On Abuse and Addiction


I think one of my students is on drugs.  It is the only thing that would explain her erratic behavior and the mysterious reasons given for it.

I recognize her behavior because I had mysterious problems too — mysterious because I did not understand them or their cause — as a result of my abusive relationship with Reeducation and therefore with myself.

I have been saying things are wonderful lately but it is only because I have flashes of brilliance. For a long time I thought I had lost access to these entirely. I have had Reeducation removed, but some days I still have its habits.


In retrospect I realize that I undertook Reeducation to learn how to handle family alcoholism, although I did not realize at the time that that was my precise purpose. I only knew there was something seriously wrong with me. I had long planned to see someone about it once I was well enough established in life to be able to pay for this.

One day I told Reeducation in passing that I had seen a wonderful set by a famous jazz band. That is how Reeducation discovered that living in New Orleans and not yet having acquired friends who shared my musical interests, I was going out by myself. With some thought I had developed a modus operandi to do this without getting hit on. Imitating some incredibly cool, older Black men I had seen, I would choose a tiny table with only one chair, order club soda, tip very well, close my face, and leave after the first set. This worked very well. You could work up until the 10 PM news, go out, see one set, and be home in plenty of time to be at work early the next day.

Reeducation could not believe it. At my age and station I should be getting drunk, staying out until all hours, and picking up men in hopes of getting pregnant. I was incredulous that so great a degree of self destruction should be considered typical. At that time in my life I had not yet met anyone who would come up with a program like that.


Now, however, I have encountered such people and I understand much more. I have strong reactions to such people, reactions I am studying.

Example A

Just before last Hallowe’en I met through a consulting job a woman who wanted me to go with her to hear music in New Orleans. Now, I will drive to New Orleans on a whim. But to go from Maringuoin at night with a virtually random person, to wander randomly in the French Quarter, seemed odd. I had an informal party to go to, involving some mutual acquaintances, and I said look, I am not going all the way to New Orleans, at night, with someone I don’t know, but you’re welcome to come to the party.

She did and the experience was chaotic and draining, although I could not define why — it was just a feeling. There was a strange aura about her. Having no particular commitment to her, I just cut her out of my phone lists. In retrospect I realize that she was an alcoholic and I had known it. The main pieces of evidence was that while she claimed to be looking for friends, it was quite clear that in reality she was only seeking drinking partners. The indirect piece of evidence was how on edge I felt — enough so that when later that weekend I encountered some other people who were differently invasive and who I now know are their own alcoholic environment, I felt myself bare my teeth: “don’t you even try, I have had enough already, push me any further and I will absolutely bury you.”

Example B

Early in the Mardi Gras season I actually did go to New Orleans with a relatively new friend. She is related to the “differently invasive” described above but on the surface does not resemble them. I felt drained in a way I did not understand, but in the same was as I had after meeting the Hallowe’en woman described above. After that I did not see a great deal of her, but weeks into Lent, when I did, I realized that she, too, was an alcoholic and understood why I had found her to be so draining. And as luck would have it, I ran into our mutual friends later that weekend. Once again they began pushing on boundaries, telling me in this case that I should be more tolerant of their friend. Once again I found myself virtually baring my teeth at them, willing to do whatever I could to prevent them from making me feel guilty enough about having perceived the drinking problem that I would admit that the real problem was that I had perceived it.


It is my understanding that in science, if you repeat an experiment and get the same results, you can say there is a pattern. You can hypothesize that there is a real phenomenon out there — that you are not just imagining it, not just wishing it. You can therefore begin to analyze and interpret it.

And some postmodernists say the scientific method is oppressive. Reeducation said intellectual activity alienated one from reality. I have always found the opposite.

I also find it interesting that abusive people want you to mistrust your intellect, and overestimate the power of your imagination and will. What you observed is wrong, but those bruises, for example, are there because you imagined them into being.


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32 responses to “On Abuse and Addiction

  1. Reactions to people who are drinking. I must be disturbed by the event in example B and still reacting. Or there is more going on than I know.

    So, I went to eat crawfish, invited by the man who’d have an affair if he could but who says it’s OK just to be friends. One can see he still hopes against hope. Part of the evidence is, as I am seeing is typical in many men, the (discouraging) advice.

    So throughout the entire dinner I was verbally jumping around, trying to be entertaining and to entertain myself and yet deflect emotional invasion. I came home exhausted.

    What I had been doing resembled exactly what I used to do in the family, be as entertaining as possible, defuse and deflect, defuse and deflect, and make it all look right, not because I thought it was right but I wanted to look right and I knew the family members wanted to look right for themselves. Amazingly exhausting.

    Amazing, the whole thing. Amazing how that act kicks in any time I sense any form of encroachment.

  2. Yes, I became the entertainer in my family (and I’m still an entertainer). But I didn’t really mind. They were such a bunch of sad sacks that it really was a good idea for me to try to cheer them up if I could. And for some reason I did not find it exhausting but rather energizing.

    It does not matter what you do for and with people as long as you know what you’re doing and why you are doing it. And that is what my “re-educator” told me!

    Of course dating, going to clubs, and partying are not part of my reality. And I’m sure that’s a whole different social reality from mine.

  3. For me, what is draining is related in large part to what I deem to be cultural differences. I find I am sufficiently energised by relating to the sociologically termed “working class” — the blue collar types of Australian culture — especially if they have interesting sports like skydiving or kickboxing. However, I find it really, really exhausting to somehow fall in line with a non-rebellious, non-self-determining cultural logic as pertains to the middle class Australian. I catch glimpses of it at times and I do find it to be threatening/smothering. I know that the reason I’ve been rejected from so many jobs is that I do not have this expected middle-class mentality. The Brit ex-pats have tended to read me as more “upper” class because of my refined accent, and do not give me this trouble, imposing upon me the necessity of learning to conform. I don’t like being shaped into conformity by those who see my differences as being somehow arbitrary, immature, or badly thought out. I experience this attitude as a horrible colonial constraint. There are some places in which I can smell this penitentiary atmosphere more than others. I’ve learned to recognise its puritanical narrow brow, its superficial brightness and sentimentality.

  4. General model for drainingness: being pushed and projected into, used as a toy, whatever, and not having a lot of choice about it or not knowing one has, and trying to manage the situation without sacrificing all personal integrity.

  5. Also: Not really understanding the culture, and finding that a lot more (or something very different) has been read into what you were trying to say. Also: Feeling obligated to show good will in a culture that one is not automatically attuned to (one of my biggest problems with classroom teaching), leading to constant self analysis in terms of “how do I come across?” whereas for others this kind of knowledge is automatic.

  6. Ah, but that’s 24/7, all the time, if you don’t live where you’re from. It’s why I’m always tired here in Maringouin. I have to get out of the anxious, social climbing eastern U.S. and the preaching and sinning Old Dominion to rest up because in those two overlapping areas, I am supposed to understand what is going on and relate, but I do not, and it is exhausting.

    I’d say there’s that and then in addition to it there are the special cases of drainingness, which don’t have those national or regional boundaries (i.e. dealing with drunks and so on).

  7. Yes, there are always additions burdens of various sort that supply the fuel for hidden psychological warfare.

  8. I meant FUEL-TANKS. We carry the fuel-tanks that supply the fuel that is used against us.

    There! Fixed my mixed metaphor.

  9. Hidden psychological warfare … YES, good term. I will adopt it and be aware of it.

    Carrying the fuel tanks, it’s a great metaphor. Of course I am always told one should just stop carrying them, but I really don’t think I am the problem …

    EXCEPT to the extent that as is obvious, I still react to my father’s alcoholism all the time and do not always realize that is what I am doing. Now, there is a fuel tank I would really like to lose, but it appears one must DRAIN it.

  10. I had these feelings of exhaustion with the atmosphere around me when I lived in Switzerland.

  11. I wonder if it’s still so bad in Switzerland.

  12. I’m sure it’s worse.

  13. I have been told recently that it is indeed worse.

  14. That portends badly for my friend who is there.

  15. anisa

    you write some very interesting stuff that make me question my own ways of thinking

  16. anisa

    “…be as entertaining as possible, defuse and deflect, defuse and deflect, and make it all look right, not because I thought it was right but I wanted to look right and I knew the family members wanted to look right for themselves. Amazingly exhausting.”

    I am also familiar with this

  17. That certainly seems to be the feminine burden part of social interaction. The underlying and ever unspoken question of many social interactions: “Why are we here and why have we made the effort to get together and interact like this?” is supposed to be answered from the feminine side. That is, it is an answer required from the women in a mixed gender group. To refrain from giving an answer is to leave a gap of meaning that is left unfilled by an emotionally consoling justification in the form of immanence. It produces a certain bewilderment on the part of males who were leaning on you (unconsciously, always) to produce the expected result.

  18. The kind of social strain where people are striving to keep up appearances (when they are drunks, crazy, sex addicts, criminals, or just garden variety assholes, whatever) is indeed exhausting. I don’t do that sort of thing. It’s not in my job description!

  19. It’s a feminine role, one men will try to push you into, yes, but it’s also broader and I was thinking a lot more of the keeping up appearances that goes on with addicts when I wrote this. I have just perceived suddenly a whole new level of contours about this and I have thought I should post on it before the image of the post fades — but I’m booked solid so I may not get to. This comment stands as a placeholder for that post … the strained interactions, the insistence on appearances at so many levels, the feeling that something is wrong and you are assigned to cover it up, although you do not know what the thing is.

    The thing is the addiction of the addict — the dependency on a thing that sucks out life but is perceived as (or is) what keeps the person going. Like the rings of the Nazguls in Tolkien. Like a flattering vampire when you have a otherwise unfulfilled need for affirmation. Like an abusive boss, when he is also the only employer in town and nobody is a position to leave, and they keep up their strength precisely by convincing themselves that what is not actually tolerable, is tolerable or inevitable. I had the images of these patterns come at me upon reading Anisa’s comments and the proto post would be in a first instance a response to those.

  20. anisa

    “..the strained interactions, the insistence on appearances at so many levels, the feeling that something is wrong and you are assigned to cover it up, although you do not know what the thing is.”

    Shortly after reading this post, we went to a restaurant. Two musicians (one blind, the other leading him) played and I took a photo of them. I wanted to immediately place a donation in their jar by going up to them and doing so, even in the middle of the performance. As I moved to do so, HE shook his head “no.”
    me: “What?”
    him: “Wait ’til afterwards.”
    me: “why?”
    him: “they’ll come around”
    me: “I don’t mind. who cares?”
    him: “it doesn’t look good”
    me: “to who?” (I looked around)
    him: “to me”
    me: “oh…that’s what it is”
    Then HE proceeded to continue to talk about how I was making a big deal about it. I said nothing, waiting to see HIM talk himself into some sense.

  21. Don’t let yourself be destabilized, because that is what he is angling for. Maintain integrity – meaning, don’t let yourself be undermined, keep yourself whole.

  22. Days later, because it’s another point I don’t have time to develop into a post, but it’s important, so I’ll say it here: I am amazed to find how low the motives of so many people really are. This is something I have been discovering progressively but I was really, really unaware of it when I entered Reeducation. I could not figure out why it assumed I had low motives in life, how shocked it was to realize I did not, and so on. But it had them, I supposed, and it had encountered many people who did.

  23. I’ve encountered the same kind of thing — once, when I tried to get counselling, and a few times when I’ve tried to ameliorate a situation for the good of everyone in that situation (not just myself). I’ve been met with the reaction that my motives must be low. It’s very shocking to realise that the person whom you had confided in actually has very low motives themselves, otherwise they could not have read low motives into me. Upon realising this, I came to the conclusion that there was no communicative possibility between me and the other person (who attributes to me low motives). The only thing to do is to give the appearance of going along with whatever they say for a while longer until you can get the hell out of their company. You don’t want to make them angrier and more disturbed by confronting their interpretation, because for someone to question their own interpretation of the world does require a nobility of spirit that you’ve just discovered this other person does not have.

  24. ..although conventional bourgeois motives are always low motives, necessarily, because they pertain to the narrow individual as he or she conceives himself.

  25. Z

    Yes – there is the lowness of conventional bourgeois motives, which to me are already alien, although I can at least more or less comprehend them.

    Then there’s my more or less current situation at work, in which I was directed to improve the situation for all and did, and then was told I was oppressing everyone and turning the situation to my advantage. (What I actually gained from it, I have not yet been able to get anyone to show.) I was very surprised as I had not imagined that certain people had low motives — although they proved it at that point. Because I didn’t realize what they were, I had *already* made them angrier and more disturbed by confronting their interpretation. !!!

    Although when I wrote this comment I wasn’t thinking about work but about real life, I mean outside life, there are so many people in my area who are not honest with themselves, who have unexamined desires, who lead chaotic lives, and who think this is “natural.”

  26. They have been badly brought up. In the past, people were educated to have an internal moral compass, and although this seemed like oppression — and was in fact oppression in some of the more extreme instances — it gave the locus of behavioural control over to the individual, at least in theory. (Actual economic relations and dominance and submission as part of social convention made behaviour less “individualistic” than it might have been otherwise.)

    Bourgeois individualism, however, involves a denial of any locus of control. The bourgeois type is only moral when he is angry or upset about something. Then we have the typical bourgy outburst. Apart from that, he is chaotic.

    Given that he is so chaotic — both to himself and in relation to others — he is one of Nietzsche’s herd animals. He can be easily manipulated by flattery and various social inducements to perform in a particular way (since he does not know himself — the fundamental “thing in itself”). Yet he believes himself to be free in the absolute.

    An absolute turkey.

  27. Anyway, for me, the key thing about the bourgy is that they lack a sense of loyalty — they lack a soul. What they say at one minute and what they do the next could be totally different things, so you need to give them a wide berth, so far as not becoming involved with them emotionally. In medieval terms, they are like women and infidels — they lack a soul. They seem to be living and present as human beings, but actually it’s an illusion: there’s nothing there behind the mask of humanity that they occasionally put up.

  28. Z

    This is very interesting — chaos, herd, lack of soul.

    Over the weekend 2 friends independently said that the problem here is the strictness of the upbringing (I would say, combined with the lack of substance behind this). They say people are so guilted out and / or abused that they do not internalize a moral compass.

    One of these friends is a Moslem. His example is his daughter, a college student, who came home drunk. He says it was good she came home, as opposed to going elsewhere, and that she did not have an auto accident. He told her that it would be better if next time, she takes a taxi or considers the possibility of not getting so drunk. He says a Louisiana father would have either thought it was cute or would have beat her, but that he believes his approach, suggesting the taxi or possibly drinking less, will have a better result in the end.

  29. A more traditional society — like the one I came from — often tends to be less impersonal and objectifying, hence it is less abusive in its general approach to human relations. I reflect upon how contemporary Western society tends to avoid dealing practically with the problem of evil at all. For most people brought up within its auspices, evil is a mysterious force on the borders of our existence — mysteriously destructive (especially for those of the left) or mysteriously seductive (for those of the right). In any case, it is mysterious, and hence cannot be encountered directly, nor can its effects be directly resolved. Your example given above illustrates this point.

  30. Very asute on evil and mystery. And they do want to keep it mysterious. So close to them (so they can hide from the challenge of not having it), yet so far (so untouchable, and therefore so unbeatable).

    Phenomena like Hitler (evil because he is the enemy and is rather Gothic, not because we necessarily disagree with his policies) are seen as manifestations of the Devil, not of politics.

    Traditional societies, it is interesting because it is supposed to be in modernity that one got de objectified and so on (cf. Rousseau).

    Bourgeois individualism and the denial of a locus of control. I would love to hear more about that although I think I get it partly (all rules made up by the individual according to the dicta of his or her chaotic heart?)

  31. Hi

    Regarding the de-objectifying and modernity, I have in mind something like Nietzsche’s dictum that any virtue taken to its extremes becomes its opposite. That is the problem I see with contemporary ‘postmodernist’ society. Putting it another way, identity and meaning have become so subjectified, such features of my own or another person’s solipsistic desires and suppositions, that there is no longer an objective standard for determining what is true and what isn’t. This is a significant turn, because if, when it all boils down, reality amounts to just one person’s word against the other person’s word, then the Western cultural subject is intensely vulnerable. Whose word is going to be accepted in the end? The word of the one with the most social power or the one with the least? It’s not going to be the latter. Hence, I am vulnerable to intense objectification by anyone (anyone at all) who has more social power than me, no matter what the quality of their thinking is, or the value of their arguments.

  32. mestizajes

    Yes. And I notice that part of what the extreme subjectivism does is let people off the hook for listening to each other. If what you have to say is just “your reality,” “your world,” or something, then it has no meaning for anyone else. Anything anyone says is only listened to for entertainment value, because it is a performance … content does not matter.

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