Lack of motivation, or, My attempt at neuroscience

20 Aug

5:25 pm

Lack of motivation. Bored to tears is not just an expression. Maybe some days you’re simply not meant to get much done? Except, ahem, eating and drinking everything in the house. (Why is it that after quitting drinking, we turn to food and substitute drink? Is there something so hardwired about equating “food substance” or “something that is going into my alimentary canal” with “reward” that we can’t shake it no matter how long and hard we try?)

Today is OK–meh, actually–and I can deal with that. However, I’m having the usual brain fart: I find it difficult to hold my thoughts in form; like food that wants to be vomited up, my thoughts want to come out in fragments that don’t resemble much of anything that makes sense.

Is this writer’s block, or simply something I have to contend with from now on? PAWS gone wild? I’m hoping the latter, but most of the time, my patience wears thin. I don’t have time for this shit.

Once every few days, I take note of my motivation level, which seems to me to be pretty damn low. And, I think I’ve figured it out: maybe for so long I associated EVERYTHING–work and play, life in general–with drinking, now my dopamine circuits can’t (won’t?) fire for anything without the attached reward (wine). It goes almost without saying that that sort of freaks me out, considering that I need to like, eat and work and laugh, whether or not (not) there is wine involved.

I’ve come to the conclusion that “normal” people–and even a lot of drinkers who did not fall as far as I must have–simply cannot understand this. Their dopamine circuits still allow them to desire to do many things, whether or not booze is in the picture. Like, eating, or going to the gym, or working. I was actually vaguely aware of how much I relied on the “reward” of wine in order to motivate myself to do any of these things toward the last few years of my drinking. And then it got worse: I skipped eating altogether; I only worked out in order to both be able to drink more and maintain a modicum of health such that my body could continue to drink more; in the end, the only thing that got me through my often painfully intellectual day was the reward of wine after having gotten through it and, later–it got even worse–the reward of wine DURING said day.

It was a neverending cycle, and I’m not sure how I ended up in its claws OR how I managed to extricate myself. Maybe throwing up a bottle of red wine at 3:30 am and then drinking an entire OTHER bottle before getting up, showering, and getting on the commuter rail by 7:20 am became one of those few-and-far-between memories that could override the need for wine? Uh, maybe.

Dopamine is involved not only in giving you pleasure, but in making you want to seek out pleasure. Motivation to do, or in science speak, to perform behaviors that are associated with pleasure. Now, if EVERYTHING you do–for me it ranged from running to writing to travel to talking on the phone with friends and family–you associate with the reward of drinking, and you place a high level of importance on this reward, eventually your dopamine circuit is only going to fire to motivate you toward these associated things as long as there is the reward of wine. If there is no reward of wine, there is no dopamine, and therefore, no motivation. (I’d like to do some interviews on this, but I think this is the gist of it.)

When the associated behavior/triggers are going out to bars, or hanging out with friends, ditching the wine isn’t the end of the world. But I associated everything with drinking.

Now, I feel no strong urge to do anything. I work because I NEED to, and I run and eat and read and hang out and go swimming and take care of the dogs and plant shit because…I know it’ll make me feel better, eventually. I do love certain things, of course, and living sober is amazing, don’t get me wrong. I just have to think my way into wanting it all, more often than not. Some days, though, all that future focus cannot cover up the present lack of reward. And, what’s worse, I’m afraid (worried) that this new normal might not right itself anytime soon.

With all that in mind, I continue to do and strive, and get about 25 percent of what I want to get done actually done every day. And I’m learning to accept this, and not judge myself. This is the only way, I somewhat resignedly tell myself. You got yourself into this, now you have to (and can) get yourself out. Is there another way, though? Does it have to be this hard? I honestly don’t know…

Anyway, I don’t mind waiting, and right here and now is a pretty good place to take a seat. Happy Week 22 plus 1 day to me! By Saturday, I will have passed my longest record of 158 (almost) days sans booze. Wowie. Thanks to ALL OF YOU, for listening and cheering and empathizing.

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3 Responses to “Lack of motivation, or, My attempt at neuroscience”

  1. jen August 21, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    I’m sure it gets easier eventually, at least I hope so! I am really early in sobriety, but I have faith that it will. Alcohol really messes with our heads. Congratulations on going almost 158 days! Peace. ~Jen

  2. Digs August 22, 2013 at 12:40 am #

    Hi DDG… love reading your blog. We share the same sobriety date… 158 days for me too.

  3. tarnishedone August 23, 2013 at 5:34 am #

    I have been sober for 2 years, but I still miss certain things about alcohol. What I dont miss is the lack of control, the feeling of helplessness and the all time winner. SHAME. Yup been there, done that…..

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