Everyone’s Favorite Drug (Love Is)

And you tried to change, didn’t you? Closed your mouth more. Tried to be softer, prettier, less volatile, less awake…You can’t make homes out of human beings. Someone should have already told you that. And if he wants to leave, then let him leave. You are terrifying, and strange, and beautiful. Something not everyone knows how to love.”

– Warshan Shire, For Women Who Are Difficult To Love

What follows is likely to be an unpopular sentiment, but here goes: I get easily bored by writing about lost or unrequited love, much the same way I do by pop songs about new [love], or small talk about weather. It just seems too easy, I guess, more trite than anything else. Obviously that hasn’t stopped me from engaging in it occasionally, or from appreciating others’ frequently, but the practice remains very much a difficult one to make stand out, all the same.

Granted, I fully understand the compulsion behind expressing emotional torment and angst that would otherwise remain horridly internal — perhaps better than most. It just strikes me as important to ultimately stray from a path of maudlin yearning in the interest of creative range and ingenuity. Believe you me, I can pine with the most self-pitying of them, but I think I’ve finally reached a point where it benefits my work more to focus on subjects other than someone(s) I used to know.

End pretentious soap box moment

It’s no secret that I have always been deeply fascinated by the concept of addiction and the wrath it entails. This notion of wanting and/or needing some thing to the point of utter, Icarian ruin appeals to my darker curiosities, I suspect. Like many of you, I have come across a number of souls who have fought tooth and nail in the trenches against this affliction — most of whom have survived, some of whom have not.

But it wasn’t until listening to one of my closest friends speak on the subject (whose mother has suffered from addiction) that I developed my current perspective on it. He was telling me of her struggle with crack cocaine, and about how she was willing to totally forsake care for everything (friends, family, career ambitions) in favor of pursuing that ever elusive first high. And I distinctly remember standing there, trying my utmost to empathize, then saying something terribly banal to the effect of “how tragic that is” and “how hard that must have been”. Far more distinct, though, is my memory of his response.

“That’s just how much my mom loved crack,” he said.

It took a while for that to sink in, but he’s known for a signature matter-of-factness that borders on the genius and comedic. So anyway, it got me thinking — as these things tend often to do — specifically about his use of the word “love”. Most people are quick to reject the notion of loving as being anything other than the single most important thing in life. We tend to consider it distasteful, or just flat out wrong, all things considered.

This is because we have all of us been brought up believing that falling in love is an objective, a necessity, something to be accomplished for checking off a unilateral bucket list as universal as it is asinine. Think about it, people who have not succeeded in life according to commonly accepted societal standards die “poor, cold and alone”, as the saying goes. Setting aside the “poor” and “cold” bits (even though I have quite a lot to say on both), doesn’t it seem strange that we’ve come to associate being alone with failure? I mean, don’t we all go through life alone, really?

This is getting dark, but bear with me.

The point I’m trying to make here is that there are a lot of people out there for whom love is very much a drug, both because of the insatiable desire you have for being with the person, and because indulging in a fix of them is the only respite from the excruciating withdrawals associated with their absence. If you’re having trouble buying into that for reasons of conventional logic — which, trust me, you’d be forgiven for doing — there are a few things I’d have you consider before writing this position off completely.

For instance, think about the vast number of men and women in the world who can’t seem to function without some form of romantic relationship in their life, and the equally vast amount of pop culture that’s devoted to those of others (sentimental ballads, erotic novels, endless romantic comedies). Or if that doesn’t put it in perspective for you, think about that person…you know, the one you just never seemed able to kick? Go ahead, there’s no shame in it. We’ve all got them, or been them.

Still not buying it? Think about music, then, and the sheer number of songs concerned solely with the feelings brought on by love and how much we as humans just can’t seem to live without them (“All You Need Is Love”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, “You Ain’t Livin’ Till You’re Lovin” et al.). Hey, better yet, think about those friends you’ve had that write shitty love songs [not me] and make cheesy mixes [sometimes me] because they so desperately want to prove they’re worthy of someone else’s love [definitely me]. C’mon, you know there’s no denying that one.

How about this: think about the number of souls you know who have fought tooth and nail in the trenches against this affliction — most of whom have survived, some of whom have not.

Are you with me now? There are so many people, myself included, who are just as willing as junkies are to forsake care for everything (friends, family, career ambitions) in favor of pursuing that ever elusive first high which love imposes; and it seems bizarre, nigh unbelievable to me that we remain in denial of the fact that this is — whether we can admit it or not — absolutely an addiction for us.

I know personally I’ve been guilty of a myriad of junkie behavior. Things like waiting outside on a freezing cold night in the rain for just one more fix, or calling someone incessantly for same. I’m ashamed to admit that I have lost friendships due to my addiction to certain individuals, and that I have let my work and education alike fall by the wayside in favor of engrossing myself further in relentless lust and not-so-sweet nothings. I’m not in a position to say that everyone has experienced this phenomenon exactly as I’m describing it, but I can’t help thinking that many of you can relate (to some degree).

Think about how painfully delectable that certain someone’s lips once tasted when wet with a sinful and salty cocktail of each your coursing tears, or about the impossibly devastating times you’ve gone out on a limb and said those three hugely impactful little words only to be met with a cold, ruinous silence. Even if you haven’t experienced it personally, half of you have experienced it vicariously through your parents — ours is the generation of broken homes and families, lest we forget.

We all know the statistic. 50% of marriages in modern America end in divorce, but we must also know for a fact that 100% of marriages end; they just do. Why are we so unwilling even to begin considering this?

It’s also pivotal to address the issue of possession in this framework. Unhealthy relationships are almost always characterized by one or both parties’ desire to own the other, to the point of treating them as an object devoid of real human value. It is under circumstances such as these that it becomes especially easy to become addicted to that person, because they cease to be someone you give to and start being something you consume — much like heroin, crack and all the rest. Further, once the person has been dehumanized this way, it is almost impossible to reverse.

And of course, there are the physical symptoms of love addiction. I haven’t felt these as powerfully as others, but I’ve certainly borne witness to them. Men who lose sexual drive or potency as a result of being broken hearted, or women whose menstrual cycles are disrupted by the ensuing stress. People who not only stop eating, but stop being hungry as a result of the despondence brought on by a break up. Then there are the variety of twitches, spasms, and nervous tics that arise from the clinical anxiety that losing someone elicits. These are all manifestations of withdrawal. It is really that simple.

Any junkie will tell you that it gets harder and harder not to hate the fucking needle as much as you love it. We all revel in our need to need, but that doesn’t stop us from wishing it were different.

Again, at a certain point it’s not just about your desire for the person and corresponding high, but about just not feeling the agony that comes from those withdrawals — even if the overall addiction is perpetuated. The symptoms and behaviors are textbook. We just don’t want to see it because the societal construct of love doesn’t allow for unhealthy relationships to be deemed addictive; but they are, and a great many other unsettling things besides.

The thing that makes it so difficult for us both to experience and let go of addictive relationships, I think, is our inability to look at love for what it actually is, something beautiful by its transience. In the same way that you can’t be high forever, you cannot be in love forever. I find it impossible to overemphasize the importance of this point as something not only to recognize, but also to internalize, if that makes sense. There is a reason many of us are prone to unrealistic romanticism, and that is because on some level, it’s easier. It enables us to avoid reconciling with the very undeniable reality that we live in a world of unending ephemerality — which is pretty grim to think about, I admit.

So let me close with something brighter.

What’s even more important — most important, in fact — is to acknowledge that there’s also something incredibly liberating about being able to do this, because once you do, it enables you to appreciate love as it’s meant to be. We mortals live, love and die alone; that has to be okay. Otherwise, we’ll waste most of the blessing that is life needlessly yearning for something that we’ll never find true satisfaction in. I’m happy to have loved and lost; it is perhaps the thing I’m most grateful for in my short time thus far. But I’m just as happy to have myself, for at road’s definite end, there must be some amount of solace in one’s solitude.

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