Changing My Brain Chemistry

Changing My Brain Chemistry

Our White Book says, “We saw that our problem was threefold: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Healing had to come about in all three” (SA 204). I have found it helpful to think of four areas: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

I spent six years trying to manage my sexaholism in another fellowship. Fellows and sponsors did not see my sex problems as a real disease. Alcohol was the real problem, the ‘sex stuff’ was no big deal. I thought, You don’t get it; this stuff is killing me. I could not stop and in desperation came to SA, my last chance.

Finally, I met people who understood. I was taught about lust and came to understand that to stop my behaviors I had to surrender my inner fantasy and obsession—get clean inside and out. I knew I was very sick and believed I had a severe mental illness (mental and emotional), not clinically recognized at that time. I knew I was spiritually sick because all my beliefs, faith, and prayers had achieved nothing. But I still had a voice telling me that this “wasn’t a proper addiction” and was less of an issue than substance addictions.

The AA Big Book (Doctor’s Opinion) talks about “the body of the alcoholic being quite as abnormal as his mind” and not being satisfied to be told that we could not control our drinking just because we were maladjusted to life, etc. This was me with lust. As I sobered up, I could see my extreme sensitivity to lust triggers, how my mind would be flooded by an image and my whole body would activate in seconds and start craving more. There was something physically different. What was it?

By God’s grace I had studied neurology years before. I could see in myself how thousands of sessions of acting out created neural superhighways in my brain. The neurons change (potentiate) as they are used over and over again, increasing release of neurotransmitters and receptors becoming more numerous and sensitive, until there is a cascade effect. Thousands of programmed triggers could each send these neurotransmitters crashing through my brain—a mental obsession. But it’s far worse. A hugely powerful natural system (the sexual system) is hijacked, and hormones are released in the body, not in response to natural sexual stimuli but for unnatural purposes—in response to images, inner emotional states, etc. SA 33 describes them.

My body changes over time just as my brain does, oversensitive to adrenaline, testosterone, etc., and the phenomenon of craving occurs when it is activated this way. Physically, I’m just as abnormal as any substance abuser. I’m addicted to my own body chemicals, which I have trained my body to abuse. I activate them myself—I do not need an external substance to activate them. I understood that my whole being was extremely ill.

Add in an emotional age of about seven, significant emotional and social poverty from my childhood, and masturbation being my only coping mechanism for my emotions, and it’s no surprise I couldn’t stop. It wasn’t working, the game was up, I couldn’t stop and all I could see was a short, bleak future of acting out into insanity and death. But I’m here, sharing with you. Impossible! What happened?

It started at the core—spiritual. I had no power to stop. My channel to God was blocked up with my disease. I realized all my so-called knowledge of God was distorted; I knew nothing. I cried out “whoever you are, whatever you are, please help me.” On my knees. Dropping everything I thought I knew. One day at a time, something happened. God did not take away the pain, but one day at a time gave me the strength to stay sober, even when I thought I would die without my drug. This was in the context of using the SA program God had given me—doing what was suggested to the best of my ability—meetings, sponsor, Steps, phone calls, conventions, service. I had to surrender all lust and all of me to God. I was scared about what lay ahead, but more scared of continuing in the disease.

Mentally, my scrambled thoughts started getting replaced by direction from sponsors and trusted program friends, program slogans, and then the Steps. Wonderful Steps that taught me how to live and interact with the world. They are now my mental framework for how to live my life one day at a time. These new, healthy thoughts must be translated immediately into action—I get well by taking action, not by thinking.

Applying the Steps over and over started to heal my damaged emotions and allowed me to start the painful but necessary process of growing up. Which is, of course, a work in progress. I love Step Ten. “Whenever I’m disturbed, there is something wrong with me” (Twelve & Twelve 90). Used over and over, it is a vehicle for never-ending growth. Then mental, emotional, and spiritual healing comes about through Step Eleven—“more God, less me.” In Step Twelve, I have gradually surrendered all areas of my life to this spiritual program. I’m becoming less self-centered and looking for ways to be effective in passing on the wonderful gift of recovery given to me.

Physically, not feeding the neural and hormonal superhighways led to a phase of withdrawal—insomnia, anxiety, waves of craving, mood swings, irritability, etc. Gradually, I’m finding progressive victory over lust and not feeding these highways. They’ve gone into remission and my thoughts/feelings go down new neural channels. But I know they are still there—if I don’t surrender a trigger quickly, the unnatural and painful activation of mind and body starts to occur. My need for God has never been greater, because without God one day I will be overwhelmed and slip into my old delusional thinking and insanity. Fortunately, God is absolutely wonderful and always available.

The intense physical sensations of lust have been replaced at the core by a more satisfying, deeply nourishing flow of life from my God. I also have some healthy behaviors in my life instead of constantly acting out – walking in nature, caring for my home, wife and dog, listening to the radio, talking with friends in and out of the Fellowship and lots more. All the ‘normal stuff’ that my disease prevented me from connecting with.

SA’s beautiful sobriety definition puts my sexuality into a healthy context. It allows my sexuality to be a gift to the woman with whom I am sharing my life, one day at a time, until death do us part. It keeps it that simple, for me, alongside progressive victory over lust. It was what I always wanted and aspired to.

I never really wanted all the endless masturbation and images, acting out, self-loathing, spiritual disintegration, etc., but in the end I had it for keeps, until God gave me one last chance through SA and I took His hand.

Mike B., Cardiff, UK

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