“Moooove! It’s my turn now!” Emma tries to pull her sister away from you unsuccessfully. “Mommy!!” She stumps her little ballet flat on the floor, crying out for your support.
“You can hear from that side.” Ella keeps Emma far from your body, pushing away her with her butt. You just watch in amusement, unable to interfere, because you know it’s pointless to take a side, soon they both join forces and stick together against anyone who tries to stand in the middle.
“Girls,” Sam calls on them, sternly voice. “Leave mommy alone. She needs to rest, your sister’s been keeping her up all night.” His big frame fills over almost the entire room. You smile up at him and offer your lips to him when he’s bends over to kiss you.
It was pleasant enough, at first. The herbs struggling on
the kitchen window sill perked up and flourished. The little bouquets she
brought home sometimes lasted for weeks and weeks. They took long walks. He fed
her well, and like the plants, with sunlight and a little cool water, she
Then his mint plant broke its pot and took over half the window,
battling the parsley for dominance. If he missed a spot sweeping, grass sprung
up in the smallest smear of dirt. It was when he found the seedling growing out
of the shower drain he had to put his foot down.
“I’m trying,” she said, stuffing her face with
herb-and-lemon river trout on a bed of wild rice, both on sale with an added
coupon from the Sunday news. “It’s not like I do it on purpose, you know, it’s
just how the energies respond.” He was never sure how an average healthy,
non-Midgarian-raised Cetra ever managed to keep a low profile, much less stay
And the plants kept growing. He got hedge clippers to battle
the coriander. Weeding the bathtub became routine. They woke up one morning to
find that the evening’s bouquet had flourished into a full bramble, a mess of
bright flowers atop a thicket with thorns. With clippers and kitchen shears and
a little bit of the sword, they hacked it into manageable bundles and set them
loose in the park with a vague hope they would not strangle all other life.
“Sorry,” she said over fresh sea salt bread and rosemary
baked chicken. “That literally never happened before.”
It’s not her fault. It’s technically her gift, that living
green would hear the Planet in her nearby blood and strive to grow towards it. And
she’s strong now, healthy and fit like no below-plate Midgarian ever was. And
if she’d been strong enough even then to make flowers grow out of starving
He put some of the herbs out on the fire escape and hoped
they did not take over the whole town.
First things first – What does dopamine do anyway? 1) Dopamine is critical to the way the brain controls our movements. Not enough dopamine – can’t move, or control our movements well. Too much dopamine? Uncontrollable/subconscious movements (like picking, tapping, repetitive moments, jerking, twitching). Remember that the heart is a muscle, too, and too much dopamine will result in increased pulse and blood pressure.
2) Dopamine controls the flow of information from other areas of the brain, especially memory, attention and problem-solving tasks. This becomes important when we talk about amphetamine-induced psychosis that is common in meth abusers.
3) When dopamine is released it provides feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement to motivate us to do, or continue doing, certain activities. Dopamine is released by naturally rewarding experiences such as food and sex. This pre-programmed reward system makes sure that people do eat, do desire to procreate, and basically survive. Without enough dopamine, people feel the opposite of enjoyment and motivation – they feel fatigued and depressed, and experience a lack of drive and motivation.
How do brain chemicals like Dopamine work? Brain chemicals, including Dopamine, are stored in cells, which you can think of like barrels full of that chemical. When something occurs like a good meal or great sex the brain pours out some dopamine from the dopamine barrels into an open space in the brain called a synapse. It floats around there. Think of the synapse like a street, and dopamine is like little cars driving around aimlessly on the street.
Across the street (not far) from the barrels of dopamine are Dopamine receptors. These receptors have little parking spaces on them that only fit Dopamine (or a substance VERY similar in chemical shape to Dopamine) into them, like a lock and key. As the Dopamine floats around in the synapse, it finds parking spaces at Dopamine receptors, and “plugs in” to the receptors. THIS is the point where we feel good, when the Dopamine is parked in a receptor’s parking space. There are, however, a limited number of receptors with “Dopamine only parking” available, and each receptor has a limited number of parking spaces. So some of the dopamine may not be able to find a place to park.
When all the parking spaces are taken, the remaining dopamine that didn’t find a place to park is normally recycled. There are “reuptake molecules” that do this – think of them like tow trucks. They find the extra dopamine, and tow it back to the barrels of Dopamine so that it can be re-used the next time. After some time has passed, the receptors release the Dopamine that was parked in their parking spaces, and the tow trucks take those Dopamine molecules back to the barrel too.
The brain has a safety-check system that will destroy any excess Dopamine that isn’t in a parking space, and didn’t get picked up by the tow truck. There are special chemicals in our brains that will break down this extra dopamine. Think of this like the toxic waste crew coming in and sweeping up the street.
As a last resort, after repeated long-term over-stimulation, the brain will shut down Dopamine receptors so that nothing can park there ever again. Think of this like the demolition team coming in and permanently barricading off the driveways.
This is your brain on Meth! So now that we have a basic understanding of how things work normally, I’ll try to explain how things work when meth is ingested.
When someone eats, snorts, injects, or otherwise gets meth into their system, meth stimulates those barrels of Dopamine to pour out Dopamine. Meth continues to tell the cells to pour out dopamine until the body can break down the meth, which is typically 12 hours or so.
So Dopamine is poured out into the synapse (street) and finds parking spaces at dopamine receptors and makes the user feel high.
But meth is a tricky little chemical. It is shaped closely enough to Dopamine that the tow trucks get confused, and pick up meth thinking that it is dopamine. So the tow trucks are busy driving around hijacked by meth molecules leaving the extra Dopamine molecules floating around in the street (synapse). Well… that means the toxic waste crew comes in and destroys that dopamine that did not get recycled. So for the 12 hours or so it takes for the body to break down the meth, it is also spending that time destroying dopamine.
As long as the user keeps ingesting more meth, this process continues until there is not enough dopamine left to feel high from. When the user finally stops using, and the brain breaks down the meth molecules, the recycle trucks try to salvage what dopamine there is left, while the user crashes.
The end result of a “run” or “binge” on meth is a marked decrease in the amount of dopamine left in the brain. This leaves the user feeling exhausted, hungry, depressed, possibly suicidal and definitely unmotivated. They are literally suffering from a brain chemical imbalance. Self-inflicted mental illness.
How can the brain ever be normal again? Well, luckily, the human body is pretty resilient. We do have the ability to make replacement dopamine. However, the body was not designed to need to do this in large quantities or in quick supplies. So we don’t have a mass-production plant making dopamine. It’s a 3 to 4 step process, too.
The process: Phenylalanine –> Tyrosine –>L-dopa –> Dopamine
Phenylalanine is the first “pre-cursor”. It can be found in the following foods: soybean protein, frozen tofu, dried and salted cod, shellfish, lean meat, organ meat, skin-free chicken, cheese, milk, eggs, many seeds (watermelon, fenugreek, roasted soybean nuts), and chocolate. Equal artificial sweetener also contains Phenylalanine. The body can turn Phenylalanine into Tyrosine.
Tyrosine can also be found in food. This would eliminate the need for the body to synthesize it from Phenylalanine. One step closer to dopamine! Meat, dairy, eggs as well as almonds, avocados and bananas are good sources of Tyrosine.
From there, the body will convert Tyrosine into L-Dopa, and then on to Dopamine (and other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine).
So… to replace dopamine destroyed while high on meth, the recovering user must eat sources of Phenylalanine or Tyrosine.
To aid the body in making Dopamine, the person can use what dopamine they DO have left as often as possible. This tells the body that they need more of it. While you sleep, you use very little dopamine. Exercising, even just a walk around the block will use dopamine (remember, it controls movement). So setting a reasonable sleep schedule, and trying to get some exercise will help speed up recovery from Self-inflicted Dopamine Destruction (aka meth addiction)!
Be patient – remember, we weren’t designed to waste dopamine, we were supposed to be recycling it. The process of replenishing dopamine takes months. Studies show that recovering meth addicts who have abstained from meth use have about 80% of normal dopamine levels after 18 months of abstinence. This WILL be a long battle. It CAN be won.
What about the receptors that were destroyed? Well, good news again. Even though those receptors can never heal or recover, the brain is able to use existing receptors and find new pathways to accomplish the same results. Some receptors will even get a home equity loan and build on extra parking spaces!
Are there any medicines that can help? A doctor should always be consulted and included on any medication treatment for a recovering user. Many recovering addicts have found Wellbutrin (Bupropion) to be helpful after a few months of clean time. What Wellbutrin does is block some (not all) of the tow trucks for a little while so that the dopamine the person has left can be more effective. It does not, however, stimulate the barrels to pour out dopamine. The person has to have enough dopamine in their brain before Wellbutrin can help.
bonfires with friends, heart pounding and sweaty palms, being terrified but just going for it, leather jackets, combat boots, flannel shirts, holey jeans, cutting holes in old tees, tees w/bands or things you like, baseball caps + beanies, beat up converse, tank tops when it’s too cold out, weird outfits that end up looking great or terrible (but usually great), weeds (esp. the flowery ones), four leaf clovers, going apple picking, corn mazes + scarecrows, laughing at scary movies/haunted houses, goosebumps books, going all-out for halloween, stepping on crunchy leaves, the way everything looks when all the trees are different colors in fall, really intense/fast-paced relationships, abrupt endings, angry tears, not calling first, pride, songs that pump you up + make you think you can do anything, making everything a contest, skinned knees + bloody knuckles, raw emotion, really graphic/detailed tattoos, finger/foot tattoos, not giving a shit that everyone hates something if you like it, others’ dislike making you do it more, making a ton of plans but never following them + winging it, spontaneous road trips, long night drives, jumping in a lake in the middle of winter, walking on a frozen pond, short hair/pixie cuts or always keeping it back, borrowing chapstick (and always needing it), coffee w/lots of sugar half the time and black the other, only thinking in extremes, not thinking + just doing, always knocking shit over but managing to catch it/never breaking it, reading summaries of everything for class, journals half-finished, super chocolatey ice cream, not having a plan for life but taking a chance
passing notes in class, love letters, astronomy, sweaters, anything knitted, poor patching jobs, mismatched buttons, ironed button shirts w/the sleeves rolled perfectly, dozens of cross-outs in handwritten work, paper painted w/tea, typewriter font, forget-me-nots, rainy/gloomy days, dresses w/tights, twirling in dresses, wearing stuff with pockets just so you don’t have to carry a purse, sunhats, mary janes, knee socks, shorthand notes from writing so much, telling jokes with your friends that make no sense to others, tons of blankets, singing really loud when you think you’re alone, indie/piano music, metaphors, a bunch of small random tattoos, one or two really deep loves, either going everywhere alone or with two best friends, braids, purposely messy hair, light brown hair, hair dyed bright colors, biting/picking your nails when you’re nervous, hot tea, overthinking/worrying + regretting, ballet, either really graceful or really clumsy, tripping but acting like you didn’t, classic literature, diaries, mint chocolate chip ice cream, being born into affluent families
whispering and laughing with your friends, hair always looking perfect, black lace dresses, leather boots, studded clothes, thigh-highs, wearing heels even when it’s impractical but refusing to complain, wearing stuff without pockets + then keeping stuff in your bra/boots, organized desks w/nothing out of place, cursive handwriting, ivy, pine trees, black/white roses, white candles, upside-down crosses, one whole day spent in bed + overworking the next, locking yourself away for long periods, the calm as snow falls, falling asleep not touching but waking up wrapped around each other, vultures, angry songs, either no tattoos or a lot (of words/sayings), rolling your eyes but secretly identifying with things, being the dumper, short relationships, breaking up w/someone because you’re scared when it gets serious, black hair, blonde hair that’s almost white, purple/black lipstick, black coffee, always poised/collected on the outside, breaking down for .2 seconds in front of someone and berating yourself for it, acting like an asshole because you’re insecure/uncomfortable, feeling terrible for betraying someone years after + going to them in the middle of the night to apologize, edgar allan poe stories, russian poetry, everything typed, italian ice/gelato, working your way to the top no matter what it takes
laughing so hard you can’t breathe and your sides ache, daisies + wishy flowers, sunflower seeds, watermelon, sundresses, polka dots, bright colors, jean jackets/shorts, rompers, patterned tights, snapbacks, taking the fall for someone, underdogs, smiling when you want to cry, not complaining because someone else is having a worse day, breezy spring days, hot summer beach trips, seed-spitting contests, guilt over something that’s not your fault, hugging stuffed animals/pillows, canaries, always humming + dancing around, upbeat pop/cute acoustic, one or two really meaningful tattoos/matching tattoos with someone, trying to walk barefoot outside but regretting it (then walking carefully on your toes), messy + super curly hair, golden blonde hair, freckles, dimples, a small gap in your teeth, fruity flavored lipgloss/light pink lipstick, cold drinks, being the first to text, grouptexts, twister, reading to little kids, shel silverstein, making scrapbooks/photo albums, vanilla ice cream w/rainbow sprinkles + whipped cream, sherbet ice cream, settling for the middle if being the best means cheating