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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Reality dictates that nearly everyone is addicted to something

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By Keiko Ohnuma
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hi, my name is Keiko. I am a woman who loves too much.

I love deep-fried foods. I love beer. I love to buy things, especially things I don't need. Whatever it is, if it feels good, I love it.

Some things I know it is good to love, like people, charity, salads and God. But most activities, if they are pleasurable, are good to love only in moderation. Otherwise you risk being an -----aholic, and that's bad.

Alcohol and drugs are the classic examples. Love them often enough, long enough, and they will kill you. But the list of once-benign indulgences has grown to include Debtors Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, and so on.

I have a friend in Overeaters Anonymous who often talks with me about her road to "sobriety." While it's a bit jarring to hear such terms applied to a pathological love of pastries, her struggles point out the fuzzy line between what's normal and sick in our society.

Who among us, for example, faces life truly "sober"? We all have our crutch.

Not all of them are deadly, of course. Some are considered virtuous, like exercise or work. But any virtue turns destructive when it's used to avoid and delay and ignore what is not comfortable to see. Before long, the dependency itself becomes the main thing the addict works to deny.

And then it's always someone else who has the problem.

"Substance abusers" are easy targets in this game, because their poison has been made the culprit for a whole society's ills. There is apparently no such thing anymore as moderate use of tobacco or "recreational" drugs, although people have used them for millennia. These things, we think, are categorically bad, and the people who use them are weak.

But what about the myriad other ways to check out and space out? They are very nearly universal.

Scratch the surface of a righteous puritan, and you will most likely find someone with a carefully camouflaged obsession.

I have known so many women who disdain all forms of "excess," while exhibiting a bizarre fixation with malicious gossip, or controlling their kids, or bargain-hunting, or Bible study, or any one of a 100 ways to narrow your focus until you're blind.

The addiction paradigm itself seems the perfect alibi for a nation full of addicts, a convenient way to pathologize people and substances while avoiding the real issue.

WHY are so many of us in terrible, desperate flight from our lives and ourselves? Why does nearly everyone obsess over some small pleasure — smoking, sex, surfing, chocolate, television, gambling — to zone out and deaden the loneliness, boredom, rage and self-hatred?

We lack the tools and training to face reality and just be. To sit still and feel. To show up for life, the good and bad, the lovely and horrifying. To look ourselves in the eye and say we have done good things, and continue to do some that are selfish and destructive, all the time.

Hi, my name is Keiko, and I am a human being. So many things in this world are painful to feel, and when I'm clean and sober, I just feel them way too hard.

Reach Keiko Ohnuma at kohnuma@honoluluadvertiser.com.