Have you ever been in a dangerous situation where you had a fight-or-flight reaction? Suddenly, some force beyond your logical mind takes over and gives you tremendous energy and strength to lead you to safety.
I recently reviewed a wonderful article from a colleague in Toronto who counsels addicts. He explains that this fight-or-flight reaction is coming from the midbrain, whereas the ability to think logically or on an abstract level, to appreciate spirituality, art or music, comes from another center of the brain called the prefrontal cortex.
It is the midbrain that becomes addicted. This means that in trigger situations, the addict’s midbrain will demand with all its strength—with the same might that made you flee for safety—that the addict take the substance. All resolve is ripped away when the midbrain becomes triggered. That is why the addict will often feel afterwards, “I can’t believe that I just did that.” The “I” is the person, while “that” is the midbrain response.
(You’ve experienced something similar if you’ve ever been on a diet and suddenly felt an impossible craving. Suddenly, several huge slices of the forbidden chocolate cake disappeared—eaten by you—before you could even think and stop yourself!)
In treatment, the addict needs to learn how to give the midbrain equal or better emotional and spiritual replacements than the addiction it seeks.
After reading this, I had two thoughts:
- We can never “judge” an addict, or what he is going through, since we do not experience the powerful tug of his midbrain.
- Many of us, too, have smaller forms of addiction. When we experience stress, worry or fear, we also go to our addictions. Our “addictions” can take the form of comfort eating, excessive shopping, gossiping, shouting, melancholy, or any other unhealthy response or activity.
This week we greet the new month of Elul. This is the month immediately prior to the new year, and demands stocktaking and introspection. It is also the month that has the acronym ani ledodi vedodi li, “I am to My beloved and My beloved is to me.” G‑d is closest to us; He beckons us and asks us to come close to Him.
There is no better time than now to introduce positive change into our lives—to reflect on all those negative addictions, all those reactions and unhealthy choices that we automatically and so easily steer to without any mindful thinking. It is time to replace those tendencies with a schedule that is saturated with more positive, nurturing spirituality.
None of us should be judged for our natural tendencies, however negative. But we also are not free from doing the hard work of freeing ourselves from our addictions and reaching a state where our actions are in tune with where we strive to be.
This month, we have the added advantage of G‑d reaching out to us and extending a helping hand.
Let’s grab it.