First things first. I’m sure everyone has heard one definition or another of what dopamine is. They’re probably all right. Dopamine does a lot. For the purpose of this, we’re just going to focus on that beautiful little rush of feel good you experience during exciting times in your life. Dopamine does, in part, provide that for you.
Very key to understanding what you’re about to read is that Dopamine and Adrenaline are not the same things. To keep it all fluid and simple, let me explain it like this-if adrenaline is what you feel while thrill seeking or surviving near fatal events, dopamine is the chemical that helps you interpret that surge of energy, that seizing of super human strength. If adrenaline was gas, dopamine would be the pump. Simply put, dopamine is the danger while adrenaline is the survival.
That being said, yes, I’m addicted to all manner of foolish danger.
Life has given me a never ending supply of ways to top off my dopamine levels, both ways that I’ve sought out and ways that have been thrust upon me. The first nickname ever given to me was by my Irish grandfather. He called me Lucky. Why? Simply put, I kept escaping possible fatal experiences. Falling in to manholes. Getting knocked down by late breaking waves and being swept out with the undertow. On and on it went, but those examples suffice.
As I look at it, I see now that the thrill seeking, danger and “live for now” mentality was not something I ever looked for. It was something that followed me naturally, at least in my childhood.
In my teenage years, I found no shortage of fueling stations. I started taking Judo and was surprisingly good. My parents attributed this to the work hard ethic they had tried to instill within me. My truth? I liked to fight, but not as much as I like to win. As a low ranking beginner, I would often stay late to spar with the black belts. More than once, this ended in injury. Those were truly happy times.
A little deeper in to adolescence, I started skateboarding. I gave some of the best years of my life to the sport. Skating has its own inherent danger, but for the dopamine junkie in me, dangerous is not enough. I’ve jumped gaps the width of a car and nearly the same height. I’ve skated ramps that actually go over vertical. My last broken bone was on the opening day of a skate park near my house. The manner in which it was acquired (technical terms don’t matter here..its the fact that I was 20 years older than anyone else) earned me a small bit of local celebrity in the form of a framed picture at the park’s entrance.
Skateboarding was truly the gateway drug for my dopamine dependency. I was aware of it for the first time. On bad weather days when skating just wasn’t possible, I would literally ache with boredom, needing so badly to get my life affirming rush. That is truly what it becomes-an affirmation of life. It’s not a sound psychology, nor a very sane one for that matter, but to those that have tasted the substance of the razor’s edge, you only know your heart is still beating when its sitting in your throat.
I’m going to try and rush through unhealthy adulthood to get to where I am now. There are some stand out’s of noticeable mention here, the details of which will be held for my official memoirs. In no particular order, there was street racing, fighting, alcoholism, bouncing at bars with a high gang clientele, base jumping in to water and a whole lot of intentional self-harm. It would be wrong to leave out the miles and miles of ink now resting under my skin as I completed 2 full sleeves, a couple back pieces, full calf pieces and several piercings in near record time.
As with any addiction, the base line never remains enough. Hitting a clutch 3 point shot does not equal fighting a handful of bigoted Nazi bone heads. Once you realize the reality of the demon you love, life can be a non-stop search for ways to more deeply acquaint yourself with the fragility of the human body. Eventually, even more can never be enough.
Life intervened for me. Several years ago, I was diagnosed with a terminal genetic kidney condition. While it didn’t come as a huge shock, it was extremely life altering. I had to slow down. I had to abandon my hopes of someday sliding sideways into a grave and returning this magnificent human machine back to a God that intended me to use it for all it was worth. I also fell deeply in love. While my wife is very well acquainted with the joys of life on the edge, she has also given me more than sufficient reason to be here for her, with her, for as long as that same God will allow.
Please don’t think I’ve abandoned the cause. Now, I tempt fate by passing kidney stones without doctor’s care. I get that same old rush from arguing with health care professionals that don’t understand my condition, yet want to treat me anyways. I write poetry and share it at open mic nights in front of complete strangers. I truly thrive on public speaking. There is one thrill, however, that has even surpassed playing road tag at 120 mph on a lonely stretch of highway with an inescapable road block ahead.
The thrill to end all thrills is in finding new ways, creative ways, meaningful and unforgettable ways to show my ride or die across the vast expanse of eternity just how much I love her.