This amazing piece is made by Albert Besnard, a Frenchman, in the year 1887 and is called ‘The Morphine Addicts’. It is made by etching on Japanese vellum paper.
The intriguing aspect of this painting is what the artist chose to make on the subject of addiction. It is not the subject, the addict, that takes centre stage in the painting but a pale ghostlike character next to her. And while the subject gazes straight out of the confines of the two-dimensional prison of the painting and into the eyes of the observer, the apparition is looking intently at the subject. While the apparition appears to be thinking deeply which can be judged from its posture and position of its hands, the addict looks at us with pleading eyes, begging us to save her from a hellscape that she has built for herself.
When I first set my eyes upon this composition and observed it, a powerful performance arose in my mind. A play of words, images and actions between the addict and her apparition ensued and it was as if I was suddenly privy to the inner workings of an addict’s mind space.
A dialogue between the mind and the soul of an addict, just the way addiction plays tug-of-war with restraint
‘It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining and the sky is blue.’
‘Indeed. What are you going to do today? Hope its something productive!’
‘Yes of course! What else does one do on such a day?’
‘Just asking! I hope you don’t…’
‘Don’t what? I have no time for those things. And anyway I have firmly and solemnly made a decision.’
‘That’s what you said yesterday and the day before and the day before that and…’
‘You never trust me! Have a little faith!’
‘Ok, If you say so! What are you going to do today then?’
‘I feel like some tea and biscuits. Then after that, I want to draw and paint this sky. Look at it! The blues are so profound and full. How can one not capture it?’
‘I would love to do that with you!’
‘I want to write a bit after that and then in the evening I wish to go for a long walk through the garden where I wish to feed the ducks.’
‘That is a lovely plan!’
‘No! no buts!’
‘I am merely suggesting, That’s all!’
‘I know all your suggestions. I have been hearing them for a while now. It’s the same thing every day.’
‘You won’t understand! You never understand. I will just take a little bit. It makes my day better in every possible way.’
‘Just a little. I promise, just one more time, just for today.’
‘But that’s what you said yesterday. You promised me you will not do it again.’
‘Today is a new day. I feel… I feel I am finally ready to quit. But how can I just quit before I do it one last time? This wonderful thing, this amazing thing that takes me on wondrous journeys, that makes the days more vivid and flamboyant, that makes the night sky kaleidoscopic and of fiery delight, that makes each day bearable’
‘Then why do you think of quitting each night before you sleep? Why do you make false and empty promises to yourself?
‘What do I do? The moment I think of it I get these vigorous memories of taking my drug and revelling in the stupor. These memories make my mouth water, my heart beat faster and my eyes moist. These memories are like creepers, each vine a feeling of pleasure, love and happiness infinitely intertwined. How can I deny that to myself?’
‘You haven’t yet answered my question? Why do you make empty promises after you sink each day into sheer numbness and a glum state, each day into lethargy and unproductivity after taking this horrible drug?
‘You hardly understand anything. I am telling you, I will quit tomorrow. Of course, I can do it, I can quit anytime I like. Nothing is holding me back. And as today is the LAST DAY I want to do it one final time, for old times sake.
‘This last day could very well be your FIRST DAY of being sober.’
‘Do you hear me? Stop! Don’t put that into your lungs!’
‘I have again become invisible to you!’
‘You fool you keep looking outwards for pleasure when, in reality, it has been inside you all this while.’
‘Look at me! For I am you and You are me! You are tearing apart things that can’t and shouldn’t be torn apart. Look at me!’
‘Just one more time, just one more day, that’s all that I ask!!!’
‘Stop looking at me like that and stop judging me. Your gaze pierces through and hurts me. I promise you, dear pure and godly soul of mine, for just another day, for just another moment, let me be, let me be. Tomorrow I promise I will sing, I will dance, I will paint and I will feed the ducks. Tomorrow I will do everything that I have always wanted to do. Tomorrow when the sun rises I will be free of this vice, I will be free of this woeful habit. Tomorrow I won’t be a slave to this wretched substance. Tomorrow is a new day, tomorrow I will be me, but today let me be. For today is already gone, today is already dead.’
The life of an addict is exactly such that they are in a perpetual state of oscillation and flux and this imparts immense pain and suffering. There are only three states which an addict inhabits. In the first state, when an addict is sober they are constantly battling with their soul to convince themselves of why they must have the drug once again. They continually furnish countless ludicrous and sometimes laughable reasons to drug themselves. In the second state, when they are drugged they are either in a short-lived state of euphoria or in a state of consistent regret and contrition arising mainly from the failure to quit. The only remaining state is that of deep sleep when the addict is not conscious and is oblivious to themselves and the world.
In every waking or drugged minute of an addict’s life, there is not a single moment of thoughtless clarity or autonomy from one’s own feeble mind or freedom from one’s own cyclical thought processes, except there is this one very spectacular moment when an addict reaches that ephemeral drugged fueled pinnacle which is aptly termed as ‘a high’. It is only in this state that an addict truly finds freedom and manages to escape their own mind and like a river that flows into an ocean, they finally dissolve from a hard crystalline glacier of pain and hurt into an ocean of absolute nothingness. The addict constantly creates the very necessary conditions of suffering so that they can facilitate themselves into that chemical-induced state of high meditation. But unlike true meditation which pulls you away from the self and from desires and puts you on a path of introspective self-discovery, addiction plunges you deeper into misery, agony and detrimental self-annihilation.