Wine, Weed and Cake – Communion, Connection, or Compulsion? When mention of these come up in conversation – at a dinner party, at the park, at Thanksgiving dinner with Uncle Earl – I notice heads turn, eyebrows raise, and pupils focus (or enlarge?). It’s true all three soothe, soften and serve in a variety of ways, so it’s no wonder wine, weed and cake draw instant attention and questionable connection.
All three take the edge off, ease hardened anxiety in the chest, encourage deeper breathing (hello, marijuana), slow down thoughts, and probably make you smile a little more – all until you’ve had too much, and then you can probably recall how yucky you felt or behaved. You might swear to cut back, take it easy next time, restrict or abstain. (And, for the record, if you’re questioning about your or a loved one’s lack of control and unmanageable lifestyle, consider getting help either through a 12-step or harm-reduction program. See resources at the bottom.)
Our Dance with Connection: Despite my fascination with noticing how eyes light up at mention of wine, weed and cake, I tend to be even more fascinated with exploring how people connect and engage with or without those party favors. And, thanks to modern neuroscience, we’re starting to understand the connection between the brain and how it dances with the environment. Whether connection happens through champagne, THC, buttercream frosting, gossiping, caretaking, dancing, parenting, exercising, (over)working, gardening, traveling, the list goes on…,
1) Sometimes our connections are fed by playfulness and engagement resulting in an ideally operating nervous system activated by the myelinated ventral vagal branch of nerves called the Social Engagement System. Here, we know our limits and practice the lifestyle of choosing to stay grounded or engaged. We can taste life with delight but stay connected to and act appropriately on our body's signals whether we sense fullness, exhaustion, energy or other needs.
2) Sometimes our choices for attempted connections are fueled by A) feeling unsafe resulting in an overactivated sympathetic nervous system response (Fight/Flight), where overindulgence might creep in... or B) feeling overburdened resulting in a dorsal vagal nerve response, operating from the parasympathetic nervous system (Freeze/Feign/Faint/Shutdown), where overindulgence might creep in as well.... C) Whether a sense of feeling unsafe or overburdened is present, we tend to surpass any moderation – consciously or not – resulting in unsavory behaviors/consequences and/or existing in a stuffed or stoned state of dissociation.
I just described the Polyvagal Theory in its most simplistic form, and this research shows how stimulating the myelinated ventral vagal nerve through a variety of activities or practices can help lead us to a more sustainable lifestyle path and more healthily regulated nervous system. Many of these are intentional body-based techniques, some are what you do naturally everyday, but perhaps they need more mindfulness. (Pssst, check out another great Polyvagal Theory explanation here:)
That said, if you find yourself leaning toward overconsumption, misuse or habitual use of these types of beverages, inhalants or edibles, what might you be avoiding? What feels so scary, unsafe, or burdensome that using a filler feels like the only way to tolerate it? How can you unpack what you’ve stuffed inside that deep well of longing? What are you truly craving?
a) Wine: How does the cool chardonnay soothe your internal frazzle or fill in the blank? Does it soften it or erase it? What if you let that internal frazzle have a voice? Where might that frazzle or tension show up in your body? What would it say? What does it really need for support?
b) Weed: How does smoking a bowl with your friends draw you closer? Do you feel more connected to them? Do you feel more connected to yourself? Or do you feel that perfect amount of disconnection that makes the untolerable now tolerable? What else would you like to blow off? If you can’t blow it off (aka smoke it away), what else might help tolerate it?
c) Cake: How does sliver after sliver pack away the buzz of angst or untouchable grief? Does it keep you from feeling alive and vulnerable? What if you paused before swallowing another rush of frosting, felt your feet on the ground, air on your skin? How could those big feelings (sometimes very hard to feel or access) get support, containment or a big hug?
The Confusing Parts: It might be really hard to answer those questions. There might not even be answers, and that’s okay! Just recognizing an inkling of awareness that “maybe I use these things to avoid something bigger,” is a giant leap into unchartered, mysterious, yet possible territory for healing and growth.
When we feel things are unsafe, or when we feel like we need to control a situation, or when we feel like checking out more and more, it’s easy to swallow another drink, accept another inhale, or polish off the birthday cake. All can result in heightened feelings of power, charm, acceptance, connection or feeling so disconnected and stoned that we drift away into our own world or perhaps sleep. The most confusing parts are that
a) sometimes we aren’t even aware of why we make the choices we make, and
b) these are socially acceptable ways of disconnecting from ourselves and others while sometimes, many times, being with other people.
The Good News: The beautiful thing about what neuroscience is teaching us is that our nervous system can be retrained. And, thanks to the Mindfulness movement, we can become our own witness. We can become aware of our patterns with the help of experienced support. We can tenderly and then generously make changes for ourselves. We can rewire how we connect and engage with others and ourselves. Along the way, we can discover the wealth of treasure buried deeply in our wells of shame or wonder. We can live more connected and aligned with our strengths while being compassionate with our wounds.
I love working with people to help unpack their constant cravings, shameful indulgences or other behaviors that are hard to admit not only to oneself but with others. I believe in the power of our wounds, how transformational they can be if we offer them curiosity, compassion and care. And, I believe in the power of the body to hold so much of this healing wisdom. I offer body-based psychotherapy to help bring our deepest senses and wisest truths to the table. Questions? Contact me for a 15-minute phone chat to see if we are a good fit.
*I must give credit to the Annina Schmid Counseling for calling my attention to her own Wine Weed & Cake work. Check her out!
12-Step and Harm-Reduction Resources:
Alcoholics Anonymous – http://www.aa.org/
Al-Anon – for loved ones of alcoholics struggling with codependency, etc. – https://al-anon.org/
Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition – http://www.atlantaharmreduction.org/home.aspx
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