I sometimes tell people who knew me years ago that I don’t like those sad old country songs any more. But of course I do. I just don’t want to talk about the infernal itch. I don’t want to describe how sad old country songs make me sentimental for whiskey. In some ways, I’ll always be a Johnie Walker Red Label man. In other ways, I never was.
Some people who read this will know about the infernal itch. They’ll know how a setback can make the itch flair, and how a victory can also start addiction tugging at your mind. Someone will rub you the wrong way and that subconscious whispering starts up. Others will please you and it’ll start up anyway.
Perhaps you aren’t one of the people who know the depths of this thing I’m writing about. Ignorance is bliss, they say, and about this they’re right. It is not an easy thing when the sandpaper the Beloved is using to smooth you burns so terribly.
But everyone should have a basic understanding of the infernal itch. You should know that it’s not a character flaw or a weakness of will. You should know that sometimes the spirits of things get into a body, then rarely ever leave. Sure, the longer you go without scratching, the more dormant it’ll get. But once you’ve had an addiction, you’ll always have your triggers. They might get quieter, but they don’t leave. And a person can go for a day, a week, a month… and then a year later brush up against something spiky, and the rash’ll get all pronounced and vicious again. That’s how it is.
The reason you need to understand the infernal itch is so you can understand psychological calamine lotion. Perhaps one person’s calamine lotion is junk food and another person’s is exercising at the gym seven days a week. We can run from a work addiction into an alcohol addiction, then to drugs, then to food, then right back into a work addiction. We cope by flirting with other diseases of mind, to take our minds off the “big ones”, only to foster new ones into adult expression.
It’s better to cope by running into something else than it is to scratch your infernal itch, but you might just change infernal itches by doing it. This is a way of talking about the vicious cycle of illusion, suffering, and attachment.
There’s a strength that those in perpetual recovery have that others don’t possess. It’s not enviable, it’s born out of necessity. The strength of a Johnie Walker Red Label man who doesn’t drink is not something you want, but it is the star lighting up the dark space in one of my mental closets. The strength of those with more pervasive mental illness or a traumatic event in their past is greater than mine, but I don’t envy them their demons. Over the years, mine have piled up as I suppose they do with most of us.
The infernal itch and its manifestations are also the greatest call into mindfulness one might be granted. We must be able to watch our demons come and go without granting them control over our minds and bodies. That’s much easier when the dragon is large than when it is a sly little thing slithering in the space between dreaming and waking. Another star in another darkness, but I would not wish a large dragon on anyone either.
The next time you go out and about, consider the infernal itch and psychological self-medication. The grossly obese person is perhaps the strongest person you’ve ever met – a light shining in a darkness bigger than you can comprehend. The extreme athlete is likewise perhaps also immensely strong and incredibly damaged. Look again at the visibly drug-addicted, the homeless, the urbanites obsessing over their tiny circles of influence, and the divas and their fashion. See again the incredible longing for financial security and malignancy of those afflicted by greed. Society’s declaration that some of these are good and others are bad is arbitrary. It is not evil or conscious immorality most of the time. Most of the time, you are simply surrounded by coping humans.
The raw seething core of the infernal itch and mounds of calamine lotion are simply life struggle. Do not fear reaching past the layers another has built to protect himself or herself. Do not fear the radiating fever heat. The diseases of mind are unpleasant to see, yes, and we mustn’t let those who thrash violently on Heaven’s floor hurt others. But inside each person is your brother or sister, another Child of God. The sickness is their journey and burden, just as you have yours. If you have eyes to see, you will see the divine light reflecting back at you.
Look deeply within yourself, past the swamps of mind and attachment, and you will find the same light.