The music is so loud that you cannot hear anyone’s voice unless they shout directly into your ear, and the bass reverberates through your head, pounding at your skull like an angry demon trying to escape. Poisonous fluids seep into your bloodstream as you fill your belly with chemicals, disguised within sweet drinks. Your shoes are sticking to the floor as you try to impress the people around you by waving your arms around in time to the bass, like you’re trying to stay afloat in a sea of heads.
Move forward two hours, and your cheek is resting on a dirty toilet seat just after you’ve finished heaving your guts up into the bowl. The cubicle is spinning, and you can hear people behind you talking, saying things like “how did she get herself in this state?” “What did she drink before she came out?” You feel so awful that you don’t even care that they’re talking about you.
Why do we do it to ourselves? Alcohol is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amount of destructive things we do to make our lives ‘better’. 13 year-old children stand smoking on street corners, filling their lungs with unnecessary carcinogenic smoke, convincing themselves that it’s a great idea because ‘you only live once’. Food addicts sit day after day in front of the television, riding a permanent sugar high as they waddle to and from the kitchen, consuming overwhelming quantities of foods which their bodies do not need. Women repeatedly give in to destructive relationships, accepting abuse, ignorance and shattered confidence when it’s generally within their reach to walk away.
Picture a lonely, confused teenage boy, unsure of how to deal with the problems which life has begun to throw at him, sitting with a razor blade in his hand as blood trickles slowly from a cornucopia of tiny cuts on his other wrist. A twelve year old girl pinching the taut skin on her abdomen in disgust, regretting every calorie she’s consumed that day. A first-year student unconscious in a hospital bed, too drunk to acknowledge the reek of vomit filling the white room as machines pump the excess of vodka from his stomach before it kills him. A young women looking through photos in tears, wishing with all of her heart that her boyfriend was the same person he was when they’d first met, before the crude remarks and the beating started. Perhaps she’ll never find the strength to leave him, because she is so wrapped around his little finger that she is convinced she will be nothing without him.
What would we be if we prioritised only our health and happiness? Bored? Boring? Our brains are our own worst enemy, as the thrill of such destructive activities is born from the wave of feel-good hormones released when we drink, smoke and eat rubbish, making us addicted to punishing our bodies. When you’re bouncing around in a club, fuelled by alcohol, or worse: drugs, adrenaline is coursing through your veins, driving energy through your body like an electric pulse. The morning after, hungover and starving, it’s likely that you will crave greasy carbohydrates with little nutritional value. You can thank the flood of hormone signalling from the hypothalamus in your brain to the adrenal glands, making you want to fill your face with high energy, rubbish food as this will have the most satiating effect on the pleasure centre in the brain.
It’s the same story for that weak young woman, crying over her abusive boyfriend who she ‘loves’ too much to leave behind. Every time she sleeps with him, every time he wraps her in his arms and promises he’ll never hurt her again, wave after wave of the hormone oxytocin is released from her brain. Unanimously known as the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin will crush any scrap of her resistance, forcing her to forgive him everything as she wants nothing except to be his.
Essentially, hormone responses are natural instincts which we have developed over thousands of years as survival mechanisms. Adrenaline has been the force behind mothers actually lifting wrecked cars off their children after an accident to save them, and the lifeline which has allowed people to outrun packs of angry dogs, with their savage eyes and bared teeth. Oxytocin is the reason why parents will fight to the death in order to protect their children, and why many couples happily spend every day of their lives together, helping each other through into ripe old age.
In our world of excess, where everything is readily available and there are so many pieces of contradictory advice floating around on how best to live one’s life, our primitive instincts have turned us into monsters. We are machines of self destruction, filling our bodies with poisons and our minds with terror. I myself am one of the worst offenders, and I know that it would be impossible to ignore the feelings and urges which define us as human beings. Perhaps, one day in the distant future, we will find an equilibrium; a way to co-exist in the world without seeking shallow thrills which ruin us as people. Until then, we will undoubtedly continue to violently trample our way down this dark, treacherous and deadly path of self abuse.