We are a nation of fabricated addictions. Not real addictions — to things like heroin, crack, or alcohol that require treatment programs, follow Addiction Severity Indexes, break families apart, and are highly correlated with crime and prison time. I’m talking about our inability to moderate personal consumption of relatively benign things. Things like caffeine, meat, television, sex, carbohydrates, etc.
Yes, this one is going to be one of your stereotypical “rant” blog posts; think “Andy Rooney” on 60 Minutes but without any of the talent or charm. But lately I’ve come across so many posts and articles just on the topic of people giving up caffeine and/or coffee, and the hearty ring of faux-addiction support group replies to them, that I couldn’t hold out any longer.
Moderation! – huh – yeah – What is it good for? (Absolutely nothing.)
In America these days, we seem to regularly prove ourselves incapable of consuming just about anything in moderation. And a real indicator of how bad it’s become isn’t just abuse of the word “addiction” to describe this inability, but it’s in how often we now seem to resort to cold turkey abstention as the only logical way left to control our urges and consumption habits. We’ve become a nation of people who define ourselves not in the positive — i.e., by what we do or what we are capable of — but in the negative — i.e., by the things we don’t do.
(And when I say “we”, I do include myself — as my past history of giving up coffee and caffeine for two years will attest. Though I’ve since recovered.)
A couple of online examples just in the coffee realm lately include How I Ended My Relationship With Coffee and How to Give Up Coffee and Caffeine Altogether. And the response to these posts is typically a bit of rah-rah personal-victory-over-addiction celebration — as if by skipping the four double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiatos we order every morning, we’ve just walked away from a deadly crack habit, stopped stealing cars for drug money, and demonstrated lives that are clean enough to take our children out of foster care.
If they only had a Coffee Seminary…
But what we really have is a culture that seems to make a victim of the substance abuser and blames the thing we’re consuming. What makes this particularly problematic are the substances we’re talking about. Take coffee, for example. Coffee is a substance that has proven safe for human consumption in moderation for centuries now. That’s epidemiological data for centuries more than 95% of the stuff we put into our bodies today.
Then add a person with no self-control over their gluttonous consumption — who acts like a dog locked in a closet with a two-week supply of Gravy Train. (National waistlines being just one example of our incapacity for moderation.) Suddenly there are all sorts of health concerns and paranoia over headaches, jitters, anxiety, insomnia, etc. So rather than develop self-discipline and address the core problem of consuming the substance well beyond any healthy means, we avoid the root problem by giving the stuff up entirely. And we come to define ourselves by these things we’ve “given up”; to host a dinner party today is to navigate a minefield of random food aversions and personal tics.
But is that really overcoming “addiction” to these non-addictive substances? Or is it just running away and hiding from the root problem? In actuality, giving up otherwise benign substances such as coffee or caffeine is more like a gay man who joins the priesthood, thinking his vow of celibacy somehow cures his homosexuality. This isn’t dealing with the problem at all — it is avoiding it by trying to remove temptation and thereby pretending the real problem doesn’t exist.
Moderation: I’ll raise an espresso cup and drink to that. OK, maybe tomorrow morning instead — I’m feeling a bit agitated at the moment.
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