Let me tell you a little story. It’s one I’ve avoided for a number of years, because it has deep implications in my life – it’s a story about addiction. Not my addiction – though that did factor into this, I have no substance use issues – but the addiction of a friend who I haven’t seen in a long time. Though I’m not sure it was his real name, I knew him as Caleb Grace.
Caleb was a DJ when I was in the party scene in 2002, making his rounds in the clubs I frequented with a number of my friends. He wasn’t very good, and after a while he stopped trying to get shows. Instead he had house parties, invited people over, and spun his records in private, getting progressively better. It was taking a long time, though, because some other habits were getting in the way. Like working, sleeping, eating. So Caleb started taking meth to avoid all three, and selling it out of his home.
His spinning got a lot better, very fast. Then it started to get worse.
Caleb had made a major mistake, one that some other DJs related in their own language quite succinctly; a deck only works when it’s perfectly balanced, when all the sides are level and even. If you remove the staples from any corner of the deck, the whole thing eventually falls over. Caleb had removed all of his supports, and banked on a simple method to success: do everything more, deeper, harder, faster.
In fairness to Caleb, the meth scene was massive in the clubs when we were there. It was big enough to be unavoidable. If you weren’t on drugs, but were social anyway, you could probably pick out two in three people who were. A couple have since shut down for various reasons – one of which certainly was the owner/operator being an addict. A number of the spinners at the time had been using meth and other drugs for years during their rise, and Caleb saw an opportunity, or at least what he thought was one. It destroyed him because he banked so thoroughly on one foothold that, when used with extreme caution and intent by others had led to success, but is impossible to moderate in the long term.
Caleb survived. Six months after he intentionally picked up his addiction, he dropped it again, went into rehab, and for him it works. Caleb is one of the most intentional people I know, and one of the most willing to quit. It served him well, even if it ruined his chances of living his dreams in the manner he wanted. It also served as a wake up call for a lot of people in the clubbing scene, myself included. At the time, I was strongly not paying attention to my drinking – and it was not serving me. Unfortunately, I had to take it a step further than Caleb did – I moved to Ontario for a summer, and still refuse to talk to many of the people we hung out with at the time. I don’t even know where Caleb himself is right now.
Addiction comes in a lot of forms. It doesn’t have to be just substances, although those are the most common kinds. It’s possible to become addicted to a person, to a place, to a process. It’s a kind of surrender, a letting go of passion and replacing that passion with mindless need. Addicts sleepwalk through life, unmindful of their actions and how those actions affect those around them. It’s no life to live. It becomes nothing but survival.
I’m telling you this story because I finally feel confident enough, after eight years, that my brush with addiction, with the culture it engenders and the kinds of pitfalls and escalations it inevitably creates, with what it turns people into, is far enough away that I can use the experience to the greater good. I never had the misfortune to call myself an addict, and I never had to suffer the sense of persecution that comes with someone else calling me the same. Many others aren’t so lucky.
I get bothered, really bothered, when people toss the idea of addiction around. I overheard someone in the mall today harping about the Apple event tomorrow, and cursing people’s addiction to technology and the internet. I wish he had been more careful with his words, because as much as we have to put up with etymological drift (nigger, gay, any form of sensationalism and so on) addiction as a concept is not something I can handle people tossing about like a weapon.
Pay attention. Put things through your own cultural and societal filters because you must, but be aware; glibly comparing gadget hounds to drug addicts is a dangerous game to play. Especially since so many addictions are so hard to spot, especially in their early, non-destructive stages. If you’ve never been addicted in a recognizable way, you don’t get it. But, if you’re living today and think you’re not addicted to something – your coffee, your cigarettes, your work routine – you’re not paying enough attention to how you’re living your life.
Photo by purplemattfish.