I was having a conversation with David Green the other day – we were discussing the things I might get involved in now that I live in Grand Rapids. He mentioned the symphony and I said, “Perhaps this sounds cretinous, but I hate the symphony.” Then I paused and said, “Wait a minute, maybe I don’t hate the symphony. I haven’t been to a concert hall since I got sober. When I was drinking, I’d have a buzz before the music started, at intermission I’d drink more and by the second act I was sleepy and bored and muttering snide comments to the decidedly annoyed strangers in the seats around me…”
David said, “And wanting to get out of there so you could party more?”
Bingo. The fact is, in the late stages of my alcoholism I didn’t enjoy anything. I had no interests at all except the next swig of chardonnay, and even that did not give me any real pleasure.
Why Does Addiction Narrow Our Pathways to Pleasure?
Once addiction sets in, drugs and alcohol increase a person’s sense of what is a “reward,” so that the “smaller pleasures” in life, like a long walk, or a good book or Wagner’s Symphony in C Major fall flat.
In their excellent article “One Track Mind” Alta Mira Recovery says, “That’s where drugs, alcohol, or other addictive substances come in. They heighten the rewards. The problem is that this alters the chemistry of the brain in a few important ways. Not only does it make the times when you don’t have the high worse, but it also makes it harder for “lesser” pleasures–those not chemically designed to release dopamine–to trigger the same reactions. Addiction has now colonized your brain, and controls the “Reward” System. It doesn’t want to let anything else in.”
During the scope of addiction, drugs and alcohol become increasingly important. All the things that make us who we are become compromised: family, career, hobbies and physical activities. The stripping away of interests changes vibrant, fascinating people into one-dimensional cyphers. How sad.
As I go forward, almost three years sober, I am amazed every day by the widening of my path. The limitless options and my fresh look at old interests (I took up sober billiards last week…) have me rethinking what actually brings me pleasure. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
That is as good a definition of recovery as any I have heard.
And I’ve always kind of liked Wagner…