The Chemsex Everyday Email Commitment programme
This is a plan for people very concerned about their use, and feeling very determined to change some habits.
DARWINIAN BRAIN versus COGNITIVE BRAIN.
Imagine two parts of your brain.
1. The SURVIVAL, IMPULSE part of your brain. Let’s call it your DARWINIAN brain.
2. The COGNITIVE part of your brain
It is about primal instincts & danger and survival; fight or flight instincts. Auto-pilot, life saving stuff. Hunger, thirst, sunlight, all related to pleasure networks, driving us toward food, water, better climates; compelling us to run from danger, attack on impulse if provoked. Pleasure & hyper-alertness equals survival
It is an important part of how we “Behave’. And survive. It is very associated with dopamine & central nervous system impulses.
It is thought, decision-making; it does math, solves crossword puzzles, it assesses the landscape and helps us to make calm, reflective, considered choices based on all the facts at hand. It can forward-think, and reflect on historical patterns. Connects dots. It is Reason and logic.
The Darwinian brain & the Cognitive brain; they are sometimes at odds with one another.
I’d like to think that all the choices you make, are COGNITIVE, reasoned choices.
But… That might not be the case. You might be being heavily influenced by the Darwinian, Impulse, Survival networks.
Interfering with your agency to make logical, considered decisions.
Your chems use directly engaged the SURVIVAL IMPULSE part of your brain. By targeting dopamine receptors and releasing adrenaline.
And you did that REPEATEDLY.
So your brain has decided that habitual chems use is INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT to your survival. An ESSENTIAL routine.
You did that. You taught it that. (I don’t mean this in a blaming way, I promise.)
And that urgency can sometimes over-ride your COGNITIVE abilities; trying to interfere in your logical choices; for example to break your chems use cycle.
Your brain is freaking out a little, wondering why this cyclical dose of chems isn’t happening.
It thinks something has gone wrong; and it is stepping into action.
It is urgently sending you reminders to USE CHEMS. Over-riding cognitive choice & logic.
Sending you cravings.
You are ignoring them, with your cognitive brain (my job to help with this).
And the more you ignore them, the greater and more powerful the cravings will become.
For some people cravings are overwhelming.
The only way to stop them… is to send a message to the DARWINIAN brain, that you no longer need chems urgently.
You do that by IGNORING the reminders, ignoring those cravings. Over and over.
Kind of like teaching a puppy how to behave.
Now; like teaching a puppy new tricks, it doesn’t learn this immediately.
If you train a baby puppy to poo on the grass instead of on the carpet, simple enough.
But if you do that, then a year later, teach the grown puppy to poo on the carpet instead, you are teaching the puppy contradicting behaviours that are long-term part of their habitual behaviour. It might seem a bit unfair to the puppy, training it the exact opposite of what you taught it. Cruel even, very confusing for puppy.
You taught a part of your brain (the Reward part), that chems and arousal are crucial parts of your routine. You TAUGHT it that through repetition & repetition.
You have taught your baby puppy that chems & Sex = pleasure and reward. Repeatedly. Over and over for years. Pooing on the lawn.
Now you are teaching your grown puppy the opposite.
Confusing for your behavioral part of your brain.
The Reward part of the brain (the baby puppy bit) will resist the changes you are trying to make, and send you cravings to continue old habits. Nothing to fear, nothing too big that you can’t ignore, unless you let it.
When cravings come, or low moods happen, or when boredom is unbearable, or when a tempting opportunity arises, your baby puppy is VERY loud. Your cognitive function switches off; you justify using; you forget your goal, you forget what is in your diary next week. You forget the negative consequences and only remember the early, good part of the initial high. It’s pure & simple trickery. Your Darwinian brain wants you to use, urgently, and it’ll trick you, compel you into using. (It’s only trying to keep you safe – it’s not the ‘enemy’ here; it’s just confused.) So you become very “Me, me, me; Now, now, now” and lose focus of your goal & the reasons your goal is important to you.
Being able to care about your goal during THAT craving moment is hard; but
1. it is easier when your longer-term goal is FRESH in your mind (& inbox).
2. It is easier when your reasons for that goal are fresh in your mind (&inbox).
3. And easier when you have a craving management exercise you can practice right in the middle of that craving moment. An exercise which activates the cognitive part of your brain and refreshes your memory and heart about your goal and the reasons your goal is important to you.
With those extra things in place, you can pursue your 7 day goal each week, and keep it going weekly indefinitely until you re-train your brain and create new habits.
Our job as drug support workers is to reflect back to you, affirm loudly for you, your goal, and the reason it is important to you, and to do that regularly each week to help you achieve your goals. And also to participate in a craving management exercise that helps you to react , think & behave differently when that craving moment happens.
So; the BEST way I can help you is for you to do these 3 steps every day for a 7 day period, before switching to once-weekly.
1. “I commit to not using for the next 24 hours”.
2. “My reason for doing this today is; the reason it’s important to me today is……” tell me why it’s important to you, today especially; what is motivating you to do this..
3. “I commit to the PAUSE, REFLECT, EMAIL part of the programme”.
Explaining the Pause, Reflect Email craving management exercise; IF you change your mind; IF you choose to use chems within that 24 hour period, do this “Pause, Reflect, Email” exercise. Email me;
“Hi David; I’m changing my 24 hour goal; I’ve decided to do chems today. I’ve thought about it for at least 30 minutes, reflected upon it calmly; I reflected on my goal, and why it was important to me; I considered how I’ll feel tomorrow, I’ve considered the cost, I’ve considered other consequences… and I choose to do chems today” (Do this BEFORE using.)
This 3rd step is THE most important part of the daily commitment programme. It might sound strange, but it is a CBT exercise that seeks to interject some reasoned, frontal lobe cognitive thinking into the highly emotional or dopamine-related craving moment. If this exercise is repeated, repetitively, it can alter your decision-making process when cravings hit or sudden opportunities/temptations arise. It’s important for you to know, that I will always respect any decision you make; I will not communicate disappointment or try to change your mind; I will simply congratulate you for pausing and reflecting and emailing, which is successful cognitive engagement during a craving, and it is a success in regards to CBT, regardless whether you use or not.
It’s not a perfect science, but with repetition and practice, you can ‘train’ the cognitive part of your brain to engage in the chems decision-making process that is mostly driven by primal urges & compulsions.
Let me know; if you feel it’d help, add a reminder to your daily calendar/alarm/phone, and send me your first commitment email with the 3 sentences/3 steps as above - whenever you wish to start.
Email to email@example.com
Happy to help.