercy endures forever.