"Tell me I'm good" - Bart Simpson
I have never been drunk. I have never smoked a cigarette. And I have never taken an illegal drug. These things have passed me by. My addiction of choice is not to any substance. It is something else.
The reason I write and perform comedy is that I find the experience of getting a laugh the most wonderful thing in the world. The buzz derived from making someone laugh, or knowing that something you write has entertained people, is enormous. And it really is addictive. The trouble with it is that it's fleeting. You can't make people laugh for five minutes, then go home and live the rest of your life out feeling secure in your own abilities. If you want the feeling to continue, you have to keep writing, keep performing, keep getting the laughs. Because the buzz leaves your system so quickly, and it's so addictive, that the only way to keep yourself up is to keep doing it, again and again.
And that's not such a bad thing. That's probably why most entertainers keep doing it - the drive to keep getting that high is the drive to keep creating, the fuel for an artist to stick with their art. As far as my career goes, it's probably helpful that I'm addicted to the applause.
What happens if I'm not just like that when I'm working? What happens if that's what I'm like all the time?
Because my addiction isn't restricted to getting acclaim for my work. My real addiction is what you could call reassurance. Or affirmation. Or just "feeling good".
OK, so who isn't addicted to feeling good, right? But the difference here is like the difference between your body being able to make insulin, and having to inject it into yourself.
I can't of course know how other people feel - maybe everybody is exactly like me - but it has always seemed that most people are to some extent able to generate their own self-esteem. Or maybe it would be better to say, to hold on to their own self-esteem. That is, if they have reason to feel good about themselves, they'll know it, and they'll be capable of convincing themselves of it. If they have friends, they'll feel they have friends all the time. If they are loved, they will feel loved.
And importantly, they won't need reminding of all this every five seconds.
Because self-esteem is a drug to me - it feels great when I get some, but it leaves my system fast, and then I need another hit. If you tell me you love me, I'll believe you, but a couple of days later I won't be able to convince myself it's still true, until you tell me again. I'll fear that you've stopped loving me. If I don't hear from you, I'll assume that you have. And I'll just curl up into a little ball of hurt. That good feeling just won't stay. I can't generate affirmation from inside myself - it has to be applied externally. I have lots of friends - but when I'm not actually with them it's pretty easy to convince myself they're probably not that into me anymore. If I haven't heard from a friend in a while, I have to assume they don't want to be my friend. And if I haven't recently been told I'm smart, or talented, or nice, or loveable, I have to assume nobody thinks I am.
And I know it's not true. But this addiction doesn't care what I "know".
If you are a friend of mine, a loved one, or even a family member, I guarantee that my thoughts about you are dominated by the terror that you've gone right off me. I promise that at some point, I've worried that I've upset you, or angered you, or - most of all - just plain bored you, and you're sick of me. I hate it, but I can't help it - unless I'm talking to you right now, I'm probably terrified that I've lost you. And one way or another, I'd bet about 80% of my waking hours are accompanied by that terror.
And the worst part is, I know how annoying it is to be needy. I don't want to reach out and beg for reassurance. I don't want to be the person who needs to be constantly told he's good. I don't want to be constantly craving this external validation. Because it's completely lame to be that person, and I know, most terrifyingly of all, that if I'm that person, I'm actually going to drive people away because I'll just be too aggravating to deal with. And so my paranoia will become self-fulfilling - by fearing that nobody loves me, I'll ensure that, in the end, nobody will. So no, I don't want people to be always reassuring me that I'm good.
But God, yes I do.
But I don't.
No. I don't. I don't want to be that guy. I don't want to be that sort of irritating burden on people I love. And I certainly don't want to make my own worst fears come true. Mostly, I want to to break this addiction, and learn how to hold on to the happiness I receive, learn how to make myself feel good, and learn how to actually feel what I already know to be true.
But I don't know if I can, or if I ever will. And it's hard sometimes. So right now I'm just saying, this is how I am. I am sorry if I'm too needy and too annoying at times. I don't mean to be. But there's a part of me that's broken, and I haven't figured out how to fix it yet. I don't want anyone to rush to my aid here, or to feel any responsibility to prop me up. But I hope it helps the people who know me to understand a bit what's going on in my head. And I hope it might help people who feel the same way to see this stuff written down and know they've got a little bit of company.
To everyone who does offer me that reassurance, to everyone who offers me friendship, thank you. I appreciate it more than I can say. I'll keep trying to hold on to it a bit longer, and more importantly, to be worthy of it.