We chase and we chase at a frenzied feverish pace but in the end where is this place that we race to with such a careless haste?
We may have heard the line “our drug use was just the most obvious symptom of our disease” or discovered after a period of extended abstinence that many of our undesirable behaviors still somehow survived despite our steadfast surrender. How is it that we raise the white flag to alcohol or other drugs only to discover that our days of chasing something, anything are not quite over yet by far?
Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin; that’s how. These four little guys are mind and mood altering chemicals that do not necessarily require a trip ‘down the way’ to go cop or a visit to the pawn shop with your grandma’s flat screen television to go score. However, our chase of these chemicals can certainly leave us panting and out of breath as well as bruised, beaten and broken down from the pursuit none the less. These four chemicals are our brain’s own little “happy pills”, and everybody loves a good ‘feel happy’! The challenge with most of us who’ve made it to reading the 12 Step Gazette however, is that we love feeling happy just a little, tiny bit too much. We love it so much that we always want more and more, and we love it so much that we just can’t ever get enough. Ever. It’s sort of like one stimulated charge of dopamine is too much and a thousand is never enough.
Now, there is some really good news in all of this and I promise that I did not come to steal your happy. We already know all too well some of the unhealthy, happy-seeking behaviors that result from our quest for the above mentioned chemicals (i.e. problem gambling, excessive over-eating, engaging in sex with anything that moves, getting more tattoos and piercings in one week than there are on the entire audience at the MTV Music Awards, shopping so much that you need an extra room for storage in the apartment that finds you 3 months behind on the rent…). While there are certainly many activities that we engage in which will ultimately leave us with that panting from the chase and beaten from the fall feeling, we do learn how to channel our happy-chemical-seeking-selves toward healthier means of scoring a feel good fix.
As we grow in our recovery, we learn that chasing a long-term goal and accomplishing small milestones along the way is a sure bet to an amazing dopamine release. We realize that invigorating endorphin rewards await when we push our bodies to the max through rigorous exercise and staying fit. We go on to experience healthy relationships in recovery containing the sort of trust that releases an ocean of oxytocin (which coincidentally is also the chemical released when we hug one another). We wonderfully come to realize that we score immense amounts of serotonin through being in service to other human beings, helping and supporting others in their own recovery and just doing the right thing. In what may be the most beautiful irony of living with the dis-ease of addiction, we go on to find satisfaction in and happiness from this chemical chase thru behaviors and activities that, in the end, leave the world around us a better place.