• Alexandra L. Edwards

The Art of Drugs to Cure Addictions We All Have

writing & photography by Alexandra L. Edwards

Imagine you’re rushing to work while eating your daily Twinkie and Starbucks. You look outside your window to see someone stumbling along the sidewalk with an almost-empty bottle of alcohol. From an initial glance you may see a drastic difference between yourself and the person outside, but how could we see these two behaviors as more the same than we think, just at varying levels of degree?

It can be seen everyday, everywhere, and with absolutely everyone — the problem of drugs having turned into addictions. We need an understanding of what drugs and addictions really are. Not all addictions are illegal and not all drugs come in the form of pills or syringes. Coffee, food, sex, tea, exercise, work, bread, social media, Twinkies and Starbucks, almost anything, can turn into an addiction.

Emotions such as anger, grieving, sadness, shame, vulnerability, or regret, take courage to completely feel and face. Paying bills, making money, getting sick or injured, losing a job, being in love with someone who decides to eventually marry someone else, not being heard by someone we care about, or having a child get diagnosed with terminal cancer are examples of the difficult situations we face throughout life. Circumstances can sometimes reach unbearable discomfort or pain. Could it be, that the main difference between the Twinkie-eater and the drunk, stumbling person outside, is only the varying levels of challenge with daily survival, and the drug of choice, dose, and frequency in which to cope?

Defining What Drugs and Addictions Really Are

What is a drug? What is addiction? Why is it important to attain understanding and reevaluate our perspective on this subject?

According to a video produced by The School of Life, drugs can be almost anything just as an addiction can. The definition they provide is:

Drug: a thing that alters your mood, acting via either the body or the senses to make an impact upon the mind.

A drug can help alter our mood to be less self-analytical, less irritable, more hopeful, better at listening, or even more politically tolerant. It can be a painting on a wall intended by the artist to evoke a higher state of consciousness, a piece of music such as Mozart’s Aria: Soave sia il vento that can influence a state of calm and kindness towards strangers, Emmenthal cheese may suppress anxiety or envy, and Matcha (Japanese green tea) can activate alpha waves in the brain for a calm but alert state of mind for working on a project or for long meditation sessions. What works for a specific individual and how much of it is needed may vary. It is when moderation and mindfulness are not practiced, that drugs can become addictions and can go horribly wrong.

This definition of addiction was provided by Psychology Today:

Addiction: a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.

Our brains are wired for survival and we live in the age of immediate gratification. The reward system in the brain is more susceptible than ever to addiction.

Motivational states (ex. hunger, thirst, increasing or reducing body temperature from environmental circumstances) drive our actions towards resources or conditions towards homeostasis. In other words we seek comfort and pleasure and avoid pain and discomfort. These satisfactions towards a greater state of comfort or pleasure do not equate to happiness though, which is a common misconception.

In one of the 5th most watched TED Talks in the world, The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown states that “we are the most in debt, obese, addicted, medicated adult cohort in history”. One of our motivational states seems to be driving us to numb. Unfortunately, according to Brené, when we numb the discomforts we experience, we also numb joy and happiness.

There are many stresses we face in our modern society and maybe we should not be disregarding “first world problems” as a serious issue after all. Why are we the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in history? Could one of the root problems to the addictions with see with everyone, everywhere be rooted in a loss of connection and mindfulness?

The Loss of Connection and Mindfulness

Throughout history some pleasures, or drugs, were focal elements of a ritual with intentions to provide opportunities for connection and mindfulness. A couple examples are the Dionysian Mysteries and Japanese tea ceremonies.

The Dionysian Mysteries were a ritual performed by the Ancient Greeks with the core motivation of social connection. It involved music, dance, and some type of intoxicant such as Red Wine. Wine was valued for its flavor and medicinal properties.

Japanese tea ceremonies (also known as the Way of Tea) also offered an opportunity for connection and involved mindfulness practice. Kokoroire means “pouring one’s heart totally into [devotion of] the tea ceremony”. This artistic ceremony involved the practice of patience, philosophical contemplation while waiting, and mindfulness as each choreographed and thoughtful movement was performed by the Teishu, or host, who devoted their life to the ritual of preparing the bowl of tea and living “the way of tea”. Each person participating had to wait their turn to share this pleasurable green tea, which originated in China as a powerful medicine.

Certainly a Twinkie may not high-jack our brain-wiring like a hard chemical drug could, but some new studies are suggesting that connection can cure even the most difficult addictions. Johann Hari, a journalist who investigated the problems and solutions of addiction, says that ”Connection is the opposite of addiction". In his TED talk, Everything you Think you Know About Addiction is Wrong, he says, "In Vietnam, 20% of all Americans were using heroin – now those soldiers using heroin were followed home. The archives of general psychology did a really detailed study on what happened to them. It turns out, they didn't go to rehab, they didn't go into withdrawal. Ninety-five percent just stopped. What if addiction is an adaptation to your environment?" Johann suggests that when our environment is supportive, unified, and strong that our chances of becoming addicted to substances lowers.

The Art of Doing Drugs

Rituals are often thought of or associated with as being religious or spiritual, which may make the more secular types squeamish, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you are religious, spiritual, or non-religious, mindfulness and connection can be cultivated through ritual as a form of art.

We can turn to traditional methods or be creative with our own aesthetic and meaningful way of the Art of doing drugs. Even something as simple as setting a goal to have one meal a day at a dinner table creates a better mindset for mindfulness and connection. If you're by yourself eating, it is an opportunity for connection within yourself and acknowledgment that you're worthy of self-kindness.

Thoughtful consideration can be given to composition and balance with where things are placed, and the colors of the food and dinnerware. The aesthetics and meaning of this practice is a drastic step in a healthy direction compared to maybe some typical evening addictions of plopping on the couch with a bag of Cheesy Poofs, microwaved hotdogs, and a beer to watch a favorite television show.