I’ve been reading The Chemical Carousel, by Dirk Hanson. I think it’s given me a new
understanding of addiction.
Somehow, I never got the common thread in all the different substances
people abuse, that initially, at least for many of us, it’s about trying
to feel better because our normal state is…well, whatever words you
want to use: sad, nervous, weary, worried about the future, seeing
trouble behind every bush and obstacles in every road–think Eeyore in
Winnie the Pooh. All that stuff Hanson talks about, people with lower
baseline levels of serotonin and dopamine, drugs and foods with
chemicals that attach to those same receptor sites–it all translates
into not feeling very good and trying to feel better.
No wonder relapse is so common. And the cruel irony of addiction is
that the substances we turn to for help eventually make us feel a whole
What I haven’t understood before is that the real challenge of long-term
sobriety, for me anyway, is figuring out some way to feel better without
abusing some substance, whether it’s drugs, alcohol, sugar and
chocolate, nicotine, etc. Abusing nicotine got me addicted to
cigarettes. Abusing alcohol turned me into an alcoholic. Abusing
sugar/chocolate/carbs gave me diabetes. Clearly, this approach doesn’t
work, but neither does feeling sad and anxious a lot of the time.
I had a long conversation about this with one of my sons yesterday.
He’s not an alcoholic, but he has many of the same tendencies I do to go
hog wild over things that make him feel good, because his steady state
is to feel pretty down. The last few months he’s been doing
transcendental meditation. He says it’s helping a lot. My younger son,
who is an alcoholic, has been doing TM for over ten years, and that’s
how long he’s been sober. So it’s something I want to try.
I’m not asking for a permanent pink cloud here. I’m willing to feel
pain and grief and anger and all those other so-called negative
emotions, they’re part of life. But I’d also like a little joy and
well-being now and then, they’re part of life too–and after three years
sober, positive self-talk just isn’t doing it.