We had several rounds of drinks that night. The non-alcoholic kind. But we were drunk on heavy speech and chatter.
Our conversation took a turn. I was put under the spot light. I felt like a dissected frog on a metal tray, with my four limbs spread eagle and pinned down, and my abdomen wide open for all and sundry to scrutinise. How exposed, how vulnerable.
They called me an addict. I laughed and scoffed at their simplistic conclusion. Don’t judge a book by its cover, I said. I may have weaknesses; we all do because we are not God, but I am a good person, a filial child, a hard worker. Don’t judge! I laughed. Saint Peter has the Pearly Gates ajar, ready for me although that day hasn’t seen the break of dawn.
I must admit, however, that I was seized with fear when I picked up my medical report from the hospital last week. The possibility of being the preachy textbook example of ‘an addict’ was at the front of my mind. I did not dare confide in anyone. I didn’t want them to think I was cowering like a pathetic domestic dog from thunder. But the report proved every fear unfounded. There, look! I’m a clean slate; in the pink of health! This, I proudly told everyone. They taught me once: There’s a general rule, but there are always exceptions. I must be the exception.
But the word kept tugging at my mind. Addict. My synaptic molecular machinery could not process its meaning in a deeper sense. I am not a junkie. I am unlike the beggar on the street in a perpetual drunken stupor, so unwashed that his hair, albeit unintentionally, seems like he intended them dreadlocked.
I reached for the dictionary as soon as I found one. It spewed darkness in defining addiction. It is a compulsion. It is a physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance, they say.
Definitely not me. I control my urges perfectly and I can stop anytime. It’s just when I want to.
I am not an addict.
You’re not sure of your faith. But regardless, all faith encourages physical wellness.
I know, I know. You’ve heard this plenty from me. You know, I don’t want to nag but… I just mean well for you. I really do.
What I’m saying is: health is wealth. Now, don’t start rolling your eyes at me. The stats show that you’re bringing about a premature meeting with your Maker. You’re smart enough to know this.
What good does it bring you? If you’re rejoicing at your present state of health, wait another few years and see. You’d starve yourself to feed your cravings. Shame on you! The hadith says “Your body has a right over you.” Yet you reject sustenance and embrace detriment.
You claim to be broke constantly. And you lament about your financial status. Of course you are broke! You aren’t a liar. Financial management is just something you need to work on. And you can!
But you lie to yourself. Try quitting! Prove to the cynics you’re not an addict. Show them you can live without it.
Are you really sure you can do it?
Pull yourself out of this addiction. It’s for your own good. You can do it.
You don’t like talking about it. I never confront you directly. Whenever anyone asks you, you shrug and appear aloof. But today, I had to drop a snide comment on your state of, well, addiction. Just like a drunk man would always deny that he is drunk when it is obvious to the rest of the world, you too are addicted but in denial.
Every time, I see you itching to get a fix, agony etched on your face. You’d go out at fixed intervals to satisfy your urge. Then, relief would sweep over your face as though your lungs breathed in air greedily after huge monstrous claws wrapped around your neck loosened its grip. You say it’s escapism from stress. It’s liberating. You’re just caught in another form of bondage – a tighter one. It’s an excuse. Why de-stress destructively? Come with me; I’ll show you!
That day at dinner, you watched me eat. You said you were broke; only a ringgit in your pocket. You spent your second last ringgit on a quick fix. I offered to pay for dinner. You refused. Was it pride or were you just not hungry? I cannot tell.
You asked me to help you go on a moratorium, restrain you – give in only when you looked like death. I tried. In your desperation, you screamed and said you hated me. I didn’t mind. But it pained me to see you so dependent, something you refuse to admit.
Then, you gave up trying. How can I force you? Ultimately, it’s your effort. It’s your health, not mine.
Please stop for your sake. You say people are judgmental externalists. I’m not. I love you, but not your addiction.
There’s a song I remember. Here, let me sing it for you.
‘I know where temptation lies
Inside of your heart
I know where the evil lies
Inside of your heart
If you try to make it right
You’re surely gonna end up wrong.’’*
Why try when you’re destined to fail? It’s good. It feeds your soul, doesn’t it? Calms your nerves, tranquilises your mind. That’s good. Mark Renton couldn’t have said it better: “People think it’s all about misery and desperation and death and all that shit which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it.” **
Who said sustenance is all about your ‘daily bread’ only? You know how some religious nuts say, “Your body is the temple of God, so you must care for it”? Aren’t you caring for it too? Don’t I satisfy your bodily desires? You’re constantly in a deep funk without me. I am good for you.
Just a little more; it won’t harm. You can quit tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or next month. You’re still young. Why contest the results in the medical report?
Who cares what they say? ‘Addiction’ that you read is ‘addiction’ defined by the self-righteous. They are hypocrites! Are there degrees of sin? No! All sin is as bad as the other. They, too, lie, squander, cheat and curse. What makes them better judges of what is right and wrong? If they say you’re destined to burn in the lakes of sulphur of hell, so are they!
Money you can earn. What fun is there in life if you don’t try everything life has to offer? That concerned buddy of yours has got to be the dullest, most uninteresting creature on this planet. Oh, for the devil, loosen up, mate.
They don’t understand you. I do. I satisfy you. You’re good. You’re good with me.
‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both’
– The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
I outlived my friend. A health freak, that one, but defeated by a jolt to the heart. What a life. What a joke. I lived on what they called ‘junk’ my whole life. But I’m still here. The addict.
I lived a full and healthy life. That one medical report years ago was so deceiving. My friend was a great person but Death came a-knocking too soon. I failed to proselytise the mind. But the addict didn’t kill my friend. What did? The addiction.
* Temptation Inside of Your Heart, Velvet Underground
**Heroin addict, Scottish, anti-hero of the film Trainspotting
Yi Wen Lim is not an addiction or a conscience. She’s constantly concerned, but is an addict herself in the varied meanings of the word. She hopes all addicts (including herself) will dump the addiction, but if they don’t, that they’ll be fortunate, even if it means her reaching the Pearly Gates first.
(Drawings by Yi Wen Lim.)