I remember the excitement that would come with getting everything arranged so I could get high. The anticipation of relief was more addictive than the intoxication itself. The intoxication was messy. Blackouts, shame, withdrawal, scrapes with the law, all of that stuff was a threat to the addiction. Getting pills, booze, pulling up to the bar with enough money to really make a run at it was always electric and perfect. Always.
I’ve thought of this often as I’ve watched Trump voters since the election. The elation, the belief that we’re well on our way to making America great again reminds me of the high before the high. It reminds me of the delusional perfection that I would create in my head and pursue in a way that threatened my life. The sicker I got, the more I needed this unreality to keep the pain at bay. This need for a safe unreality is what we saw in the meteoric rise of Fox News, which has been distilled and honed in Brietbart. In many ways, it is exactly like the purity of the unreality in the many freelance propaganda outlets that currently dominate the conservative media landscape. To sustain this sickness, one needs to live constantly in an unreality where Pizzagate is worth an international investigation and the idea that Russia tampered with an election is a conspiracy theory. Threats to this mindset are existential threats, not simple truths. Through this process, one becomes isolated, demoralized, angry, and above all, terrified. And this is why we need to love the true believers more than anything right now. Not just because they deserve it, but because it is literally the only way to pierce the delusion.
This run-up to getting high is the part where the delusion really gets humming. I had been drinking daily for some time when my stomach started to hurt. Not once did it occur to me that the poison I was consuming might have something to do with it. My relationships were all strained, but the idea that my erratic behavior, my inability to be present due to my chemical use, none of that could possibly be relevant. The unreality I was living in allowed me to do tragic, insane things. I quit my job with no prospects of getting another two hours before falling off a building and breaking both of my feet. But, I still had $17 in my bank account, and I couldn’t wheelchair the six blocks to the liquor store (unless I had to), so of course I would ask my girlfriend for a ride, as long as she didn’t talk about my part of the rent on the way there.
I knew that 12-pack had an answer in it.
America is addicted to easy solutions. We seek relief from our existential crises in a spastic searching that serves to pull us deeper into our hole. We are primed for easy answers. But, if you are going to pitch an easy answer, you better be aiming for a big lie. And that’s what we’ve got. The big lie of addiction is that something that almost works will never be enough. The big lie of Trump is that the same thing that got us into this mess, distilled and purified, is the thing that will get us out. He represents everything that has victimized his supporters and says, “Only I can fix this for you.” The cause and solution are one.
Deregulation and lower taxes have not produced jobs, but maybe we just need it on a larger scale? Bluster and ignorance usually gets us in trouble, but maybe it’s because it didn’t go far enough? Installing heads of business to run our country has never resulted in benefit for all, but maybe they just need to be richer and more ruthless? Hastily-planned fixes for worldwide problems generally make more pain than they solve, but this time we have the leadership to make them effective. Compromised morals and a basic lack of integrity are usually a sign of things to come, but maybe this man is different?
This thinking is only able to be supported when there is an unreality to hide in. My gastritis was not related to drinking, my depression had nothing to do with my stunning consumption of depressants. The subjugation of the American worker has nothing to do with them being subjugated by moneyed interests. The lack of morals has nothing to do with fundamentally immoral people focusing on abortion and gay marriage while they reverse the golden rule.
This is addictive thinking in a nutshell. The short-term benefit outweighs the long-term pain, even when it has been shown repeatedly that it doesn’t. At this point, it becomes calcified. One becomes invested. Challenges to The Beast are not suffered with dignity. The logic becomes reliant upon emotion and the emotions reliant upon convoluted logic — whichever serves the addiction better in the moment. But every once in a while, there is an opportunity, a moment of clarity. I had one sitting on the step of my porch at four in the morning after consuming all the beer, opiates and amphetamines I could find and realizing it wasn’t enough. I smelled something that reminded me I had been here before and that it wasn’t going to work this time either. I would have to imagine that there are a lot of Trump supporters who are here now, or will be soon. The trick is to talk with them while they are open, and to do so in a way that allows for change.
My moment of clarity was followed by discussions that supported me in giving recovery another shot. See, much of my family was under the impression I was still sober after attending treatment previously. They didn’t yell at me for being a massive liar, which was the truth of it — they just welcomed me returning to connection with them. As hard as it is to do, I believe that is how I can best respond to people seeking a change from this type of politics.
As much as I want to get justice around issues of racism or misogyny during the election, as much as I want to exact vengeance around everything from Reagan to Ralph Reed, as much as I want to shake somebody and yell at them, “HOW CAN YOU BE SO BLIND?!” to do so would send them back the way they came. It would waste a perfect opportunity to offer a new way of seeing the world, one that is based on a communitarian vision of hope and connection.
I have a hard time balancing this desire with my responsibility to refuse complicity. Do I tolerate the word n***** if I think I can reach someone? Do I allow for people to claim George Soros is paying protestors, that climate change is a farce, that Hillary is a Satanist?
I struggle to find the line. But, I do know that to reach others effectively, we have to have something to offer. In recovery, we say “you cannot transmit something you haven’t got,” and the truth is that many of us don’t have much right now. We have lost our focus on ourselves and finding that which gives us life. I want people to want what I have, and if I stay focused on that, the opportunities for change will come.