For T, J, and E
They found your body a few hours later. Washed ashore, at the bottom of the stairs, bloodying the concrete. You had drowned, fallen, jumped. Medical bureaucracy will assign a cause of death. And it will always be wrong. What extinguished the energy that sparked your sentience is not what killed you. There is no form, no amount of paperwork that can capture the accumulated collisions and constellations culminating in your final denouement. It seems a vain pursuit to even try to ascribe certainty to an incomprehensible situation, one not even understood by its now-deceased narrator.
One of the most insidious aspects of addiction is that it’s a disease which convinces you that you don’t have it. It manifests in a powerful form of denial. Ask a person with addiction why they drink or use and the answer will rarely be, “Because I’m an addict.” Invariably the reply will pin the cause on a certain circumstance, person or event, or just “because I want to, I can stop anytime, leave me alone.” For the addict, the few times drinking or using didn’t lead to things getting out of control, or to a series of unintended consequences, are firmly grasped onto and elevated as proof that one doesn’t have a problem. The mountain of evidence to the contrary is swept out of mind. When things go awry they are presented as aberrations instead of what they are, which is the norm. Desperate to prove to ourselves and others that we’ve got things under control, we repeatedly pick up again, convinced that this time it will be different. It never is. And the cycle continues on its ruinous spiral.
There are few things better or more powerful in this world than a good story. The human capacities of communication, creativity and meaning-making allow for the transmission of individual narratives to be collectively experienced through the similarly remarkable capacities of empathy, identification and mirroring. These gifts can certainly be abused when directed in the service of hate or fear, but I am interested at the moment in the positive potential of the process when it invokes feelings of love and communion through the shared experience and recognition of beinghood. Emmanuel Levinas argued that what emerges through this intersubjective face-to-face encounter with the Other provides the basis for ethics, or as he pithily put it, “For others, in spite of myself, from myself.”
That every one of us can both tell and receive stories is a remarkable proposition. We each carry our own personal story and the longer our hearts beat, the more our stories integrate knowledge and experience, hopefully resulting in wisdom. Yet within the Cartesian paradigm, now manifesting through the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism, far too often the voices of wisdom are silenced by the privileged beneficiaries of the current system, who cloak their own self-interested rhetoric in the veneer of logic and rationality. Through the institutions at their disposal, they impose their worldview on others, coercing adaptation and assimilation. For the purposes of this piece, my concern here is how this worldview denies the validity of subjectivity, intersubjectivity and interiority, except when it can be commodified, tokenized or otherwise rendered impotent. Such is its insinuation in our lives that even disciplines dedicated to interiority, such as psychology, more often than not constitute colonized terrain.