This morning I was coming home from LAX and somehow found myself on the 605 freeway heading north. I usually come home directly on the 91, but for some reason I spaced out and was on the transition to the 605 without realizing it. I was about 5:45am so I was tired. Anyway, I think I must have been re-directed to take this unusual route because I decided it might be best to take the 5 south to get back to the 91. You Southern Californias will realize what a little detour this was. But when this sign caught my eye for the Santa Fe Springs Drive In where they do swap meets on the weekend, I think that maybe Someone was sending me a message/inspiration. Instead of the lettering you see here promoting the Swat Meet, this was posted:
NAME YOUR OWN POISON
I think there was more to the sign, but that was all that I could read as I sped by in the early morning Sunday traffic. "Name your own poison". Interesting, I thought to myself as I continued driving toward home. Usually when one hears that phrase, it is a bartender's entreaty to order a drink. Hmmmm. I thought about that. Alcohol referred to as a "poison". Then it occurred to me: I remember reading that alcohol actually is a mild poison (if there is such a thing) that causes intoxication. Yes, it seems every time we drink a form of alcohol, we are taking in a poison to our system. Strange to think many of us actually enjoy the feeling we get by being "poisoned." Whether it is true or not that alcohol is really a poison, the fact is the effects of alcohol often are poisonous. The disease of alcoholism takes lives every day. And drink enough alcohol and you will indeed die of alcohol poisoning.
Death wish? I wonder.
So I began to think about all the other ways we name our own poison. Overeating. Drugs. Sex. Toxic relationships. Risky behavior such as riding motorcycles on the freeway, jumping out of airplanes, skiing, Going it alone in the dessert or the bad part of town. On and on. This, too, I believe is a way of choosing our own poison.
The recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has given me pause. An immensly talented actor choosing to take up heroin and booze after many years of sobriety. This morning I heard several commentators refer to these addictions as "dragons" and "monsters" that grow in strength even as you resist, waiting for that one slip to take control and even kill you. Even kill you. This makes addictions sound as though they are human in nature. They are not, of course. Ultimately it is the "victim" who chooses his own poison.
I have to admit that in my life, I have been challenged by many demons. None of them as serious as Hoffman'd I think, but demons all the same. I overeat. I don't exercise enough. I play it safe...avoiding what I would describe as beneficial risks like putting myself out there to meet that special someone or sending a written piece in to an editor or submitting a photo image I think is good (but never good enough) to a photo contest or exhibit. These are my subtle "poisons" I suppose. But they are mine. And I know if I am honest, I could probably name more, the personal ones that keeps me from living life fully.
So why do we choose poisons rather than life? Fear. Fear is the one thing that keeps most people from doing what would make them happy. The biggest fear, however, is that should we do that thing that we think will make us happy, what if it doesn't? Then what? Why do I choose these poisons knowing they are not good for me?
"Better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all."
---Alftred Lord Tennyson
Yep, as Tennyson suggests, it is better to take a calculated risk on love or life. Better to choose that which sustains you, brings you joy, comfort, happiness than to choose that which numbs you and keeps you from experiencing life. Perhaps that sign on the 5 freeway was asking the passersby to name their poison so that it could be recognized and dealt with so that they then could choose life. Interesting to think about on a Sunday morning or any time for that matter. Options. We always have options. Choose death whether it be immediate or in drips and drabs or choose life. Or choose life. A sobering thought. I think I know which I want to choose. And if I do, what a (natural) high that will be!