Addiction: Writing about It

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Photographer Christian Sampson did some great art depicting various mental illnesses.

 

My current novel-in-progress has themes of addiction/dysfunctional family dynamics and hypocrisy of Indian culture especially towards sexuality. My intent is to illustrate the reality of today’s world. I love studying and exploring and the complexities of what it means to be human while keeping it real and unpretentious. Lately, I’ve been observing and taking notes on how our culture, especially pop culture, views addiction. It seems that in the 80s, Oprah came on the scene to bring awareness because no one wants to discuss the skeletons in their closets. Growing up, we talked about addiction, health and relationship issues in high school health classes. Remember those D.A.R.E campaigns, anyone? Now, it seems that it’s beyond exposé, confessionals, or awareness. The articles are about just dumping it all out there, being in your face, noise, and sensationalism. I feel that this doesn’t help anyone in the situation. Maybe, I’m old-school. And, then we hear about a celebrity struggling with an addiction an there seems to be a morbid fascination as if their struggles are merely entertainment.

I’m looking at recent movies, fiction, and literature that covers addiction within the last 10 years. I’m interested in how female addicts are portrayed. There used to be a time when alcoholism was thought to only affect men. The concept of a female alcoholic was unthinkable. Today, people tend to accept that alcoholism can affect both genders across all ethnicities, cultures, and social status. I watched a few films and read a few books and articles about this topic.

There were a few stories (in both film and written formats) that stood out to me, in no particular order:

Puncture

I admit that I wanted eye candy. How can I not check out Chris Evans? He’s also a talented actor. What makes an actor talented is if he can play different roles well. Everyone’s used to seeing him play the superhero and gawk at his muscular body. Nothing wrong with that. But, there are other films that need more attention. This film made me teary eyed. I could really see the struggle and his life falling apart. Chris Evans plays Mike Weiss, a personal injury lawyer who took on a lawsuit against syringe distributors in America. His life was also falling apart, which usually happens when a person is addiction. He’s a tragic hero with cocaine addiction being his fatal flaw.

His wife leaves him. He snorts cocaine as if it’s coffee. It affects his work. He also ends up with other destructive habits such as getting hookers and of course not getting help even when he is confronted. While watching, I wished that he’d get help. Why? I’m hooked (no pun intended) to his passion, hard work, and mission-minded mentality.

My takeaway: Creating a tragic hero of a story works well. There is no insight to his childhood experiences. Balancing his character with admirable traits helps the viewer sympathize and want to root for him, despite his struggle, as well as quirky traits. Instead of the conservative suit, he wears suspenders with bright colored shirts. I wished that the costume director picked a evergreen color shirt instead of bright orange. Orange doesn’t flatter people with pale skin. My favorite line in the film was, “Sometimes the brightest light comes from the darkest places…” It’s a powerful line. Characterization paired well with that theme leaves a lasting impression.

28 Days

Despite what Netflix says, this is not a romance. It’s drama/comedy. I watched this movie several years ago when I was 17. The film is about a woman who ends up in rehab because she ruins her sister’s wedding and crashes a car into a house while driving under the influence. It tells her story with generous sprinkles of humor and realities of addiction.

Some people will say that humor is not appropriate for serious topics like addiction. However, humor can be a great way to deal with it. This movie was shown to a group of teenagers and young adults who were in rehab programs. They enjoyed it because they felt like they were seeing themselves and the humor helped them cope with their reality. Humor also helps people who are not addicts empathize since humor is universal. Let’s be frank, dark and depressing can be off-putting. When I talk about my dark past, sometimes the gloom and grief gets tiring. Sometimes, I laugh at myself to cope. Sometimes, I get angry and cry. At one point, I used to bottle up my emotions and past. Then, when it surfaced, I used to drink to escape from that reality. Now, I accept myself and allow myself to experience the whole range of thoughts, emotions, feelings.

Laughing at the mistakes, mishaps, people and situations I encounter helps me cope and deal with the shit I deal with. In fact, once my novel is finished, I’m considering writing a comic memoir about living with depression and being a survivor of suicide attempts. I’m alive and thriving even though life is not all rainbows and pretty ponies. But, when I cuddle with my man, spend time with my child, and connect with the people in my life, I feel fully human and alive.

The journey of healing was portrayed. The protagonist had flashbacks of her life. It shows that she grew up with an alcoholic mother. Later, she has a conversation with her sister about their past. It was very clear that her boyfriend was a moron—and she needed to ditch him. That irony played well in revealing the protagonist’s personal growth and parallels the nature of addiction. Everyone else sees that she has a problem (a loser boyfriend/drinking problems) but she doesn’t.

My takeaway: Humor and irony brought the reality of addiction to light. To those uptight people, let me tell you that young women in an addiction treatment facility enjoyed the film. You can go ahead and judge and talk with all your book knowledge, but you’re missing the point. It also seems that the root cause of her addiction was growing up with an alcoholic mother. Unlike Puncture, you gain insight into her childhood experiences that may explain the root of her addiction.

Addicted (Novel & Movie)

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** This is not a book for kids. When I say that, don’t expect masturbation material because this book is not. It was written by an author well-known for erotica but this isn’t jerking-off material. It talks about reality of addiction and the adult topic of sexuality in marriage. This is not recommended for teenagers or immature people** 

I read the book, but wasn’t too excited about the film. Generally speaking, most film versions kill the novel except for Lord of the Rings trilogy. This was one of the first novels I read about a woman who struggles with sex addiction. There aren’t many around. When I picked up the novel, I didn’t have high expectations. Zane, the author is known for writing erotica and I knew this would be a popular novel, not literary. By the way, it’s perfectly normal to enjoy both literary, genre, and massmarket paperback novels. No one needs to read something just because that’s what the literary “mean girls” read or that’s what intelligent people are supposed to read.

The book read like a Lifetime movie. The struggles were real. I loved the main character’s personality and attitude. She was a successful, black upper-middle class woman who begins to destroy her life with sex addiction. It started as one extramarital affair then spiraled downwards to multiple affairs. One of the guys started stalking her and killed her friend and another person. It was revealed that her sex addiction rooted from childhood abuse. Her past demons were exorcised by hypnosis where the protagonist goes back to her childhood and talks as if she’s a child and her secret is revealed. Her husband too reveals  secret. The exorcism was so over-the-top that I wanted to hit my head violently after the wall.

It is not necessary to revisit the past in order to move on or heal. This is where pop-culture twists truth. It maybe necessary to acknowledge what happened to you and accept your experience and emotions. But it’s not necessary to visit a person or place in the past in order to heal. It is also not necessary to reconcile with the person in order to be restored. That part made me cringe till I reminded myself that this is what I’d typically see in a Lifetime movie. This was a Lifetime movie in book format. The ending was somewhat preachy like a Madea film. However, it was empowering in the sense that it celebrated married sex and physical love.

It is perfectly normal and healthy for women to have sexual desires and be loved by their significant other. Women want sex too. It’s not just about emotions and playing house. A husband and wife should express their sexuality to each other. I cannot imagine being married to a man who isn’t interested in sex. The novel also rebuts gender stereotypes such as the husband feeling uncomfortable with exploring different sexual acts with his own wife. Not all men are horny crustaceans who think with their dicks instead of brains. The husband in the novel got the message that is OK to be free with sexual desires towards his own wife. The empowering message and happy ending was my favorite part. Sometimes, we want happy endings (again, no pun intended so get your mind out of the gutter).

My takeaway: The world has so many fucked up ideas about female sexuality. It’s nice to be a voice and be counter-cultural by speaking the uncomfortable truth that makes people uncomfortable. Again, this novel shows a female addict whose struggles rooted in childhood trauma.

 

Gender and Addiction in Storytelling. After reading, watching, and observing, I have noticed a few things. Of course, they are generalizations about how addiction is depicted. Is this a recurring theme that women addicts have unresolved childhood trauma and pain that manifests as addiction later in life? I have seen this idea with majority of stories about female addicts. As for male addicts, most stories don’t fully address his past or his addiction could have several roots. Maybe the man had a typical, normal childhood, but resorted to drinking or drugs for excitement, to party, or get away from the current stresses of life. And for some men, they witnessed an alcoholic father. I find it interesting that literature, films tend to show female addiction stemming from childhood trauma whereas male addiction mostly stems from escaping current stress or to escape into impulsivity or excitement. This is of course my observation. In real life, I heard that young women tend to drink to relax or escape from difficulties while young men drink for excitement or partying. The gender differences are neither positive or negative. It’s a broad generalization based on my own observations of reading how stories portray addiction. That’s different from real life. People are complex and simplifying addiction is not worthwhile.

Parallels of Addiction to Original Sin? When addiction enters a household, it affects everyone. The family dynamics shift to dysfunctional and roles, relationships, and daily life is distorted. The addict doesn’t suffer alone. The term dysfunctional family is casually tossed around. Some may describe your family as dysfunctional when there are a few weird or eccentric family members. However, dysfunctional family is when the entire family dynamics shift and all of them are living, thinking, acting out, behaving in self-destructive ways that can pass on from one generation to another like a family curse.

This thought parallels the orthodox Christian concept of Original Sin. Original sin is not when someone does something naughty and loses brownie points. Original sin is a toxin that entered the world and affected and distorted everyone. And, essentially we are all people with dysfunctional souls. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23. And, it is possible to get out of it.

Many Eastern religions believe that sin is caused by inadequate knowledge and teach Karma, which means the total effect of good deeds and sinful deeds that each person accumulates in their lifetime. I personally don’t believe in karma. FYI, I’m not a theologian, I’m a creative writer. The novel I’m working on isn’t overtly “theological” as I’m not writing for theology snobs. The Christian original sin concept resonates with me strongly because it explains why good people suffer and the perspective of justice. I find it hard to accept that a good person is suffering because of previous karma and the  When I suffered from depression that was what a brahmacharini told me. I spent a part of my high school years in a Hindu boarding school in India. And I lived in a country that is 80% Hindu.

As I ponder these topics, I see the connection and it makes sense. I’m getting a better sense of addiction as well as Original Sin. I have some ideas but it definitely needs to be developed and fleshed out. I’m interesting in different thoughts. I respect all perspectives, so may I ask the same courtesy?

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