Philosopher Alan Watts once said, “When you get the message, hang up the phone.” Watts was talking specifically about psychedelic drugs when he made this statement. His point was that these drugs don’t seem so bad, until they do. And when that happens, it’s time to shut it down.
What’s ironic about the quote above is that Alan Watts died at the age of 58 due to to alcoholism. This goes to show that not all drugs give us the same loud and clear message, which makes it difficult to know when to hang up the phone.
BUT if we listen more carefully, we might be able to hear the whispers. So let’s take a look at how the process often unfolds.
A major reason why people use drugs is because they work–at least for a while that is. Administer the substance however you choose, and usually within a relatively short time-frame, you at least feel different. And in most cases, you feel better for awhile. It’s nice if things would just remain that way, but that’s not how it works. As the high wears off, the desired effects become more difficult to attain, and undesirable effects become easier to attain.
There comes a point when our relationship with these chemical pleasures needs to be reconsidered in order to attain better health and wellbeing. Some users may have felt as euphoric as they are ever going to feel. Then, on top of that, a Mike Tyson hay-maker full of responsibility hits you square in the face. Damn, that punch can hurt, especially when you realize your favorite coping mechanism is no longer tenable.
Sometimes people need a full on rock bottom experience in order to realize they need to make some life changes, such as homelessness, jail time, an overdose experience, etc. However, the vast majority of individuals ebb and flow. They may have moments where they say, “I really need to quit doing this, or life may not turn out so well.” But once the effects of the hangover subside, they’re back to it.
After several of these cycles, one may begin to feel confused and anxious. If this is how you feel, your confusion and anxiety are appropriate. It likely means that you want more out of life, but you have yet to properly address that most important endeavor. I don’t mean to get too morbid, but this is where the “deathbed technique” can be really beneficial. Imagine you will soon die, and you are spending your last moments reflecting on the quality of your life. How do you want to look back? Did you step up, make some changes, and work towards health, wellbeing, and fulfillment? Or not? The responsibility is yours.
That stated, I don’t mean to over-emphasize individual responsibility here. I agree that severe addiction often fits a disease model, and these cases should be addressed within this framework. Depending on the level of severity, some people may require a combination of replacement therapy, pharmaceutical interventions, inpatient treatment, and daily group meetings (AA/NA). Undoubtedly, the concepts of control and responsibility have significantly less relevance in these cases. My intention is not to undermine this reality, but rather, call attention to the situations where responsibility is a therapeutically useful tool.
Ideally, we just wouldn’t use drugs (yes, alcohol is a drug too). But the truth is that most of us are going to use substances at some point. Some people may be able to easily moderate, while others of us will struggle. For the latter group, the drug isn’t going to seem so bad, until it does. Then, things get real, and the big questions in life will start demanding more attention. Maybe it wasn’t quite clear before because, well, drugs can fool us. But now it might be time to address the problem and make changes. Yes, it will feel uncomfortable, but only for a while. Not forever. Embrace this challenge and get help if you need it. Your life is worth it.