“It’s closer to me than my breath,” a friend shared with me this morning. He wasn’t referring to the love he has for his fiancée, his creative writer’s muse, the passion he has for his work, the adoration he feels for his children. No; none of these. What then, what was it, this entity so viscerally embedded in his being, entwined like festive garlands in the helixes of his DNA, in the pulse in his veins, something more profoundly affecting than the very air in his lungs?
The emotional experience my friend was referring to was the desire to drink and use, an experience which any addict or alcoholic can tell you makes what Linda Blair’s famously demon-raddled character endured in “The Exorcist” seem like a walk in a rather charming park.
“In those moments,” he continued, “there is no girlfriend, there are no kids, there is no job, there is no writing, no sponsees, no sponsor, no tomorrow no nothing. It’s all there is.” An immediate electric fibrillation of frosty recognition flashed down my spine, hovering stuck for a split second in a fearful choked bubble at the back of my throat. I knew with all too well-hewn familiarity what he was talking about: those times when my alcoholism has me obsessed with the “Exit” sign above the door of my sobriety, when it reduces my wonderfully expansive, meaningful, richly colorful life down to an unbearably agonizing pinprick where the looped and loopy-making soundtrack is a relentless ear-bleed yammer of “want, need, NOW”.
Then, in his next breath, my friend spoke of his gratitude – an appreciation of such profound breadth and depth that it transcends words – that hellish though this deathly dance is, that thank God (of his understanding), he is now equipped with the recovery and sobriety-maintenance tools afforded him by working the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Again, as he spoke that immediate somatic drenching of familiarity came to me – but this time the sensation was one of full-body relief, a radiating “ahhhh” sound vibrating through those previous shards of silent, patiently hibernating relapse, melting those eel-like squirming fear-slivers on impact, mercifully resetting the prescription in my perspective’s lens to sane and sober. Easily done? Well, “easy” is relative; at times I can certainly say it’s easier than others to work my Program and stop my spaceship crashing fatally to earth. It’s a daily practice and within that 24 hours sometimes a micro-process which by necessity has me use the tools on a second to second basis.
I’m also hugely grateful that when my alcoholic simian does pop up, chattering and frothing on my shoulder, that I have an adult brain to approach it with; my rational thought and behavior processor, the pre-frontal cortex, has been fully-developed for over two decades now. Working with teenagers, I always make an effort to be mindful that their neuro-defense attorney in addiction-negotiations is not Pre-Frontal Cortex Esquire, but rather Amygdala Esquire: the emotional, impulsive, instinct-driven part of our gray matter.
Does this mean that neurologically that teenagers are at a significant disadvantage to adults when trying to get and remain sober? On paper, it might seem so – but in actuality, not so much.
Please read Part Two of this post to find out why – and how adult readers, whether in recovery or “normie,” can learn from teenager brain and mind.
Jo Bainbridge MFTi07272 is a Primary Therapist and the Marketing Manager at Destinations To Recovery, a boutique six-bed dual-diagnosis treatment center for teens in the Topanga Mountains, Southern California.
Jo welcomes your comments and questions and can be reached at [email protected]