To eliminate suffering altogether is to eliminate too fundamental an element from life. Besides, sometimes, suffering is the path to beauty. That is something I absorbed from “Dopamine Nation” by Dr. Anna Lembke.
“Dopamine Nation” is a nonfiction book about addictions, why they happen, and how to overcome them. I listened to the audiobook version, which was narrated by the author herself, and I believe that this, her self-narrating her own book, added to my reading experience.
Reading. Listening. With audiobooks, it can get unclear which word to use. I just use reading and listening interchangeably when it comes to audiobooks. There are some theories about how many written books are fundamentally just like audiobooks anyway, in that the core of their narrative is something akin to a raconteur telling a verbal story. Such theories say that even while reading, we’re thinking about the sounds. In fact, I don’t recall where exactly I read this, but there are studies about how… something like… if you don’t know how a word is pronounced, you have a harder time reading the word? Something like that. Yeah, don’t quote me on that.
Point being: audiobook, written book, I barely distinguish them anymore. Especially with nonfiction books like “Dopamine Nation,” where the focus wasn’t visual material such as photographs or graphs, can be perfectly enjoyable in both written and audio formats, in my opinion.
So, suffering. My impression is that in mainstream American society, suffering is greatly underrated, and even hated. There exists this broad, umbrella sentiment of “the pursuit of happiness” in the United States, which is unsurprising, because the Declaration of Independence contains this sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Quite literally, Americans see the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right of theirs. And for the record, I’m an American, on paper, so when I say Americans are this or Americans are that, I’m talking about a group where I guess, for bureaucratic and statistical purposes, I am part of.
Anyway, this pursuit of happiness. Or happiness itself. I don’t think they’re problems in and of themselves. I think few things are problems in and of themselves. Even violence, I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem. Simply put, I should hope I will be able to use violence when the need arises to protect myself or someone I love. In fact, I frequently wish I had greater capacity for violence in such situations. But alas, I am not particularly tall or heavy or speedy or flexible. So I deal with my limited capacity to inflict physical wounds.
But we weren’t talking about violence. We were talking about happiness. Happiness, or the pursuit thereof—there is nothing wrong with them. But, like many good things in life, when they become an obsession, an addiction; when they become the expected norm, so that there is unspoken social pressure to live up to that standard, even though by no means is that standard realistic or even desirable—that is when they become detrimental.
Think about it. Do you think that it is possible to be happy all the time? If so, if that constant state is dubbed happiness, what do you call a state that is more elating than that? Extra happiness? Extreme happiness? And what do you call a state that is more miserable than that baseline, constant state of happiness? Depression? Just because you’re not happy, you’re depressed?
I think at the theoretical and clinical level, plenty of people in the year 2022 are aware that unhappiness doesn’t equal depression. And yet, sometimes, the phenomena I read about in books like “Dopamine Nation” or simply observe around me are that, truly, a significant chunk of the American population seems to believe that they must. be. happy. at. all. times.
The rise of bullshit positivity and fake optimism is only a small part of the consequence of such a mentality. Another part includes the rise of celebrity gurus. And yet another part includes drugs and other forms of addictions, which are what this book, “Dopamine Nation,” predominantly deals with.
And from here on I’m going to read what I wrote on my blog in November. Because for the blog posts, I don’t need to record audio and then edit that audio, I tend to write short posts about books I’ve read right when I finish them. And methinks that I write on my blog just as I talk in real life.
So. Here we go.
Quoting myself, “Overall, this book confirms my disgust for the health ‘care’ industry, especially the American one. Many Americans have no clue how delusional they are in thinking that they can fix their every problem with a quick ‘solution,’ compared to the rest of the world. This applies to everything in the American way of life, but especially to anything that has to do with health. Americans (generalized Americans; of course there are exceptions; I’m an American on paper) very often actually truly genuinely believe that using drugs will FIX something. Said drug could be something like cocaine, but it also includes all the ‘legitimate’ drugs that are used to the point of building up tolerance. It is amazing how quickly they jump to one or the other pill as soon as they feel an inkling of ‘unhappiness’ or ‘discomfort.’
“Are there people who need the constant help of drugs? Oh, sure. The author doesn’t deny that, and neither do I.
“But do most people who so easily rely on drugs really need said drugs? No. Absolutely not. In fact, their early reliance on drugs (early, as in at the start of a problem, or early, as in, sadly, when they’re children, for gods’ sake!) robs them of the ability to heal themselves.”
End quote, of my own blog post.
I do not advocate stigmatizing mental disorders. However, are there really that many people with mental disorders as the greater American society seems to believe? I doubt it. I really very much doubt it.
And when we consider fictional and nonfictional narratives in the consumer culture, the doubt increases further, I believe. Because, see, look. There is reality. I think reality is very difficult to understand, especially when it’s the realities of a huge population. Everyone lives in their own realities, okay? Some gurus or loud politicians might try to make you think as if you belong to this huge nation, community, or herd. But I think the only reality is that no two people’s realities are the same. Just go to your husband, wife, daughter, son, mother, father, friend, coworker, boss, teacher, student—go to anyone and talk for anything longer than five minutes and see if everything in your two realities match. I very much, greatly, doubt it. Granted, I am biased in that I consider a world where everyone’s reality matches another person’s a dystopia. But I think, regardless of my personal tastes and biases, the reality isn’t a dystopia. The irony, of course, is that my reality where reality isn’t dystopic is also just my reality and other people’s realities might differ, if my theory of reality holds. So, it’s all very meta.
Also, by the way, this theory of different realities coexisting isn’t to say that there are practical aspects where various realities overlap.
It’s like this. When you see an apple and you point at it and you call it an apple and another person calls it an apple, I think it’s safe to say that the word “apple” and its connection to the objects that are categorized as such has become a very useful part of your realities. With people who share a language, enough such word-object connections overlap to create the illusion that you two share a lot by default. I call it an illusion, because I do consider it to be a wrong perception. All you can gather from a situation where you share a language with another person is that you share experiences using that language.
But the reality—there the word appears again—is that within a group of people who share a language, there is still politics, there are wars, there are murders, there are thieves, fights, hatred, and so on and so forth. Of course, there can also be love, harmony, friendship, et cetera, et cetera. But are they the result of the shared language? I don’t think so. I think the shared language might have contributed to nurturing desired results, but I don’t think the shared language made the result come into existence. I think other elements play a greater role. The primary one being: your core. Which is a whole other topic, but for the purposes of this episode, I consider the core to be…
…transcendent. When core connects with core, you can feel things from a painting by a painter who lives on the other side of the planet. When core connects with core, you can feel things from nature, or even inanimate objects. Yes, sometimes I do wonder if inanimate objects have cores of their own. Which, in turn, makes me wonder if the thing I perceive as core connecting to core is actually my core projecting a lot of things to a subject, be it an inanimate object, nature, or a person.
Anyway. Where was I going with this…
Ah. Narratives. I was talking about narratives, in that, I do not advocate stigmatizing mental disorders. However, I think the number of people with mental disorders in American society is greatly exaggerated, and one of the reasons is the fictional and nonfictional narratives in the consumer culture. I believe the American narratives romanticize mental disorders. The stigmatization of mental disorders is to be avoided, but shouldn’t the romanticization also be avoided?
The number of pills popped in popular culture, in America, is astounding. This and many examples similar to this are why I believe people should learn at least two languages. Because, once you start consuming narratives from an entirely different culture, you see that the narratives that you’ve been consuming in your primary culture are far, very far from the norm. People in other countries most definitely do not consume pills and drugs in general in the American way. I can imagine some cultures having even more addiction-normalizing narratives than the American narratives—that is entirely possible. But from my experience, the American narratives are the most addiction-normalizing ones. The most.
And as I said before, in the word “narratives,” I’m including both fictional and nonfictional narratives. Actually, if a narrative is openly fictional, I think it’s less dangerous, because a sufficient number of people will equate the word fiction with fake, believe it or not. Which is… hilarious, in a dark way, but we won’t cover that in this episode.
Anyway, whereas, when a narrative is labeled as nonfiction. Worse—nonfiction of the science and medicine kind. Ah. There lies the path to danger.
And this isn’t to say that I don’t see the value or point of science and medicine and other fields that attempt to observe, experiment, and record various phenomena of life in an objective manner. But. Again. Too much of a good thing can lead to a lot of wrong. I think in some societies, not only American but other societies in the East, West, up, and down as well, the reliance on large-scale data and conclusions drawn from them has reached a state of obsession, or, in other words, addiction. Science itself has become a form of addiction. It has become the norm that some people don’t even question anymore. It, like the ever-elusive pursuit of happiness, has become a form of unspoken social pressure. And “You gotta live up to the standard of science,” some people claim, and pressure others, even though—folks, science changes all the time. That is part of what science is designed to do. If science stays stagnant, not accepting new ideas and rejecting old theories, it is dead. And yet, the speed at which current scientific norms are disseminated as the One-Truth, almost, is… alarming.
For example, the author of “Dopamine Nation” mentions so-called help brochures that can be found in the health facilities of college campuses. Think about that. Of course, some college students will need pill prescriptions to help them get through their mental health problems. But, that many? With such high doses? The author mentions some actual statistics in the book. I won’t quote them, because statistics, too, change constantly, and my point isn’t about exact numbers here. I’m not talking about “Oh, 50% of students who get prescription medications shouldn’t actually have needed to take those pills.” No. 50%, 30%, 80%—I don’t know. I don’t think anybody can figure out this exact number.
The point I’m trying to make is that there is a problem larger than a given mental disorder when, the minute someone senses there is going to be displeasure, unhappiness, or insecurity, they go straight to the pill office and get a prescription for a state of life that… isn’t fixable.
There. This is what I think. Some difficult states of life cannot be fixed. But, many difficult states of life can be coped with, using emotional muscles. But instead of developing such muscles, a significant portion of the population is voluntarily, and eventually involuntarily, atrophying their muscles.
And now I want to talk about why perhaps, in many cases, it is all right that life’s problems cannot be fixed. That is actually the main idea of this episode: to eliminate suffering altogether is to eliminate too fundamental an element from life. Besides, sometimes, suffering is the path to beauty.
As an example of this idea, I’d like to talk about the author. Dr. Anna Lembke writes beautifully. I already told you she narrated the audiobook herself. And she does so wonderfully. And, again, I’ll quote various parts of my blog post here, because, well, my words. I still think what I thought as I wrote that post.
The reason Dr. Lembke’s writing touched me so greatly was that “there is a surprising amount of vulnerable, personal storytelling in the book.” And “so it was wise of her to do the narration.”
In the book, she talks about her own addiction. Specifically to books, and even more, quote, “specifically, romance and erotica books. And while the author’s negative experiences around reading too much are, of course, valid, I couldn’t help but appreciate her fiction-loving side. I think it shows in this book. Many nonfiction books are sterile, but this book wasn’t one of those.
“How she uses dialogue, how she can pull off accents (written and narrated) without overdoing them, and how she can actually storytell instead of just listing things, made the whole book feel organic, which was a huge plus given that it occasionally dealt with literally sterile/clinical topics. She didn’t go from A to B to C to D. If this book were to be mapped, it would look more like a spiderweb than a straight line. Nonlinear, flexible storytelling isn’t easy, but she did it in nonfiction, and that makes this book beautiful. And it makes this book meta.
“A book about addiction that delays “gratification”; a book that goes for the slow ride instead of getting straight to the point—how beautiful. What an elegant way of nonfiction storytelling.
“If this author were to write fiction, I would be eager to read it. Some people just have a storytelling brain and I think this author has one. It’s no big surprise, given the amount of reading she did. I do hope she considers writing fiction. Maybe she is doing it, already! With writers, who knows what they might be doing under various names. (Writing fiction need not necessarily be addictive, the way reading fiction was for her. So, writing fiction need not be detrimental to her life.)”
Given this opinion of mine regarding the value of fiction and how it affected her writing. And also given that Dr. Lembke talks about the value of embracing pain, I thought about how, if she hadn’t been addicted to fiction, this book wouldn’t have taken this current form. And I’m not saying that addiction is desirable. I hope the listeners of this podcast know the distinction between recognizing that addiction played a role in creating this book versus saying that such an addiction was desirable.
I also want to emphasize that in general, I think it’s important not to call suffering by some other name. Suffering is just suffering, and addiction is one form of it. I think when we don’t call suffering suffering, in an effort to be positive or confident or grownup or something along those lines, sometimes there is a temptation to package suffering as a learning experience or even something beautiful. That might be the case—that there indeed was a learning experience or beauty in suffering—but that might not be the case.
Sometimes suffering just sucks and that is that. There is nothing wrong with that. I think to package suffering in something other than what it is, might actually be one of the psychological causes of addiction. You could think of such a process of packaging as justification. It makes us stay in situations and states that aren’t desirable.
But, this author. She didn’t stay in that suffering state of addiction to books. At the same time, she got something out of it—for one thing, this particular book in its current form, “Dopamine Nation.” And perhaps other books. And other life experiences.
And the reason she could get something out of her suffering, partly, I think, was that she didn’t numb her pain with pills. I mean, for one thing, I’m not sure how you would numb your addiction to books with pills. Like… I don’t know how that brain process would work, and how a pill could target such a brain process. But more importantly, the methods that the author talks about, to get over her addiction, deal with physical methods that happen outside of her body. For example, she removes her Kindle device from her reach. Yup. It sounds easy, but is that easy to do? No. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be an addiction. And she made it even more difficult by not going for another addiction to replace the old one. There was no pill to numb her into a state of false happiness when she felt anxious because she wasn’t reading. There was no drinking. No smoking.
She felt the pain—both emotional and physical. I haven’t been addicted to reading before, but oh, I can imagine it being painful. I think perhaps, at first glance, this might not sound like a serious addiction, because there is no popular narrative that readily talks about the evils of book addiction, but book addiction can be just as detrimental as addiction to video games or Netflix. Anytime you have no control over how much time and intensity you spend on something—or someone, for that matter—and without that something or someone, you have difficulty functioning as an independent human being, it’s bad. It doesn’t matter that books are sometimes depicted as this… desirable object of obsession.
And so, the author worked on getting over her addiction, without numbing her pain.
And once again, I’m not saying that there aren’t people who need the help of medicine to cope with their psychological and physical pains. No. But, I strongly do believe that some of the current so-called patients aren’t patients at all. They make themselves patients, even though they have the ability to heal themselves. Their primary addiction isn’t to any particular substance or behavior; it’s to the myth of science providing a quick fix.
What do you get when you work on your addiction yourself, without the intervention of substances that numb your senses and perceptions? Maybe, a book like this.
I hope I am conveying my ideas clearly here. I am not saying that suffering and/or addiction are desirable because they might result in a book. I’m saying, suffering sucks, addiction sucks. But. In the process of digesting those things that suck, we grow. And, perhaps, to numb ourselves with substances, even though such substances are said to help us, might stunt our growth.
I think the first step through which we can ensure our constant growth through suffering is to choose the people around us wisely. I personally do not have much faith in my free will, or just will, in general. I am a person of routines, and I rely heavily on habits. I find that they’re much more reliable than attempting to make new decisions every single time a decision is required. And so, through habits formed by routines, I control my environment, and I can control a lot of it, because my work is solitary in nature.
But, I don’t exist in a vacuum and there are people in my life. Not many, but some. And I am happy to say that they are neither prone to get addicted to something, nor prone to attempt to solve addiction by seeking quick fixes in the form of pills. And thus, even if I or they were to get addicted to something in a very serious way which may at some point require medical intervention, I am optimistic that it will be possible to get through that experience together.
The author mentions the importance of people too. She mentions husbands and wives quitting addictions together, parents and children quitting addictions together. She also mentions how the pattern of breaking promises can lead to compulsion. Quote, “I’ve mentioned the Stanford marshmallow experiment of 1968, in which children between the ages of three and six were studied for their ability to delay gratification. They were left alone in an empty room with a marshmallow on a plate and were told if they could go a full fifteen minutes without eating the marshmallow, they would get that marshmallow and a second one as well. They would get double the reward if they could just wait for it.
“In 2012, researchers at the University of Rochester altered the 1968 Stanford marshmallow experiment in one crucial way. One group of children experienced a broken promise before the marshmallow test was conducted: The researchers left the room and said they would return when the child rang the bell, but then didn’t. The other group of children were told the same, but when they rang the bell, the researcher returned.
The children in the latter group, where the researcher came back, were willing to wait up to four times longer (twelve minutes) for a second marshmallow than the children in the broken-promise group.”
Yeah. Super sad. Gosh. I hope these children weren’t traumatized for life. Kinda scary. Makes me wonder. What if this marshmallow test becomes the seed for a lifelong addiction for the children in the first group? For gods’ sake.
There’s also an example in the book, where some grown-ass dude drags another person back into addiction. Terrible. Just terrible. I mean, the story was about a PhD candidate, meaning, I’m guessing this guy is at least 25 years old. And his friend is probably around the same age, at the very least. So the guy tells his so-called friend he has an addiction, and this motherfucker of a friend just doesn’t believe him, because, something like, “a guy as smart as you can’t possibly have an addiction.” And then this so-called friend proceeds to encourage the guy to return back to his addiction. What the hell. Oh, gosh. People like these are getting PhDs? In what field? Maybe it was in the book. I don’t recall it now.
This is real life horror. You’d be genuinely, 100% better off having no friends at all, than to have a friend like this. I have never been addicted to anything before, but just by common sense, I can tell you: remove all trash like this so-called friend from your life, and your addiction recovery will become infinitely easier.
Yeah. Anyway. The people in your life. I mean, sometimes we make promises and we try to keep them but things don’t work out. But other times, it’s just… breaking promises is a habit. I think having people near you, who mean what they say, just helps with everything, in general. Because, if you know that person is gonna do what they say, and is gonna be there, then it’s almost like… some amount of stress just auto-extinguishes. Just like that.
So. Very scary book, “Dopamine Nation,” and also, beautiful because of how much the author puts her own vulnerabilities into her words. She talks about how addiction might be the result of too much free time and boredom, and therefore, perhaps we should choose something worthy and challenging for ourselves. Something that cannot easily be solved. Pick a puzzle that you can ruminate on for decades. Pick relationships, vocations, and hobbies where it may take time to figure things out, and oh, with anything truly good in life, there will be suffering—but at least, even in your deepest obsessive states, getting instant gratification will be impossible. As the author says, “Binding ourselves is a way to be free.”
And I think the following sentence nicely sums up the main ideas of the book. Quote, “Pursuing pain instead of pleasure is also countercultural, going against all the feel-good messages that pervade so many aspects of modern life. Buddha taught finding the Middle Way between pain and pleasure, but even the Middle Way has been adulterated by the ‘tyranny of convenience’. Hence we must seek out pain and invite it into our lives.”
In general, I think it helps to keep this in mind: do not expect other people to give an answer for you, be it a religious leader, so-called well-educated thinker, internet guru, your parents, your boss, a celebrity, an artist, or a doctor. They cannot eliminate our suffering—not completely, and not safely. If they say they can, they’re lying.
And now, for the last part of this episode, I’ll talk about some experiences of my own. As I said, I haven’t been addicted to anything before, not in a destructive way. So, this isn’t about addiction, this is about suffering. Trauma, you could call this. There are descriptions of violence—not toward me, exactly, but toward others. So, if you don’t like listening to that, do not proceed. If you just wanted to hear what the book was about, you can also stop listening now. But, if you’re here for all the contradictory, paradoxical, and enigmatic weirdness that makes up me, Ithaka, then listen on.
During and after reading this book, I thought about the importance of truth-telling. The author mentions this several times, the concept of radical honesty. It is painful, but she says that it helps get over addictions.
I can see that. Partly, I’m guessing it’s because radical honesty becomes the cause of trust. If you’re honest toward someone, that person starts trusting you.
But also, simultaneously, I’m guessing radical honesty helps because it becomes the effect of trust. Without trusting yourself, you cannot be radically honest. In order to be radically honest, you have to be awake. You cannot numb your senses. Even if you do take pills to help you transition to an unaddicted state, they cannot desensitize you to the point where you don’t even know what you’re truly feeling, anymore.
And perhaps this interpretation isn’t medically correct. It probably isn’t. I am no doctor. I am a writer.
So when I think about radical honesty, the first thing I think about is writing. And then, reading. Specifically, how my readers react to my radical honesty. I write fiction, and I consider fiction to be my most honest writing. More so than blogs, more so than this podcast, more than any nonfiction. And of those who read my books, some reach out to tell me that they liked them. Most of the time, the message itself is that: that they enjoyed the story. And I appreciate it. Because, that story exists somewhere in this world, separately from me, and yet it is part of me. Or I am part of it. So, whenever someone enjoys it, I guess a part of me will live in that someone. That is a beautiful feeling, and I appreciate being allowed to feel such things.
At the same time, this beauty, I believe, is… I think I can explain it. I think the readers can explain it too.
What I couldn’t explain, for quite a while, was when readers told me specifically why they liked a story. And the stories they like differ—because, different people, different tastes—but the words they tend to use have puzzled me, frequently. Perhaps part of the reason for the word choice is the nature of email communication. As in, when a reader emails me, it’s different from them leaving a review in their own space, such as their website, their blog, or their book reading platform profile. When they email me, they, I guess, want to say nice things to me, especially since they liked the book.
So, the specific words they tend to use to describe their experience from my books are… gentle, warm, and soothing.
And I’m like…
I… I appreciate this, just like the emails containing beautiful feelings that I think I can explain.
But this. Gentle? Warm? Soothing?
I am not gentle, warm, and soothing. At least I don’t see myself as that. And I’ve been wondering about how… how is this possible, for readers to think this? I mean, I am not the story or the characters, so one explanation is that what the reader means is that the story or the characters are gentle, warm, and soothing—not me specifically. But also, they are emailing me. And there tends to be something about “your words”—as in, my words. They think those words are gentle, warm, and soothing.
I’ve been puzzled by this for more than a year now, and I think I’ve found the answer to this reaction in “Dopamine Nation.”
Namely, that violence I talked about earlier.
I don’t know how to tell this story. As I was thinking about this episode, I considered various formats of where I was gonna plant this real-life-episode-within-podcast-episode, but it didn’t really fit anywhere, which is why it’s at the very end of the podcast episode, and now that I’m here, I… There is no organic way to get into the real-life episode, because it isn’t part of my life anymore, directly. It happened almost two decades ago.
And many details of those scenes have become blurry in my mind. But the effect. And the memory of the effect. And the memory of the memory of the effect. And the memory of the memory of the memory…
See, I retrieved that memory so many times, it isn’t the actual scene anymore. Everything is a symbolized version of how that event fed into me, over time—over the period of about two decades.
What happened was that, I used to go to a school where it was normal to beat up children. And by children, I mean children under fourteen. And when I say beaten up, I don’t mean they got slapped, which is bad enough. I mean, I was slapped once, in the face, by a teacher. That was bad, but I wasn’t traumatized by that.
What did traumatize me was a scene of a boy, in our school uniform. He was shorter than me, as boys sometimes are, at that age. Believe it or not, I wasn’t considered that short when I was… thirteen? Fourteen? I don’t exactly remember. The problem was that I stopped growing at fourteen and other people kept growing.
But back then, the boy. In the boy’s uniform, the same color as mine but he wore pants and a jacket type of thing, whatever, and I wore a skirt, as girls did. And this was… I think this was in the teacher’s room. There was such a thing called a teacher’s room, where multiple teachers, say, about a dozen, sat together at their own desks, like in an open office setting. The back of the room was reserved for a bigger table, for staff meetings and such, I presume. Or for when parents visited the school.
And next to that bigger table, there was space.
There, the boy was. Over him, a man twice his size towering. Holding a mop. You know, a mop, with the actual mop end at the bottom and a long wooden handle almost as tall as you reaching from said bottom to the top end? That kind of mop.
The man was a teacher. But I don’t even remember which teacher, exactly. See, this wasn’t an isolated incident. The boy is no specific boy either. He wasn’t the only one. And the mop, by no means was the mop a specific mop. You know why? Because the teacher had beaten up the boy with the wooden handle end of the mop until the handle broke in splinters. The boy lay on the floor, whimpering and unmoving.
You think that was the end? No, the bastard who called himself a teacher and still could do something like that to a child picked up another mop and kept beating the shit out of the boy. That’s why the mop is no particular mop. The mop could be any mop. It was replaceable. There were many mops.
I don’t remember why I was in the teacher’s room that day. Or any other day. I’ve seen multiple scenes like that. Oh, I’ve been beaten before, slapped in the face, hit in the calves, even on the soles of my foot, later on. You know why? Because later on, I attended a private school, where the filth that called themselves teachers didn’t dare beat us where the parents could easily notice that we’d been beaten. So they beat us in the soles. Cause, like, not beating us wasn’t an option. You’d think that if you’re a teacher you’d know how to communicate your ideas in words better than other people, but no.
So, see, the particular scene with the boy in my mind is stark, without being detailed. Do you see how that is not a paradox, at all? I don’t even remember the boy’s face. I don’t know his name. The point isn’t that he was he. Or even that I was I. Many people witnessed this. And that is the point.
That in that teacher’s room, in all the hallways, and also in all the classrooms where the beatings happened, there were numerous students and multiple teachers.
And yet. When that boy lay on that floor, you know who helped him? No one. I didn’t help him. I don’t know what I was thinking, back then.
You think the other teachers helped him? No. They were busy doing work, whatever pointless work you do when you’re a teacher who can breathe in the same room as the teacher who beats the living shit out of a thirteen-, fourteen -year-old boy.
I think I have never forgiven myself for surviving that environment. Like, I think part of me still thinks I should’ve died there, or something. Maybe I should’ve attempted to pick up a mop myself and beat the living shit out of that teacher and die in the process. You know, it would’ve been really dramatic if one of the splinters had pierced through my gut, or something? Then he would’ve gone to prison.
But the fact is, I know this for a fact—he didn’t go to prison. None of those teachers did. None of the attackers, none of the bystanders. They probably got pensions for their so-called hard work. Some of them probably already died their natural deaths. Someone probably wept for them.
This is one of the scenes that is stuck in the deepest nucleus of my core.
This scene is less about the direct violence, more about the indifference about that violence. The fact that nobody did anything. The fact that, to this day, some friends who went to school with me either do not remember stuff like this happening at all, or they do remember, but they think nothing of it. It’s because they think this is normal. And it was normal, in the sense that this was the norm. This happened all the time. Some of my friends, to this day, say things like “I deserved to be beaten.” And I just…
I guess I’m glad that they aren’t traumatized? Because, that’s the weird thing with traumas. The presence of violence, on its own, doesn’t necessarily result in trauma. That is how, say, children in the Middle Ages survived without being traumatized all at the same time. Whatever violence was going on then, it was normal. I’m not even sure if the boy from my memory suffered emotional trauma afterwards. I really cannot be sure. That’s the scariest part.
Many people who were in the same environment as me weren’t in the same environment as me at all. As I said earlier, in this episode: we each live in our own realities.
Interestingly, I have never wished to forget this scene. I never wished I would’ve lived in a different reality. You know, it could have been possible. I could’ve missed the most traumatizing scenes, or I could’ve tried to forget.
But I never wished that I hadn’t seen all those things, oddly enough. Actually, in hindsight, I kept my eyes very wide specifically to see. To see everything. And my not wishing to forget scenes like this doesn’t mean that they didn’t suck. Oh, they sucked. I didn’t experience that much direct physical violence, but the suffering. Ah, the suffering.
So perhaps I am not traumatized enough. Or, perhaps it’s because I’ve chosen a calling where it is my fucking job to remember.
See, I blog often about how I try to forget things, but this scene and/or—should I more correctly say, the series of scenes that make up this one symbolic scene with the beaten-up boy on the floor—is not one of the things that I want to forget. I try to forget stories I have finished writing. I try to forget days that are more or less repetitive. I throw away all my notebooks. All my planners. All my diaries. I haven’t kept a single one of them—unless my mom kept some of my old diaries, like my kindergarten diaries. That is possible. But I don’t know where they are. I keep nothing for myself.
But this. This scene. I remember. Because in some sadomasochistic way, I genuinely, deeply believe that if I don’t remember stuff of this intensity, I am not a writer. I cannot call myself any kind of artist.
Aside from suffering, rage is a very useful tool. And I think we should be glad we are capable of feeling rage. Because, oh, again, what traumatizes me is less the violence, more the reaction toward it. The utter and total indifference. No rage. No tears.
One of the characteristics that I got from this experience was that I despise authority. It’s one of the reasons it’s highly unlikely for me to ever go to a doctor for them to fix my problems, especially emotional problems. I also despise bureaucracy. The only thing I ask of the authorities and the bureaucrats is to stay the fuck out of my way, please.
And I hate those who tell me they have the answer. They have no answer. They just have jobs where they pretend they have the answers.
By the way, I also have terror about people’s territories being invaded, physically and psychologically. And I have a fear of the inability to leave. Also, this is one of the reasons I have no desire to have children.
But, primarily, rage. That is what I have in the nucleus of the nucleus of my core because of what happened. And oh, does that give me laser-focus concentration.
Rage is a great tool. Rage does for me more than any asshole authority ever did. This goes back to what I said earlier. My using the rage from this trauma doesn’t make the suffering in it less of a suffering. That suffering sucked, okay? Children were in real pain. Like, injury-level pain. It never should’ve happened. And yet, somehow, I made the most of it.
So, for quite some time, when someone told me my words are gentle. Or warm. Or soothing. I just went… Wha…? You mean scorching blazing hot, right?
Because that’s how I feel when I write. It kinda doesn’t matter what I write. One of the things that happens when I write is, literally the temperature of my head will rise. And with it, the room will get warmer. In the summer, this is a pain in the ass. It gets really hot when I write, because I… I burn.
But then I read “Dopamine Nation.” And I think I have an explanation now.
I think my core stayed the same. The rage, the fire, it will never go away. I think until the day I die, I will remember the boy on the floor. And as I said, I don’t want to forget him.
But what happened was time. And as it passed, I think what happened was that… I covered the fire with a layer of ice. Glacial ice. Maybe this was the only way to keep the fire while not burning with it. I mean, I’m inclined to believe this metaphor slash reality, because one of the physical sicknesses I went through was, quite literally, my skin burning up. Just a total inability to regulate my own body temperature. It happened twice or so in my life, I say twice, because those were the really severe cases—it always happened when something was terribly, absolutely wrong with my self-image. Like, when I cannot balance what is inside with the outside. And then what I need to do is, well, apply some sort of cooling cream. And general body temperature regulation.
So, I can imagine that something like this happened in my mind. I mean, I’m living, am I not? I don’t consciously think about the boy on the ground anymore. Somehow, I’ve learned to use the suffering. And some people actually like it enough to email me and tell me. They tell me what I wrote was gentle, warm, and soothing.
I think I know why, now. It’s because of the ice layer around the fire core. That soothing cooling cream I apply for myself? That.
I think that shield I grew as a survival mechanism is what functions like a cooling pack on a throbbing wound. It’s the ice that offsets the cores of some readers who have cores like mine.
That is my current theory—that I am a cooling cream. That at the core, I am not gentle, or warm, or soothing. I burn, and make it look like I’m not burning, by covering it up with ice. And the ice has to be replenished, all the time. That process never ends. I have to get out and release heat, physically, because the ice melts and I have to feed new ice to melt instead of my core.
Interestingly, the thing with temperature regulation is that, if you’re burning up, you can’t just keep applying ice either. That’s why lower-body bathing is so helpful. What you need is to balance the heat and cold. At least, so it was with my body.
Which makes me think about my core, now. I think I’ve been burning and then using ice and now it’s like… it’s melting. So far, it has balanced the raw wounds of people who’ve read my stories, and I’m glad for that. But maybe the time will come when I can’t get enough ice to offset the core heat anymore. And then I’ll have to find a more permanent solution, as I did with my physical body. My body is fine now. It regulates temperature decently.
But what to do with the core? If I were to apply the same thing I did to my body, then I need the equivalent of a hot bath for my core.
Which is a terrifying thought, really. It could melt the remaining glaciers I have around my core, or it could burn me up faster.
So, I don’t know. That’s the conclusion of this episode. Nobody has ever broken through the freeze-blue layer around the core. And it is winter in this part of the world, namely, Southern California. We do have winter. It gets cold, cold at night. And me and my ice-covered fire core contemplate the world. Maybe someone finds use in this particular kind of cooling gel. cream. pack.
A hot bath sounds nice in these chilly circumstances, but also scary. For almost two decades, I have lived with this core, and anything warm enough to melt the ice will change everything.
And I don’t know if there is a deeper nucleus that I can’t see because it’s covered by the ice and the fire. I don’t remember much of myself from before the scene with the boy. I do have this vague belief that the core is immutable, so if there is something under the ice and fire, it will be something that’s been there all along, it won’t be anything new, I believe. Maybe that core of the core of the core will be neither ice nor fire. Maybe it actually will be gentle, warm, and soothing. But I am guessing that even if somehow, that ultimate core can be tapped into, the fire and ice on the outside will still stay. I don’t think I’ll forget that boy. And thus I will need the glaciers. How is all that gonna work?
So, I wonder. I wonder if somehow, someone will crack the ice, brave the flames, and, inexplicably, get to my deepest core—without destroying me completely.
- Eleven Hours a Night – Yehezkel Raz
- Blue Waltz – Yoav Ilan
- Before You Left – Yehezkel Raz
- Summer in Paris – Lance Conrad
- Spiral Limbus – Yehezkel Raz
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© 2022 Ithaka O.