To some, addiction looks like the homeless.
The man tirelessly digging through trashcans for recyclables. The battered woman with her ripped clothes and change jar, and the many others who have long abandoned the concepts of dignity, shame, and trust.
Only addiction could take a person so low. People feel sorry for their dogs. A poor retriever stuck following some failure from one shelter to the next.
For those with more empathy the addict may be a man who simply got caught. Trapped by substances so powerfully addictive that no one could be held accountable.
One hit is the point of no return. To just say no the first time is the only hope for our young people.
This sort of thinking is possible when you see addiction only in strangers. In the rough looking beggar with his cardboard sign, or in the needle-marked arms of some kid who tried to steal a wallet.
When I think of addiction, it's personal. It looks like my father and it looks like me.
Smoking took my father's voice. Gambling took his money. Crack cocaine took his health. They each took his time and attention.
Addiction truly ruled his life.
I understood this early. I can remember my mother telling him to stop smoking when I was six or so, but he couldn't.
He knew he had cancer growing in his throat, but the pull of that little white stick was astounding. I was eleven when he had surgery to remove his larynx.
Not once did I try smoking. I was fully aware of this thing called addiction and just how powerful it could be. I refused to gamble for real money. Any drug remotely like cocaine was completely off my to-do list and I didn't even try coffee until I was twenty-four years old. I saw how badly he needed it every morning.
I had a healthy fear of addiction, and if I had any choice in the matter there was absolutely no fucking away I was getting addicted to anything.
Then I found myself addicted.
Video games are actually a lot like gambling. They both produce a certain rush. Risks, rewards, and the possibility of losing it all can be strong motivators.
The game I played the most was EverQuest, also known as EverCrack.
It was one of those games where you collected rare armor and weapons from powerful dragons, some of which required small armies to defeat. You slowly equipped your character and continued to grow stronger over time. The truly powerful items often took months, even years to acquire.
If you were killed by an enemy player, every single one of the items you had acquired was left behind where you died. Whoever killed you could stay there and wait for your return, easily killing you over and over again without your protective equipment.
If you were lucky you might retrieve it in a few hours, perhaps the next day, but after one week everything was deleted and you were left with nothing.
Developing a character was such a huge time sink that to lose it all would be devastating. This made for a game of high stakes. There have been numerous deaths and even suicides linked to EverQuest.
I was hooked. I played night and day for all five years of high school, sacrificing everything from grades to relationships. It wasn't until I moved away to university that I was finally able to truly recognize what was happening. I sold my EverQuest account for $1,500 in that first semester, which should tell you something about how valuable that game time was.
So after growing up staying clear of anything potentially addictive, I found myself addicted. You can imagine my surprise. All that about apples falling close to trees, and the countless movies with sons not wanting to become their fathers.
I couldn't believe it actually happened to me.
Though once I accepted it, I began to understand the nature of addiction.
The only thing worth more than time is money, and it wasn't difficult for me to make the jump to see how gambling could also be addictive.
It's not just the money; it's the game. Money provides the stakes, but it's the rush of the bluff, and the accumulation of experience that makes you the better player. Knowing when to call someone out, or when to fold and take your losses.
I came to understand that addiction was not just about dangerous substances, or a brain lacking a certain hormone or chemical.
I became addicted to EverQuest because I was unhappy. I battled extreme anxiety and depression throughout all of the time I played that game. It was my escape. It made me feel good about myself by giving me a clear set of goals to achieve along with a social group I felt a part of.
What eventually helped me move on with my life was the ability to be honest with myself. I was able to see my fear, guilt, and embarrassment clearly. I began to let go of the anger I had been carrying for so long.
A big part of what helped me get to that point, believe it or not, was psilocybin mushrooms. Those are the 'magic' ones. The ones that are illegal right now.
I had tried them previously with friends in high school. However, it was when I tried them alone, intentionally to get perspective on my life, that I found them especially useful.
The state of mind these mushrooms put me in was very helpful. It initiated a self-therapy session where I could dissect my own behavior and the emotions in my life.
When you're angry you tend to believe it's justified, and you perpetuate it. You tell yourself things to stay angry. You put the blame on other people. It's their fault and they'll get what's coming to them. Then you end up saying things to make them angry too, and it keeps the whole cycle going.
What mushrooms did for me was help subdue that anger. They allowed me to think about my choices objectively, and from the perspective of those around me.
I used them once or twice a year and found tremendous benefit. Not only with addiction, but with my own general well-being and mental health.
This is why I am now compelled to share my story. It's what gives me confidence to speak openly because I see in others what I saw in myself. I believe many people could be assisted in a similar way if the opportunity for them to do so was available.
I know that many of these illegal mind altering substances can be used to help people, because they've helped me.
For that to take place two things need to change. People must be educated, and laws must be changed.
I intend to make that happen.