By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 26, 2011
Earlier this year, the “Writing Wednesdays” name was switched to “Do the Work Wednesdays” for the release of the book Do the Work. This post went up May 11, 2011, soon after the book’s release. The comments that followed inspired other posts about addiction—and this reposting today.
Have you ever noticed that addicts are often extremely interesting people? Addiction itself is excruciatingly boring, in that it’s so predictable. The lies, the evasions, the transparent self-justification and self-exoneration. But the addict is himself often a colorful and engrossing person. If he has been a substance abuser for any length of time, his story often reads like a novel, packed with drama, intrigue, conflict and heartbreak. If the addict’s drug of choice is alcohol, the narrative is frequently one of job loss, domestic abuse, divorce, abandonment of children, bankruptcy; if Class One narcotics are the culprit, the tale often includes troubles with the law, crime, prison time, violence, even death.
Of course you and I can be addicted to a lot of other things. To love, to sex, to worship of our children or our parents, to dominance, to submission. You can even be addicted to yourself (check the manual under “self-ikonization,” e.g. Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump.) Such individuals can be absolutely fascinating at the same time that they’re boring as hell.
What’s the connection between addiction and Resistance?
The pre-addictive individual experiences a calling. To art, to service, to honorable sacrifice. In other words, positive aspiration. A dream. A vision of the higher self he or she might be. The intimation of this calling is followed immediately, as we know, by the apparition of Resistance. The dragon rears its head. Fear. Self-doubt. Self-sabotage.
What makes this moment so soul-precarious is that most of us are unconscious, in the event, both of our aspiration and of our Resistance. We’re asleep. We know only that we feel bad. Something’s wrong. We’re restless, we’re bored, we’re angry; we’re seeking something grand but don’t know where to look and even if we did, we’re so terrified and so paralyzed that we can’t take a step.
Up next: a drink, a woman, a habit. Addiction replaces aspiration. The quick fix wins out over the long, slow haul.
We can’t stand to feel the fear, the shame and the self-reproach that we feel, so we obliterate it with an addiction. Addiction becomes the evil twin of a calling to service or to art. That’s why addicts are so interesting and so boring at the same time. They’re interesting because they’re called to something–something new, something unique, something that we, watching, can’t wait to see them bring forth into manifestation. At the same time, they’re boring because they never do the work.
Instead they enact their aspiration in shadow form. The addiction becomes their novel, becomes their adventure, becomes their great love. The work of art or service that might have been produced become replaced by the drama, conflict and suffering of the individual’s crazy, shattered life.
An addict can be like a hero in a movie. Robert McKee in his story seminars declares that the essential quality in a hero of fiction is that she possess the passion to push the story to its absolute limits to achieve her goal. (Otherwise there is no story.) That monomania is the definition of an addict. The lush or junkie will sell her own mother to score the substance she’s jonesing for.
I have a dear friend who’s addicted to love. (I can relate to this myself.) I’ve known her my whole life and it’s absolutely excruciating to listen to her stories. She goes from one intensely romantic, all-consuming affair to the next. She is in agony throughout the affair, and it always ends in agony. It will not surprise you, I’m sure, when I declare that this woman is one of the most gifted, intelligent, talented people I’ve ever met. She’s a piano prodigy–and has been since she was six. Her photographs win prizes. She’s by far a more gifted writer than I am. And she’s a near-world-class athlete; she has swum the Maui-Big Island open-ocean crossing half a dozen times.
Over the years my friend has developed a philosophy (you could almost call it a religion) about pursing the Sublime through Love that is so complex and so convincing that she can not only talk herself into it, but you or me too if we sit still long enough to listen. She is mesmerizing. At the same time the experience is bone-numbingly tedious, to watch her transit from one great love to another, with each story playing out exactly the same as the one preceding it and each ending in the same dead end.
My friend knows this is Resistance. We’ve talked about it a hundred times. She’s running away from her gifts and she knows it. But the addiction is too strong. She has become identified with it. It’s who she is.
Why is this so boring? What exactly does “boring” mean?
Something that’s boring goes nowhere. It travels in a circle. It never arrives at its goal.. The circular nature of addiction is what makes it so tedious. No traction is ever gained, no progress is ever made. We’re stuck in the same endlessly-repeating track. That’s what makes it like hell.
The critical point is the link between Resistance and addiction. When, for whatever reason, you and I cannot overcome the forces of self-sabotage that block us from following our calling, the next easy step is to seek relief from the pain, the shame and the self-reproach we feel by submerging ourselves in a form of oblivion or willful self-abandonment that falls under the name of addiction.