I’ve been thinking lately about the term “getting high”, as it is so commonly used in our culture. As a student of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), I know the real power our language has in influencing our lives. This leads me to wonder about the relationship between how we define “getting high” and the epidemic of Substance Use Disorder in our country.
“Getting high” means exhibiting elation or euphoric excitement. This is a feeling we would all strive for and embrace. After all, isn’t that why we stretch ourselves as humans by reaching for the stars? Why else would we jump out of airplanes, climb Mount Everest, or even go on roller coasters?
Dr. Daniel Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist and author of the book Brainstorm, explains that the teenage brain craves these sorts of thrills as part of the biology of the developing brain. When raising his own teenagers, Dr. Siegel shares that he created opportunities for his children to do thrilling things in a relatively safe way — often with him alongside them — so they didn’t feel they had to rebel to get those thrills.
Getting high is what makes us feel alive. Especially when we are teens and young adults.
Referring to the use of harmful substances and behaviors as “getting high” gives drug use an attractive allure to a young mind. I can tell you, as a man who battled substance abuse for several decades, 99.9 percent of the time I was using substances, I was not “getting high”. I was not exhibiting elation or euphoric excitement.
I was numbing the painful feelings and thoughts I had because I was at such a low point in my life. The thoughts began in early childhood and snowballed from there. Granted, there may have been a few times when I felt elated in the beginning, but not many. Still, I have to believe there were healthy alternatives I would have chosen if I had not been so young and naïve. Turns out, there are a lot of ways to “get high” that do not require substances or behaviors with a negative effect on your life.
I can’t help but wonder what my life would’ve been like had I understood this at a young age.
In The Psychology of Extreme Sports, author Joachim Vogt Isaksen, HiNT, collected research into the effects of thrill-seeking and adventuring on people’s lives. He writes: “[E] extreme sports change people who participate in them. A bungee jumper might, for example, feel a certain rush of immortality. This may lead to psychological effects that have positive effects on life in general.” The article explains how the brain has a natural reward system, a neurochemical called Dopamine, released when someone experiences a thrill.
Think about the term “runner’s high”. As one New York Times article points out, it’s more than a theory. Researchers in Germany used PET scans to track chemical changes in the brains of people before and after exercise, and “[t]he data showed that, indeed, endorphins were produced during running and were attaching themselves to areas of the brain related to emotions, in particular the limbic and prefrontal areas.” Activity in these areas of the brain is related to feelings of joy, like being in love, laughing with friends, or even hearing an incredible song. For some, it’s Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. For me, it’s “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
As a recovery life coach, I hear the struggles parents go through. In them, I hear the stories of guilt and blame. The same stories once suffocated me while trying to take that journey with my kids. I suspect these are the same feelings my parents went through with me during my years as a young addict as well.
- Wishing they didn’t work so much and made more time for their kids during those years when their little brains were bombarded with life’s tough lessons.
- Knowing they saw the red flags but were just too busy doing “life” to pay attention.
- Or, even worse, they don’t know where they went wrong because they did everything they thought they were supposed to do. They followed someone else’s blueprint for success, and it blew up in their faces.
These stories lead me to wonder, at what point did we begin to define “getting high” as a toxic, irresponsible thing reserved for dope fiends and decide the better option was to work our behinds off so we could provide our children with everything under the sun — except the very thing they need most: Us.
I want to restore a misused term to its original meaning by sharing some ways to get high with your kid as a family. Maybe you will discover you like this meaning better. And maybe, just maybe, it can save you and your kids from traveling down a much darker road.
Here are 5 ways to ‘get high’ with your kids.
1. “Wake and bake” together.
Sit at the breakfast table each morning and share ten things each of you is grateful for. This is the magic bullet for shifting a crappy mindset into a happy, creative one. Give positive feedback while talking with your kids.
2. Choose a healthy activity that scares the crap out of one or both of you and do it.
There is nothing more exhilarating than busting through your fears together. Although it isn’t always possible, the buzz is so much better if you choose something that scares both of you, and you get to break through it together. This gives you that lifetime bond and builds trust with each other. It also teaches them the true meaning of courage when they see you walking through your fear.
3. Take turns to spend an entire day in each other’s world.
On the rare occasions, I used to take my kids to work with me, they loved it. They could step into it and use their powerful imaginations to feel the whole effect of the high. For me, it was much more challenging at first. I realized that I had to let go of a lot of pre-conditioned crap before I could allow myself to be present in every way. It’s a waste of a high if you only show up in the body.
I don’t know the extent of the impact this will ultimately have on my kids, but learning to play again and think with the mind of a child has been one of the greatest tools for my recovery. Even at 57 years old, I’ll take a sandbox over a bar room any day.
4. Connect your children with their heroes — not just yours.
Take them to the ball game, rodeo, NASA, NASCAR, the theater or wherever their role models are. Often, we only take them to see our heroes so we can live vicariously through them. Listen deeply to them, discover the people, places, and things that get them high, and plan a trip. These may vary in cost, so you’ll have to decide whether you can afford it.
But I can tell you this: There were many times I thought I couldn’t afford things. Today I would love to take the tens of thousands of dollars I’ve given to rehabs for my children and travel the world with them instead. When weighing the cost, it’s crucial to consider the long-term return on the investment.
5. Designate at least one day per month to do something new and different.
I don’t know how often I suggested something to my kids they thought was boring, and then they ended up having the time of their lives. Choose things new for you, too. Remember, you have even more limiting biases than they do. Include their friends and get crazy.
Stay hopeful. I don’t pretend I know the meaning of life because I don’t have a clue. Perhaps it was always meant to be a mystery. I do know that exhibiting elation and euphoric excitement, AKA getting high, feels good to my soul and doesn’t allow room for thoughts of putting harmful substances in my body. That’s a high worth sharing with my children.
And another thing — regardless of how old your kids are, it’s never too late to be a good parent.
Greg Boudle is a recovery life coach, published author, and professional speaker.
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This article was originally published at Life Beyond Clean. Reprinted with permission from the author.