I ditched my last substance addiction on May 28th, 1988.

I was at a party talking to the wife of a friend. As we conversed, I put a Marlboro into my mouth and said,

—You know, I wish I could give these things up.

—So why don’t you? I mean right now, —she responded.

I put the cigarette back into the red and white box and left the box at a nearby table. That was the last time I smoked anything as I also stopped smoking pot because, after all, that too was smoking.

Substance abuse has been a part of my life forever. I’ve seen it destroy friends and relatives. Destroy them and often kill them. I’ve had my own brushes with addiction— from amphetamines which I used to cram for exams and stay awake while working the graveyard shift, to some of the most dangerous recreational drugs. I successfully graduated from a twelve step program after some close friends obliged me to enlist because of too much recreation.

That was back in the eighties: Another lifetime.

These days, I get off on exercise. I can’t run anymore; however, three mile walks and 40 mile bike rides produce almost as many endorphins. Now, I don’t even like taking ibuprofen because I read somewhere that it increases the risk of heart attacks or strokes. I can deal with pain. Sports does that for you.

I thought of addiction and alcoholism as I read and translated Manuel Vicent’s piece on Dylan Thomas. Drunks and addicts think they’re cute—I did. But they’re not. Someone, maybe Naipaul, wrote, “Hate oppression; fear the oppressed.” You could say the same for drunks and alcoholics. Hate their disease, but be wary of the infected. They—we, have the capacity to lie, deceive, and manipulate.

The first step to overcoming addiction is to recognize it. Then, get into a support group. I hated the religious theme of NA and AA, but went along with it. I met attorneys, teachers, two principals, several doctors, and a priest during my own recovery. Some are still friends even though I stopped going to meetings in 1988. I question the efficacy of the steps and the program, but I would not have won the battle without the support I found at the meetings.

I am writing this and publishing this for all readers of the AVA, but for one person in particular. He has talent I can only dream about, but is mired down in alcoholism and is destroying himself. He seems to recognize the problem. I hope he can get to the next step.

16 Responses to "Addiction"

  1. LouisBedrock   July 26, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    “The first step to overcoming addiction is to recognize it. Then, get into a support group. …”

    Harvey Reading offers an opposing opinion in OFF THE RECORD of July 12, 2017.

    His observations are interesting and convincing.

    I did not mean to sound preachy. NA helped me, but it doesn’t help everyone. There are other paths, as Harvey shows.

  2. sohumlily   July 28, 2017 at 10:58 am

    I just ran into this article, and thought it appropriate (quite possibly just to me) to post it after LB’s little message-in-a-bottle here.

    I have the life-long affliction of stepping back and seeing ‘the big picture’…addiction goes beyond personal responsibility. There are strategies that can be used by individuals, certainly; but without addressing some of the basic needs we humans have, ‘addictions’ will continue to escalate as we are further atomized.

    • Harvey Reading   July 28, 2017 at 11:26 am

      Agree in part, but assert that as long as the species has been able to distill alcohol and make use of plants, there has been what we now call addiction. It’s nothing new. During some periods the trait has been better swept under the rug than at others, but it’s always been there, and I would guess, probably at a relatively constant level of real usage in terms of percentage of population. I tend not to believe nooze stories about how drug use is more out-of-control than ever. Propaganda like that simply makes it easier to sell the police state to an ill-informed populace.

      And I agree with Louis that treatment works for some, but not all. I was lucky, I guess, in the sense that the only reason I drank was to get drunk (disliked the taste in fact…until after a few drinks) and suffered no withdrawal or even any craving for booze after I stopped using the drug. Tobacco’s another story with me.

      • sohumlily   July 28, 2017 at 1:24 pm

        If you read the comments (I don’t believe it’s in the body of the post) there’s a reference to the fact that some are able to indulge in various substances without suffering ‘addiction’. They can take it or leave it. I don’t have the energy to research that point right now, but it’s not the first time I’ve run into that premise.

        Sure, humans have been altering their consciousness forever, but when the chosen substance begins to interfere with relationships and survival, that is a whole ‘nuther issue.

        I disagree about the prevalence of ‘addiction’ in our current culture–I see a lot of despair around me everywhere I go. (Maybe you don’t get out much?) Life is much harder for most as the accumulation of wealth continues to be transferred to the elites on the top. It was shocking to me when I lived in Garbageville how many of my fellow renters were bad alcoholics, putting away a 12-pack or a fifth of vodka per day *and still work their shitty service jobs*! And why is it, exactly, that cigarette smokers are just about always ‘poor’ people?

        Real wages down and rents/mortgages/food/utilities just go up up up. There’s plenty of despair out there, but the tools to combat it have been co-opted by the Eddie Bernays crowd. The atomization of society (“there no such thing as society” MT) grinds on and leaves us isolated, distracted, tired and cowed. In my opinion, of course :)

        • Harvey Reading   July 28, 2017 at 2:52 pm

          The accumulation of wealth was even worse in the 19th Century, and wages and working conditions even worse. Working people lived in absolute hovels. They, along with other classes, drank. A lot. “Hard” drug use was legal and plenty of people were addicted to opiates and cocaine. This was essentially ignored publicly, under the cover of notion of “Victorian” morality that prevailed, as was the prevalence of “illicit” sex, including whores, whorehouses and child prostitution among the “lower”, totally exploited, classes–throughout the country, until the reform movements began, around the turn of 20th Century. There was plenty of despair then, too, and without doubt relationships were affected, but we tend to downplay it today. There was also plenty of despair in the 1950s and 60s, though the Working Class had its heyday then. It’s been a steady regression to the 19th Century since, albeit with more gadgets.

          I stick by my assertion that it is not a matter of more people, on a percentage basis, being affected; rather it is a question of sweeping the problem under the rug, or not. These days it is in the interest of the rulers to keep us supportive of ever-increasing authoritarianism. And implementation of their desired police state has been made easier by distracting us into believing that drugs and addiction to them are the root of our problems, and that the problem is much, much worse than it ever was. Nonsense.

          • sohumlily   July 28, 2017 at 3:05 pm

            No one has had to live in times like these. We are looking at the extinction of life as we know it.

            There’s a difference to the quality of the despair.

            Also, in those times, families weren’t living hundreds of miles away from one another and there were real communities in those slums.

            We are at peak capitalism, and the reality of the limits to the ‘resources’ we have all come to rely on to maintain Western Civilization.

            Nonsense, indeed.

            • Harvey Reading   July 28, 2017 at 3:51 pm

              Respectfully disagree with your conclusions, only agreeing, partially, with your first paragraph.

              Despair is despair, a normal human response. To quantify or qualify it is an effort in futility. Though you make it seem as if life in tenements was one big happy family, which it was not, there were plenty of people, tens of thousands of them, in this country who lived far from their roots in the 19th Century. They were called settlers; they moved in on the native peoples, often learning after they arrived that the land they had settled on was the property of land speculators, with political connections who were allowed to buy vast tracts of native lands that had been stolen through broken treaties. I suspect there were plenty of people in the 19th Century who believed they were living under peak kaputalism, too, though the term hadn’t been dreamed up then. I agree with your assessment of the nearness in time of extinction.

  3. LouisBedrock   July 28, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Lily’s article and ensuing discussion are interesting.

    DEMOCRACY NOW interviewed a Canadian doctor–I have not been able to track down his name, who found he could cure heroin addicted rats by improving the environment of their cages–he added other mice, exercise wheels, and other stimulation, and found rats lost interest in heroin.

    He applied the principals to the treatment of people and found it to be an effective strategy. When addicts have access to interesting lives, friends, loved ones, and a secure environment, it’s possible for them to give up addiction.

    Will try to find the show and provide a link.

    • Harvey Reading   July 28, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      Was it Gabor Maté, M.D.? He wrote In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. He ran a clinic, part of an experiment that the Canadians tried, wherein, as I recall addicts could have access to drugs and medical attention and be provided housing. Something like that. It’s been a few years.

  4. sohumlily   July 28, 2017 at 3:11 pm


    I want to live in *Harvey’s* neighborhood~


    • Harvey Reading   July 28, 2017 at 3:57 pm

      You’d find it little different than living anywhere else in the country, just fewer people, fewer trees, less water, cloder winter, and mountains, that though high in total elevation, are only at most 6 or 7 thousand feet above ground level, unlike the Sierra, which start at about sea level, or toward the south, below sea level.

  5. sohumlily   August 1, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    Great interview with Gabor Mate

    • LouisBedrock   August 1, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      It certainly is.
      Thank you.


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