Anything can be used addictively, whether it be a substance (like alcohol) or a process (like work). This is because the purpose or function of an addiction is to put a buffer between ourselves and our awareness of our feelings. An addiction serves to numb us so that we are out of touch with what we know and what we feel.

– Anne Wilson Schaef

I came across this quote a couple of nights ago while curled up in bed with my well-worn copy of Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom. On this, my one-month anniversary of Subverting Overconsumption by attempting to not buy anything new for a year, I can absolutely relate to this articulation of addiction. In fact, I’m convinced that our cultural compulsion towards consumption is addictive in nature.

I often feel a conscious desire to protect myself from the suffering of the world—to deny and fend off the despair that can otherwise creep in. For every moment that my impulse to disconnect is conscious, there are likely countless other moments that are unconscious, where I’m happy to distract myself with whatever happens to be available. My medications vary: sometimes it’s Cosmos with the girls; other times it’s a discount shopping spree, or bad TV, or chocolate. When faced with the choice between despair and distraction, I most often leap at distraction. I doubt I’m alone.

Thing is, now that I’m engaging in this practice of consuming less (or at least differently), I’m becoming conscious of how I seem to be transferring my compulsion to consume products onto other distractions*. I’m definitely eating more sweet things, drinking more wine, and watching more TV. Buying fewer “things” is great—but I’m beginning to wonder whether it just means I’m consuming more of what I’ve “allowed” myself to: namely food (including alcohol) and culture (including music, TV, movies…).

Of course, it is possible that I’m simply becoming more aware of every aspect of my consumption as a result of this process. Maybe I’m not actually eating more junk and drinking more wine. Maybe I’m just more conscious of the junk and wine I am consuming.

In any case, the unfortunate thing about addiction is that it’s based in denial: until we begin the process of recovery, addicts are generally not conscious of even having a problem or of being out of touch with anything. It’s probably the same with consumption addiction: those that consume with the most excess and abandon are likely those that are most out of touch with the reality of the crisis of unsustainable consumption of resources we currently face. I guess that makes the million dollar question easy: what will it take to get consumption addicts to transfer their addictive tendencies onto compulsive underconsumption and obsessive sustainability?

*It makes sense that if you take one addiction away the tendency will get transferred someplace else. A Google search for “addiction transfer” found a disturbing number of articles on a recent phenomenon where people who’ve undergone weight loss surgery have subsequently transferred their food addiction to other addictions like drugs and alcohol. Wacky, but not too surprising.

xo n