If you define addiction as compulsive consumption of a substance or pursuit of a practice that negatively impacts your life, then, hand on heart, I can say that I don’t qualify. To run through the things that people normally associate with addictions, I’m not hooked on drugs, drink, gambling, fags, porn or pills. For God’s sake, I’m not even addicted to shopping. Or shop lifting.
I have eaten paan and smoked cigarettes and taken pain-killers and had a flutter from time to time — and yes, I’ve even had sleeping pills after a small but uncomfortable operation. But on the basis of that pathetic little list, I don’t think I can be described as an addict or anything approaching it.
My astrologically minded friends say it is written in my stars. Since the scales of my star sign, Libra, are always straining to achieve balance, I am constitutionally incapable of excess. While I am more than willing to blame my chronic indecisiveness on the said scales, I’m not so sure about the excess argument. I know any number of Librans who are magnificent addicts. My dearest childhood friend, also a Libran, is so addicted to nicotine that despite suffering huge guilt pangs, she puffed her way through forty a day when pregnant.
No, I think if anything is to ‘blame’ for my lack of addictive impulse, it is my essential shallowness.
The truth is, I am devoid of the kind of existential angst that drives people to drink or drugs. The Amy Winehouses of this world are enigmas to me. I don’t have a raging desire to plumb the depths of misery. Yes, I know we have to suffer for our art but does that suffering have to be self-inflicted?
In my 20s, when my friends were experimenting with all sorts of things I too made a few — albeit feeble — stabs at being cool for back then I associated addiction with drop-dead cool. There was something inescapably romantic in a wild Byronic sort of fashion, to my twenty-year-old mind, about being an addict. But always at the back of my mind, lurked the fear of losing control.
And that perhaps is the heart of it: I don’t like losing control. And what is addiction if not relinquishing control? Call me a control freak, call me uptight, call me a coward. But I enjoy being present in my own life.
But is it true that I am addicted to nothing? I may not be addicted to snorting industrial amounts of harmful substances. But am I not hopelessly addicted to comfort? Can I function without air-conditioning in summer and central heating in winter? Can I do without the services of a maid? Can I live without my power shower? My down pillow? My car? My spacious, tranquil bedroom? Would I be happy if I could not stroll into a bookshop and emerge with a bulging bag of purchases? Would I not grow resentful if I was deprived of all the little daily delights that I take for granted? Coffee? Crisp cotton bed sheets? Chocolate? Am I not addicted to luxury?
Well, okay, let’s define luxury. My idea of luxury may not be the same as Mr Abramovich’s in that I can survive without a super yacht and a Lear jet. And I don’t really need the £40 million mansion in Kensington. I can also, at a pinch, do without my very own collection of Damien Hirsts and Lucien Freuds and I can get by without my personal indoor pool and ball room with sprung floor. My lifestyle is downright modest compared to the super rich of this world. Luxurious is not a word they would use to describe my little pad.
But that’s not the point.
The point is that where I come from, a poor country of a 165 million people, my life style constitutes undreamt-of luxury for the vast majority of my people.
I feel very guilty, therefore, about my air-conditioning and my power shower and often try and imagine life without them. The prospect is not enjoyable. I know I would be miserable but would I have the physical withdrawal — the shakes, the sickness, the neuroses — that characterises true addictions? And more importantly I would not suffer the mental consequences of withdrawal either — the feeling that life cannot continue without it. Any discomfort I’d experience would be external, in common with anyone else who is forced to do without a luxury to which they’ve become accustomed.
But I could live — and hopefully function — without it.
And hence I come back to my original point: mine is not an addictive personality.
Incidentally, while I’ve been writing this article I have hoovered up an entire packet of biscuits. I tell myself it facilitates thought.
Moni Mohsin is a popular Pakistani columnist and the author of End of Innocence. Her new book, Diary of a Social Butterfly, will be published on October 17.