Einstein said, "Thinking is hard work, that's why so few people do it." Little did Einstein know that he was describing one characteristic that would eventually be considered one of the roots of addiction or alcoholism.
So I spoke a little last posting about the neocortex and the limbic system, but didn't spend a lot of time describing the process of how these two things work together to help create addictive behaviors.
As I mentioned, the neocortex is the place where learned memories are stored, and when you saturate this with alcohol or drugs or other quick fixes (like sex, gambling, smoking, eating, working, etc.) as a means to escape - and you receive the gratifying emotion from the limbic system, your brain, in a most miraculous way of connecting the dots begins to identify these cause and effects together. Its like Pavlov and his dog on a human scale.
And you have to realize that addiction takes years to saturate your thinking and your brain, and so, as a survival mechanism you begin to run on the signals from the limbic system (which, as I said, still behaves the way you did when you were a three year old)....
UGH! Its getting very clinical, and I just can't think of any good farm analogies to make this even slightly more entertaining to follow - but, trust me, when you let it absorb, it makes some sense. And the only real cure to this kind of saturation overload in the neocortex is TIME.
And, that is the anti-drug to an alcoholic! As I mentioned earlier, alcholics and addicts want changes immediately and so TIME seems like a preposterous solution.
So when it comes to relapse, there is something called a dry relapse. In fact, mentally you start drinking long before you actually take that drink. This is called a dry relapse. And, if you thought I would describe this to you, you are absolutely right. [note: you are to read that last paragraph with the kind of smug tone of voice that might come from someone who is about to write the most clever thing ever written by anyone except for the possibility of Mark Twain....]
As with most things in psychology these days, there is a nice little acronym to help you figure out where you are in the scale of dry relapse. I appreciate psychologists for these acronyms because they must understand that should I ever find myself knee deep into a possible relapse, the last thing I want to be wrestling with is "WHICH DAMN STAGE IS THIS!" Plus, these kinds of acronyms will help me to entertain people at parties. Now that I am sober, I will no longer be able to do things like wander around with a bandanna tied around my head quoting lines from the movie Napoleon Dynamite so I have to have a "thing".... and acronyms might be it.
Anyway, F.A.S.T.E.R is the acronym. I am still digesting the irony in this acronym, but, hey, I didn't make it up.
F -Forgetting Priorities: The first sign of a dry relapse becomes evident when there is a sudden change in plans. A recovering person who wants to go back to school, or look for a new job, or even move or get a divorce, might change their minds as soon as the plans become too real or possible. New plans that don't require immediate action or holding on to previous plans are now the goal. Consciously or subconsciously a person wants to avoid this. Now, stay with me, because this is gonna be something you may nod your head at, but it will make sense at the end. Procrastination produces a low level of anxiety that releases chemicals in the brain which speed up the body and kill pain (mainly norepinephrine, endorphins and enkephalins). These chemicals keep us from feeling fear and depression.
A - Anxiety: The set of emotions that causes the next level of neurochemical release is brought about by drama or over reaction..... Did you hear me, D-R-A-M-A!! And some people, drama queens, like to create it, and may not even know they are creating it, because thriving in drama becomes a drug - the chemicals it releases become addictive. Like dating the wrong people OVER AND OVER, talking about people knowing they will find out, blaming people, places and things for how you feel. Happiness and worries can not exist in the same mind at the same time. When we choose to worry about things that we can not control we get an emotional charge. Our brain releases a set of chemicals to speed us up, our brain begins attempt to outrun depression by supercharging our way of thinking.... and drama creates this charge on a continuous scale.
S - Speeding up: This level of neurochemical anaesthetic tries to out-run feelings of fear and depression by going faster. An inability to slow down, an inability to be alone, workaholics or being too closely identified with your job, irregular eating, the compulsion to begin to consume caffeine and sugar - think about yourself, are you trying to outrun depression or avoid dealing with a problem? Are you procrastinating dealing with something?
I hope you know, this is long, but this is an important thing for you all to read. And, well, for chrissake, I take exhaustive notes so I can tell you guys this stuff, so please let it soak in if you need to (I have more fun farm stories coming up, so keep reading)
T - Ticked off: This level of full blown anger indicates an increase in the release of endorphins and norepinephrine. Here is where you may feel BIG, RIGHT, STRONG, CONFIDENT, ASSERTIVE and UNAWARE OF PAIN. Remember, neurochemically, the emotion of anger is almost identical to cocaine.
At this level anger is not only an emotional pain killer, but an effective physical pain killer as well. Over reaction is much greater than situations require - and we ALL know people who are always angry, or angry for no reason, or fly off the handle at stupid things.... these people are often numbing other pain with the natural painkillers released in this emotion.
E - Exhausted: This is the last stage before using. Pain, anger, panic and anxiety attacks are common in the stage. You may experience waves of doom and you can't cope. Remaining in this stage is critical, you may become hopeless, depressed, tired, and when a crisis occurs, your limbic system turns on full throttle and says, "C'mon, baby, you can have a drink, you'll feel so much better."
And you may not have the will power to disagree. So you...
R - Relapse.
All these stages have one thing in common: Procrastination. In each stage, there is a problem at the very beginning that was never dealt with. Procrastination always results in crisis. And here's something really telling about it..... TO PUT SOMETHING OFF OVER AND OVER AND GET AWAY WITH IT PRODUCES A SURGE OF BRAIN CHEMICALS THAT ARE HIGHLY ADDICTIVE AND WE TRY TO SYNTHESIZE THIS WHEN WE DRINK OR USE DRUGS.
So, to avoid relapse, I have to take responsibility for where I am on this scale at any point by being conscience of my behavior. And this isn't easy for anyone, especially someone who has been hiding from the man in the mirror for some years now.
But here on the ranch, I have plenty of time to think and reflect. In the past, my heart frequently sensed doom or sadness for some long forgotten trauma, or newly discovered trauma. My mind balked at the attempt to deal with this and I found solace in a tasty refreshment.
Before I came to the ranch, I would try to sit and think - Believe me, I tried to find peace without looking for help. I would hear the wind, the trees, when I got here, I would hear the animals, the cars, the planes flying over head. I remember my first weekend here and it seemed like such a noisy quiet. There was no song in my heart. But lately, I sit, I smell, I listen now to a symphony of my senses. Now I don't hear the wind, I hang on it. And if you want to know how it sounds, please place the mouse to your ear now and right click to hear what I hear....
Just kidding (but I wonder how many of you tried that - hey, like I said, there isn't always a lot to do on a ranch)
But I've been sharing this part of the rehabilitation process because the heartfelt part, the part that is inspired by a newly freed limbic system that is now trying to feel real emotions again has a lot to say too. And rehabilitation isn't just about chemicals, behaviors, triggers, etc., its emotional as well, its about finding new joy and seeing this new joy all around you and not on the shelf of a liquor store on sale for $8.99 -
And when you look, This joy is easy to see, it's everywhere, its all around us, it embraces you. Much like the hug I got from my dad that I spoke about a couple weeks ago - its startling, its unexpected, a little uncomfortable, but it feels good, and when you give in to it, it just feels like the right thing, it feels like enough, and its memorable. And trying to ignite or create memories in my neocortex is my new mission!
And so I share this stuff as well because happiness is only real when it is shared, otherwise its pretty pointless. And I could wait and I could sit someday and try to explain it to you or I could explain it to you all along the way - Why procrastinate on dealing with the good stuff either, right? Rehab doesn't always have to be a focus on the negative!
But I hope that in reading this blog, there are times when you read something that may touch your heart, and you can feel what I feel now.
And even though Einstein said its a lot of work, "Think" about it....
I still have much to tell you about whats GOING ON, and I will, I promise - Life on the ranch has been REAL fun this summer.
Days Sober: 70
Days without Bonnie Hunt: 61