Why Do Animals Seek Altered States?
A few weeks ago I happened upon an article describing how animals interact with psychoactive substances they encounter in the wild. In general, they avoid it, unless there is an environmental stressor, then they utilize it more, even to the point of addiction. For instance, Water Buffalo in Vietnam, who usually avoided eating the plant where opium is obtained, sought it out during the war, and then resumed avoiding it afterward. Elephants when stressed by overcrowding will seek rotting fruit and the mind altering alcohol it contains.
A comprehensive article can be found here: http://boingboing.net/2015/01/20/why-animals-eat-psychoactive-p.html
In last weeks newsletter I discussed the primitive brain, this is the part we share with all animals. Our basic functions of safety, food seeking, and reproduction are housed in the primal/Lower Brain. When we are in pain, our lower brain is on high alert, telling us to “Stop & Pay Attention”. It seems for all animals, from rodents through humans, when our natural ability to shift back to wine and dine is blocked, and we cannot stop the pain from stress, we seek to alter our physiology. How much more candy did you eat during midterms or finals? Or maybe it was an extra glass of wine to “unwind” from an intense week at work.
While sugar or alcohol may momentarily shift our physiology, it doesn’t change the external or internal stress. What the lower brain really craves isn’t so much an altered state, it is seeking safety. Being aware that you want to check out of your experience is a great first step, from there, find what brings you greater movement, breath or a sense of connection, that will send the messages to your lower brain of the experience of safety. We cannot change external events, but we can alter our physiology toward a more healing and empowered state. Most of all, have compassion for yourself, you don’t need to shame yourself or beat yourself up for overindulging, just realize you need to take care of yourself.