Words move me. They always have. Growing up, I was a rock n’ roll fan. My first husband introduced me to country music. When I started hearing the words and stories in that genre, I was totally hooked. Give me a country song, and my whole emotional world starts moving in whatever direction a song leads me. Country music just has a way of speaking to me at a soul level. I married two men that were experts in painting pictures with words, a salesman and a sports columnist. I’m just a sucker for a man that has a way with words. But, I have learned that words are just words. Its the meaning behind them that makes all the difference. Words can be used to love, to support, to manipulate, abuse and control others. I know because I’ve used them for the right and the wrong reasons myself.
Twelve Step groups harness the power of words better than any group I’ve ever seen. The hold of addiction takes place in the brain. The frontal lobe of the brain is our “no, that’s not a good idea” section of the brain. It puts on the brakes. The pleasure center of the brain will keeping seeking the rush from a cocktail of hormones until we die. That’s a simplified description, but it gets the point across. That’s why addicts can’t just think their way out or decide to stop using. Their brain is messed up. The frontal lobe is not fully developed until we are about 21. Most addicts become addicted before that age because there is nothing in their brain to remind them of the car they wrecked last week or the fact that their friends have quit talking to them. So, they keep using. They keep listening to go, go, go and there is no stop. And, if they become addicted, they never really use the decision-making functions that the frontal lobe is designed to enable. The brain is only as good as what we put into it. That’s why you hear that if people start using drugs or alcohol at a young age, they never fully develop past that point until they get sober. They just don’t learn how to make decisions because they don’t practice it. It’s a simplistic explanation, but there is some truth in it.
So, why would a simple phrase such as “Easy Does It” or “One Day at a Time” stop or at least slow that runaway train of addiction? In Ed Psych, I learned that people learn by either laying down new pathways in the brain to categorize incoming information or by running the new information through current pathways and extending them. Words are extremely powerful conductors of information. I believe that the meditation books, open sharing in meetings and sponsorship by a more experienced individual further harness the power of words to support the new brain structures that are building in sobriety. The more I think in a new way, and the stronger and deeper those pathways become, the more likely I will act on the new information rather than the old.
Religions recommend that followers learn scripture. Quotes are prolific on Facebook. Most couples have “their song”, generally chosen because of the lyrics. People identify with certain quotes because they are powerful, soothing or moving. Ask anybody if they have “words to live by” and most people will tell you something that is their guiding principle. And, of course, words can have a negative impact as well. See a history of Adolph Hitler for more information on that.
I created a dream book at a yoga retreat a couple of years ago. The title was “I’m Done with Hiding.” I have to believe that mantra has put me on my current path because it so perfectly tapped into my need to live more in tune with who I am. My house is decorated in words that are meaningful to me. Words like “dream”, “enjoy”, and “miracle” have meanings to me that reach into the tiny corners of my heart and explode with possibilities. So, I put them on my walls to remind me everyday of those possibilities. Others soothe me. One of my favorites is “Be
Gentle with Yourself”. My friends have heard that one a million times. My favorite quote is “So tell me, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?” as spoken by Mary Oliver. It truly came to life for me on my Women’s Questadventure in March in Hawaii. Not coincidentally, that quote is featured in their marketing material. Those words speak to me because they anchored the shift that happened within me on that retreat. Every time I hear those words, I connect with the feeling I had when I overcome a fear of swimming in the ocean and of being face to face with some rather magnificent Manta Rays. It’s not the words. The same word that explodes with meaning for me may mean little to you. The word is the anchor, the symbol or the metaphor for something much, much bigger that lives in your brain and maybe, ultimately, in your heart.
I could go on and on and on about words, but I’ll stop now. What are the words you live by? Are they what you want them to be? Anything can be changed within the brain, and, when you change your brain, you can create something different…..