Ooh boy. Back from vacation and I see today’s prompt is ‘vice’. Hah. Well, we’re going to get to know each other really really well now, aren’t we?
That we all have certain vices in life should come to no surprise. We are all, after all, human. Therefore the knowledge of the existence of vices is certainly a given. An unstated fact of the human condition. But the sharing of vices is so closely guarded for fear of judgement or shame. Our vices are as integral to the definition of our identity as any positive trait or habit that we may possess and readily display. What is our weakness and how does that shape the things we succeed or fail in. How does that dictate where we are confident and when we are meek. How do we carry our vices in our gait, our posture, our attitude.
Perhaps you’d like me to share my gambling. I’ve always been lured by the bells and whistles. My father used to take the family to Atlantic City every summer and I wanted nothing to do with the Boardwalk or the beach and just wanted to sit at the card tables. In high school I taught all my friends how to play Texas Hold ‘Em and Mahjong. We’d have poker or mahjong nights on the weekends and stay up until 4am. We played for chump change, anything from $5-$20 but it was a rush and a thrill and it felt like we were part of an underground world. My teenage mahjong parlor days. Hahah. When I finally turned 21 my friends and family and I rented some cabins in the Poconos for snowboarding, snowtubing, but we also spent the night of my birthday at Mount Airy Casino. It was my first real taste of the big leagues. I didn’t know what I was doing or what games to play or how to play but I knew I wanted to be part of the action and didn’t want to miss out on anything. I was in every hand and laughing in the face of destiny. In the course of one hour I managed to lose $500, my entire birthday gift. No one was having fun that night. It was embarrassing and I was ashamed to look my parents in the eye when they asked what I did with the money they gave me. My friends were almost sucked into my abysmal whirlpool of bad decisions but luckily they only got minor damages. Losing much less than what I had done all on my own.
Since my first foray, I’ve still become a casino regular. You will find me in Las Vegas at least once a year and Atlantic City, for however long it still lives, has been a weekend retreat for me almost every other month in the spring and fall. Since I clearly still have a job, shelter, food, and clothing, I have not yet gambled myself into crippling debt. I’ve learned to control my vice and still enjoy myself. I want to be very clear when I say this, I did not control my gambling vice by getting better at gambling. That’s where a lot of people go wrong. If you lose money, you don’t get it back by being better at gambling. That’s now how you control the beast. You realize that the best will always be bigger, faster, and stronger than you so you become smarter. I learned to control my budget when I go to a casino. Learned the art of getting up with dignity and grace and walking away. I learned to stop when I’m ahead and appreciate what I was able to squeeze out of a system that is stacked, fundamentally, against me. Yes I learned how to play the games and the basic strategy and mathematics, but most importantly I learned not to try and guarantee anything other than ‘I’ll walk away when I’m x in the hole, I’ll walk away when I’m y up, and I’ll have fun because I don’t expect to use this as a living’.
Or we could talk about my drinking. Not to disparage my Filipino upbringing or anything, of which I am very proud mind you, but one thing I will say is that there is definitely a much more lax and blasé attitude prevalent when it comes to alcohol. Since I was a child I have always been surrounded by alcohol at almost every family event. As such it never really had this strange lure that most kids in the US feel that causes them to binge and get inevitably get sick and (unfortunately) sometimes stupid. Having said that, I still do enjoy a stiff drink every now and then. Emphasis on the now. While I never associated alcohol with freedom or partying, I did end up looking to alcohol for comfort and companionship during some tougher times in the past, especially after relationships would end. I think some of the most dangerous drinking is the one you do alone, and I certainly did a lot of that at times with no one to really keep tabs on me. Fortunately I never did anything reckless, as I was usually at home and knew better than to drive. It would just be a lot of desperation, badly timed texts, and regrettable contacts.
If you ever want a good reason to mind what you drink, you need not look further than the company you are with. Like I said, the most dangerous drinking you can do is alone, because there is no one to hold you accountable. I am the unofficial guardian of our group. I lead, organize, and coordinate. I cannot afford to be in a questionable state. I’ve seen the situations getting drunk can get you in. If not for me, I would then definitely stay away from them for the sake of my friends and family. People I care about. Who I feel it is my duty to protect and provide for. Maybe it’s a Kuya (big brother) thing. Hahah. I cannot fulfill my responsibility to them if I have no control over myself. I’ve also taken drinks to become a part of the dining experience. As much as a good dish is a work of art, so too is a beautiful, well-balanced, articulate cocktail. I learned the art of mixing drinks from the books of the masters and what I call ‘live study’ at some of the best bars in the country. Now I have a fully stocked bar at home with all the tools and gadgets and I can say I actually have enjoyed and appreciated drinks now more than ever. But no friend was ever made at the bottom of the bottle. And you certainly don’t keep many down there either.
Actually the vice I want to discuss, the one that does still have a pretty bad hold on me, and notably is also the most difficult to state (despite my oratory in the beginning) is to, well, pornography. Yes I am succumb to the same weak, baseless, immoral vices of all other young men. It started pretty typically as well. Discovering my father’s old Playboys boxed up under their bed. The dawn of the internet. Hoping that her grainy picture will load faster than my mother’s footsteps to the computer room. Then discovering that I could have actual preferences, and search specific things, and enjoy specific images or themes. Suddenly nothing was safe. Celebrities, shows, characters, no one was excused from my wild and perverted searches. I would like to say that this obsession died down after puberty. That I had become more than that by now. But to certain extents this interest, this hobby, this consumption, would remain a part of my, sometimes daily, life. In times of loneliness, pornography was a substitute. A life of intimacy by proxy, fueling fantasies and living in the dream world. Even in relationships, pornography would find its place. Pornography was always up, always ready, and never thought any request was too strange. I wish I could at least say that it was a necessary substitute, but the truth of the matter is I would often times be too self-conscious, too embarrassed, to unsure of myself to even communicate effectively what it was I was hoping for. It was so much easier to click than to talk. At its worst, I would be regularly watching pornography twice or even three times a day. And if I viewed it too often, I’d even lose sensitivity and awareness in the moment. I’d have it on my phone, my laptop, and maybe a dirty novel every now and then as well. Now I know I’m not the worst case. I don’t need to go to rehab or declare my addiction to pornography. I am a functioning member of society, and I have not yet resigned myself to a life of living in the dark of my basement surrounded by lewd moans coming from a weak speaker.
But it is worth noting because of how this particular vice affects relationships. See like I said, I was using it at times as a substitute when I was single and in a relationship. And that is such a shame and such a waste, especially when you do have someone who cares about you. See pornography can’t hold your hand. It doesn’t embrace you while you sleep. It has no place for you in its heart as you do. What is yours is not yours, it is the whole world’s. Pornography is the great intimacy killer. It prevents communication. What a waste of a resource though. Not letting it take over your world, it can actually be a great tool. I do admit to occasionally watching with a girlfriend and it getting us both in the mood. It’s a great way to introduce a certain interest or curiosity. But when it is used to hide from them instead? A waste. With the year still so far ahead of me and only a bit done, I know this will become something to consider. I will have to monitor this, remember not to become too comfortable or reliant, and remember that there is something so much better to work towards.
Remember that your vices are sometimes not just yours. They can affect your relationship with others as well.
Man: 43 Loneliness: 16