Busted Brain Journal: Cortisol Dump

When I went to bed on Monday, I actually felt pretty good.

I have no idea why because for the previous hour and half, my eyes felt that burning sensation around the corners when you know that the tears are gearing up for a cortisol dump. Cortisol is the stress hormone and crying releases it. Mine had been pumping all day because I was bound tight as a knot deliberating whether I should go to the new Buddhist sangha (the Sanskrit word for community) I went to once already that was meeting that night.

The admin of the Facebook group for the sangha of the same name had messaged me that I was posting a little too often from this blog in the group and so had suspended me. Not out of malice, but because the sangha and by extension the FB group focuses primarily on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn, the Buddhist monk that started Plum Village, a Buddhist community in France. I had a conversation with the same gentleman two weeks before in person and it was good. We talked a little about the Buddhist community in Omaha and the sangha’s FB group that I was invited to join by an old friend. I thought it would be a great place that I could spread awareness of My Zen Brain. But he had restricted me from posting in the group because posting from my blog (even if I don’t run ads on my blog and therefore wasn’t doing anything but sharing my own journey with a Traumatic Brain Injury and sobriety) was changing the focus of the group. Anyway it was a good conversation and I thought I was in the clear as long as I stuck to blog posts that drew from the teachings of TNH.

Nope. I told him in the recent message that I thought it would be garish and obnoxious to preface the post with something like “It’s okay! I quote TNH in this one!” because, well, I did quote from TNH in that post about Americans and our approach and attitude towards food and eating.

So two days ago, I got up the courage to go to the sangha after work. I walked in, took off my shoes, and joined the walking meditation. I think that was my first mistake. Different sanghas have different guidelines for worship and I think I may have violated two of these in my first 10 minutes. First, I joined the walking meditation in the middle of it. Don’t know for sure, but that might have been a faux pas. After the walking meditation, I sat down in a chair next to a woman who informed me that I had chosen a chair already occupied by another man who walked up, saw that I had taken his chair, grinned slightly, then found another one. I know that’s not how it’s done, so the rest of the service, I was a ball of knots. I tried to talk myself into a state of mind conducive to Buddhist worship but to no avail. By the end of the service, I helped put away a couple chairs, then practically sprinted out the door with my shoes untied.


As I drove to the grocery store after, though, I felt relief. The cortisol dump had put me in a much calmer place and I meditated when I got home and the next morning, I felt okay.

My reality with a TBI boils down to a simple truth. When my stress jacks up to a fever pitch, I can barely hold back tears. After the cortisol dump, I can breathe deeply again. It happened again yesterday. For reasons I won’t go into, my cortisol level was hiked up a few levels again, but having a productive talk with my superior at work returned me to a level of normalcy and by the time I got home, I felt exhausted, but at least I could breathe again.

TBI’s effect everyone differently. Because I am who I am, my inferiority complex pervades everything I do. Simple things that other people can shrug off get me so tight and fatalistic, I can go hours feeling like a freakin’ cheetah about to break into a sprint to catch a wildebeest. I am 14 years post-TBI and I’m still figuring my body out, what it needs, what it can handle, and what my breaking points are. Time was that I would just drink myself into oblivion and pass out without a second thought, or even a first thought thanks to the booze, of what I may or may not have said or done that day to incriminate myself. Learning to live sober with a TBI is ongoing, sometimes its exhausting, and I didn’t sign up for it.

But, as the saying goes in the Program and it applies to TBI’s too, Alcoholics Anonymous is the only club with more than 3 million members around the world none of whom wanted to join in the first place.

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