I’m no mental health expert, but I consider myself an avid, curious, and even talented observer of human nature.
I am fascinated by what makes people move the way they do. But because I didn’t suffer from an addictive personality and I chose not to have a deeper understanding of the condition, I used to have a very shallow and judgemental view of addiction.
My first education around addiction was from one of my mentors, Sonya, God rest her soul. She was a drug addict who taught me the language of substance abuse and took me to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings. At age 24, fresh off the plane from Vancouver, I would sit and listen in wonder at these brave people opening up about their stories. Since then, having spent 30 years on and off in the music business, I have witnessed and studied more about the illness.
I’m sure everyone else is saying this, but it bears repeating: Addiction is an illness, not a weakness.
Until we recognize it as such and stop stigmatizing it, we will never truly be able to help those who are afflicted. I listened to an episode of “Stuff To Blow Your Mind” on the subject of addiction and my mind was sufficiently blown.
There were addictions that I was aware of as a child: substances like alcohol and drugs. As I became an adult, I learned of behavioral ones like gambling and sex.
And now in the 21st century, there are many conversations around those addictions in the technology sphere like social media, smartphones, and video games.
One that I was not aware of until I saw it named in the movie Changing Lanes, was addiction to chaos. The moment I heard William Hurt tell Sam Jackson, whom he sponsors in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA),
“You know, booze isn’t really your drug of choice anyway. You’re addicted to chaos. For some of us, it’s coke. For some of us, it’s bourbon. But you? You got hooked on disaster.”
The moment those searing words came out of an otherwise wholly unremarkable movie, I knew I’d seen it before.
I have a friend, let’s call him Andrew, who’s as brilliant as they come: a money man and hustler like I’ve never seen, imminently charming, sharp as a tack, and a visionary entrepreneur. When I first met him, he was a money manager. He was training privately with my ex-husband, a 34th Generation Shaolin Monk.. My ex and I became very close with him and his family. His wife, a wonderful mother of four kids, was a tremendous support to me when my children were babies.
Andrew was generous and funny and engaging and everything was larger than life: the vintage bottles of wine, the luxury apartment on the Upper East Side, and the vacations—after we met, he flew a group of us on a private jet on an trip to a Caribbean resort for the millenial New Year’s celebration. I had never flown private and been in such luxury.
As I got to know him through the years, I saw that Andrew had a compulsion to build things up only to break them down.
He would meet movers and shakers and billionaires, win them over effortlessly and inevitably do something to burn the bridge. I watched him turn $10,000 into $150,000 over months and then diminish it into nothing just as quickly. He once lost millions on a single phone call because he was careless.
He called it careless, but I believe it was designed by the demon in him that demanded that he “upset the apple cart” because things were going too well.
At some point, he and his wife had just looked at a huge house upstate and were going to put a bid in on it when this happened—dashing their dream of domestic bliss to bits.
He told me that he blew shit up on the regular.
I am sure this dysfunction stemmed from his childhood, as so many of them do. In particular, his terribly unhealthy relationship with his father, who was never satisfied with him. The older I’ve gotten, and certainly as a mother, I have come to grasp the awesome and terrifying role that parents play in the development of their children.
Knowing this, I used to look Andrew dead in the face and tell him with all earnestness “You deserve this” because I knew there was a voice deep down inside of him that said he didn’t—thus the self-sabotaging mechanism.
Speaking of self-sabotage, I was friends with an artist who was exceptionally talented and widely beloved. He had the makings of a triple threat: producer, artist, and actor. But from the day I met him, he has always done things to fuck up his upward trajectory.
What should have been a relatively smooth and steady turned into a turbulent rise, plateau, and eventual ebbing.
The talent never abated, but the behavior mitigated the positive effects and frankly, the good will. Story after story about shows being canceled, high level meetings aborted, rare opportunities squandered. Normally it wouldn’t bother me so much, but he was in a group and it meant that his actions impacted their fates as well.
As I think about these two men, I see many commonalities: both are exceptionally talented, charismatic, and bright.
The singular quality that they share beyond the addiction to chaos is what my pedestrian assessment reads as “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”
I wonder if there’s a tie between these. In a Psychology Today article on the topic of addiction to chaos, one of the questions to ask yourself is “Do you hate it when you are not the center of attention?”, which supports my theory.
I suspect we all know someone who is addicted to chaos but may not have been able to put a name to it.