“Everything that kills me…”

makes me feel ALIVE.” The first time I heard ‘Counting Stars‘, written by One Republic guitarist Ryan Tedder, I realized I wasn’t alone. While all art is subject to individual interpretation, in my mind this song translated an understanding of my love/hate relationship with my rampant side and I was grateful to have it spun into song form. It’s my belief that if you’ve got something going on it can safely be assumed that others have it going on as well. However, they may be unable to express it, so if you are one of the ones who don’t mind conveying snapshots of your inner workings to others, you should. Actually it’s not even a matter of choice; you’re either called to it or you’re not, and if you are called to it and don’t do it, there is a level of unrest that goes on within until you step up and speak up. This doesn’t mean you will never be told to shut up, because most likely you will. Perhaps I should also insert here that if you’ve been called, it will be essential to develop a tough outer skin.

I have always felt that the upside of my awareness that there are areas in which I’m a bit fucked up is that I have a greater understanding and compassion for the idiosyncrasies of others. My highest desire is to find the common ground with another. If you’ve never found yourself in the midst of a situation where you’ve done or over-done something to the point of recklessness, exhibiting the type of bad judgment that may have outwardly indicated a complete disregard for the reverence of your life (and possibly those lives unfortunate enough to be entangled in yours in these less than stellar moments) you may not understand this post. There was a time I would have thought that put you at an intellectual advantage to myself- this ability to not become carried away, but I no longer adhere to such limiting beliefs. It didn’t serve me to think that one life experience should be compared to another or assessed in terms of good or bad or who got the “shorter end of the stick” in this lifetime, for the simple reasoning that I believe we experience what we are individually meant to for reasons we may not be aware of at the time, but will serve some higher purpose later on. I believe we actually chose these experiences ahead of time, but that may seem too woo woo for some to consider at this point, so I’ll just stay on topic… This is not to say that we should ever shirk responsibility in becoming accountable for the errors of our ways. It simply means that there’s no profit in beating up on ourselves for our mistakes, only to proceed in continuing them out of the self-defeating belief that we’re lesser than. Instead, we need to face the issue head-on, own up to every humiliating aspect with NO rationalizations, (oh how difficult that one once was for me. We’re talking eyes-watering-deep-breaths-to-keep-my-mouth-shut, difficult) take care of any damages left in our wake to the best of our abilities, learn, and move forward. Ideally, moving forward includes taking an honest look at what drives you to do things that a higher part of your being is dead set against you doing, but you keep doing anyway. If you are a person who feels the most alive when you’re doing things that excite you in the moment, yet have the potential to kill you, or at the very least, humiliate you later, I. GET. YOU. I’m that person too. But there’s hope for us yet. Before you get scared and stop reading this out of a fear that I’m going to suggest you give anything up- –relax and stay put. The “you could give it up if you just had enough willpower” reasoning does not work well on people with our particular brand of thought processing. Obviously, I have learned this the hard way. So no, I’m not telling you to give anything up. Nothing. You’re the only one who could ever make that decision for yourself anyway, so it’d be a waste of my time. Go ahead and breathe again. This is not about willpower and self-control. It’s about science.

Through her brain imaging studies and research, psychiatrist and current director at The National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora Volkow, is aiming to change the way the world looks at drug addiction. This insight into the brain can benefit all of us, and especially those of us who suffer from ANY type of addictive or comfort-seeking, intensity-hungering behavior. (Eating that 3rd sandwich when you know you’re not hungry, buying more clothes you don’t need or may not even wear, spending money you don’t have at the local casino, risking personal harm or humiliation with thrill-seeking bouts of poor judgment (my personal row to hoe) …ring a bell?)

For those interested in Volkow’s research, read this snippet from Wikipedia: (if not, skip to next paragraph)

 “Volkow has shown that abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex of addicts create a feeling of need or craving that addicts know is irrational but find it difficult to prevent. Prefrontal abnormalities also make it difficult to override compulsions to take drugs by exercising cognitive control. The main areas affected are the orbitofrontal cortex, which maintains attention to goals, and the anterior cingulate cortex, that mediates the capacity to monitor and select action plans. Both areas receive stimulation from dopamine centers lower in the brain. A steady influx of dopamine makes it difficult for addicts to shift their attention away from the goal of attaining drugs. It also fastens their attention to the motivational value of drugs, even though these drugs have long stopped providing pleasure. It is now understood that dopamine activation does not signal pleasure. Rather, it signals the importance or relevance of sought-after goals. Volkow’s work suggests that addicts have difficulty turning their attention and actions away from the goal of acquiring and consuming drugs. They are caught, she states, in a vicious circle of physical brain changes and the psychological consequences of those changes, leading to further changes.”

I’m very interested in our brains, the effects of dopamine, and how we may utilize this research to better serve us on our journey. But for now, what does any of this have to do with “everything that kills me, makes me feel alive” and you personally? Possibly nothing. Possibly everything. As with all things, it will be decipherable only by yourself and only when you’re truly open to finding answers to questions that you might not yet be ready to ask yourself. The point is, if this is an area you’re challenged in, there is a reason why you do what you do and it is not because you are “lazy or stupid or lacking will-power or dirty or ignorant or disgusting” or any other of the many negative adjectives we use to describe ourselves when we can’t seem to overcome behaviors that threaten our well-being. I believe if we can search for the reason behind the why, we can find the answer as to how, and that is where we start. Note that I said start. I’m not trying to convince you that understanding why will cause you to have a revelation that will result in an instantaneous change within and you’ll be “cured”.  What I am trying to impart is that if you are being led from within to seek answers about yourself- even if it’s just the teeniest-tiniest of whispers that you’re not even sure you’re hearing correctly– you have started your journey and you WILL win the war. But you still have to fight the battles. This means your evolvement of self will not happen without shedding some necessary blood, sweat, and tears. Take it from a person who remembers experiencing those first inklings of understanding as to why she’d once found intensity and intoxication in acts of drunken body-part flashing among friends (and yeah, the being drunk part had much less to do with it than you’d think). The pain you feel when first confronting your reality and darker truths is a rawness that feels like your flesh has been stripped away from your bones. It’s a feeling of being exposed, as if the curtain formerly covering your vulnerability has now been ripped away, leaving you alone in a vast openness- searching for something else to hide behind. But this time you don’t. You sit with the rawness until it heals; leaving you with a thicker skin. Thick enough to help you face the next battle. And knowing you will. Because you CAN. And you ALWAYS COULD. You just didn’t know it yet.

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