Now that we’ve touched the ethers, how do we stay grounded?
The other night I was in the kitchen paying bills while my husband was in the living room watching TV. I could hear what he was watching, a backdrop to my myriad tasks of writing checks (yes, some of us still do that), packing my lunch and prepping the coffee pot for the next day; and the noise that rose above all others — more than fast food commercials, money managers, travel ads and toys for kids — were the drugs.
Over and over, during every commercial break. Drugs, drugs, drugs.
We live in the truly miraculous age of modern science. Today’s drugs have saved millions of people from all kinds of terrible ills, so drugs are a good thing, right?
Well, the answer is complicated.
We have an adverse relationship with pain. We don’t want to feel it, know it, or even be in the same room with it. We want a pill for the slightest inconvenience because life is stressful and we need to keep moving, plus the lure of wonderland is strong.
As children, we were soothed by our parents: remember when you fell down and scraped your knee and your mom put a bandaid on it, but she also kissed it to make the hurt go away? As adults, we’ve learned to self-soothe: alcohol, recreational drugs, excessive TV-watching. Shopping, over-sleeping, over-exercising.
Whatever it takes, whenever it takes, to make the hurt go away.
Painkillers like laudanum and opium have been used for centuries, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that morphine, heroin, and their less intense cousin, codeine, were first extracted from opium. The resulting pills now seem to be scattered everywhere you look.
Do you feel stressed? There’s a pill for that.
Can’t sleep? There’s a pill for that.
Are you overweight because the nutritive value of the food being peddled in this country is terribly, abysmally, horrifically low and you have to supplement your diet just to have the strength to get out of bed in the morning? We’ve got pills.
Do you have heartburn? Headache? Arthritis? Low energy? Cancer? We have pills, pills, pills. Do you need to stay awake to study, or drive or even watch TV? We’ve got a zillion pills for that. Are you depressed? There are pills galore to manage your symptoms, with a host of side effects that could bring Attila the Hun to his knees, but little, sadly, to treat the actual dis-ease.
At the centre of modern culture lies a pill-popping epidemic that has left us withering on the vine.
Then there are the opiates. Average Joe’s, moms and dads, college kids, seniors citizens, all addicted to opiates like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and heroin.
What may have started innocently enough with a doctor’s prescription for any variety of things — a sports injury, a car accident, or maybe just high anxiety — has morphed, because of the Big Pharma’s assurance that opioids were not addictive, into a full-blown medical crisis.
Oxy is a synthetic form of morphine, an opiate and the kind of drug they give cancer patients and the terminally ill. If someone says morphine to me, I ask how long they have to live.
Heroin — also an opiate — usage among the middle class has been on the rise for years. In Pennsylvania, the state where I live, 10 people die each day from substance abuse. Shocking, right?
There is no longer a profile when it comes to addictive drug behaviour in America.
So how did we get here? And why did it become okay to prescribe opiates by the bushel to people who weren’t dying when a little THC and some physical therapy may have done the trick?
Part of the problem is the hyperkinetic nature of our lives and our constant need to wind down from our days. A nice glass of wine with dinner, especially after a long day, is a delight, but when it becomes a bottle, it’s the very definition of addiction: a repeating behaviour that one feels incapable of changing. No finger-pointing here. I like wine as much as the next guy, but when does it become alcohol abuse? And what happens when a bottle of wine is not enough to numb the pain?
(While there has been much talk about marijuana being a “gateway” drug, research suggests that it may actually be alcohol that is the gateway.)
Meanwhile, everything about the 21st century is amplified: bigger, better, more expansive and expensive. Which would be great if you were talking about vacations, time with family, and maybe more time for self-discovery, but sadly, it means more work hours, more social demands, and more Netflix — I’ll admit an addiction — resulting in less time for sleep, rest, or focusing on our loved ones. The frenetic pace of life combined with a panoply of choices and decisions leaves more to do with less time than ever.
Evidence suggests that Central Asians were smoking pot at funerals as far back as 2,500 years ago. And in 2020, cannabinoid-based products are expected to be a $2 billion industry with growth predicted at $7.3 billion by 2022.
So what does that mean for the human spirit? Are we out of explorable frontiers or impossibly large mountains to climb? Of amazing achievements that test the boundaries of all we seem to know? Or must we resort to drugs to get our thrills? Maybe it’s time to ask the hard questions.
The most beautifully self-aware part of us is our bodies. If you have a headache, perhaps your body is telling you that you are denying some part of your individuality. Do you have a cold? Maybe you’re working through some sadness. Hips hurt? Could it be you’re having trouble pivoting?
Yet how can we ever remedy the underlying cause if we immediately numb the symptomatic result? The answer is obviously, we can’t, and maybe we want it that way.
To my knowledge, they’ve yet to make a pill for self-awareness. Sometimes a little pain, a little cough, a little soul-searching as to the cause of the symptom allows self-awareness to shine through. Mahatma Gandhi said as much, in his treatise on Hind Swaraj:
How do these diseases arise? Surely by our negligence or indulgence. I overeat, I have indigestion, I go to a doctor, he gives me medicine, I am cured. I overeat again, I take his pills again. Had I not taken pills in the first instance, I would not have suffered the punishment deserved by me and I would not have overeaten again. The doctor intervened and helped me to indulge myself. My body thereby certainly felt more at ease; but my mind became weakened.
What makes your soul hum the way feeding your addiction does, and how can you get more of it? I invite you to look inward, to take a few quiet moments to peek into your soul and listen for the answer.
One small step now may lead to an ultimately satisfying life.
You owe it to yourself to try.