Re-wiring my brain

‘I was always amazed people could stop at two beers’

20 Mar 2020 | 12:37

I get addicted to about anything. Even though I won’t ever take a drink again, I am addicted to alcohol and many things that I just won’t do ever again. Like cigarettes, whip-its (nitrous), coke, pills and freebase. No matter what, I can’t do them ever again. My addictive obsessive compulsive inner self will quickly go to the point of no return.

There are literally millions of stories of addiction and recovery, mine fits in there somewhere. Hopefully this story and actions I am taking can help.

There were emotional traumas when I was young, and they never got dealt with. A therapist told me that it likely created a brain environment ripe for addiction. My family history shows I have a genetic pre-disposition to alcohol. I didn’t complete senior year in my NJ high school – moved to NYC and hung out with the wrong people.

I got addicted to intoxicants partly because they made me feel good, masking the emotional holes. There are potent chemicals released in my brain when I get buzzed and the “good feeling reward” digs a deep groove in the unpaved road in my gray matter. My wheels kept falling into that rut.

It seems simple to non-addicts... “just stop”? It’s not easy to stop once those ruts are worn in. My addiction seems to be a neuro-synaptic issue, not a “choice” or a “personality flaw.” Sure, I have many personality flaws – they feed my addictions.

I got addicted to work, became a workaholic. I put work in front of my children, my relationships. That’s what us addicts do; we have an altered judgement when our self-control is gone. Getting drunk made my feelings go away and sometimes gave me courage. But it was all fake. Then I started doing worse things. My alcoholic stupidity got me into a short stay at a jail, and unfortunately that was not a wake-up call. I knew I had a drinking problem but could not admit I was a high-functioning alcoholic. Even though I could show myself I could go a few days without drinking, I had to drink to be “normal.” I was always amazed people could stop at two beers. Not me, I need to get hammered. Seems my brain chemistry and wiring (those ruts in the road) are different than non-addictive people. I have a malfunctioning brain in need of treatment and change.

As my addictions progressed, they controlled my decisions. They made me think my responsibilities of running a big business were getting in the way of me being able to get a real good buzz. So, when a good offer came along for my business, I took it. I suddenly had very little responsibility, and my addictions really loved that decision that they made for me. I binged heavily in private. I relapsed on some former drugs and missed out on a lot of important things. I made many bad decisions. I tried ventures that failed.

But one good decision is I didn’t want to die, and I didn’t want to kill somebody. After too many close calls, 40 years of continuous drinking (drink while celebrating, drink while depressed, drink because it’s Thursday, etc.) and trying to stop countless times, something clicked at my depressed bottom. No problems got better for me while drunk. I didn’t feel good. After the detox period that I had tried before, I had the good fortune of having a friend get me into a program of recovery that would stick if I did the work. But I had to admit I could not do it on my own. I had to admit I needed support and tools and most of all an honest willingness to change. Change included deep reflection, replacing friends, following a program, and finding better obsessions to fill the ruts in the roads in my brain. Medical professionals say if you don’t fill those ruts, relapse is going to happen. A new obsession I found in the program was to become a better person. Now that is a lot of work.

I started obsessing on my nutritional balance, calculating food things and doing spreadsheets, cooking the right things. If my brain is not nourished properly it will be harder for me to re-train. I obsessed on research. I just could not (still can’t) get to the point of obsessing on exercise, even though I know it is very helpful for addictions in many ways. I am working on it. “Progress, not perfection.” There’s only one thing I need to get perfect, and that’s to not do intoxicants. Not even a tiny bit. Even though refined sugar is bad for me and gives a satisfaction of another addiction, I take a treat every now and then. I need to leave room in my life for treats.

On a given day, I go to one or even two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The AA program is a significant part of my recovery and has taught me hundreds of helpful things. Like, there’s no finish line in sobriety, it simply continues. I can control my behavior by doing simple steps. I don’t need to be restless, irritable or discontent. Good habits like meditation build new roads in my brain. Good character builds self-satisfaction, which is an important addictive replacement for me. I am grateful for many things turning around with my sobriety; these get added to my “gratitude list,” which helps build new neural pathways. There are many people who have the same issues and they are available to help me. But the only one who could truly understand my deepest thoughts, I learned, was me. It required me finding a higher strength to tap. I am not a religious guy, but I’ve found spirituality: my deepest connection and inner truth.

Through hard work and the passage of time, my brain was able to re-learn and partly re-wire itself. My obsessions are suppressed now, the cravings gone. But if I don’t work constantly on keeping the ruts in my road filled then I am doomed to relapse. I’m no stranger to relapse, over the years. This time, I won’t think that I kicked my addiction’s ass. I am still an addict. This is a never-ending process. All I get from all this hard work is a reprieve.

Oh, and I also get a way better life! I get to enjoy my children, my grandchildren and my sweetheart at home! I can finally feel and give love... something that was missing for decades. I now laugh at dumb stuff I did. Humor has helped me recover. I can honestly say my new life has been amazing for these short 18 months of sobriety.

I am still addicted to some things, including online activities. The drugs that get dispensed between my ears when I’m online are as powerful as anything you can find at the pharmacy. I need to keep working on my issues to prevent that pharmacy from regaining the upper hand.

My promises to myself and all of you: I will continue to admit there is no easy way and no magic. I will nourish my body with proper foods and exercise (argh!) to get my brain chemicals in balance. I will go to any length to maintain my recovery. Lives depend on it.