When depression hits, what do you do? When your Life Partner is not good enough to chase away the anxiety, what do you do? When past, black predictions by parents or others of your future failure, haunt your thoughts, what do you do?
Well, of course, you blame your anxiety, depression, and self-hatred on a “chemical imbalance.” You claim that your present state is inherited and your only solution must be chemical.
There are two new pieces of evidence to disprove that which will, hopefully, help you out of that pit of doubt that sends you pill-searching, either legitimately or illegitimately. People who suffer so intensely from depression and anxiety that they absolutely can’t handle one more minute of it often turn to prescription medication or illegal drugs to get them through the pain.
The first piece I would like to share with you is a new book by Marc Lewis called Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines his Former Life on Drugs.
What is different in this book from all the other chronicles of addiction and recovery is the fact that Lewis happened to have been a doctoral student in psychology, specializing in neuropsychology when he finally escaped the chains of his addiction, so the book is sprinkled liberally with explanations of how the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex work, things you’ve seen discussed before in this blog.
But there’s more to it than that. There is a point—after losing a marriage; after many thefts during the night; after Lewis is finally caught and faces jail time; after being kicked out of a prized internship and kicked out of his doctoral program altogether; after losing another love; after considering suicide; after many, many failed attempts to quit—that he simply decides that this time he will quit for good.
I had read about this book in a newspaper review and my curiosity was aroused: How did he quit? Sure, I was interested in the levels of pain he had experienced that led to the drug abuse in the first place (starting in high school), but as a therapist whose greatest interest is in understanding the factors that lead to healing, I had to find out what led Lewis to be able to finally quit for good.
The answer is as simple as it is incomprehensible: He made up his mind.
He Quit By Making Up His Mind
As he tells it, once again he feels the loneliness and the desperation that has led him to crime and drugs so many times before. Onece again, he has an internal argument during which he curtly dismisses the side of reason and logic. Only this time, “something has shifted momentarily. A voice—one of my voices—sounded like it was on my side. You can’t do this to me! I deserve a chance to live” (p. 294).
There it is.
There is a “good” voice inside of himself which he has not heard before and it is stronger than the self-destructive one he’s been listening to for decades. He muses, “For a moment it’s as if someone—perhaps just me—has come to help out” (p. 294). He decides to “say no” to his urges.
Is that all there is? No. He has months of struggle to keep up his decision, months of being in someone’s bathroom facing the temptation of the medicine chest, months of having to remind himself how awful his life had been because of the drugs—in spite of the relief they gave.
In the end, after a book all about the difficulties of the anterior cingulate cortex in upholding self-control and the grief of the orbitofrontal cortex continually resonating with self-rebuke, Lewis concludes that the good feelings the drugs generate are mere stand-ins for unmet emotional needs, but the way out of the vicious cycle must come from oneself: “Learn to say no in a way that can catch and take hold, and support it with a different view of yourself” (p. 305).
Brain science has not yet been able to go there. Perhaps it will one day. But for now, it is at least clear that there is a “self,” a “soul” that supersedes everything chemical and neuronal that science has uncovered.
It is this “self” that reached out to Lewis, not only to help him fight off his addiction but to reclaim his life. Your “self” has within it the potential to do the very same thing, whether you are fighting anxiety, depression, self-hate, or addiction.
Incidentally, Lewis followed up his newly gained sobriety with therapy. Good for him. I recommend it.
Coming up: The second piece of evidence for the “self” that oversees the brain.