Throughout history, people have sought out ways to alter their state of consciousness. Whether it’s through the use of psychoactive substances or other methods, the desire to escape reality is something that has been with us for centuries.
There are a number of possible explanations for why we seek out intoxication, but one of the most common theories is that it helps us to cope with the stresses of everyday life. For many people, intoxication is a way to navigate a confusing and difficult world.
Episode 41 Transcript: Psychoactive Substances or Other Methods for Intoxication — Why We Seek Them Out
Dwight Hurst, LPC: Hello, friends. Welcome back. This is Addiction, Recovery and Mental Health, a podcast by Waismann Method Opioid Treatment Specialists. I’m your co-host, Dwight Hurst. I’m joined, as always, by Clare Waismann and David Livingston. And David, this was your suggestion. You had a good description of what to talk about, and it starts out with the idea of substance use and why people seek it out and why we seek out mind-altering substances that might be a good place to start is if you want to let us know some of the thoughts about this topic.
David Livingston, LMFT: I mean, part of the reason there’s a number of reasons that I wanted to talk about it, because if you look just throughout history, people have sought out mind-changing substances forever. And, you know, and, you know, and even if we drink a glass of water, even though it’s exceedingly subtle, our nervous system and our and how we feel is changes, even even though it’s very subtle and and and hard to sort of even notice. So we’re constantly changing, you know, our nervous system, how we feel on multiple levels. And so the desire to and the need to shift our consciousness has been going on forever. And so and it always will. And in fact, in order to be healthy, I think it’s a necessary part of what that is or of what we need. So, you know, I’ve I’ve used this since I’m a developmentally oriented therapist. And I really looked at infant development and early childhood development as a way of understanding, sort of a template for what it is to be a healthy human being. You really see it. You really see this early on with babies where, you know, if you watch them in their crib and I’ve talked about this before, but you watch them in their crib, they will hang out for a while. They get bored at some point in time, kind of depending on their temperament. They will get anxious, and nervous. You’ll see their distress go up and down. They can stand up.
David Livingston, LMFT: They stand up and they start to look out. So they’re looking for outside of themselves something to change their inner state. So if mom or dad or somebody who’s excited to see the baby walks in the room, the baby you’ll see the baby’s mood elevates, right? There’s an immediate shift. If nobody ever comes in, the baby stays at that, stays in distress for a period, goes through a period of confusion and sort of a depression, and at some point falls asleep. So the need to have our consciousness shifted through experiences, you know, and people is a big part of that. But substances are also an aspect of that. And so one of the things that you see is that when people get bored too much and I’ll hear that a lot, and when I’m talking with them, while my biggest fear is when I get bored. And so one of the things I talk to them about and I’ll describe to them as this template that I just described, is that, you know, we are we’re built to change our consciousness and we need to be able to do it. So substances have had a been a part of that. So. And so I think one of the things that. You know, and I have a lot more to say. I don’t want to take be the one talking all the time. But so so I just want to start with the fact that that is a normal part of what it is to be a human being.
David Livingston, LMFT: Now, how you do that and you know, and because we’re also talking about very, very dangerous substances, more dangerous than have ever been, I think historically with fentanyl and everything out there, it’s a topic that has to be thought about and should be. And there are many sides to this. So this is just kind of an opening. But, you know, and now you’re you’re beginning to see studies done at universities where they’re looking at, you know, different substances that they’re finding are helpful in the treatment of depression. And I think, you know, the research on that is is very, very new and they’re just sort of seeing. But we’re also finding that shifts in perspective. And psychotherapy is very much about shifting perspective as well. You know, and that’s a long-term process where you sort of stay involved and you begin to have to see, you know, and good therapy. Or here’s an example before I’ll let the two of you respond. But, you know, recently I was doing a session with someone who walked in and felt horribly guilty and ashamed that he had had was, you know, had just gone through a detox and so forth. And you could just see it in him. He’s just, you know, kind of depressed and downtrodden. And one of the things I said to him, I said, is, “Well, look, you’re here, you got here.”
David Livingston, LMFT: You’ve already listened to your shame and your guilt. You’ve listened to it. It’s already done what it was supposed to do. Your shame is supposed to remind you that you want to be a better man. And your guilt is supposed to remind you of the process that you need to undertake to do that. And you’ve done it. You don’t need the guilt and shame anymore. And because I could lay it out for him, he could feel it. And he’s like, “I can tell you I feel better already. And so that’s a momentary shift in perspective from the outside in because we can’t do that very well from the inside out. And so one of the reasons therapy and treatment is based on a process of two people is because we need to hear things from other people and we need experiences. Okay. So one of the things that happens that drives people towards especially when they’re not having varied experiences, they get stuck or congeal around their guilt, their shame, their fear, their sense of not having a feeling of how to move forward in their life. It could be many things, but that congealing is a lack of shifts in perspective. A lack of shifts. And their nervous system, the lack of elevation in their mood and that’s where people then often can get in trouble with substances. So anyway so that’s my introduction.
Dwight Hurst, LPC: Well, and it makes a huge difference as far as the shame goes. If we are judging those actions of seeking out mind-altering substances as like a naughty behavior or a weak behavior, that’s very different from what you’re talking about and saying, can I categorize it as a normal behavior? Not healthy, maybe not a normal amount or but just that it is something that it’s like I don’t have to feel like abnormal because I sought out intoxicants is that I mean part of it 100%.
David Livingston, LMFT: Look and this is you know, a treatment is about growing up and being honest and mindful and aware. There are dangerous things in the world. Look, you can drink a glass of water and quench your thirst. You can you have too much water at one point in time, you will drown. So all things in life, you know, have multiple sides to it. You can take drugs and die and people are okay. And people can use medicines and use substances and things at times medicinally. And look, you know, it’s I say these things tentatively because, you know, you don’t want to send people off with the idea that, you know, especially because people coming to see me and who are getting detox are struggling with it. So I’m well aware of that. But it’s very different to help them understand from a positive perspective that it’s human to need to shift your consciousness and that there’s historical, evolutionary and normal needs that are trying to get met, but probably not in the best way and very often not. That’s why they’re, you know. And so that’s the territory I’m talking about.
Dwight Hurst, LPC: It’s it’s very interesting to look at that. You know, it reminds me of something that I heard a doctor talking about a long time ago. And I’ve heard people talk about with dietary issues that we have in the modern world where, you know, things that are high in sugar or high in fat, in a more kind of wild, natural setting are very rare. Right. And so our brain is developed, I guess, to say that’s desirable. When I see something like that, high fat, high sugar, I better gobble it up quick before it’s gone. Another omnivore has come along and got it or something. And now of course, with that instinct kind of hijacks us when we walk down the aisle in the grocery store because we’re surrounded by high sugar, high-fat items. And so, you know, I mean, it just reminds me in a way of what you’re saying, because it’s like I need to alter my consciousness and some kind of way in a healthy way or change my thinking or if there’s a drive for that, well, there’s a lot of things around that will do it very dramatically.
David Livingston, LMFT: Right. Right. So there’s all these components at work and, you know, it takes time to kind of sort through them and, you know, and understand.
Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC: I think there is also the known. The obstacle holds so many people back. You know, it’s the way they think about themselves, you know, and their relationship to others blocks them from having inner peace and seeking other things to satisfy that void. I think once they come for treatment and being able to afterwards, that they are clear from substance help them, you know, overcome those obstacles, give them day-to-day inner peace that they didn’t have before.
Dwight Hurst, LPC: Do you feel like that’s what they’re seeking after?
Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC: I would think so. You know, there is that agony, you know, of, um, all those expectations as David was talking about, you know, that is never satisfied and is when you start seeking all the things from the outside to satisfy you that there is a clear understanding, you know, a change of how you think of yourself and your relationship to other people in the world. I think you you you can create peace within that so many people lack.
David Livingston, LMFT: In successful treatment. You really discover who you are. It’s not as much of a process of choosing as it is discovering. So when you speak out loud and you have somebody noticing all the different sides, right, that of who you are, you begin to discover who you are, what keeps you healthy? What are some creative things you can do and interesting things you can do when you are bored? Because everybody’s going to get bored at times and also what it is to engage in a process level of life, right? So that a big part of finding peace and a big shift in treatment for people and actually maturity, in general, is when they move from a content level like, oh, I did good and I get a reward type stuff to just an intrinsic internal sense of enjoying the process of, of development, of growing of and, and that’s not always like, you know, it turns out that when we’re learning something, so if you’re let’s say you want to, you know, learn to do something hard and it’s hard because so you feel stressed out during the process and your brain is going through this heightened experience of trying to make these connections.
David Livingston, LMFT: And there’s a lot of friction and there’s frustrations. And, you know, all those things that come with learning anything that’s difficult is it turns out we don’t actually learn it during that period. We actually learn it when we’re sleeping. So what happens is, is that we go through all the friction. You know, we put ourselves through all this hard and then the brain actually connects it all. When we’re in certain levels of sleep, when we’re sleeping and totally relaxed, the brain makes those connections. So I’ve noticed so much and I thought about this with, with AA, you know, when they say you have to hit rock bottom and I’ve I contemplated that for so long because I was thinking, well, there must be something to it. I don’t like the idea of it. You know, like the idea that you hit rock bottom is only. But then I, you know, I was listening to this neuroscientist talking about this and I realized, well, what happens is when what must happen when, when that is true is people give up, they finally relax. And that’s when connections get made. And all the struggles and all the things that people have been hearing actually get put in place is during rest.
David Livingston, LMFT: It’s not during the struggle. And so, you know, I think one of the ways that and I feel really good about this, that we have configured Domus and our in our treatment process is we have some intensive periods of work and hard work and, you know, and we do that in individual therapy primarily. And then people get to relax and rest because what happens is that’s when they get better. And I think we’ve got this model so wrong that it’s just about pressure and all this stuff, but we don’t actually learn under those conditions. We need some of it. But actually, the change happens in our brain is when we’re our most relaxed. So and I also think that is. Something that is that drives substance use is that when there’s so much tension and people are trying to figure out how to make changes, there’s also a need to try to relax. And I see that with opioid use, you know, it’s not the right way good sleep turns out and relaxation and things and play or when a lot of these connections in the brain get put together.
Dwight Hurst, LPC: That’s interesting.
Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC: I think you’re talking about a physiological recovery. You know, it’s.
David Livingston, LMFT: Not just recovery, but I’m talking. So when you’re sitting in therapy and you’re having an intensive session and so forth, you don’t actually the change doesn’t actually happen in that moment. Like if you’re learning to surf or something really hard and you’re getting up and you’re falling down, you’re getting hit by the waves and it’s cold and you don’t you’re not learning to surf then. You actually when you go to bed and you’re sleeping and you’re relaxing, your brain puts together all those subtle connections about balance and everything else that you were actually struggling with. It doesn’t do it at that moment that you’re surfing. So it’s an interesting juxtaposition. I’m just saying that in terms of the perspective of how we actually get better in life and we grow, it’s not just pressure that does it. And some pressure is necessary. Right. You’re not going to learn you’re not going to learn something hard if you never take it on. But the actual process of integrating it takes place.
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: Yeah, we see that quite a bit of our patients, right the day that what we call the turnaround day. So that’s the day they relax. That’s that they where they sleep better, they wake up, they shower, they eat. There’s a turnaround day and usually, it is the day when the biological clock starts regulating.
Dwight Hurst, LPC: Isn’t a lot of being in the addictive mode, being in fight or flight, sort of an approximation, which is also part of trauma, right? With the vagus nerve and all that.
David Livingston, LMFT: I think that’s right. Right. So when I look at the model for treatments, there’s a there’s like it’s kind of like and this isn’t everywhere and so forth and so on. But, but a part of the model has been and still exists as kind of you’ve you haven’t done well and you’re not taking responsibility. So you’ve got to do all these things to show that you’re going to be a different person. And then even worse, you better not trust your own instincts or yourself. And which is one of the things I think is like, so what are you going to trust that and you know, someone else’s instincts? And so you have to come back to being able to and people know, we all know when we’re doing something that’s good for us or not or it’s unusual we don’t. But there are other factors that are going on that are making it difficult to do what we need to. And but yes, to your end, Clare, is that when people relax, they feel good, they feel like they’re being valued, that there’s a sense of optimism. Maybe that’s the best word.
Dwight Hurst, LPC: It’s very interesting to look at this through the lens of something natural, as you put it, that we do need there’s even something highly adaptable, it sounds like, about looking for a shift in consciousness. There’s you know, I don’t know, David, if you’re familiar with internal family systems, if you’ve heard of that something, it’s a therapy method. But basically, the theoretical sort of underpinnings of that is that we are the sum of like a bunch of emotional parts of us. And when we have something, if it’s a craving or if it’s a desire or a habit, whatever it is, a symptom that it’s based off of some part of us that does have a legitimate need. In other words, it’s trying sometimes to protect us or help us, but sort of like like an overprotective parent, if you will. That’s the idea. And so it says at all costs, do something so you won’t hurt, and that that could drive someone to seek out, you know, intoxication or addiction would be kind of part of that theory.
David Livingston, LMFT: I gave the example of the man who walks in who’s feeling tremendous guilt and shame. And there’s a lot of treatments that, you know, tend to increase guilt and shame rather than relieve it. And what I said is true. You don’t need the guilt and shame once you’ve made the correction, the purpose and the need of guilt and shame if I’m not handling my life for something the way I should. I should feel some guilt and shame because I’m not I’m not being the man or the person I would like to be or that is needed. And so there is a there’s a reason for it. You know, we’ve made guilt and shame and all these things into only negative emotions. And they can be, but it’s not true. So he got to our treatment. He got off of the stuff that was inhibiting him from being the man he wants to be and being better for him and his family and on and on. And then so he doesn’t need the guilt and shame it served its function. And so his need now is to understand that and then move forward without it. So it’s so right. And so now you have a fluid state, literally. You could see when I made that simple interpretation and I had to lay it out for him. It’s you know, it’s one thing if I just said, well, you know, shame is bad. You don’t, you know, I’m sorry, you feel ashamed and so forth. That wouldn’t help him a bit. You have to make people understand exactly how things function and why they’re there. And that includes their need for a substance. Because like you’re saying and you’re pointing out that there’s a drive there. Right. There’s a compulsion that’s moving them towards something that has energy. Right. And if it has energy, there’s a need behind it. If you never understand what the needs are and then sublimate them into a more creative, more meaningful, more interesting life, then the chances of relapse are just through the roof.
Dwight Hurst, LPC: Well, what would you say is kind of the cutoff there as far as or the tipping point from the healthy amount or healthy type of shame, you know, going into the self, the destructive shame?
David Livingston, LMFT: Well, I mean, the way I see it is like it’s kind of like what I said, like, if I do something that I feel badly about, that’s harmful to myself or someone else. For me to feel guilty or ashamed is, is a healthy response, if you ask me. Right. Because that’s not good. It’s not a good way to be in the world. It’s not going to help me in the long run. It’s not going to help whomever I’m involved with in the long run. So I think feeling a sense of some guilt or shame around being destructive once you’ve corrected that and once you’ve listened to that part of you, that part of our awareness, that’s not a mistake. But if we continue in it, right? If he sits there and he feels bad and he goes home and feels bad and not now, you’re now you’re back in a congealed state. You haven’t understood that healthy function of it and you haven’t moved out of it. So so, you know, we’re talking about the need for people to use substances to change their state of mind. Well, what I did in that meeting by laying out and making perfect sense to him, because he mentioned it to me two weeks later, he said, I’ve thought about that since you said it, and I don’t feel badly. But I understand now when I do what that means, that I need to make a correction.
Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC: I think people oversimplify emotions and they’re not emotions is the core of who we are, you know, understanding our emotions, you know, it helps us improve the quality of our lives immensely. So as we look at emotions in, you know, the physiological reasons why we feel so many things. There are so many components, especially when you deal with substance use. There are so many components that can lead people to do what they do and to feel how they feel, and sometimes not to feel at all. You know, it’s so important to feel felt. Does that make sense?
Dwight Hurst, LPC: To feel felt? Would that be like being seen or listened to?
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: Correct. I think the last few feel felt. The more you tend to look for things that are actually going to isolate you more and make you, you know, less seen. So there is no simple answer there. And in the other hand, there are many simple answers is just really looking at the person and dealing with them as an individual and understanding that there are physiological needs that have direct connection to their emotional needs. So all that preexisting notion of. Personalities and blaming everything in our background or our childhood. There are so many other components. No, it’s. Really looking at each person and giving the time they deserve to give them a better quality of life. Each. Each one. And everyone.
Dwight Hurst, LPC: What kind of thoughts are there? What would we say about better ways to alter consciousness, safer ways or more productive?
David Livingston, LMFT: Anybody? I mean, I’ve got a few ideas. You know, I mean, that’s one of the functions of play, right? And by the way, effective treatment. Effective treatment has an element of social play in it because like I was saying, it’s not just a struggle that the brain actually integrates. You need periods of struggle like you. You can’t grow. And if you want to learn math, it’s a struggle. You have to like focus and sort of deal with your, you know, frustrations and all that stuff because it’s usually not easy. And so you have to do some of that. But it’s not where we actually learn and integrate. It’s during play, it’s during rest, you know. So there are effective treatments. What you begin to see happen is that it becomes a template for what it is to be a healthy human being, meaning like you bear down and you lean into the things that are painful and difficult and you look at them and you can bear them for a period of time, and then you can relax and get out of them and understand how they help.
David Livingston, LMFT: And so you begin to and with all of these different states, there’s this there’s a state, there are shifts in consciousness that are happening constantly. Right. And if you’re picking up on the subtleties, I mean, just the example I gave that, you know, when that gentleman came in and was talking about how guilty and ashamed he felt. And, you know, when I said that to him, his mood elevated immediately. He sat back in his chair. He looked up, he thanked me. He understood what I was saying. He felt good about his decision to make this it restored him as a the man he wants to be. And it was a hard decision. It was not an easy thing to do. And he recognized it. So like Clare saying, you have to be able to be seen and felt, right? So I could see his suffering. Right. And so but I better have something to do to relieve it. And so this is what we want. And so and by the way, that’s why people take substances. They’re suffering and they want something to relieve it, but they really don’t know where the hell to turn. They really don’t.
Clare Waismann, M-RAS/SUDCC: And it’s a way to make people feel better, you know, almost, almost instantly and, you know, get away from that space. You know, that as David just described, they’re looking down. You know, they’re looking so lost and so not welcome. I think this is a wonderful way to bring them back, you know, to be part of very fast.
David Livingston, LMFT: I can just speak from my own self. The thing that has been most useful to me around this is finding people I can learn from to be around and forever, who are interested in my well-being, who I can admire. You know, now there’s so much good information. There are so many books and things that can move our consciousness. Someone had recommended to me to read The Alchemist recently, and I read it felt like I was on a journey in another time and place. I think it’s the book’s been around forever, but I’d never read it. And I was like, Wow. This felt like my whole consciousness shifted while I listened to that on audiotape. And so for me, that was like it was like taking a journey. And, and I think you can find those things. So. The most important thing is to stay interested in what we are built to learn and grow. Substances are an attempt to move our consciousness again out of that feeling of being congealed.
Dwight Hurst, LPC: And we’re going to leave it there for today. Thank you so much for listening and hearing some of the interesting insights that David brought to this. That David, Clare and I were able to discuss about our perspectives and our experiences about people seeking after substances. You know, our experiences and those of our clients are certainly not representative of everyone on Earth. And you, listener, are on Earth as well. We would love to hear from you if you’d like to share with us any of your experiences, you or loved ones in your life, and some of the things that contributed to seeking for substances. Or if you just have questions about addiction, recovery, mental health treatment, any of that, we’d love to hear from you. We always love to hear from you and to provide answers for those things. You can reach us on Twitter @opiates or go to opiates.com to learn more about the Waismann Method Opioid Treatment Specialists. Our email is [email protected]. The music for the program is the song Medical by Clean Mind Sounds and as always, hosted by Clare Waismann, David Livingston and Dwight Hurst. We’ll be back at you again soon. Remember, keep asking questions. If you can find questions, you can find answers. And whenever you find answers, you can find hope.
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