Date: Mar 4, 2021
As a kid, it hardly ever crossed my mind that life could suck. I had a typical, average Indian middle class childhood, yet it was filled with happiness and a sense of adventure. The world was my oyster and I, it's rightful master; Well, at least that's what I thought thanks to my youthful optimism and naivete. Of course, if you ask the people who knew me back in my childhood, they'd tell you I spent it with my head in the clouds. All I can do now is smile, reminiscing about how blissfully ignorant I was. If you're lucky, you're born into a loving, caring family that shields you from from the brutal elements of reality; atleast until you're an adult. Now that it's almost 10 years since I graduated from high school, life's starting to hit a little different. While it's true that I have a litany of legitimate reasons to be depressed and miserable, I don't quite see myself as a victim. After years of not dealing with past regrets and trauma, I'm finally starting to deal with my shit and live with myself. In that process, I took the time to honestly reflect on my own life and tried to view the lives of loved ones with minimal biases and without judgement. It led me to write this inchoate, unpolished take on depression, addiction, and facing your inner demons. While analogies of monsters, demons and the abyss might seem silly/over-exaggerated to the rational self, I find them to be powerful symbols that can be used to better understand and navigate the murky depths of the unconscious mind.
"The thing about life is, it's a present you didn't ask for, but it's too valuable to give up"
- Anonymous user on YouTube.
Staring Into The Abyss, Facing Your Inner Demons, Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms, etc.
We are all born into a world where we're forced to contemplate our own mortality and powerlessness. While the circumstances leading up to it are fairly diverse, I believe that we all come face to face with this aspect of reality at different points in our lives. If you're self-aware and privileged enough to take the time to process such an experience, you find yourself transported to a different world, where everything is uncertain and you are perpetually lost and confused. It leads us to question everything we took for granted; our entire belief system is under attack. When our expectation/understanding of reality doesn't match "true" reality, we start experiencing internal chaos, which can be an unbelievably excruciating ordeal. In my case, it led to multiple existential crises, which made me question the meaning and purpose of my life, wondering if my existence has any value/worth in the grand scheme of things. I started to notice the abyss of my soul, a dark void inside me. The void has a way of drawing me closer to it, so close that I can't help but stare into the abyss. Based on conversations with few friends, I'm starting to think that everyone must come face to face with their abyss at some point in their lives. I guess the important question is whether you are well-equipped to handle the abyss staring back at you? Can you stare into your inner darkness without blinking? Well, I blinked. As brief as it was, I blinked nevertheless. This threw my mind out of whack, causing me to suffer and vegetate by my own hand. The pain I endured, the lessons I learned, and the scars I bear are a consequence of such fateful moments :)
Barring people with faulty/malfunctioning neural circuits, every depressed person would agree that they're rotting away at the hands of their own mind. It's our own mind that doesn't let us retain a semblance of peace and sanity. Past trauma, regrets, sorrows, disappointment with life, etc., manifest themselves as monsters and demons in the dark, unexplored caves of your tormented psyche. It took me a long time to realize that you can't exorcise your demons running away from the darkness. In order to conquer your demons, in order to understand your inner darkness, you must bring it into the light (i.e., bring it to the awareness of the conscious mind). On a sidenote, I also have strong opinions about accepting your inner darkness and wielding its power for good. But that's a topic for a different post.
While it's obvious in hindsight that the only real choice is to face your fears, when it was my moment of truth, I applied Guerrilla warfare tactics. I'd face my fears in small doses and then run like hell searching for safe cover. It was an effective strategy for a while, until it blew up in my face. I think it's instinctual for us humans to run away from things deemed unsafe to our survival. But what do you do when it's your own internal voice that's causing you harm? How would you even run away from that? Well, our brains found a way. You can tune out it using a myriad addictions, ranging from mild (e.g., binging TV all day) to mind-bogglingly self-destructive (e.g., alcholism, cocaine, etc). If you think about, since time immemorial, sentient beings have tried their best to turn off their conscious mind and revel in hedonistic pleasure. We humans ingest a variety of designer drugs meant to alter our perceptions and experiences. These drugs have varying effects, potencies and addictive propensities. We try our best to forget and escape reality. But however hard we try, we can never seem to escape it. Regardless of how fast we run, our inner demons always have a way of catching up with us. At best, our efforts to escape reality with drugs are like an ostrich burying its head in the sand, pretending that everything is alright.
People do drugs for a whole host of reasons. But most people who use it as a coping mechanism do it for one primary reason - to tune out that obsessive, nagging voice in their head; The voice that torments you about past mistakes, regrets, what-ifs and if-onlys. Reality is either too painful or there's an emotional blackhole that sucks in every ounce of positivity within. What do you do when being alone with your own thoughts is just awful? What do you do when you seem to have no control over the thoughts you have? What do you do when your own mind spirals out of control, obssessively ruminating over past mistakes and trauma, ruthlessly judging you and making you feel like a worthless, miserable piece of shit? Well, I don't know the answer. But I do know that it's a long, torturous road ahead to get back to "normalcy". It takes a long time to see that you are indeed the master of your thoughts and not its slave.
The Allure Of Artificial Paradises
If you are in the mood for a biblical metaphor, what I've described so far is akin to entering the belly of the whale. Some people are lucky and diligent enough to climb out of the belly of the whale and emerge stronger. Some barely make it, with scars that last a life time. And others are forever trapped, haunted by their past, drowning their sorrows with a poison of their choice. Unable to face reality, they either distract themselves with relatively mild addictions like food, TV, video games, etc., or jump off the deep end into more serious stuff like alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, etc. If you ask them why, the answer is simple. In their mind, it's less painful than staying sober. They can escape reality and tune out the ruthlessly self-critical voices in their head and live in their artifical paradise, if only for a few hours everyday. But is the price of such air castles worth the rotting degradation of the mind? The answer varies depending on whom you ask the question. After all, some people are so far gone that they'd rather die in their artificial paradise than risk coming back to reality. The greatest trick the devil pulls is in making you truly believe that there's no happiness in store for you, and this painful moment right now is as good as it gets. If you truly believe that there's no hope for your life, would you still say no to the temporary respite offered by drugs? From a distance, it's easy to realize that such a belief is false. But if you stand too close to the elephant, you don't see the elephant; you see wrinkly grey skin instead.
The Parable Of The Boiled Frog
Okay, so this isn't some cautionary tale about the horrors of addiction or some preachy moralistic story meant to scare you straight from any and all drugs. It's all fine and dandy when you are happy and well-adjusted. It's easy to check your impulses and habits when life is good. But if you start turning to the bottle or other drugs as a coping/escape mechanism, it's a slippery slope my friend. Initially, you do it once in a blue moon to relieve the pain, de-stress, and just unwind for the night. But once your brain starts to strongly associate the drug with escape and pleasure, life spirals out of control in what feels the blink of an eye; so much so that you are left wondering how the hell did everything good turn to dust so fast.
As with all tricks of the devil, there's a catch. Drugs are only a short-term fix. With every use, you slip further and further into a dark pit. The worse your addiction gets, the more you feel that you can't live without the drugs; in fact, you start buying into the false belief that you can't be normal without it. I guess the parable of the boiling frog fits it best:
"If you place a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will immediately try to scramble out. But if you place the frog in room temperature water, and don't scare him, he'll stay put. Now, if the pot sits on a heat source, and if you gradually turn up the temperature, something very interesting happens. As the temperature rises from 70 to 80 degrees F., the frog will do nothing. In fact, he will show every sign of enjoying himself. As the temperature gradually increases, the frog will become groggier and groggier, until he is unable to climb out of the pot. Though there is nothing restraining him, the frog will sit there and boil. Why? Because the frog's internal apparatus for sensing threats to survival is geared to sudden changes in his environment, not to slow, gradual changes."
- From Metaphor and More
We can debate the biological plausibility of this parable all night. But that's beside the point. The message is pretty clear - Be vigilant and self-aware. Changes slowly creep up on you, at a barely perceptible pace. Don't become a "boiled frog." Pay close attention to what is going on inside your head and outside your body, so that you can notice when the "water" is getting hot. Be wary of the artificial paradises that life has to offer.
Confront The Serpent, To Regain Vision
If you stuck around this far, I'm truly grateful and I'd like to say thank you!. As a bonus, I'll leave you with a wonderful piece of art that can comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable: