He had never been so anxious for the arrival of a woman he did not want to see.
-David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
It’s difficult to find a more visceral description of the horrors of addiction than in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.
Wallace’s character is frustrated with his addiction to marijuana, so he repeatedly tried to quit—which amounts to smoking up the rest of whatever he has and getting rid of all paraphernalia. But that lasts only so long, and he ends up going out again, buying himself more weed and a pretty new bong.
But, this time is different. He’s going to buy really good stuff from the woman he did not want to see and smoke it all till he gets so sick that he won’t want to smoke ever again.
Addiction comes in so many forms. Whether it’s binge-watching Netflix or gulping down M&M’s or the need to be loved or the need not to be needed, we all have ways of avoiding the present. And, as Wallace shows us here through this gut-wrenching portrayal of addiction, it doesn’t feel good. Whatever we do to avoid our lives never feels good long-term. Yes, it might feel good as we swallow the first M&M or watch the first episode, but our lives are always there—waiting for us at the bottom of the bottle.
Sometimes the present moment is just downright dreadful and frightening and sad. Sometimes it’s boring and sometimes it’s exhilarating. But, regardless—it’s all we’ve got, and no amount of chemical alteration can change that fact.
Perhaps then, the best thing to do is befriend the present, welcome it in, even if begrudgingly at times. Maybe we can lean in, ask questions, become curious, and inquire as to what this moment has in store for us and what it is here to teach us. By softening into the present, and seeing it as our teacher, we lessen the need to escape into some form of addiction, and we can begin to take baby steps toward a more expansive and peaceful life.