“You’ve got to know when to hold them. Know when to fold them. Know when to walk away, and know when to run.” — Lyrics by Don Schlitz, 1976
Used to be, I enjoyed risks. The higher the stakes, the bigger and better the adrenaline rush. The bigger and better the adrenaline rush, the higher the enjoyment. It was the perfect cocktail: risk plus adrenaline = fun.
And thus, the pleasure center in my brain got used to a healthy dose of thrill-seeking adventures.
In my youth, I enjoyed the dopamine surges provided by outdoor water sports. A perfect day would be one sailing a sunfish or butterfly with eight-mile-an-hour gusts, screaming in close to shore then jibing at the last minute. They were the days of whitewater kayak trips and scouting the waterfalls for the perfect tongue of water that would deliver me to an upright position at the bottom of the drop.
The internal tension I experienced through such sport was well and good for a healthy number of adolescent years, as the pleasures I sought were fundamentally wholesome. If I sought bigger rivers with bigger drops as a way to satisfy my desires, the only consequences I felt in carrying out these experiences was perhaps in the time and effort I invested to access them.
Then I found alcohol and other mind-altering substances. Same reward center of the brain, different key to unlock it. No longer did risk-taking and thrills smack of wilderness adventures and venturing with friends to bucolic spots on the globe. Instead, my brain’s reward system became accustomed to substance-induced activation. I replaced sailing with Stolichnaya, and kayaking with cocaine. While I was no longer susceptible to getting caught in a sweeper in the middle of a river, or being captured by the grips of a roller at the bottom of a waterfall, I was caught in a much more dangerous sport. A sport with significantly higher stakes, and a one-way trajectory.
In time, the risks of my substance abuse outweighed the benefits – health, employment, friendships and family all became bruised and battered by daily imbibing. And there was no “high” that could recapture the feelings and euphoria experienced during the days of relative innocence.
Twenty-seven years into recovery, my thrills are much more subdued. I try to indulge daily in a bath of mindfulness, wobble with the challenge offered in eagle pose, and thrill at the prospect of our adult children coming home to visit. I can get a rise out of watching a blue heron fish, thrill at the sight of a pileated woodpecker, and become giddy with excitement at the prospect of a good jazz concert.
I know the allure of addiction and the many masks it can wear — alcoholism, video-gaming, eating, smoking, gambling — these are but a few. This month’s issue of The Phoenix Spirit focuses on treatment centers and Recovery Month. Please read through the articles in this issue and share them with people you know.
The thrill starts out the same with all addictions — the pleasure center lights up and dances with joy. The problem is, over time, our brain stops telling us that the music has stopped and it’s time to go home.
Addiction – any addiction – is a high stakes game. The quality of our lives and those we love is what’s on the table.
Back in the late 90s my fiancé and I took a gamble that turned out. We moved here from Madison, WI, myself in early recovery, my husband fresh out of grad school. Personally, I was drawn to the Twin Cities as I knew it was a mecca for recovery, and while house hunting here I ran across a copy of The Phoenix.
Within months of moving here I started freelance writing for the paper, then years later became editor and publisher. Over these 20 years I’ve been involved in The Phoenix I’ve been graced and humbled by the many people I’ve worked with and encountered. Each one a different gem that’s added color and depth to my life’s journey. I feel so honored to have been part of The Phoenix, and I thank the readers, advertisers, writers, and advertising guru David Goldstein, and new (year-old really!) owners of the paper Aaron and Jen Shepherd, for carrying on the mission of this paper – to offer hope and inspiration. I am taking a gamble of my own as I let go of editing The Phoenix after all these years. But I let go with love as I throw myself wholeheartedly into another adventure in life. The risk is that I will miss this mission in my life immensely. But I let go with now with honor and pride in knowing the paper and its readers are in great hands.
Julia Edelman, Editor of The Phoenix Spirit. We will sorely miss her.