For my English-101 course at MCC, I had to write an I-search essay as my final assignment. After having this graded and the grades finalized, I am happy to say I was top of the class. The professor wrote me a great letter of recommendation to the honors program. I am thinking about submitting it into a writing contest MCC’s Humanities division puts on every year. However this essay is 3181 words with a 1500 word limit on submission entries. This is very important to me and every bit of input would be awesome. What I want to know is if there are any unnecessary sections of my essay I could exclude to help me edit this to fit the word limit?
Here is my essay titled “There’s Army Strong Then There’s Addict Strong”
Throughout the world people are victims of the disease of addiction. Regardless of age, race, sex, religion or lack of religion, addiction is a disease that does not discriminate (Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text). The list of recognizable addictions is endless. Trying to differentiate any of the symptoms of addiction would be pointless, because, addictions are found in many forms and range in severity that could alter the way they are categorized. Substance abuse, self harm, gambling, sex or pornography, video games, eating disorders and workaholism are all equally dangerous when the goal is to try and live a peaceful and joyous life. Each is a symptom or type of addiction. The time has come for people to stop thinking of addiction only as a drug related disease. This isn’t fair or accurate and could be quite offensive to some people regardless of whether or not they are addicts themselves.
Addiction has had a huge role in my life due to the fact that I am an addict. While I was in active addiction, I had to face many difficulties that aren’t fully explainable nor measurable, however, very consistent with what other addicts say about how the disease affected them. By going to different recovery groups such as 12 step programs, I have heard many different stories and backgrounds of addicts. They all point towards one direction, the disease has affected them their whole lives before any drug use had occurred. This brings in the question of whether or not addicts were born with the disease of addiction. The saying that “an addict by himself is in bad company” is a common phrase to hear at any meeting. That implies that addiction itself is a form of thinking, a cognitive, psychological disorder.
For the purpose of this essay, an addict is a man or woman for whom one is too many and a thousand is never enough. From an early age my addiction has been crystal clear and obvious now that I am able to think back and ponder how I became the way I am today. There was this computer game called Warcraft III, my first love. That game was my life and one game was too many, but a thousand was never enough. Once I started playing, the ability for me to stop was gone. I would play Warcraft III before homework, social events, or even going to school. Skipping school and jumping on the computer the same second the garage door opened and closed- which signaled my mom was gone, was common for me. Once I had reached 1000 games played, it never could satisfy me. There always had to be one more game played. I had no plans, ever, besides playing that game. That is very similar to how it was when my addiction progressed to using drugs such as heroin and cocaine, just a little more PG-13.
To understand addiction is to literally understand insanity. When attempting to do this, most people fail to fully understand what an addiction is and more importantly how the addiction was formed in the first place. The question of how an addiction is formed has been debated on for a long time, and nobody seems to have an answer that will please everyone. All of the ways to try and explain addiction lack the ability to be correlated, making the subject highly debatable (Oksanen par.1). Before modern technology, the best way to describe what we would all call a mental illness was that the victim was possessed by demons or evil spirits. This answer may have been completely accepted back in the day, but it’s time to take another look at this issue.
It is easy to say that addicts just suffer from a moral deficiency. Pointing out all of the negative and mostly illegal things that addicts do such as lie, cheat and steal lead to the misconception that addicts are just bad people with no grey area in between. Cutting yourself would make you crazy. Gambling the house that you have children living in away would make you irresponsible. Using drugs would make you a criminal. Watching an overload of pornography makes you a pervert. The list goes on about how society as a whole view addicts. But instead of being viewed as morally bankrupt or the makers of poor decisions, I strongly believe that addicts are born into addiction at no fault of their own.
The most important thing to remember is that not all addictions are the same. For example, I have never bought a lottery ticket, nor have I ever self-harmed through cutting, but I am as addicted as they come, even now, while in recovery. Addiction is a disease that never goes away; I will live with it the rest of my life. That is what the common knowledge is among addicts seeking recovery at least.
Sadly enough, however, there are even rehabilitation centers that seemingly don’t understand the disease at all. Places like Passages Malibu are advertized on national television in hopes to attract struggling addicts to seek recovery there. Their main spokesperson states that he has been an addict for 12 years, and now he is not. That just shows how little people really know about this disease overall, possibly including myself.
I hope to be able to find a cause for addiction. Being born with the disease is too debatable, and becoming an addict after prolonged period of being in active addiction just doesn’t serve a respectful answer either. Are there scientific or medical similarities between different addictions and addicts? Or are we really just all morally poor people who just don’t know the difference between right and wrong? How do addicts become afflicted with the disease of addiction? Answering this question may bring light on the dark subject, and help society as a whole understand addicts and how to deal with them.
Addictions are to some, considered a process. Thinking of addiction as a process would imply that people are not born with the disease, and that, “Addictions are formed in time and space, and they are constantly transforming and developing” throughout one’s life (Oksanen par.7). It could possibly be true; after all, I wasn’t born with the knowledge of how to play Warcraft III or how to do a line. And even to this day, I have newly found addictions that are considerably less dangerous and more productive, but that also were formed through time and space. For example, I spend a lot of time thinking about assignments and possible things to do to give myself an advantage in the classroom. That is not to say that it always works, or a useful activity that pays off in grades. The principal can be related to my disease today though due to the fact that I have never done that until I started my college career. My entire life I never cared about academics in any way, and I laughed at them. I was even expelled from my high school because of my lack of attendance. But after entering my first college course, my addictive processes have turned into a distinctive mental behavior for me.
The idea of a process can be interpreted many ways, which leads to confusion and debate among researchers and addicts alike. Perhaps the process starts in our brain, the way we view and understand the world. The brain, although complex and structuralized, enables us with emotions and desires. The frontal vortex, the part of the brain that provides judgment and calculations on behavior, can literally be shut down by the “Fight, flight, freeze, or faint mechanism” (Bayer par.7) of the brain. The issue with that, Bayer explains, is “the brain does not analyze the type of stress it is experiencing” and any stress at all, will shut off the ability to make sound decisions based on quality logic. However addicts do not have an intellectual disability. Bayer without intention creates the illusion that due to mental handicaps addicts should be understood and accepted. While it is true that full capabilities for better judgments are absent in most addicts, it just doesn’t give addicts enough credit. However, I always knew it was true that addiction was relevant to mental processes.
In addition to addictions being explained as a process, either of the brain or over time and space, many addictions are also linked together, either with another addiction or a type of psychological disorder. Consider Kafka, who was “addicted to writing letters… Kafka’s ‘drug use’ extended to insomnia and anorexia” (Oksanen par.15) which demonstrates how other psychological issues can exist correspondingly with an addiction. But it fails to answer whether or not the disease of addiction is the cause for symptoms such as insomnia and anorexia, or if being an insomniac or anorexic leads to an addiction. For me, insomnia spells were very common on days I could not get my drugs. Heroin was my drug of choice for many specific reasons. If I were to consume enough of the drug, I would literally start to lose my consciousness. Not to get confused with falling asleep, I would literally be, slowly, losing my consciousness into a deep form of hibernation called “nodding out” among drug users. Without the assistance from drugs, falling asleep would be near impossible. If my brain was still attentive, I would be focusing on how to find one more, and that is all I ever did. If I had 20 dollars and could go buy food or the drug, the drug won every single time. I would starve myself for the fix. This behavior just complicates the severity of addiction even further by demonstrating how desperate some addicts can become. After all, understanding addiction is extremely difficult, much like trying to explain to a female what it is like to be male or vice versa.
Possibly the simplest view of addiction- not to get confused with the most accurate – is that addicts constantly go back into where they want to escape. Whether that be in a drug, a knife, or a casino is irrelevant. Deleuze believes that “Addicts… [are] experimenting with life, [and] end up following the conformist path” (Oksanen par.19). This also makes sense due to the fact that any addiction must have started somewhere; in this case, the first use can be seen as an experiment. And remembering that addiction is defined by one being too many, and a thousand never being enough, if there are obsessive and compulsive behaviors for “more” immediately after the experiment then Deleuze’s point might have some validity. Using his word conformist, however, really weakens this statement. When I think of conforming, I think of following the crowd. If addicts were the majority of any population, I don’t see how there could be any negative judgment of them. But this also enforces the idea of addiction being a process; any experiment could be considered a part of a process.
However, even if there were no judgments held by society against addicts, the life of an addict is still hard, and sometimes even fearful. From early childhood, to active addiction, the life of an addict cannot be fully explained, even to someone with the ability to empathize. But the connection that addicts may have had a negative childhood could suggest that the disease was present throughout life. Most pathological gamblers “have been found to have lower self-esteem, mood disturbances and will report a history of negative life events, early childhood trauma and rejection” (McCormick par.5) which are signals of an unfulfilling life. Saying that someone who is experiencing a hard life at a young age will be an addict though is naïve. There are young people that will defeat the odds and turn out to be very constructive citizens in society despite their hardships. There are some addicts who may not report to have experienced too hard of a life, but still identify with the disease of addiction. Taking into account that life in general is not easy, and anybody with any background could get away with saying their life was hard, could complicate the issue on where the addiction came from. Whether the hard life is a symptom of addiction, or if the addiction sprung from having a hard life is unclear. And there will always be exceptions to both points of view.
But to focus on adolescence might be a mistake that researchers make. Having a good understanding of past life events to fully evaluate an addict is essential. Taking everything an addict says about his or her past life into account could also be misleading. Perhaps the addict just doesn’t fully remember when, what, or how things happened. Maybe there is a bias towards a specific event that makes the addict believe it happened differently than it actually happened. I know that for me in my recovery I have had to apologize to those I harmed, including myself. When going about that step of my recovery program I realized that I did not hurt some of the people I thought I had in the way that I thought I did. That is to say, my memory had been slightly tampered over time. But saying that happens to only an addict is a falsehood, everybody forgets personal experiences to some extent.
McCormick has also found that “adolescent pathological gamblers scored higher on certain elements of sensation-seeking, had higher depression and apprehension scores, were more likely to experience dissociative like symptoms and to engage in regular substance abuse” (McCormick par.6). All of which could lead to the belief that many addicts do have certain identifiable symptoms and characteristics. The number of adolescent gamblers who have regular substance abuse could lead to the idea that the addiction is just showing up in more ways, but it is still one disease. Needing to seek out sensation or instant gratification is something many addicts have in common. For example, using a drug would be instantly satisfying to someone who wants to escape the reality of being sober. Perhaps the idea of addiction being a process can be demonstrated this way.
Depression and anxiety are also two very common side effects of addiction. Addicts use when they are depressed, and they become depressed when they use, much like a circular process. But the most interesting fact is how gamblers have also reported to have dissociative-like symptoms. That is to say, to be anti social and non-personable in their social situations, or overall shy. Most addicts only socialize with other addicts. Going outside that group of people for friendship will only lead to more depression and apprehension. Addicts best understand other addicts is a common saying at many 12 step programs. However, this still can’t answer for certain whether the disease is of learned behavior or a psychological need for more.
Self harm to me is probably the most difficult type of addiction to fully understand. My twin sister had formed self harm into a habit while we were both younger, before I had tried any drugs. However, I didn’t think too much of it because “It’s a little faddish, almost a norm, [and] it becomes ritualized behavior” (Ingall par.2) that I became accustomed too. It scares me thinking back to how comfortable I was with my sister doing that to herself. I thought she was just doing it for attention, and to match her boyfriend. Perhaps she was conforming to him, and without realizing it, I had too conformed, to my user friends. However making the connection between the two of us, “It’s usually a kid who feels desperate, depressed, angry, and without an outlet” (Ingall par.2) to let out emotions. My sister, much like myself, has had a history of not being the happiest or most confident child. Even when I consider myself to be the black sheep of the family, my sister has had her fair share of addict like behavior as well.
She has gone to a couple of mental facilities, such as Havenwyck, after some feeble suicide attempts, much the same way that I have woken up in hospitals after overdoses and seizures. The fact that my sister could also be considered an addict brings to light the idea of if this is a genetic inflicting disease. And much like the other views of addiction, there being a genetic link only would create more controversy among researchers. However to simplify this, in a personal interview, I asked an addictions counselor and personal friend, Stephen Handley, whether people are “born into addictions at no fault of their own”, which is a common phrase at Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Stephen kindly shared his knowledge on the subject:
“There is evidence that addiction is more prevalent in people with a genetic predisposition for the disease. Families often pass on addictions from generation to generation, but this should not be an excuse to use and be an addict. All people are capable of changing their own thinking and behavior, so recovery is always possible if the person is honest, open minded, and willing. People with the genetic predisposition for addiction can choose to never use; thus, they never become addicted in the first place” (Handley).
This explanation of how an addiction is formed seems to fit in some way all of the theories that I have researched. I have heard supposed stories about my father being an alcoholic from my grandfather before, which used to upset me at a young age. He also smoked cigarettes, a lesson he had learned the hard way and I still fail to learn. If he was an addict, my sister has some addict like personality traits, and I definitely am one, perhaps there truly is a genetic factor involved with the disease.
After all of this I am confident to say that addiction is simply a human disease. All humans, regardless of genetic makeup, and life quality, have the ability to become an addict. However some people are addicted to things that are not creating unmanageable lives. With the time to think about my past, and other people I have met who identify themselves as addicts or not- I can feel peace in the ability to view all humans as addicts to some degree, at no fault of their own.
Throughout my search I have been optimistic and hopeful for answers. From the writing of my proposal, to the outline and on to the annotated bibliography, there was a genuine interest in achieving that goal. Although nothing in my essay is solid proof or evidence that will create an impact on the field, I am excited that many different sources have reality to them. There are people who do not identify themselves as addicts who somehow understand the disease very well. The belief that nobody could understand unless they lived it is now retired in me. As I continue to live my life one day at a time, proudly and without hesitation, I can be hopeful that one day we can pinpoint a cause, and with an open mind, maybe there will be a cure.