If we return to the idea of stress as a result of being in a fight-or-flight state, I think we can all agree it comes with a high level of suffering. It manifests as tension and pain, self-loathing behavior, damaging thought, and physical discomfort. It is a state of inherent misery and we will do anything to escape this misery, to relieve this suffering, to seek some level of safety. We seek anything that the brain has defined as having created the perception of safety in the past.
With fight-or-flight being triggered by threat—by the brain believing it is being chased by a proverbial tiger—it stands to reason that if a tiger is chasing me, I would want nothing more than to find a place where I can finally be free of that tiger, a place to rest and digest. We learn coping mechanisms throughout our life to alleviate the suffering we feel must be inherent to who we are. This is a healthy part of living in primal survival mechanisms, but as you may already know is not a long-term solution.
Most of you were probably already doing Phase One practices long before coming to this book. As primates, we live life subject to trigger, pulling ourselves into the healthiest states we can to just be triggered again. To stay in the dynamic is a never-ending cycle. In addition, there is the inherent problem that even healthy rest-and-digest mechanisms keep us in dependency.
Dependency is literally defined as our dependant need to use an external stimulus to sustain a rest-and-digest state. It requires constant maintenance and often creates only incremental, yet arduous growth. The bad news for many of us is that we’ve developed ways to relieve our suffering, ways to feel safe, which end up being equally significant threats to that safety: drugs, alcohol, unhealthy relationships, food, pornography, shopping, work, thrill-seeking, etc. There are as many options as there are people to use them. Every dysfunctional thing we do, we do to feel safe.
We will do anything to take the edge off the pain, even if it is killing us. The need for serotonin in a state of fight-or-flight is paramount to all things and will stand as a priority in the mind until we find some level of relief. Serotonin is the key here. It works as a natural byproduct of the thriving state and as the constant longing of the fight-or-flight state. The critical thing to realize is that while in fight-or-flight, the frontal lobe is not participating. There may be a release of dopamine which includes fleeting moments of bliss, but the body is still suffering. The real drive behind survival is to escape our suffering. We will do whatever we can to survive even if it threatens our inherent ability to thrive and no amount of conscious thinking will be able to overcome it.
There has been a long-standing opinion that the driving motivation behind addiction is a pleasure. While neurologically, you might see dopamine being triggered, I strongly disagree with the concept of addictive patterns being pleasure related. I think, if you had a conversation with most addicts, they would tell you their addictions have nothing to do with about pleasure. I was an addict for a long time and I found two forces were driving my addiction. One was the inherent need to validate my value. I’ll get to that in the next book. Here, it is important to take a good look at the other, the need to relieve the immense amount of suffering created by overactive fight-or-flight triggers.
There is an ever-growing link being discovered between addiction and stress cycles in the brain. Most people with addictive patterns also suffer anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc. etc. These are all conditions that already have strong links to fight-or-flight mechanisms. It is no coincidence that conditions like PTSD and depression often accompany addiction. Most advanced medical practices now refer to addiction as ‘self-medicating behavior.’ We are using our additions in the same way some use pharmaceuticals, to take the edge off our pain.
When we live in high states of suffering, we will do anything to feel just a little better, even for a moment. It is an unconscious motivation of the brain to manage imbalances in our brain chemistry. If our suffering states are occurring too often or lasting too long, the brain will drive us to medicate ourselves. The issue is, it is not sustainable without constant maintenance. It offers only temporary relief, relief which is often gone the moment the ‘drug’ is out of reach.
The pursuit of relief is what creates the need for the addictive substance again and again, whatever it is. These back-and-forth experiences from fight-or-flight to rest-and-digest are the real driving force of addiction. The more inherent issue to most addiction is that the relief of suffering we experience in our addictive behavior is often equally destructive to the body. Drugs and alcohol are destroying the body, even in mild doses. They are poison.
Addictive behaviors like shopping or eating can be equally harmful. They may threaten our home or financial security or even our health. No addiction is harmless. Even the addiction to therapy I suffered early in my healing was an unhealthy addiction. It externalized my solution, which made me vulnerable to its availability and its opinion of my diagnosis. If I had remained with it as my only solution, I would still be battling the demons of my past. So, while at one level, our coping mechanisms might be relieving our body the stress of a fight-or-flight reaction, they are often killing us in a whole different way.
The wonderful thing about finding healthy relief to your suffering is this. It happens quickly and it creates an internal shift in our homeostasis. The healthy choice is the natural choice of the brain. If our subconscious mechanisms are as convinced of the healthy option as they are of the unhealthy option, they will inherently pursue health.
As we come to understand suffering as the release of a chemical, we can also see the relief of that suffering is also a chemical. If this weren’t true, pharmaceuticals wouldn’t have the ability to help us heal. Antidepressants wouldn’t relieve depressive thoughts. Pain relievers wouldn’t relieve pain. Antihistamines wouldn’t affect allergies. Antibiotics wouldn’t fight bacteria.
This is why the pharmaceutical industry is as successful as it. They understand the root of all human function is chemical-based. If this wasn’t true, their products wouldn’t work to the extent they do. Lives are saved every day based on the ability of pharmaceuticals to effect conditions through the introduction of chemicals. However, whether it is prescribed pharmaceuticals, supplements or recreational chemicals, exogenous chemicals—those introduced from outside of the body—do not have the same ability to produce homeostasis as endogenous chemicals—those produced inside the body—and they likely never will.
I am often asked about the new trend of micro-dosing in relation to treating conditions. In essence, micro-dosing is pharmacology. Most of the pharmaceuticals available are simply a lesser dose of the drugs many use recreationally. However, pharmacology is much safer. It is safer even than supplement options because pharmaceuticals are created from the most advanced understandings of both human physiology and neuroscience. They are also forced through arduous clinical trials, so how they might affect the body is far more predictable.
No chemical substitute will give you the long-term solution of stimulating the release of chemicals in your own system. Too many systems are involved in the chemical production happening in our bodies. No single pharmaceutical, supplement, or other exogenous chemical stimulation can address all the systems affected by and involved in the production of those chemicals. This is true of all external chemical stimulants.
However, I want to make a strong note here. If you are currently taking an exogenous chemical to treat mental, physical or emotional affliction, please do not stop. Your body is currently dependent on the chemical to maintain functional homeostasis. To stop before you are ready could be devastating. If you do your practices every day, in a short amount of time you should be able to return to healthier homeostasis. At that point, your medical professional will recognize the shift in your health and will help you ween from the chemical in a way that does not interfere with that homeostasis.
There is one other thing to consider in exogenous chemical stimulants. Whether it is medical or even homeopathic, if it is a solution introduced from outside the natural function of the body, it will cause side-effects that require more treatments which produce more side effects, and so on. The medicine you take is chemical-related and the healing it creates is usually by the use of chemicals that already exist in our bodies.
The natural chemical production of our systems becomes key here. To learn to stimulate chemicals organically is the healthiest practice we can learn in our lives. As you learn, please remember we are all unique. What worked for me will not necessarily work for you. This is why there is no one program that has become the one solution to all people, so this will be a process of trial and error, to find the practices that stimulate the correct chemical reaction in your brain.
I want to make a strong note here. While you are learning to manipulate your chemical production, if you are currently taking an exogenous chemical to treat mental, physical or emotional affliction, please do not stop. Your body is currently dependent on the chemical to maintain functional homeostasis. To stop before you are ready could be devastating. If you do your practices every day, in a short amount of time you should be able to return to healthier homeostasis. At that point, your medical professional will recognize the shift in your health and will help you ween from the chemical in a way that does not interfere with that homeostasis.
As a final note; I’m not going to suggest you immediately stop any addiction you might be suffering. If you are able to turn only to those things which are suggested as healthy alternatives, fantastic! Do that, but don’t make this a hard choice. Take it one moment at a time, one reaction at a time. If you falter, if you turn to your addiction, the worst thing you can do is to judge yourself for it. Just commit to following the practices every day and eventually, your desire to return to your addiction will fade. The addiction is as much a byproduct of the chemical as is the thought or feeling or any other suffering you might be experiencing.
I suggest, before you turn to your drug of choice, try a practice first. Promise yourself, I’ll try twenty minutes of Phase Two before I do anything else. I’ve watched it happen time and again. People I work with put a certain amount of focus on their practice every day and within a short amount of time, they realize they have stopped returning to whatever substance originally seemed to possess their mind. Your brain is seeking safety more than it is seeking that one form of relief. It may seem your addiction is impossible to overcome, but if you give your mind a healthier option, a real option, it will always take it.
Above all, be patient, stay committed to your practices and in the end, that is all you will need to be successful on this journey.