People say that dogs don’t have a sense of mortality. They are blissfully ignorant when it comes to the idea of death and passing away. Which is to say that they also have no clue as to what’s bad for them.
For the past few weeks, my dog, Whiskey, has been licking his paw incessantly. He’s been licking it to the point where his skin was a burnt sort of red and he would growl whenever we came near him. It was obviously time for ‘The Cone Of Shame’ again, the cone we put around his neck whenever there was an infection on his paw.
There’s almost a morbid kind of humour seeing him hurting himself till his paws are raw and yet biting at the hand that tries to help him. We know that we put the cone around his neck because he doesn’t know what’s good for him, but who’s going to put the cone on us when we don’t know what’s good for us?
We have so many raw patches on our skin, some of them broken from all our desperate licking. Don’t pretend there are ghosts in our lungs, compelling us to do unimaginable things. There aren’t any. It’s just us, attached to our own misery. Our addictions. We hold on to them like Gollum held onto the Ring. And let’s be very honest, the Ring never did anyone any good. It just made the wearer invisible, not invincible. Oh, but then we all loved it so.
I think the first time I understood what addiction really was was when I threw my dad’s cigarette box out of the window. My father has been a smoker for longer than I can remember. To me, it’s an innate part of him. I cannot imagine any other permutation of my father than this one that I love so. Seeing him standing just outside the door, the smoke drifting towards the air. The smell of him that both harms me and makes me feel safe. The flawed beauty of it all.
He wasn’t angry at me for throwing his cigarettes away, or least he didn’t show it. Still, I could tell he was upset by it. I would soon come to realize that this wasn’t something you could throw out the window. This was about addiction. It was a thing I did not know by name but had seen so clearly. And his is one of the least of them.
Everyone we meet has an addiction or two. My dad had a really obvious addiction to a physical thing. It was a tangible thing. Easy to point out and easy to judge. But it doesn’t end there, does it? There are some things in people that you just can’t pick up on until it’s too late.
For a long time, I was friends with a girl I didn’t realise had an addiction. At first glance, this girl was fun, gorgeous and approachable. She was a lot of things and most of all, to the naive 13-year-old that was me, she was cool. Our friendship was a one-way street. Me trailing along the narrow path she left behind and her leaving breadcrumbs.
She would constantly talk about her life, never truly expecting the other person to reply. Funny how I, the storyteller, ended up being bombarded with stories of her parents’ divorce, her dysfunctional family and her caricature of a social life. At first, I thought I was special. That I was privy to things about her and that she and I had a special bond. Turns out, everyone was in on it. She had told her stories to anyone who would listen. From her massive circle of suspiciously perfect friends that no one had ever met to her screwed up relationships. She had sucked on the hollow shell of herself until she managed to get every marrow of drama and misery she could find. Making sure that she was always interesting. Always mysterious. She was high on that idea that everyone was fawning over every word she said. And oh, how we fawned over her.
Yes, I admit I am biased against her and I put her in a bad light but I was exhausted by our TV box relationship. I was exhausted by her telling me everything and yet never truly telling me anything at all. I was exhausted by the way I could say things at the screen that was her and have my words reflected back at me. I had outgrown her. She was stuck in a dark, dark place where she had convinced herself she was happy. I was moving on, all the while realizing that I had been as addicted and blinded by her out-of-proportion life as she had been. Sometimes, I think I would like to have her by my side even now, if only she had let go of that misery and baggage that she treasured so much. If only we had both grown up together.
Addiction can actually be a pitiful thing. Think of it as a tiny Nicholas Cage in all of us. He’s a terrible actor and yet for some reason, Hollywood just needs him. In the same way, we need our addictions. Even so, some Nicholas Cages are just more screwed up than others. You know how in every single movie, he flips out and pretty much spills in a fit of curse words and creepy faces? Yeah, some of us have more flipping out than others.
This was the case with my sister. I hate hindsight but I have to say that my sister’s depression was worse than my family pretended it to be. I will never make the assumption that I understand depression because I don’t. We were constantly worried about her. Wondering what we did wrong for her to end up like this. Was it our faults? When did it begin? When my mother was cutting up all those pretty clothes she loved so much did she mistake the scissors for something beautiful?
I remember the cuts on her wrists, like stains on such pretty white skin. I wondered why she couldn’t see the funny, pretty girl we all saw. All she saw in the mirror was the heavy, immovable weight of someone who could never see the bright side of things. She was caught up in negativity. She told me of morbid, maudlin dreams. Of the broken metal body of an umbrella and sad people. Her negative outlook on life was so deeply ingrained in her that it had seeped into her dreams.
With guilt, I sometimes still think if she had just tried, even a little bit to think more positively, things could have been easier. I could see the sister I knew standing before me, wanting to be free yet too afraid to let go. There was some dark, looming thing inside of her that she constantly fed until it grew to be too much. I’ve come to accept the fact that it is very, very hard to let go of something you’ve spent your life dwelling on, even if that thing might just kill you.
This is not to say that I myself am perfect. I too am deeply flawed. In this world of addicts, I would be one of the first to step up to say: Hi. My name is Felice and I am addicted to my own misery.
It’s true. I so easily succumb to my insecurities. My inferiority complex. My need to feel loved. In my paranoia, I’ve doubled back to rewrite the last paragraph at least twice. Today, as I sat through my school’s Graduation Day rehearsal, I was completely overwhelmed by the feeling of smallness in myself. Tiny details that normally wouldn’t matter could sometimes hit me like a crash of hearts. No, I’m not fine with the fact that my parents’ first reply to whether or not they were coming to my graduation was “We’re busy”. No, I’m not fine with the fact that my best friend told someone else something important before she told me. No, I’m not fine with the fact that I feel lonely in a crowd of 200. I feel small. I feel afraid. I feel replaced.
You can see how a small part of me (or maybe a very big part) is addicted to making stakes out of splinters. For some reason, I can’t contain my need to obsessively look into every tiny problem and make it seem like some epic tragedy. Woe is me, right?
My father told me once that before he caught a Spanish newscaster named Felice on television, he had decided to name me Olivia. Olivia, the emotional, angst-ridden side of me. I send all my pain to her and let her roam around in agony and melodrama. It often feels like I am naturally divided into Olivia and Felice. Felice being the happy cheery girl that everyone knows and Olivia being the poet you only see on Tumblr. Yet, this separation is far from a veil. It’s a thin line, but neither Felice nor Olivia is a mask. I’ve come to accept that Olivia is a side of me that is both real and tangible. I don’t feel the need to deny this dimension of myself any more. I am as all human beings are. Strange and complex. A conflict resolved.
If I were ever offered a pill to erase Olivia, and be Felice and only Felice, all I would say is give me my depression. Give me my hurt. Give me my bloody knuckles that I know are parts of me and take back all your artificial happiness. Your false felicities. I don’t strive for being solely happy any longer. I only want one thing now. I only want to be comfortable in my own humanity.
Our happiness is interlocked with our misery. Can we truly be happy without first being sad? One relies so much on the other, it’s difficult to decipher. Our attempts for getting on a straight road to happiness are futile. When we go out looking to get only one thing, we usually end up with the exact opposite. Maybe if we accept all that is bad and good, we could strike the perfect balance. Olivia and Felice.
I’m still a child. I don’t know if this stream of consciousness is bullshit or wisdom. I don’t know whether or not Forever Happy is a good thing. I don’t know whether or not our addictions and troubles are entirely bad things. All I know is that my dad, my lost friend, my sister, me, the whole world are just so human. Painfully so.
In a few days, we’ll be freeing Whiskey of that ridiculous cone. This being the second time he has had to have The Cone of Shame on, I joked that maybe we should just keep it on him forever. But we don’t. We can’t be afraid of addictions. We can’t be afraid because we want to see him able to run outside again. We want to see him jump into our laps and snuggle us whenever we come back home. We want to see him as he is meant to be. Paw-licking tendencies and all.
Felice is a girl who made the ill-advised choice to write this article when she probably should have been studying for the SPM. She doesn’t regret it though. Also, she’s watched each Lord of The Rings movie at least twice.
(Image is Cone of Shame by Aidras)