Brain change: New frontiers in addiction recovery
There's been a lot of exciting programming on public television lately about our brains and how we can change them.
Years ago, after writing my fourth addiction recovery book Escape from Nicotine Country: How to Stop Smoking Painlessly (quitnicotinenow.net), I'd - a few years later - toyed with titles for a new book project about recovery from all addictions.
Brain Change and Romancing Liz were two titles I came up with and still may use (along with explanatory subtitles). Harking back to my personal break from booze dependence, April 24, 1978 and my later success in stopping a thirty year addiction to cigarettes in 1993, I had discovered powerful, simple strategies: the stuff behind these two potential book titles.
On the day of April 24, 1978 a flash-moment of clarity - after years of alcohol addiction - brought together both rational and emotional brain realizations: alcohol hurts, and I can't drink anymore NO MATTER WHAT!
Although this incident could be called an "accidental, non-intentional aversion," a "spiritual experience," etc., I came to see it as what I now call "cognitive/visceral synchronization," which simply means a head/gut "fusion," if you will. I simultaneously realized in my brain and felt in my gut: "This hurts badly and I'll stop now!"
Of course it was up to me to make a choice to continue what I then desperately desired: a booze-free life. Later, in 1993, I timidly, secretly, began to apply a deliberately induced version of cognitive/visceral synchronization (with a twist) to my cigarette addiction: I gradually, painlessly withdrew from my personal nicotine prison of 30 years and have been a free parolee to the present day. By that I mean if one has had an addiction experience - via cigarettes, booze, other drugs - one's brain has been altered in a bad or unhealthy way and, although healthy "brain change" can occur through halting an addiction, one had better take care to keep addictive drugs out of one's body and brain in order to maintain said brain change for life.
A life-affirming, self-empowering, nurturing, positive brain change - in and of itself - opens the door to new life potentials.
"The Sobriety Priority" and "Separate Issue Sobriety" were my founding stones for SOS/Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Our Selves, which I began 23 years ago. SOS offers free, anonymous, self empowerment peer-led support groups globally for all addicted persons-in-recovery in a safe, secular environment. We see faith-based (or non-faith) issues as separate issues from our group support system; we see these issues as part of one's personal and private life quest.
As a protection from guruism, domination and submission, "control freaks" etc., SOS is also a "free thought forum" (but not a free-for-all) this component was put in place to quash any possibility for the development of institutionalized holy writ.
So one of these aforementioned working titles - Brainchange - has been explained a bit but Romancing Liz certainly requires an explanation and here it is, along with an explanation of what is meant by "the sobriety priority" and "separate issue sobriety."
An earlier title was perhaps more to the point, albeit less appealing: Romancing the Lizard Brain. We know that our frontal lobes reason and our primitive brains react to stimuli (fight or flight).
Some folks would attempt to clad our primitive brains in tuxedos or formal gowns, but as an American television commercial once warningly opined, "it's not nice to [try to] fool Mother Nature!"
Still, some nerds may champion our frontal lobes or reasoning brains but Carl Sagan in his book Brocca's Brain compared our evolutionary human brain structures -- beginning with our primitive brain stems leading to our more modern frontal lobes - to Manhattan's earlier (primitive) edifices remaining in place, while evolution (nature), via extended trial and error, came up with exquisite frontal lobe brain design, adding onto but not replacing primitive structures.
I found out almost thirty years ago that I could communicate with my primitive brain in its own "language"; that is to say the "language" of passionate feelings. These feelings included a healthy, appropriate fear for (and respect of) excruciating pain that consumption of the drug alcohol would surely bring me.
Cognitive/visceral synchronization is simply the accidental or deliberately induced use of one's passionate feelings communicated (to one's respected and powerful primitive brain) by one's no less but no more powerful "modern" frontal lobes. Messages are synchronized, transcending the gap between using an addictive drug (alcohol, nicotine) and the undeniable consequences of the drug which inevitably follow.
Lifelong freedom from nicotine, alcohol and other addictive drugs is attainable by the reasonable and passionate application of prioritizing sobriety (abstaining from a drug no matter what) as a separate issue from all else in life, even if -studies have shown - one has raging unresolved life issues. Unresolved life issues may well have been one's reason to smoke or drink (self medicate) but, once hooked, one is caught in a cycle of addiction. Happily, once I broke and arrested my cycle of addiction to alcohol and, some years later, to nicotine, all my alcohol and nicotine consequences subsequently vanished.
Life's much better on this side of the fence! Please let me know how you're feeling and how you're doing in regard to nicotine and other substances in your life. Have you arrested your addiction? Are you ready to stop? I hope to hear from you and I look forward to being with you again next week.