Saturday, July 31, 2010


Teenage hood in a small town wasn't always easy to deal with. The pressures of ripening sexuality, childhood's end, increasingly suspicious parents projecting their own inconsistencies, the Leaving Cert. Nothing prepared you for it all. Narcotics and alcohol were like a God-send. They were an escape from the roles we had been ascribed. We could be different. We could be in another place. We didn't have to worry. No wonder we took to them with open arms. No wonder we were obsessed.

We don't like to think of ourselves as obsessed. With anything. Yet if we look hard enough, we see that obsession is all around us. As opposed to being confined to extreme cases of OCD, the irrationality is widespread and infectious. But where does obsession come from? Do we really get ridiculously attached to things because we really really like them? Hardly. Take for example, an addict of substance; the alcoholic. It contradicts reason that someone of sound mental health could become so attached to alcohol. I'm not anti-alcohol. I drink. However, I've never been able to relate to the continuous consumption of alcohol over a period of time. To me, it's just not enjoyable. My mood degenerates, my stammer seems uncontrollable and I find myself considering worst case scenarios that are barely even plausible. Luckily, an obsession with alcohol just isn't for me. For others, the benefits outweigh any inconvenient side effects. Some people look at alcohol and see potential rather than poison. For hours at a time, it can provide the much sought after feelings of confidence, indifference and self assurance. It can alter a personality so much that the drinker may seem unrecognisable to those around them. Someone shy and reserved may suddenly appear as outgoing and extremely friendly.The chances of sexual encounters increase ten fold in a drinking environment (how couldn't someone be obsessed with alcohol?!!). However, alcohol has another dimension. Just as easily as it inscribes all the above positive feelings, it can also solicit negative and destructive ones. Depression, self-pity, disillusionment, anxiety, anger, rage.. The darker side of alcohol can unlock a vault of emotions buried inside. Such powerful feelings often reveal themselves in drunkenness because of how much they are hidden in inhibitive soberity. Obsession with alcohol is born out of trying to escape from these inhibitions. Instead, it becomes a web of addiction, denial and destruction. In limbo between sober reality and the tinted glasses of intoxication, the obsession poisons the life of the alcoholic and those around them. Family and friends are left negotiating the uncertainty of which person the alcoholic is on any given day. Even when not drunk, the alcoholic displays the malice of obsession by exercising control, deceit and manipulation of those around them. They use all means to protect their love affair with drink. Simply put, it becomes the most important thing in their life. Obsession finds few avenues more brutal than that of alcoholism.

It would be easy to point to alcoholics and drug addicts and exclusively describe them as obsessed. As dramatic and obvious as their obsession is, it is but one of many ways of escape froma negative self-concept. Another notable form of obsession comes in the form of romantic infatuation. Just as alcoholics are addicted to substance, those displaying infatuation centre their obsession around a particular person. Before meeting their 'perfect match', these people find themselves in a cauldron of self-doubt relating to the lack of love they feel directed toward them. As one of the most ecstatic of feelings, reciprocal love represents one of the most elusive concepts known to man (and woman). Proponents of Freudian theory argue that our understanding and definition of love is formed by the relationships we have with our parents. Accordingly, if a girl feels some way rejected by her father, she is likely to be attracted to men who treat them in similar ways as a grown woman. Such people often find themselves in the torture room of unrequited love. Worse still, they may even continue to choose the wrong person over and over again, enforcing the template of rejection formed in early childhood. They are, perhaps, unaware that their infatuation is merely a playback of the childhood yearning for parental affection. Consequentially, they become obsessed with trying to win the heart of the person they chase because it matches with their template of rejection. Obsession manifests in the thought that if they can secure the affections of the person they want, everything else will fall into place. This even happens in established relationships where one side is loving more than they are loved.These relationships are shrouded with doubt, distrust and jealousy. Yet when threatened with losing their partner, the obsessed person will panic, certain that being half loved is the best that they can do. They calculate that losing the one shred of love they have will force them to face the problems that they have as a person. Rejection is unfathomable, too painful and simply not bearable for the romantically obsessed.

It doesn't stop there. The epidemic of obsession has still more ways of expressing itself. Let's start mildly(but annoyingly), with the attention seeker. Friends, fans and popularity are the craven goals of the try hard status seeker. We've all met these people. They're the ones who laugh excessively at a joke you didn't even make, desperate for you to give them your approval. Or if they don't consider you a worthwhile project, they're the person who is using you to get closer to someone else, someone more important. They're the empty vessel not even listening to what you're saying as you realise that your simply a pit stop on their navigation of social circles. Thay talk the loudest, want to be in every picture, make the shitty jokes...Yet, because of all their lame acts, they usually find themselves with few real friends. Instead they have to make do with a plastic popularity; obsession often confuses quality with quantity.

And then there are those who keep busy by trying to meet their own obsessive standards. The problem is these standards are usually set against the almost impossible task of accepting themselves as they are. These people usually obsess about correcting something they as see as wrong with themselves. In an aesthetically inclined world, most of these self-obsessions relate to body image. The obvious example are eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia where the obsessed defy natural animal behaviour by avoiding eating and voluntary vomiting. This control type of obsession probably arises from childhood experience of non control. In a way, it is the most tragic type of obsession because it places the obsessed at the mercy of themselves rather than another, where there might be the chance of some sort of benevolent intervention to break the obsessive's delusion. Having to convince yourself of the flaws of your obsession isn't easy.

It has the most subtle of beginnings. However, if left unchecked, the downward spiral of obsession is truly crippling. Good mental health is centred on a rounded treatment of our physical, psychological and emotional needs as human beings. Obsession is a rejection of this need for moderation in life. It pathologically excludes the variety of life so that it can feed an excessive amount of time and attention into one specific thing. The common factor in obsessive is the desire to escape. Obsessive's are on the run. From themselves. Yet they can never truly escape. What they run from is always inside, ready to emerge. It's the drunk alcoholic eying the river he is about to jump into. It's the rejected infatuate 'balling' at the horrible reality that the person they long for just doesn't like them. It's the attention seeker's loneliness when they have nobody to turn to. Obsession is a regressive coping mechanism. It's just another price we pay for treating our minds as if they were incommunicable. As if anything we had to say wasn't worth hearing. As if we didn't matter one bit. As if we weren't worth it. As if.