Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why Addicts Often Make Good Depth Psychologists

A close friend of mine who is in recovery recently got me to thinking about my distant past experiences as a completely lost alcoholic/addict. This friend wrote me a very honest email expressing skepticism his about "God,"about  Depth Psychology and about life in general when the crap hits the fan. The friend expressed feelings of misery and despair over his current circumstances. Some of us would have given this person a pep talk--I did not. Here is my response:

Dear "Friend" (who shall remain anonymous:
When I was at the end of my drinking, Alcohol had become my friend, my lover, confidante, distraction, holy spirit, doorway into alternative realities, poetic inspiration, romance booster, gateway to self esteem, and courage to fight; my escape from pain and my entrance into pleasure; my reason for waking up and my aid in going to sleep. It became my reason for and means of living. I remember those days toward the end of my drinking when I would pick up the phone to call a treatment center for help, but when someone would answer, a force stronger than my desire to stop made me slam the phone down in sheer panic. I could not give up my sole purpose for existence. I literally referred to Alcohol as "my Lord and Savior". No wonder Jung said: "spiritus contra spiritum". If the Mount Lake Terrace police had not placed me in the back of their squad car one October afternoon, I would have likely died. The cop actually said, "We're not really arresting you, we're rescuing you." I was a sorry sight. 

You admitted in your email that you are sober and miserable, that life is not working as you'd like it to. I understand--I have had those experiences and will undoubtedly have many more. Sometimes we go through experiences, loooooooonnnng experiences of just plain Hell. I also have the very same thoughts and feelings you described, especially at times when the shit hits the fan. I also am seized, occasionally, by the the though that "a drink" would really take the edge off. I get it.

Let me say initially that your honesty is refreshing in an age where people chant like Zombies: "It's all good." Such an attitude of thoughtless positivity, while commendable at some level, trivilizes what is actually Good! If it's "all good," then when things are actually good, there is no word for it. And, let's face it, it's not "all" good--sometimes things are just bad. Admit it. And you have.

Honesty--that is the key--and I appreciate your honesty. You think Carl Jung is a quack and that "accessing the depths of the invisible unconscious" for insights is B.S. Good for you for saying what you are actually thinking at this moment. Even as a student of Depth Psychology, I have that thought at least once a week--usually when things are going the way I want them to.
But generally speaking, Depth Psychology is the closest thing I have found for making some sense of this non-sense called life. For example, I woke up this morning from a very vivid dream, then tried for a minute to find "insights" and finally thought, "Fuck it. Dreams are nothing more than neurological flatulence," and I forgot it. That was my honest emotional experience, but I didn't conclude that that single thought ought to be my new dogmatic mantra for all of eternity. Tomorrow I may gain deep insights from a dream. When we are in the throes of our own consciousness no two moments are ever exactly the same. The human psyche is the equivalent of atmospheric weather patterns--chronically changing every moment. In fact, the word "atmosphere" is derived from the Sanskrit word "atman/wind/breath" or the "sphere of divine atman," so comparing psyche and weather isn't so far off. Both the cosmos and soul are in a state of blustering flux. Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching, poem 23, says: "Express yourself completely, then keep quiet. Be like the forces of nature: when it blows, there is only wind; when it rains, there is only rain; when the clouds pass, the sun shines through." Our emotions are always in the seizure of some divine influx that is interacting with our soul-making process. Sometimes we need to fight it, other times we need to submit and listen. Discernment is crucial.
More and more I think anything, including depth psychology, can be taken far too seriously. I think the heart of depth psychology is simply to be more or less conscious than the average duck--which means to actually have some sense of what is occurring in the psyche: am I pissed?, am I happy?, am I in a "don't give a damn" mood (mode of consciousness)?, am I suddenly seeing "God" working in my life?, etc. Depth Psych., like anything for the addict (or humans in general I suppose) can all too easily turn into a control issue, like using alcohol, religion, sex, or anything--we begin to ritualize and structure life by the "system", setting up a "way" it works and the "way" it ought to bring results and reasons it won't work and how it is alternatively fascinating or bullshit. The wonderful and nefarious human ego can take anything good thing and hijack it, fit it into a straight jacket. The real significance of Depth Psychology is that is defies human systematizing or ultimate explanations. The moment we hook a live fish from the sea of psychological depths, pull it into the rarefied air of consciousness, gut it and cook it up as a "profound" insight, it is not the same living entity. 

Depth Psychology is being practiced when one is just simply aware of hating or loving something--at the moment of encounter, especially when those encounters are prolonged and raw. Some would equate such experiences as divine, and while I am not disagreeing, I think radical atheists can be more in touch with the "divine" than most theists. True atheists are obsessed mentally and emotionally with the divine. I have a feeling that if there is a "Day of Reckoning" that many atheists will find themselves closer to the divine than many perfunctory believers. Knowing the depths is not restricted to the religious folks. In fact Jung once suggested that religion is often the most effective defense against actual psychological experiences.

I also think that the addict is something of an automatic Depth Psychologist, if one sees Depth Psych. for what the phrase really connotes, "being aware of the deeper stuff in the human mind and heart". Most "normal" content humans simply water ski across the surface of life and their own internal consciousness, while most addicts like to put on the aqua lung and plunge into the unseen depths of reality. Most stable humans prefer the calm surface because they are lazy when it comes to seeing the various sides of existence--not bad, not evil--just lazy. This is not a disparaging judgment--when I was drinking I frequently envied those people I saw who could believe and do the same things year after year without questioning.  

The addict, however, loves the depths. For the addict, drugs and alcohol can help him/her go up or down, become shallow or go deep, depending on what he/she wants at the moment--but one thing addicts seem to despise, and that is normal. That is why sobriety can be such a challenge for many in recovery. When the sober addict finds him/herself living a stable, productive yet sometimes boring life, he/she longs for that old drug to get him/her back into the interesting depths. The trick, when choosing to remain sober, is to learn to see the rewards for being shallow and boring, and then to discover different ways to go deep and experience those alternative states of creative and bizarre consciousness we addicts so adore. Alcohol and drugs are just means or methods for going deep, and there are literally countless other ways to achieve the same effects. 

Bottom line: your honest emails disdaining attempts to "become conscious" are ironically conscious--often more conscious than others I know who are "trying" to become conscious. Depth Psychology is not some formulaic technique for consciousness or some method to achieve some perceived and intended "psychological" outcome. Reflective and engaging honesty is what counts. Not mere brute "honesty," but reflective and engaged honesty--probing both sides of a thing without censorship. The most profound statement I have ever gained from James Hillman is this: "Soul knows neither morality nor mortality." That is a loaded and potentially dangerous comment. I take it to mean that morality and mortality count in this life when living within human society and with other people--but in one's personal soul work, there are no rules except honest, reflective engagement with the feelings and attitudes scampering about inside of us--hand to hand combat with the inner demons and angels. Feel your contempt and hate consciously, but then question it. Doubt without mercy or regret, but question your doubts. When you think you have gotten behind an issue or feeling, go deeper, then deeper yet. No conclusion is ever final. Depth Psychology regresses until there is no conceivable place to move to...yet. Be miserable, and explore the experience of Misery. Get a dictionary and study the word, ask her/him out on a second and third date. Remember that Alcohol initially took you deeper and deeper, and then like Jonah's whale, spit you out on a foreign beach--abandoning you. The journey into the depths is not over--just different--if you allow the experiences you are currently undergoing to be the new whale.

That's it from me. Have a long miserable weekend! It will blow over.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. I've read this twice now. This is really good. I loved the "blessing" at the end. I also like the look it up in the dictionary repeatedly idea. Be with the misery. And the whole notion of self-awareness whether it be hateful or loving or frustration. Mindfulness. I'm not chemically dependent, but love people who are, and I am addicted to thoughts, if nothing else. Thank you for sharing. I came across this when looking into James Hillman.