Yesterday I was in a really weird mood. I had given up on trying to psyche myself into a better one by plastering a big, fake koolaid smile on my face and listening to upbeat music and just accepted that today was one of those days. For the first time since he’d died, I put on Mac Miller’s newest album: Swimming. I’d listened to it before he died (and actually began drafting a #MusicMonday review of it for my blog), but in light of his overdose it seemed like an already amazing album took on new depth. And it hit me really hard.
I remember watching a video on Facebook years ago about the psychology of addiction that I desperately wish I knew how to find so I could share it here. But the gist of it was that an overwhelming percentage of adults had experimented with drugs at some point, but only a small portion became addicted. What set addicts apart was loneliness.
When rats who were exposed to cocaine had a support system or sense of community, they tended to choose their rodent buds over the coco. But rats that were either alone or struggled socializing would choose the drug every time.
And it’s not even necessarily that the people suffering from addiction don’t have supportive friends or family. But there’s often something inside of them that they can’t or won’t communicate — no matter how badly they want to. They feel trapped by their own thoughts and because they aren’t talking to anyone about them, they see drug induced highs as their only way out, even if temporarily. The first song on the album actually does an amazing job of explaining it.
“I just need a way out of my head
I’ll do anything for a way out
Of my head
In my own way, this feels like living
Some alternate reality
And I was drowning, but now I’m swimming
Through stressful waters to relief
And what I won’t tell you
I’ll probably never even tell myself
And don’t you know that sunshine don’t feel right
When you inside all day…”
I’m not going to be fake deep or pretend that everyone that uses drugs is deeply wounded or even has a problem. The more I saw drug use in college and after the fact, the more I realized how similar drugs and alcohol were in spite of vastly different cultural standards and taboos. Not everyone that drank was an alcoholic, and not everyone that did a drug besides weed was a junkie (unless they’re doing meth or heroin in which case it’s time for you to do an intervention immediately…there’s no such thing as recreational meth).
But a lot of people — especially in college and in the early stages of their post grad lives — are exceptionally lonely no matter how many friends they have, or how charismatic or energetic they seem. They have fears and anxieties and emotional scars that they never talk about for one reason or another. And they’re quietly trying to medicate themselves out of their own misery with one substance or another.
I’ll never forget one of the bubbliest, most likable, happy-go-lucky girls I knew in college asking someone to ride with her to pick up at midnight. If I’m remembering correctly, it was a school night and her dealer was an hour or two away. I went along for the ride because you could literally be making a pit stop to nazi Germany on your way to hell — I’m always down for a late night drive. When we got there, I realized she was only picking up $20 worth. $20 was a very small amount of the drug she was doing for a very long ride in the middle of the night. And that’s when I realized one of the friendliest, seemingly content girls I knew wasn’t just “having fun.” She had a problem.
People always say “check on your friends” and “mental health matters” after people die by suicide or overdose, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the bone chilling reality of the matter is that you can’t make someone that’s struggling be honest with you. It’s really, really hard for most people to put their pain into words for themselves, let alone other people.
So I’m not going to tell anyone suffering to “reach out” or spout generic one liners about how “you’re loved, you matter, someone cares.” Because as true as that may be, it probably isn’t going to convince you to open up to someone.
Speaking from my own experience, I literally do not know what it would take for me to really open up to someone about the darkest corners of my mind.I was never an alcoholic but I definitely had bad drinking habits that stemmed from an inability to deal with being sad. Friends have given me every opportunity to pour my heart out and I never took it. When I was at my lowest point in college and basically about to fail out of school I was required to see a therapist and I still found it impossible to talk to her. My job even contracts mental health professionals as a resource for employees — and as badly as I’ve needed someone to talk to at times, and as easy as it is to make small talk with them about my new apartment and the Patriots I can’t bring myself to actually say anything that explicitly or implicitly sounds like a cry for help.
And I wish I had a solution or a quick fix for other people like me, but I don’t. Journaling has helped. Taking long walks when I can does too. I’m thinking about trying meditation, and I’m trying to get to a point where I actually look forward to going to the gym. Sometimes a good laugh with a friend is all you need. But a lot of what drives people to substance abuse and other problems is a constant urge to run from their darker thoughts and emotions, and sometimes you just need to sit with them. You need to try to figure out what it is you’re feeling, why it is you’re feeling it, why you’re running from it and what you can do about it. You won’t always like the conclusions you come to. But overall you’ll like who you are as a person more when you aren’t using a mind altering substance as an emotional crutch.
To a lot of people my age, Mac Miller’s death is a lot more than just another dead celebrity. He was a formative part of our confusing, try-hard, angst-filled teenage years. We partied to his music. We did homework to his music. We dramatically stared out of car windows to his music. We made out to his music. And I think he’s someone we expected to continue growing up with — especially with such a great new album released so shortly before his death. But none of us saw it coming, and I don’t think he did either.
Drinking is drinking and drug use is drug use but addiction is really a long form Russian roulette. You don’t know what drink or dose is going to kill you, and neither do the people that care most about you. You don’t get to dot your T’s, cross your I’s or say your goodbyes. You’re here, and your life is in front of you, and then it’s not.
Do what you want, but don’t cut your life short trying to enjoy it.