Whether it’s prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or something in between, it seems we’re turning to substances on an unprecedented level. Sure substance use and abuse has been a part of the American culture in particular for quite sometime, but I would venture to say that the reasons we’re using and abusing are evolving dramatically. So exactly how and why is our relationship to everything from prescription drugs to alcohol and illegal drugs changing? And what are the implications of these changes for tomorrow’s world?
I’m the last person I would have expected to have intimate firsthand experience with abusing prescription and illegal drugs as well as alcohol. I grew up in a very conservative Christian community and was very sheltered all the way through high school. I didn’t light up a joint until I got out of college. Yet through a series of life events that I struggled to handle appropriately, I started using heavily. I had issues with abusing alcohol, ADD medication, marijuana, and psychedelics. Yet when I look around at my peer group, I don’t believe my experience is very uncommon. Sure I arrived at it from a different angle than most, and was a little late to the game, but I was far from alone in my experience using drugs, alcohol, and “medications”.
I believe that substance abuse has become an understated issue in Western culture.
Having heavily participated in that culture, I can say first hand that I’ve observed some patterns in myself and others around the reasons for use and abuse. Many of us grew up in and later bought into a context (work, social life, etc) that wasn’t fulfilling. We simply didn’t know how to fix it. We show up everyday at jobs we hate, and drive through crowded and polluted cities, with a fixation on the next thing. These environmental/societal issues amongst many others contribute to an anxiety that many of us don’t deal with well on our own.
Then there’s the personal side of things. I showing up to a job I hated, living in an environment that perpetuated stress, and I constantly felt the emotional pain of not feeling connected. I felt like no one else understood me and felt alone in a crowded room. I stopped working out, and became extremely anxious and depressed. I was experiencing a lot of physical and emotional pain that I simply didn’t know how to deal with. Sadly, I think there are far more people than we could ever imagine who are experiencing their own version of this, and have no idea how to deal with the pain.
Eventually I started drinking more, smoking more, and using prescription drugs more. I took a break and strong armed my way through it. It wasn’t sustainable. I came back and tried other drugs, but I never really addressed my pain, and instead tried to escape it. I believe now more than ever, our society is using drugs to escape reality to feel less pain and more bliss. I don’t think we all start out being afraid of pain, yet when we don’t feel like we have access to the tools we need to deal with our pain, we start to run from it or fight it, rather than address it and learn from it. We’ve created a culture that doesn’t have a healthy relationship with pain.
Because we aren’t aware (or because it’s easier), we turn to substances to help us in the short term while sacrificing our mental and physical health in the long term.
I’m in no way here to demonize drugs or judge your experience. My own experience in this space has provided me with unimaginable insights that gave me access to extremely intense aspects of life (good and bad) I never dreamed I’d experience. I’m incredibly grateful for my experiences and I don’t believe my life now would have the same meaning and direction without some of those incredibly profound and difficult experiences. I’m not addicted to anything now (except maybe coffee ;)), but my relationship with pain is far from perfect and it’s something I work on every day.
The patterns I’ve realized and changed in myself are the same patterns that I see pervading society, and the single biggest pattern I believe we need to change as a society is our relationship to physical and emotional pain. As Elisha said in the video,
“Every emotion is accompanied by a sensation.”
We can’t separate the mental from the physical, and when we change one, we change the other. When we chose to alter or numb our sensations in a repetitive and destructive way through substances, we diminish our capacity to learn from what our pain might be trying to tell us. We deprive ourselves of the opportunity to feel something that could actually help us evolve as healthy human beings.
Everyone is at a different place on their journey. I’ve come a long way in learning how to feel and changing my relationship to pain. I’ve learned so much about how to see my pain as it actually is, and learn from it… and it’s been really fucking hard. I won’t pretend to sugar coat the situation, and I’m also extremely grateful for my past and the way it’s helping me to evolve a better future. In so many ways, my drug use and abuse has provided me experience and contrast that gives my life more meaning than I could have ever imagined.
I know these issues around drugs, medications, and alcohol aren’t easy to talk about or politically correct, but I feel the need to help shift the paradigm on our society’s relationship to pain, and I know substance use and abuse is a huge part of that equation. At the end of the day my wish for you is that no matter where you find yourself on your path, you are able to feel all your pain, your joy, and everything in between so that you can learn from it and evolve into a better human being.