On my essay, "The Divided Self," a reader left this comment:
Your story is eerily similar to mine. I was leading a completely stressful life - a LOT of drinking, smoking, zero exercise, eating crap. And then, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I instantly changed, did a complete 180 didn't touch a single beer or a cigarette or a slice of pizza. All I ate were cupfuls of cheerios, protein etc. No more than one slice of bread per day. I exercised 2 hours daily. In 3 months I dropped 55 lbs, and my doctor said my blood sugar was back to normal and I wouldnt need medication to control it anymore. He even wanted to do a case study on how I did that.
And then - I graduated, got my PhD. A month later, it started with one beer. and now a year later, I am pretty much an alcoholic and a heavy smoker. No more exercise and lots of crappy food. I gained back all the weight. I cough, freak out for a while, throw my cigarettes out. and then go search for them in the garbage. I use my asthma inhaler and then go and smoke. I don't even know why I do this. The entire duality of my personality has me beat.
When I was taking care of myself - i was a LOT calmer, reading philosophy, whatnot. BUT I was nowhere as creative as i am now. Iam a musician (stereotypes woohoo), and I find myself writing more often when I am drunk and disoriented and so on.
Now which life do I choose? I guess it all comes down to balance - but HOW? balance seems forced. balance seems complacent. or is it? It seems so to me - the other desperate life is much more interesting - but it just might kill me.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts - a friend suggested your blog to me. If you find balance, tell us how.
I was moved by the comment and wanted to answer the commenter's questions to the best of my ability. Here is my response:
Please do not take this response to mean I have all the answers, I certainly do not. But I'm living as you are, and trying to cope with many of the same things, i.e. quitting unhealthy behaviors and adopting healthy ones.
You say, "I guess it all comes down to balance."
Here I'm tempted to say, "No, it all comes down to timing."
In an ideal world, I think all of us would want to lead more balanced lives--eating moderately, exercising moderately, working less, and so on.
But in the day-to-day business of living, I feel balance is not so much of a choice we have. We just deal. As you said in your comment, any attempt to create balance, feels forced.
I re-read "The Divided Self" after I read you comment. It is very similar to an essay I just posted, called "The Undiscovered Self".
I'm looking at my life now from the perspective of these two essays, which essentially try to grasp the same problem.
It's strange. I don't even think about smoking anymore. I quit. It's been three or four weeks now. I just don't think about it. Which is very strange in light of the essay, "The Divided Self". Because in that essay, I'm describing what appears to be my utter inability to quit smoking.
The thought to have a cigarette will cross my mind, but for some reason, now, I don't act on it. And before I was helpless. So what explains this phenomenon?
I'm reading John Dewey's seminal work, Art as Experience, and he talks a lot about the ebb and flow of human experience, nature, and life. As humans, we really do have to go through these revolutions, these cycles. Granted some people with have more accentuated rhythms than others, higher peaks, lower valleys--all of us are familiar with these cycles.
Listen to how Dewey describes it. He's wonderfully accurate:
Life itself consists of phases in which the organism falls out of step with the march of surrounding things and then recovers unison with it—either through effort or by some happy chance. And, in a growing life, the recovery is never mere return to a prior state, for it is enriched by the state of disparity and resistance through which it has successfully passed.And here:
Nevertheless, if life continues and if in continuing it expands, there is an overcoming of factors of opposition and conflict; there is a transformation of them into differentiated aspects of a higher powered and more significant life. The marvel of organic, of vital, adaptation through expansion (instead of by contraction and passive accommodation) actually takes place. Here in germ are balance and harmony attained through rhythm. Equilibrium comes about not mechanically and inertly but out of, and because of, tension.And so, from these passages, you can infer that there is meaning behind our "bad periods"--that is, the periods where we pick up smoking again, have lots of casual sex, drink too much, etc. This does not mean unhealthy, compulsive, addictive behavior is acceptable. It just means that the human being can be understood as moving through phases of order and disorder, but that each stage of disorder has the potential to lead to a higher stage of order, a higher level of consciousness.
I think there is great sense in this philosophy.
You mention that since you returned to drinking, you're more creative. In this post, I examine the effect of pot on my creativity.
Everyone is different, of course, in regards to creativity and intoxicants.
I too had the sense when I was taking drugs that I could at times tap into a well-spring of creativity. But for me it was an illusion.
Drug abuse, alcohol abuse, etc., generally occurs during a person's phase of "disorder". And yet, I had a tendency to see order in my disorder. This was part of my distortion.
I began my response to your comments by saying I thought it all came down to timing instead of balance. Reading the passages by Dewey, however, it does seem to come down to balance.
From the point of view of nature, yes, balance is what makes the human being whole. It is the complete cycle, from order to disorder and back to order.
But from the point of view of the human being, I still believe it's a matter of timing. Where you are at in any given moment of your life will determine your "success" at living. But fear not, because according to the philosophy of Dewey, we are all on a self-balancing path, even in our darkest moments.