If modern medicine does one thing well, it’s making labels for human conditions. There are many new syndromes and diseases, many new pills and treatments. The problem lies hidden in your brain. The symptoms manifest in wickedly creative ways. Symptoms include isolation, loss of interest in pleasure activities, impulsiveness, drowsiness, excitability, loss of money, loss of career, prison time, loss of family, mental institutions, and possible death…Reads like the side effects of a new drug to treat these maladies.
Ironically, these are the symptoms and side effects of addiction, the habitual compulsion to use drugs and alcohol. I am an expert. I have been an addict and alcoholic for over 15 years with lots of in-the-field research. The losses from addiction far outnumbered any remote benefits I could have possibly gained from heroin and alcohol. No matter what I lost, I still made the conscious decision to continue on this path of self-destruction. Constantly I was told I was broken, diseased, and not normal. The experts used many different metaphors about light switches and empty spiritual cups to try to describe to me how I was feeling and my motivations behind my compulsions.
Recently, coming to understand brain neuroplasticity and that the brain is able to change and heal is a fundamentally different approach to addiction than teachings I’m used to. Dr. Faranak Farzan, the Chair in Technology Innovation for Youth Addiction Recovery and Mental Health at Simon Fraser University, recently did a presentation for the men and women in recovery at the John Volken Academy, and introduced the book The Brain that Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge. This book shows people who have been helped to overcome serious conditions through extensive brain training.
These stories were fascinating and gave me hope. It empowers me to know that I don’t always have to view myself as broken. I can retrain my brain by putting in effort and focus. I’ve been skiing down the same slope for so long. I can close my eyes and I’ll automatically take the same path. For 15 years my brain has been making the same impulsive decisions. I know that with the right focus and determination, I can carve new neural pathways and change my brain and the way I think. Whether it’s a disease or a choice, I do have a decision. I have a final say in my recovery.
The science of neuroplasticity is still so new that my spellcheck on this computer thinks it’s not even a word. The field is growing leaps and bounds. I am immensely grateful for this research and its many applications. I can change my brain and how I make decisions. Sometimes all we need is a shift of perspective in how we all view our strengths and weaknesses
Here is a link to the book: The Brain that Changes Itself