One of the things that I enjoy about the television version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the fact that, when they “hit” a storyline, they really hit the hell out of it. I have recently finished Season 5 and have made my way into Season 6, and one of the somewhat minor story arcs has reached its azimuth in “Wrecked”, Willow’s addiction to magic. I’ve been watching this grow and have frequently thought to myself how convincingly this mirrors the process that my own addiction took. The similarities are almost frightening.
Much like my own addiction, Willow’s began as a simple crisis of personality, and now in retrospect, it is a crisis that clearly began as early as Season 1. Willow has struggled with being the nerdy, boring, un-special part of the group since the group began. I can empathize with feeling out of place, even in your group of friends. It is such a struggle to feel like everyone around you is more important, cooler, funnier, more worthy of attention, and in general, better than you. It is so easy to latch onto the first thing that sets you apart.
For Willow, it was magic, for me, it was drugs and alcohol.
Several seasons passed with very, very few specific abuses of her newfound powers. It wasn’t until well into college that things really began to take a turn. My brush with addiction began a bit earlier than hers, so my personal arc began sinking quite a bit earlier, around my senior year, but both of our ascents and descents followed a fairly parallel pattern. For a time, addiction served the purpose it was meant to. It caused no problems and it was just fun, it was pure, and it could never devolve to the point where it would be an issue. Don’t be silly. I felt popular. I felt special. People knew my name. I was a “rock star”. I used to joke around that everywhere I lived and everywhere I went, I was “that guy”. You know the one; that guy you hear about at parties that did that totally ludicrous thing that made everyone amazed and amused. You would hear about “that guy who did that funny thing that had the whole party rolling for hours” or “that guy who was just so amazingly fun to be around that people wanted to party with him. Even when those stories took a rather sad turn and became “that guy who ate a handful of random pills, drank a case of beer and a bottle of bourbon, and beat the shit out of the neighbor for calling the cops about the party”, or “that guy who brought a different woman home every night for weeks because he could”, it was still fun to be famous, even in such an insignificant way. It’s what I wanted.
Of course, ultimately the stories became less party-impressive and more party-pathetic. The stories began to be about “that guy who had alcohol poisoning five times last month” or “that guy who lost his mind in a drug and alcohol fueled rage and sent his roommate to the hospital for changing the TV channel”, or “that guy who got arrested again”. It was hard for even ME to be amused by my own press. At that point, however, the only way to not feel bad about what I did the night before was to do more tonight; and to hell with all the nay-sayers. They were just haters anyways, they just hated how much fun I was having; let’s go get drunk and forget about all of this. My addiction became self-reinforcing. Willow found out about this when she started trying to use spells to quash fights that magic started in the first place.
There is something particularly pitiful about seeing the irony in your living situation, and feeling helpless to do anything about it.
Needless to say, because of my history, I saw the storyline of “Wrecked” coming quite some time ago. It was a matter of time, and Joss Whedon’s handling of emotion is entirely to real and true for him not to address Willow’s problem in a realistic way. It was a difficult episode to watch. Despite time spent away from the horrors of what we refer to as “active addiction”, it still hurts to think of some of the ways my addiction affected those around me. When Willow brought Dawn to the “dope house” as it were, I was haunted by hearing some of my famous lines repeated back to me. “I just need to stop in here for a second”, I would say as I swung by my dealer’s house, kids in tow, to pick up a little something for later. “I’ll just be a second”, would be the last thing the kids would hear before I wandered inside for a half hour, an hour, two hours, however long I felt the need to hang around and get freebies as I bought the evening’s fare. They would even point out that “we were going to go have fun” and I would reassure them that “of course we are, Daddy just needs to take care of a few things first.” How many times did a day of fun with the kids turn into a day of them watching their father get too drunk to move at a friend’s house on the way to the park? This is how people I love were treated; you can’t imagine how everyone else was regarded.
Seeing Willow break down after she injured and endangered Dawn, hearing her promise that she was done, that she’ll stop, seeing her pain; I remember so vividly saying that time and again. I was “all done” and “a new man” more times than I care to remember, and time and again I went back because, the alternative was to be me. Why would I want to be me again?
I think that is the part that so many people who don’t suffer from addiction cannot understand. It is not about the drugs. I never cared what drug I was on, or what the effects were. Not much at least. It is not about being high. Being high is merely a means to an end, and so many manifestations of addiction do not even make room for being high. It is not about having friends or being popular, that is, much like being high, a means to an end as well.
It is about self hatred. For as long as I can remember, I hated being me. I was, in no way, shape, or form, good enough. Acting on my addiction would allow me, for a time, to stop hating myself; or at least to not notice how inferior I was in every possible way. Being high, feeling popular, being the center of attention, feeling loved; these were the ways to mask the self loathing. Doing drugs, doing outlandish things, making an ass of myself, and being promiscuous; these were how I attained these things.
I can no longer find the quote, but there was an article about Robert Downey Jr. that compared drug addiction to putting the barrel of a gun in your mouth, and you know that you hate the barrel there, and you know it is dangerous, but you just love the taste of the gun barrel. To me, drug addiction was like putting the gun barrel in my mouth, and I hate the taste, I know it is dangerous, and I do not want that barrel there, but it feels like the only version of me I do not have utter contempt and distaste for is the one with the taste of steel and cordite on his tongue. If that version self destructs in the process, so be it.
Of course, the corollary to this is, in true cliched form, that I do not despise myself today. I do not feel the need to use drugs, or alcohol, to feel like I am somehow special, important, or otherwise worthwhile. I have my moments, just like every normal human being does; but those moments no longer rule and destroy my life. Still, as I sit and watch the final few minutes of “Wrecked”, I cannot help but reflect upon the torturous journey that lies ahead of Willow, and how grateful I am that I have the people in my life that I do; or I would never have survived my version of that same journey. I would not have even wanted to.
(Somewhere in the midst of this diatribe, I’m confident I was supposed to blame my parents for some transgressions, or society for failing me, or school for giving me some complex, or the media for glorifying such forms of “escapism”; but that is rather boring and trite. I, instead, am going to blame Mr. Rogers for having a rather creepy demeanor and Erin Pendergast for never going on a date with me in High School. I hope you are happy!)