In different ways, stimulants, depressants, psychedelics—pick your poison—all do the trick (more or less). Mix with elevated levels of naturally occurring body chemicals like dopamine and adrenalin and testosterone and you’ve got a potent kiddy cocktail. When kids are excited or afraid, adrenalin races to their hearts and muscles, setting off fireworks. And when are they not excited or afraid? Kids live most of their lives in three states:
excited | afraid | asleep
...sometimes all at once.
The list is not yet complete. Relational stimulants and depressants can be as powerful as chemical reactions.
You’ve seen both. You’ve watched people in-love-with-being-in-love as they move from relationship to relationship to catch a romantic buzz; forever thinking the next one could be permanent. You also know people who look for partners who will despise and dominate and punish them and hang on to those abusers for all they’re worth. That’s not just a peer-to-peer thing. Some kids will do anything to please or placate their parents, mentors, teachers, coaches and employers. Including lying to spare those significant others from disappointment. As upside-down as it seems to most adults, many kids see lying as a respectful, loving, sensitive act when it protects someone they look up to from unpleasant information. I can’t imagine where a child would learn that.
And let’s not forget about pornography.
If the people who use sexualized images to exploit others all took a long walk on a short pier one day, I’m not convinced that would make sex abuse go away. I have a blind buddy who’s never seen a single picture, but he’s as lusty as any man I know. I’m a pretty good judge of these things because I’m as lusty as any man I know. That said, shuttering the sites and sources that feed off the bodies of their victims through deception, coercion and seduction seems like a good use of law enforcement dollars.
And let’s not forget about food.
My first year in college, I binged my way to a twenty-pound net gain, all of which I lost the following year. After college, I ramped up gradually until I weighed about 70 pounds more than when I reached physical maturity. Food, it seems, was to become my drug of choice: cheap, legal, and abundant. I already knew about food because my mother and several aunties were pushers. Plus I grew up in a church where whenever two or three were gathered together there was food.
But my unhealthy regard for food wasn’t merely a question of abundance. I abused food for its emotional impact. I ate when I was nervous, when I felt depressed, when I had something to celebrate, when I felt lonely or sad, elated or challenged. Eating has never let me down as a mood altering experience. I may not be able to reason my way out of a difficulty; I may fail to make my point in a dispute; I may be afraid the lid’s about to come off or the bottom’s about to drop out... In any and every case, food makes me feel better.
Does this mean that food is bad? No. It means good things can be used badly. Before this collapses into an essay on addictive behaviors, let me return to the point... Now...um, what was the point?
Oh, right, the point was, toxicity is not out there. Toxicity an inside job. And in the parts that can be influenced by outside forces, children listen to and learn from adults first; and then from peers. That’s why in so many ways they follow our example to excruciating lengths. They’re just like us; only the details are different.
— from Raising Adults