Glee star Cory Monteith, who died the summer of ’13 from a combination of heroin and alcohol, is the latest in a long line of celebrity drug overdoses, from actors like River Phoenix to performers including Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. Each of these untimely deaths was indeed tragic, but such events are no longer shocking. If anything, the death of a star by overdose has lost its power to take our breath away. It no longer prompts us to truly question the values and direction of this society or to take action, which in my opinion is the most disturbing development of all. 

Monteith’s fans care about his passing. Of course they do. And certainly his personal circle of loved ones is in mourning as a result of his death. But society moves on to the next tragedy, of which we have no shortage, and soon Monteith’s death will be remembered as just another terrible waste of talent. 

Such a response is inadequate because drug-related deaths are occurring in epidemic proportions in this society, and not just among the users of illegal drugs but also legal ones. The truth is that we are a society of addicts, and perhaps that is why we are not inclined to truly scream and yell and riot in the streets about the fact that drugs are literally everywhere. Drugs and addiction have become part of the “new normal,” a given ingredient in contemporary life. 

Tolerating Pain
Instead of placing a value on learning to tolerate pain, learning from pain, or being able to discern between different types of pain, we tend to view all pain as something that requires an immediate release remedy, as that is our definition of healing. “No pain” is our measure of having achieved health. We barely distinguish between the essential pain that accompanies the process of self-examination and the suffering that accompanies loss, trauma, or illness.  

Utilizing inner pain as a guide, as an indicator that we are out of balance (the pain that accompanies a pattern of self-betrayal, for example), requires wisdom, not medication. This perspective is not the one that is emphasized or taught by our elder system (family/teachers/sages/physicians) for various reasons, not the least of which is that we lack the social infrastructure.

We are not as helpless as we would like to believe when it comes to our addictions — not at all. My brother died of alcoholism and it was not pretty. It was long, brutal, and tragic, so I know about addiction and its consequences. Yet I have also witnessed people consciously choose to engage their inner Addict when given the opportunity to break free of a self-destructive pattern. The need to win at all costs, the need to have the last word in an argument, the need to get even — these are not just negative character traits. They are dark addictive patterns of behavior and a person behaves in these harmful ways by choice. 

As a society we have islands of resources to treat addictions, such as drug rehab centers and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but while these programs are brilliant, they address addiction too narrowly. They primarily seek to treat the addict’s problems with drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, and overspending. In other words, they attack hard-core addictions rooted in the physical world without addressing the mind, the body, and the spirit. To tackle addiction, we must consider the realm of the Addict archetype and understand that every person begins life vulnerable to addiction. We must address addictions to power, to greed, to dishonest activities, to acts of betrayal, to lying; in other words, to the inability to control the dark side of one’s “inner self” as spiritually defined. 

Understanding the Addict Archetype
The primary truth about the Addict Archetype is that this archetypal pattern is not about addictions as such. It is about power, self-empowerment, and one’s capacity to speak, see, hear, and live in and with truth. Remember being five years old and preparing to head off to kindergarten? Each of us faced our first day of school and the inevitable journey through grade school, middle school, and high school. Each year a given set of subjects was presented and it was inevitable that we would have to study those subjects and be tested on them.

That same system, so to speak, applies to how we are scheduled to learn about our invisible nature or powers. For every choice we make, there is a consequence. It is best that our choices are honest and true; that is, that what we think and how we feel tell the same story. However, if we split ourselves in two, we become two people in one. In other words, “This is how I think, but this is how I feel.” And then we will speak yet another way, a third way, in order to keep our “mind” from connecting to our “heart”. That “third” language is always the language of lies, dishonesty, betrayal, and deceit. We will excuse ourselves and make up reasons for why we are in partnership with this dark part of ourselves. Perhaps we will blame our childhood, or we will tell ourselves that it’s because we had a bad childhood, or because someone made us angry.

What you need to know is that as long as you speak a “third” language, you are an addict. You are actively trying to keep the way you “think” separated from the way you “feel” so that you do not have to make decisions or admit that you know something to be true. Perhaps you don’t want to admit that you are unhappy or that your marriage is horrible or that your husband or wife is unhappy with you or that you are depressed. Who knows? People are always living in denial about something: guilt, god, politics, and the dismal shape of this nation. It doesn’t matter.  

The point is, we come to truth slowly because truth reshapes our life and it is impossible to go back into denial once you come to a new realization. But the methods we employ to avoid that moment of truth are endless. You might, for example, be addicted to lying or to hysteria or to pouting to get your way. Or you might be an addict to procrastination or being irresponsible for your actions. Or you might be someone who simply never keeps your word. Or you might be someone who always puts yourself first; it’s “all about you.” Or you might be addicted to your anger or to being disappointed in everything and every one. 

Moving to the Next Stage
All addictions, as I said (but this is worth saying again), are actually a means to an end, as the goal of any and all addictions is to control the speed at which truth reveals itself in your life. Why would an addict do that? Because each time we connect a truth — linking something we know (our head) to something we feel (our heart) — our life has to change, to move on to the next stage. And change brought on by truth is something that terrifies the Addict in us because our inner Addict also views addictions as a way of maintaining control in our immediate here-and-now world. If my day has been horrible and miserable, I will remedy that by eating/drugging/sexing/spending/acting our violently in the immediate moment.

Though such addictions create chaos in that they wipe out savings and destroy relationships and blow one’s brains into oblivion, at their base level addicts are addicted to one of just a few things: food, drugs, controlling behavior in relationships, physical exercise. In other words, addicts count on their addictions as familiar routines and routines represents immediate control over an addict’s tiny world, even if it costs the addict everything in his or her larger universe. 

How do we confront the Addict in us? Does developing self-esteem make any difference? And why exactly have we become a society of addicts? These are not simple questions, but again, they are worth pursuing with depth. And that we will do in Part Two.

Caroline Myss is a five-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally renowned speaker in the fields of human consciousness, spirituality and mysticism, health, and archetypes. Her latest book, Archetypes: Who Are You?, is available through Barnes & Noble.