Acclaimed musician Sarah McLachlan sings in her addiction anthem Angel: “You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie.” She wrote the song inspired by the tragic death of the Smashing Pumpkins keyboardist, Jonathan Melvoin, in the 1990s. In recent years, the stories and statistics on addiction have only escalated in intensity and number. This can be attributed to several reasons, one of them being an increasingly socially disconnected world — and no, the number of friends you have on Facebook doesn’t really count.
In the late 1970s, a series of controversial experiments, the Rat Park experiments, were conducted by Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander. Their results, while widely debated, aimed to prove a seminal hypothesis: that substance abuse is an outcome of environmental isolation, and therefore can be overcome with reintegration of the afflicted individual into society in a meaningful way. While that was not proven as an absolute, there has been further research into this area of psychology that suggests that there indeed exists a positive correlation between environmental enrichment and positive recovery from substance abuse.
There is copious literature about the best approach to treating addiction, ranging from judgment (“what a weak and selfish person”) to mollycoddling (“it’s a disease; you’re not responsible”). There are many psychotherapeutic and chemical-based treatment options as a result, which have, no doubt, been game changers in the field. But I have come to believe the simple home truth: that love and work are all we need for a better life.
First, we must dispense with nouns dealing with addiction. This means not calling a hooked individual an ‘addict’. There is a permanency to that label that is discomfiting to anyone who wishes to clear the slate. And isn’t that what life’s journey is about — salvation? Evolving into a higher being? No pill is needed for that.
Which begs the question, what if there is unemployment and zero love? That’s where self-love comes into play. That everything we need to become a complete, compassionate individual lies within us. This is a realisation that occurs with time, experience, age and having a few dark nights of the soul. But when that dark night passes, the world view that the individual has acquired is infinitely larger — and one that accommodates the humanity required to forgive ourselves and forget.
There is too much adventure and wonderment in this world to sit by the sidelines, no matter how branded a soul you may possess. Having the fortitude to try again is what redeems us.
The writer is based in Chennai