I was just 16 yrs old when my mother died.
As a response to this traumatic event I looked to something that would, as my Dad said “Take my mind off it…”.
I threw myself into a new discipline of lifting weights.
I loved the sound of the metal plates clinking together as I pushed them above my head.
To me, it was the sound of freedom.
Freedom from the unbearable pain no young boy should ever experience.
Little did I know I was clinging to my new ‘drug’ of choice to sooth my broken heart.
Wrapping my hands around that cold metal bar released a torrent of natural opiates which coursed through the chaos of my mind….making it all seem better.
Why are opiates so powerful and what do they do?
Pain relieving opiates function in our internal brain chemistry called the endorphin system.
Endorphins are our naturally occurring opiates and they have three main functions in life so we can:
- Block physical and emotional pain.
- Experience pleasure and reward.
- Facilitate the experience of love, in particular, the attachment. relationship between mother and infant.
Endorphins give us these three qualities for without, life is unliveable.
The opiate addict lives with too much pain and not enough love or reward in their life.
In his exquisite expose In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, author and GP, Gabor Mate, describes his intersection with the lives of countless drug addicts.
“The first time I took heroin it felt like a warm soft hug” one of his patients casually offers.
If your brain, when young, was deprived of the conditions which promoted the healthy development of the endorphin system – you are a sitting duck for addition, he says.
With opiate addiction – painkillers, heroin, codeine, morphine – people feel ‘normal’ for the first time in their life – rightly or wrongly, it makes them human.
And everyone has the right to feel human.
So how do you break the addition?
We find love, pain relief and reward/connection from other healthier forms.
It’s not about stopping the behaviour, its about new and healthier ways of having those needs met.
And it happens over time with lots of patience, love and support.
Yet our current treatment for addicts is to punish them, lock them up and exclude them.
We think that depriving them of what they really need shocks them bolt upright into abstinence.
This treatment doesn’t work because it doesn’t address the root cause.
So how did I turn out?
I no longer lift weights as if my life depends on it, but that sound of freedom is music to my ears.