Friday, November 5, 2010

The Only Way Out Is Through

by Sophie


Our nation deals with addictive substances about as effectively as I used to deal with my son when he was a defiant adolescent: a lot of blustering, castigating, punishing, and imprisoning - and very little resultant change in behavior. When our efforts fail, we generally add layers of penalties and legislation and punitive taxes, and then drag in religious fervor and moralistic hair-splitting for good measure.

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about addiction and, in a broader sense, vice. It's the engine that drives a great deal of fiction, and for good reason. Just as a drink or two can strip away inhibitions, a descent or even a day-trip into vice can reveal a great deal about not just who your characters are, but who they are in relationship and who they are in society.

Not to mention the fact that people in altered states tend to do dramatic things, and dramatic things are excellent story foundation.

Here are a few accepted truths that I find, frankly, dubious - and which merit exploration in fiction:
1. Vice is bad. Asceticism is morally superior to indulgence.
2. A drunk or high person doesn't know what he or she is doing - "it's the drink talking," "I don't even know him any more."
3. Drugs are the enemy of society.
4. Sobriety eventually brings serenity.

Here are some things which I do believe are true, and which can fairly be considered to be boundaries in character behavior:
1. Addicts love their high more than any other relationships.
2. Sobriety is difficult and unlikely to stick.
3. Some people are more prone to addictive behaviors than others.

Addiction becomes, in the end, rather uninteresting (in my hands, anyway, but then that's probably because I'm not an addict - I love addiction memoirs for the stark and fascination portrayals of a world I haven't visited). What is much more compelling is the dance between a character and his psyche or demons or passions or whatever you want to call them, and the way this dance is enhanced/energized/endangered/frenzied - and occasionally numbed or killed - by the introduction of substance use.

Re-read, if you will, that last sentence - and note that I did not say "substance abuse." I firmly believe that not every dalliance with a drug is an abuse. And while you may disagree with my stance, perhaps you'll still grant me the liberty to explore it in fiction.

(My series for Harlequin Luna, debuting next March with AFTERTIME, features a recovering addict. I have found writing this character to be a deeply moving experience and I hope I have written her without judgement.)

*** The title of this blog comes from my favorite AA saying. I believe it is true of addiction recovery; I know it has been true of nearly every significant struggle I have faced.


Jane George said...

A bold post m'dear. What's sad about the accepted truths is the inevitable hypocrisy and shame that results. (Not to mention an unwinnable "war on drugs," the profiteering from private prisons, and the entrenchment of gangs and organized crime.)

The inverse "accepted truth" amongst creative people (indulgence is artistically superior to asceticism) is equally false. It's one that I fell prey to as a young adult.

There are infinite ways, "out and through." Just ask Alice.

Sophie Littlefield said...

I think we're on the same page are right about the inverse truth and that is equally worthy of exploration. i think i'm just (what's new?) on the defiant side of the fence these days as a whole - and because it makes for interesting fiction.

addiction will, i think, always be a pitfall for creative people. I'm intrigued by the notion, supported recently by science, that right-brain behavior is linked to a variety of other things that can trend people toward self-medication...that, i think, is what's truly going on there.

i have a WHOLE other set of thoughts about shame as deep motivation. Ah, so many ideas, so little time to write them down!

Juliet Blackwell said...

I agree with all of this, Sophie (and Jane) -- that both extremes of the spectrum are dreary at best, if not devastating. I do rail a bit against those who preach "moderation" though --I like better your idea of the "dance" between an individual and all those desires, compulsions, etc.
Wonderful post -- think I'll have a drink and re-read it ;-)

Lisa Hughey said...

My relationship with addiction is somewhat distant but I thought about what you said in terms of what I know from dealing first hand with my F-I-L

Sobriety brings serenity. Only if the addict works through the things that lead them to abuse drugs/alcohol/whatever in the first place, otherwise it will bring misery. :(

The only way out is through has been your motto for forever. It's admirable.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, I'll respectfully disagree. Addiction takes people to a place where mere abstinence - the not taking of the substance - is a triumph and a joy. Backtracing the issues is secondary. Maybe you peel back those layers, maybe you don't. In either case, you're better off sober.

Rachael Herron said...

I agree, bold post. And I think this: sobriety can be as addictive as anything else. Sometimes I feel myself drawn to it, as I am to any other challenge. Does that make sense?
(Don't worry, I'm literally getting up from posting this comment to go in the kitchen to pour myself an It's-Finally-The-Weekend drink.)

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