Monday, March 21, 2011

Automatic vs. Rational - Powerless Over Alcohol

We have a slew of reactions that we cannot control.  Our salivary glands pump into overdrive at the sight of food, and our hypothalamus starts to react by pumping some dopamine into our brains.  We get excited and eager and ready to eat, and before we know it, we've consumed the piece of cake we saw in the bakery window and feel guilty about it, and swear that, next time, we won't do the same, and that, furthermore, we just ate that cake because we worked out earlier in the day anyway--besides, it wasn't that big of a piece, and we don't to justify our behavior.

What we've done by inserting those reasons of course is a justification, no matter how pugilistic and aggressive we might feel about them.   We mostly feel and then sweep in to justify what we felt , rather than the other way around.  That's interesting to me, because I like to believe that I'm rationally controlling my own life.  It just isn't true, not completely.  Not without spending time to push back against instincts all of the time (i.e. spending time to push back against instincts)--in fact, one study linked the amount of patience or delayed gratification 4 year olds had regarding marshmallows placed in front of them was correlated with the status of the college they subsequently attended.  What we've got is a slew of reactions--a slow moving bulldozer if you will--that just do, and are very hard to condition, and a "rider" or thinker on top of those reactions that likes to tell stories.

When AA tells us that we're powerless over alcohol, they're right and terribly wrong.  They're right because we've become so accustomed to alcohol that it is an automatic response to many of life's circumstances and that response is very hard to change.  They're wrong--terribly wrong--because we aren't powerless at all to change it; but to change it there are costs and change requires hard work. Eventually, though, the payoff is that change requires less and less hard work after we shift our "bulldozer" selves into a different path. 

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