November 5th, 2021
An exploration of addiction through my personal experience, evolutionary theories, and Galactus & the Silver Surfer.
“I’m hungry but I’m not hungry.”
Before everything, it was a feeling.
By now, I’ve heard countless people say this phrase or a variation of it. Before that, I used to think it repeatedly, say it to myself in mirrors. Even before that, before I had the handful of words I needed to use the expression, it was just a wordless thing that lived inside me, the deepest feeling I could touch with my feet.
It defines everything about addiction to me, and addiction is a part of the definition of me.
That’s his whole thing.
Everyone can keep their Jokers and Lex Luthors and Thanoses and Magnetos. Galactus is my favorite comic book villain. He simply gets me.
He is hunger.
I read a lot of science. As an agnostic – a person who doesn’t dare make declarations about whether or not the God or a god exists, but instead lives in the gray spiritual areas, being open-minded as opposed to sure one way or another – I find science to be the closest thing to magic we have on this plane of existence.
Just like card tricks and disappearing acts and the ability to saw people in half, magic can be explained – and can be an explanation.
Evolution itself isn’t a theory; it’s a solid root of scientific history, and its influence on the rest of the tree cannot be overstated.
And it starts with mutation.
These three seeds of thought – personal, scientific, and comic book cosmic – will be intertwined as I try to explore addiction, its influences and its impact.
I have trouble opening a bag of potato chips without knowing there’s a back-up bag of potato chips somewhere in my home.
I didn’t understand this phenomenon for a long time, but the thought was always there, rocking in a chair in the back corner of my mind, haunting so many decisions. Running out of something wasn’t just bad; it was a matter of life or death. This trait branches out and mutates into others; I have trouble throwing things away and letting things go.
I am terrified of being alone, but not merely by the absence of other beings.
There is a lot of science and faux science and near-science when it comes to addiction. Something I hadn’t come across a lot specifically in my reading were the dual subjects of addiction and evolution and how they may be related.
Evolution is a fairly simple concept that just takes a long ass time.
Things mutate. Organisms, animals, human beings. If a random mutation happens to be something that is beneficial to the mutant, that organism should thrive in its environment, which will improve its chances of reproduction. If it makes babies, those children will have a good chance of carrying their parent’s mutation.
And so on.
And so I started to think: is there anything beneficial about addiction?
Galactus would not appear to be a good example of this.
He hungers. Constantly. And not for a sleeve of Ritz crackers and can of Cheez Whiz – Galactus consumes the entire energy of planets.
He existed before the Big Bang and will likely survive after this universe calls it quits; he is the cosmic embodiment of first one in, last one out. If there is nothing to eat, he will survive; if there is something to eat, he will consume.
He doesn’t do it alone, however; he has heralds, people he shares his “power cosmic” with in order to help him find places to eat. I make it sound like he drives around outer space looking for a restaurant, but what he actually does would be the equivalent of going to McDonald’s, ordering a value meal, eating the value meal, eating the rest of the food in the kitchen, eating the staff of the McDonald’s, and then eating the McDonald’s itself, brick-by-brick, until there was nothing but an empty black abyss where the McDonald’s used to be.
This is the nature of Galactus, and Galactus is a natural part of the universe.
The Silver Surfer is the most famous, and infamous, of the heralds of Galactus. He was Norrin Radd of Zenn-La, a bored man living on a peaceful, prosperous planet, who wished to travel the stars. When Galactus came to eat his home, Norrin volunteered himself as tribute, willing to help Galactus find other planets to consume if he would leave Zenn-La alone.
Galactus agreed. Norrin became the Silver Surfer, endowed with the power cosmic and a sweet ass cosmic surfboard.
At first, the Surfer would bring Galactus to planets that were uninhabited. After some time, however, the Surfer forgot who he was, and began leading Galactus anywhere and everywhere, which led to mass genocide and the destruction of countless populated planets. It wasn’t until the Surfer came to Earth, where he met the Fantastic Four and Alicia Masters, that he remembered his humanity and vowed to spend the rest of his days defending all precious life across the multiverse.
The Surfer is one of my favorite superheroes and, like the Hulk, embodies for me what being in active addiction can be like. Galactus, however, is addiction.
As you can imagine, being someone who is constantly needing a fix causes a lot of drama, and for decades of comic book continuity, Galactus stirred up the most dramatic of cosmic shit. He pitted people of all backgrounds against each other to get what he wanted. Unfortunately, a lot of them genuinely cared for Galactus. He used that. He cared for many of them, too. Until they got in the way of what he needed.
That behavior doesn’t seem beneficial from a moral standpoint. It seems downright awful.
But being selfish leads to self-preservation.
And then it started to fall in place for me.
Having more keeps you alive.
I think back to that bag of chips, and why I have an instinct to make sure there is at least one more bag of chips after that one. A trait like that would be valuable. Storing more than is needed at the moment is a behavior abundant among animals, because it increases the chances of survival.
To me, this is clearly a sign of addiction.
In a section of The Evolutionary Origins and Significance of Drug Addiction, it is factually stated that any person is capable of developing addiction. I would extend that to any living, breathing creature.
It goes on to say that the reason it is not believed that many early humans were victims of addiction is because there was never enough around to feed it. There was a constant hunting and gathering that left little time for recreation, and little supply to recreate with. Additionally, there is evidence that many of our early foods were psychoactive in nature; this would suggest our brains co-evolved with state-altering substances, which is in itself a whole other essay.
People were surviving. But they were limited in what they could consume. Since this is the way it was for most of human existence, there would have been no evolutionary reason for us to naturally develop ways to prevent or fight addiction. There wasn’t enough for anybody.
Just imagine a world in which that wasn’t a problem.
Feeling good feels good.
This means more than you think. Yes, it literally feels good to feel good, but on a deeper level, feeling good makes us think that we are doing well.
Feeling bad makes us feel bad – but bad feelings are essential to survival.
Using things that make us stop feeling bad for the sake of feeling good has existed as long as humans have. But the bad feelings we have are evolutionary; they are traits we have because they helped our ancestors live long enough to have us. It’s the reason most of us jump at a loud sound. But the bad feelings have gotten worse. As The Evolutionary Origins… says:
“Negative emotions (pain, fear, stress, anxiety, etc.) have evolved in mammals to allude to even the slightest, most harmless potential indicator of a more serious problem, leading to what may be known as a modern-day personality disorder. Personality disorders can be characterized as anything from over-anxiety to schizophrenia. Many emotional disorders that drugs mask, such as anxiety disorders, develop from the ancient adaptive mechanisms expressed by the evolved mode of personality, and may in fact not be disorders but hypersensitive neural adaptations.”
So sometimes we suffer because the people before us suffered; ironically, it was their suffering that inspired and allowed them to live. A long time ago, happiness and fitness went hand-in-hand with accomplishing things; we now have substances that give us the same feelings without any actual achievement.
This realization often sends us spiraling down.
Bad feelings feel bad.
I don’t want to end this piece without acknowledging the multitude of reasons an addiction can be created or triggered. I want to share this whole segment from The Evolutionary Origins…:
“We have discovered that the nature of addiction is not solely based on free will to use, or an individual’s conscious choice to use, but may have deeper influences. The nature of drug addiction is three-fold: biological, psychological, and social. Although humans may be biologically and psychologically predisposed to drug use and addiction, they may often be driven towards that state by social and cultural influences.
“To what extent environmental stimuli affect a person’s vulnerability to addiction is unknown and may be varying. However, we cannot ignore the great impact of environmental and mental stimuli in the progression towards addiction. It has been found that certain environmental variables breed higher vulnerability.
“Family dysfunction and disruption, low social class rearing, poor parental monitoring, and rampant social drug-use exposure may greatly contribute to an individual’s movement from substance abuse predisposition to addiction. Both acute and chronic stresses have been linked with substance abuse as well, with acute stress being one of the main influences of relapse in rehabilitated drug addicts. The widespread availability of drugs in certain areas also may affect susceptibility.
“This is exceptionally notable in low socioeconomic areas in which overcrowding and poverty have been associated statistically with increased substance abuse. In addition, repeated exposure to successful high-status role models who use substances, whether these role models are figures in the media, peers or older siblings, is likely to influence children and adolescents. Similarly, the perception that smoking, drinking or drug use is standard practice among peers also serves to promote substance abuse.”
This hits the nail on the head.
Addiction can and does affect everyone.
Knowing this – opening our hearts with compassion and empathy for those with these issues and for those around these issues – is the key to understanding and healing it.
By recognizing traits that I share with other people who have addiction issues, I’ve started to dig and pull at their roots. I’m able to see something that I never could before – the beneficial side to my hunger. At the very least, I’m able to recognize how my behavior could have been essential to my survival, but how some of those traits could be harmful now.
Eventually and regularly (though, notably, not permanently), even Galactus was able to assess his own character defects and see how he was hurting others. At one point, he exiled himself to another dimension to save this one, as written in his official Marvel biography:
“Brought to Manhattan while Reed raced to find an alternate energy source for him, Galactus was impressed with humanity’s indomitable will and constant struggle against hardship, and he chose to exile himself extra-dimensionally rather than risk destroying it all when his power returned.”
I’ve found a lot of pop culture sources of comfort and strength through my recovery which, for me, has been almost four years without picking up a drink. Nothing has ever really spoken to me like comic books do, though. Unlike Galactus, however, I haven’t been able to remove myself from this dimension.
I’ve had to learn to live with my hunger. Accept it. Try to love it.
I’m hungry but I’m not hungry.
I’m not hungry, but I am hunger.
I highly suggest these further reading materials if this topic interests you; I found these papers while searching the subject online, and I highlighted some of the text in my own essay. They contain a wealth of data and information, and deeper insights on more specific issues like criminalization.
The Evolutionary Origins and Significance of Drug Addiction by Tammy Saah
The Deep Evolutionary Roots of Addiction by Moira J van Staaden, F Scott Hall, and Robert Huber
Galactus: Official Marvel Biography
Silver Surfer: Official Marvel Biography