A commentary on the Missy Jubilee film ‘Addikt’
By Belinda Tobin
I wonder how many of you were drawn to this article because of the word “ugly” in the title. And how many were attracted to the notion of “truth.” Were you hoping to be entertained with the repulsive or enlightened with answers?
I wonder this because I was lured to Addikt because of its title.
I was an alcoholic for decades and was curious to see if Missy’s experiences could illuminate my own.
I was also quietly hopeful that she may salve the still raw wounds. Of course, this latter wish was a fanciful delusion because Missy’s films never placate. They provoke. I did not get a soothing emotional balm from this film. Instead, twice I felt the sharp edge of salt crystals scraping against my tender tissue.
The first sting came with Missy’s claim that addicts become immune to shame. Initially, I wanted to protest against this statement. Of course, I felt shame – how could I not feel shame for what I did when I was blind drunk? That would make me a monster!
I was getting ready to post my opposition when I realised this was my copium. The reality was in the thick of my addiction, I could not even choose to feel shame. My substance was more important than shame. I needed alcohol more than approval, more than inclusion, and I desired being drunk more than I desired love. Shame was not even a consideration. So, yes, I had become immune to it because it could not even exist in my consciousness at that time. I was too drunk to feel shame. And one thing I learned quickly was that what is worse than feeling ashamed is not having the capacity to care.
“Have you no shame?” says the guest.
“Obviously not!” says the mother vomiting up a bottle of red wine at her child’s fifth birthday party.
It was only when I began to sober up and reflect on what I had done did shame enter the picture. Then it hit me like the full force of a ten-tonne time bomb. If immunity to shame saw me through the depths of my dependence, then it was certainly a dangerous vulnerability that came with sobriety. Perhaps it is this vulnerability that makes healing from addiction just so god damn difficult, and why the videos of Brené Brown discussing vulnerability in the film is just so pertinent. As Gabor Mate says, addiction begins and ends with pain. And when someone is already under the weight of so much pain, adding vulnerability on top is a very risky move – it is a life-or-death proposition. It can submerge you further into shame and self-medication or push you onto a thorny path of self-exploration. In this film, Missy shows us how pointed the latter journey is.
The second sting came after Missy’s statement about her abortions and the impact of confusing human beings with convenience. For someone unfamiliar with the ‘eccentric’ world of addiction, it may seem appalling that one would treat another human being with such disdain. While actively breaking their hearts, I tried to convince myself that I did love those around me (yep, more copium). But honestly, during my addiction, I only saw people in terms of their level of enablement. They were a convenience when they could get me close to my substance. They were an inconvenience when they kept me away from it. It did not matter if they were parents, friends, partners, children or complete strangers. They were deemed as helpful if they supported my substance, even unwittingly by their ignorance or neglect. If they challenged or prevented me from drinking, they were evil and avoided at all costs. So it was not a shock for me to hear about Missy mistaking people for convenience. What was shocking was to hear it with such clarity and audacity. That was pure salt. Being reminded that this is what I did to people during my addiction was the rub.
I could imagine that with copium, like alcohol, the people that assist you by confirming your lies are held close, and those who create a risk of confronting reality are renounced. For many addicts, the relationships that threatened to move you closer to truth can never be reconciled. It is easier to cast away ugly truth with justifiable self-righteousness than to open the void of vulnerability. For sometimes, that void feels like an oily, rippling, endless black hole, ready to consume you whole. We can only hope that, over time, ripples of self-compassion have the same stamina and appetite for domination.
For a long time after watching the film, I wondered what the treatment for an addiction to copium would be. With alcohol, the process was straightforward. I learned it far too well throughout my messy demise into dependence. The first stage of treatment was always a detox – a withdrawal. The theory is when your body and brain are free of the toxic substance, you will be able to think clearer and start making some healthy life choices. So would it be the same for addiction to copium? Would you also have to withdraw from the lies you tell yourself and be left living in the torturous, nauseous migraine hangover, which is reality without a psychological crutch? My gosh, why would anyone do that to themselves? They wouldn’t unless, of course, they had great faith and were not willing to surrender the spark within. And as Missy (via Dido) tells us clearly, there will be no white flag in the fight for Missy’s truth.
Perhaps the only way to heal from copium is to remove yourself from the situation that compels you to create a life of lies. Perhaps the withdrawal required for copium is a social one? This has certainly been my experience with alcohol. My drinking was self-medication to survive a life that was not my truth and to bring peace to a war I was waging on my own spirit. Despite having a career, family and friends, I felt lonely and hopeless. Now it would be fair to say I live very much alone. But I am far from lonely. There is no conflict – I am free to be myself. I have removed myself from the distress of conformity. I can now live in the relative calm of my own companionship. In a way, this is what I see Missy doing. She has refused to be a part of the crowd that encouraged and enabled her addiction to copium. She is creating a community that cherishes the inimitable and unique and where shame has no foothold because there is no fear of ex-communication.
One of the things that also struck me about this film was how modest and quiet it was. Many of Missy’s films are a trail of tightly woven transitions – a myriad of minute movie movements that unravel to reveal the story. In Addikt, though, there was an overwhelming feeling of lightness, ease, naturalness – of Missy letting herself flow like the curtains around her. Alternatively, showing herself clothed and in the guise and pose of a normal human being.
This is unnerving when you contemplate the subjects covered being addiction, abortion, vulnerability and shame. And yet she has chosen this context intentionally. Why? Maybe it is to show us the relative peace that comes once there is no longer a battle with shame – once you have thrown it from the train? Or maybe it is to confirm Missy’s point about context – that when you are immersed within it, even the most sinister concepts can feel completely sedate and normal.
One thing I do know is that Missy is the living embodiment of Brené Brown’s profound observation. Brené has said that:
“We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both.”
With this film, Missy shows again what it is like to act from a place of courage. So, whether you come to be entertained with the ugly or enlightened with the truth, I know you will leave with a greater knowledge of what it is like living with chutzpah.