The term “Reptile Brain”, part of the “Triune Brain”, was first proposed in the 1960′s by the American physician and neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean as a way of describing three aspects of the human brain: the Reptilian Complex, the Paleomammalian Complex and the Neomammalian Complex.
From Stanley Keleman's Emotional Anatomy
While the concept is no longer fully embraced by most of the scientific community, the term reptile brain, lizard brain, or monkey brain was picked up in recovery circles as a way of describing the parts of the brain which are evolutionarily primitive and control our emotions, drives and urges.
From Feed the Right Wolf, a site dedicated to overcoming porn addiction:
The easiest example of the reptilian brain response that most of us can relate to is getting cut off in traffic. The person who cuts us off is invading our personal space, and we immediately respond with an act of aggression – yelling at the other driver or honking our horn. Only after some time are we able to return to our “normal selves” and consciously reassess what had just happened.
Once our motivational circuits have been activated, we stop thinking about whether we should do something and think only about how best to do it.
As the neuroscientist David Eagleman points out in his book “Incognito”, the human mind is organized so that there are competing and sometimes conflicting areas of the brain, with different goals and agendas, such as emotional and reasoning complexes or areas dealing with short-term and long-term goals, and this model describes fairly accurately what is going on with addictions. The short term goal is to give in to the addictive behavior, which conflicts with the long term goals of being happy, productive and experiencing love and companionship while living a life which honors our values. This site is dedicated to the understanding of addictive behaviors and to aiding people in overcoming them.
A Nice scientific explanation from The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku:
“Basically, the ‘high’ of drug addiction is due to the drug’s hijacking of the brain’s own pleasure/reward system located in the limbic system.” This pleasure/reward circuitry is ancient and resides in an area of the brain which some have called the “reptile” or “lizard” brain, and dates back millions of years in our evolutionary history. This brain function is crucial for human survival because it rewards behavior which is beneficial. Once a person’s behavior has been conditioned by drugs, however, great harm will result. The consumption of these drugs will cause a great overproduction of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which “then floods the nucleus accumbens, a tiny pleasure center located deep in the brain near the amygdala. The dopamine, in turn, is produced by certain brain cells in the ventral tegmental area, called the VTA cells.”
All addictive drugs affect the brain the same way: they cause an overproduction of dopamine which, after conditioning, results in the excitation of the brain’s motivational circuits and the crippling of the “VTA-nucleus accumbens circuit, which controls the flow of dopamine and other neurotransmitters to the pleasure center.” Different drugs affect dopamine regulation in different ways. Drugs differ only in the way in which this process takes place. There are three neurotransmitters which addictive drugs interact with that will affect the brain: “dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline; all of them give feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and false confidence, and also produce a burst of energy.”
Cocaine and other stimulants work in two main ways. They stimulate the VTA cells to produce excess dopamine, flooding the nucleus accumbens with way more of the neurotransmitter than we would ever get from normal life activities. Then they stop the VTA cells from shutting down and they them producing dopamine as long as cocaine is attached to the receptors. “They also impede the uptake of serotonin and noradrenaline. The simultaneous flooding of neural circuits from all three of these neurotransmitters, then, creates the tremendous high associated with cocaine.
Heroin and other opiates, by contrast, work by neutralizing the cells in the VTA that can reduce the production of dopamine, thus causing the VTA to overproduce dopamine.”
A good explanation from orange-papers.org:
“There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good. In fact, you are sick and warped if you don’t want to feel good.”
“We have a real genuine need to get high, just as real as our need for food. If we don’t, or can’t, get high, we go into depression.”
I urge you to go to their site and read what they say about addiction.
We have become slaves to the memory of what used to make us feel good.
Homeostasis, A Process B Process, FAB (Fading Affect Bias), Pollyanna Process, Nobody Gets Out Alive and There Are No Free Lunches
Some things are just a part of being alive. They are inevitable. Hence the phrase: “Nobody gets out alive.” All life ends in death. This thought is easy (and at the same time, not so easy) for us to accept because over the course of our lives we have seen it played out over and over again. All goldfish have a shelf life. Yesterday’s cat is today’s sad memory. The memory of those whom we have loved and lost still cause us pain when we think of them, and we all realize that we too shall, at some point in time, depart this life and become someone else’s memory. We understand this is inevitable. Even if science were to successfully find the mechanisms to combat aging and we could lead lives completely protected from accidents or mishaps, at some point, death would arrive. Our sun will lose all of its energy and our solar system would no longer have the ability to sustain life. Our galaxy would collapse into the giant black hole at its center, and at the end of everything we know of, entropy would take its toll on the universe and it would fall back into itself in a reverse of the Big Bang, resulting in the Big Crunch. Nobody gets out alive. Another phrase which is not so obvious, but is just as true, is “There are no free lunches.”
We were not built to realize there are no free lunches. Evolution has played a little trick on us. We have evolved to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The things which make us feel good generally help us to pass on our genes, which is evolution’s goal, while the things which hurt are usually counterproductive to that goal. The trick evolution has played is some things feel good at first and hurt later. Hence eating helps us to stay alive so we can reproduce and we enjoy eating. Scratching helps us get rid of parasites so we stay healthy and reproduce. Engaging in sexual activity feels good and is itself a part of the reproductive act. Experiencing pain is an indication that our body is under attack and we are less likely to reproduce. Rejection hurts and if we are rejected, we are less likely to reproduce. And so we proceed, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Unfortunately, all of life’s processes are not so straightforward. With some of our activities, an action is followed by almost immediate gratification but then, much later, pain enters the picture. Welcome to the world of addiction.
We here have all become familiar with nature’s dirty little trick. What feels so good in the “right now” will sometimes eventually attack us. And what’s really unfair is that our brains have evolved to make us want to repeat behaviors which feel good “right now.” Sadly, for us, our brains are not so good at associating what hurts right now with yesterday’s “feel good” behavior. Our logical brains can eventually figure out that the reason I got fired from my job today is because I didn’t show up for work yesterday when I wanted to get high. Our reasoning brains can see that connection, but our primitive stimulus/response brains, our habit brains, don’t reason. They get stimulated and they respond. They see a tiger and they prime the body to run and then they implement running. Those parts of our brains give up accuracy for response time. If we are eaten by a tiger, we will surely not reproduce.
This is why habits are so problematic: You can’t easily talk to them in a way that they understand. You have to talk to them emotionally. We have trained ourselves to experience desire and craving when we see or smell a drink or our favorite drug. To change that response, we need to see or smell the drug and experience pain or disgust rather than the pleasure we used to feel. We need to re-associate, to retrain ourselves. That is one of the goals of the Cost/Benefit Analysis: to associate our drinking or using with its negative consequences. Alternatively we may look at a picture of alcohol or take a drink and then make ourselves vomit or feel bad in other ways. This is what happens with people who take Antabuse. Whatever strategy we use, if the consequences are bad enough, such as physical discomfort, or losing a loved one, or a job, or feeling excluded from our own culture, we can associate these events and their emotions with the addiction. Then we will have an excellent chance of influencing our behavior. This much of the story seems straightforward. Recent studies of psychological processes have extended this mechanism into understanding how our brains work not just under the stresses of active addiction, but in understanding how all brains work in all situations which involve seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. And, in this respect, those of us who have struggled with addictions have a leg up in understanding the concept because our lives have forced us to confront it. So let’s examine the Opponent Process and the A and B Processes.
From Wikipedia: A-process refers to one of the emotional internal processes or responses of the opponent-process theory. The a-process is in large part responsible for the initial, usually fast and immediate emotional reaction to a stimulus. The theory considers it a primary process and may be affectively positive or negative, but not neutral. The theory also proposes that this process automatically causes a b-process, which is subjectively and physiologically opposite in direction to the a-process.
There is a peak response to any emotional stimuli which usually occurs rapidly, usually out of shock, but last only as long as the stimuli is present. In a physiological sense, the a-process is where the pupils dilate, the heart rate increases, and the adrenaline rushes.
The “a” and “b” processes are consequently and temporarily linked but were believed to depend on different neurobiological mechanisms. B-Process, the other part of opponent-process theory, occurs after the initial shock, or emotion and is evoked after a short delay. A-process and B-process overlap in somewhat of an intermediate area. While a-process is still in effect, b-process starts to rise, ultimately leveling out a-process’ initial spike in emotion. A-process ends once the stimulus is terminated, leaves, or ends. Physiologically, this is where breathing returns to normal, pulse slows back to its normal rate, and heart rate starts to drop. The B-process can be thought of as the “after-reaction”. Once B-process has ended, the body returns to homeostasis and emotions rise back to neutral.
Research on the brain mechanisms of drug addiction showed how the a-process is equated with the pleasure derived from drugs and once it weakens, it is followed by the strengthening of the b-process, which are the withdrawal symptoms.
For an in-depth discussion of the Opponent Process (and other Social Psychological theories) please visit the excellent site iresearch.net
One thing we need to become aware of is that with drugs, the A-process begins when we consume a drug or engage in a behavior which was initiated outside of ourselves, and it is a drug or behavior which will interact with our neurotransmitter systems. It will ALWAYS interact with our dopamine system. It will also always interact with various other neurotransmitter systems. Both of these are part of the reward centers of our brains. We all love to experience reward, but there can be no addiction without dopamine creating desire and a craving to repeat the behavior. Then, since healthy brains demand homeostasis, the B-process is initiated internally, within our brains, to return our neurotransmitter systems to “normal”, or the neutral state.
Expanded view of above chart
Opponent process theory of affective dynamics relevant to addiction. (a) The standard pattern of affective dynamics produced by a relatively novel unconditioned stimulus (first few stimulations). (b) The standard pattern of affective dynamics produced by a familiar, frequently repeated unconditioned stimulus (after many stimulations). (Adapted from Solomon 1980.)
Graph and caption adapted from Solomon 1980 and reproduced from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2607326/
If this theory is correct, and I believe it is, this means that every time we head towards any type of pleasure, we are also heading towards its opposite in the near future. The same is true if we are heading towards experiencing pain. It will be followed by pleasure or relief in a short period of time. This isn’t only true with addiction and its aftermath of withdrawal, it’s true of every pleasure and satisfaction we will ever feel and every pain or distress we will ever experience. If we are terrified when we jump out of a plane, we will feel calm when we safely land on the ground. If we feel exhilarated when we skydive, we will feel a let-down at some point a day or two afterwards. Why? Because our brains always have to return to homeostasis.
Homeostasis is the brain’s way of maintaining the ability to recognize when things are getting better and when they are getting worse. We need room for contrast. The first bite of something super sweet will not taste nearly as sweet by the third or fourth bite. If we win a $200,000,000 lottery, we will feel great for two or three months. Then we will go through a period of depression followed by gradually returning to our normal mood state. We will find ourselves asking, “Is this all there is to being fabulously rich? Surely there is more.” We will sit with that feeling for a bit and then we will normalize. If we lose a limb, we will feel sad and upset for two or three months and then feel weirdly elated. Then life will return to our same old used to be. There is no way for a well-functioning brain to experience continual pleasure or continual pain. We will always return to what is, for us, our normal set point. There is no eternal damnation and no free lunch and no permanent Nirvana. Relax and accept. Ommmmmmmmmm.
One of the really nasty aspects about this whole A-process/B-process thing is the fact that all drugs of abuse only mimic brain processes which are already going on. The brain makes its own opiates, its own pot, its own cocaine. It also makes its own anti-opiates, anti-pot and anti-cocaine. This is how brains return to homeostasis. When a person takes heroin, the cells in the brain have no idea what is going on. This all takes place at a cellular level, and our cells don’t have brains. But when the heroin in the blood attaches to the opiate receptors of the brain a person experiences all of the pain relief and feelings of pleasure and well-being associated with the body’s own release of opiates, except it is much stronger than the body would produce because the concentrations in the blood are so high. They are also more reliable. Heroin always delivers, and it delivers in a manner of seconds. These are three qualities which are ideal for strong stimulus/response conditioning: dependable, quick, strong reward delivery. Unfortunately, for those who are addicted, the A-process always gets weaker over time and the B-process strengthens over time. Neurotransmitter receptors are pruned, reuptake is inhibited (as in SSRIs). At this point the brain just reacts, again at a cellular level, to the situation and initiates the B-process. But these high levels of morphine are not the problem. They are the fun stuff and the reason we are attracted to the experience.
For a thorough understanding of the brains mechanisms of returning to homeostasis, check out how drugs affect neurotransmitters.
The problem occurs because the brain demands homeostasis. When we get high from heroin (or any other addictive drug or experience), it is the brain automatically initiating the B-process which interferes so drastically in our lives. When concentrations of these pleasurable neurotransmitters are so high, the brain learns it has to kick in anti-heroin. At first the level of anti-heroin is low so we experience pleasure from the drug. With each usage, however, the brain learns it has to ramp up the B-process so that it becomes more efficient at eliminating the effects of heroin in order to establish homeostasis. This means that tolerance is building. Tolerance is just the strengthening of the internal B-process. The brain learns that when we experience cues (what those in the field of recovery call “triggers”) like the sight of a spoon, a syringe or the actual sight of heroin, or even just that it’s the right time of day, then it’s time to initiate the B-process. If a person does not actually take the drug at that point, withdrawal occurs. Withdrawal symptoms are always the exact opposite of the effects of the drug.
How does the brain pull off the B-process trick? When I use terms like anti-heroin, I am over-simplifying. For a clearer picture, here is a couple of paragraphs from drugabuse.org:
During the early phase of an individual’s drug experimentation, neurotransmission normalizes as intoxication wears off and the substance leaves the brain. Eventually, however, repeated drug use leads to changes in neuronal structure and function that cause long-lasting or permanent neurotransmission abnormalities. These alterations underlie drug tolerance (where higher doses of the drug are needed to produce the same effect), withdrawal, addiction, and other persistent consequences.
Some longer-term changes begin as adjustments to compensate for drug-induced increases in neurotransmitter signaling intensity. For example, the brain responds to repeated drug-induced massive dopamine surges in part by reducing its complement of dopamine receptors. This alleviates the drugs’ overstimulation of the dopamine system, but also contributes to features of drug dependence (e.g., susceptibility to drug withdrawal) and of addiction (e.g., compromised ability to respond to normal dopamine fluctuations produced by natural rewards). Similarly, methadone and some other opioids induce neurons to retract a portion of their mu opioid receptors, making them unavailable for further stimulation. The retraction is short-lived, after which the receptors return to the neuron surface, restoring normal responsiveness to subsequent stimulation. This dynamic of reducing and then restoring receptor availability may thwart the development of tolerance to these drugs. (Morphine, in contrast, does not cause receptors to retract, and the resulting opioid overstimulation triggers intracellular adjustments that appear to promote opioid tolerance.)
Brains do not just wait for these slower processes to occur. From the first moment a person takes a drug of abuse, the brain adapts to its new internal environment by calling on the same anti-drugs it recruits to eliminate its own natural neurotransmitters. Eric Wiertelak, Chair of the Psychology Department and Director of Macalester’s Neuroscience Studies, conducted studies in which he would put rats into a predictably stressful situation (the rats learned they were going to get a shock every time they were put into this situation) and they learned to release endorphins before the shocks were administered. When the rats were put into the situation they produced endorphins whether they were shocked or not. They had learned to protect themselves from the pain by using the brain’s own opioids. Then, he took some of the rats and taught them that a light flashing after the last shock of the day meant they were no longer threatened with shocks and they were now safe. This led to the B-process of returning their pain thresholds to normal by releasing anti-opiates. He then took these rats, administered morphine to them, getting them high and pain-free, flashed the light, and within a few seconds their pain threshold returned to normal. The anti-opiates had counteracted the morphine and returned them to homeostasis. The brain has many mechanisms of normalizing our neurotransmitter systems, but none work faster than the anti-opiates.
See his study here.
But I digress. Back to the B-process and withdrawal. For heroin, using the drug causes euphoria, constipation, pain relief, relaxation and feelings of warmth and well-being. Withdrawal causes agitation, diarrhea, pain, extreme discomfort and feelings of depression and despondency. We can see then, that recovery is the process of unlearning the B-process and unlinking our triggers from craving. Brains, unfortunately, learn the tricks of reward much more easily than they can unlearn craving and the discomforts of the B-process.
From The National Center for Biotechnology Information. Expanded view here. The graphic shows the relative strength of positive reinforcement before we are addicted (section “a”, which is in effect during the A-process) and how negative reinforcement takes control during addiction (the “b” section, when the B-process is king).
Neurocircuitry associated with the acute positive reinforcing effects of drugs of abuse and the negative reinforcement of dependence and how it changes in the transition from (a) non-dependent drug taking to (b) dependent drug taking. Key elements of the reward circuit are DA and opioid peptide neurons that intersect at both the VTA and the nucleus accumbens and are activated during initial use and the early binge/intoxication stage. Key elements of the stress circuit are CRF and noradrenergic neurons that converge on GABA interneurons in the central nucleus of the amygdala that are activated during the development of dependence. CRF, corticotropin-releasing factor; DA, dopamine; GABA, γ-aminobutyric acid; NA, noradrenaline; VTA, ventral tegmental area. (Adapted from Koob & Le Moal 2008.)
To learn more about how drugs interact with our neurotransmitter systems, visit this site.
Best book on this subject that I am aware of is Never Enough by Judith Grisel.
Dopamine: The False Promise of Reward
Yesterday’s ecstasy is today’s expectation. That is just how brains work. Tomorrow we will be bored with that expectation. If we fulfill an expectation we are momentarily content. If we fail to fulfill an expectation we feel discontent and if we fail to fulfill an important expectation we feel like the universe has taken a giant dump on our heads. We whine and complain and feel oh so sorry for ourselves.
The neurotransmitter dopamine is responsible for linking behavior to rewards through the motivator of craving. Eat fruit, experience the reward of sweetness and learn where the tree is and which fruit was sweet. Trigger, behavior, reward, learn how to obtain the reward again. See the tree, eat the fruit, and experience pleasure. When you eat fruit you will eventually get full and stop eating. With drugs, it appears at first that the pleasure is bottomless. Eventually, however, you will start to realize how ephemeral the constant pursuit of rewards really is, and the fact that they are not always connected. This part of the brain is not interested in happiness, however. It is only interested in getting you to take the next obvious step in providing you with physical comfort, keeping you alive and procreating. Mayflies spend a whole year awaiting their birth, and then most of them die after living just one day. Their sole purpose is to pass on their genes, and most never even bother eating…and that’s been the status quo for 100 million years. Humans are burdened with a brain which values happiness over biological imperatives. We demand more than stimulus, behavior and reward. We search for meaning, for connection with our fellows and to understand life. We are creatures of curiosity, love and a desire to experience, as much as possible, the fishbowl we swim in.
We mistake the “promise of reward” for happiness
We mistake the experience of wanting for a guarantee of happiness and we are prepared to work and even suffer for what we want as evidence that the object of desire must make us happy. We humans find it nearly impossible to distinguish the “promise of reward” from whatever pleasure or payoff we are seeking.
The “promise of reward” is so powerful that we continue to pursue things that don’t make us happy and consume things that bring us more misery than satisfaction.
From the article in the Huffington Post.
In active addiction, our reward circuits are hijacked; the drug of choice becomes the only reward we want and the only goal worthy of our attention. Recovering is learning how to stop using substances or doing behaviors, to conquer or get a handle on cravings, and to prevent relapse through multiple tools such as CBT, DBT, and cue exposure training.
The trick about happiness is that it is ephemeral. It is not one thing which will always make us happy. To be happy we must have a healthy ability to choose one thing one day and then another thing the next. We must learn that no one thing is the answer. It is only through this variety and change that we can be content. This is a lesson we addicts must learn as it is not what we have been doing with our lives
Brain characteristics which can lead towards relapse:
FAB or Fading Affect Bias – The Fading Affect Bias, more commonly known as FAB, is a psychological phenomenon in which memories associated with negative emotions tend to be forgotten more quickly than those associated with positive emotions. Although there have been some contradictory findings regarding the presence of FAB, it has become largely accepted.
Pollyanna Principle – The Pollyanna principle (also called Pollyannaism or positivity bias) is the tendency for people to remember pleasant items more accurately than unpleasant ones. Research indicates that at the subconscious level, the mind has a tendency to focus on the optimistic; while at the conscious level, it has a tendency to focus on the negative.
Anhedonia – Anhedonia includes reduced motivation or ability to experience pleasure, reduced motivation, reduced anticipatory pleasure (wanting), reduced consummatory pleasure (liking), and deficits in reinforcement learning. In the DSM-5, anhedonia is a component of depressive disorders and substance use related disorders where it is defined by either a reduced ability to experience pleasure, or a diminished interest in engaging in pleasurable activities.
Self-deception: Lies we tell ourselves to give ourselves permission to use:
- I’ll just do the behavior a little
- I am cured. I can engage in the behavior like a normal person
- Stopping this behavior is not really that important
- Stopping is too hard. I’ll never be able to do it. I may as well give up now
- I’ve tried to stop before and failed. Why go through all this discomfort? I’m doomed to failure
- You make no conscious decision to use, but at some point you just do it without deciding to
What’s the big deal about relapsing?
- Physical withdrawal is extended. Each time you engage in an addictive behavior, you feel good (the A Process) right after you do it and you feel bad (the B Process) later. The B Process is not part of our conditioning because it comes after a long period of time. When we take a bite of cake it tastes sweet to us almost immediately and we learn to like cake. If we took a bite of cake, but it did not taste sweet to us until an hour had passed we would not be conditioned to like cake. The “feeling bad” lasts longer and is not worth the pleasure you felt earlier, but our brains have evolved to value short term pleasure over longer term satisfaction. When you experience craving, tell yourself, “I have already decided the pleasure is not worth the pain. That’s why I chose to end the addiction. This temporary craving is just a part of ending an addiction and the end result will be worth the momentary discomfort I’m experiencing. Solutions: A. Keep a journal (preferably one you started while you were still using) in which you keep track of your mood both right after you use and in the next 24 hours. Rate your happiness and unhappiness levels on a scale of +100 (super happy) to -100 (miserable) and do this rating every hour or two. They are part of one process. B. Do a Cost Benefit Analysis to reaffirm your commitment to quit. See org.
- The reward circuits in your brain are strengthened every time you use. Conversely, every time you resist craving, they are degraded. The more you are craving, the more this is true. If you are experiencing a really strong urge and you give in to it, you will feel great temporary relief (the A Process) and the greater the relief, the greater the reward and the stronger the conditioning and the worse you will feel afterwards (the B Process). Some of this bad feeling is just the inevitable neurotransmitter processes of your brain, and some of it is psychological. You will feel more depression, more stress and more anxiety. You will feel great disappointment in yourself. When you resist a strong urge, you avoid the B process entirely and you will have a strong positive psychological response: You will have won another battle in moving on from your addiction. A recovering addict can never have too many victories. And the conditioning? Here is the real prize: You will have experienced craving and not rewarded it. When your brain gets a stimulus (craving) and that stimulus is not rewarded it becomes less likely to occur. When you crave and don’t act on it, you are actively attacking the tendency of your brain to crave. You make it less likely. If you smell alcohol and that causes you to want to drink, but don’t drink, you become less likely to want to drink the next time you smell alcohol. You are training your not too logical emotional brain not to want alcohol! Voila, recovery! This is more useful than blocking thoughts of using.
Tools to avoiding relapse:
Transitioning from “addicted” to “addiction free” is a process. We are all individuals and we will end our addictions in an individual way. However, there are certain signposts along the way which most of us will pass and if we are familiar with them we will have a better chance of succeeding at attaining our goal of living a life free of an addictive substance or behavior. Remember, your emotional brain does not care about your happiness or your wellbeing. It is filled with a lot of automatic processes and it just wants what it wants. Your emotional brain, the right brain, is the home of desires which cause us to eat and to engage in mating behavior. Addictions co-opt these mechanisms and create drives which can actually be more powerful than those primal urges, but they don’t have the same satisfying outcomes as those primitive desires. We don’t maintain our bodies or have offspring, we just engage in cyclic, non-productive, senseless, destructive behaviors: addictions. But we will no longer act like robots. We have decided to take control of our lives!
Welcome each challenge. They are signposts along your journey to the prize.
- Craving is a sign our emotional brain (I call mine The Ferret) is getting desperate. It is screaming, “Feed me, dammit” You have an opportunity to retrain it. Eventually, and usually this is just a matter of two or three weeks without reinforcement, it will get the idea that it no longer needs this artificial drive. Each time we resist it we move closer to our goal.
- FAB can be counteracted by doing CBAs (Cost Benefit Analysis) and by journaling. Do one CBA a day for your first thirty days of abstinence and then two or three a month (or more) for the first year. Continue journaling and read both old journal entries and CBAs from the days when the negative consequences of your addiction was fresh in your mind. Keep the “Affect” fresh in your mind. Remind yourself regularly of how bad it was. Stay involved in helping others end their addictions, as it will remind you of your victory over your former self.
- Come to terms with the fact you were not perfect during your addiction and while you’re at it, remind yourself you are not perfect now. You are not “Pollyanna”. You were doing the best you could then and you are doing the best you can now. There is no need of guilt or shame for your past: they are useless emotions. You are moving on with your life because you have found a better way. You have not given up a life of value and you have not lost anything that made you happy or was useful. You have just removed dysfunction and set aside your pain. You have stopped hurting those you love and you have given yourself the opportunity to become a more functional, healthy, happy human being. You have not given up a valuable gem, you have scraped dog poop from the soul of your shoe.
- The B Process of anhedonia will not last forever. For some people it can be an acute problem for a while, but for most it has a shelf life. Some people never experience it, but others are not so lucky. From Wikipedia: “Anhedonia is common in people who are dependent upon a wide variety of drugs, including alcohol, opioids or nicotine. Although anhedonia becomes less severe over time, it is a significant predictor of relapse.” It can take from one to six months for all the effects to go away, but for most of us they steadily decrease over time as our dopamine receptors normalize. I experienced only elation when I stopped. Anhedonia is the same emotion that many people feel when a love affair ends. The more you can do to find pleasure in life, the quicker you feel pleasure and desire again. Positive stimulation is key. This is the perfect time to practice Unconditional Self Acceptance, along with Unconditional Other Acceptance and Unconditional Life Acceptance (https://www.smartrecovery.org/) and also check out self-compassion.org. Treat yourself to pleasures you have been missing for a long time and find new ones to enjoy. Add exciting experiences to your life. Treat yourself as you would treat another that you love and care for. Think about what you need on a regular basis and then provide it.
Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Viktor Frankl
If you decide to stop, but fail on the first attempt
Initial failures are more common than initial successes. When you decide to give up an addiction it’s pretty terrifying. Just be calm and realize that if you didn’t stop today you will stop tomorrow or the day after. If you didn’t stop this hour, you will stop two hours from now. Learn what you can from the relapse and then move on. As Charles Kettering said, “The only time you mustn’t fail is the last time you try.” You will know that you have the strength to stop again. At this point in your life, you don’t have room for discouragement or low self-esteem. You have found the strength to take control of your life, you know you can do this, and you know that all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other, move forward, and not give in to short-term temptations. You know many people in the recovery community and you also know that if they can succeed, then so can you.
Between feeling uncomfortable and using, between craving and drinking, there will be that space. We will have a moderating thought: “I need to stop this” “This is not a wise choice” “I need to move on”. Our job is to recognize this space and extend it a little. We need to see what is in it. To explore it, to expand it. It will be there every time. Try to see it. See your need for immediate gratification and ask yourself what you are trying to find; what is behind the addiction? See yourself when you are wanting or craving and ask yourself what feeling or circumstance you are looking for. The craving is a secondary experience. What is underneath it? Do you seek Peace? Pleasure? Relief? Do you need to forget or avoid a thought or a fear? You can get all those positives directly without enslavement and pain. You can avoid all the negative feelings just like everyone else deals with them: you can work through them and come to terms with them. That is a normal part of life and a part of the lessons we all need to learn. When you become aware of that space, walk into to it and investigate it. Each time you go through the cycle of wanting followed by using or doing, look for the space, discover what it contains that you need, and eventually you will start to let go. You will start to heal. You will find that soon you will want to release that addiction. Stimulus, pause, respond; or not.
Once you are emotionally able to give up the short term benefits of your addiction you can start retraining your brain. You can develop strategies to deal with craving like becoming involved in something which interests you; or in loving, satisfying relationships with others. You can start to notice how exciting life can be. Short term relief from craving can be found in taking a walk or calling a friend. Craving has a shelf life: It increases, peaks and then dissipates. If you can get through a few minutes, you can get through that episode of craving. Long term relief from craving takes a little bit longer. We need to retrain our brains by denying the addictive rewards we have learned to embrace. To know the mechanics of addiction is never enough! Recovery does not impart itself through osmosis from the explanatory books, videos and even from speakers. You must DO!!!! Changing addictive behaviors involves retraining your brain and reframing your beliefs about what the addiction provides. This takes time, repetition and work. The next time you feel anxious or sad, your first choice for relief need not be ingrained and automatic, it can be an alternative response of your choosing: it does NOT need to be the old addiction. Move towards freedom, not with the expectation of perfection but with determined intention.
My mother-in-law, Della, lives with my wife and I. She has Alzheimer’s. Every morning we get her a dietary supplement drink and she drinks it down greedily. She then sets the empty cup down in front of herself, waits 30 seconds, picks it up and looks into the empty cup expectantly, then sets it down with disappointment. She will do this for hours if we don’t take the cup away from her. We are Della. Cravings-R-us: looking with desire at the empty dog bowl and salivating. Our addictions are a bottomless pit of need which we have saddled ourselves with. They are not necessary and if we are willing to put up with a short period of the stress which comes with change, we can put them behind us.
Let us be honest with ourselves. It is time to move on. It is time to realize that this, our day to day experience, is not a movie. It is the gift of life and the gift of consciousness. As far as we know, we have one chance at life and this is it. We can see we are not separate from others, that we are joined with them and that our tears, chaos and dysfunction are leaking over into their lives. This is not a necessary condition. We can move on if we choose to. We can let go of our insane rituals and compulsions and in calmness and contentment, we can move forward.
We are not who we have been. There is no shame in who we have been. It is just no longer necessary. We grew into who we were because of our genetics and our early childhood experiences. We lived that life for a while. Now we know there is a new life waiting for us. It is time to be honest with ourselves. It is time to have compassion for ourselves and for the others in our lives. We are not perfect; there is no such thing. We are human beings. We can experience discomfort without making it a tragedy, just as others have. Just as we have no need to judge others, we have no need to judge ourselves. Yes, we are incomplete and imperfect, like all humans. It is time to grow into the persons we were meant to be, the persons we can still become, but to remember it is not a destination, it is a journey It is time to join again with those who love us and to return their love. It is time to find those whom we have not yet met, who are waiting to share love and connection with us. It is time to reconnect with the world. We realize it is the only thing which will satisfy us, the only thing which will make us content. It is time to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves. We are not responsible for our genetics or our Adverse Childhood Experiences, but we ARE responsible for the choices we make today, based upon the knowledge we have acquired and the lessons we have learned. It is time!
I am my problem, but also my solution
I hope you enjoy this site and find it useful. As you go through the pages, there will be links to various sites and songs. The links will open up in a different window so when you follow a link to a song, I suggest you leave that page open and come back to the original page so you can read the words as you listen to the song. Many of the songs refer to “help from above” or “my lord” or other religious references. I would like to be clear that I do not consider beliefs of a spiritual nature to be a requirement for recovery. All that is required is a desire to end an addiction and a willingness to learn how. When it comes to religious beliefs, believing “what thou wilt” (or won’t) “shall be the whole of the law.” If you have any suggestions for the site or comments, please leave them as I have much to learn and miles to go before I sleep.
My ex was critiquing the site and she said all the music I had was lullabies that put her to sleep, but she understood that I was a heroin addict and that my basic personality needed calming, that my nature was to look for tranquility in my music and my life. She was right. I realized I was not catering to my speed-freak and coke-fiend brothers and sisters, who are bored to tears by my predilections. I will make an effort to add a little excitement and make things slightly more up-tempo so people can read this stuff and not doze off. I will be adding such tunes in the future. Red Hot Chili Peppers, here I come.