We're all lovable screwups in our fashion
My online dictionary defines dysfunction as follows:
dys·func·tion also dis·func·tion
n. Abnormal or impaired functioning, especially of a bodily system or social group.
Yep – fuckup.
When I was addiction counseling I tended to use “dysfunctional” a lot in reference to clients. And, it is true that at certain levels they were dysfunctional. Their addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, got in the way with their ability to cope at the mundane levels that applied to work, domestic tranquility, social responsibility, financial common sense, honesty, cooperation, and so forth.
Yet, at other levels, they were often highly intelligent, and especially creative. I had Native Indian clients who would turn out carvings that they bartered on the streets in return for a quick fix or cheap jug of wine. Carvings that should have been earning them thousands. But, they were dysfunctional in their inability to see that cause and effect. I had other clients who painted, who wrote, who turned a sterile rehab centre into a bit of a garden paradise. I was often amazed – and impressed.
But, why should I have been amazed. One area of their lives was messed up. The rest were intact. I also realized that all of us have our own areas of dysfunction – some not so bad, and other worse. I knew that I did, and I knew that I had also successfully addressed a lot of my own dysfunctions (albeit, they’re like scar tissue, they never really go away). It is only when a dysfunction comes to control all other behaviors that it becomes an individual, domestic, and sometimes a societal problem.
Yet, that said, I want go go back to creativity. I recall how comic Jonathan Winters (an admitted recovering alcoholic) once said he was loath to go into treatment because he was afraid of losing his comedic chops. It was the disinhibiting aspects of booze that led to his anarchic humor. Fortunately, he did quit the stuff, and continued to prosper in his realm.
A few years ago Jungian analyst Linda Schierse Leonard wrote a fascinating study of addiction and creativity called Witness to the Fire in which she pondered the connections between artistry and, OK, dysfunction, and cited how many who are addicted suffer the same fears that Winters did.
And, if we consider some of the great creative minds of all time, we can appreciate the fact that many of our most profound thinkers and artists were not entirely ‘functional’ and you just might not want to have them around to tea. At the same time, at what loss would we be if they hadn’t done what they did, despite being dysfunctional, in any conventional sense. Consider the following:
Kris Kristofferson: Brilliant mind, gifted songwriter (Sunday Morning Comin’ Down reveals a lot about the guy), as well as being a West Point graduate and a Rhodes Scholar, he was also for years an unrepentant drunk and drug abuser.
Albert Einstein: One of the great minds of all time, yet a lacklustre student and also a chronic womanizer. Yep, lovable old Al was a skirt-chaser, E=mc2 notwithstanding.
Dylan Thomas: Every coed's favorite poet, and gifted indeed he was, and everybody loves ‘Fern Hill’ and ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’. He was also a repulsive, out-of-control drunkard who stole from his friends, screwed around on his equally alcoholic wife, and snuffed it at 39.
Eugene O’Neill: Arguably the greatest American playwright was a chronic alcoholic for years, though he did get sober. At the same time, he likely never could have written The Iceman Cometh or Long Day’s Journey Into Night if he hadn’t been mightily messed up at one point. Same applies to Tennessee Williams.
Jerry Lee Lewis: The man was always a walking, talking mass of dysfunction at all levels, yet he was arguably much more pivotal than Presley in that he wrote and arranged his own stuff. And, damnit, the ‘Killer’ is still performing.
John Lennon: In my opinion the true creative force behind the Beatles (Paul was the ‘cute’ one), but an admitted chronic alcoholic and drug abuser, as well as having been a wife abuser in his first marriage.
Then again, George W. Bush also had problems with the old demon rum, but dysfunction doesn't always lead to creativity, I might add. Just sayin'.
Otherwise, I could keep on going with this, and so could you. My point being only that maybe we are too quick to consider people dysfunctional, and should maybe look more at what they gave, and in some cases continue to give us, without being too quick to judge. Ask yourself if all your perceived dysfunctions are necessarily negatives in your life.