The funny thing about whisky.

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Back Pain, Health, Pain coach, Pain: The Ultimate Mentor, Wellbeing

The funny thing about whiskey

Comedians look for that space when you laugh reflexively. Followed by a gasp. That space where you find something instantly funny but then realise you shouldn’t be laughing. It’s too raw, too close to the bone, too real. Then they have you, right where they want you. Reacting to the stimulus. That collection of words perfectly ordered, perfectly timed and you’re not over thinking it. In fact unable to think about it, before you find yourself laughing.

Daniel Khaneman’s book, “Thinking fast and slow”, explains how our reflexive mind jumps to an instinctive gut feeling response quickly. Critical thinking, however, where we can zoom out and consider multiple factors, takes much more effort and is slower and longer. Comedians want you thinking fast. Not slow. There’s no fun in that.

Comedians rely on fresh material, so you don’t know what’s coming next, to get you to that space, where there just isn’t enough time to analyse what has been said before you find yourself laughing instinctively and then the gasp where the critical thinking starts to get involved. Of course, there is the occasional joke that stays funny even when you’ve heard it many times before and that’s really where things are not so funny in the pain game.

At a comedy show some people will laugh and some people won’t. Why is that?

Those same words trigger something in someone but not necessarily in someone else. That’s going to come down to their entire life history. Prejudices, biases, cultural upbringing, intellect, past experiences, past traumas, past successes and failures, their character, their personality and the mood they are in, at that very moment in time. Some days you are different people. Some days you are in the mood for a bit of comedy, so those words have you laughing so hard you can hardly make a sound, and, on another day, those same words have little or no impact. Perhaps those same words infuriate you or disgust you, rather than tickle you.

The same is true of life, of pain, of health and wellbeing. What you react to is going to be unique to you and how you are on any given day. We all know that our irritability fluctuates for a variety of reasons. Busy day. Stressful day. Tired. Hungry. Angry. Preoccupied. The same inputs on different days can therefore generate a different reaction.

Persistent pain flare ups can have you in that not so funny space where your body reflexively reacts to a stimulus giving you pain and spasm before you’ve had a chance to think it through.

Let’s say for instance you reach down to pick up a bag of shopping. Your body instinctively reacts. Giving you a reflexive pain response to the task. Your body is thinking fast and now you are in pain. It’s easier said than done – but this is when we need to think slow. Critical thinking about the reaction.  The inconsistencies of the event. Your slow critical thinking has to go to work. Hang on. This doesn’t really make sense. This bag of shopping isn’t dangerous because I’m actually very capable of bending and twisting. I absolutely know I have picked up the shopping before and there has been no reaction whatsoever. Maybe this time my filtering system, my reactionary brain is in a state of hyper vigilance to this action. Rather than in a state of assurance. Maybe it’s just not in the mood for picking up the shopping. The bag itself or the way I bent down to pick it up is not the issue. There must be more to this reaction?

Now, that’s all wonderful in theory but it’s not so easy to deploy critical thinking when you are in spasm or faced with a task the appears threatening. It’s no laughing matter. But it will help if you develop the skills to do so.

By now you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with whisky as per the title of this piece – the funny thing about whisky.

Most of us at some stage in our life overindulged in an alcoholic beverage to the degree that it made you very sick and you can’t bear the thought of it again. Whisky is a good example and for the purposes of this piece I’m going to use Jack Daniels. Because you’ve had an intensely negative experience drinking JD anything connected to it is going to bring you out in a cold sweat. The sight of the bottle, the logo, the T-shirts and the merchandise. The smell of it will have you retching and the thought of tasting it will literally turn your stomach.

Someone else on the other hand can derive great pleasure from the same JD. A reward at the end of a good week’s work. Hit’s the spot just right. Other whiskeys don’t carry the same threat for you but JD, that’s a different matter. Perhaps now you can see that the experiences you have with past events can influence your future responses. Right down to the reflexive action despite your best efforts to deploy critical thinking and update or re-organise your response.

I for one can happily go the rest of my life without ever approaching a certain alcoholic beverage. I could, I’m sure, if I needed to, reframe my relationship with that drink through graded exposure, critical thinking, and so on, but I have other things that need my attention more. The mere sight of the bottle used to make me quiver so at some level I have improved my response to a trigger but I’ve no desire to do the whole re programming for that particular issue.

If, however, the trigger that isn’t always in the mood for a positive response and flares your pain is one of life’s necessities, such as the shopping, or your association with the chair, the sofa, your shoes or the stairs needs updating and desensitising then you will have to go through the critical thinking process or your options become increasingly limited.  If you have read previous blogs here or my book Pain: The ultimate mentor, you will understand the complexities of this. But also. Some of the solutions to getting your body into the mood for being able to laugh at that bag of shopping which contains a nice bottle of single malt again.

If you want to learn more about the secrets of your health and wellbeing read Pain: The Ultimate Mentor, available in print, ebook & audiobook from all the usual outlets.

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