Addiction and “The Air of Elsewhere”

Russell Brand named my blog. I’m not a follower of his, but shortly after Amy Winehouse’s death, he wrote an essay for The Guardian about addiction and their relationship. It’s probably one of the best essays on addiction I’ve read, and I saved it for a long time on a secret Pinterest board, not sure what to do with it, just knowing I identified. There’s one paragraph that hits close enough to knock the wind out of me a little:

All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status, share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but unignorable veil. Whether a homeless smack head troubling you for 50p for a cup of tea or a coked-up, pinstriped exec foaming off about his speedboat, there is a toxic aura that prevents connection. They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they’re looking through you to somewhere else they’d rather be.

I’m very familiar with the air of elsewhere. It permeated my family growing up and characterized most of my drinking life. No matter what happened when I started drinking, whether the night stayed light and happy or devolved into something dark and miserable, one thing remained the same: I wasn’t fully present. When I drink, my focus becomes alcohol: how much there is, how much others are drinking, when and whether it will be acceptable for me to drink more. I thought drinking made conversations flow more freely, but it turns out that’s only true when my glass is full. Once the booze-line dips below the halfway point, it becomes hard to focus on the people around me, unless they’re taking my drink order.

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