Say you’re a college student who was recently dumped by the person you thought was the One. You’re moping around campus in your I’ve-given-up sweatpants and eating crappy comfort food when you come across a flyer seeking people who are still pining for their exes. You think, at last, someone to talk to!
Well, not exactly. When about 15 sad sacks responded to the flyers, which had been distributed around the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Rutgers University, they discovered they were actually being invited to take part in a psychological study: researchers wanted to gauge the kind of pain felt by people on the business end of a breakup.
The corollary to these findings, that the early lust of a new relationship has qualities almost identical to addiction, is old news to addiction specialists. It also helps to explain why relationships are the number-one cause of relapse. They render us incapable of thinking about other, more realistic issues.
Addiction occurs in the “primitive brain” that evolved long before the relatively recent development of the cerebral cortex and its ability to reason. These parts of the brain are not amenable to coercion, logic, willpower, or thinking problems away. They are the parts that control the functions below the level of thought — in a sense, below even the subconscious….
On Dec. 14, 1934, a failed stockbroker named Bill Wilson was struggling with alcoholism at a New York City detox center. It was his fourth stay at the center and nothing had worked. This time, he tried a remedy called the belladonna cure — infusions of a hallucinogenic drug made from a poisonous plant — and he consulted a friend named Ebby Thacher, who told him to give up drinking and give his life over to the service of God.
Wilson was not a believer, but, later that night, at the end of his rope, he called out in his hospital room: “If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything. Anything!”
As Wilson described it, a white light suffused his room and the presence of God appeared. “It seemed to me, in the mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing,” he testified later. “And then it burst upon me that I was a free man.”