Monday, January 29, 2007

A day in the life

Schizo-confusion is the real killer with addiction, tormented minutes or hours spent trying to work out what is real and what is the work of demons. Both are real, of course. It gives you a hint of what it must be like to be mentally ill. Perhaps I am mentally ill. But one thing which is not in any doubt whatsoever is the dual or more existence that an honest-to-goodness dependence on alcohol, drugs, diets, gym membership or sex with strangers offers you. It’s extremely dangerous in fact, and you only realize just how much when it is taken away.

Take a typical day of modern life. A man gets out of bed and the first thing he asks himself is: “why?” It’s not as if he really feels that there is any point to his job anymore. He can see right through his boss, knows full well he could run the place much better himself, and instead of giving the 110 percent he knows he’s capable of spends his days reading bullshit Internet news stories and torturing himself with the seemingly blissful existence and higher salaries of others around him. He knows that he has a greater purpose in life, of course, but is also cynical enough to realize that it isn’t going to be realized by spending all day sitting around this fucking Office whining.

So he takes up a personal-bettering hobby such as running to help focus the mind and to impart a sense of control over his life. Get a kick out of life, he reasons, by getting fitter and pumping some oxygen through his slowly decaying brain. And he spends a while on the treadmill, finding solace in the subtext of competition with other men in the Office. But he soon starts to feel terribly alone out there. It starts when he ceases to notice any further weight loss or toning, and continues until he admits to himself that the whole exercise has been a diversion to permit him to procrastinate over his exit strategy. He decides to throw himself into the work again in the hope that all the advice from friends and family and books and corporate art ‘that you only get out of life what you put in’ is really true. And the whole cycle starts over again, trundling mercilessly down a bland and heartless suburban cul-de-sac.

But what if he had something so great to look forward to each day that it turned his in-tray into a fucking advent calendar? Something which at the same time allowed him to really set himself apart from the pack because he knew that he was the only one doing it; something whose effects continued to fuck with his dopamine receptors well into the following day, providing a welcome disembodiment from his work yet simultaneously giving him more incentive than ever to get through it so that he can enjoy his reward guilt-free at the end of it. With exercise you get the precise opposite effect – nothing to look forward to but pain and cold sweat, and an enlivened brain which only serves to make more stark the mediocrity of your 9-5 existence.

He has, of course, found drugs and alcohol. Everyone is doing it to some level -- just think of the atmosphere after four o’clock on a Friday afternoon as the smoke-filled, decibel busting, suit-filled bar looms. Behaviour becomes more animated with every degree the minute-hand traces, the scene quickly verging on one of lost panic as people start to readjust to their real selves in preparation for the weekend. But sitting there quietly knowing that he is going to get even more wrecked than all of them, in infinitely better comfort and grander style than the meat market of a city-centre pay-day post work session and also using illegal, if soft and recently declassified, drugs brings a sense of calm and inner peace. And when he does arrive home to familiar familial surroundings and starts to get himself into a proper nick, he wallows self-satisfied in just how ahead-of-the-game he is and, more importantly, redeems his sense of individuality.

This can go on for years, his fogging brain finding it increasingly hard to make anything more of the job and causing him to miss out on all opportunities to progress or bolt. For this stuff doesn’t come for free. The paranoia starts to show itself and he begins to think that everyone knows he’s stoking his hash pipe in the gents’ before he heads home of an evening and then nipping into the newsagent’s for a couple of journey-cans. Before he knows it he has become so used to the effects of being high that the incentive to get through the day becomes less and less. His nerves start to shatter and the paranoia spreads to the family, shrinking the Safety Zone until it is no more appealing than the Office he was trying to escape in the first place. Soon he can face neither, and the only hope of averting the mid-life crisis is to sign up for a much better hydroxyl compound.

Suddenly take the drink and drugs away, however, and the scene looks even more desolate. For his mind will be fucking dross and the job still in the troughs of bare necessity that it was left in the day before, and not just for a few days. Indeed, time appears to slow to a virtual singularity while space takes on a cold and portentous light, the objects within it sharper and more menacing than he recalls. All a sensate occupant can do is sulk and snarl and drown itself in the gross unfairness of the world.

And then the punch-line starts to rear its demonic head, only our shell of an individual is now incapable of appreciating the tragic humour. It was cigarettes all the time that he was missing, that he was trying to replace, first with harder drinking and then with regular cannabis abuse. The master of all addictions has worked its magic so savagely that he hadn’t even noticed. But in fact all he wants is a fag and, deluded with the partial progress he has made towards conquering what he deemed much more serious addictions, the idea of sparking one up has lost all taboo and sense of failure. It seems so harmless in comparison. It would be the right thing to do in order to keep everyone happy, he reasons. And he suddenly realizes
that he doesn’t know who or how many were listening to the giant conversation that has been going on in his own head for several years.

A true masterpiece of the self.

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