Our unconscious instincts are waaaaaay faster than our conscious intentions. To overcome our slow reaction times, we may choose to practice, practice, practice a behavior until, eventually, it becomes unconsciously automated.
We gain efficiency and reduce awkwardness when we get our slow, self-conscious thought processes out of the way. We do this when learning to drive a car, dance, adeptly play sports and/or musical instruments, or when learning to type, use 10-key-touch on a calculator, and, more recently, to communicate with our thumbs on the tiny flat screens of our smart-phones.
Behaviors induced by emotional wants, rather than physiological needs, are neither urgent nor desperate. We could give conscious thought to these present-tense behaviors if we chose to do so; however, most of us allow our attention to follow random events that trigger a past-oriented memory or a future-oriented imagination.
We routinely reassign voluntary behaviors, which have little to do with survival concerns, to be performed without thought by the part of our mind designed to handle critical, life-saving situations. What could go wrong?
By the same means that great performers efficiently automate their actions to a level of instinctive expertise, automatic actions also come into play when making a cocktail after work, picking up a cigarette when the phone rings, or eating from boredom (rather than hunger). Using chemical substances (whether internally produced or externally made) to modify our moods can lead to a dependency on that chemical to feel normal.
Addicts turn their want for a pleasing internal chemistry into a need. In such cases, the body physiologically works to maintain the altered chemistry as the body’s new norm. At this point, we can no longer trust our instincts to protect our health.
Illness, chronic pain, inebriation, dopamine or serotonin imbalances, food sensitivities and drug addictions are among the conditions that can affect the electro-chemical/emotional system that drives the actions of our physical body. Such conditions also diminish the clarity of our thoughts and/or affect the kinds of thoughts we entertain. Certain thoughts, sexual fantasies for example, can, in turn, powerfully affect our chemical hormones and trigger bodily reactions, creating a feedback loop. Feedback is recursive, therefore this tendency can become automated.
Affinity for certain bio-chemicals can compel us to think certain thoughts or engage in behaviors that ramp up the production of those chemicals. For instance, adrenaline junkies may choose horror films for entertainment, risk injury in extreme sports, or engage in extramarital affairs because the fear of getting caught produces adrenaline which increases the sexual excitement.
The addiction to self-produced bio-chemicals, like other addictions, operates at the level of I Need; therefore, it is unconsciously automated. Reasonable conscious thought processes cannot intervene.
Chemically imbalanced people can have distorted realities, irrational thoughts and counterproductive, self-destructive behaviors. If an addict’s I Need substance is unavailable, or the current dose is insufficient to maintain the desired state, panic and despair ensue. Detoxification becomes dreadful. Intoxication addicts believe that the pain of detoxification is remedied only by what they perceive as the pleasure of retoxifying their abused bodies.
Sometimes what we feel will “get us back to normal” is the very thing that robs us of our life-saving vitality, disrupts the delicate communication between our cells and body, and hijacks our uniquely human gift of intentional creativity.
Recovery from addiction entails rescuing our personal power and conscious intentionality from the grip of chemically induced impulses. To do this we must slow down our reactions to triggers. What has become an unconscious Instinctual Need must slow to a semi-conscious Impulsive Want, and eventually creep at a pace slow enough to allow our conscious Intentional Capacity to intervene.
When our reactions have slowed enough to allow for conscious intervention, we can choose to override our destructive habits with fresh, intentional habits that support our highest ideals. We can congregate with people who are seeking healthy lifestyles and avoiding dangerous mood-altering substances. We can shop around the perimeter of the grocery store for fresh food rather than down the junk food aisles. We can exercise and drink pure water. We can walk barefoot on the grass. We can observe nature, other people and ourselves. We can simply BE present with what is.
When asked, the majority of us will say that we don’t know what we want, but we do know what we don’t want. We do not want an emotional imbalance to keep punctuating our peace of mind.
Even if we mentally desire a specific change, our intentional behaviors have a hard time competing with our instincts and impulses.
We must first inactivate inhibitors we may have been unconsciously reinforcing. Only then can we establish new strategies, so that our questions deliver the answers we seek, and our actions fulfill our soul’s purpose.