EP #71

Debbie Hampton- Best Brain Possible

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In this episode of the “Alcohol Minimalist Podcast” hosted by Molly Watts, the focus is on Debbie Hampton, the author of “Beat Depression and Anxiety by Changing Your Brain.” Debbie shares her personal journey, highlighting how she overcame a lifetime of family alcohol abuse, more than 30 years of anxiety, and an unbreakable daily drinking habit. The episode delves into Debbie’s experiences with major life challenges, including caring for a brother with AIDS, a tumultuous marriage, and a suicide attempt resulting in a severe brain injury. Despite these hardships, Debbie recounts her path to recovery, exploring methods such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, neurofeedback, visualization, and the mind-body connection. The conversation underscores the importance of emotional resilience, intelligence, and taking responsibility for one’s thoughts and reactions. Debbie’s story serves as a source of hope and inspiration for those facing similar struggles with mental health and alcohol use. Molly and Debbie discuss the power of sharing personal stories to connect with others and break the stigma surrounding mental health issues and addiction.

Hey, it’s Molly from alcohol minimalist. What do you do in this October? I would love to have you join me in my more sober October challenge. What do I mean by more sober October, it simply means that we’re going to add in more alcohol free days than you currently been doing, whether that’s one or two or 31. It’s up to you, you get to set your own goal and that’s why it’s more sober October. You can check it out and learn more at get got sunnyside.co/molly It’s totally free. I’ve got prizes, I’m going to be going live every week to announce the prize winners. And it’s just going to be an awesome event. So I would love to have you join me. You can learn more at get.sunnyside.co/molly and you can get registered today. Welcome to the alcohol minimalist podcast. I’m your host Molly watts. If you want to change your drinking habits and create a peaceful relationship with alcohol, you’re in the right place. This podcast explores the strategies I use to overcome a lifetime of family alcohol abuse, more than 30 years of anxiety and worry about my own drinking, and what felt like an unbreakable daily drinking habit. Becoming an alcohol minimalist means removing excess alcohol from your life. So it doesn’t remove you from life. It means being able to take alcohol or leave it without feeling deprived. It means to live peacefully, being able to enjoy a glass of wine without feeling guilty and without needing to finish the bottle. With Science on our side will shatter your past patterns and eliminate your excuses. Changing your relationship with alcohol is possible. I’m here to help you do it. Let’s start now. Well, hello and welcome or welcome back to the alcohol minimalist podcast with me your host, Molly Watts coming to you from well, I can see some blue sky out there. Honestly, I have to say that it’s now approaching the middle of May. And a coworker shared with me this week that a friend of hers posted that we are in a rain prison here in the Great Northwest. I kind of liked that idea. Because truthfully it’s been it’s just really gotten soggy wet, more so than usual. And I’m kind of looking for some sunshine around here folks looking for some sunshine. Today on the podcast, I am just super excited to share this conversation with you. My guest today is Debbie Hampton. And Debbie recovered from a suicide attempt many years ago, and a resulting brain injury. And she’s gone on to become an inspirational and educational writer. She is the author of beat depression and anxiety by changing your brain. And a memoir called Sex, suicide and serotonin. Taking myself apart and putting myself back together. Debbie writes for The Huffington Post Mind Body green and more. And she also has her own website, which I love called the best brain possible, where she shares information and inspiration on how to better your brain and your life. She is a big proponent of neuroplasticity. Because she’s she’s walking, living proof of it. And her journey has been one that I just think is so inspiring. And I think you will really love hearing from her. Here is my conversation with Debbie Hampton. Hello, Debbie, thank you so much for being here and taking time to be with me on the alcohol minimalist podcast. I really just can’t wait to share your story of hope and inspiration with my audience. And because you and I really aligned a quite quite completely on the fact that we think that the brain is a pretty amazing thing. And that you really can do just about anything you want to do, no matter what’s happened by working on it. Is that would you agree with that? I definitely would Molly and thank you for inviting me. I’m anxious to speak with you and your audience. Yeah, well, I just gave a brief introduction before we started talking about you, but I really you know, we’re gonna dive in. I want to hear the whole the whole nitty gritty story. So because it’s a pretty amazing, amazing story. I learned about you because of work that I’ve done in neuroscience and studying neuroscience and someone I write you up as an example of someone who read the book, the brain that heals itself that that book and I love that book. I think it’s just amazing. And so then I wanted to I just reached out to you because I just wanted to learn more. So start us back. This is then what was like 15 years ago, right that you tried to commit suicide? Is that about seven? Yeah. So 15 years ago. Wow. So take me back there. Tell me about what all of the things how far back do you want me to go? Well, you don’t have to go. You tell me. But I want to hear what happened then. And where you’ve come from way back then. Yeah, I’ll give you the Cliff Notes. But until then, but I had a pretty normal upbringing in middle class, North Carolina. And like in the 60s and 70s. And what most people of that era My parents met well, and they weren’t held and, but they weren’t incredibly emotionally intelligent. Yeah. And as I was not until midlife, but so I’ve learned unhealthy ways to cope, and to react, and to interpret the world. And I continue to play that out throughout my young adult life. And being overreacted, codependent and having depressive, catastrophic, negative thinking, provoking anxiety. I mean, I learned all in a way, those things, we may have predicted predispositions to those things. But we’re very much the product of our environment. And we learn those things from what we see, we learn those from our parents, from our caregivers, from school, and church. And until we, we take responsibility for our own minds and our own reactions, we are a product of our environments. Yeah, as was I. So when life got difficult, my response was to try it in my life. And that’s what I did in 2007. And there were a lot of different events leading up to it. I mean, major catastrophic events, like I took care of my brother, who had AIDS, who have died. But I took care of him for two years. And I wasn’t no way equipped to mentally and emotionally take care go through that. And we just him dying, and then deal with the after effects of him dying. I mean, I didn’t enter had an infant son at the time. So as as most caregivers, and I’ve never been good at it, but I didn’t take care of myself. I took care of them. And they were by parties. So my mental health, we taught them great to begin with, does kept getting worse. And then I married my high school sweetheart, out right after college. And he wasn’t a bad guy when I married him. But as he grew in money and stature and power, I shrunk and he became a controlling, abusive narcissist. And it was an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship. So over the years, my mental health just degraded. So in 2007, I’ve left the marriage I came back to North Carolina with two sons. And this was after my brother died. And I was a single mother facing working for the first time in a decade with two little boys and healthy emotional maturity, and intellect, emotional intellect preschooler, I mean, I literally did not know how to help myself, or how to cope. I can react dramatically. I can’t catch. I can’t say but it made it a top catastrophe and a bear everything right? I mean, everything was a dramatic explosion. And I made things worse. And in 2007, the ex husband, who by this time was very powerful, very rich, filed another lawsuit, which he had had a history of doing. So he was harassing me illegally. Even though I got away from him with the kids, I did not escape. But so he continued harassing me for years. And I jumped right into another relationship, which was several similar to the marriage, emotionally unhealthy, and I was codependent and needy. And so when all this piled on top of me, my answer was to chart in my life by taking a bunch of pills, and drinking a couple of bottles of wine. And I did manage to put myself in a coma for a week, and severely injure my brain. But as you can see, I didn’t die. And I’m glad I didn’t. I wasn’t glad when I woke up, I met in fact, I was mad. And I was severely brain injured when I woke up. Tell me, so that’s Yeah, tell me about that. Because that’s a pretty significant part of your of your journey is how just how significant your brain was damaged. I, as I said, I down to all the pills with bottles of wine. So when I woke up, I sounded like I was drunk. I’m going to my speech was very slurred. And it was like, my mouth was wired shut, and crammed full of marbles. And the words that came out of my mouth were nothing like what I heard in my head. And I was not cognitively there 100%, either. I mean, my, my speech and math balls were delayed, there was a time lapse in between them. I didn’t know if my brother died. I didn’t know I’d got divorce. I didn’t even know I think Sunday be made, had been born. Wow, I couldn’t control my bodily functions. My hands had a constant tremor. Because as a no, no, I had something called serotonin syndrome. And I mean, I just had no memory of it. I mean, I knew like a chair was a chair. And I knew how bad was bad. But my brain couldn’t assimilate what was going on or what was happening or who would who would who was who, or any of that. So it took, I was in hospital for two weeks, in a coma for a week, and on a respirator. And then, like learning the bare minimum of how to live again for the second week. And then I went home with a nurse around the clock, and then a family member staying with me. And my ex husband sued me for custody herbicides, and one and took moved out of state with them. So if I thought things were bad for, ah, they were really bad now. Yeah. And I still was not convinced on what is live. And, matter of fact, for like, first year, I was not convinced on where to live. But I actually went on a vacation with my brother, other brother in Hawaii, and had a near drowning incident. And, um, I used to be a lifeguard in college in high school. And I was competitive swimmer, I’m a good swimmer. But after the brain injury, I wasn’t so good. And we went swimming in this little bay. And the current got strong and I kicked off mass fan and it became a life or death situation. And I was going out into the water coming up yelling for help. And I saw this sailboat, kind of bobbing in the middle of the bay. And I just had this feel to it. So I did it. And then my brother saw me. And the God came up on above board deck on the boat and rode me to shore in this little canoe kind of boat. And it wasn’t until I got home after that incident that occur to me. I try to in my life, just like six months earlier. And here was an opportunity day in my life. And I didn’t, my only instinct was to save myself, and to fight really hard to save myself. And I thought, Why did I do that. And I came to understand that I did not live. And that what I wanted to stop was all that chatter in my head, and all the pain. And I don’t know all the negative stuff. I just wanted to stop that. I didn’t want to stop my life. And I realized I wanted to live. And I started acting like it. And I started reading everything I could about rehabilitating your brain, and your body and your mind. And I read that book we talked about Norman Deutsches book, the brain that changes itself. And it’s amazing book if anybody hadn’t read. But it basically tell stories of people that are born with half a brain, or that have had devastating injuries, and how their brains recovered. And it goes into the mechanics of how your brain works. And how it does that. And I thought, Here is a manual for me to rehabilitate my brain. i Every brain and every brain injury is different. But the basics of how your brain works, and heals is the same. And I basically took that book, and used it as a recipe to rehabilitate my brain. And it’s based on something called neuroplasticity, which is your brain changes and adapts functionally and physically based on input and how you use it. Yeah, we talk about neuroplasticity a lot around here. Oh, really? Yeah, I’m a big, you know, it’s it’s one of the things that I definitely had to learn about. And well, it helped me understanding that the brain was really that I was not stuck in these Towery it is these past patterns in his past habits and that, you know, it really is true that you are never too old, you’re never too injured is what I’m, you know, hearing from you. And this is what was so compelling about your story. Because, I mean, I just had a really, I just had a really tired habit that I couldn’t seem to kick. And I did believe, because I grew up as an adult child of an alcoholic, I had a lot of stories about having a genetic disposition, right to desire alcohol more, I thought that that’s, I wanted to blame it on that. And the truth is that I had just trained my brain in one way. And it was completely capable of being retrained in a different way. And what I love about what your what you talked about first, too, is just the emotional resilience and the emotional intelligence, you know, we really aren’t taught it in school, we aren’t taught how our thoughts connect to our feelings that lead to our actions, we’re not shown this way that we can actually create feelings, you know, I grew up kind of the same, I mean, not the same as you but in a similar way, in terms of my mom was because she was an alcoholic, and she, she was a very anxious person. So she modeled anxiety all the time. To me, that was kind of her that was the way she handled things, everything kind of like you said everything was a catastrophe, everything was you know, the world was scary and not not something to go be not an adventure waiting to happen. Just you know, what are you going to do to not to not screw up in your life, you know, that kind of thought process? So, I grew up with a lot of those stories and I never really understood until I was at didn’t I didn’t have as much mental health issue or mental health problems as you did, but I definitely had enough that I was, you know, misusing alcohol all the time. And so, so many of the people that I know listen to our Hey everyone, just a quick break here in the show to talk with you about sunny side. Sunny Side has partnered with me and I am super excited to share this company with you. I’ve actually had the founders on the show before and I will link that in the show notes so you can hear a little bit from them. Sunnyside is an app that helps you cut back on your drinking or simply build healthier drinking habits. I have watched the company grow over this last year and I’m so impressed. They are deeply mission driven. And they are building a service to help millions of people create a healthier relationship with alcohol. And they’re doing it without the pressure to quit or feel guilty. So of course, you know it aligns with everything I talked about here at alcohol minimalist. Think of Sunnyside as a digital coach that helps you set the plan for the week, and provides tools to track your drinks and measure your progress. All while using proven behavior change techniques to create a lasting habit change. It’s super easy to start super easy to stick to. And it includes a 15 day free trial. So you can test it out. Really it’s worth checking out, head on over to sunnyside.co/minimalist to get started today. So you decided that you were going to literally re like use the brain that changes itself book as a primer and you are going to re wire your brain. Tell me about that process. Tell me about what you did how I mean, because here you are 15 years later, and you are gorgeous and talking and have a whole life and I mean, tell me about what how that how that happened. How did you do it? Well wasn’t large was the basics of neuroplasticity. And I have a blog on my website called the 10 fundamentals of neuroplasticity, which I will link to in the show notes, folks, everything all this will be there. Go for it. Yep. And as you probably know, they didn’t even confirm neuroplasticity until 19. Like 73 Yeah. And my injury was in 2007. And I took Norman Deutsches book, to mod your neurologist and told him he needed to read it, because it still was not well known place among medical practitioners, I hope they are better informed these days. But basically, I what I what I did was I I decided that if something was difficult for me like speaking, or writing, or even running and walking, that that was like a neon sign saying, okay, that’s where you need to work. So I was specifically write longhand, right page a day for a year, too. I mean, at first, I worked on the little dry erase board lead kindergarteners use tracing letters. I mean, I couldn’t write and I still still not good. Because think about all the years that you have in school. I mean, you learn to do that. And I would sing out loud for keyboards, right? I would sing out loud. I read Dr. Seuss out loud. I practice my speech. And the I visualize my lips visiting. And this sounds the crisp sounds that I wanted coming out of my mouth. Visualization is a tool that is really underused neurons, fire, muscles, fire, neuro chemicals that are secreted when you just visualize things happening. Yeah. So a lot of way I mean athletes can increase muscle specifically just by visualizing. Yeah, I’ve read that study. So I would I would like practice enunciating visually because speaking was very difficult for me. I mean, everything out dribble Basketball with one hand while I’m going through the ABCs. Because what you’re doing is teaching your brain and your body to work together. I would I ran every day I exercised every day for years. And that is because you can do things with as an adult neuroplasticity is not as easy to happen as it was when you were a child, when your child your brain is like a sponge. And it’s just easy. As an adult, you can turn it back on into courage it with certain circumstances. And a lot of these are unconscious that we’re not aware of. And that’s how addictions form. But you can set the same circumstances intentionally. One is very focused attention. I mean, wanting something wanting to learn how to speak. Another is repetition, continuous repetition, day after day after day. Because what you know, this what wires together fires, I mean, I’m sorry, what fires together wires together. So your brain mix paths, your brain is very efficient. And it’s going to, it’s going to use the path of least resistance. And that is going to be what is used most often. So if you use it, it gets better. Right? And I just Allah dog we decided on myself. I also did hyperbaric oxygen treatment, which I still do. I did neurofeedback, biofeedback for years, where they put electrodes on your head, and you actually train your brainwaves. And that was dramatically healing. I tried every alternative therapy and modality. And if I saw good results, I kept to add it. If I didn’t stop, what another thing that was rockabilly healing was acupuncture, she used to put pants in my head, oh, come up to electrodes. And we will send electrical signals into my brain. And there is some thinking that your brain is like a battery that can be recharged and proved true for me. But an essential part of neuroplasticity is dopamine. And dopamine is heavily involved in addictions. So that’s why drinking or any addiction, behavioral gambling, pornography, drugs, that’s why they become habits. They literally get wired into your brain. Yeah, yeah. Because you, it’s a dopamine release. And you get that and it’s in dopamine motivates us to seek it out again. That’s the goal of dopamine folks. And you have to keep I mean, dope me wants more and more to get the same hit. So you have to keep upping it. Yeah. When you were in the process of doing all this work on really rewiring your brain and really just deciding to live again, did you think about it, then like, Okay, this is a higher purpose. This is the, you know, I have a new, you’ve gone on to have a great blog, and I’ll link that in the show notes, folks is called Best brain possible and written a couple of books. And is that a mean, were you like, this is what I meant to do? Or was it just like, I’m gonna keep on working out my life and working out my life and work it out my life. And then at a certain point in time, you thought somebody said, you really should share all that because you’ve worked at it a long time? No, you what people don’t realize is that I was bringing it. Yeah. And that is I’m gonna lack in it, somebody who’s like mentally impaired. And I mean, at first it was severe. So all I was trying to do was figure out a way out of this mass. And I used to tell myself if I have to live, I am not living like this. And I knew that if it was going to get better, it was up to me, because I wasn’t getting any help from the medical professionals. And I’ve always been hard headed. And this was the first time that ever put it to work for me. I’ve always tried to get a man or keep man, for, I couldn’t put it in the wrong places. This was the first time and bested in myself. And I literally it took literally three years, I think for the fog to lift. And bow three years, I said, I started the blog, I think, three, two or three years after the brand entry. And I remembered that I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I was pretty good at it. And what was more instrumental for me than even the medical practitioners was the online community of brain injury survivors, as stroke survivors, and emotional survivors, which you might also agree with. But I got more information, more helpful information from those communities than I did from anywhere else. And I thought, I want to share this. And at first, my blog was all about healing from birth brain injury. But as I heal, my physical brain, also healed my emotions, and spirit and mental health. And it’s kind of like, okay, the first time around, when you learn your behaviors and your reactions, and pleasing a lot, a lot of your emotions are large, I mean, your reactions, and the way you emote is basically learn from your environment. And the first time around, we don’t have any choice in that. But here I was given a very unique experience to consciously choose that. And I did, I read voraciously. I read everybody. And I was also going to therapy, I had a really good therapist who practice cognitive behavioral therapy. And I just this time I consciously with awareness, built my brain. And a lot of the anxiety responses and depressive thinking was still there. That was still my initial response. But I learned okay to pause. And I learned I’m not my thoughts. I’m not a slave to my reaction. So Ryan pauses, and do you have the ability to pause and decide, okay, how do I want to respond? How do I want to act? And sometimes it was awful hard not to, like respond to an email from my ex husband. Right? But I would make myself Okay, say okay, you’re not gonna respond until tomorrow? Yeah, propose something and then read it tomorrow. Yeah. And also what got it my behavior was was me think, okay, who do you want to be? Not? Who are you programmed to be? Yeah, consciously choose? And I did, I started choosing to act. And I mean, you can’t, you can’t choose thoughts that randomly spontaneously pop into your head. But you can choose how you react to those whether you believe them, whether you act on them, and there was the power that I had to change my life. Yeah. Oh, 100% changes your life. Yeah, I remember when I first so for me, it was a similar thing, not cognitive behavioral therapy, but life coaching and learning this the coaching that I’ve learned and employ the idea I remember who when she said it to me, because I was so caught up in this story that I had about this experience. And she said to me, you realize that every thought that you have is optional. And I was like, what? Every thought you have it is optional, you can choose to think it, or you can choose to think something else instead. And I was like, what I mean, I literally like my I still like I still can remember the feeling because and especially for somebody, you know, if you’re an intelligent person, and I like to think of myself as Intel, I call myself a, you know, I self described No at all. And so of course, I never questioned my thinking, because my thoughts were my thoughts like they’re right, because I thought them, you know, like, I never understood that power. And once you realize, like, oh my gosh, like, I feel this way, because I’ve just been choosing to think this way for however many years when I could have been thinking a different way, and feeling something completely different. Oh, okay. I think that’s pretty amazing. And once you realize, and once you really, you know, grab a hold of that power, just like, you know, obviously, you have grabbed a hold, you have worked really hard, given the circumstances that you found yourself in, to, to really come so very, very far. But now, it’s just I mean, you have to agree, it’s like, the brain is just amazing. The human brain is amazing. And every single one of us has the power to change our lives if we want to simply take hold of it and do it. I’m not a big believer and just think positive. I think that can be as unhealthy as negative thinking. Oh, yeah, for sure. And there are people who, like, challenge what you’re not just said. And I’m not I’m not promoting just the positive? Yeah, either. Yeah. What are promoting is choose how, what you want to think and what you want to become, and what thoughts you act upon. And act accordingly. Make that reality. Make that person come true. And there is your power, I’d say it’s like, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. Who always had the slippers on her face. We’ve always had that power. We just didn’t know it. Yeah. I mean, I was 40 something before I realized, oh, everything I think in true. That was my big aha moment. I thought, oh, my gosh, I used to believe that everything I thought was true. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s an amazing story. It’s been an amazing journey. I could talk to you. I’m sure you and I could talk for hours. My are my listeners might be like, okay, yes, you too, are enjoying this conversation. But I want to tell everyone where so could you please share with them? Where can they find your work? Where can they engage with you? I will again, share it all in the show notes, folks. But Debbie Hampton, where can they find you? Um, I’ve got a website called The Best sprang possible.com. And there’s over 400 articles on there. And like I said, a lot of them at first were about the brain injury, and how to recover. But since then, there, you can search the categories. And there’s a whole section on neuroplasticity, and the basics and how to harness it. There’s also a section on anxiety, depression, brain health, Alzheimer’s, aging, that kind of game. But I’ve written two books, that one is be depressing anxiety by changing your brain. And that is basically the how to manual of how to use neuroplasticity, to change your brain patterns that make you anxious, and that make you depressed. And basically, those things are nothing more than brain patterns. They do manifest as physical symptoms, because as you now know, the brain and the body are intricately connected. There is no separation. Matter of fact, they discovered live vessels in your brain, which they didn’t think there were any just a few years ago, they thought your brain was what’s called immune privileged. And they realized now that’s how inflammation and all in the mind body connection, manifest. And it’s real. And you have a basically you have a brain, you have more of neural systems in your gut than you do in your head and your spinal cord. And you’re what you eat has a direct, immediate impact on your brain. Yeah. So this book tells what I’ve learned as a recovered, and how recovered. And it tells about those things about your mind body connection, what visualization, meditation, breathing, what you can do to learn to calm your body, and to calm your brain. So you don’t have to resort to the things like I did. And, like, I still have anxious tendencies. But I’ve learned how to vividly calm my body, and how to argue with anxious thoughts. I’ve heard from so many people, that this is a manual for them. I mean, I’ve heard people carry it around the pocket book. And my second book is called Six, suicide zero returning. There’s basically my memoir of how I got to the point in my life that I thought ending my life was the answer. And how we’re recovered spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally, all that. And I’ve heard from people that that’s a life changer. Yeah. People that have been in the same place, or had suicidal thoughts. I’ve heard, okay. There’s one guy that said, it kept him from pulling the trigger. Wow, wow. And it, it makes me happy to know that I can help people in that way. Because I believe that when we share our stories, and we show our vulnerabilities, and we show the mistakes we made, and all the ugly truths, that helps other people realize, well, I’m not so different. What makes us feel ostracized, and so lonely, is that we, that people don’t talk about this stuff, and don’t share it. And then we think we’re the only ones or we think what’s wrong with me, right. So good. I just really appreciate you coming on the show I can’t wait to because I know people that listen to this are really going to be inspired. And they’re going to want to check those all of that out great resources, wonderful stories and wonderful, wonderful content in the books as well. So please do as again, as I said, Folks, this all this stuff will be linked in the show notes so you can find it easily. Debbie, thank you so very, very much for taking the time to be on with me today. I really loved talking to you and love talking with anybody that agrees that that that those that the brain is as beautiful as I do. So thank you again for taking the time. Thank you, Molly. I enjoyed it as well. Awesome. Thank you for listening to the alcohol minimalist podcast. This podcast is dedicated to helping you change your drinking habits and to create a peaceful relationship with alcohol. Use something you learned in today’s episode and apply it to your life this week. Transformation is possible. You have the power to change your relationship with alcohol now, for more information, please visit me at www dot Molly watts.com