What Do You Learn in Addiction Treatment? Answers From David Foster Wallace

Do you know Infinite Jest—the brilliant, sprawling, and maddening novel by David Foster Wallace?

Weighing in at over 1,000 pages (after editing), this book is about . . . well, almost everything: Tennis. Football. Nuclear war. Mass media. Mental illness. And much more.

It’s also about addiction treatment. Wallace writes about this with sardonic humor, great feeling, and a knowledge of Twelve Step fellowships that could only come from direct contact.

There’s a long, juicy section where Wallace lists the lessons offered by addiction treatment. Following are examples:

That it takes effort to pay attention to any one stimulus for more than a few seconds.

That most Substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking. That the cute Boston AA term for addictive-type thinking is: Analysis-Paralysis.

In short that 99% of the head’s thinking activity consists of trying to scare the everliving shit out of itself.

That you don’t have to hit somebody even if you really really want to.

That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.

That other people can often see things about you that you yourself cannot see, even if those people are stupid.

That ‘acceptance’ is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.

That, perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to have it.

That if you do something nice for somebody in secret, anonymously, without letting the person you did it for know it was you or anybody else know what it was you did or in any way or form trying to get credit for it, it’s almost its own form of intoxicating buzz.

That there might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be angels.