Monday, November 8, 2010

An Abstainer’s View

L.G.C. Smith

My thoughts today are sparked in large part as a response to Sophie’s from last Friday. I appreciate her candor and courage, and she made me think about how, as writers, we have such different approaches to addiction. I like ascetic impulses in characters. They’re so hopelessly at odds with emotion. Yet clean. Pure. And ultimately doomed. One of my favorite romance heroes is Ruck from Laura Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart. So it will come as no surprise that I find the most fascinating aspect of addiction to be what makes an addict decide they’ve had enough. What motivates them to change?

I have no expertise here beyond life experience. I have friends and family members who use drugs and alcohol without being addicts, and I have loved ones who are addicts, recovering, struggling, and not. I have never struggled with any kind of substance use, much less addiction for a very simple reason: most substances make me feel awful.

There’s no virtue in this. If booze and drugs made me feel better than normal, my life might have been very different. But when alcohol gives me migraines and three glasses of wine can make me throw up, it doesn’t matter how good the buzz is, it won’t last long enough to be worth squat. When a scary book can send my heart into overdrive and my imagination can keep me up half the night, using stimulants has no appeal. I’ve spent enough time depressed to find no attraction in depressants. I was an asthmatic adolescent so the idea of smoking anything was just plain crazy. Now? Cigarettes and less legal substances cost money, money that could be spent on books and research trips. So, no. No smoking anything. Ever.

Just water for me, thanks.

There are times when I feel like the biggest stick in the mud alive, especially at writers’ conferences, because I can’t nurse a single-malt or smoke a forbidden cigarette. But this isn’t a burden. It doesn’t affect the lives of those around me. Aside from leaving me feeling a bit awkward at times, it doesn’t hurt me. My vices are eating too many oatcakes and free-range organic boneless skinless chicken breasts for my level of activity, and spending way too much time on my ass in front of the computer. These are small potatoes in the realms of vice. Yet it takes tremendous effort and commitment to make even small changes for the better.

Facing down a destructive addiction seems to me to be one of the most difficult quests people undertake. There is little I admire more than the day-to-day sobriety practiced by addicts who enjoy their highs, and whose bodies have come to demand things of them that make their spirits quail. The courage and humility of an addict’s sobriety stagger me.

Is this sobriety virtuous? Maybe. Maybe not. It isn’t the virtue that interests me so much as the fight for it. The moments in which choices are made. Especially those moments when someone makes the harder choice. Sophie pointed out how we learn a great deal about people in their practices of vice. I think we also learn a great deal about people from their pursuit of sobriety.

Understanding the scope of human emotion and why people (and characters) act is vital to writers. I am most drawn to the moments when we seek change for the better. The slide into oblivion – that’s many writers’ passion. Mine is the retreat from chaos, with angels and demons clinging to our backs, yammering at us to choose one or the other. I want to be inside the moments of creating ourselves anew. Some light. Some dark. Some spirit. Some flesh. All of it our own responsibility, and ours alone, even if we call upon our gods to help us.


tyler said...

beautiful sharing of your thoughts...i love what you said: The slide into oblivion – that’s many writers’ passion. Mine is the retreat from chaos, with angels and demons clinging to our backs...made me think about a very different kind of character I have not yet written...

tyler said...

...and of course that's me, not t-wa, he just didn't log out.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Crap, Soph, my eyes bugged out of my head, and, I gotta say, I was a little weirded out that t-wa might be commenting. Relieved it's you. ;)

Rachael Herron said...

You are SUCH a great writer. I loved this post. And along with Sophie's post, it's got me really thinking about how fascinated I am with a different side of sobriety than you are -- that of sobriety becoming the addiction itself. It's definitely something I'll have to explore in writing at some point. Thank you!

L.G.C. Smith said...

Rachael, that's yet another conflict-laden aspect of addiction. Which makes me think we haven't really touched on OCD stuff much, but that can also be fascinating in how it influences, contributes, helps, hurts, whatever with addictions.

Sometimes we sound so heartless -- per Julie's post last week, that's part of writing. "Ooh, this dysfunction is really fun to play with, that one is doesn't work with this plot, etc." We really are a kind, compassionate and generous group. We just need things like apocalyptic moments, addictions, death, destruction, and (emotional) torture to ply our trade.

Lisa Hughey said...

sigh. how am i gonna follow this? probably not writing about addiction. really lovely and thought-provoking :)

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