Why Misery Is So Addictive and How to Free Yourself

“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively. “You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.” -(Trina Paulus) I love that quote! It speaks to our willingness to let go of old patterns and choose a new higher way of being. This is not an easy task since our negative patterns are so highly addictive. Why is that so? A recent article, “Anatomy of a Tear Jerker” by Michaeleen Doucleff, sheds light on this with research that shows something astounding: sad songs stimulate dopamine, the pleasure hormone! “The results suggest that the more emotions a song provokes – whether depressing or uplifting – the more we crave the song.”

Intrigued, I researched this further and found that dopamine, the hormone most responsible for addiction, is triggered by things that excite us, such as food and sex…but also drama and pain, making us crave and recreate them over and over again. That explains why many people hang on for dear life to their misery, their sad stories, their anger and resentment. I spent a good part of my life stuck in the mire of misery about feeling alone in the world…until I had a life-changing epiphany twelve years ago during my first week of dating Tom, who would become my husband.

We were massaging each other’s feet, (my very favorite thing!) and I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this man in my life on a permanent basis.” Just then a Bonnie Rait song began playing on the radio and I was singing along with it, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t.” That song activated the neural pathways of my old familiar story that said, “I will always be alone. He won’t want me. I can’t have this.” I began slipping into the sweet melancholy of that story, pulled by the addictive lure of deep sorrow. But then, in a sudden splash of invigorating awareness, I stopped myself and thought, “Wait a minute – why can’t I have this? It’s just habit programming. I’m just as lovable as the next person. I can have this! I want this!”

It was a butterfly moment – a moment of clear awareness that I wanted love in my life so much that I was willing to give up being a caterpillar; I was willing to give up my addiction to my sweet sad miserable story. That determination has resulted in a dozen of the best years of my life with this wonderful man. My former caterpillar self is now flying with the butterflies!

However, in the last 3 years, since my diagnosis of cancer, my butterfly status is sometimes challenged as old neural pathways of doom and gloom are stirred. Fortunately, when that happens, I have a repertoire of tools for launching myself airborne once more. I’d like to share 3 of them with you:

1. NOW Freedom Formula – NOW is an acronym for: N is for NOTICE that negative thoughts and feelings have taken over. O is for OXYGENATE by taking ten deep breaths, thereby shifting the body and emotions. W is for WONDER, “What’s the higher truth of this situation?” In regards to my cancer fears, the truth is I’m all right right now. Another truth, cancer was a wake-up call that helped me be more vividly alive, more on purpose, more connected with my spirit.

2. EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique involves tapping on certain meridian points on the body, clearing negative thoughts and feelings and replacing them with positive ones. It is a highly effective way to shift out of addictive patterns.

3. PLAY With Your Misery – Give it a name. I call mine Debbie Downer (like the character on Saturday Night Live) and recently played a fun game with her cancer worries. I let her exaggerate her woebegone plaintive grumbles and after each one I had some friends chorus the muted trombone sound “Wah waaah.” It went something like this: “I ate healthy food and drank wheat grass juice every day…and still I got cancer.” Wah waaah. “I’m eating lots of tofu because I’ve heard that it’s good for healing cancer…but I read recently that it does more harm than good.” Wah waaah. “I’m doomed.” Wah waaah. This cracks me up and I shift to a lighter, clearer perspective.

All of these techniques help release debilitating hard-wired patterns and fire and wire a new life-enhancing state of being. Being in that state creates a dopamine high that is so much more powerful and fulfilling than the dopamine high of misery.

How about you? Are you aware of addictive negative patterns that are holding you down? Are you willing to give up being a caterpillar, and become your beautiful butterfly self?

Janet Jacobsen

Author of the book, Oh No, Not Another ‘Growth’ Opportunity! An Inspirational Cancer Journey With Humor, Heart, and Healing

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