Monday, July 21, 2008

Theory of the Mind VII: Better a Dirty Teat than a Clean Bottle

I have a friend, call him Vince, who plays the flute well enough to jam but has a terrible alcohol habit and lives in his car. I don't judge him; I try to help him with logistics and in music participation when I can. I have told him outright that his main problem is being a drunk, but I don't judge that, even when I have to help him in the car (he doesn't drive) after a jam where he couldn't even play due to his alcohol level. He knows that I know that he knows that his desire for sobriety cannot compete with his desire for alcohol, though he claims short-term memory loss and possibly some liver damage from the habit. Yet he is more interested in stopping beer because of a feared "gluten" allergy than stopping drinking; lately he's felt better on vodka. And his doctor gets frequent blood tests. I find his attendance by doctors mildly entertaining, as they do nothing about the elephant in the room except to clip its toenails.

Why does Vince lack the desire to quit drinking? He would certainly feel better and his memory might improve if he did. Is his will merely enslaved to drink, or does every drunk entail another incremental yielding? Certainly he can't drink without picking up a bottle, so his desire and will are engaged. Does he ever stop, early in his consumption, to think he might not want to go any further? In my experience that would be a rarity; when an addict uses, there is no ceiling save illness, if only the usual hangover or post-coke morning burnout.

Interesting that marijuana does not seem to have addictive properties; many can choose to smoke it or not, and those who smoke if often prefer their lives that way, it seems, although the literature talks about the "apathetic syndrome" of heavy pot users. Cocaine, especially in smokable form like crack, is the most addictive substance we know, while chewing coca leaves in the Andes has been done for centuries without ill effect. Certainly concentrating a drug makes its addictive powers more apparent.

All of these addictions, however, as I've said before, are easier to quit than to have a successful diet, for the obvious reason that food is a necessity for survival, and we are hard-wired to enjoy a surplus if it comes our way, as it does every day in these United States.

To control, to moderate--this is the only choice with food. At present I'm at my heaviest ever, somewhere between 275 and 280, and it's a little uncomfortable. I very much want to be thinner but my desire has not engaged my will to the point where I'm willing to pass up the cashews last night, for example, that I didn't really need. Laurel Dodge suggested a food diary as the starting point for any logical diet, and I know that's good advice--first examine the problem. And to eat only when hungry, chew food slowly, etc., are all good measures. Yet the pleasure of food (I also like to cook) often overcomes my resolve to resist the extra calories. Since I've come out of my depression everything just tastes so damn good! So I've become fat and happy and put on at least fifteen lbs. since recovering.

Shall I make an experiment of myself? My desire to lose weight, I fear, is not strong enough to engage my will as yet. But I could post a food diary on my blog, starting today, in my ongoing exploration of the mind.

So far today I have eaten one double-chocolate muffin. I would estimate it at 400 calories. I drank one 12 oz. soda, about 100 calories. More later.

Meanwhile I will be attending a music camp from Aug. 1 to Aug. 9, where I will have the opportunity to quit smoking, drinking and overeating if I choose... but at present I'm enjoying all three, and for now the pleasure principle overcomes the import of immediate and future consequences. When I quit smoking for two years prior to my present relapse, I no longer enjoyed it and used to cough until I threw up some mornings. Apparently a two-year break for my lungs was enough to grant them a second wind. Now I'm in training again for smoke tolerance, though I note increased mucous of a color that makes me think that smoking is a co-factor for a chronic sinus infection and bronchitis; the tar weakens the system enough that white cells must become engaged. Ah, the slippery slope.

The Pauline answer to the slavery of habits can be found in Romans 7-8; it is not so much an answer as a transformation. By inhabitation of the Holy Spirit, Paul claims freedom from the enslavement of physical desires, and by a neat trick of psychological casuistry, blames any sin that recurs on the body, nothing to be too concerned about, since if left to itself, the body will exceed whatever limits we place upon it.

I think of those two chapters in the Bible as too all-or-nothing; I think of conversion or transformation as a slow process as the Spirit claims more and more of our hearts, which ultimateluy includes the body, but in practice, I find it much more important to love my neighbor than to quit smoking or diet successfully. There have been fat saints, smoking saints, and drinking saints (including Jesus); the saintliness is much more about how one treats one's fellows than how one governs his personal habits. I do not suggest thereby that there are sexually promiscuous saints, because that includes a violation of the body of another, quite a different matter.

The Gnostic argument of Indian gurus like the Maharishi (who so disappointed John Lennon with his screwing of all the groupies) is that the flesh does not concern the spirit. In the Christian view, it is precisely in the flesh where the war between the Spirit and unchecked desire live out their meaning. To say there is no connection between the spirit and the flesh is to deny the material nature of man. We have bodies and sometimes we are our bodies, as in the experience of extreme pain. We have body consciousness, thought consciousness, feeling consciousness, and consciousness towards external stimuli all at the same time. But the body consciousness feels like an aspect of the self: that's my hand typing, for instance, not some attachment to my self.

Christianity insists on a bodily resurrection for reasons like these.

To the Gnostics, nothing but a spiritual resurrection is possible, as Jesus came in the spirit, as for him to appear in the flesh would have been a violation of the Gnostic division, and if he had, what he did in the flesh was not so important as who he was in the spirit. The Manichees, whom Augustine disputed, had similar views, just as the Maharishi could argue that all his philandering was only "Maya," or illusion.

Self-consciousness begins with body consciousness in the womb, and the self is first built up of non-verbal encounters with people and things and especially one's own bodily functions, why control over bowels and bladder loom so large in the early psyche. What looms larger is, of course, the love and care of a primary caretaker to provide the emotional support for achieving such milestones.

Our projections of ourselves, as in the infant looking up at its mother, will always contain a human face, why we almost automatically re-envision so many patterns, even the grilles and lights of automobiles, to form faces. The imprint of the mother's face, and especially her experesions, touch, sound, and smell, can never be underestimated in the developing infant.

"Failure to Thrive" is the famous syndrome of developmental retardation in infants who receive inadequate emotional input. Better a dirty teat than a clean bottle. And better a loving neighbor than one with no bad habits.

All for now,



  1. All you said above aside, the Joneses are hoping tonight that you are recovering, feeling better each day. Do all of us who care about you a favor, will ya, stay off of motorcycles...promise?


  2. I think it's awfully brave of you to post an online food diary. People tend to be so in denial about what they're eating, why they're eating it, and how much of it they're eating that it's hard to be honest about the actual number of daily calories consumed. It took me a long, long time to look at food for what it is---fuel for my body, nothing more, nothing less--and not a mood elevator.
    Actually, I used to eat when I was bored or anxious, angry or sad. I used to eat because the food was there. I used to eat because someone would put out a plate of brownie and say: Eat! I think dieting and quitting smoking are two of the toughest things to do. I've managed to do both but it took a lot of tries before I figured out what worked for me. Dieting-wise, I figured out that dieting wasn't the answer. Giving up food I liked only made me want it more. So, now, I have a piece of chocolate or slice of cheesecake if I want it and adjust the rest of my daily caloric intake accordingly. I had an insatiable sweet tooth for a lot of years and it was a huge hurdle to overcome that craving for sugar.

    So, along with writing down what you're eating, you should be recording when you ate it and why. Did you eat the chocolate muffin because it was what you really wanted? Was there another, better, healthier choice that you didn't opt for? Did you feel satisfied afterwards? Most importantly, did you eat because you were hungry? Did you feel actual hunger pangs or hear your stomach growl? Or did you eat merely because the muffin was there?

    I wouldn't try to quit smoking while trying to get your eating under control or vice versa. One vice at a time, sweet jesus. (smile)

    Good for you for trying, sir. And if you fail, don't beat yourself up. This shit ain't easy. If it was, we'd all be thin, healthy, happy non-smoking non-drinkers, eh?


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