The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): An Evidence-Based Recovery Story Pt. 10

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The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): An Evidence-Based Recovery Story Pt. 10

By Anne Giles 05/30/17

The neuroscience of addiction explains how alcoholism became my personal horror story.

Image: 
hand reaching out into the sky

I asked my personal trainer at the gym for help with losing weight. He, in turn, asked me to track my intake of foods and beverages for several weeks. On my tally sheets, I saw glasses of wine dominate the entries after 5:00 PM. When the glasses began to accumulate into bottles, then cases, I realized the "negative consequences" of my behavior. Drinking wine was just way too many calories.

To skip the calories, I skipped a night of drinking wine. I skipped another night. On the third day, at 5:00 PM, a mewling wail opened my mouth. I closed it, sobbed, and skipped another night. On the fourth day, at 5:00 PM, to quell the rising scream, I drank the wine.

I tried for months, but I could not go more than three nights without wine. I could not string together three nights off more than once every few months.

As an intelligent, educated, mature, professional woman, I recoil at the phrase "could not." "Could not?!" Use your willpower, Anne! What's the matter with you?! Just say no!

The neuroscience of addiction helps explain the horror story of why I could not "just say no."

By compromising the brain's basal ganglia, extended amygdala, and prefrontal cortex , addiction under-sensitizes me to pleasure, over-sensitizes me to pain, automates use of the substance for me to feel not necessarily good, but just normal, weakens my decision-making abilities, magnifies my emotional highs and lows and incapacitates the ability to regulate them, interferes with recognizing cause-and-effect relationships, and confounds my ability to make a plan and follow through with it.

In a horror story, the hero's task is to see what needs to be done, cool down, tough it out, and, no matter what happens, bear down and get it done. If the hero is a person with addiction, the very traits needed to succeed are impaired by the condition itself.

The story's plot thickens if the substance is removed from the hero's system. Abstinence does not remove the brain impairments caused by addiction. Further, pre-existing physical, mental and emotional challenges blunted by use of the substance may now return with growing unease, then with magnified force.

Imagine being me. You're the hero or heroine and your task is to stop doing something and stay stopped, both to save your life and the lives of your loved ones.

Become aware of your will to live, then go deeper and become aware of your primitive instinct to survive. You need air, food and water, right? Become aware of what you would do, even what you would do to others, if you were deprived of these and saw a way to get them. Addiction alters the brain and implants a need for a substance on the same level.

Outside observers may experience your words and actions as depraved and heartless. What you experience on the inside is a threat to your survival through parched, starved suffocation. You are put in the chilling, damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't double bind of having a basic, normal, human, understandable need to survive that harms you and your loved ones.

Your brain has been diabolically impaired to keep you doing what you're doing and to lessen or deaden the mental capabilities you need to stop what you're doing and save the day. The impairments make you think your current thinking makes sense, i.e., you think you understand, but you don't. And unlike other heroes' journeys with helpful sidekicks and wise mentors, no one you consult knows how to reverse or remove the brain impairments. Any alliances you might build are immolated by the sudden, unexpected firing of your need to do what you do to survive.

If you heroically wrestle yourself into stopping, perhaps motivated by thoughts of those you love and those who love you, the brain alterations keep you from being able to fully know or plan what to do next, or be able to follow through with what to do even if you come up with it. Every problem you had of any kind prior to your problematic "doing" returns exponentially. Your inner experience will be one of alarm, urgency, emergency, and crisis. Pain and dread will begin to build, not just from this happening, but from the awareness that you are doing it to yourself by doing without.

How was that for you?

I'll take the story back now.

Not a religious man, my father appreciates useful stories from the Bible and taught me and my sister about the Good Samaritan. In the parable, a man is beaten by robbers and left by the side of the road to die. People pass by and do nothing. A traveler from Samaria, however, sees the man, and stops to help. The man from Samaria - our hero, the Good Samaritan - shows mercy by giving the man the help he needs to survive.

Without alcohol, my legs and arms throb and pulse. I feel desiccated, famished, smothered. Panic rises like a tide as lack caves in and buries me alive. I become only must: I must free myself.

Without alcohol, I feel left by the side of the road to die. For three nights, I watch myself thrash. I feel monstrous to let me suffer so. Like the Good Samaritan, I am a merciful person. When I see a person in need, I don't pass by. Some might call that heroic.

There, there, Anne. Here's some wine. You'll feel better soon.

The Last Addictions Memoir below:

Part 1 here  Part 2 here  Part 3 here Part 4 here  Part 5 here Part 6 here Part 7 here Part 8 here Part 9 here

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. She writes about addictions treatment, recovery and policy at annegiles.com. As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder.
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