Under the influence of drugs, the human mind is in an altered state of consciousness and inhibition. Once an addiction is formed, the need for a fix can manifest into a downward spiral that effects many aspects of a person’s life. As addiction takes control, impulse control is often decreased, leading to poor decision-making and rash choices made in the abuser’s life. In Steve’s case, addiction has led to a path riddled with crime, continued drug use, and many bad decisions, which in turn have resulted in homelessness and reckless behaviour and the end of his marriage after an abuse allegation. Steve is actively taking measures to change the course of his life by recognizing his faults and actively pursuing better choices for himself.
As a result of the lack of impulse control brought upon by a life’s worth of drug abuse, anger is often expressed in outbursts. For Steve, his anger is based on what he claims is a life of being a victim. Dr. Mate is quick to call Steve on his understanding of the world and what it owes him. He reminds Steve that, while he may feel down in his luck and as if the world is against him, he is the only person responsible for himself. Dr. Mate reminds Steve that while he may have been dealt a hard hand in life, it is his choices and the things he does that affect the world around him – not anyone else’s actions, feelings or thoughts.
For many people, the most formative years of their life are those spent in school. For children simultaneously dealing with the pressures of school as well as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and bullying, these formative years can negatively affect the outcome of their life. ADD is a disorder, which manifests itself in many ways, the most common being a difficulty to pay attention, or being easily distracted by one’s surroundings. When coupled with bullying, children are often left feeling lonely and misunderstood. For Steve, suffering with ADD as a child made it hard to pay attention, complete tasks, and avoid procrastinating. When reflecting on his life and childhood, Steve realizes that he struggled through school and doesn’t look back on the time fondly. His struggles as a child manifested similarly as a young adult and into his adult years. Potentially driven by his ADD, Steve often seeks attention and positive affirmation – the culmination of this showed when he ran across Canada.
In an attempt to understand the complex causes which led to Steve’s experience as an addict, Dr. Mate illustrates the role that ADD played in his life. Whenever faced with a conflict or when he found himself in a situation where he felt uncomfortable, Steve’s ADD would function as a barrier, effectively blocking the memory. As he went through life, Steve would face conflicts but his ADD would not allow them to permeate his brain. To counter this, he subconsciously reached for substances, which would return a sense of normalcy. Without realizing it, Steve was self-medicating a disorder he wasn’t aware he possessed. Because these substances brought a sense of normalcy to his life, they became an addiction. Drugs and the relief they bring are a danger to many people, but when coupled with a disorder, which affects the way you function without understanding what is happening, these drugs can feel like a salvation that didn’t seem possible. As time goes on, this relief becomes a crutch and eventually a part of life, which cannot be lived without.
In a moment of extreme clarity, Steve comes to understand just how much childhood, and its many influences, affects the way a person ends up in life. For him, a large part of that is in the loneliness he experienced as a child. While his father’s actions may not necessarily be considered abusive, the times when he raised his hand to Steve have stuck with him his entire life. Most clearly, Steve recalls feeling traumatized by it and extremely upset. Upon recalling these experiences, he remembers what bothered him most about the second time he remembers being hit by his father; the reasoning. From what he can remember, Steve explains that it was his mother’s exaggeration of the events that unfolded, which upset him the most. As he explains this aloud to Dr. Mate, a pattern is made clear in Steve’s life with his perception of the people around him exaggerating his actions, which leads him into trouble. Whether or not they exaggerated, it’s apparent that Steve’s childhood experiences have often reappeared in his adult life one way or another.
What seems to be at the core of many of Steve’s experiences and afflictions is his relationship with the people around him, especially from a young age. Thinking back on his childhood, he realizes that his father ran the house like a dictatorship, with the rest of his family following his lead or else upsetting him. The controlled nature of his childhood left him feeling restricted and put under constraints or else there would be consequences to deal with. Dr. Mate makes the distinction for Steve between abuse and childhood experiences. Everyone goes through a similar narrative, but the parts within it and the intricate details are what make the story personal. In Steve’s case, it was his relationships with his loved ones, which caused him to feel restricted. Eventually, this led to his anger. His outbursts and rage are a by-product of his feeling limited by what the people around him wanted/expected of him throughout his entire life.
For Steve, sometimes it takes a level-headed outsider to put his situation into a different perspective in order for him to understand that his decision-making process is no different than other people’s. As Dr. Mate explains it, Steve survived his childhood by being ignorant to what was happening to him, at no fault of his own, because of his ADD. This included being blind to the things that could cause him harm. Steve’s natural defence mechanism, not to see the things that were right in front of him, transpired into his adult life. Now faced with questions about where he can go next, how to get his next meal, and even who to move in with, he does not immediately see the issues in front of him. Ultimately, this has led to a long list of bad decisions and what could be a life filled with more bad decision-making — if he does not become more self-aware.
When faced with the task of channelling into his younger self and understanding how he felt as a child, a common theme for Steve is fear and confusion. As Dr. Mate explains to him, he has had these feelings his entire life. As a result, Steve looked for ways to run away from the fear and confusion he felt – the most prominent escape plan being to run across Canada. Without diminishing his accomplishments, Dr. Mate explains that Steve attempted to run away from his problems (fear, confusion, cancer, etc.) by literally running away. The problem, however, lies in the awareness that even after running across country, the fear and confusion persisted. Without another productive challenge ahead of him, Steven turned to substance abuse as a way to try and escape his own brain and its default settings. While drugs offered him a release from his oppressors, they created more demons for him to face.
The foundation of a person is built upon their earliest experiences, even, and sometimes especially, the ones that can’t be recalled. As Dr. Mate explains, there are two possible reasons why we don’t remember things: nothing happened, or too much happened. While Steve looks back on his childhood positively, and recalls being best friends with his father, under further analysis there are some indicators that Steve’s habits were formed as a result of his father’s actions. When Steve was growing up, he can remember his father drinking occasionally, but never getting drunk. For him, the lack of extreme intoxication signified that it wasn’t a bad thing, and a connection to his eventual substance abuse wasn’t formed. Through discussion with Dr. Mate, Steve realizes that the slight changes seen in his father after a few drinks, which typically made him more amicable and talkative, influenced Steve to understand alcohol as a positive change. While the change was slight, the conditioning that occurred within Steve, led him to associate alcohol with something that could improve mood and atmosphere.
As Steve discovers more about how his childhood affected his life in subconscious and monumental ways, Dr. Mate makes it clear that his anxieties have created more than just problems regarding substance abuse. As it is explained, the suppression of emotions weakens the immune system to the point that it becomes more susceptible to disease, especially cancer. Another underlying problem within these circumstances is that society rewards people who are driven and motivated without understanding what could be causing that drive and what it may lead to. For Steve, the drive to be the best, do the most, and avoid his real problems seemed admirable from an outsider perspective, but ultimately led to his illness and his addiction. Looking at Terry Fox, Dr. Mate critiques the social approval for a young person to take on such monumental stress, especially when their personal circumstances are already challenging enough. There is an understanding that the courage it took for both Terry and Steve to attempt (or succeed) to run across the country for all of the right reasons, the message being sent is the wrong one. For Dr. Mate, there needs to be a further analysis into why these people are being celebrated and whether or not celebrating young individuals pushing themselves to dangerous heights is in their best interest or if it’s contributing to their greatest downfalls.
For many people, including Steve, substance abuse is a form of escape from whatever demons are haunting their day-to-day lives. For Steve, this includes crystal meth, crack cocaine, and alcohol. While crystal meth is occasionally (though rarely) used as a treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Steve abuses it for its euphoric and aphrodisiac properties. Steve has also used crack cocaine, although he cannot recall why he did it in the first place. Alcohol is another substance that Steve has used, heavily. Although alcohol initially gave him a feeling of confidence and security, in the end it left him feeling empty. Steve confesses to Dr. Mate that the drugs are covering up a problem, which he somewhat reluctantly identifies as ‘me’.