The Lizard Brain Addiction Monster
by A. Orange

Somewhere in his essays Emerson observes that the weak point about good resolutions is the fact that, even while we indulge the luxury of framing them, we know in the background of our minds that the task of carrying them into effect will have to be entrusted to the same old incorrigible law-breaker who has so often betrayed us in the past.
Bishop Herbert Hensley Henson, D.D., The Oxford Groups; The Charge Delivered At The Third Quadrennial Visitation Of His Diocese Together With An Introduction, 1933, page 40.


Ah, okay. As Daffy Duck said, "And another thing!"

In the back of my mind, I'm hearing someone ask, "Well, if it wasn't our natural desires warping us, why did we drink destructively? Isn't it insanity to drink until you are so sick that you are dying?" And, obviously, the same goes for taking drugs until you die, or smoking cigarettes until you can't breathe.

Fair question. Let me make a wild guess, and say, "Maybe you wanted to feel good."

I can't help but think you might have wanted to kill the pain, and just relax and feel good. Maybe even feel better, or feel really great.

Gee, how could I guess that one so accurately? I must be psychic or something.

But isn't that just what Bill Wilson said, "our desires warping us?" Nope, not by a long shot. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good. In fact, you are sick and warped if you don't want to feel good.

What goes wrong, what happened to us, is: we got confused about what would make us feel good. Initially, alcohol or drugs, or both, did make us feel good. So we identified the high with the means of getting high. That is a very common problem, one that hits everywhere.

People can get high on many different things. Drugs and alcohol are just some of them. Other people might get high on making love. Sometimes, people stumble into a place where the kundalini energy rises. That means that a fire starts down below, in the loins and at the base of the spine, and it slowly grows and rises up your spine, until you explode. You peak out in a place where there is only one writhing body, with four arms and four legs, and the whole Universe seems to be making love to itself, and there is nothing but total ecstasy, and you are just totally zoned. (It's called Tantric Yoga, and it's a real yoga.)

Or a surfer may catch that perfect wave, and go into ecstasy, and for an instant, time stops, and the world crystallizes, and he is suspended on the edge of the entire Universe, with nothing but himself and the eternal perfect wave, the timeless ocean, the sky, and everything.

Some skiers swear that a mountainside of new powder can do it for them.

When that happens, people make the mistake of confusing the means of getting high with the actual high.1 And of course they want to go back there again, and again, and feel the ecstasy and the oneness with the Universe, again. So the drug or alcohol user thinks, "Well, I'll just take more and more, and stay high forever." The lover thinks, "Well, I'll just become a makeout artist, and have sex forever." The surfer becomes a beach bum and spends years trying to catch the perfect wave again. And the ski bums are doing the same thing, looking for the perfect mountain, the perfect powder, the perfect run... And Dead-Heads spend years following the Grateful Dead, trying to once again get that unbelievable perfect moment when they died and astral projected and plugged into Eternity.

It isn't bad to want to feel good. It isn't wrong to want to get high. We need to get high. We have a real genuine need to get high, just as real as our need for food. If we don't, or can't, get high, we go into depression. It is, sadly, just very harmful to our bodies to use chemicals to change how we feel, to get high. (I say sadly, because it really would be convenient if we really could get high on drugs forever, without the down side.) And it is sad to keep trying the same old thing, again and again, like playing some old worn-out broken record, when it isn't getting us high any more.

People say, "Well, if it happened once, it can happen again." Nope. Not necessarily. We only get those virgin highs once. A "virgin high" is the high you get the first time you take a particular drug. It is often much higher than anything you will ever get from that drug again. Apparently, our bodies can build up a drug tolerance almost instantly.

After that, we can get trapped in situations where we are feeling really bad, but think that something like a drug will make us feel better, that it will kill our pain some more. The odd thing is, in spite of the fact that we use tons of drugs to kill our pains, drugs are actually rotten pain-killers. They really are. Now I know full well that a non-addict can get hit with a fat dose of morphine and feel absolutely no pain at all for a while. But if you keep on using that drug, then it stops working, and won't kill your pain any more. Ah yes, it's called developing a tolerance. You end up still in pain, just feeding a habit. That's really a rotten pain killer. And we all know all about that.

But part of our brain gets confused. It can't seem to learn that what got us high before won't get us high any more. — Actually, let me rephrase that. It can learn, but like a mentally-retarded human, it is very slow. If you smoked and drank and did drugs for ten, twenty or thirty years, then that was a good long time for that slow old base brain to learn that smoke, drink, and drugs feel good, and to develop some really strong associations between those substances and pleasurable feelings. And it just might take a bunch of years to unlearn that stuff. So we get cravings for something that doesn't really make us feel good any more. Stupid, but true.

Look at the cigarette smokers. Most of what they are really doing is just killing, or avoiding, the pain of withdrawal. That, and masking the pain of what tobacco has already done to them. It isn't like they are getting high on the cigarettes or anything. They get a little bit of a rush, but not much of one. They get a little bit of relaxation from a cigarette, for a minute, but not much. Cigarettes actually taste bad, and hurt our throats and lungs, and make us feel bad. Then they make us feel even worse, as we get sicker and sicker. And yet those smokers will smoke those cigarettes until the cigarettes kill them. Four hundred and thirty thousand Americans die from tobacco every year. That is a lot of confusion. The alcoholics and the junkies have no monopoly on the kind of stupidity that makes people continue to feed an addiction even while it is killing them.

What part of our brain could possibly be that stupid? That's easy to answer: Base brain. Base brain is the back, lower part of the brain that attaches directly to the spinal cord. It's right there at the top end of your neck, in the back of your skull. Base brain is the oldest and most primitive part of the brain, speaking in evolutionary terms. Not only do dogs and cats also have that same brain, so do pretty primitive animals like frogs and lizards. (Sorry, I don't mean to insult frogs and lizards. It's just that when we are talking about brains, they don't rate very high on the Einstein scale.) "Lizard brain" is a popular slang term for that old brain.

Curiously, we also have a higher brain just plopped right on top of the base brain. As we evolved and got smarter, we added on more and more brain stuff, still keeping the old brain, and just tacking the new stuff on top of the old brain. The upper and forward part of our brain is so much more advanced that it might as well be someone else, compared to base brain. Sometimes, it is almost like we are two people, a split personality. (Now we really aren't that, a split or multiple personality. "Multiple Personality Disorder" — now properly called "Dissociative Identity Disorder" — is an entirely different thing, where someone's ability to solidify their personality was severely interrupted and so the parts that are normally not fused before age 8, continue to never fuse due to severe, life threatening trauma.) This is more like having two brains, and sometimes they disagree about what is good for us, and what will feel good.

There is a funny split in the human mind between logic and basic drives. Like, logically, a young couple can say that it would be inconvenient for the young woman to get pregnant right now. "We should finish college, and get established in our careers first." But base brain says, "The heck with that noise, reproduce." And so do the hormones. The basic drive is to just have lots of babies anyway. The gut urges are to just have sex and more sex, until she gets pregnant. "What, she still isn't pregnant? Another whole month has gone by, and she still isn't pregnant? What's the matter with you two? Are you going to just goof around until you get eaten by a lion? Reproduce now, while you have the chance! Have sex, and more sex, right now, and more, and more, until you get it right!"

The conflict is really between the higher brain == the prefrontal lobes, and the base brain == the amygdala, or limbic system. The base brain is a wonderful machine, and it is very good at keeping us alive. It is the brain that never sleeps, the brain that remembers to keep us breathing all night long, and the brain that monitors the heart and keeps it going at the correct rate day and night. And the base brain is also the thing that says it is time to eat, and time to reproduce, and base brain says those things quite often, like nearly all of the time.

Everything that a dumb animal needs to survive for millions of years is found in the base brain; ask any frog, turtle, or lizard. Base brains can handle the five basic F's: Feed, Fuck, Fight or Flee, and Feel Good. (Feel good and avoid feeling bad, especially including avoid getting eaten by a big toothy predator, which really feels bad.) But we great apes have grown huge higher parts of the brain, and we have the ability to think in other channels. And sometimes, what the higher brain thinks is the opposite of what the lower brain thinks. We can logically conclude that we will get greater long-term happiness if we refrain, at least for right now, from pregnancy, or overeating, or intoxication, or drug consumption, while base brain thinks just the opposite, "Do it right now." Base brain doesn't understand "tomorrow" very well. Base brain has always demanded instant gratification. "Food now! Sex now! Feel good now!" Base brain is totally incapable of logically thinking about the long-term consequences of drinking, smoking, and drugging. Base brain can't do that any more than the toad or frog in your back yard can solve math problems.


Sam and Kermit
Medieval Christianity liked to explain the conflict between the higher brain and the base brain in terms of angels versus devils, of higher angelic desires versus bad low desires. Those medieval theologians declared that people were half angel and half devil. But I think that biology got a bad rap there: If old base brain had not been extremely good at getting our ancestors to eat and reproduce, then we wouldn't be here at all. Base brain, with all of its basic urges, isn't bad; base brain just isn't terribly intelligent. Again, ask Kermit the Frog.

This base brain / higher brain conflict is still a huge problem when we are dealing with problems like excessive consumption of, or addiction to, drugs and alcohol. In the addict, base brain has come to believe that more drugs and alcohol means more pleasure, and base brain is all for it. And base brain also associates cigarettes, dope and drink with pain-killers, and wants to grab for them at the first sign of hunger, pain, fatigue, or other physical discomfort, or even mental discomfort like nervousness, anxiety, stress, tension, or some other emotional upset. But base brain cannot think logically about the long-term consequences of such consumption; that isn't how base brain works. Base brain just wants its hungers filled right now, period, and its pain killed right now, period.

The only time that base brain is a big help in breaking habits and escaping from addictions is when strong negative feelings have built up, like from getting really sick, being seriously ill and in great pain, nearly dying, as a result of using drugs or alcohol. Then we build up a strong aversion to those things. Otherwise, base brain is all too likely to forget the pain, and just remember the pleasure.

You can even end up in a funny state where, after you have quit, just the smell of alcoholic drinks, like the smell of stale beer, makes you want to barf, because your body remembers what the stuff did to you, how sick it made you for so many years, but you still crave a drink anyway.

Or, after you've quit smoking, just the smell of somebody else's cigarette smoke makes your whole body cringe and rebel, because parts of you clearly remember what that damn stuff did to you, how it nearly killed you, but you still crave a cigarette anyway. Stupid, but true. Now that's one mixed-up system.

A big part of the problem is just what the addiction machinery in the brain really is. Some doctors were once contemplating destroying the addiction center in the brain. That sounds drastic, and it is drastic, but considering how many addicts kill themselves, it would be doing some of them a favor. Just insert some long, thin, wires into the brain, and burn out the brain cells that cause addictions and cravings. But the doctors found out that they couldn't do it. The parts of the brain that cause addiction and cravings are the same parts of the brain that cause us to eat food when we are hungry. That's really deep-seated, basic stuff, and we can't just wipe it out.

Food is our first addiction. We have to get a fix every day, preferably two or three times a day. If we don't get our fix, we start to experience withdrawal symptoms like stomach aches and headaches, and then we develop a snappy short temper, and feel weak and shaky. Then we will start feeling desperate, and start thinking about stealing or mugging someone to get money for a fix. And the longer we go without a food fix, the worse it gets. That sure sounds like a strung-out junkie to me.

Addiction to some other drug is just confusing the base brain about what food we need to eat now. Notice that, after you have quit your addictions, your cravings are always at their worst when you are hungry. The old A.A. warning about being in danger when you are "HALT — hungry, angry, lonely, tired" is true. Old base brain starts saying, "It's time to get a cigarette, or some of that drink or drug, and eat it, because we are hungry." Base brain is obviously confused.



If you are not conscious of all of the different parts of yourself, the part of yourself that is the strongest will win out over the other parts. Its intention will be the one that the personality uses to create its reality.

      == Gary Zukav, Seat of the Soul


You can learn to hear base brain talking to you. It isn't hard, once you get the hang of it. Jack Trimpey calls it "Addictive Voice Recognition Therapy" (AVRT), and describes it in his book Rational Recovery. (Recommended. Good reading.) But AVRT is really just a fancy name for recognizing that dumb base brain jabbering away at you.

We all talk to ourselves most all of the time, without being crazy. It's like when you read something, you can sort of hear your own voice in your mind. We talk to ourselves with our higher brain all of the time, and base brain manages to get in there and talk, too. When base brain tells you to drink or use drugs, Trimpey calls it "The Beast."


Cookie Monster
Copyright © CTW Children's Television Workshop

I developed the habit of calling it "The Addiction Monster" before I ever heard of AVRT. (I think the Addiction Monster is a relative of the Sesame Street Cookie Monster, who seems to be addicted to cookies.3) I just noticed that, whenever I quit smoking or drinking, there was that entity, almost like a different personality, that didn't seem to want to do much except kill the pain and get high all of the time, and it was always urging me to smoke or drink, without much regard for the long-term consequences. It was just always saying things like, "Why don't we sneak outside and smoke a quick one?" or "We've been off of it long enough; we have it under control now. It will be okay to just have one now."

Sometimes, it was like a Walt Disney cartoon, where Donald Duck had a little angel duck on one shoulder, and a little devil duck on the other shoulder, and the little devil was whispering into Donald's ear, "Come on, let's drink and smoke. It will be fun, and feel great! It will make a man out of you, and put hair on your chest!"

At other times, it seemed like I had a little monster, about knee high, who looked just like one of those monsters that the little mad scientist kid Oliver in the cartoon strip Bloom County would pull out of a test tube. The little monster would run around, trying to bite my ankles and make me fall down. The Addiction Monster was always jumping up onto my shoulder, and talking into my ear, and suggesting that we have a smoke or a drink. When I quit both, he really screamed.

And then, sometimes the Addiction Monster seemed like he was seven feet tall, a dark-faced ghoul like the Grim Reaper, dressed in a hooded robe, with burning eyes and a spirit of pure hateful anger, saying, "I don't care what the cost is, or who dies, I want my fix."



Note how the Addiction Monster often uses the word "WE" as in, "We should just have a little one." Not "I should have one," or "You should have one," but "We should have one." Who is "we"? It isn't you and your fleas. It's base brain talking about itself and the rest of the brain; it and you.

That is just a little indication of how that base brain works: It actually sometimes feels like it is a separate being who has to tolerate the higher parts of the brain interfering with what it wants to do, like feed its cravings. Base brain sometimes sees the higher brain like the way a surly horse sees its rider: just an unwanted burden, sitting on its back, making it do things it doesn't want to do, and keeping it from doing the things that it does want to do.

Old lizard brain will scream at you, and order you to eat, smoke, drug, or drink. IF you refuse, and over-ride his orders, then he discovers that you are more powerful than he is, and that he can't just order you around like he's the boss. So base brain will try to talk Higher Brain (you) into drinking or using by carrying on a campaign of persuasion.

  • He will try to outwit you and seduce you into using.
  • Old lizard brain will do everything in its power to convince you that its desires are your desires: You crave a drink or a dose or a smoke, not it. You want to "be free" to indulge in whatever you want, not it.
  • Base brain will make up TV commercials and play them for you in your head, reminding you of how wonderful it was to use or drink, or both... (Which is probably a complete lie: the reason you quit was because you were so sick you were gonna die, right?)
  • Thirsty old frog brain will tell any lie to fool you into indulging. It has no concept of morals... Really. It isn't being immoral, it is amoral. It doesn't even understand anything like morality, or that it might be wrong to lie to you. All it knows is that it wants a drink or a smoke, or dope, or sex, or food, or something... And it will say or do anything to get it.
    Actually, base brain is being very moral, by its own terms. For base brain, the ultimate morality is the essence of life itself: Survive and Reproduce. Feeling good is part of its survival program. Usually, things that make us feel better enhance survival or reproduction: eat, engage in sex, avoid extremes of heat or cold, nurture our young, bathe and get the dirt and the bugs off of our skin, whatever. That is not an evil program; it is basically good. But alas, once base brain learns about how chemicals can push the feel-good buttons in the brain, it is incapable of seeing why we shouldn't just push those buttons all of the time.
  • Base brain will carry on a conversation with you, and tell you how much fun it will be, and how good it will feel, and why it's okay.
  • Base brain will even resort to screaming and pounding on your head.

Fortunately for you, the higher you who is reading this, you are more powerful and more intelligent than base brain. You can over-rule base brain, and make it obey your orders. Base brain won't like it, though, and he won't make it easy. Base brain would like to get rid of you, just like a bad-tempered horse who wants to buck off its rider. But you can still win. You are not powerless. You are not powerless over alcohol, or your addictions, or any of that stuff. Quite the contrary, you are very powerful. You are much more powerful, and much, much smarter than base brain. You can fight the cravings. You can dispute the addictive voice that is alternately begging you and ordering you to drink or smoke or take drugs. And the more you do over-ride the addictive voice, the weaker it becomes, and the stronger you become.

The trick for you, the higher consciousness, is to recognize the little monster at work, irrationally trying to get you to drink or use. It isn't trying to be destructive; it is simply too stupid to be able to see the big picture, like the damage that years of using those drink or drug chemicals will cause. All that the primitive base brain can think is, "It sure would feel great right now." Like Homer Simpson said in one cartoon, "Beer! Now there's a temporary solution!"

If the little voice in your head is rationalizing why it is okay, or it will be okay, to drink or smoke or use drugs, or saying that it will really be fun and feel great, and it won't hurt, then that voice is almost certainly the Addiction Monster at work.

We are no more responsible for the evil thoughts which pass through our minds, than a scarecrow for the birds which fly over the seedplot he has to guard; the sole responsibility in each case is to prevent them from settling.

== Churton Collins

Here are some of the standard lines that base brain, acting as the Addiction Monster, will use to try to get you to use drugs or smoke or drink:

To avoid quitting, Lizard brain argues:

  1. Frankly, I'm not ready to quit just now. [That was Bill Wilson's excuse for never quitting smoking.]
  2. I'm under too much stress to quit right now.
  3. I can't quit now — that binge last night wasn't nearly good enough to be my real final last time ever. My last time has to be really grand.
  4. That can't be the last time. I mean, that drunk wasn't big and grand enough to be the very last time. I need my last time to be something spectacular.
  5. I'll quit later when things are easier, and there isn't so much stress in my life.
  6. My drinking isn't really that bad; I don't need to quit.
  7. I don't have to really quit; maybe just cut down a little.
  8. I don't have to really quit; I just need to reduce the pain a little. Eliminate a few hassles. Simplify. Rearrange my life and make things a little better. Get rid of a few problems.
  9. I am entitled to live however I choose. Who are you to criticize how I live?
  10. If I quit smoking, I will gain weight.
  11. If I quit smoking, I won't have anything to do with my hands.
  12. Quitting is too much bother.
  13. I've smoked for 30 years, and it hasn't killed me yet. My father smoked until he was 80.
  14. That stuff about cigarettes and lung cancer hasn't really been proven. The tests were flawed.
  15. Maybe lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver might get me, but I'm not going to worry about it. I won't let fear ruin my life.
  16. Smoking causes me to always have a lighter in my pocket. If I ever need to build a campfire to save my life, I'll have a lighter handy.
  17. If I quit drinking, all of the fun will be gone out of my life.
  18. If I quit drinking, I won't enjoy any more great parties.
  19. If I quit drinking, my drinking buddies will abandon me.
  20. If I quit drinking, there won't be any more fun Saturdays at the sports bar, downing pitchers with my buddies and cheering for our team.
  21. If I quit drinking, life won't even be worth living.
  22. Everybody deserves to be able to relax once in a while.
  23. Doesn't everybody tie one on now and then?
  24. I suffer from mental illness, so I am entitled to get stoned.
  25. I don't have to quit. Things aren't that bad.
  26. You have no idea how much pressure I'm under. I need to unwind after a hard day on the job.
  27. I have to go out drinking with my clients. Smoozing is a critical part of the job. I'd go broke if I stopped taking them out and getting them loosened up.
  28. Since I'm gonna quit tomorrow, I'm gonna get really loaded tonight. (Thanks, Thor.)
  29. I just don't have the willpower to quit and stay quit, so there is no sense in trying. I'll just fail again.
  30. Oh heck, I've got to keep something. Since I so nobly gave up alcohol (or drugs), I deserve to keep on smoking.
  31. I quit smoking, so I'm entitled to drink.
  32. I quit drinking, so I'm entitled to smoke. [Bill Wilson used that excuse for not quitting smoking, too.]
  33. Anybody can quit smoking, but it takes a real man to die of lung cancer.
  34. I quit smoking, so now I'm entitled to take a few tranquilizers or pain pills.
  35. It would be more stress on my body to quit than to continue doing it. [Thanks for that one and the next, Jeff.]
  36. I'm living proof that you don't need to quit.

But sooner or later, reality intrudes on your life and forces you to quit. And then, after you have quit, Lizard brain argues that just a little drinking or smoking or drugging will be okay after all:

  1. It's been so long since I've had one, I have it under control now.
  2. I can do just one; it will be okay.
  3. It's time to return to normalcy, and be just like everybody else.
    Translation: Go back to drinking just like everybody else. ("I shouldn't have to abstain when they don't.")
  4. I just want one relaxing evening, just like in the good old days.
  5. I can do just a little bit, it won't hurt anything, and it will feel great.
  6. Let's just have one for old times' sake.
  7. Ah, for the good old days, when we could just kick back, and put our feet up, and do whatever we wanted to do.
  8. Ah yes, for the good old days, when we were young and wild and crazy, and didn't give a damn.
  9. Ah yes, the good old days, back before we started this insane routine of self-denial that they are calling recovery.
  10. Screw those people who are trying to keep us from having fun. Who are they to try to run our lives, anyway?
  11. We deserve to have a good time. We've worked so hard for so long, and put up with so much suffering and hardship, we richly deserve some of life's little pleasures right now.
  12. The other guys might think there is something weird about me if I don't have one with them.
  13. I should have a drink with these people. If I refuse to drink, and tell them that I'm an alcoholic, they will all think that I'm weird.
  14. I can't hang out with these guys without also having some, too.
  15. I can't just watch those guys drinking and doping without having some too.
  16. I must have one, now!
  17. Even if it does cause a little damage, I've been off of the stuff for so long that I can afford a little damage now.
  18. I can do a few now without getting readdicted. It will never again have a hold over me like it used to.
  19. Aren't you tired of torturing yourself? Why do you persist in denying yourself life's little pleasures? Why do you persist in putting yourself through all of this pain and all of these cravings? You know you will relapse sooner or later anyway, so why not make it right now, so you can feel good right now?
  20. I can do just a little, and no one will ever know, and it will be okay.
  21. I could go across the river, over to the other side of town, where no one knows me, and get drunk over there, and nobody over here would ever know.
  22. Oh, I don't really have to totally quit. I can just cut down a little bit. Just keep it down to a dull roar. I'll only drink on weekends. Or I'll only have two a night. Or only three a night. Or only four a night. Or I'll only drink stuff that I don't like.
  23. Aren't we really overdoing it just a bit here, with this whole total abstinence thing? I mean, it isn't like just one or two will kill us.
  24. I can't really loosen up and have a good time without a little bit of something...
  25. It's just so unfair that other people can have a good time, and I can't. So I'm going to make things fair.
  26. I'm so tired of all of this, of fighting this battle. I just want to rest, and relax, for a while.
  27. It's all so depressing. I don't even feel like life is worth living. Might as well just get stoned and forget the whole thing.2
  28. I shouldn't be having these cravings. I shouldn't have to suffer from cravings like this. So let's put a stop to them, right now.
  29. Fuck it! Just fuck it! I just want to get high!
  30. Oh well, some experts say that relapsing is a normal part of recovery. I hear that lots of people relapse half a dozen times before they really quit forever. So I still have five relapses to go. It'll be okay...
  31. I feel so stressed out right now, I just need a little hit of something to get me on an even keel.
  32. Ah, for just one grand blow-out, just for tonight...
  33. I just wanna get totally righteously ripped, just one more time.
  34. I just want one more big party, like in the good old days.
  35. I just want a vacation from my pain.
  36. I don't want to insult this guy by not drinking with him. If I only drink with him, then it will be okay. I can't get readdicted that way.
  37. This evening is so boring, might as well have a beer.
  38. We've been doing so good for so long, totally abstaining without any cheating whatsoever, it's time to celebrate.
  39. We've got it under control now. I don't have any cravings any more. I don't even think about drinking any more. That's why it's okay to have one, right now.
  40. Okay, we've succeeded. We've got a year of sobriety. We don't have anything left to prove to anybody. Might as well relax and have one now.
    [That one literally just popped up out of the old Lizard Brain while I was traveling to an A.A. meeting to pick up my one-year sobriety coin.]
  41. Workers of the world, unite! It's Miller Time!
  42. Have a drink just to spite those A.A. assholes and show that you can do it.
  43. God! Would a cigarette feel good right now!
  44. God! Would a tall cold one feel good right now!
  45. All that talk about the bad things that will happen if we relapse is long-term stuff. It isn't relevant for the short term, so we can indulge just for tonight and it will be okay.
  46. Maybe if I went down to Mexico... I could vacation and drink down there, and it wouldn't have anything to do with what happens up here...
  47. This occasion is special. It's okay to drink this one special time. Pass that champagne over here, please.
    [If drinking is okay because it's a "special occasion", then suddenly there sure are a lot of special occasions to celebrate. Eventually every day is a holiday.]
  48. Our team won the championship. Surely I'm entitled to celebrate that.
  49. Our team lost. Surely I'm entitled to comiserate with my friends.
  50. I'm in a lot of pain. A little to take the edge off of the pain will be okay...
    [I find that if being in pain is an acceptable excuse for drinking, then I'm in pain all of the time.]
  51. Don't think! Just grab the drink!
  52. Why Ask Why?
  53. I wanna be free. I wanna get away from here and get to a place where nobody is telling me what to do any more. I just wanna get to a place where I can do whatever I wanna to do.
    [Real meaning: do whatever the Lizard Brain wants to do.]
  54. Now that I'm retired, I don't have to do what anybody else says. I don't have to care what anybody else thinks. I can drink all I want.
  55. Things aren't really as bad as the doctor was saying. I know he was exaggerating, just trying to scare me into quitting, that's all...
  56. But it's free! How can you resist when it's free?
  57. Slips are okay. A little slipping won't hurt. It'll be fun. If everybody else is slipping and lapsing, then why shouldn't we?
  58. Look at those people. They seem to be able to drink and smoke all of the time, and it isn't killing them. So I should be able to do that too...
  59. Just Christmas and New Year's. If I only drink at Christmas and New Year's, then I can't get into trouble with that. That'll be okay. Season's Greetings!
  60. Heck, we're all going to die eventually. In the end, all you'll have to look back on is how much fun you had, or didn't have because you missed out on all of it. So let's have some fun and go out in a blaze of glory.
  61. It's Friday night (or Saturday night), and look at all of those pretty girls out on the street, looking for a party and love in all of the wrong places (and in all of the right places too). If I went and partied with them, I could get laid.
  62. Heck, your parents messed you up so bad emotionally that you'll never be right, so there isn't much you can do except get stoned.
  63. Oh I'm in so much stress right now that I can't stand it. I just need a cigarette and a beer to calm me down.
  64. We can do it (party and get high for one night) because we are strong and smart and we can handle it.
  65. I know, I'll be a wandering Zen monk, a free spirit, detached from it all, free to do anything. I'll be above and beyond the problem.
  66. The system is rigged against us. The rich write the rules so that they stay rich and we stay poor. So all we can do is enjoy life however we can.
  67. Oh heck, it's Friday.
  68. You only live once...
  69. I just want one last big blow-out party, just for the fun of it.
    [That one popped up 3 years after quitting drinking. The obvious answer to that is, "We already had that last party a long time ago..."]
  70. I need a little inspiration. This is a big, important job, and I need to come up with a creative, original concept. So I need a little liquid inspiration to help get the creative juices flowing. It's a tool, after all...
    [That also smacks of "I am entitled to drink because I have so much responsibility resting on my shoulders."]
  71. All of this obsession with "your sobriety", and your being clean and sober, is just selfishness. You are just concerned about yourself. If you were really selfless, you would go down to the bar and have one with the boys to cheer them up.
  72. Life has passed me by, so there is no point in not having a good time now. I've got no future. I've got nothing left to lose.
  73. I just suffered a big loss, so I'm entitled to have a drink.
  74. I just had a huge win, so I'm entitled to have a drink.
  75. My team lost, so I'm entitled to have a drink and drown my sorrows.
  76. My team won, so I'm entitled to celebrate.
  77. Heck, we're in Las Vegas. What happens here, stays here.
  78. We're in New Orleans. It's Mardis Gras. You don't imagine that it's appropriate to stay sober all this week, now do you?
  79. Oh well, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
  80. Don't you want to come home, to the good times again?
  81. It's my birthday, so I'm entitled to celebrate.
  82. Oh heck, we deserve to relax once in a while...
  83. The best times were when we were smoking and drinking. We should go back there again. The best writing was while you were smoking.
  84. I never took that drug much. I was never into that drug, and I never had a problem with that drug, so it's okay if I take that drug now.
  85. You smoked and drank when you were young, so you can return to your youth by smoking and drinking again.
  86. Time to come home...
  87. Okay, so I'm an alcoholic. So what? Might as well have a good time anyway.
  88. It was easy to quit. So I can mess around a little, and have a few now and then, and it will be okay. Even if I do get readdicted, I can just easily quit again.4)
    (Warning: no you can't. Each relapse drains energy out of you, and quitting the second time is several times harder than the first.)
  89. A Working Class Hero: Heck, I'll just be one of the regular guys. I don't have it in me to be one of those puritanical goody-two-shoes who never drink or smoke or indulge in life's little pleasures. It won't be a perfect life, but it will be mine.
  90. I just have to get a job and a room, and get my scene together, then I can drink all I want, and nobody can stop me...
  91. Never again even just one happy drunken party? Totally sober for the rest of my life? That's too much to ask of anyone. Surely we can have a little fun now and then...
  92. You know, I just can't be happy without smoking a cigarette now and then... Remember how happy we were back when...
  93. The doctor wasn't REALLY saying that you should quit drinking or you would die. Maybe he was just sort of saying it. Maybe it's just an expression. I'll bet he says that to everybody, just to get them riled up.
  94. My friend Joe just went back to drinking, so I'm entitled to have at least one with him. After all, I'm still way ahead of him.
  95. I should be comfortable and relaxed all of the time, and I'm not, so I'm going to fix things.
  96. Oh heck, you know you don't have the power to really stay sober for years, so why bother trying?
  97. I need this. I really need this, because I'm so stressed out right now.
  98. I'm not going to officially start smoking again — I just want to smoke one right now.
  99. Oh heck, I'll just smoke one pack and then quit again.
  100. I'll just relax and get high and enjoy tonight, and then quit again tomorrow.
  101. It's the end of the world. We're all going to die. Might as well have one now.
  102. "You have to feed the good dog, and the bad dog," (Thanks for that one, Amy.)
  103. Life is pointless, just a tale told by an idiot, much lightning and thunder signifying nothing, so we might as well get drunk and have a good time.

...And on, and on, and on...

Your base brain may well come up with some new ones that I haven't heard of...

But if you hold out, then the Addictive Voice really will tire, and run down, like a noisy wind-up alarm clock eventually running down.

Eventually. The longer you resist, the easier it gets.



Self Discipline and Patience

"Discipline" is a difficult word for most of us. It conjures up images of somebody standing over you with a stick, telling you that you're wrong. But self-discipline is different. It's the skill of seeing through the hollow shouting of your own impulses and piercing their secret. They have no power over you. It's all a show, a deception. Your urges scream and bluster at you; they cajole; they coax; they threaten; but they really carry no stick at all. You give in out of habit. You give in because you never really bother to look beyond the threat. It is all empty back there. There is only one way to learn this lesson, though. The words on this page won't do it. But look within and watch the stuff coming up — restlessness, anxiety, impatience, pain — just watch it come up and don't get involved. Much to your surprise, it will simply go away. It rises, it passes away. As simple as that. There is another word for self-discipline. It is patience.

— Henepola Gunaratana, "Mindfulness in Plain English" from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book
http://www.tricycle.com/issues/2_156/dailydharma/3174-1.html



We can also sort that list by emotions. Notice how base brain plays on the emotions. It tries to play me like a violin, using the whole spectrum of emotions:

  • NOSTALGIA:
    • Let's just have one for old times' sake.
    • Ah, for the good old days, when we could just kick back, and put our feet up, and do whatever we wanted to do.
    • Ah yes, for the good old days, when we were young and wild and crazy, and didn't give a damn.
    • Ah yes, the good old days, back before we started this insane routine of self-denial that they are calling recovery.
    • It's time to return to normalcy, and be just like everybody else.
      Translation: Go back to drinking just like everybody else. ("I shouldn't have to abstain when they don't.")
    • I just want one more big party, like in the good old days.
    • Don't you want to come home, to the good times again?
    • The best times were when we were smoking and drinking. We should go back there again. The best writing was while you were smoking.
    • You smoked and drank when you were young, so you can return to the glory days of your youth by smoking and drinking again.
    • Time to come home...
    • You know, I just can't be happy without smoking a cigarette now and then... Remember how happy we were back when...

  • ANGER, HOSTILITY, RESENTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND REBELLIOUSNESS:
    • Screw those people who are trying to keep us from having fun. Who are they to try to run our lives, anyway?
    • Have a drink just to spite those A.A. assholes and show that you can do it.
    • I wanna be free. I wanna get away from here and get to a place where nobody is telling me what to do anymore. I just wanna get to a place where I can do what I wanna to do.
    • Fuck it! Just fuck it! I just want to get high!
    • Now that I'm retired, I don't have to do what anybody else says. I don't have to care what anybody else thinks. I can drink all I want.
    • Okay, so I'm an alcoholic. So what? Might as well have a good time anyway.

  • SELF-PITY:
    • I shouldn't be having these cravings. I shouldn't have to suffer from cravings like this. So let's put a stop to them, right now.
    • It's just so unfair that other people can have a good time, and I can't. So I'm going to make things fair.
    • We deserve to have a good time. We've worked so hard for so long, and put up with so much suffering and hardship, we richly deserve some of life's little pleasures right now.
    • Never again even just one happy drunken party? Totally sober for the rest of my life? That's too much to ask of anyone. Surely we can have a little fun now and then...
    • It's all so depressing. I don't even feel like life is worth living. Might as well just get stoned and forget the whole thing.
    • Heck, your parents messed you up so bad emotionally that you'll never be right, so there isn't much you can do except get stoned.
    • The system is rigged against us. The rich write the rules so that they stay rich and we stay poor. So all we can do is enjoy life however we can.
    • Life has passed me by, so there is no point in not having a good time now. I've got no future. I've got nothing left to lose.
    • I just suffered a big loss, so I'm entitled to have a drink.

  • SELF-DOUBT AND DEFEATIST ATTITUDES:
    • Aren't you tired of torturing yourself? Why do you persist in denying yourself life's little pleasures? Why do you persist in putting yourself through all of this pain and all of these cravings? You know you will relapse sooner or later anyway, so why not make it right now, so you can feel good right now?
    • I can't really loosen up and have a good time without a little bit of something...
    • Oh heck, you know you don't have the power to really stay sober for years, so why bother trying?
    • I just don't have the willpower to quit and stay quit, so there is no sense in trying. I'll just fail again.

  • SELF-CONFIDENCE:
    • It's been so long since I've had one, I have it under control now.
    • I can do just one; it will be okay.
    • We've been doing so good for so long, totally abstaining without any cheating whatsoever, it's time to celebrate.
    • We've got it under control now. I don't have any cravings any more. I don't even think about drinking any more. That's why it's okay to have one, right now.
    • Okay, we've succeeded. We've got a year of sobriety. We don't have anything left to prove to anybody. Might as well relax and have one now.
    • I can do a few now without getting readdicted. It will never again have a hold over me like it used to.
    • We can do it (party and get high for one night) because we are strong and smart and we can handle it.
    • It was easy to quit. So I can mess around a little, and have a few now and then, and it will be okay. Even if I do get readdicted, I can just easily quit again.

  • GRANDIOSE, BOMBASTIC, HEROIC ROMANTICISM:
    • Heck, we're all going to die eventually. In the end, all you'll have to look back on is how much fun you had, or didn't have because you missed out on all of it. So let's have some fun and go out in a blaze of glory.
    • Workers of the world, unite! It's Miller Time!
    • Ah, for just one grand blow-out, just for tonight...
    • I know, I'll be a wandering Zen monk, a free spirit, detached from it all, free to do anything. I'll be above and beyond the problem.
    • You only live once...
    • A Working Class Hero: Heck, I'll just be one of the regular guys. I don't have it in me to be one of those puritanical goody-two-shoes who never drink or smoke or indulge in life's little pleasures. It won't be a perfect life, but it will be mine.
    • That can't be the last time. I mean, that drunk wasn't big and grand enough to be the very last time. I need my last time to be something spectacular.

  • BOREDOM:
    • This evening is so boring, might as well have a beer.

  • PLEASURE, LOVE, AND ECSTASY:
    • God! Would a cigarette feel good right now!
    • God! Would a tall cold one feel good right now!
    • It's Friday night (or Saturday night), and look at all of those pretty girls out on the street, looking for a party and love in all of the wrong places (and in all of the right places too). If I went and partied with them, I could get laid.
    • I can do just a little bit, it won't hurt anything, and it will feel great.
    • I just want one relaxing evening, just like in the good old days.
    • I just wanna get totally righteously ripped, just one more time.

  • PARANOIA, INSECURITY, AND FEAR:
    • The other guys might think there is something weird about me if I don't have one with them.
    • Things aren't really as bad as the doctor was saying. I know he was exaggerating, just trying to scare me into quitting, that's all...
    • I could go across the river, over to the other side of town, where no one knows me, and get drunk over there, and nobody over here would ever know.
    • I don't want to insult this guy by not drinking with him. If I only drink with him, then it will be okay. I can't get readdicted that way.
    • I should have a drink with these people. If I refuse to drink, and tell them that I'm an alcoholic, they will all think that I'm weird.
    • I can do just a little, and no one will ever know, and it will be okay.

  • PAIN AND FATIGUE:
    • I'm in a lot of pain. A little to take the edge off of the pain will be okay...
    • I feel so stressed out right now, I just need a little hit to get me on an even keel.
    • I just want a vacation from my pain.
    • I'm so tired of all of this, of fighting this battle. I just want to rest, and relax, for a while.
    • Oh I'm in so much stress right now that I can't stand it. I just need a cigarette and a beer to calm me down.
    • I need this. I really need this, because I'm so stressed out right now.

There just doesn't seem to be a single human emotion that old base brain won't use to try to talk me into using something...

  • And then there is a non-emotional thing that I call BRAIN-DAMAGED LOGIC:
    • Even if it does cause a little damage, I've been off of the stuff for so long that I can afford a little damage now.
    • Maybe if I went down to Mexico... I could vacation and drink down there, and it wouldn't have anything to do with what happens up here...
    • Heck, we're in Las Vegas. What happens here, stays here.
    • We're in New Orleans. It's Mardis Gras. You don't imagine that it's appropriate to stay sober all this week, now do you?
    • Oh well, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
    • This occasion is special. It's okay to drink this one special time. Pass that champagne over here, please.
    • Don't think! Just grab the drink!
    • Why Ask Why?
    • But it's free! How can you resist when it's free?
    • Look at those people. They seem to be able to drink and smoke all of the time, and it isn't killing them. So I should be able to do that too...
    • Slips are okay. A little slipping won't hurt. It'll be fun. If everybody else is slipping and lapsing, then why shouldn't we?
    • Just Christmas and New Year's. If I only drink at Christmas and New Year's, then I can't get into trouble with that. That'll be okay. Season's Greetings!
    • Oh heck, it's Friday.
    • All that talk about the bad things that will happen if we relapse is long-term stuff. It isn't relevant for the short term, so we can indulge just for tonight and it will be okay.
    • All of this obsession with "your sobriety", and your being clean and sober, is just selfishness. You are just concerned about yourself. If you were really selfless, you would go down to the bar and have one with the boys to cheer them up.
    • Oh heck, we deserve to relax once in a while...
    • I need a little inspiration. This is a big, important job, and I need to come up with a creative, original concept. So I need a little liquid inspiration to help get the creative juices flowing. It's a tool, after all...
      (That also smacks of "I am entitled to drink because I have so much responsibility resting on my shoulders.")
    • I never took that drug much. I was never into that drug, and I never had a problem with that drug, so it's okay if I take that drug now.
    • My friend Joe just went back to drinking, so I'm entitled to have at least one with him. After all, I'm still way ahead of him.
    • I should be comfortable and relaxed all of the time, and I'm not, so I'm going to fix things.
    • I'm not going to officially start smoking again — I just want to smoke one right now.
    • Oh heck, I'll just smoke one pack and then quit again.
    • I'll just relax and get high and enjoy tonight, and then quit again tomorrow.

  • And then there is MINIMIZATION AND DENIAL, which is a kind of defective thinking that is in a class of its own:
    • Okay, so I'm an alcoholic. So what? Might as well have a good time anyway.
    • Things aren't really as bad as the doctor was saying. I know he was exaggerating, just trying to scare me into quitting, that's all...
    • The doctor wasn't REALLY saying that you should quit drinking or you would die. Maybe he was just sort of saying it. Maybe it's just an expression. I'll bet he says that to everybody, just to get them riled up.
    • I'm not really sick. Just because my health is shot, I can't remember anything, and I'm unemployed and homeless doesn't mean that I have to quit drinking. It isn't really messing up my life that bad.



I made separate files of just the "Famous Last Words" — thoughts of the Lizard-Brain Addiction Monster — for easy printing. You have your choice of HTML format or plain old ASCII text format.

And you can also print out the list of lizard-thoughts, classified by emotions, in your choice of HTML format or plain old ASCII text format.



Footnotes:

1) The teachings of Baba Ram Dass. I heard Ram Dass talking about the problem of confusing the high with the means of getting high in a lecture he gave in Taos, New Mexico, back in 1969. I don't know if he ever wrote that particular idea down in a book. But he has written some great books. Check them out.

2) That "I'm so depressed, I feel suicidal" routine was beautifully explored in Jack Trimpey's book, Rational Recovery. Trimpey exposed that routine as a mind game that lizard brain plays on the higher brain (i.e., you). In a counselling session, a patient described an earlier relapse where he had been feeling "horribly depressed, even suicidal" until he decided to go buy some alcohol, and then he was suddenly very cheerful and excited as he put his shoes and jacket on, just from thinking about drinking, and expecting to soon get a drink. That isn't clinical depression, that's just the Addiction Monster being unhappy about not being allowed to have a drink.
See:
Rational Recovery     Jack Trimpey
Pocket Books, 1996
ISBN: 0-671-52858-0
Dewey: 362.2918 T831r
See the chapter in the back that contains a transcript of a counselling session.

3) My wife called the Addiction Monster "the Winnie the Pooh thing" — "I just need a little something..." In one of the Winnie the Pooh stories, Pooh-bear was hungrily eye-balling a jar of honey, and rubbing his belly, and saying, "I just need a little something..." My wife kidded me about always needing a cigarette, or a cup of coffee, or a beer, or always a little something to feel right.

4) That jewel came from "The Easy Way to Stop Smoking" by Allen Carr, page 202.



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Last updated 7 January 2016.
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