I received a lot of readers’ mail concerning a recent story on and wanted to take the time to respond to some of the more… appropriate questions. I don’t know what it was about a story looking at a couple of old friends, one who turned out to be gay, focusing on a different way to look at addiction that so struck a nerve with so many people, but hey, I still can’t figure out how was the biggest news in the poker world for a little while.
First of all, I did and do play a lot of poker on Party Poker. I like Party Poker, I like the look, I like the traffic, I like the software and I like the track record of security. I am a fan and supporter of not just Party Poker but poker and gaming as a whole. I also tend towards over-consumption myself and am aware that gaming destroys plenty of lives – I know that for every Phil Hellmuth Jr. there is some guy pawning his wife’s jewelry to get into a satellite qualifier at Hawaiian Gardens. I recognize that a huge segment of the world’s population thinks of gaming as sinful (and homosexuality, drinking, smoking, etc, etc.)
Addiction is a serious issue.
But seriously, get over it.
Addiction above all else is a behavior – does it stem from unique and identifiable brain chemistry? I don’t know; according to Dr. Drew and most of the mainstream scientific community, it absolutely does. OK, well, I’m not sure if I would equate allergies and addiction, but fine, there is a chemical component to addiction. That does not change the fact that the answer to addiction is not in some pill that Pfizer is going to spit out in the next business quarter – it is in honest self-reflection and behavioral modifications.
“Ah ha!” the Dissident says, “but the honest self-reflection part is exactly the part which the brain chemistry of addiction affects. Telling an addict to be honest with themselves is like telling a legless man to run.” (If you couldn’t guess, that brilliant analogy was amongst the many replies… quite a shining diamond of logic too.)
No, telling a legless man to run is a positive request, meaning that I would be asking a man who is physically lacking something (legs) to go do something (run.) Telling a cigarette smoker to is a negative request, meaning that I am asking someone (the smoker) not to do something (smoke.) If the smoker was stranded on a desert island, guess what, there goes the smoking. If the legless guy was stuck on the same desert island, he still ain’t running nowhere.
“Ah ha!” the Dissident clucks again, “but addiction is more than the physical consumption. An addict does not need the drug to still be an addict. This is why Alcoholics Anonymous members always refer to themselves as addicts even when they have not touched the drug in years and years.” (which reminds me of one of my favorite totally un-PC ways to refer to pocket Aces or namely, AA: dried up drunks. “I got knocked out of the poker tournament holding dried up drunks – what do you want from me?!”)
Well this is where I diverge from Alcoholics Anonymous – I don’t think that you are still an addict when you are not addicted to anything. I think that you are prone to addiction and should remain vigilant and could easily slip back and if you have been addicted to something than you are someone who is likely to get addicted to something else in the future and and and…
Seriously, get over it.
Identity is much too complex an issue to ever consider any person totally one thing or another – even if they try and claim that they are. We truly are all individuals making decisions every split second that define who we are.
My brother became a drug addict when our parents were splitting up. I’m not going to go into which drugs specifically but suffice to say that in addition to his weighing 270 lbs at 5’11, he was doing plenty of things that plenty of 20/20 specials have zeroed in on. He did a lot of different drugs, did them often and was a belligerently destructive person to be around. He was also an 18 year old young man who was dealing with his family falling apart.
Now at 20 years old, he weighs 190 lbs (still 5’11) and has gone more than a year without any hard drug in his system (he’ll drink a beer or have a glass of wine, but that’s it.)
How did he do this? How did he surmount the monolithic and unending pit of despair which is addiction?
He took a hard look at his life and realized not only that he was killing himself, but that he had people in his life who loved him and who he loved and most importantly, whom he wanted to spend more time with. His family wasn’t ending, it was just changing. The individuals in his family that he loved and loved him weren’t dead, they just weren’t living in the same house any longer. And he came to this startling conclusion:
If I want to spend more time with someone, . So with that, he stopped killing himself.
I’m not saying that it’s easy to overcome addiction, nor that addiction is a trivial hiccup in someone’s life. What I am saying is that it is possible to halt addiction and that it has been done by other people before and that if some part of mine or my brother’s story applies to you, that you can overcome it too.
Now wide-eyed and healthy, my brother doesn’t wear his willpower like a merit badge, he doesn’t trumpet his achievements with false modesty and heavy advice – he says that he rearranged some priorities and put one foot in front of the other on his way to the gym. He watched what he ate more and took more regular mental notes of what he did during the day. He does not refer to himself as an addict, rather, as someone who’s done a lot of drugs and stopped doing them.
The line between addiction and fun is not a thin one. It is not a distinction best made by clinical medicine – it’s a you thing. If you look at your life and you think that some thing is hurting you or holding you back – THEN DEAL WITH IT! Go get help if you are afraid of medical fallout (withdrawal to some of the harder drugs can be too gnarly an endeavor to undergo on your own) but it ultimately comes down to you.
While I respect what organizations like AA and NA are trying to accomplish – I 100% disagree that you have to admit that you are powerless before you can overcome addiction (admitting that you are powerless is the first step in the 12 Step program, here’s a link to 12step.org if you want to check out the full list.) In reality, I don’t think that you are admitting anything – I think you that you are hoping.
I think that you are hoping that you are powerless so that you never have to stand up and take responsibility for your life and your actions. If you think that your actions are not your fault, that you are afflicted by a disease over which you can exert no control then you will never get to the real root of your problems – you!
So Party Poker people I hope this clears up any misunderstandings.At the risk of redundancy, this is what I think of addiction – that it is more behavior than disease; that in the end, what works for you is up to you and that everything else is just hearsay.