American drinking: Do you drink to feel good, or to take the edge off of feeling bad?

“From 1999 to 2017, the number of alcohol-related deaths in the United States doubled, to more than 70,000 a year—making alcohol one of the leading drivers of the decline in American life expectancy…” — “Alcohol-related deaths increasing in the United Statesby the National Institutes of Health, January 2020

“The damage done by alcohol is profound: impaired cognition and motor skills, belligerence, injury, and vulnerability to all sorts of predation in the short run; damaged livers and brains, dysfunction, addiction, and early death as years of heavy drinking pile up.” — “Drinking Too Much in America” in The Atlantic

I was raised by two serious alcohol drinkers. I have always wondered if my Mom’s tendency to drink to deal with her anxiety and depression led to breast cancer at an early age. Her brother died of alcoholism. I admit it, after watching my parents drink so much, I developed an aversion to that level of intoxication. I have never found it attractive or funny, perhaps partially because I don’t get drunk, I just fall asleep.

As a part of my counseling training, we spent time learning about alcoholism and addiction. At the first meeting I raised my hand and said, “I only have one question. I cannot get drunk, I fall asleep instead. Why is that?” There I learned exactly how genetic alcohol addiction is. Certain genetic groups can tolerate far higher levels of alcohol and therefore can drink more to achieve intoxication. The normal response to alcohol, which is a depressant, is tiredness and sleep.

Yes, I know. Some of us now us THC products to deal with anxiety and depression. I am one of them, and I see no reason to argue about which is better for you. But I would argue that THC kills a lot less Americans than alcohol, and yet drinking is also one of our favorite topics to joke about. To me, alcohol addiction is not funny. It’s deadly to both the alcoholic and those around them, especially on the highway.

Studying addiction and counseling was my first choice as a new college kid at Colorado College. But then the discussion always comes up, do you have to be a addict to help addicts? I still have no answer to that one except to say few of us aren’t addicted to something, even if it’s sugar, salt or something else. That’s how our brains work.

This fascinating article looks at why we drink as an evolutionary adaptation to stress, and why American drinking has increased quite a bit, especially since 9/11: The Atlantic: “Drinking Too Much In America”

My Beautiful Broken Brain

“Within your own mind is a treasury, an ocean of pure bliss, consciousness, intelligence, creativity and love…”   — David Lynch

My Beautiful Broken Brain, a Netflix documentary

Recently I viewed a fascinating new Netflix documentary which follows the life of a 34 year old woman after she experiences a severe stroke. Lotje Sodderland was a digital producer at a hip London creative agency when she suffered a stroke that decimated her language skills and threw her sensory perception into disarray.

Lotje found that most of the practitioners who tried to help her recover her abilities to speak, see properly, write and read, began by defining her by what she could not do after her stroke. She instead chose to focus on a few positive changes within her brain, ones which provided her with new skills and talents.

At the end of this film she offers advice back to those who have treated her brain injury, telling them to help the patient not only return to previous abilities, but also appreciate sometimes subtle changes in consciousness, which can benefit the patient. For example, Lotje experienced an amazing new ability to experience colors and sounds like never before.

I found this new take on brain injuries quite refreshing, much like the story behind Melody Gardot’s transformation following her brain injury. She’s an American woman who only discovered her unique ability to create and sing music after suffering a serious head and spinal injuries.

Initially prompted by her physician who believed music would help her brain injury improve, Gardot began writing music after her accident.  Music is thought to help the brain form new pathways. At first, Gardot learned to hum and was eventually able to sing into a tape recorder. She made good progress and was eventually able to write her own original songs. She had no idea before her accident that she was a musician, but today she’s playing concert tours all around the world.

Both of these examples show the unique fragility of the mind, but also the limitless resources that can be found as those with brain injuries get used to their new brain, their new existence and their dynamic relationship with their own consciousness.

I have discovered a few major changes to my own brain and levels of consciousness since suffering a serious traumatic brain injury in 2008, and a concussion last September. Yes, these injuries have hurt my ability to remember many words and faces. I do find that quite frustrating at times. The benefits for me are a greatly enhanced ability and need to meditate regularly. My brain gets exhausted quite easily, especially after an hour or so of conversation.

Another change is in the intensity of my dreams. They are so real now, I can’t imagine forgetting them. They pop into my mind all day long, making me feel so strongly like I actually spent time with those I only dreamt about spending time with…

Butterfly side view small 2007This experience sometimes leaves me wondering, like the Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tzu, am I a butterfly flying around dreaming that I’m a woman, or a woman dreaming that I’m a butterfly? This is what a conk on the head did for me!

How did I end up here, feeling so fortunate?

It’s a long story, one I can now share with you in my new memoir!