Thanatostalgia August 1, 2013

I don’t actually know who Russell Brand is, except that he’s British and popular for some reason and he said this thing, which really resonated with me:

A new documentary about comedian Russell Brand lays bare the lifelong grip addiction can hold on an individual—even one with long-term recovery. In Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery, BBC3 follows the 37-year-old as he goes back to visit the Focus 12 Centre in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, where he got clean in 2002. The program shows disquieting footage of Brand in his 20s, leaning over the heated foil to smoke heroin before leaning back against the wall and staring dead-eyed in to the camera; it then flashes forward to Brand in present day, watching the old clip with his friend Martino Sclavi at the London Savoy Hotel. Referring to his young self as “a proper little junkie,” Brand says: “This is when you know it’s a disease. It doesn’t matter that I was sat in that flat in Hackney and now I’m in the Savoy. I’m jealous of me then. It doesn’t make a difference to me. The money, the fame, the power, the sex, the women—none of it. I’d rather be a drug addict.”


I think it’s pretty clear that when Brand says, “I’m jealous of me then,” he doesn’t mean that he’s planning to go out and score as soon as he finishes the interview. It isn’t a statement directed at action. It’s a kind of nostalgic statement, I think, pressing fingertips against an old bruise.

And this particular nostalgia, which has a severely attenuated relationship to actual desire to drink or use, is something I’ve felt now and then. It only began coming up once I’d been sober for over a year—sort of like how sometimes you’ll faint after you finally get out of danger.

I first felt this weird new thing in March. It came after these really unpleasant days of grinding my gears, self-divided: I’d been so stressed out, self-lacerating and tweezering at all my actions and emotions, and I just desperately wanted to stop being so obsessed with myself, so laboriously aware of all my insufficiencies. And then a few things collided–a song I overheard, something I was reading–and suddenly all those self-involved thoughts flowed away and were replaced by a nostalgic, unrealistic longing for alcohol.

Or, more accurately, for the very worst days, the last days I was drinking. That sense of being helpless and trapped–and therefore free of responsibility, maybe? I’m not sure why this is attractive. There’s a pure death drive in there somewhere, I think, in this longing for the downward spiral. It felt like such a relief just to know that severe alcoholism was on the other side of a door that I could open if I chose.

(more below)

And yet I didn’t have any actual, living desire to open that door. It was this bizarre zombie desire, which had some of the facial characteristics of actual craving for alcohol but seemed obviously already-overcome. I knew that I was not going to “do anything” about it except wallow in it for a while. Sitting around being jealous of me then. It felt like being inside music, without self-conscious second-guessing; there’s probably a whole post in how tightly I intertwine music and drunkenness, those two classic forms of ekstasis. It felt simultaneously sad, frightening, wistful, kitschy or tacky, and kind of great.

This desire felt like being freed from self-obsession. It felt like an escape from the endlessly conscious self. It wasn’t directed toward anyone else, so in fact was selfish in that sense: There was no beloved I was directing my longing toward. It was about absence of noise, not presence of beauty. It really was a relief, though. A scary, unpredictable relief. I was a little worried that I was full of surprises.


And then it went away. I’ve had it briefly since then, and it always does have that tight connection to the kind of defeated death nobody wants, and it’s generally not realistic–it only rarely slides toward the fatalistic, anxious, live-snake desire which lets me imagine actually drinking. There’s always something grossly sentimental about it as well as something comforting.

Not entirely sure what I’m after with this post. There is one moral, which is that there isn’t necessarily as big a difference as there may appear between currently-using, obviously-a-mess addicts and people who are *~*working real hard on their recovery*~*, you know? There are ways in which I’m a Magritte painting, where every now and then the surface peels away and there’s something really alien under the face. I in fact am working real hard—and I’m generally very protective of my sobriety. I know better than to touch the bruises.

But I’m jealous of me then. I’m jealous of a much worse future than the one I actually want to have and am working toward.

And one thing my spiritual director pointed out, when I brought this up with him, is that it’s not actually an addiction-specific issue. He thought that a lot of people would be able to relate to this downward longing, the nostalgic memory of the rapture of the deep. So I’m curious as to whether that’s true.

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