The Link Between Addiction and Impoverished Imagination
The nastiest trick that addiction plays on us is when it makes a miserable existence appear acceptable. You might think ruining our relationships, destroying our reputation, damaging our health, and losing-out on countless opportunities would be a high enough price to pay, but no, the cost of drug abuse also includes our imagination.
Without imagination there is no hope. If we can’t imagine a better future, we are unlikely to do the things we need to do to change our life for the better. Sure, the negative consequences of our behavior may reach a point where we are forced to quit, but pain alone is not enough to ensure lasting change. We forget, you see, and as our situation begins to improve, we begin to wonder if things were really that bad before – here, the saying, ‘time heals all wounds’ acts like a curse.
The romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, differentiated between what he called ‘fancy’ and imagination. He described ‘fancy’ as where we just reorganize our usual way of perceiving while imagination involves seeing beyond our usual way of perceiving.
Addiction as a Lack of Imagination
Initially, alcohol seemed to heighten my imagination. I was a teenager and it gave me the confidence to dream big. I used to imagine that one day some big-shot headhunter was going to walk up to me in a bar, after noticing my enormous potential, and then I’d be whisked off to a dream career. It never happened of course. Over the years my dreams got smaller, and by the end, I would have been happy with talking to people for a few minutes without them wanting to beat me up.
I did continue to fantasize even during the worst of my addiction, but not in a way that could actually improve my life. The romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, differentiated between what he called ‘fancy’ and imagination. He described ‘fancy’ as where we just reorganize our usual way of perceiving while imagination involves seeing beyond our usual way of perceiving. I think the problem for those of us who end up addicted to a substance is that lack the ability to see beyond our usual perception. This means we remain trapped , and all our dreams are mere fancy (i.e. moving around the deckchairs on the titanic), and not the imagination that could allow us to see beyond our limited worldview.
The Importance of Imagination
So long as giving up a drug (or other addictive behavior) appears like a sacrifice, it is going to be an uphill battle. How are we meant to motivate ourselves to do something if deep down we feel it will mean a reduced quality of life? It is only by believing that changing our behavior will improve things for us that we can fully get onboard with such a project. In order to do this, we need our imagination.
Like members of a cult, those of us who get caught up in addiction end up being brainwashed into a particular way of perceiving. Our beliefs about what is possible, what is desirable, and what we can expect from life all become corrupted. We are prisoners to what the visionary poet William Blake described as the mind-forged manacles.
Escape Through the Imaginal
Caterpillars have imaginal cells that lie dormant until the other cells inside this insect begin to disintegrate. Once these cells are triggered they begin the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly. Philosophers, such as Henry Corbin, suggest that humans also benefit from a type of imaginal cell better known as the imagination. All we need to do is reconnect with our imagination, and this can help trigger our own transformation.
There are many practices from around the world that can reawaken our imagination. I found the meditation technique, the brahma viharas, to be a good place to start – at the time, this allowed me to experience something way outside my usual perception.
Other things that may spark your imagination might include:
If you would like to explore the power of the imagination further, please check out this video I made on the topic by clicking here.
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