How can the brain can choose to heal?
- Step 1. Free Your Mind
- Step 2. Heal Your Mind
- Step 3. Guard Your Mind
- Step 4. Use Your Mind
- Step 5. Help Another Mind
- Step 4. Use Your Mind
- Step 3. Guard Your Mind
- Step 2. Heal Your Mind
Step 1: Free Your Mind
What is the one thing all addicts agree on?
“If it’s within reach you will use it.” This is so universal that we should just call it the Law of Addiction. For the alcoholic knows, even if there is one small pint of terrible cheap Russian vodka stashed in the garage, saved to clean grease or start a fire, it’s gonna get consumed.
The opioid addict may find a piece of cotton and squeeze even the smallest amount of unused heroin out of it. The Addy or Xanny addict will find any pill and eat it. The pothead will sift through the grass where he dropped his weed the night before.
No matter the amount of willpower, you cannot resist the temptation to use if your drug is close by. This is so because the brain builds an automatic pathway over time. It does so to save mental power. This pathway overrides your thinking logical brain and will always win. It’s like water flowing down the path of least resistance. If there is nothing in your way preventing your use, you will naturally flow toward it. The only way to prevent further use is to eliminate any access to it. Flush your stash, pour out the bottle. Done.
Now what do you do if your drug of choice falls in your lap or shows up at your doorstep? Remember, the moment you feel guilt, which is usually the moment after the euphoric rush, go ahead and flush your stash. The moment you are concerned about your spouse or employer finding out, get rid of the rest. It will hurt but remember that the little bit of pain of seeing your stash swirl down to the bottom of the toilet is nothing compared to the pain of continued use. The money lost, the trust broken, the false promises, the failure. Preemptively flush all that future pain in one foul swoop. The immediate pain of letting go will soon fade. Now that any potential of further use is extinguished for the moment you can be at peace. Oh and remember to delete your dealer’s number. (I told this to one of my patients and she asked “how can I? I have it memorized.”
Take it one step further.
Don’t just get rid of your drug. Instead, aim to strip away all your vices. Down to the smallest of transgressions. For the one who can control the least of his temptations will be able to master the greatest of temptations. You are only as good as your weakest link. Drugs and alcohol are an obvious negative, but what about cigarettes, social media, sugar and sleep. Don’t wait for your alarm to wake you! What about envy, lust and greed. How often do you lie to someone? Do you lie to yourself? Aim for perfection. There is pleasure in this pursuit. It’s a snowball effect. Once you can suppress the temptation for drugs or alcohol, you will start to wonder “what else can I improve.” Welcome to the new you. The enlightened you. The awakened you.
Step 2: Heal Your Mind
Patience. It is of utmost importance. Every drug is either an upper or downer but despite this difference the user gets a euphoria or stress relief. A temporary escape from reality. When you follow step one you will face a period that involves the exact opposite. Euphoria is followed by irritability. Stress ensues. Energy becomes lethargy. During this period the brain will most likely try to relieve the stress in the only way it knows how, by using again. The solution is to simply wait for this brief period of stress to naturally pass. I can promise you that it will.
Take a nap, go on a walk, watch a movie, call a friend. Wait.
The problem with drug use is tolerance and withdrawal. Both of these occur because of cellular changes in brain. Tolerance happens when you need more of the drug to feel a certain way. Withdrawal happens in the absence of the drug.
On the cellular level, wait a minute, this is not a science article for that see How addiction works in the brain
With tolerance and withdrawal there is an imbalance in the brain neurotransmitters. The brain will need time to recover this imbalance and it depends on the drug of choice but it usually occurs within a couple of days.
Step 3: Guard Your Mind
Tell on yourself. This step will help alleviate and reinforce both steps 1 and 2. Kids are taught not to tell on each other, but it’s okay to be a tattle tale, on yourself. It is very difficult to take this action. As a matter of fact it is one of the hardest things to do. It is a life changing event. To make it easier, seek out someone else who is in recovery. You can even start with the friend you are using with right now. Those folks will know what you’re going through. When you talk to them, instead of shame there is understanding. Sympathy instead of sorrow. If you get anything other than support they are not worth your time. Telling your significant or sober family is possible later on, but start with someone who is going through the same struggle. Get a sponsor, go to a 12 step meeting, visit SMART recovery online or read books by people who have struggled through addiction. Tell your story. Tell on yourself. Let it out.
Usually the relapse occurs way before the actual substance use. You try to stay sober, yet, the addicted part of your brain is constantly distracting you to consider a relapse. Often an opportunity will arise, your spouse will be out of town, an old drinking buddy will be visiting, an anniversary of the death of a loved one is coming up or your ex-dealer calls you out of nowhere. The planning and waiting starts. Patiently the brain waits for the right moment. When the circumstances are just right the relapse happens. The circumstance will reveal your true self. The actual use of the drug or alcohol is just the final act of thoughts accumulated over time. The time to tell on yourself is right there at the first occurrence of that thought.
By visiting a 12 step meeting, talking to your sponsor or letting it out you will gain a small sense of relief. A small part of you will heal. The act of talking it out will also allow time to pass. Alcoholics in recovery will get a craving to drink, even a thought and a plan to obtain alcohol. The difference in their recovery depends on their very next action. To call a friend or go to a meeting in that moment will often help time to pass, to get things of their chest and sufficient support to prevent a relapse.
The logic of AA follows that you should confide in someone who is sober, who has put their addiction far behind them. I want to challenge this notion. Start the conversation with your fellow drug users. Discuss among each other what impact the drug has had, ask that one vital question of “how would life be without this drug?”
Be on the lookout for these thoughts of relapse. Be eternally vigilant.
Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty – Thomas Jefferson.
Step 4: Use Your Mind
Your mind is the most sophisticated result of evolution, it combines more neurons than there are stars in the universe, its power has created miracles for humanity like the automobile and the internet. Yet, some of us choose to waste this precious machine. We let the machine just idle without purpose. The idle mind is the devils playground. Boredom is a common cause for relapse. Drug addiction leads to a total preoccupation with obtaining and using the drug. The mind of an addict has little time to improve its circumstance. Once the drug is stripped away the mind is left with little purpose. In recovery one needs to reinvent oneself. Find a new activity or hobby to occupy that mind space. Often addicts in recovery will become extremely productive and successful in their work. If the amount of energy invested in obtaining and using a drug can be devoted to fruitful endeavors the payoff will be enormous. Even without the goal of success, simply finding an enjoyable activity will be a way to help Heal your mind.
Flow is a term coined by the Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He describes this as the euphoric moment when a musician, artist, surgeon or athlete engage in when they are in absolute focus. During this time the skill level matches the difficulty of the task and the brain is completely focused on avoiding mistakes. It takes practice to get to this level but anyone can do it. In these moments nothing else in the world matters. It is absolute bliss. Sound familiar? That is because drug use is a shortcut to feeling this way. Whether it is cocaine, cannabis or wine coolers, the person who use these drugs feel a sense of euphoria and “their troubles seem so far away” – the Beetles. Now when the addict gives up this instant high, they continuously long for it. Don’t fret my friends, it can be regained by finding a hobby that engages the mind absolutely. It will take work and dedication but it is well worth it.
Step 5: Help Another Mind
This is also the final step of Alcoholics Anonymous, to share your sanity. The best coach is the one who played the sport. The best understanding is derived from the ability to teach a subject. The greatest healing occurs to the one who helps another heal. When you seek to help others you inevitably help yourself. In nature the survival of a species depends on cooperation of the group. When animals work together to protect and feed each other they will increase their odds of survival. The same holds true for humans. Any service or product that aids in this collective goal gets selected for. It is in our best interest to help each other.
Step 2 of AA says that “we accept a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.” Many people find issue with this statement however the truth is that addiction itself is a power greater than oneself. When you accept that you have an addiction it implies that you have come to the conclusion that your substance of choice has a greater power over you. If this is true, wouldn’t it make sense that a power greater than yourself can help fight your addiction? This power is found in another person. Two minds are better than one. By confiding in another mind your mind will be stronger. By helping another you will help yourself and visa versa.
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