I read Marc Lewis’ book The Biology of Desire when I was 8 months sober. It was the last of many books that I read that year on the topic of addiction and recovery. One of the interesting things about Marc’s book was that unlike the other books I had been reading it did not help me stop drinking, or inspire me to stay sober, but rather explained the awesome, unexpected growth that I was experiencing in recovery. It explained why my recovery felt quite a bit more like an adventure than a chore. Not recovery – discovery!
The Biology of Desire examines how our brains can evolve and change if we break the isolation of addiction by reaching out creatively to evolve. It offers positive reflections of the experience that people can have by connecting with generosity of spirit rather than retreating in resentment when they stop using drugs and alcohol to numb out.
As I read the book, rather than imagining the possibility of what Marc was describing, I recognized my experience in his words. I responded YES! That is exactly what’s happening right now! My brain was growing and evolving as I wrote my way sober in a creative community, and Marc explained why through the science of neuroplasticity.
I was thinking about Marc Lewis’s book and neural pathways recently while driving around Lisbon today.
Lisbon is an ancient European city built on seven hills long before cars were even imagined.
The streets in the old city are
a tangled maze of one-ways and dead ends leading up and down and back to nowhere.
Even in the modern areas surrounding the old city you can get lost for hours if you take a wrong turn.
Getting around Lisbon before GPS meant memorizing routes and turning on your mental auto pilot.
Something that I am very good at 🙂
Following the deeply embeded neural pathways in my easily addicted brain.
I’ve been happily driving too fast and as far as my imagination could take me since I was 15, but when I moved to Lisbon it
was six full months before I was brave enough to start feeling my way around this ancient city in a car.
Fast forward 24 years and I usually do
a better job of figuring out how to get where we’re going then my husband who was born here. Once those routes are embedded in my brain I follow them easily and automatically. But I’m also flexible within the framework.
Just this morning I figured out an alternate route to taking the kids to school that cuts 15 minutes off the trip. My husband refuses to take it.
My husband does not trust alternate routes.
I thrive on them .
As easily as habitual routes embed in my brain, I’m flexible as well, and I think that all goes back to the environment I grew up in. The environment where I learned how to think.
I grew up in the United States during an era of heady freedom and independent thought.
My husband grew up in a fascist
In 1974, while I passed my adolescence skating to disco music at a roller rink in southeastern Michigan, my husband who was then 16, was celebrating the peaceful overthrow of the last dictatorship in Western Europe.
As a child growing up in Alvaro Salazar’s Portugal, my husband had learned that there was one way to do things.
A right way.
And no matter how many books my husband reads, and how many different countries he visits, no matter how many international friends
he makes, there will always be that core in him of rigidity.
The core of rigidity embedded in a childhood lived in a fascist dictatorship, where there was one accepted way to do things, and taking alternate routes, indulging in flexible thought, was punished.
As a woman who was a child at the same time in the United States, I am my husband’s opposite. I am endlessly trying alternate routes. I am flexible to a fault.
I have found since I hit my last rock bottom and stopped drinking five years ago, that my ability to think flexibly has served me well.
Searching and learning and finding alternate
routes until I reach the place I want to be.
If you have the ability to learn a behavior that becomes an addiction you have the ability to change that behavior.
It’s all about how you train your brain.
How did Alvaro Salazar keep the Portuguese people under his Power while the rest of Europe overthrew their dictators one by one in the mid-twentieth century?
He denied them education and ROADS.
Almost twenty years after the bloodless revolution in Portugal, when I moved to Lisbon in 1993, there was one major expressway running North/South for about 2/3 of the length of the
Most travel was still done on National roads where if you got stuck behind an orange truck you could spend hours
Many of the parents of my husband’s generation had zero education.
Not even primary school.
Most of them never left this tiny country even to go to Spain. They didn’t drive. They never owned a car.
They ” knew” the world through the glossy “reality” of their television and the teachings of the Roman Catholic church.
Salazar kept the people trapped by denying them the tools to develop alternative routes.
Finding alternate routes to recovery from addiction. One unique individual at a time. That’s what we’re trying to do here.
It’s all about freedom.
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How do you go Sober?
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