Updated: Mar 8
So I'm not saying I can sum up a brain in a series of bullet points but there are some facts and information that I found very helpful when I was trying to understand the reasons why I was in such a predicament!
It has been researched and proven that some people who struggle with addiction have a genetic predisposition to it, combined with environmental and social factors. This applies to many illnesses and diseases from mental health to heart problems. But I have always been fascinated by how humans can be so understanding of body-part related diseases and not so much when it comes to the head.
Of course our brains are super complicated but a few key points helped me understand a little more about myself and what goes on up there. When I get self- judge-y I remember I'm only human with a flawed system and a brain that will do what the hell it wants to most of the time if I don't intervene.
Here are some interesting tidbits about what's in your head.
The Old and the New Brain.
In very simple terms we have two brains. Many refer to them as the old and new brain. The old brain houses our fight, flight, freeze, more emotional responses to threats (the amygdala lives in here). This brain part it is the primitive, primal response centre of our brains and the area that leaps into action when we feel threatened.
For example, I experience a stressful situation & I feel threatened, I panic, my old brain kicks in and I do something to feel better (in my case I used to reach for glass of wine). There's not much thought going in here. Just stimulus to response and then immediate reaction. The hippocampus (responsible for memory and recall) is also very hard to access when this process occurs, hence why 'you'll regret it in the morning' gets little to no air time at this point.
Our new brain is the main things that differentiates us from other animals. It is the part that gives us the ability to regulate our emotions, rationalise our fears, access our intuition (gut feel), imagine and slow down our responses.
Interesting to note is that the very first part of your brain that is effected by alcohol is the Dorsal Lateral Pre-Frontal Cortex, otherwise known as your 'new Brain' or, as I like to call it, my personal Yoda. It is the sensible part. It is the part that should tell you to stop. But once you reach a certain point ( I believe 2 drinks is the average) it simply switches off.
'I'm not drunk!', 'I feel FINE!', 'I've only had 2 drinks' etc etc. Sound familiar? It's the part that would normally STOP you texting that inappropriate message and, interestingly, it's also the part that would normally give you a heads up about pain, hence why the fall isn't quite so bad after a few (until the next day). This is why our ability to respond sensibly to situations goes out the window when we drink too much. The yoda brain has simply shut down (hence drink driving or doing shots or other dodgy things at the end of the night).
We also know that alcohol slows our brains down. This is why I used to love it....to shut my mind the hell up! Unfortunately, withdrawal from it speeds the brain up, hence the reason it's so easy to make a snap decision to drink again...to sloooow things down again. Knowing that it takes 5 days for alcohol to fully leave the system can help. Because after that you'll get to know your normal speed and find other, healthier ways to keep it in balance.
Now, I know mindfulness is the new black, but so too is sobriety and unless you're prepared to get a hold on this marvellous machine in your head then your chances of success will be primarily based on your ability to have rock solid will power, forever ( if you want to quit for good). I don't know about you, but I just don't have it. Tried & failed, over and over again.
Thankfully the toolkit is endless, and different things work for different people, but I've not spoken to anyone who's on the other side that doesn't agree that practicing some kind of mindfulness is essential to success. And, for credibility’s sake, (for those cynics amongst us) I can't tell you how much emphasis Doctors, Psychs & Counsellors are now placing on the importance of mindful and meditation practices to assist in all areas of health & wellbeing, from pain management to overcoming addiction (It’s really not that surprising that we kinda knew this 1000's of years ago, but we complicated things, as we do, and now we're just back peddling).
So, hopefully without sounding too evangelical, I highly recommend a little mind training. I find the Headspace App incredible as it covers all needs and persuasions, from people seeking creative inspiration to elite athletes looking for a gold medal. Whoever you are at least check out one of the many tools out there, some of which are referenced on the apps page in this site. And remember, you're not alone. We all struggle with these brain glitches, none of us are perfect, but hopefully with a little more understanding of how your brain is set up you'll be better equiped to start learning how to short circuit the auto-response.
Have a look at some of the book recommendations on brain training. Mark Williams is my fave for simply, logical steps to start.