- Willing to DieAddiction and Other Ambivalences of Living
I get world sick every time I take a step— Broken Social Scene
I love you, baby, Can I have some more?— Neil Young
When I was a heroin addict, I used drugs both to achieve what Jacques Lacan has characterized as the "jubilation" one experiences when we seem to coincide with our ego-ideal and to produce a positivity out of my increasing sense "of fragmentation, of rupture, of breaking up, of lack of adaptation, of inadequation" (1975, 38). I was drawn to heroin because it promised that sense of plenitude to which we all ostensibly aspire, when all the while it was really increasing the distance between my feeling of imaginary wholeness and what Kaja Silverman has described as "the body in bits and pieces" (45). I was not the narcissistic subject gazing into my rippling image in the water below, but rather the watery image itself, looking up at me-as-subject and experiencing the realness of the unreal that may be one way to describe the mentally diffuse state of intoxication. Or, to put this another way, I came to inhabit, and to idealize, the alterity that always undergirds subjectivity, but from the inverse of the reflective apparatus.
I am deliberately using the identificatory phrase "heroin addict," despite Eve Sedgwick's salvo against that particular pathologization, for a number of reasons (130–42). First, addiction felt like an identity in ways I want to underscore; it was not a transparent sign of my [End Page 1] personhood but that which I attached myself to as a way to inhabit the incoherence of my identity (a deranged strategy, to be sure, but all strategies of ego affirmation are). Second, the term "addiction" seems a better one to me than "compulsion" or "habit" (although I like those too), precisely because it implies each in its own meaning: an addict uses drugs habitually, for example, but also compulsively. "Habit," the term Sedgwick prefers because of its de-pathologizing potential, suggests an inclination for a regular and regulated occurrence or pattern of behavior; compulsion, that you can't help but perform a certain act. So addiction is a habitual, compulsive attachment to an object of desire or way of being in the world. The psychic component is key here, and one of the reasons I am turning to the language of psychoanalysis to explain the experience of addiction, because psychoanalysis is so good at placing emphasis on forms and expressions of psychic confliction. But, as Sedgwick points out, addiction is also a social phenomenon whose construction as such limits the set of options for understanding the feelings, inclinations, and tendencies that make up personhood, for what were once seen as discrete actions or practices now get redefined as pathologies. Thus Sedgwick: "In the taxonomic reframing of a drug user as an addict, what changes are the most basic terms about her. … She is propelled into a narrative of inexorable decline and fatality, from which she cannot deimplicate herself except by leaping into that other, even more pathos-ridden narrative called kicking the habit" (129).
My own addiction did not follow this inexorable trajectory. It was not the stuff of movies or after-school specials in which drug use leads to an increasingly fast downward spiral or a place called "rock bottom" (though this is not a completely inaccurate genre: one of my friends died of a heroin overdose, others had to be rushed to the emergency room to have their stomachs pumped, and still others turned to Narcotics Anonymous and other rehabilitation centers and techniques in various attempts to "get clean").1 But this was not my story. Or not exactly. I was very careful with the amount I used, doling out little bits throughout the day, only allowing a touch more in the evenings. While I could not get out of bed in the morning without it, I was perversely measured in my destructive attachment to this object of my desire. I could not stop using—the physical dependency had taken over—so the project became one of how to successfully manage my addiction [End Page 2...