Friday, June 21, 2013

Let me tell you about addiction.  Among Swedes, coffee is a big deal!  When I was about 14 my Swedish aunt started urging me to have a little coffee after family dinners.  (When asked if someone wanted more coffee after the first cup, my uncles would answer “fem droppar mer!”... “Five drops more!”).  I added lots of milk and sugar to mine and liked the flavor... Little bit, little bit I became a regular coffee drinker.

Now decades later I am physically hooked.  First thing every morning I “need” my 2 cups of coffee to shake off the cobwebs.  If we are staying with someone that announces that they serve decaf, I start calculating when and where I can get my “fix”. Going without can actually lead to a headache and a very grumpy state.   We have even started packing a little coffee when going on a trip “just in case”. Now that’s addiction.!

Graffiti on a Niles wall
My other encounter with addiction started when I went away to college.  It seemed like the cool thing to do was to smoke cigarettes.  Like other addictions I started with one once in a while, then daily after dinner, then more frequently.  Eventually I was smoking over a pack a day.  I suppose at the very start the smoking was enjoyable – but after a while it only made a certain tension, dissatisfaction, go away for a while.  That and it just got to be habitual... something to do...
Sign in a Modesto coffee house

I thought about quitting, I resolved to quit, and I failed over and over.  An office secretary once told me that smoking made my breath smell really bad.  A doctor told me that I was endangering my health... and that got to me ... I resolved to quit.   Seriously!  At about the same time I met my future wife, Judy, who was a great encouragement to me.  I had two strategies  given to me by by doctor.  If I felt like I wanted to smoke I took a shower... (it is not possible to smoke in the shower). I got to be very clean those days!.  I also carried a pocket full of "Grape Nuts" to munch on when I felt the urge to smoke.  ...Something about mouth stimulation as a substitute... It was one day at a time for a while – but I quit – and that was many decades ago.  This was a serious physical addiction! ( Research tells us that it takes 21 days to really change an ingrained habit. - and that seems true for me.)

I am not overweight but I have had a challenge for years to deal with eating responsibly.  My wife and I normally try to eat a lot of healthy protein and vegetables.   Every few days I add fish or legumes (lentils, beans, etc.) just like I am supposed to..  The “three great evils” that I try to avoid are foods with processed sugar, foods with saturated fats, and foods with excess salt.  I am good most of the time – but if I attend a potluck or a party and I see deserts and party foods all laid out ... something clicks in my brain.

Political fund raiser

 First I tell myself that I will just have just  one cookie, and before I know it I have eaten way too much.  Is that an addiction?  It isn’t a physical response so its not physical addiction, but it is definitely a psychological addiction.
Pot luck near Corning  N. Cal.
Thank goodness I have never had an addiction for alcohol.  I enjoy an occasional beer or glass of wine.  But it’s not something that I seek out daily. To me a glass of wine before dinner, sitting with friends or family is a great pleasure.

In my teen age years I had a summer job spraying for mosquitos on irrigated farm land in the San Joaquin Valley – My “beat” included a couple of small migrant towns – where we often went to eat lunch midday.  There I met a variety of down and out “winos” – impoverished  men (usually) who by hook or by crook managed to get enough money each day to buy their dose of Thunderbird fortified wine.
A couple of them frequently come to talk with us and we often shared food with them. I  found them to be complete human beings aside from their uncontrollable addiction.  What caused it? ... Did they inherit the tendency ...?  Was it their difficult life experience?  ... Or did they just start on a slippery path that led them to this life?
Two winos

 Maybe part of all three.  I just know that I met intelligent capable people whose only goal of life was to get their daily alcohol.  Most of their daily calories came from alcohol, so they were often malnourished.  This condition can lead to “pink elephants” and  worse... It is a downward spiral.

Graffiti on Oakland Wall 
Working with Teach for America these last years I had reason to visit some very distressed neighborhoods in Oakland.  In some neighborhoods the unemployment rate is approaching 30%.  No one wants to hire workers with no education, no job training, and a poor work record... The only “profession” open to some is selling drugs from the street.  And they are openly visibly.

Some buyers come in from outside but some are local.  Cocaine, crack cocaine, and heroin are real and powerful forces of destruction to individuals and to communities. Their use is surrounded with sadness, loss, and despair.

Altered state -

You and I probabily knows lots of different additions.  I know people addicted to electronic games, gambling, jogging, ice cream, reading, handball, TV novels, baseball, pho... no end to what we humans can be addicted to... Granted there is a fine line between things you just like to do and things that you feel drawn to, compelled to do.  I've got 'em - You got 'em too.