Those Others

Honesty is one the most important things in recovery for me – even if the truth can hurt – which it can often do.

When struggling for an idea of a Higher Power that did not involve a Christian God, I saw a video, in treatment, once by a recovering alcoholic who happened to be a Catholic priest, I think it was Father Ralph Pfau, who effectively said don’t sweat it, just be honest.

That’s it, just be honest?

Yeah, because Honesty, he said,  comes from the Greek  to be in God.

So just be honest, that’s all.

And that is how it started, the journey I most wanted never to take.

This help from outside was and is fundamental and essential for my recovery.

When I rely solely on my own self perception it often takes months to realise how distorted it has become.

Back in AA this self deception rarely happens for long. Why? I see myself in others, in their struggles, in their humanity, in their program, in their delusions, in their defects, I see what I am doing right and what I could be doing more right.

We see ourselves only with the help of others sometimes so thank God for those others!

God wants me to be the real me. The honest me.


“The image that concerns most people is the reflection they see in other people’s minds.”
Edward de Bono

Progress not Perfection

When I need a spiritual “tune up” I go back to basics. I up my meditation, go to more AA meetings and go to chapel more regularly.

I have over the last few years drifted away from what I used to do in terms of my recovery.

I took time out from AA to further my ideas into the neurobiology and neuromechanisms of addiction and I have now come up with theories of addiction which satisfy my understanding of addiction.  I have done with that in many ways.

These theories of addiction can be found here   please read as they may strike a chord with you too and hopefully contribute to your understanding of addictive behaviour.

But this research and time away from AA has had some cost or so may be the case. It depends on how one appraises this and how one appraises the role of mistakes in life, if this was a mistake even?

Are mistakes things to be learnt from, are mistakes also integral to learning a better way of doing things?

In these last few years only going to AA intermittently and nothing like as much as I used to, I have found I have increasingly been living in my head and less in my heart.  I have found it difficult to moderate my research. I have become quite obsessive if not addicted to researching addiction, however ironic this may sound.

Now I have taken time out as I want to change course in my life. I have decided I want to work more closely with my fellow alcoholics, I want to use what I have researched along with what I have learnt in AA in a more practical therapeutic way for myself and for others.

To do so requires me getting more spiritually and emotionally fit.

Today I have meditated after waking and then went to chapel then followed by a AA meeting. I have just  returned and after this will shop, cook tea, walk my dogs, do the clothes washing etc. All mundane compared to high flying research?

High flying research has it’s place but the spiritual programme I want to live has to come first and has to put others first.

I haven’t been doing that as much in reality as I should.

Throughout my research I have not been living in AA and visiting the world from there, I have been living in the world and barely giving AA any time. The reason I have done what I have in recovery and got what I got in recovery is solely down to AA.

AA does not need to be improved or updated. I do!

I went to this meeting today thinking I will be of help to others to be gobsmacked of how much help these other people are to me.

For an egomaniac self proclaimed genius this was such a humbling experience it was painful.

I have drifted off beam, gotten spiritually flabby.

All the shares I heard today where nuggets of genius on how to stay sober, they were living demonstrations of recovery, living demonstrations of living a spiritual life in a way I am not! It was like sitting around a table of spiritual  gurus.

How could I have been so wrong about these people before?

You know why? Because I was too busy being so right about what I thought.

I need to put more work in to get more out of this spiritual way of life.

When I was last in AA in this area I would pronounce that meeting as a sick meeting or that meeting is not doing it properly or that is not AA, or why are they always talking about outside agencies like treatment centres etc…..a controlling madman was what I was looking back.

Today I was completely teachable.

A first!

Everyone who shared was a teacher, everyone is a teacher period. Everyone has something to say, something I can learn from. Everyone!

This is where I am at.

A bit tired, fragile and dealing with the bitter pill of swallowing my false pride and admitting I have been so wrong about so many things.

I really hate to admit it. But there you have it.

There is not a problem out there – it is usually a problem in here, in between my ears, in my head and heart.

Perhaps I needed to step out  and then go back?

Who knows? All I know is that I now have a different attitude to when I was last there.

The worse thing which is also the best thing is that after all this research I can really state  that I can’t be sure I know anything much.

And that is definitely progress!



Change of Heart

Just to clarify I will be on a long term break from blogging about research, namely the neuropsychology of addictive behaviour and recovery.

I have found research quite obsessive and difficult not to get kinda addicted to it. I need to step away from it I think.

I have done enough research in 6 years to write three PhDs and a few books.

After a rest period, however, I will be returning to blog about my experience of recovery and helping others in recovery – that is my 6 month project moving forward.

In order to do this properly I have to  lay the ground work.

Basically I have to accept that my recovery has gone off beam and that I need to go back to recovery basics myself in many ways.


It is a rare sign of humility for me, appreciating I need a good tune up.

I need to tighten my belt and start spending more time working with others. Especially those in early recovery. In order to be of service to them I need to get myself in fitter spiritual condition.

I did not realise how much my blogs mean to other people which is very humbling so I will continue with this project say from July to December, so hang in there as there will be lots more blogs on the experience of recovery, coming after a rest period to get back to a fitter spiritual condition.

Thank you


Adieu for Now

Special notice to say that is me for now – I am taking time out.

Six years of constant research has left me tired and in need of a change in my life. I need to get more hands on in helping others.

I am leaving behind a library of info on my blogs which I will maintain long term – all one needs to essentially know about the neuropsychology of addictive behaviour and recovery I believe is there if one roots around – dealing with distress via serenity is the key ultimately.

Hopefully I have helped shine some light on how recovery changes the brain for the better – ultimately long term recovery involves the rational management of our, at times, errant emotions and accompanying cognitive distortions.

Hopefully I have also shown some ways this can be achieved in recovery.

Recovery is possible and even long lasting if one works at it.

We have a distress based condition which requires constant management, a head that can run away with itself and have to be retrieved via letting go of self willed distress and errant thinking. Recovery is a process which can only happen one day at a time.

So we have all only got today.

May this day be filled with serenity, the perfect antidote to distress and with love for the people in your people with hopefully some for yourself too.

Feeling good about yourself, giving yourself a break, are good ways to recover a sense of self that is not distorted and jaundiced by our addiction.

We may have addicted brains but we can have recovering minds which can create for us a life we could never have envisaged

So one step in front of the other and let recovery take you somewhere you have never been before, become a person you have never know nor been before.

God bless all of you on your life journeys, in your recovery discoveries.

Have courage, hope and faith and all will be well!

Thank you for reading, commenting on and following my work. I have enjoyed getting to know some of you and I wish you all well in our lives, your recoveries and in your journeys of discovery.

If you need to contact me I am on facebook and twitter.

Paul x

Neural Ghosts

When I first came into recovery I always noticed that when I felt bad about myself it was often accompanied by the thought of a drink?

I always thought this curious. I would be feeling negative, self loathing, in shame or guilt about some past behaviour and all of a sudden my brain would go “to hell with this, let’s go for a drink!?”

Initially I thought well I guess I drank on negative emotions quite a lot when I looked back. I drank  when I felt bad about myself all the time. I rarely drank when I felt good about myself as I rarely felt good about myself?

So in some way this feeling bad about myself and drinking must have been forged together somehow in my brain. In other words, I must have felt negative about myself and the urge to drink to not feel bad about myself must have simply  accompanied this feeling until it become a habitualised response –  feel bad, thought of drink; a sort of internal stimulus/response.

It was like alcohol had taken over the job of regulating/controlling/dealing with my negative emotions about myself.

I feel now that I probably found alcohol extra stimulating when I first drank because not only did it appear to make me feel great, it also relieved me of negative emotions and anxiety, right from the start of my drinking in fact.

This is a negative self perception that became  entwined with an alcohol use schema. Feel bad drink, repeat.

So in early recovery and before I did the 12 steps which removed many of these feelings of uselessness, worthlessness and negative self perception I would be caught up in this response of feel bad about myself, thought of a drink!

The thing is when I thought of a drink it wasn’t of the last time I drank. I didn’t think of the violent shakes, the vomiting, the DTs, hallucinations.

No, I thought of sunny lit bars, with sexy barmaids, and people drinking, laughing and having fun.  Music playing, people dancing etc. It had been some years since this had been my drinking experience but this facsimile in my head of what a drink looked and felt like would play like a film across my mind.

Then one year in recovery I came across a study which looked at euphoric recall – i.e. this feeling of elation around memories of drinking which kinda delude you into thinking that drinking would a a great idea while simultaneously ignoring the last years of alcoholic hell when drinking wasn’t much fun to put it mildly.

Some people say euphoric recall is a memory or a feeling reactivated in your brain somehow and may be the feeling alcohol or drugs gave you when they were still euphoria  inducing, how they used to make you feel way back in the day when you enjoyed drinking and drugging.

It is a weird thing euphoric recall – it is like a neural ghost, embedded in the brain.

It has accounted for many alcoholics relapsing, thinking that drinking will be like the good old days to find it returns them to a living hell, worse than the last hell they dragged themselves out of.

So this euphoric recall is like a siren calling you to the jagged rocks of elapse, it is essentially a deluded message your brain sends you that has nothing to do with the last years of your drinking.

So why does it occur?

I partly reconciled the bit in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous where it says alcohol is “cunning, baffling, powerful” in reference to an  an article I read a while back by Rex Cannon(1).

His observations about a possible role for negative self perception in relapse was based on a study he conducted  on recovering alcoholics.

It found that by measuring their brain frequencies, when thinking about drinking and when in a negative self perception that there was a change in the frequency of their brain waves.

In both cases, thinking about drinking and also when in a state of negative self perception, created a widespread alpha power increase in brain frequency in the frontal part of the brain the prefrontal cortex, commonly seen by use of certain chemicals.

So this frequency was also present and in the same areas of a common neural circuitry  during alcoholics’ reports of ‘using’ and ‘drinking’ thought patterns as well as in negative self perception.

So thinking about drinking provokes a similar brain frequency as drinking which is also quite similar to being in a negative self perception.

In terms of the alcoholic brain being out of balance in terms of neurochemicals, which it is, this is like negative emotions/distress prompting a need  to  restore balance in a way it used to temporarily, i.e. by drinking.

To the alcoholic brain this is how we survived before, when we felt we had to  rink to restore a transient “balance or homeostasis” which relieved our negative emotions.

Obviously  these negative emotions were soon be replaced by chronic drinking and the cycle of trying to correct an out of balance brain got worse with the brain becoming more and more out of balance via more and more chronic drinking.

The author suggest that “‘using’ and ‘drinking’ thought patterns as well as in negative self perception which appeared to bring the brain into synchrony, if only for a brief period of time, was the euphoria addicted individuals speak so fondly of and one possible reason for difficulty in treating alcoholism.

It is as if this euphoric recall  “lives” like a neural ghost in our brain networks, ready to haunt us when we are feeling negative emotionally or distressed.

He also suggested that “if the brain communicates and orchestrates the affective (emotional) state of the individual in response to contents and images relating to self and self-in-experience – it is plausible that a large scale feedback loop is formed involving not only perceptual processes but relative automatic functioning.

“This process reinforces the addicted person to become habituated to an aroused cortical state (i.e. increased alpha/beta activity) and when there is a shift to ‘normalcy’ (or recovery/sobriety) it is errantly perceived as abnormal thereby increasing the desire or need for a substance to return to the aroused (perceived as normal (or desired)) state”.


It may be that indulging in one’s negative self perception recreates a neural based virtual reality. One is almost bodily transported back in time. Back to a drinking period. In a neural sense, back in the drink and not fully in sobriety, however fleetingly.

It does leave a neural taste for it, a torturous transient desire.

I remember it, particularly in early recovery, when the ‘recovery’ script was not written yet and I did not have a habitual recovery self schema to automatically activate, to pull me out of this neural reverie, this bio-chemical vicarious pleasure.

The problem is that it happens to you without you asking it! You can be invoking a negative self schema automatically without wanting to reawaken this  ghost.

I see people relapse because they have no emotional sobriety and they seem to be emotionally drunk before they are actually drunk. Emotionally drunk seems to be like a virtual drunk, brings up the similar feelings or neurochemical reactions as actual drinking.


1. Cannon, R., Lubar, J., & Baldwin, D. (2008). Self-perception and experiential schemata in the addicted brain. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback,33(4), 223-238.

Powerless over Thinking!

When I first came into recovery I would be plagued by intrusive thoughts about drinking, I would have thoughts about drinking, at certain times of the day in particular, on sunny days etc.

These thoughts used to greatly distress me and I would end fighting with these thoughts which only seemed to make things worse, the thoughts seem to increase rather than decrease and I got increasingly distressed.

I had no control over these thoughts and would get into a terrible emotional state over this. All before I decided it was now a good time to ring my sponsor. I always waited until I was in as much emotional pain as possible before ringing my sponsor!

I thought I could go it alone – that I did not need any help. I was in control of this.

Geez, surely I could control my own thoughts for flips sake!

Hmmm…afraid not!?

In early recovery I was as powerless over thinking as well as my drinking.

It was obvious I had lost control of my thinking like my drinking – it took a lot longer (and I still forget this even today!) to realise I have no  control over my thinking.

It chatters away regardless of my will, my wishes. It I have found is not usually a friend.

So like everything else in recovery I decided to research this! To find out why my thinking seemed out to get me, to negatively affect my recovery. To find out why my thinking did not seem to help me in recovery.

I found out that the idea that abstinence will automatically also decrease alcohol-related intrusive thoughts had been dismissed by research and vast anecdotal evidence.

Practically all therapies for alcoholism e.g  AA, SMART and so on suggest that urges create automatic thoughts about drinking.

This has been demonstrated in research that distress automatically gives rise to intrusive thoughts about alcohol. (1) This reflects emotional dysregulation as these intrusive thoughts are correlated to emotional dysregulation (2).

These thoughts to the recovering/abstinent individual can be seen as egodystonic which is a psychological term referring to behaviors, values, feelings that are not in harmony with or acceptable to the needs and goals of the ego, or consistent with one’s self image.

Other conditions, such as OCD, have these egodystonic thoughts creating the distress that drives a compulsive need to act on them, rather than letting them pass.

In other words, these thoughts are seen as distressing and threatening and compel one to act to reduce this escalating sense of distress. A similar process can happen to those in early recovery.

Thoughts about drinking or using when you now wish to remain in recovery are egodystonic, they are contrary to the view of oneself as a person in recovery.  The main problem occurs when we think we can control these thoughts are that these thoughts mean we want to drink or are going to relapse!

Early recovery is a period marked by heightened emotional dysregulation and the proliferation of intrusive thoughts about alcohol .

In fact,  research demonstrates that alcohol-related thoughts can resemble obsessive-compulsive thinking (3,4).

In fact, one way to measure “craving” in alcoholics is by scale called the Obsessive Compulsive Drinking Scale (5) , thus highlighting certain similarities between alcoholism and OCD.

This finding is also supported by clinical observation and leads to the expectation that among abstinent alcohol abusers, alcohol-related thoughts and intrusions are the rule rather than the exception (6)

Relatively little is known about how alcohol abusers appraise their alcohol-related thoughts. Are they aware that alcohol-related thoughts occur naturally and are highly likely during abstinence?

Or do they interpret these thoughts in a negative way, for example, as unexpected, shameful, and bothersome? Misinterpretations of naturally occurring thoughts or emotional reaction to them  may be detrimental for abstinence (7).




A number of papers and  studies have shown that individuals’ appraisal of their intrusive thoughts as detrimental and potentially out of their control may lead them to dysfunctional and counterproductive efforts to control their thinking.

Alcohol-related thoughts cause an individual to experience strong emotional reactions; however, alcohol abusers will increase their efforts to control their thinking only when they have negative beliefs about these thoughts.

For instance, spontaneous positive memories about alcohol (‘‘It was so nice to hang out at parties and to drink with my buddies’’) may be appraised—and misinterpreted—as ‘‘the first steps toward a relapse’’.

Such an appraisal of one’s thoughts about alcohol as problematic may instigate thought suppression and other efforts to control the thoughts.

These efforts must be assumed to be counterproductive and  will increase rather than prevent negative feelings and thoughts, and they may even demoralize alcohol abusers who are trying to remain abstinent

On the other hand if positive alcohol-related thoughts are not appraised as problematic but as a normal part of abstinence, the awareness of these thoughts might even lead to the selection of more adaptive coping responses, which could help to reduce the risk of relapse, such as talking to someone about them or just simply letting these thoughts go.


In one study (8), participants who reported on their thoughts about alcohol in the previous 24 hours, 92% reported experiencing at least some thoughts about drinking that ‘‘just pop in and vanish’’ without an attempt to eliminate them. This suggests that if both suppression and elaboration can be avoided, many intrusive thoughts will be relatively transient.

An “accept and move on’’ strategy provides an opportunity for the intrusion to remain a fleeting thought.

In other words, just let go.

This means the thoughts go, and the distress which activates them, too.

This is recovery a lo of the time.  Getting embroiled in thinking and then letting go, repeat…

That is why helping others is important  -it takes us out of our crazy heads


1. Zack, M., Toneatto, T., & MacLeod, C. M. (1999). Implicit activation of alcohol concepts by negative affective cues distinguishes between problem drinkers with high and low psychiatric distress. Journal of Abnormal Psychology108(3), 518.

2. Ingjaldsson, J. T., Laberg, J. C., & Thayer, J. F. (2003). Reduced heart rate variability in chronic alcohol abuse: relationship with negative mood, chronic thought suppression, and compulsive drinking. Biological Psychiatry54(12), 1427-1436.

3. Caetano, R. (1985). Alcohol dependence and the need to drink: A compulsion? Psychological Medicine, 15(3), 463–469

4. Modell, J. G., Glaser, F. B., Mountz, J. M., Schmaltz, S., & Cyr, L. (1992). Obsessive and compulsive characteristics of alcohol abuse and dependence: Quantification by a newly developed questionnaire. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 16(2), 266–271.

5. Anton, R. F., Moak, D. H., & Latham, P. (1995). The Obsessive Compulsive Drinking Scale: A self-rated
instrument for the quantification of thoughts about alcohol and drinking behavior. Alcoholism:
Clinical and Experimental Research, 19, 92–99.

6. Hoyer, J., Hacker, J., & Lindenmeyer, J. (2007). Metacognition in alcohol abusers: How are alcohol-related intrusions appraised?. Cognitive Therapy and Research31(6), 817-831.

7. Marlatt, G. A., & Gordon, J. R. (Eds.). (1985). Relapse prevention: Maintenance strategies in the
treatment of addictive behaviors. New York: Guilford Press

8. Kavanagh, D. J., Andrade, J., & May, J. (2005). Imaginary relish and exquisite torture: the elaborated intrusion theory of desire. Psychological review112(2), 446.