My Story Part 2: Drunk Driving and Science

(9 minute read)


My brother asked me a question that I think a lot of people want answered:

"When an addict KNOWS they will lose everything if they relapse. Why does it still happen!? It's common sense! Don't touch the stove again moron!" -Nick 

Maybe that's not an exact quote.🤷🏻‍♂️  But, with years of treatment, CBT and DBT, and being a professional alcoholic; I feel I can answer this.

...A few years back, I was in a heated custody battle with the ex wife. I lived in Spokane and my kids lived in Portland. Every other Friday, I would get off work around 4pm, go home, shower, pack, then drive to Portland. I would get there around 3am Saturday, pick up the kids at 12pm, have them until 12pm Sunday, then drive back to Spokane. It was expensive, tiring, time consuming, and the short amount of time I had with my kids felt rushed and forced. It was driving 12 hours for 24 with my kids. But, with our attorneys at a stalemate, it's all I could get. 

I had sober time but after one of the visits, I wound up relapsing on my way out of town back to Spokane.

I was already 3 sheets to the wind. But, it was new years, and I had already relapsed anyways🤷🏻‍♂️, so I stopped in the Dalles to drink in the new year "proper". The fact no one died after what happened next could only be described as a miracle... 

For us addicts, there are two separate mechanisms that occur which are the catalyst to relapse. There is a hardwired unconscious side, I'll call the "left brain". And there is the conscious side, I'll call the "right brain". 

Left brain; the hardwired nucleus accumbens:

DEEP in our brain, there is a center reserved strictly for survival. Reason and choice does not exist here. It is strictly a switch to insure we eat, we have sex, and we "fight or fly". Even the most basic living creatures have this intuition. 

The medical community links this to something they call the hierarchy of needs, which is a brain function that prioritizes things to keep our species alive. Food being at the top, then sex, then violence/defense then exercise and so on.

1/10 people (addicts) have a hypersensitive reaction within just the first few times drinking or using drugs, and the substance begins infiltrating that hierarchy. It is a genetic predisposition. Or, in the recovery community it is referred to as "getting delt a shit hand." (Sorry Mom)

Your brain treats hunger, thirst, sexual desire etc. the exact same way an addicts brain treats their substance. There is absolutely zero conscious decision making involved in this process. Our brain says "you need to use" the exact same way your brain says "you need to eat". Only a considerable amount of sober time can reverse this...

I woke up in my car on the side of the freeway shivering violently. My jaw killed just from my teeth chattering. I looked around and noticed I was still in the gorge only about 90 miles out of The Dalles. I pressed the button to start my car to get heat going and NOTHING. No gas. The sun was coming up, it was 26 degrees outside, and I was stranded.

As I almost froze to death waiting for AAA to bring me gas, I started to look through my phone to make sense of what had happened. I always gas up before I leave, so having an empty tank and considering where I was, meant there was about 350 miles I drove completely unaccounted for. After looking through my phones photos it made more sense. I have posted one of the only pictures I can share on the internet...

After gassing up and sleeping a bit, I head off again only to start DTing intensely. I took an alternate route I don't usually take through Irragon, OR. and luckily, they had a hole in the wall bar I stopped at to "get right". So at 10am, I sat down and ordered a double to maintenance drink so I wouldn't seize before I could get home to an ER and properly detox with Ativan. 

As the booze sets in, I start to feel much better, to the point that I started flirting with the waitress. ......WHiCh shouLd bE abSoluTely no suRpriSe to anyOne that actUalLy knOws mE🙄🤷🏻‍♂️. 

She looked me straight in the eyes, a woman I've never met, in a bar I've never been in, in a town I've only driven through that's 3 hours between Portland and Spokane and says. "You don't remember me at all do you?"... 

😐... 🤯

Right brain; the conscious prefrontal cortex: What happens if you try to slap your eyeball? Seriously, try it! put your hand in front of your face and tap your eyeball... You can't (or it's extremely difficult) that is because your brain goes into auto coping mode and closes your eye lids automatically. It is a natural physical coping mechanism to insure you don't get hurt! Cool! (Quit hitting yourself 😏)

We also do this psychologically. In an attempt to protect itself from harmful or uncomfortable experiences and memories, our mind uses "knee jerk distractions" to cope with the "icky feelz". 

There are plenty of healthy coping skills we pick up. Exercise, relaxation, and humor being some. There are unhealthy ones too like denial, lashing out, or excessive drinking. In the beginning, these are conscious decisions that we make to cope. But over time, it becomes automatic and unplanned. Just like your eye closes automatically when you try to give it a fresh one...

Aghast, I asked the waitress "No?!?! Should I!?!?" She proceeded to tell me that I had been there a few weeks back and drank so much, I had to be 86ed from the restaurant. Needless to say, I left her a large tip, apologized profusely, and exited that bar never to return.

This was not my first relapse headed back to Spokane!? The only explanation is that when I had relapsed the first time, at some point I must have had a seizure that erased those memories. Blackouts happened to me often. This was definitely not that, with blackouts you still get tiny bits of memories. Seizures erase 100% of your memories, sometimes for days.

I got home to Spokane and into the hospital on Pines and I90, which is one of several I am considered a frequent flyer. Stabilized and sobered up.

After ALLL that drama. Reckless driving, almost freezing to death, DTing, finding out there's another Nathan running around getting kicked out of bars, seizures, and hospital stays... Two weeks later, I was two weeks sober, and after dropping off my kids with their mother. I went straight to the bar before even leaving Portland, AGAIN. 


What I didn't know then, that I discovered from working with a psychiatrist later. Is that I was suffering from a type of PTSD. It was regarding an event that happened years prior with my children's mother. Something that happened in our high school days that was extremely tragic for me, and I packaged it away. And seriously hadn't consciously thought about it since. A seed of trauma left unchecked.

Unbeknownst to me, dropping off my kids with her... and that whole "situation" (it's complicated), activated this "sleeper cell". And as I drove away from everything that was important to me, my left brain, and my right brain clocked in and went to work... And they were hungry for some OT.

Quiz: When your left brains God given evolution of hardwired intuition, high fives your right brains knee-jerk psychological protection system, how much brain is left to make the right decision? 

This is why I literally twitch when I hear a normie say "well why doesn't the person just stop drinking!?" DAMN!!! WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT!? 

If it's not 100% obvious that this disease is the most complex and cunning of all the snares Satan has in his arsenal IDK why I'm even preaching anymore. I should just shut up.

The original question was "how does an addict relapse!?" 

The real question, (with scientific proof backed by real world experience) is "how does an addict NOT relapse!?" 

Once a normie goes without eating, drinking, and having sex while simultaneously slapping their naked eye on command without flinching, maybe they'll understand the struggle a bit better.

I thank God I didn't damage anything or anyone or myself doing something so stupid. How INCREDIBLY scary! Unfortunately for me, this luck was about to run out. It is a LONG way from the Pinnacle to the pit, I thought I was at rock bottom to be honest, I was extremely wrong. To be continued

Now, if you know an addict or alcoholic, text them RN and say "I love your face, you're amazing." Hugs are also welcome if you're close.


(Authored December 14th 2019)

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