With yet another senseless shooting, I can’t help but feel that unrelieved fear is to blame. I have a theory about how we got here and why we react the way we do. We’re all dope addicts!
As a child, I lived on a small farm in the shadow of the Wasatch Front. We had cows, a bull, pigs, and chickens — I don’t recall the pigs, but I have a strong memory of those chickens.
They were mean! They scratched, pecked, bit, and chased, but they were different when it came time to eat one.
As dusk fell, the chickens would huddle in a dark corner of their hen house, shaking and waiting through the impending doom. Then a chicken would be taken to a shed on the property, always swarming with black flies. Once inside, the hen would panic. Occasionally, it would escape, even without a head.
The headless bird would sprint at full tilt into walls bouncing off one and falling into another, ping-ponging around the room until it gave up and fell over dead.
Sometimes the decapitated chicken would scramble outside, wings spread out, feet clawing into soft dirt, blood spurting out its neck cavity, seeking freedom.
The headless bird ran because in its last few minutes of life, fear gripped it, adrenaline spiked, muscles engaged, and it reacted, without a head, without any real sense, because that’s what fear does. Most people know this.
However, many people don’t realize that due to brain function proximity, fear and pleasure are tied together through Dopamine. When Dopamine’s released, we simultaneously get a rush of positive reward-seeking and a sense of fright! Add another hormone, Endorphins, and we get a combo that’s like cat nip to people. It’s innate. It’s set up like this — fear, adrenaline, desire, endorphins — otherwise, we never would have left the safety of our caves! Horror writers know this!
This is why so many slasher flicks have jump starts (where something other than the monster jumps out at the hero — an endorphin kick) and why, close to their demise, characters will disrobe (or nearly) right before they’re butchered (desire coupled with dread). FYI, Romances aren’t any different, only the intensity is, swapping dread with frustration. It’s shameless manipulation, and it works!
Writers aren’t the only ones who know this! Look at any form of entertainment — chances are there is a way for a dopamine rush. Scan any website and social media platform (algorithms), watch commercials or even the News (ratings), desire and dread are driving forces.
Except, what happens if there are only jump starts? Or from beginning to end, every character is naked (probably a different movie altogether)? A constant stream of Dopamine will start diminishing the effects, and we look for more! We want more!
We need more to feel how we did the very first time. That need is hypnotic and addictive, turning into a cycle. The more stimuli introduced, the more stimulus needed to maintain that pleasure. Kind of like the MO of an addict, right?
But what if the scary thing isn’t identified, yet the threat of the unknown is heightened, and there is no end in sight? We get today’s problem!
We are constantly afraid, feeling a lack of control, with a perceived looming attack by everything, and we’ve lost ourselves to it. We are scared, senseless, and reactive, like chickens with our heads cut off.
Turn on the computer or TV, and we see proof of this. Recently, a teenager was shot through a house’s front door, not because he rang the wrong doorbell but because he unknowingly kicked a hornet’s nest.
A woman died, not because the car she was in drove into the wrong driveway but because the driveway was a land mine ready to go off.
These are only two alarming examples of people doing horrifying things to one another, each with the gun wielder claiming fear made them do it. However, there are other, less immediate-injury and death-resulting examples, too, and ones that I’m all too familiar with being a white mom of a black kid.
Last week, my son went to Lowe’s (hardware store) to pick up a few things. Upon leaving the store, an older woman who worked there stopped him. She asked to search his pockets. He asked, why? She said he was “selected” to be checked. He wondered if the people ahead of him were also “selected,” and she said no.
Experience has taught me that the difference between the people ahead of my kid was that they were white (like the Lowe’s worker), while my son is black. For some reason, the woman felt she had to stop my kid. Some would scream racial profiling (a term for soft racism), and others might wonder what my son was wearing or how he was acting (the old blame-the-victim thing at work). However, these are not the reason he was stopped. The real reason was fear.
I bet this woman has been engaging in over-dopamine-ing — she’s become an addict.
She’s listening to things that illicit fear and give no real solution of relief. She’s watching things that build her a fictitious tower and point out invisible threats climbing it. This woman has been conditioned to move around the world with a finger resting on the trigger, flinching at every bump in the night. She is a chicken with its head cut off, only reacting, slamming into walls with no sense.
I was angry when my son came home and told me what happened. I threw on my jacket and grabbed my car keys. I was going to kick some elderly butt and yell at management, and I was going to fix it!
I was reacting. My son stopped me and asked me not to go to Lowe’s (or call or write them a letter).
Instead, I forced myself to stop, think, and use reason over violence. I decided to take another approach. I tapped into my Horror writing self and recognized what I know, addiction through fearmongering.
If we continually feed these unsound, uncontrollable fears that someone is out to get us, we become the scary thing we most fear.
Unplug sooner and for longer. Think about what you just saw and read. Take a break from the same old topics, or search for opposing views (on purpose) to make sure you understand what you read and see if it is sound. It’s okay if it’s either, the exercise is to learn to recognize.
Take a breath!
Forcing yourself to breathe calms your nervous system down and resets hormone levels, and it also forces new oxygen into your brain so you think clearly. Breathing signals your whole body that you are safe and hopefully will help make the world so.