Any chronic distraction creates an artificial balance in your wellbeing. When you train your brain to continuously avoid painful felt experiences, you guarantee that you will repeat the crisis.
Several years ago I was training for a half marathon and I developed Achilles tendonitis. I really wanted to race, and so my physiotherapist taped my foot. It was like a miracle, because suddenly, the pain was gone and I felt free to run. I completed the half marathon and I continued to tape my foot. Eventually, I ended up with a much more serious injury. The muscles and tendons that needed the practice were no longer being used, and rather than resting and allowing them to do the work when they were ready, I used tape to create a false sense of stabilisation.
That’s what addictions do. They give you a false sense of stabilization. Dr. Gabor Mate, a physician who worked closely with people suffering from chemical addictions, describes addiction as, “Any behaviour where a person craves and finds temporary pleasure or relief in something, but suffers negative consequences as a result of and is unable to give up, despite those negative consequences.” The reason why addiction is a go-to for many of us is down to science.Addictions give us relief from pain, or give us feelings of pleasure because it is piggybacking on neural pathways that already exist in our bodies. No drug works unless they attach to a system that resembles the chemical equivalent that works inside you. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkiller. When you are in crisis, or when you think you are under threat or in real danger, your body releases endorphins to help you do what you need to do to get to safety, or fight off a predator. Endorphins allowed you to manage pain and survive. Our sexual organs, gut and immune systems carry many opiate receptors.
Gaba is an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It inhibits nerve transmission in the brain. It is the body’s natural way of helping us stay calm during stressful situations. When you chronically use alcohol to regulate painful experiences, your body decreases production of Gaba receptors. That is because the alcohol is doing the work for them so they stop producing it. This is your body’s way of balancing itself.
Highly refined carbohydrates, heroin and morphine all attach to a fixed opiate receptor that already exists in your body. When you change the chemicals in your body using an outside source, you are training your body to decrease the chemicals that you produce to naturally help support calm and wellbeing. When you use morphine or any of the opiate prescription drugs, you are limiting your body’s natural chemical pain relievers.
An addiction is a supercharged distraction. If you want to move through your crisis, you will need practice using your own body’s resources to attend to the grief and the loss that exist inside the painful feeling. Any chronic distraction creates an artificial balance in your wellbeing. When you train your brain to continuously avoid painful felt experiences, you guarantee that you will repeat the crisis.
We are here, in the midst of a global crisis where most of us are struggling with physical and/or economic challenge or catastrophe. Everyone is dealing with significant uncertainty. This means that all of our strategies for self soothing and self regulating behaviours will come into play. Since our brain always defers to repetition, the strategies we use the most, especially under stress or trauma, will be the strategies that will use to manage our overwhelm and fear.
If your self soothing and self regulating patterns have you “suffer negative consequences” this could be an opportunity to reach out. Call someone you trust. Receive the support of a professional. In the midst of all this isolation, perhaps this might be the best time to start a new pattern, a new practice to manage and move through crisis.
This blog post is adapted from material in, “Your Beautiful Trauma — a practical guide to help you convert crisis into full scale transformation”.
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