The Goldilocks Principle
We all recall the story of Goldilocks and her quest for finding, “just right.” She naturally defaults to looking for her, “not too hard, not too soft” sleeping surface and her, “not too hot, but not too cold” porridge as she goes about her way in seeking balance and comfort–all in the midst of an otherwise and potentially dangerous environment. It’s such a great story to apply to the way we find our way in this miraculous existence from cosmologists describing the “just right” place we find ourselves in our Solar System and Milky Way Galaxy to another way to think about, “just right” in addiction recovery.
People entering substance and behavior dependency recovery are woefully out of balance after losing all semblance of “just right” in the healthiest sense. Returning to and maintaining the delicate place of balance is the goal. It seems to be a condition of existence to seek, find and maintain balance on a regular basis as for example, the Earth shows us the fragile equilibrium required as even a slight change in global temperature can be catastrophic.
The good news is that getting back to balance is very possible for us since the template for “just right” is already programmed in our minds and bodies when we remove the out-of-balance toxins and deficiencies and return to the prescribed baseline of wellness. There is much common ground here, but each of us has to find our own, unique “wellness zone.”
Bad Stress – Good Stress: That’s Hormesis
Now what we know about our human existence is that it seems to require an interesting juxtaposition of just the right combination of “nutrients” in the way we move, eat and think with just the right amount of stress, (not too hot, not too cold) to find our “Goldilocks” balance.
Another way of describing this process of acquiring balance is with the term, “Hormesis”–one of those curious words that doesn’t sound or look like what it is:
Hormesis is the term for generally favorable biological responses to low exposures to toxins and other stressors.
By now you get the Goldilocks metaphor, but how does this translate to the way our bodies and minds work in addiction recovery? You might be thinking, “We get to addiction treatment because we’re totally stressed out and now you’re telling me stress is good?” Well yeah, and just a little good stress goes a long way.
As you allow this metaphor to stretch a bit more here, think of our “three bears” as these three, sometimes “hormetic”, essential “nutrients” required for optimal health and life expression. The first “bear” is movement, which is required–essential!–for good health, but the movement has got to be in the presence of resistance. For example, astronauts don’t fare very well after long periods of time without this resistance otherwise known as gravity, (BTW, see the movie, Gravity, ASAP). Our muscles need to break down and build back up on a regular basis for all of the physiological processes to work optimally in the body and mind. We don’t usually think of movement as a “nutrient”, but it truly is. Regular movement as an essential nutrient to provide this good stress is the key here and that’s hormesis working in our favor.
The second “bear” might be, and more commonly thought of as the nutrients in the way of food we consume. Most of us think of foods like broccoli, (‘cept 6 year old humans…) for example, as nutrient-dense and very good for us. But did you know that broccoli has a host of mild toxins in it which actually fire up our immune systems in this “hormetic” way? Our species has found and consumed these nutrients through the ages to give us more of the, “just right” immune system and brain chemical balance we need to survive and thrive. Well sourced food supplies just the right amount of this good stress.
Okay then, what about the third bear? The third bear is the balancing act with respect to how we think and feel. There’s an old adage that says we have 10,000 thoughts every day and 80% of them are negative. Well, donno about everyone else, but I can get off on some pretty bad stress related, “stinkin’ thinkin'” riffs on the freeway, for sure.
Seeking, finding and maintaining “just right” thoughts requires hormesis too. I’ve got to be willing to take a look at how (good stress) I’m taking a look at things on, you guessed it, a regular basis. And when I do, I’m keeping this potential angry bear at bay with practices like mindfulness along with the synergistic effects of balancing my good stressors outlined above.
Target Organ, Heal Thyself
The disease of addiction reveals its target organ as the brain. The addicted brain has established patterns way out of balance–way too cold and way too hot–and what we need to do in addiction recovery is feed the brain just right portions of yes, essential “nutrients” in the way we move, eat and think. These three bears are always there to offer up just the right amount of resistance, giving rise to just the right amount of each nutrient to deliver what Goldilocks and we all want most; safety, comfort, peace of mind, joy, productivity and robust health.
Thanks for letting the Goldilocks Principle get walked, “all around the park” here so-to-speak–because in the final analysis addiction recovery is about fine tuning stress management as we learn what “just right” means for each of us. It can be a bear to wrestle with addiction for life or…it can be a blast finding and maintaining balance by feeding those bears what they want.
The overarching point is to realize that each of us has a “set point” for wellness. All too often there is a misunderstanding that addiction recovery is about merely stopping the abuse of drugs and behaviors that are rendering lives and families unmanageable. Mere abstention can return an individual to a substandard baseline where relapse is inevitable. Another way to think about it is addiction relapse represents having settled for a baseline that is, “far too hot or far too cold.” Abstaining from our drug or behavior of choice is the first step in a life-long quest to find that just right set point–a great place to live.
Your addiction recovery will have thresholds to find and maintain for a lifetime in the way you’re moving, eating and thinking–your “wellness zone”–just one day at a time. And…we already know what it’s like to live beyond those parameters, (not even a nice place to visit anymore) so here’s to practicing wellness and thriving in each of our own, just right, long-term recoveries.Dr. Herby Bell is a Recovery and Wellness Coach and owner of Recovery Health Care, an integrated approach to wellness and addiction recovery in Saratoga, California. For more information please call 650 474 9411 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with me online too: Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin