There are certain days that are ingrained in your memory. This was one of those days. A day in which I had two flashes of realization.
Vividly I recall sitting on my bedroom floor, holding my face in my hands. Listening, waiting, almost longing for the relief when the inevitable bellow of rage exploded from my parents’ bedroom. On the one hand, it would be horrible. On the other hand, the excruciating expectation of the inevitable horribleness was worse than actually hearing the tantrum, the furniture pounding, the swearing, shouting and door slamming.
We all say we “hate drama” but let’s face it. It’s interesting, it’s mentally stimulating, it’s fascinating…even in its horribleness. There’s no chance of being bored in the midst of drama, drama, drama.
According to Dr. Heidi Hanna writing for Stress.org:
…stress may even be as addictive as drugs. In addition to the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline,
stress also releases dopamine, a “feel good” chemical.
Dopamine encourages repeat behaviors by activating the reward center in our brain
and may be at the heart of many addictive behaviors and substance abuse issues.
I’ve observed that people who are raised in dramatic families are so comfortable with it, that despite claiming to hate drama, drama, drama, in fact they choose to perpetuate drama, drama, drama. Perhaps they don’t behave dramatically or create it in their own lives, but they thrive on hearing about other people’s drama and then repeating it ad nauseam, I mean, infinitum as gossip.
But it’s not just adrenaline and dopamine that are addictive. So is cortisol, another stress hormone. Dr. Sara Gottfried wrote brilliantly on this subject in her article Are You Addicted to Stress.
Cortisol is the “fight or flight” hormone and it has a simple job: to get you out of a jam.
If a tiger is about to charge you, cortisol raises your blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure,
sending fresh blood to your muscles so you can either pick up a club
and fight the tiger or run like crazy up the nearest tree.
I thought tigers could climb trees.
But seriously, if you’re reading this article, ten’ll-get-you-twenty that you know a little something about “fight or flight.” That horrible adrenalin-squirting, hyperventilating, hot flash, dizzy, itchy ears feeling of a panic attack. Hello, cortisol.
The problem is that it’s damn addictive. According to Dr. Gottfried, here are some telltale signs that you’re addicted to cortisol. She writes:
- Do you have drama in your life, such as your relationship with your partner or your mother or work colleagues? If you have a period of smooth sailing, do you feel bored?
- Do you need to exercise to self regulate? Do you feel out of sorts when you don’t get your gym time in?
- If you have a day where you are completely unscheduled, do you feel uneasy, maybe anxious—and rush to fill it in?
- How’s your sex drive? Would you rather get work done than revel in carnal pleasures?
There’s no shame in it. After all, cortisol allowed us to survive horrific situations we should never have had to survive.
In that way, cortisol is brilliant. It can pull you through being kidnapped. It can help you survive sexual abuse. It can keep you going for years when life seems hopeless.
But when the danger, the horror, the pain is over and past…the cortisol keeps on a-going. That’s when the problems happen. It was a good servant, but now it’s a poor master. While your endocrinologist can order tests to determine your cortisol levels, Dr. Gottfired provides some clues to cortisol addiction. She writes:
- Got moodiness? Half of people with depression have high cortisol from chronic stress—not surprisingly, high cortisol is associated with low serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical in charge of mood, appetite, and sleep.
- Got memory or intense emotions? High cortisol shrinks the hippocampus, the part of your brain where yo consolidate memory and regulate your emotions.
- Got muffintop? High cortisol preferentially makes you store fat at your waistline and causes blood sugar to rise.
- Got addictions? The most common ways to crank up cortisol are coffee and alcohol, our favorite psychoactive and addictive drugs.
To that, I would add the telltale symptom of supraclavicular fat deposits aka big bulges of fat over each collar bone. I have a very fine matched pair. Hello, endocrinologist!
Like any addiction, it’s damned hard to ween yourself off drama. There is a terror that if one purges drama, drama, drama from one’s life, one will be bored, bored, bored. Like an ex-alcoholic keeping sweets nearby or a former smoker keeping a pocketful of gum and hard candy available at all times, you need to have something ready to fill the void left when you block the narcissists, set a boundary on the gossip and remove the mental stimulation of drama, drama, drama.
We’ve talked about hobbies and interests in so many articles, so I shan’t reinvent the wheel again here.
Drama is a very real addiction. It’s not merely a mental habit. It’s an addiction to your own hormones stimulated by drama, drama, drama. It’s not good for your health nor your happiness.
But, to quote Mr. Chips, with a “sense of humor and a sense of proportion,” moral courage and self-control, you can wean yourself off to be a happier, healthier and more serene you. Sounds like a good 2020 New Year’s Resolution to me!