Jessica Chastain on why addiction is so great

Molly's Game, a film about addiction.

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This a film about gambling. Jessica Chastain is a driven and glamorous professional skier who sustains a life changing injury and finds herself quickly immersed in the world of high stakes poker.  Another high pressure, adrenaline fuelled, risky, high stakes game, with little chance of victory. There is a scene early on in the film where one of the characters keeps losing.  He deals with this by just drawing out more and more money on credit and becoming more and more reckless.

Jessica tries to persuade him to quit, but he keeps asking for credit notes, convinced that his luck is going to turn.  You feel for this guy, but somehow you also think, well I'm sure he's got a few million stashed away, so he'll be ok.  But in most addictions, there really is everything at stake.  Freud wondered if addicts really wanted to punish themselves, and lose everything.  Most people involved in serious addictions risk their relationships, money, health and sanity. 

For many years I ran a drug and alcohol service for people who had committed thefts and burglaries in order to support their drug dependency.  I visited many prisons and police stations around the country.  The men and women I worked with were literally imprisoned.  Some of them did rebuild their lives, but some also died prematurely, or were sentenced to prison.

If you are reading this you are clearly not in prison.  In fact, prisoners do not have access to the internet.  But you may wonder if your addiction, be it to a process, person, or substance, lands you in a psychological prison. In my experience addictions are extremely difficult to work with and have a tendency to reappear in different forms through out life.  The reason they are so difficult to work with is that the provide a very powerful and portable  solution.  You can control and use it on demand, like an Alexa-controlled Netflix.  You can keep it in the back pocket of your mind, just in case. No one needs to know.  Except you do know, and others know, at an intuitive level. 

Addictions offer an escape from the painful experience of life.  They are rather wonderful at doing this.  An illness and addiction may give excitement, meaning and purpose to life.  The nature of addictions is that they are covert, and generally hide their true costs.   They tell you that they are free.  They are very convincing.  If you are having doubts about whether you can get high for free, then its worth exploring this with an analyst.  They analyst will not tell you to stop, or take away your addiction.  They will understand it's importance, but you might want to experience a day pass out of the psychological prison you have created to protect yourself and into the cold, sunny, January air.

Ajay Khandelwal PhD

Ajay Khandelwal is an experienced psychotherapist and consultant. He welcomes contact and enquiries and is accepting new clients via zoom during the shut down.