A new language for understanding addiction

addictionThe language we choose to use has incredible influence over our perception of reality. Every word is linked into an ever evolving neural network of associations, concepts, and emotions. Meaning is culled from these maps, which are culturally driven yet far more flexible than one might think. Addiction, habit, compulsion, rock bottom – these are dangerous, helpless words. There’s no way out of ‘compulsion’, and ‘rock bottom’ is a bleak, cold, lonely place. The idea that we have to reach it, the bottom of the well, before we regain our right to the word ‘choice’ means that we are forced to do real social and physical damage before admitting defeat and winning control. Brain chemistry is the author of these words. They feel so right, so real. That’s why we use them. Withhold satisfaction from an addict and their brain spirals into an unbearable chemical panic. This panic dictates its intentions to our prefrontal cortex, as to a willing, eminently obedient 1950s secretary. Our impatient limbic boss says, “You know what I want to say, Honey. Just put it into your own words and send it off.” Our words. Our choice. Glamours These are the things that make make life worth living. We ‘get off’ on them. Take them away and life dims to survival. We are genetically and culturally predisposed to our glamours: in how we are coded to metabolize nicotine, or the density of our D2 dopamine receptors, or what Disney taught us about love. These glamours, some innocent, even healthy, and some decidedly not, are then triggered by personal experience, be it the red lipstick of our favourite movie star or first hit of cocaine. Humanity needs its glamours. Biologically, desire drives our movement through time. Without it we, quite literally, will cease to breathe. Even the most hard-core guru will agree. Beyond our base appetites, our glamours are our sparkle and armor against the inevitability of suffering and death. But sometimes a glamour will slip past our conscious control to become… Insatiables Birth is not moderate. Death is not moderate. Life, therefore, is not a moderate act. By their very natures some of our glamours can biologically begin to stretch our appetites out of proportion, especially when we use them to cope with an immoderate world. Our dopamine baseline and receptor density can change. With food, the hormone leptin can throw things out of wack. Anything can become a pathological obsession: Diet Coke, cats, clutter, gin, sex, reality TV… anything. An insatiable is something we can’t get enough of and its pleasures begin to overshadow all others. We make choices that always somehow circle back to satisfy our cravings. Romantic love is an insatiable, but while it chemically evolves, some insatiables risk becoming… Be-all-end-alls This is the end-game. When an insatiable becomes a be-all-end-all, we live our life in service to its mastery. Nothing else matters. Take it away and life looses its last hint of luster. It is our all, and by its exclusion of all else, without intervention, will end all. Our brain wants only this, all the time, whatever the cost. It is the only appetite worth satisfying. Chemically, it owns our motivations and our reasoning. But it is not rock bottom. It is an honest moment with our soul, an acknowledgment of circumstances. It is the moment of choice – our destruction or the originating glamour’s destruction? One must end. Changing our language opens up a new neural network of more empowering associations, concepts, and emotions. And by doing so, it also opens up new paths of treatment. Choosing the right variables/symbols is always the first step towards balancing an equation. I promised my Blank Canvas Living Creative counselling client, who was brave enough to strip off her muumuu and reveal her insatiables, that I would show her a different path and guide her through change. Come join us on the journey. This is a Story Thread post – Click to read more…

Under the muumuu – A woman and her addictions exposed

walmart muumuu

“I’m lost.”

If these words are yours, own them. Wear them. Go to Walmart and buy the widest, ugliest muumuu you can find. Take it home and drape it over your naked body. Be brave. Look in the mirror and see your true reflection. This is reality. This is what your brain has done to your life. There is no shame here, only pattern and practice. This is habit, addiction, and insatiable desire…

“I’m so sorry,” says the woman trying to squeeze herself through the doorway of my Blank Canvas Living Creative Counselling office. She’s wearing what’s got to be the most horrifically unflattering muumuu ever created.

“Don’t apologize,” I tell her. “The only thing you have to be sorry for is, quite frankly, that awful muumuu. Why on earth would you do that to yourself?”

“I’m lost,” she says, and bursts into tears. She’s in the room now, but she can’t even sit down. There’s some unspeakable bulk, all sharp corners and clinking sounds, writhing under the synthetic pink and orange atrocity.

“You’re here now, and that’s huge. Not as big as that muumuu, mind you, but major non the less.”

She gives a weak smile at my even weaker joke and looks at me expectantly. This is how it always goes. There’s this idea that I’m going to make some diagnosis and write a prescription or trace some emotion back to its pattern of childhood origin. But that’s not the way creative counselling works. I’m not here to waste anybody’s time. My job is to strip the problem down to the story and brain habits that are causing it. And I know this woman’s not going to like what I’ve got to ask her to do.

“Take it off. For the love of gawd,” I beg her, “take off that hellish thing so we can see what we’re dealing with.”

“What?” She says, giving me a worried look. “Seriously? But I’m not wearing anything underneath.”

“Good, all the better. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to be perverted or anything. Just trust me on this.”

She fusses and fidgets, delays, protests, and delays some more, but I won’t let her off the hook. Finally, with infinite reluctance, she takes off the muumuu and drops it on the carpet between us.addiction woman illustration

Bottles of white wine, cases of diet coke, cigarettes, tabloid magazines, 12 boxes of Peek Frean cookies, television remotes, Facebook screens, automatic negative thoughts, phones waiting for calls from bad men… the baggage is a tonnage of habit and addiction. The woman’s body is creamy and lovely at the center of it all, but her face is red with shame. She won’t even look at me.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispers, “I never realized how bad things are, how much I’ve been carrying around. It’s ugly isn’t it?”

“Not near as ugly as covering it up with that gawd awful muumuu like you’ve given up on yourself. Look, if you’re brave enough to show me your body and brain like this, then you’re brave enough to change it. You don’t need all this shit. I can give you a new language and way of maximizing your humanity without needing to rely on external emotional regulation. I’m not talking about yoga rituals or 12 steps. I’m talking about a way of real-time dialoguing with your brain’s perception of reality. You just leave that muumuu with me and I’ll transform it into a tactile demonstration of what this process is all about. Sound like a plan?”

“This isn’t some new-age-y bullshit, is it?” She asks. I can’t blame her; I’d be suspicious too.

“No bullshit. It’s already saved lives, including mine.” I leave her curious as I go to find her another outfit to wear home.

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