This page will contain material related to alcoholism and other addictions. All © 2013 Jorge Kafkazar.
Alcoholism’s Hidden Source
UPDATE, 5/10/2013: See Part 2, below.
UPDATE, 5/13/2013: See Part 3, below.
UPDATE, 5/17/2013: See Part 4, below.
UPDATE, 6/5/2013: See Part 5, below.
UPDATE, 12/12/2014: See Note at end.
There are about 10 million alcoholics in the United States: 3 million women, 7 million men. Over 100,000 people die each year in the US from alcohol related causes. The annual cost of such crashes in the US is about $114 billion. The total cost to society, including those crashes, is estimated at $200 billion. This is not small change, and doesn’t include the emotional cost.
What is the cause of alcoholism? Why are so many drinkers unable to stop drinking, even when they want to? Why do many alcoholics, after years of sobriety, go back to drinking? Why do intelligent men and women drink when they have every reason to know it is ruining their minds, their bodies, and their families? Why is alcoholism so “cunning, baffling, and powerful?” No one knows the answers to these questions for certain, but the problem may lie in the structure of the unconscious mind, rather than in “lack of will-power.”
The human mind is a complex structure with both conscious and unconscious components. As a rough figure, it’s often said that ninety percent of the human mind lies in the unconscious. Our memories lie in the unconscious, too. (Note: Most “Left brain/ right brain” material is pure pseudoscience. No studies prove that the hemispheres of a normal human brain are completely independent when processing different types of information.)
Hypothesis: Every individual has a semi-autonomous protective component. In an emergency, this component takes control of the body. Seated in the deepest areas of the brain, it is hard-wired to the brain stem and thus has extremely fast reflexes. Because the distance that its signals travel is much shorter, it can out-perform the conscious mind by an order of magnitude. In an alcoholic, this brain region has expanded its powers and has taken over, redefining what constitutes an emergency. Thus the part of the brain that is intended to protect the individual has turned against him.
(I’ll use he or him to refer to the alcoholic for two reasons: (1) male alcoholics currently outnumber women by as much as a 7 to 3 ratio, and (2) it’s shorter than saying “him or her” throughout the manuscript.)
As a start, let’s call that component the Guardienne. The Guardienne is not an archetype in the Jungian sense. It is neither a pattern of thought nor a symbolic mind-image. It is not a monster or a demon. It is a necessary function of the human brain. There is reason to believe that, in addition to emergency functions, it is partially active at night, after the conscious mind has entered a sleep state. The Guardienne may take over nocturnal control of the body, particularly hearing, and possibly smell*, for greater protection. Other functions may sometimes be assumed, as well.
There are two common behaviors that may result from the Guardienne:
(1) hypnic jerks,
Hypnic jerks are those sudden muscle contractions that occur just as or just after you fall asleep. Sometimes, but not always, they wake you up again. The effect is analogous to a complex system that is controlled by a computer. Without going into the details, when a system is switched over from a slow computer to a fast one, there is a momentary upset as the system control feedback loops adjust themselves to the higher signal speed. The Guardienne is located closer to the brainstem and thus has higher speed than the conscious mind, and the result is a hypnic jerk.
Somnambulism, or sleep-walking, is a well-known phenomenon. Not everyone does this, fortunately. Quite a few small children sleep-walk, but they usually outgrow it by the time they’re teenagers.
A sleep-walker’s conscious mind is not functioning, but obviously some component of the mind is sufficiently active to guide him, or her, around the house or even outside. That component is the Guardienne. It has full access to the body’s locomotive, visual, and cognitive regions. The conscious self usually has no memory of the activities of the sleepwalker.
Next time, I’ll discuss the main function of the Guardienne.
In earlier posts I postulated the existence of the Guardienne, a part of the brain that is active at night while the conscious brain is fully asleep. I believe it is responsible for both hypnic jerks and sleep-walking.
The Guardienne is seated in a deep part of our brain (most likely in the limbic system, though there is a chance that it is distributed among other areas or structures in a complicated manner). It is directly connected to the brain stem for fast reflexes in critical situations.
The Guardienne is the part that takes over from our conscious mind during emergencies, for greater response speed. This is a very powerful and necessary feature of the mind. This is why people are capable of unusual feats of speed and strength in response to a severe crisis. This is may be why there are any humans at all.
You have probably heard stories of small people moving heavy objects (including lifting injured people and even automobiles) when necessary to save a life or to respond to a crisis.
My favorite story in this area concerns two brothers who were home alone on a farm when the barn roof caught on fire from a spark. The next thing they knew, they were atop the barn, ladling water out of a galvanized tub. Against the barn, there was an extension ladder that they had apparently used to get access to the roof.
They doused the flames and then poured the remaining water over the roof. Then they tried to go back down the ladder, carrying the empty tub. It was impossible. The metal tub was too bulky for even two of them to manage, and they ended up tossing the tub to the ground. It was then that they asked themselves, “How did we get the tub up the ladder full, when we couldn’t get it down the ladder empty?” Neither of them could remember.
Obviously, each of them had been operating under the control of their Guardienne. Like sleepwalkers, they couldn’t remember what had happened.
When the Guardienne takes over, a semi-hypnotic state results. It’s not surprising that people are unable to remember events that take place in this state. Next time, in Part 4, I’ll touch briefly on hypnotism and then move on to other phenomena.
Alcoholic blackouts, where a drunk continues to talk, move, drink, fight, rage, and even drive, are similar to a hypnotic state. Later, the drunk can’t remember any of those actions, which sometimes have included mayhem or murder. The drunk is under full control of the Guardienne; his conscious mind has already passed out.
Part of the unconscious personality is a necessary and integral component that I call the “Guardienne.” This component is normally dormant during waking hours, since the conscious self is awake and in control. When we sleep, our Guardienne becomes more active and can often alert us or respond to any emergency, as appropriate.
Hypnosis consists of putting the conscious self to sleep, leaving the Guardienne in charge. There are stories of marvelous feats accomplished under hypnosis. These stories may be somewhat embellished, but there are still many unexplained wonders.
SideNote: imaginative play may begin in a conscious state, but soon slides into a hypnotic trance. The consequences of this, relative to so-called “play therapy,” are significant, if not frightening. Law enforcement agencies have been known to allow supposed victims of child abuse to be interrogated under “play therapy” conditions. This should be illegal. It’s been fairly well established that hypnotized subjects will often say whatever they sense is desired by the therapist.”Play therapy” is no exception.
Sleepwalking occurs when the Guardienne decides to go for a walk once the conscious mind is asleep. Not very surprising. What is usually unknown is the Guardienne’s motivation.
The body considers Intoxication an emergency. The body knows that we have ingested a poisonous substance, so when we drink, the Guardienne becomes active. The Guardienne’s faster reflexes could account for the feelings of invincibility and power that often accompany mild intoxication…and sometimes, regrettably, profound intoxication. Those feelings have some basis in reality, at least during a drinker’s early experiences at low dosages. Remember, however, that what constitutes a low dose may not be accurately determined by someone under the influence.
Those feelings of power and control when the Guardienne takes over are a profound experience, one that a person will probably want to repeat. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the body has automatic defense mechanisms which include chemical neutralization of strange substances. As soon as a poison is detected, the body will attempt to get rid of it by rapid metabolism or other means of neutralization. Thus the effect of a given amount of alcohol (or almost any other drug) will become less and less with repeated doses. Chasing a particular level of euphoria will usually require greater and greater amounts of the drug.
At some point, the Guardienne will (in simple terms) become over-developed and will take you over. The Guardienne is part of you, but it’s not always the best part of you. It has limited ability to reason, though it can draw on your brain’s computer at will, sometimes faster than you can. It is not evil, per se, but if it takes over, the results can be evil. It likes to be in control, and it will subtly set up situations that allow it to take control. You walk past a bar. Out of the blue, you experience a sudden craving for a drink. The next thing you know, you’re waking up with a hangover. Things have gone too far. The Guardienne has you in its control. Who’s in charge here?
Next time, in Part 5, we’ll look at that and at other forms of addiction.
The Guardienne has full access to your internal computer. You may know you shouldn’t drink, but the Guardienne can summon up a dozen reasons why it’s a great idea for you to take that first drink. Once you’ve done so, you’ve fully activated the Guardienne, and he will proceed to drink you under the table.
Of course, it’s not always alcohol. Sometimes it’s adrenaline (raging or drama), or blood sugar (over-eating), or hormones (sex). There may be some differences, though, between the way the archetype is affected and the exact areas of the brain that are involved.
Dreams, even long, involved ones apparently covering many hours, often take place in a matter of a few seconds. This time warp is most probably accounted for by the difference in clock speeds between the conscious and unconscious parts of the personality.
Who’s in charge here?
Once the Guardienne has achieved a certain level of power, there’s no going back. Once activated, it will remain powerful. Don’t underestimate its cunning, either. Even after years of sobriety, it will be as big and crafty as ever, ready to pounce. What is the answer? First, stop feeding it. Don’t get into situations that will nourish its power. Don’t drink. Don’t rage. Avoid drama, avoid emergencies. Don’t let your body get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (“H.A.L.T.”). And so on. Second, increase the power of the conscious personality by intellectual and spiritual growth. Most Twelve Step programs offer ways to accomplish this. There are other spiritual programs available. This growth restores self-esteem and gives increased strength to the healthy will.
The objective is not to suppress the Guardienne entirely. It performs a valuable function. The objective is to take control away from it and restore the conscious personality to the helm. The Guardienne must be know that its message has been received and that the conscious is in charge, thank you very much.
Another phenomenon that may be explained by the Guardienne is déjà vu, that sensation that one is experiencing the exact same event that happened earlier. It is conceivable that, since the Guardienne operates at a faster speed than the conscious mind, under certain circumstances it takes in an event and stores it in the memory before the conscious mind can do so. When the conscious mind, lagging behind slightly, tries to store the event in memory, some part of the memory (perhaps the part that prevents storing the same record multiple times) sees that the second input is a duplicate and sets off the alarms.
In summary, the Guardienne concept can explain:
Dreams of falling, hypnic jerks
Other compulsive behaviour
Enhanced physical performance
High genetic rates of alcoholism
Freudian slips (Update; see NOTE)
It is also possible that the Guardienne occasionally sees an opportunity to speak a truth previously unspoken that needs to come out. It will cause the tongue (or the fingers) to say that truth in the form of a Freudian slip. Input, via either hearing or sight, can also be influenced in this same way, as for instance a man who saw a report stating: “…we have seen the laggards throwing in language of all kinds…” and read it as “…we have seen the blaggards….” The Guardienne’s speed allows it to sneak an unauthorized truth past the conscious mind as either input or output. I’ve added Freudian slips to the list above.