When I was younger, I mistook complication for sophistication, or intellectualism, or deepness, or profundity. But simplicity is a very sophisticated way to live, if you can manage it. I learned this most clearly as I recovered from heroin addiction, because I only needed to do one thing, just one, to survive that experience: and that was to stop. To not take heroin. It was so hard, in part because it required letting go of all the unnecessary, complicated, rationalizing ways that I had managed to maintain doing it. I had to let go of all that and just accept this one simple thing, and it was the thing that would save my life.
It was the hardest thing I ever did, and nothing about my life would be possible if I hadn’t done it. But it was a very clear lesson that, although simplifying the way you live is incredibly difficult, there’s so much freedom on the other side of it. Since then, I’ve replicated that experience in many other ways, especially in my writing life. The challenge is to bring a singular focus to everything I do, and to give as much of myself to it as I can. I've never regretted it.
So much of the way I’ve learned to survive is about relocating my energies into preoccupations that are less and less likely to kill me. Because addiction, actually, was a similar impulse. It, too, meant yielding at every moment to one necessity—though it was the opposite of freedom. Still, all of that reaching and pushing, I think, was an effort to find a boundary, to find where the end was, so that I could just stop. The difference is agency, is choice. If I can take the incredible fervor with which I pursued heroin, or my former lover, and if I can direct that kind of passion and fixate on something that can fulfill me, it becomes an immense kind of power.
My life, and certainly my work, is fixated on that experience of abandoning myself. The new book I’ve just published is about a love affair that I treated in the same way, where I just collapsed all my other concerns into this one place, and just ran at it as hard as I could despite its total lack of qualification to meet that insatiable need. Destructive as it was, that abandonment of self really taught me something about giving myself to something. It’s not a question of forbidding ourselves from doing that. It’s about selecting necessities worthy of yielding to.
If there’s a thesis to what I’ve learned in life, it’s that pursuits that appear self-destructive or self-sabotaging are, at their core, often misguided quests to find comfort, or wholeness, or healing. Drug addicts get this reputation for being self-destructive and out of control, but the use of substances in an addictive way is more like a failed attempt at control. Addiction is an attempt to manage your own feelings and everything else inside you. I don’t want to quash that impulse. I just want to take, for its object, something that can actually meet that need.