I used to date this really amazing herbalist who would often explain the biochemical reasons for certain responses in the body. Many of these have stuck with me, but the one I think back on the most is the idea that we are biochemically addicted to things that make us sick.
When we have a minor food allergy (not something that causes anaphylaxis, but is a mild irritant), the body triggers an inflammation response, which in turn causes certain chemicals to release (endorphins, adrenaline, etc.) I’m not a medical practioner in any sense of the word, but my areas of interest include a peripheral understanding of addiction processes (and my own experiences with addiction have taught me a few things as well), and our bodies tend to crave the thing that is causing us small amounts of harm because we have a subconscious addiction to the chemicals that are released when our bodies have an inflammation response. That’s often why people who can’t process dairy crave cheese, or people with a mild gluten allergy crave pasta: we subconsciously associate the food with the chemical response, and we crave the thing that produces that response, even when we know it makes us sick.
I was thinking about this last night because I made myself some hot chocolate and accidentally scorched the milk. Rather than throwing out the milk, I decided it tasted fine and used it for my hot chocolate- which then did some really interesting things in my stomach. After a few hours had passed and the nausea had subsided, I was poking around in the kitchen for something to eat. I spied some cereal on top of my fridge and decided that that was what I wanted. I poured the cereal and milk and went to enjoy my snack- and realized that I wasn’t really hungry; all I wanted was the milk. And I remembered this phenomenon of bodies to crave the things that have done them harm in some capacity, and it made me chuckle as I ate my cereal and drank the remainder of the milk.
The point of this isn’t really about cereal or milk or food allergies. It’s about the way that we respond to things that are damaging or hurtful to us. It’s easy to see when there is a physical catalyst that causes a chemical output, but I think the process is very similar when there is an emotional or psychological catalyst. We receive some kind of emotional or psychological hurt and there are certain chemical responses that go into our self-preservation mechanisms. It makes me wonder if there is a subconscious addiction process in my brain that is connected to the chemicals that go into my self-preservation responses.
It is, of course, more complicated than that. There are some people that I continue to allow to hurt me over and over again, while there are others that I don’t. I’ve certainly done some thinking about how these things connect to my own mental health and made connections to addiction processes before with NRE, oxytocin, adrenaline, etc. But this is the first time I’ve related the process of being hurt physically with being hurt emotionally or psychologically and considered a biochemical reason for allowing these situations to continue in my life.
I also think there are some differences depending on circumstances. Negotiating and consenting to a knifeplay scene that involves cutting is different than accidentally slicing your finger when you’re cooking dinner. I don’t know if mental preparation for certain things changes the chemicals that are released (or, at least, changes our responses to the chemicals released) because I’m certainly not saying that people who go into subspace are addicted to that feeling—or, at the very least, I’m not saying that they are addicted in a way that includes the negative connotations and social stigma of the word “addiction”. But I do believe that there are differences when we are hurt in ways we consented to versus hurt in ways we did not- I just don’t know if those differences occur on a physical (chemical) level or a mental (processing) and response level.
It’s an interesting way for to view psychological and emotional hurts because I feel like it’s easy to distance the tangible from the intangible, when really, the two are interwoven, interconnected, and interdependent. And, as with all things, taken to enough of an extreme, the whole situation changes. Extreme allergies that cause anaphylaxis are not things that we continue to consume deliberately cause, well…hospital visits and possible death outweigh the chemical response. A certain level of emotional or psychological trauma and we get into triggers and PTSD. These are totally different ballgames, and I’m not addressing this level of extremity. I’m also not addressing the kinds of hurts that come from consensually negotiated scenes because I feel like that becomes a whole lot trickier and more tangled than it already is. But bodies are interesting, complicated things that have a lot going on beneath the surface, and for me, it’s easier to think in terms of biochemical responses rather than emotions because I can’t control my emotions. I can try to understand them and reroute my behavior and responses to be healthier, but I can’t control what I am feeling. I can, however, try to understand why I seek out certain situations that tend to bring up certain emotions in me and understand my responses better. That’s what growing and trying to be a healthy person is about, right?
[Cross-posted from FetLife]