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Trading Sex for Food – Tiger’s Search for Dopamine?

So Tiger Woods is a sex addict and goes to rehab…and gains 30 pounds.

Maybe the food there is great, but probably not; or maybe he’s sitting around doing nothing, but probably not. The food isn’t as good as fine dining, and certainly not good enough for fine golfing. Plus, he was photographed going for a run.

So why is he eating so much?

He can’t help it. His brain is screaming for “substances”. Not sex – dopamine and oxytocin and serotonin and norepinephrine and endorphins…he has the brain of an addict. Here’s the breaking news. So do we all – it is what enables us to experience blissful pleasure.

I understand Tiger Woods. Well, maybe not his choice in sex partners, but I understand the insane cravings. He craves sex. I craved food. You might crave alcohol or drugs or tobacco or gambling or shopping or working or exercising or rage…

Our brains have a built-in reactor system to determine “things-that-make-us-feel-really-great”. We respond to life’s greatest pleasures with a chemical explosion that rocks our world. Without this internal nuclear reactor, we would ho-hum through every moment of our lives. With the reactor, it only takes one orgasm to love sex. It only took me one chocolate chip cookie to love food.

The moments of an orgasm or a taste of chocolate are fast and fleeting – the natural timing of brain chemicals. Like fireworks. If you blink, you miss them. We quickly return to our baseline mundane and uninspired living. Boring is our neutral. (Some people call it calm, most addicts call it boring).

And here’s the really bad news, known to every addict of any substance. The bliss level is never the same as the first time. Your brain accommodates to stimulation – good, bad or ugly. You get used to sex or chocolate or CSI or winning. And it takes more and more of your substance of choice to get the same level of explosion. When I was four, it only took one cookie to reach nirvana. Nowadays I would need an entire factory. After awhile you can’t get there at all. Unless you keep changing it up a bit.

So why would anyone keep doing a substance that isn’t even bringing them joy anymore?

You only have to look at Tiger to understand. He looks depressed. It’s the day after the binge, and he’s crashing. And while it’s tempting to say ‘of course he’s depressed, look what he’s done to his life’, the reality is that much of what is happening in his depressed brain is a biochemical rebound of misery. It takes a nanosecond to explode feel-good chemicals in your brain; it can take weeks or months or years to replenish them. Forget the highs. He keeps using to stay at neutral. Anything to avoid the crash.

I feel for the guy.

There really isn’t any difference between us. Our brains all crave reward, stimulation, excitement, curiosity, feeling good. Even to point of overindulgence.

Life is filled with joys that can create the same explosion of feel-good chemicals, without destroying your life or health or emotional well-being. Exercise will release dopamine and keep the level high for more than a day, unless you do it for a living and have attached the stress of daily life to it. Music, art, love, petting your animal, aromas, company, movement, prayer, meditation, playing with your children or grandchildren, and many others. It may not be as dramatic or intense the first time around, but it sustains you with a deep and abiding joy.

And it stops the cravings.

“The Greatest New Year’s Resolution of All: When I Grow Up, I Want to Be A Chocolate Chip Cookie”

I never wanted to be a fat psychiatrist when I was little. I wanted to be a chocolate chip cookie. It never occurred to my 3 year-old brain that some starving teenager might polish me off in one big bite. I didn’t care that it was a physical and spiritual impossibility for a human being to transmutate into baked goods. (Although some people do figure out how to become root vegetables, but they’re not in this blog).

I cared that I became what I loved.

That got me thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. New Years Resolutions are these active, goal-setting, forward-motion plans. Kind of like football games. I’m going to move down the field and beat the enemy. Pumped up and rearing to go! Starting tomorrow, I’m going to lose 50 pounds, work out every day, read 10 books a week,  go to bed early, donate all my extra time and money (even if there isn’t any). Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be a better person. Like maybe Mother Theresa.

Aside from the obvious “it’s been done”, if I became a Saint, would my friends and family and coworkers even recognize me? I think they’d all be standing around watching my stomach and taking bets on when the alien pops out.

I know from the last few decades that New Year’s Resolutions never quite stick with me. The other team always wins in the end.  There has to be a way to improve the odds on these resolution outcomes.

Maybe we could make resolutions for each other instead. They would probably be a lot less stringent (unless you have very rude friends). I can’t imagine my husband saying “You have to lose 50 pounds next year”. Aside from being a nice guy who would never say such a thing, he knows he would be risking his life with a bonehead observation like that. Instead, he would give me a resolution that somehow made us both happier. Like more nookie. Or sleeping in. Or cooking together.

What about my coworkers? Maybe they would nail me. “You should see 30 more patients a week and work until 11 pm every night.”  Nah. They would say, you should make sure you take lunch everyday, you need the break.

Ok then, my sisters. Certainly years of sibling rivalry will takes it toll. “You should cook and clean and no glass slippers for you!” Nope, not that either. They don’t care who cooks and cleans in my house or what high-style pumps I wear. They might say “we should go for lunch” or something like that.

And forget my friends… they are totally there for me. That’s why they are my friends.

So basically, nobody out there is looking at my past 12 months of life and sneering. Nobody is saying I have failed. Nobody is telling me I am a bad person. Nobody is setting crazy perfectionist goals. Except me. I am the critic and the criticized. I am the abuser and the abused. I am my own Cinderella and my own wicked stepmother. (By the way, I am a stepmother and I don’t consider myself the least bit wicked. Ok maybe a little strict, but hey, I like things orderly). And certainly, no one else is saying that the road to self-improvement should be paved with suffering.

Quite the opposite. My family and friends would design New Year’s Resolutions for me that increase their ability to nurture and love and laugh with me. That improve the quality and the heart-centeredness of my days. They would make sure I celebrate my life and time, and I would do the same for them.  Their mandate would be for me to sit back and enjoy the ride.

They would want me to return to the simple joy of being instead of the rigor of becoming. Which is a guarantee that I will move myself closer to my life’s purpose.

I think I might be able to stick to those.

So here are my New Year’s Resolutions… In 2010, I vow:

To follow my heart and do what I love

To do what honors me and brings out the best in me

To do what helps me and nurtures me

To do what makes me laugh

And by so doing, I will love and cherish and honor and help all of us together.

Happy Healthy Prosperous New Year to all of you!