I recently read an article by Johann Hari titled “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered and It Is Not What You Think” published at Huffington Post. In it he writes, ” what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong. There is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it. If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.”
Now I am not going to synopsize this excellent piece, which you can find here. If you answered yes to this post’s title, I highly recommend reading the article.
Rather, what I would like to consider in this piece, is something of an addition to Hari’s article in which he suggests, after lengthy research and interviews, “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection” and concludes, quite poetically,
“This isn’t only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the 20th century was E.M. Forster’s, ‘Only connect.’ But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live, constantly directing our gaze toward the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.”
“Right on,” was among my first thoughts as a proceeded to read Hari’s piece. If you are reading this now, perhaps you have read other posts in which I discuss elements of my life story. And if you have, you probably already know I am an addict who regularly works 12 step programs and has a little over 2.5 years sobriety.
Connection. Connection. Connection.
Such is Hari’s emphasis; that as human beings, we desire (and need) human connection, relationships.
Addiction, he suggests, is the result of not attaining such.
I can resonate with this, for even while I was entrenched in 18 hours of daily drinking, I sought not to run, not to hide from my past, but to feel love. Not to feel loved by someone else, but that’s it: to feel the feeling of love.
That is what I sought in the drink and such is what I thought I received in it. And while I took care of my daily responsibilities (I was a highly functional drunk) I relegated everything to being secondary.
So yes, I can understand what Hari means by emphasizing connection and he says, that in what
“writer George Monbiot has called this the ‘age of loneliness‘…We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connection. The Internet offers only a parody of connection. Bruce Alexander, the creator of Rat Park, told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery; how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation. But this new evidence isn’t just a challenge to us politically. It doesn’t just force us to change our minds; it forces us to change our hearts.” (Italics added)
I add the emphasis to this block quote because I think Hari is on to something profound in alerting us to the social problems in relation to addiction and long in thinking addiction cannot be understood when divorced from larger society, would like to contribute to this discussion. Such provides the departure point for the remainder of my piece.
That being said, to deepen an understanding of addiction in relation to society, we must go beyond society and in order to change our hearts, as Hari suggests, we must consider the minds we too need to change. We need to think about our thinking, about consciousness.
Having a background in depth psychology is of benefit in these regards and as a cultural mythologist, I find the classic relationship between Dionysus and Apollo at the heart of the issue (their opposition is a modern invention).
We have created a society “where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connection” writes Johann Hari, much as Apollo, “calm and lofty…comes from afar…and rejects whatever is too near–entanglements in things, the melting gaze, and equally, soulful merging” (Downing Gods in Our Midst 85). Entanglements in those messy things, for example, like human relationships. But there is more to Apollo than his liking to remain separate: he “represents clarity, coolness, objectivity, nothing in excess…clearly defined boundaries, the gulf between the divine and the human, the difference between men and women” (85-6). James Hillman, father of archetypal psychology, has defined Apollo as the primary archetype underlying modern Western scientific consciousness. He is the epitome of masculinity, rationality, and, of ego.
Consider for a moment the classification system with its kingdoms, phylums, genuses, and speicies. Everything in life categorized and defined, but in its neat little boxes, based on observable characteristics. The observing mind, the mind that defines, the mind that remains aloof and defines reality, experience, in neat little categories.
If Hillman (and others in the depth psychological tradition) is accurate in his assessment of Apollo as the central archetype to modern consciousness (and thus a modern worldview), it makes no wonder then, that, as Hari insists, ours is a society based in ego which limits our ability to develop deep and meaningful relationships with others. Apollonion consciousness, in other words, will not allow for connection–it is against his very nature.
Early in my drinking career I was well aware of the Dionysian connection to drunkenness, and I can primarily thank Jim Morrison for the that. (Props, Jim, props.)
Anyone familiar with Dionysus is sure to know his connection with wine and perhaps his connection with sexuality. But maybe that is where one’s understanding of him ends. A few examples of Dionysus’s epithets are instructive in the present endeavor: he is the Giver of Increase, the Androgynous, of the Mysteries, the Loosener, of Freedom, and Saviour.
For many, yes.
But let us concentrate first on the Loosener, and “of Freedom,” (in other words he who grants freedom/liberation). What does Dionysus loosen one from, what does he free one from?
Those artificially imposed boundaries, of course.
And therein rests his connection with Apollo, he who constructs the boundaries, the limits of definition. Dionysus takes those boundaries, those limits, and loosens them, frees us from them, and in the madness of ecstasy, can destroy them so they may be remade, restructured.
His androgyny provides us a clear image: that whereas with Apollo there is no confusion between male and female, Dionysus confounds this boundary. “In Dionysus,” writes Hillman, “borders join that which we usually believe to be separated by borders…He presents us with borderline phenomenon” (The Myth of Analysis 275) and whereas Apollo likes to remain aloof and separate, Dionysus likes to, for lack of a better term, “get into the mess.” Furthermore, where, “‘Apollo…is oblivious to the eternal worth of the human individual and the single soul” (Otto qtd. in Hillman 288), Dionysus, whom both James Hillman and Christine Downing understand in relation to zoe, the life force, the elan vital, that which enlivens us: as stated by Karl Kerenyi, “Where Dionysus rules, life manifests itself as boundless and irreducible” (qtd. in Downing 75).
Where Dionysus rules…
But if Hillman is onto something, Dionysus surely doesn’t rule, Apollo does. As such, that boundlessness of life is impinged upon and for many, almost completely lost. Many seek to recover that life which has been lost.
And many find it in the drink, or any other substance that alters the way they feel.
Addiction is not too far away.
Modern society, with its emphasis on autonomy of the individual, cannot allow for the Dionysian impulse, which “requires…a community…a communal flow” (Hillman 296).
An overly Apollonion consciousness such at our modern collective consciousness, with all its walls does all it can to contain and inhibit the dynamism of a Dionysian consciousness. And with all its walls, our walls, the walls we create around ourselves, that Dionysian flow, the zoe, becomes stagnant, as it were, and the the bright heat of Apollo’s sun, threatens to dry it up until it evaporates.
Dionysus, on the other hand, is moisture, the moisture that we all need to live and thrive as ourselves and as people living in community.
So what is addiction? What is substance abuse?
While I cannot answer for everyone, it seems to me that in using and abusing substances to change the way feel, we literalize the Dionysian impulse. What we seek is that zoe, that force that enlightens us. Why? Because this Apollonian society in which we live keeps in under wraps, keeps it bound with all its structures, with all its boundaries, and limits.
Walking around with our walls around us we rarely see, seeking connections with others who too have their walls.
Some of us will do anything to take those walls down, if just for a moment.
Drugs and alcohol and other addictive substances do just that. We get a taste of it, and of course it feels good. So many want more, and more, and more, and will stop at nothing to scratch what has become an insatiable itch.
And what we seek, as Hari so poignantly expresses, is that connection, for it is only in connection with others, a deeper connection with ourselves, and some would say with God, can that zoe flow.
So yes, we need a change of mind and a change of heart.
But it is bigger than each of us individually changing our minds and hearts.
We need a whole revaluation of modern Apollonion consciousness. We need to question modern society’s values based in in masculinity, science, rationality, in the masculine, in the individual, in the ego.
We need, in other words, nothing short of a revolution in consciousness.