020 7193 5917 ben@benwillens.com

On consumption, addiction, numbing, vulnerability and worth

none of this is true...these are just some of the stories I sometimes tell myself...


In the society that we live in I think that it’s easy to feel as though ones consumption is out of control.

We buy things that we don’t really need.

We eat food when we are not really hungry.

We drink coffee for something to do when we are already awake and active.

We covet other peoples cars and clothes and things.

We reach for alcohol, drugs, sugar and a host of other things to add to our experience when it is good and to make us feel better when it is not.

It is often not what we can do with these things or what they can do for us that is on our mind when we want them. Of course the reason to buy or consume something should really be to improve our lives in some way, but often it is not this. Often the only pretence of life improvement is in the very short term. The pleasure of the taste of the chocolate in out mouth. The silky feeling as it passes down our throat.

The enjoyment is often so short term as to nearly not exist at all or at least pass unappreciated. The craving for another piece that starts as soon as the current piece is in our mouth, as soon as we possess the object we desire the cycle starts again. Our present “relief” creating our future pain. We “forget” about the heavy feeling or the headache that follows eating too much sugar or the unpleasant anxious heartbeat that starts during that cup of coffee too many, that is still finished regardless of the horrible effect that it is having. The downing of the glass of wine before bed, the effects of which will not surface until we are fast asleep, only consciously noticeable to us as feeling a bit crappy the following morning.

I sometimes find myself with desire to buy clothes that is often not actually driven by the real intention of wearing them, it is somehow more about the pleasure (or perhaps relief) in finding something that is “right”. Something that perfectly encapsulates the image that I would like to show to the world and as I write the words “like to show the world” I realise that there is a disconnect here, for it is not necessarily the wearing of them that I hope will show the world. Somehow it seems to be more about ownership, by owning certain things, we hope it says certain things about us. As if the world will come at some point and critique our wardrobe full of clothes or books or whatever it is that makes a statement about who we are but that we never really wear or read or use. Maybe if they see that I own these nice things they will like me. The clothes I choose should be stylish and chic. Obviously good quality but without overtly displaying so. Quietly elegant but still young with a fun side. Oh how I would love for people to think of me as quietly elegant but still young with a fun side. If they thought that then they wouldn’t see the chaotic mess that frequently inhabits my body.

Through this practice of consumption and ownership we are desperately reaching out for something elusive. Something that feels like love and acceptance. Desperate for belonging and being told that “you are enough” “you are one of us” “you are ok” we hope that by owning these things it will helps us to create our story. The myth of our selves. The person that it so comforts us to think of and so tortures us to fall short of. And when we do fall short, as we will because perfection is a fickle beast, what consolation do we have in our faltering moments? The buzz that comes from consuming, from owning, from momentarily lighting up our dopamine circuits with the tinder of pleasure, chocolate, alcohol, buying things, sugar, television, internet, porn, thinking that other people like us, caffeine, our phone, gambling, sex, fitting in with people, cocaine, gossiping, MDMA, amphetamine, ketamine, acid, weed, night nurse and anything else that could alter our brain chemistry just for a moment because some say that any addiction is a drug addiction or might as well be for the way that it effects our brain.

And yes, I suppose we are talking about addiction if we are talking of something that we are compelled to do by one part of our mind even though another part is firmly against it.

And then after that fleetingly glorious moment of moving towards pleasure or perhaps away from pain, comes the (hopefully) long drawn out comfort of numbness. The place where the void softens, where it just seems to slip away into the indistinct background where emotions go to sleep and there is no discomfort, because if there’s one thing that we do not tolerate in our modern society it is discomfort.  Where everything is softer and less painful and the intensity of the void goes away somewhere and with it go other problems. Like fear and sadness, but also hopes and dreams and joy and belonging and love, because love relies on connection and vulnerability but thankfully there is no vulnerability here just glorious comfortable numbness.

And some of us live within this place for most of our lives. Until something major happens. Something so big or emotional that it shakes us from our trance for a while. And we really experience life. With all the pain and feeling and perhaps also the joy but often we are so scared by the pain the we withdraw back into numbness before we get to the joy.

Because what would be better than this relentless cycle of consumption? What would help us to feel more of the person that we want to be? To feel more of the joy and love and belonging and less of the pain? Well, perhaps we would feel as though we belonged if we were to meet up with a friend. Perhaps we would feel joy if we were to get out into the world and run around like we did before we had more important things to do. Perhaps if we stopped to look at the sunset, the birds in the sky, to hear their songs, to feel the newness of dew on grass or the ancient reassurance of the old trees that live among us. Perhaps if we met a friend and went for a walk in nature and talked and listened and felt ok to just be. Perhaps then we would feel better.

But why do these simple pleasures not spring to the modern mind? Why are people not screaming about them from the rooftops? Maybe because no one will make money from these simple ways to enjoy our life. Not unless they can convince us that we need to enhance our experience with a latte, or a beer, or by wearing the right clothes that will make us feel more accepted until next year at least when there will be some more right clothes to buy, somehow righter than before.

Perhaps as a society we should begin to advertise how to really find joy and belonging, so that our children may find that these things jump into their minds first when they are feeling insecure. So that they have a chance to become wired in ways that lead to joy and connection. They might escape from the cycle. They might realise that happiness can be a decision that we make in the moment rather than a destination the we have to get to. They might feel grateful for being alive in the world and connected to nature and the joy that flows from the simple things in life. They might. Or we could forget about advertising and just go outside into nature and take a walk with a friend and talk. Really talk and listen and share what’s on our minds, what’s in our hearts, what we are grateful for and what we are afraid of. Dare to be vulnerable, feel the discomfort and do it anyway. Connect. And find a new way.