“Suicidal Thinking is Just Another Kind of Addictive Thinking.” Clancy Martin on Healing Addiction and Suicidal Ideation
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Clancy Martin is the guest. He is the author of How Not to Kill Yourself: A Portrait of the Suicidal Mind, available from Pantheon.
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From the episode:
Brad Listi: Something that I want to talk to you about, we’re obviously not going to able to cover everything that your book entails, but I was pleased to see you talk about the relationship between suicideology and addiction. Addictive thought and behavior and the similarities that it has to people who struggle with suicidal ideation or suicide attempts. There does seem to be something deeply similar about these two things.
Clancy Martin: Yes, for me, this was crucial for understanding my own suicidality and for helping me to start to recover from it, which which I do believe. Again, knock on wood. I do believe I’m experiencing right now. I’m so grateful to say that suicidal thinking is not perhaps even just a species of addictive thinking, at least is parallel to it in structurally to addictive thinking.
I was talking with someone who read my book yesterday and he was a recovering addict and he said, I remember one thing that someone wise told me, this is this fellow speaking. He said, addiction to narcotics is just suicide by way of drugs. And I said, Yeah, that’s exactly right. It’s just, you know, suicide.
Brad Listi: Parasuicidal behavior.
Clancy Martin: Yeah. Parasuicidal behavior. Exactly. Trying to kill yourself and just doing it more slowly, which interestingly, in some of the early books written against suicide, a book by a guy named John Simm hundreds of years ago, he actually thought parasuicidal behavior trying to kill yourself slowly was worse, morally speaking, than trying to kill yourself through one of the quick manners.
Because he said it was a way of trying to kill yourself without accepting responsibility for the fact that you are trying to kill yourself, which in a way I think I was doing with my drinking. I was trying to kill myself without admitting to myself at some level that this was just one more way of trying to kill myself.
The funny thing about what you point out, and that I’ve learned through seeing at least the parallels between these ways of thinking, is how the the thought of, for me taking it was a drink because my addiction was alcohol, and the thought of taking my own life, and how they have become similarly both less appealing and less threatening. And how that structure of the way they become less threatening and less appealing has been just exactly parallel.
Like the thoughts still come up, of course, although come up, I’m grateful to say again with less frequency. They don’t have this menacing quality, they don’t have this pull. They don’t have the teeth in them that they used to have. And it feels exactly the same. Whereas ten years ago, in 11, 12 years ago now, I guess in 2011, the way the poll they had, the power they had when they popped up in my brain was also exactly the same.
Like, yes. Got to do it now in both cases. Oh, Thinking of a drink. Got to take one now. Well, thinking of killing myself. I’ve got to figure out how to do it now. And the feeling of them being just exactly the same is what led me to believe that it must be right, that suicidal thinking is just another kind of addictive thinking.
Brad Listi: Well, what changed if you broke those patterns or if you feel now that these thoughts don’t have the teeth that they used to.
Clancy Martin: Yeah, I think what changed the fundamental thing that changed was just that tiny attitudinal difference that you and I are talking about. Of feeling that there is something evil or bad, or that I had to run away from, or menacing or terrifying or shameful about those thoughts, to being willing to be open to those thoughts.
And to be open to them without acting on them, you know, being able to accept them in the way that I could accept other thoughts that I also recognize that I didn’t need to act on. That that they weren’t action thoughts, like some thoughts. You just kind of treat them like action thoughts. And in fact, I think it’s better if we can learn to treat almost none of our thoughts like action.
Clancy Martin is the author of How Not to Kill Yourself: A Portrait of the Suicidal Mind, available from Pantheon. Martin is the acclaimed author of the novel How to Sell (FSG) as well as numerous books on philosophy, and has translated works by Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, and other philosophers. A Guggenheim Fellow, his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, New York, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Esquire, The New Republic, Lapham’s Quarterly, The Believer, and The Paris Review. He is a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri in Kansas City and Ashoka University in New Delhi. He is the survivor of more than ten suicide attempts and a recovering alcoholic.