Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Addictions by Carole Muske-Dukes

Funny, but everyone has an opinion on addiction. Luckily, Carol Muske-Dukes poem Addictions , is not one of them, but rather a mashed up scowling at how the way the culture lives is analogous to habits one cannot stop. It is a rant and a rage and a pissed off diatribe of someone who's been too long in the wraps of addiction, to booze, speed, heroin, money, love, those things that we involve ourselves in some quest of mastery of our destinies, only to find ourselves instead to be the slave to the cure we sought. Muske-Davies is an enjambed, colliding, corrugated assortment of conflations and confluences, one thing leading to another--there is the reckless stammer of someone peaking on their delusion or mumbling from the depth of an incompressible bottom attempting to give insight, lay blame, paint the large picture with small details they cannot bring together. Not hopeful or necessarily bitter, Addictions glides between tones, rests briefly on different moods, providing a travelogue to some deeply confused discontents.The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says succinctly that one cannot be sober--in this case let us say, free from whatever trait it is that makes our lives problematic beyond manageability--solely on the basis of self-knowledge; knowing better is never enough. What Muske-Dukes does with this poem is layer all the different things in such a way that they become akin in their allure and their sorry consequences, and presents with a picture that suggests that even the so-called cures can be mere subterfuge for new variations on the slippery thinking that keeps addiction alive; it is the disease that sleeps with one eye open.

I would agree that one is always an addict, regardless of how much clean time one might have. Addiction, from what I've read on the subject, is a condition involving brain chemistry more than anything else, the upshot is that once one achieves an addicted state, the propensity to become addictive to narcotic substances does not vanish. My evidence is anecdotal, but I have never seen an alkie or an addict go back to successfully being able to drink or use. Many of them wind up worse than they did before, rapidly, and many of them die. An addict and alkie essentially have to accept the fact they will always be so in spite of their clean and sober time, and they need to learn to live their lives as the rest of the non-addicted population does.

It's been said that what Muske-Dukes wrote here is less a poem about addiction than she has an anti-war poem, and I'd say sure, the elements are there,but what we really have is a miserable persona in effect going off against the state of things that they think has a singular cause, the doings of all these damned addicts and alkies lying, cheating, stealing to get their drugs and booze. Rage, as a state of being, is a condition that gives one the illusion that they are finally perceiving everything as it really is, and sees those things as a series of connections that form, apparently, to no good purpose than to ruin the world generally and endanger the narrator specifically. It's paranoia, and the ironic twist is that the speaker is as much a victim of addiction as the ones physically and psychologically habituated. Denial is a needed element for the perpetuation of addiction cycles, and what Muske-Dukes creates is the chorus that naysays wretchedness of the addicts whose lives they make impossible to recover from. The narrator is not someone in sympathy with the poor, the downtrodden, the ones in need of help, this is someone who is fed up with the troubles and would rather have they --an amorphous mass differentiated only by their not being the speaker- vanish, like stains giving way to the scrape of strong detergent. The larger point concerns the difficulty of stopping the behavior that we know is killing us. She does well in recreating the wicked downward spiral of negative thinking, collectively expressed.For me, the whole subject is black and white, an addict uses until he or she is dead, the only cure is abstinence, and those who cannot stop using or drinking in amounts contrary to our tentative idea of sanity simply die as a result of their excess. I am an agnostic in spirit, though I have an open mind about spiritual matters, and I will assert that the spiritual nature of AA saved my life; I started to at least give lip service to the principles and then gradually came to believe that there was something to this "surrender to win" ethic when I began to notice improvement in my life. For me it comes down to the Chicken Soup Theory:

Can it help?

Couldn't hurt...Muske-Dukes, though, really isn't talking about addiction as such, but rather uses it to describe the expressive tendency of an entire culture--it's a metaphor for a what's seen as a global condition, that everyone is self-seeking even though they hanker to be more charitable and humane. With our selfishness and our thinking at odds, we have all sorts of confused and conflated ideas about what the "right" thing is, and we wind up operating in grotesque ways, rationalizing with various rhetorics, philosophies and wishful thinking to justify the worst of our ways, and use the same vocabulary to lay the blame on others. Muske-Dukes is wise to put this in the form of an accelerating rant--the velocity of the resentments fuels the rage distills it to some hard, palpable gripes that are not without merit.


I subscribe to the idea that the validity of a theory is in the results it gets, and it's not my place to argue with people how they understand their particular addiction, nor judge them as to how they've coped with and surmounted their problem. Let us say that my understanding of my alcoholism comes not from any need to fill up what was missing in my make up, but because I liked the effect produced by alcohol and sought to continue, sustain and increase that feeling with ever-increasing amounts of the sauce until such time that what I used to be able to take or leave became a habit I couldn't stop under my own power. Alcohol wasn't a symptom of an underlying disorder, it was the problem. I reject the oft-recited template of bad nurturing, unreturned love or other forms of psychic scarring that set one up for years of trying to compensate for what was missing with the intake of copious amounts of booze; I was a reasonably happy kid, my parents loved me, I had plenty of friends. I had an average amount of teenage angst--the reason I drank was simply that I liked the way it made me feel. This isn't to say I didn't have issues, tragedies, and traumas to contend with, but none of these, individually or combined, convince me that they were the reason I drank. Granted, I experienced every bit of the irrationality, craziness, meanness and chronic fucked-upedness that comes along with twenty years of steadily increasing binging, that state we in twelve-step programs consider to be insanity, but it's my understanding of the way I drank, arrived through several long inventories , that my unmanageably started after I crossed that line between heavy drinker to alcoholic. I am not much of an onion peeler , I'm afraid, but my inventories were thorough, my amends were a long time to complete, and the point of the self-examination wasn't to discover why I drank but rather to avoid the sorts of behaviors and habits of thinking that will make me want to drink again. I've gotten a sufficient amount of crap from Big Book thumpers who've had the nerve to claim that I've been staying sober the wrong way, but I've seen many Big Book Thumpers and twelve-step gurus get drunk in 21 years, and here I am, still sane, sober and productive. What this means, I think, is that there's no wrong way to stay sober--with Jesus, with Bill W, with the naysayers at Rational Recovery--as long as you're staying sober and living a life that works. Happily and usefully whole. If one wants to subscribe to a theory that everyone is an addict that all bad behavior and the odious consequences thereof is a form of addiction, fine, so long as what one garners in such a belief is a clarity that enables one to make better decisions as to what to do with their life. Without those results--results that come in God's time, not mine, not ours-- I will think that one is living --wallowing--in the problem.

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