Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Reckless lives

When I look at the way some people live their lives, especially their unhealthy eating and drinking habits, I can come to only one conclusion - that they're either suicidal or they really don't care if they live or die.

How else can you explain the behaviour of someone who regularly drinks to excess, chain-smokes, eats junk food, or takes dangerous drugs, and has no interest in behaving more sensibly?

No doubt I sound absurdly moralistic and sanctimonious, but surely anyone who values their life and wants to enjoy it as long as possible would not deliberately do things that threaten to make that life not only much shorter but potentially blighted by serious illness?

When people say how much they love their family, their children, and their friends, how can they really mean it when at the same time they're behaving in ways that clearly jeopardise those relationships?

I can only conclude that at some level, in some private corner of themselves, they find life so frustrating and dissatisfying that actually they wouldn't mind it suddenly ending. So they simply don't have the motive to give up the destructive habits and adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Take someone like Amy Winehouse. If she genuinely valued her family and friends, why did she drink so heavily and give up on rehab so easily? Did she not care that she was causing her loved ones so much distress and concern as she relentlessly emptied one bottle after another?

I'm not being self-righteous here. I'm not saying I'm some perfect, saintly person because my own lifestyle is less reckless. I'm just lucky I'm not the addictive type and haven't succumbed to the things others find so attractive. I'm also lucky that my parents provided a model of behaviour that frowned on wild excesses of any kind. Their only blemish was my father's ten-a-day smoking habit.

I know people say how tough it is to break a long-standing addiction, even if you genuinely want to. But surely if you relish your life and want to prolong it, you're going to do whatever it takes to break the cycle?

Word check is not preventing a deluge of spam comments, so I've had to introduce comment moderation. Sorry about that. 

43 comments:

John Gray said...

para suicidal behaviour is common, we used to see it alot in spinal injury patients... you know the sort... the ones that lived life on the edge and took risk after risk!

JohnD said...

It is called the "Itwonthappentome Syndrome", aka the "Iamincontrol Assertion".

Alas, many of us have done it - I know I did and just look at me now - body worn out, running on prescribed drugs, countless (almost) operations to rectify body part failures and a lingering disbelief that I really never paid heed to those idiots who constantly asked me for moderation, restraint, and less reckless activities!

Sighhhh!

Nick said...

John - I rest my case. I do wonder about some of these "extreme sports" enthusiasts....

Nick said...

John D - I'm sorry to hear you're in such poor shape. But do intelligent people really think it won't happen to them, or are they simply trying to hide their flirtation with death?

Jenny Woolf said...

I think it's a matter of what the reward actually is. Not getting worse frankly isn't much of a motivation, specially if your abstinence is making you really unhappy.

I don't smoke, hardly drink and don't take drugs and mostly I eat healthy food and try to take exercise.

But I do find it hard to improve my eating habits as much as I need to and take as much exercise as I need.

If I manage to entirely avoid fattening food and take quite a lot of exercise for, say, three weeks, then it is tough. I feel hungry, I'm tired and bored with the exercise, and after three weeks I don't see any reward at all. I don't become slender and fit. It's hard to decide to continue for another three weeks or even another week. If you stick with it for months then I suppose you do get better, but there are 30 days in a month and you have to fight every day.

I would guess that real addicts feel terrible while suffering withdrawal symptoms, and they're doing without the cushion of their habit so feeling bad about that too. And what for, exactly? Some kind of nebulous advantage in the future, living longer or something.

And then you get people like Louise Mensch saying they took hard drugs but still managed to become an MP, write best selling novels and be beautiful. I mean what's the point of fighting and being miserable.

i feel the greatest admiration for people who manage to kick these habits. I can just imagine how hard it must be. And I try not to be critical of those who can't quite make it.

Macy said...

What's the difference between an anorexic and an alcoholic?
Sorry this sounds like the start of a bad joke, and I don't mean it to be.
Both are in a cycle of destructive behaviour - driven by inner demons. The answer to their problems might look simple to onlookers (eat more/ stop drinking!)but if it was that easy they would...

kylie said...

we all tend to be very comfortable in the lives we have and find it hard to break with our habits, even if new habits might extend or save our lives.
someone once told me that given a death sentence that could be reversed by lifestyle changes, most people would die anyway. i thought it was a harsh kind of statement but i'm beginnning to think its true

Cheerful Monk said...

My father was given the choice between stopping his drinking or dying of cirrhosis of the liver. He couldn't stop and died. And I knew of another fellow at Cornell once who was told he would die if he didn't stop smoking. He too couldn't stop.

My father hated the fact he was an alcoholic and he would sometimes get sad and emotionally abusive, but he also had a lot of happy moments and was fun to be around then. Who's to say?

He told me to watch what he did and do the opposite. I decided I loved it when he was happy and decided to figure out how to be that way without alcohol or drugs. It took me a while, but it was worth the effort.

Grannymar said...

No wild excesses of any kind for me unless.....

No. Nick never mentioned chocolates, rich dark and sumptuous. Did he? Then they do not count! ;)

Nick said...

Jenny: I think it's a bit more than not getting worse. It could be the difference between being fit and healthy or having cirrhosis, diabetes or lung cancer. But I agree, some people may think an unhealthy habit they enjoy is preferable to trying to give it up and being miserable.

I also agree that Louise Mensch seems to be doing pretty well despite her mental health problems!

Macy: I do appreciate that giving up something you're heavily dependent on can be bloody hard. But it can be done.

Nick said...

Kylie: I think that conclusion about people facing a death sentence is probably right. It's hard to change any well-established lifestyle.

Monk: Which confirms what Kylie was saying. I know someone relatively young who has cirrhosis and I can't see her ever giving up her enthusiasm for alcohol.

Nick said...

Grannymar: I have it on good authority that chocolates don't count as an addiction. Which authority? Um, er, I'll get back to you on that....

kylie said...

chocolate is full of antioxidants and feel good chemicals, it is a health food and anyone who tells you otherwise is a stick in the mud

Rummuser said...

It is too complicated a subject for me to offer some intelligent comment except that I see a lot of people come out of addiction through the twelve step programs as well as see people who despite being made aware of those programs not being able to come to grips with their addictions. I feel sympathy for the latter and more importantly for their families who bear the brunt of the after effects of the addiction.

Nick said...

Kylie: That's true, chocolate is full of important nutrients.

Ramana: I do sympathise with people who've tried over and over to defeat some harmful addiction and keep failing. And as you say, their families may have to put up with appalling behaviour.

Ursula said...

You do not wish to come across as 'self righteous' or 'sanctimonious'? Nick, your words not mine. Of course you do and you are. Both.

How can you bring the likes of Amy Winehouse into this? Do you seriously think that if people had 'control' over their addictions they'd be 'addicted'? For heaven's sake, Nick: Do engage brain. No one chooses death by increments.

U

Suburbia said...

I think any addiction is so strong that it is hard to resist despite everything.

Nick said...

Ursula: You're clearly addicted to being insulting. Not sure if there's any rehab programme for that. You seem to be saying that people have no control over their addictions and therefore they will always be hopelessly addicted. So presumably rehab programmes are all a waste of time and should be wound up?

Nick said...

Suburbia - I agree, addictions are very hard to resist. Yet many people do confront them and overcome the addiction.

Nick said...

I'm struck by how many of you think addictions are basically incurable, and you just have to put up with them as best you can. That seems to me a very defeatist viewpoint.

Wisewebwoman said...

Have you been trolled Nick (see 2 above)?

The best definition of addiction I ever read was:

"An irrestible compulsion to engage in completely irresponsible behaviour."

And no one, outside of addicts, understands that.

It has nothing to do with one's family, love or whathaveyous.

Amy was an addict.

And I is one too.

XO
WWW

Ursula said...

Nick, if you feel insulted by what I said I am sorry. I just feel that you simplify what is terrible for those afflicted. I fully underwrite Webwisewoman's definition of addiction. Those who are not addicted should not be smug. Some are prone to addiction, others are not. You don't wake up one morning and decide you will become an addict like you decide to either become an accountant or an actor. Slippery slope. Those who are [addicted] fight demons that those who 'here by the grace of god go I' have no idea about.

When Amy Winehouse died it broke my heart. I went ballistic. If I had been her mother I might have pulled her back from the brink. Or maybe she'd never got there in the first place. Who knows. Wishful thinking. Yet you, Nick, doubt whether she 'genuinely' valued her family and friends. I am sorry, Nick, but that is so missing the point of addiction. The addict is in a cell, Fort Knox. Sure, some claw their way out of it, with a spoon.

How you deduce from what I said that I think that rehab (incidentally the title of one of Amy's songs)has no place I do not understand. Of course it does. But rehab is not a miracle cure. For some it works, for some it works intermittently, and for some it doesn't. And let's not forget: Some addictions are deadlier than others. Which reminds me: Why are Keith Richards and Ozzy Osbourne still around?

I dare say that what you call my being addicted to insulting others, and what I call being highly critical of others and myself, is not deadly - unless you knife me. Is it curable? Sure. I could just shut up. Easy.

U

Nick said...

www: Yes, I had a deluge of spam on this post this morning so I've had to restart word check. Very tedious.

Interesting definition. Which would cover a lot more than what we normally think of as addictions. Like the recent behaviour of bankers. Or the relentless greediness of the rich.

Nick said...

Ursula: Well, of course you don't wake up one morning and decide to be an addict. Clearly it's something that gradually overwhelms you. And equally clearly, I don't understand from my own experience what it means to be an addict.

I take your point (and www's) that addiction has little to do with how much you love your family and friends, that it's something beyond your personal affections.

You seemed to be saying that people have no control over their addictions, in which case any attempt at rehab would be pointless. I'm glad you clarified that.

Wisewebwoman said...

And it is only when you're up close and personal to addicts, as I've been, and see them lying so peaceful in their caskets that one realizes that they are finally at rest. They could not slay their demons on their own. And no love, mothers or otherwise, could save them.
And yes Nick I know money addicts. There is never enough. And the perfect fix is around the corner. Damn the torpedoes.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - Yes, I guess the endless pursuit of more money you don't need is a kind of addiction. And equally hard to give up.

e said...

Nick, find an addiction counselor and talk with them. Addictions are incurable but can be managed.

Technogran said...

I tend to agree with everything you say. Its the 'It won't happen to me' syndrome, or cocking a snoop at well known wisdom. Trouble is, ironically as someone who gave up smoking 25 years ago, eats all the foods that are recommended, exercises every day (no car) its I who has had a heart attack and now developed cancer, whilst others who continue with their unhealthly life style seem to get away with it. Makes you spit!

Nick said...

e - I don't know any addiction counsellors but I know addictions are in many cases incurable as you say. You can manage them but the underlying attraction to whatever it is remains dormant.

Technogran - I know, it's Sod's Law, isn't it? Chain smokers who live to 110 and health freaks who drop dead at 50. And look at those ageing rockers like Keith Richards who've ingested everything under the sun and are still going strong.

Sorry to hear about your health problems. My father had a pretty healthy lifestyle, but he had a stroke at 55 and then died of lung cancer at 70.

Los Angelista said...

A friend died a couple weeks ago at the age of 39. Drank himself to death. It's horribly sad but nothing anyone said to him could get him to stop living it up, as he put it. I guess people never think they're going to be the one to keel over so young.

Nick said...

Liz - How very sad. But a familiar story that he wouldn't or couldn't stop despite other people's warnings. But as commenters above have said, a raging compulsion like that is often immune to reason, common sense and the pleadings of loved ones.

megan blogs said...

Yes, spoken like someone who is not an addict. My own addiction to nicotine humbled me. I tried any number of times to give it up. Problem was, i could smoke a pack of cigarettes and still operate heavy machinery.

After many, many attempts, i was finally successful. What i came to realize was that the part of me that wanted to stop smoking had to be greater than the part of me that wanted to continue. Even if it was only a hair's breadth more. Logically, i could see the "do it for your loved ones" argument, but it wasn't just a case of logic. There had to be a paradigm change deep within, as if the trimtab in my soul needed to change position, and only then could i be successful.

My view is that nearly everyone is addicted to something, just that some addictions are fashionable or not seen as a problem. I know any number of sugar addicts who get downright petulant when I refuse sugary sweets. Why should they care if i don't partake? I think it's because at some level, they know they're addicts. The difference between sugar and heroin is that one is legal, but both are white crystals that can wreak havoc.

If the drug were heroin rather than sugar and i told my friends i wasn't partaking, any number of onlookers would cheer me. But if it's sugar, many of those same people would label me a kook.

And, there are those people who can ingest a bit of sugar and are okay, much the same way i can take or leave alcohol. A drink now and again is pleasant, but if all the alcohol went away tomorrow, i'd shrug. Not my drug of choice. Even now, i still occasionally have smoking dreams, and i smoked my last cigarette in 1989. go figure.

Nick said...

Megan - The comments on this post have been very educational. Obviously as a non-addict there's a lot I didn't know about what it's actually like to be addicted.

I take your point about the part of you that wants to stop having to be greater than the other part. And that's a good comparison with sugar. Though personally I haven't seen any of the disdain of sugar-refuseniks you mention.

It also makes sense that addictions are rooted somewhere that's beyond logic and any interventions from loved ones.

Secret Agent Woman said...

It's such a complicated subject. Addictions are mightily resistant to treatment. Part of the problems is the down-regulation of neurotransmitters that occurs with substance use, so that when someone tries to stop using, they are operating at a deficit. Hard, hard to make it past that long stage of recovery. But, personal responsibility does factor in and people have to find a motivation within themselves to get clean and stay clean.

Nick said...

Agent - I won't pretend I understand all that! But I do understand that long-term drug use alters the normal functioning of the brain in a way that makes it hard to revert to the non-using state. I'm glad you think personal responsibility does have a role.

Secret Agent Woman said...

That's basically what I'm saying about the brain changes. But of course personal responsibility palsy a role. A ig role. People may be genetically inclined towards addictive behaviors, but there is no gene that keeps people from doing whatever they need to do to get into recovery.

Nick said...

Agent - That's what I feel, that if you really want to kick the addiction, you can do so. Otherwise what are you saying? That you have no control whatever over your personal behaviour.

Secret Agent Woman said...

Incidentally, I thought you'd be interested to know that my grandmother was a three pack a day smoker from her teens until she was about 75. Even watching her husband die of lung cancer didn't make her quit. But when she started having heavy nosebleed due to smoking and her doctor told her the next one would likely kill her, she quit cold turkey and never smoked another cigarette for the remaining decade of her life. It CAN be done.

Nick said...

Agent - I think that goes to show that if you have a strong enough incentive, then you can ditch the habit just like that. After my father had a stroke, he also gave up cigarettes overnight.

blackwatertown said...

It's not all about addicts.
A lot of us consciously decide to do things that are unwise and unhealthy - people have listed some of the rationalisations above.
My own is - Sure, you'll be a long time dead. (So live now.)
When the mood takes me.

Nick said...

Paul - That's true, if people get real pleasure out of something, they're going to keep doing it even if they know very well it's a serious health risk.

Liz said...

Don't you think that people always think it won't happen to them?

Nick said...

Liz - They do tend to. After all, look at Uncle Ted, smokes like a chimney and still going strong at 93....