Addicted to Doom

By Bridget Phetasy 01/29/17

“If you want to know why you drink and use, quit drinking and using.”

A person's silhouette in front of the top of a volcano or a giant pit of fire.
I fell down the rabbit hole of doom.

Like most alcoholics, I wake up every morning, open my eyes and think, “I’m fucked.”

I was born this way. When I was a six years old, I would make my mom promise no less than 45 times before I left in the morning that she would be waiting for me when I got off the bus, because I was petrified I’d be kidnapped. I was the last stop on the route. My driver would ask me when I would suck my thumb, “Which flavor is it, chocolate or vanilla?” He was probably making harmless conversation with a six-year-old, but in my mind, he was planning on taking me to the bus yard to murder me. No exaggeration, this is where my brain went, when I was six.

When I was 8 years old, we had a school assignment to write and illustrate a book. Most kids wrote fun-loving stories of unicorns and pirate adventures. I wrote a heartbreaking tale about a bird dying called “The Cycle of Life” that made my teacher cry.

At 10 years old, I was wandering through the Connecticut woods—half talking to the gnomes I was 100 percent sure existed and half worried about being molested by a drifter—when I came upon a man’s gravestone from early colonial America. Barely visible from decades of erosion, I could just make out, “Beloved son, father, husband.” I sat there trying to imagine his entire life, what it must have been like, what it was like back then…and as I imagined this world, I realized everything I was imagining took place in the tiny dash between those two dates. His whole life reduced to a couple of inches. At that moment I realized I was in my dash, and had an existential crisis that shook me to my newly developing core. I was inconsolable. “We’re in the dash, we’re in the dash,” I cried. My parents shook their heads and told me to try not to “be so deep,” but I’ve never looked at life quite the same way ever since.

From a very young age I’ve had to fight the fatalistic thought that none of this matters, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that I took to alcohol and drugs like a duck to water. I blacked out the first time I drank and it was glorious. Five minutes after smoking my first joint, I was buying a pipe. Marijuana gave me reprieve from the algorithm of doom that constantly unfolds in my mind; sure, I became a delusional conspiracy theorist, but at least I was CHILL AF about it all, man. The relief I got from my brain the first time I ever did heroin, just the blissful SILENCE, is a feeling that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

They say, “If you want to know why you drink and use, quit drinking and using”—and it’s true. In my experience, this was also the most horrifying part of getting sober. I didn’t just use to escape myself; I also used to escape the overwhelming feeling of helplessness in the face of unfolding events far beyond my puny control. Global warming. War. I used to escape the pervasive feeling of catastrophe that has been my constant companion since childhood—the weight of the world, sitting on my chest, suffocating me. It’s hard enough getting sober and dealing with the wreckage of your own life; it was quite another thing to realize I had to face the burning dumpster fire that can be humanity, without picking up. That seemed like too much to ask.

Lately, it feels impossible. I don’t give a fuck where you fall on the political spectrum—it’s the back and forth fighting between everyone that is so unnerving to me. It doesn’t feel like anyone in power has control of the situation; it’s like watching my parents get a divorce all over again. As an alcoholic, I don’t need much help constructing end-of-the-world scenarios—so how do I take care of myself when the media constantly stresses that the world is ACTUALLY ending?

Well, for one, I’ve had to become rigorous in monitoring my media consumption and social media habits, and I’ve been pretty good at staying on the beam; but two nights ago, I fell down the internet rabbit hole of anti-Trumpism on Twitter. It got real ugly, real fast. Scroll, scroll, scroll. The National Parks have gone rogue. The wall is going up. The Doomsday Clock is two minutes to midnight. Muslim ban. #NoDAPL. The bees are going extinct. Call your local senator. Voter fraud. Punching Nazis. #TheResistance. Refresh, refresh, refresh. It literally felt like things were getting more terrible by the second. 

And I couldn’t stop. I was powerless to halt myself from searching for that next fix. Hours of my life passed as I watched the world implode on my handheld device. I was deranged and also completely and utterly debilitated by it. I’d had big plans to go to the gym, hit a meeting and get some writing done—but by the end of the day, I hadn’t done any of it. I was deep in a k-hole of doom. My room was a disaster. Life had become unmanageable.

Lying in bed, feeling completely helpless and ashamed—yet still refreshing my screen—I wondered, “At what point do I start drinking again?”

There it is.

In fact, when I tweeted those exact words, it hit me: Holy shit—I’m a doom addict. The Doomsday Clock in my mind is always at two minutes to midnight. The sky is perpetually falling. I’m a doom-aholic because eventually I’m going to reach a point where I can say, “none of this matters,” and finally justify my relapse.

I didn’t call anyone. I didn’t do anything right. I slept off my doom binge and the next day, feeling hungover, got back on the beam and went to a meeting. Of course the first thing I heard was: “Worrying isn’t one of the steps.”

It’s true. I don’t have the luxury of resenting circumstances I can’t control. I need to get out of fear and get in action as quickly as possible. That doesn’t always look like marching in the streets for me—for me, it looks like pausing every morning, meditating for 20 minutes, and taking the first three steps:

  1. I’m powerless over not just alcohol, but 99 percent of everything going on in the world. The only 1 percent I can control is my behavior, perception and reactions.
  1. Show up and get busy getting sane. This can be something as simple as cleaning my room. Because how can I attempt to help the world if I can’t even put away my clean laundry? Get your damn house in order.
  1. Turn it over. My will. My life. My problems. The world’s problems. The idea that any one human is able to see the big picture. The ridiculous notion that sitting in my bed, scrolling on my phone, is somehow making anything better.

I need to constantly remind myself that something bigger is at work, something greater than me, and that something created an algorithm of humanity that is constantly striving to get better, to evolve, despite what it might look like here in my current dash. And that an algorithm’s ultimate purpose isn’t to create problems—it’s to solve them.

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