For centuries we have explored and shared the potential power of love. It's been the heart of countless stories, fables, novels, films, poetry, and now, neuroscience studies. Love is so powerful that there have been entire religions based upon it. Indeed, most world religions today consider the act of love as central to their teachings. Even scientists, such as Albert Einstein, acknowledged the power of love.
Regarding the power of love, he once said, "Love brings much happiness, much more so than pining brings pain."
This is something that became a revelation in my own life, that love can trump fear and pain. For many years, as an artist, whenever I'd sign the back of a print, I'd often write, "In our darkest hour, choose love over fear." For love has the ability to elevate and lift us from our suffering. This all sounds magical and wonderful, but it isn't just a poetic worldview. There's a science to this phenomenon.
Love is a bit of an umbrella term, spanning different kinds of love, from love for our children, family, friends, and neighbors, to romantic love. Love encompasses other traits, such as kindness and gratitude. Love makes us feel happy, peaceful, centered, and even euphoric. When we are able to truly connect to love, everything suddenly seems to make sense. It truly is the antithesis of fear.
Fear, on the other hand, only makes things confusing. Fear disconnects us from ourselves, each other, and even our environment. Fear disconnects the mind from the body. But both love and fear have primitive imprints in our brains. Love, for example, activates the release of dopamine and dopamine centers of the brain. It also activates parts of the brain involved in motivation and emotion regulation. Again. Fear, on the other hand, has been shown to have the opposite effects.
Fear paralyzes. Fear destroys our motivation and dysregulates our emotions.
Neuroscience has shown us how love promotes emotional well-being and can be a powerful antianxiety agent, reducing worry and nervousness. It also lowers our chances of developing depression and, in fact, can alleviate major depression.
Further, acts of love are an agent of neuroplasticity. Simply put, love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude quite literally change the structures of our brains for the better.
As a Benzo recovery coach, I can tell you that I've personally experienced and have seen (many times) how the power of love has had an incredible impact on a person's recovery. I practiced daily activating and feeling love, attempting to fire up pathways in my brain that otherwise were left paralyzed by chemically induced benzo withdrawal fear.
As I said, fear disconnects these parts of the brain. Fear is driven by cortisol and adrenaline, which are damn powerful chemicals. They are designed to hijack the system, so to speak, and let nature dominate in an evolutionary effort aimed a survival. For example, if we are out in the woods and encounter a bear, and that bear charges us, our limbic system will immediately take over. It will hit us with a powerful chemical response, and, within seconds, are primed to either flee, fight, or play dead. Indeed, freezing is an evolutionary instinct for survival.
We see this all the time in nature. When an animal is caught by surprise by a predator and cannot fight back or escape, it often freezes. Some animals, such as possums and goats, will be stricken so profoundly by their limbic system's freeze response that the animals will become frozen, fall over, and even play dead. However, to say "play dead" isn't a fair statement, as they aren't actually playing anything. They become so overwhelmed by fear that their body locks up, and they appear to play dead. They're not playing. It's more of a fear seizure, and humans aren't all that different. When faced with incredible fear, we, too, can become paralyzed and may even seize up or lose consciousness.
We know that oftentimes when an animal loses consciousness or freezes, some predators will lose interest. "Playing dead" can save your life, especially in the face of an angry bear.
This is all wonderful when there's an actual bear, but it is devastating and debilitating when you're coming off benzos, and there are no bears... except the chemical fear signal created in withdrawal. Which, you must remember, to the brain, is the same thing. While that chemical fear seems benign, it's the same response as if we were being attacked by a bear. The brain reacts the same way. Only the attack is in our mind and in chemical withdrawal.
Back to love.
As I said, I spent much of my recovery leaning on love and all of its manifestations. It was an operation lull down the limbic system, and love was a powerful pathway. However, like other things in benzo recovery, love isn't a fire extinguisher. We don't just grab it in the middle of a panic attack. In fact, it would be almost impossible to do such a thing.
No. Love must become part of our daily fabric and reflexes. We must fire those nerves and pathways over and over again. Creating and strengthening them. Acts of love and kindness, gratitude, compassion, etc., must become our foundation. It will take a lot of work, and it will take time. Remember neuroplasticity building. You're firing nerves a thousand times. That's part of the healing process.
I created the Four Anchors of Love as a daily alternative to gratitude journaling, which is something I have a ton of respect for. The science is clear on gratitude journaling. It works. In very similar ways as I've been speaking here on love, gratitude is a branch of love. Each day I would practice not only reciting four anchors (things I love), but I would practice attempting to actually feel those feelings. That part is critical, or else we can really do this exercise on autopilot, completely disconnected, as if were were reciting our tables of multiplication.
We must avoid the autopilot. Four Anchors of Love cannot be treated as merely another item on our checklist we need to cross off in our daily effort to heal. As if it were part of our daily chores.
Each morning, especially if you can combine it with the Five Senses Limbic Retraining exercise, list four things you love in your life. Try to feel them. As difficult as it may be. As small and fleeting as it may be, initially, work on it. Keep firing those nerves, and it will present an opening that will grow with time and effort.
It's almost like planting a seed and watering it daily, watching and nurturing it to grow. Eventually, it will indeed grow and produce daily fruit!
Find four things you are thankful for and that you LOVE. Again, this is similar but different than gratitude. Love is more powerful than gratitude. It's more meaningful too. Love refocuses our mind on what is important and why you are fighting Benzo. It's the fuel for our motivation, perhaps.
You might think, "I love my children, and they are my reason for fighting so hard to taper and recover!"
It may be your spouse, your family, your friends, your pets, your career, your hobbies, etc.
Love is a light that illuminates the darkness. It's more powerful in this respect than gratitude. That said, certainly, continue to practice gratitude, compassion, kindness, and other branches of love. You cannot go wrong.
Make love a mantra and meditation. You can further accomplish this using mala bead mantra work. Which is something I will explore more deeply in the next blog. Until then. Practice your anchors. Plant your seeds. Water them. Give them sunlight. Give them nutrients. And be patient.
Identify roadblocks that prevent or hinder our ability to plant these seeds. This can appear in the form of anger, resentment, jealousy, sadness, fear, and hopelessness. Perhaps even greater than our suffering, these things can create a wall between us and our love. But here's the wonderful news. Love is more powerful. Love can penetrate that wall. And while we may still be in pain, and we still have anxiety, and we still have all of the host of nasty withdrawal symptoms, they cannot truly destroy our love. Love is beyond that if we allow it. If we cater to it and make it so.