Realistically most humans poison themselves at least once a day. It may be a glass of wine, a piece of cheese, a cigarette: all seem harmless enough. But the truth is that most of our habits are not actually good for us. You may not be a self-proclaimed addict or even a heavy drinker but that doesn’t mean the things you choose to regularly albeit recreationally enjoy are actually designed for human consumption. This ironic human relationship with dangerous substances can be summed up in one sentence traditionally posed by the bartender.
What’s your poison?
Alcohol is an antiseptic, marijuana is particularly good if you need a sturdy rope and ketamin, cocaine and heroin are all heavy painkillers that can induce anaesthesia or death. This spreads even further into our factory farmed foods; pesticides, antibiotics and good old fashioned fear. Does anyone pay attention to what they consume anymore or are we so unconscious that we just carry on?
We bribe our children with chocolate and television from an early age as a way to get them to behave the way we want, we lure our lovers with the promise of satisfaction, we even treat our pets. This system of reward can be a heavy influence in how we learn behaviour and develop as adults. So it makes sense that the older we get the bigger, better or more dangerous the reward becomes.
But why do we all need something to get us through the day? Is it to take the edge off? To calm down the mind and ease the human condition, to silence those overactive voices inside our heads that perpetually tell us we are not happy, not good enough, too tired, too fat, too YOU? Is dealing with ourselves on a day to day basis simply too hard.
Do we need these stimulants or do we just think we need them because they’re there? The wide variety of available mood enhancers certainly implies we do. We have created a socially acceptable reward system offering a hierarchy of poisonous pills, powders and potions and although most are reluctant to drop them all and go it alone they also swear blind they don’t have a problem. This is particularly interesting. So many people claim they want to drink, smoke or snort less for whatever reason yet they don’t but don’t call them addicts! They don’t like it.
Any form of dependency comes with it’s root cause and effects. That might be ‘I’ve had a hard day and want to relax so I’ll have a glass of wine containing alcohol which will physically relax me and help my mind stop thinking about work’ or ‘I’ve just stopped smoking so will eat a packet of sweets instead’. OK but where did we learn that that was the way to relax, to feel happier, to achieve satisfaction? Why not just come home and have a cup of tea? A bath? Or nothing? Why not just leave work and not need a reward for living the last twelve hours? Why must there be a pot of gold at the end of our rainbow?
I can absolutely appreciate that vices make coping with life easier, as a person who had many vices in the past I coped from an early age with all sorts of shit by partaking in all sorts of shit. But I always knew it wasn’t good for me. I knew that I changed and that I was compulsive plus there’s only so many drug and alcohol related deaths you should witness before you quit that shit for good. So now that I’m theoretically looking at it from the other side of the waterfall I’m finding the reluctance in others to address the negative factors that go hand in hand with their habits more and more interesting. And the fact that we have them at all when they so clearly lead to places we don’t want to go.
This is probably partly to do with what society tells us an addict or an alcoholic looks like. We all have a mental image of a smelly homeless man digging through the bins, we walk past the skag heads hungry for some change and their next deal and we tell ourselves that we are not the same. That you are not the same. Not THAT bad. But when you’ve lived near the edge you know that it’s actually not that far. One wild night out can lead to a week, a glass to a bottle, a dab to a bag and so on.
Yes I am clean and sober. I chose to embark upon a journey to stop poisoning my body and mind and try do it sober for at least the same length of time that I chose to not be because it was damaging. And that would be new. That would be different. That would be a challenge. And it is. We all cover things up with our substance and alcohol misuse and once we stop using those things that helped us wind down and forget we then have to a) deal with the reason we do it, the underlying issue or problem and b) find another way to achieve that relaxed state. But I’m not perfect. I too am a product of my own environment and when I quit drinking, using and smoking I immediately replaced my addictions with other things.
I downgraded the reward I fed myself in my own eyes to help me make my own transition and I’ve noticed the further I progress on my journey the less I need to reward myself because I’m happier with my self and my life.
It’s only since I did this that I began to really consider that the substances we relax with are poisonous to our bodies. Even that the things I put in my mouth actually go into my body. It’s an easy disconnect. How often do we think about the sacks of coca paste soaking in hydrochloric acid in the Amazonian jungle when we do a line? Or the arsehole that our MDMA has travelled in to get to our drink? What about the terrified animals hearing their family members being slaughtered while they wait in the queue to become your pork chop? What are all these outside influences doing to our bodies and our minds?
We are literally dancing with death and too much of a good thing can kill you.
Most people will do anything to talk themselves into or out of the possibility that there’s anything wrong with their habit not recognising that that in itself is a textbook addiction symptom. But addictions aside how can you realistically know how something affects you if you haven’t lived an equal amount of time without it? By that I don’t mean spending half the day drinking lemon water and green tea and the other half drinking gin. I mean really allowing your body to experience the absence of something. Most of us form our habits as young adults and hold onto them not allowing our bodies or our minds any other options. We just accept that that’s what we do, that’s who we are and carry on.
When I stopped eating animal products nearly a year after quitting alcohol, tobacco and drugs so many of my friends would look at me like I was being dramatic and say ‘I think balance is important’. It felt to me that by stopping which ever thing that made them question their own habits was where the discomfort lay. My urgency to stop the things they did made them nervous and rather than scrutinise themselves they prefer to turn the spotlight on me.
How people can talk about balance without having experienced it first is interesting though. I mean when the majority of your life has been lived a certain way with a constant flow of alcohol, nicotine or whatever do you even know what balance is? Having been alcohol free and mostly drug free for twenty months I can categorically tell you there are different levels of sobriety. And while Dry January is a nice idea and one to be supported (it was my failure to complete a dry January in 2014 that was a major nudge in the direction towards my own sobriety) it doesn’t even touch the sides with regards to mental clarity, physical cleansing and new and improved habit forming.
Lots of people keep their habits even when they want to give sobriety a go because although the idea of being clear headed is attractive what can be incredibly unattractive is dealing with all the stuff I mentioned earlier. Similarly with animal agriculture they may know the facts and feel that something is wrong but the meat is there on the table and it would be rude not to!
I get that. Facing up to the things that probably make us unhappy that we’ve never got round to dealing with be that a long term relationship, a job or a house is difficult for some and impossible for others. And often a vice in this situation can make life a bit more live-able. Anyway who said we all have to face our problems? It’s not the law.
That’s fair enough. It’s your life you live it how you choose. No judgement.
Plus everybody does it. Yes it’s hard being the only sober person at a party or the only vegan on Christmas Day. I can’t tell you how many social occasions I have anxiety about attending or simply don’t go to in order to avoid having to defend my life choices to not follow the crowd.
Fatal attraction is a big one. There is a part of our humanity that is attracted to danger. The poisoned apple, the broken heart, the pain before pleasure. These stereotypes exist. However it does sometimes seem that when we all decided to drink the coolade we forgot about the hangover the next day. What about the dove, the olive branch, the footprints in the sand. When did good become bad?
It is well and truly sobering what we have come to endure.
So what’s your poison?
Janna Fox is an actress, writer, yogi, aerialist in training and creator of many things. She started blogging for The New Establishment in February 2017 and her pieces are published every other Wednesday. Janna also contributes to sex blog Hitting the Spot. For more information please visit www.jannafox.com