On the intrapsychic level of human existence, there appears little difference between religion, alcohol, meditation, sex and drugs. This might come as a surprise to a lot of people, and the more religious minded may think of it as blasphemy, but it isn’t, so bear with me as we walk thru the psychological pathways populated with correlations and metaphors.
Fairbairn (1952) and many Object Relationist that followed his footstep, have contended that libido is object seeking. In other words, the instinctual energies of man are always seeking relationships in the external world. Thus all human behaviors and efforts are expended in seeking and maintaining affections of other people. However, it is the authors contention that the object that the libido seeks is not human, but divine. When instinct seeks external relationships, it isn’t necessarily seeking to connect and maintain a contact with an external entity, it seeks a connection with the Self. However, oftentimes such a connection cannot be achieved without an intermediatory to carry those projections of Self. Like Narcissus, we can only see ourselves thru a reflection in an external figure. The object that reflects our personality, thru whose eyes we see and affirm our own existence and worth, that intermediatory other often just happens to be a human. It could just as well be an entity, a phenomenon, a set of beliefs, and values, any external object that is capable of carrying the person’s projections, capable of facilitating the connection with the Self. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that every human is a universe unto himself, a self fulfilling prophecy, a self sustaining system designed to instinctively exists solely for itself, albeit in harmony with nature, with others. Socialisation processes may disrupt this phenomenon and force us into a struggle to eliminate this primary narcissism, but they also serve to severe us from our destiny, our connection with the divine, with the Self. Birds are narcissitic and altruistic at the same time, and they exist in harmony with the nature. Animals don’t kill except for food and when threatened. For us to pretend that humans are more evolved and altruistic than animals is the distortion of that preliminary, primary form of narcissism, it is a grandiose image of self that denies truth. Man is the worst predator of all, and in his grandiosity, refuses to acknowledge it.
Returning to the topic at hand, it may seem bizzare when I equate sexual experiences, drugs and alcohol with work, religion, meditation and all that is sacred and divine, but bear with me as we examine each phenomenon and find similarities and differences between them.
Religion is the most socially acceptable method of merging with the divine. Worship, which entails meditation, is a method of letting go of the known, embracing the unknown with curiosity, respect and wonderment, losing oneself in the supraparent, trusting (having faith) in the other (God, priest, church, scriptures etc), feeling protected, heard, healed, experiencing ecstasy, elation, symbiotic union, oceanic feeling. I could go on, but lets stop here for now. Religion involves building faultless internal structures, templates of our ideal relationships. These templates are then used to create relationships with and in the real world. Relgious experiences strive towards the ideal, and it is the storehouse of these experiences that we mine when we encounter our real world experience. Our relationship with the divine is a benchmark, a relationship we measure all our relationships against. In so many ways, it is superior to the infant’s relationship with the mortal and imperfect human mother even though it is a derivative of the same. Religious experience thus establish a measure against which reality is compared and recorded for future reference. As long as no other experience can compete favorably with this primitive experience of union, man remains connected with religious ecstacy and fulfilment. When any other experience threatens to provide fulfilment that exceeds the experience of religious unity, the two become intrapsychically conflictual and warring factions of a personality.
All those who have been in the grip of an addiction of any kind – sex, alcohol, drugs – would swear that their addiction provides an oceanic feeling, a feeling of letting go, of oneness with the universe, a moment of bliss, a connection with the supernatural, of ecstatic union with the divine. Since they have no other benchmark, they have no way of comparing the specialness of this feeling with anything superior to it. For them, this ecstatic feeling of oneness becomes their benchmark of the divine. All their subsequent reality is tested against this addictive union with their divine. And the fervor of the person who ingests drugs is in many ways comparable with the fervor of a man with religious experiences in that they are seeking the same thing, but are employing different tools to achieve the same. For these experiences they are paying a price that is affordable to each. The price that each pays is a topic that is touched in the later paragraphs.
If we put the judgement of right and wrong aside for a moment, the question arises here : can religious fervors be labelled as addictive? Are all addictions merely a way of seeking connection with the numinous? And is this union with the divine the sole purpose of life? And are all our endeavors, our tasks, our journeys thru life, our joys, our hardships as a means towards a fulfilment? Is the merger with the divine the ultimate human destiny?
This, in my opinion, has clinical implications. If people are seeking encounters with the divine, then their developmental backgrounds serve as deterministic pathways to the divine. In other ways we are all wanting the same things, striving towards the same ideal, acquiring the same libidinal outcome thru the mere act of living our lives the way we are living them, we just happen to use different tools, forged differently in the furnace of life. I may use my education, my work, my family, my garden and many more pathways to experience the divine whereas someone else may use drugs, or alcohol, or sex. A large majority lives out their life meaninglessly, drifting from day to day. Perhaps the sense of futility and lack of purpose that pervades in this age arises of this inability to merge with the divine. We thus have a bell curve,with a few leading the curve with their spiritual pathways, a few, like Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein and Gandhi – experience this union in and thru their work. A vast majority drift from day to day, living a mundane, normotic existence punctuated by undefined strivings and feelings of futility and emptiness. The union they seek is attempted thru hoarding material resources, an attempt that is often doomed to failure as a phenomenon of psychic growth and fullness.
At the tail end are others who cannot reconcile to this normotic existence and attempt to escape into the divine thru use of controvertial phenomenon like drugs, sex etc. These in the latter category are significantly more honest human beings, and infinitely more in touch with their inner feelings than the so called “normal” people who have deadened their internal world by focussing on the external material world. No matter where a person is on this spectrum, the fundamental building blocks that enable an encounter with the divine remain the same – the nature of our addiction is identical but the pathways to seek that fulfilment vary with our resources, our abilities and our deterministic backgrounds. Any roadblocks to experiencing this union with the divine finds expressions in anger and frustration that manifests itself in what the world calls “disorders.” Essentially the disorders are messages from the unconscious, outlining the hurdles that prevent progress towards the fundamental goal of the merger.
Per exchange theory, people stay in relationships as long as the benefits they receive are equal of exceed the cost of maintaining that relationship. Since the encounter with the divine is priceless, people expend enormous effort and resources to achieve the union. Most of us give up our time, money, or relationships, sometimes our peace of mind to pursue our interests/addictions. Thus a religious person gives up his time with family, he donates to charities, sacrifices his personal beliefs in exchange for the structure, insight and wisdom that religion or his spirituality bestows on him. A person in throes of love addiction daydreams, buys gifts for the beloved, suffers in the silence of his soul, promises to give up his personal, social, financial freedom in exchange for the love of his beloved. In its extreme, people are capable to be drawn to stealing, killing, plunder to get the object of their desire, and maintain their addictions. Thus we can see each one of us has to give up something valuable to maintain that contact with the divine. Its a savage sacrifice that the soul calls upon.
For a person who has anything of little value, his only valuable asset is the body. Thus someone addicted to drugs sacrifices his body at the alter of the divine. Someone else addictd to sex may sacrifice his personal freedom if the instinct pushes him towards rape. The sacrifice of the body, if tragic, is a significantly intense unconscious sacrificial act, rewarded by profound and powerful experiences from the unconscious that people without those experiences may never have. The expression “no pain, no gain” could have been coined for this phenomenon alone. However, the sacrifice has little long term beneficial value for the person. The union is momentary, and the leaves the person thirsting for more, the body and the soul suffers significantly. Social taboos may lead to social sanctions causing alienation and isolation, exacerbating the need/addiction for the divine encounter. It is a downward spiral that may lead to death and destruction.
There are other ways to merge with the divine, there are other ways to experience the ecstacy and the joy and many other powerful emotions that are experienced in that moment of merger. Most people simply aren’t aware of the choices and the offerings that life posits.
I hope by now it must be clear that I am not trying to glorify the experiences of people who ingest drugs. Nor am I attempting to establish the moral equilancy of sex/drug addiction with religion and spirituality. Quite the contrary in fact. An attempt is being made to simply establish the fact that there people seek the divine in the way they know best and that there appears to exist a similarity at the experiential level. I also acknowledge that are many pathways that lead to the divine. And that choice, the act of will, alone can enable us to choose from amongst the various pathways. Whereas family structures, church, friends, community provide relational opportunities for some of us, others are forced to seek this encounter thru suboptimal means at their disposal, thru addictions. However, if their efforts are to be viewed with compassion and understanding of the purpose that drives them t these addictions, it is possible to redirect and channel their efforts constructively rather than assign punitive attributions and judgements that condemn them to isolation of the misunderstood. This explanation, more than anything, may be responsible for the success of AA, where someone with drug and alcohol issues restructures himself, and thru his relationship with his partner, children, community and friends he can re-establish the same quality of connection with the divine without having to sacrifice his body. Such choice has multiple benefits. He achieves the same outcome without giving up his body as a form of payment, and he ensures that his own children never end up lost and forsaken, forced to seek refuge in the House of Drugs.
Fairbairn. W.R.D. (1952). Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality. London:Routledge
Grof, S. (2009). LSD : Doorway to the numinous. Vermont: Park Street Press
Jung, C.G. (1938). Psychology of Religion. London: Yale University Press.