Friday, February 17, 2017

Drug Use - Living in the Present

People abuse drugs and alcohol to forget the past and future and try to live in the present.

After writing my last posting, it hit me why people do drugs or abuse alcohol.   And it all goes back to what I was talking about in past, present, and future.   It seems everyone is haunted by demons from the past - even those of us who never had any demons to deal with.   People will stay up nights castigating themselves for an inartful comment they made that might have hurt someone's feelings over a decade ago.  It is part of human nature and the human mind.

And we also worry about the future - will I have enough money to retire?  Will I lose my job? Will there be a war?  Is the President going insane?   We worry, but worry isn't doing anyone any good.  President Trump must be good for the alcohol and drug business, to be sure.

Living in the NOW, in the present, in the moment, is very hard to do.   Religions teach this.  Mystics teach it.   People meditate to screen out the past and future and concentrate on the now.   And people drink and smoke pot and do other drugs to experience the now and drown out the past and future.

The use of drugs of all kinds - including alcohol - have one thing in common - they are all an attempt to experience pleasure now, to forget the past and future, and often have a detrimental effect on the individual's future.  A glass of wine or a joint or hit of coke or whatever makes you feel euphoric for the moment.  Suddenly, everything seems fine, and the worries of a few minutes ago seem trivial and overblown.   We are living for the moment, literally, and not concerning ourselves with the future or past, much to our own detriment later on.

And it is why young people can do drugs and get away with it - with fewer responsibilities in life, they can concentrate on the now and not worry too much about the past and future.   A middle-aged person has too many memories of the past and worries about the future.

In fact, one way to ruin the drug experience is to concentrate on the past or future.   Angry drunks will get angry when they bring up old grievances from the past and start going on drunken tirades or starting fights to settle old scores.   Worrying about the future when high on pot is one sure way to end up paranoid.   One reason I gave up that drug as that as I got older, it just made me anxious.  And neither the past or future are things to think about when on LSD, lest you be on a bum trip.

And of course, drug use can damage that very future, as it can cause you to spend money, wreck your health, end up in jail, or just neglect the things you should be doing in the now to prepare for the future.   So ironically, we use drugs to evade the past and future, and they often make things worse in both regards, causing us to use more drugs.  This is the real pattern of addiction, not some physical ailment or psychological dependency.

Why is it so hard to live in the present and ignore the past and future worries?  This is a good question, and as I noted before, must be something programmed into our brains.   We worry about the past as a means of remembering past experiences and to learn from them.   If an animal puts its hand on a hot stove and gets burned, it should learn from that experience as a survival skill.  If it merely forgets the past, it cannot learn these skills, and it dies out before reproducing and goes extinct.

Similarly, worrying about the future is a survival instinct.   The monkey that puts aside coconuts for the future survives the subsequent famine.  The one that plays all day and lives in the moment starves to death (unless he learns how to steal coconuts).   Worrying about what other people might do, anticipating the next move of an adversary, and so forth, are survival skills.   Without them, our species would have died out long ago.

And the smarter you are, likely the more you worry about the past and future, as this worry is what made you smart in the first place.   Most mentally ill people are not stupid, but rather often have very high IQ's - they are too smart for their own good and let worry overwhelm their lives.  Not surprisingly, many resort to drug use to get as blitzed as possible for as long as possible, to avoid thinking about the past and future.

I can say from experience that I know a lot of very smart people who were too smart for their own good and let worry overtake their lives.   And I know a lot of other people who are dumb as stones and haven't a care in the world.   Smart people intellectualize worry too much, where as the dumber ones just let it go - but learn nothing in the process.

Maybe this is why in Alcoholics Anonymous, two of the tenets of that faith are first, to let go of the past (for example by writing apology letters to people you have wronged in the past) and second, to stop worrying about the future by surrendering control to a higher power - summed up neatly in their "serenity prayer" - God, grant me the Serenity, to accept the things I can not change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.

I am not sure where this is going, but it just struck me that this ties together some disparate ideas I have had in this blog regarding anxiety, worry, drug use, and human nature.   A lot of very smart people destroy their own lives over worry - resorting to drug use or driving themselves insane with anxiety.   And this is a shame, too, as these are talented people who should succeed in life.

And it explains why a lot of people who succeed in life, or at least appear to, are really not very bright folks.   They take things one day at a time and get ahead, without worrying or overthinking things.   And while I commend their more carefree attitude about life, it does seem unfair to some that some odious people get ahead in the world, while smarter people end up suffering.

Maybe - and this is just a wild thought - we should take a lesson from the successful idiots of the world and not let stress and anxiety overwhelm us.   Because that really is the demarcation between successful people and unsuccessful people in this world - not how smart they are, but how they deal with stress and adversity.

Just a thought.