By Taz Decker
During the holidays it can be very easy to be distracted with all the festivities, events, functions, obligations and so on. This time of year seems to be difficult for those trying to navigate this time of year clean and sober. After all tis the season of glad tidings and good cheer, but for people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, the holidays can be an especially trying time to stay grounded, strong and sober. The important thing to remember is it possible! There are thousands of people in recovery enjoying sober holidays every year and so can you. Impractical expectations, finding ourselves over-committed, unhealthy eating habits can creep in, financial strain and overspending feeling like we must buy a gift for everyone and exhaustion can leave us emotionally drained. Travel problems and busy schedules can add to the stress, as well. You might be spending your holidays away from your addiction recovery support system and sober routines, which can make you more vulnerable to relapse. Holiday traditions, childhood memories and annual gatherings that are closely associated with drug or alcohol use can also tug at your emotions and put your recovery at risk. But there are ways you can prepare for this challenging season and safeguard the greatest gift you've ever given yourself and those you love, which is your recovery. Here are a few simple tips to help you avoid relapse and stay sober during the holidays and beyond.
Self-care is crucial
It is very important to take time for you during the holidays and self-care is the best way to stay centered. Self-care will allow you to delight in the holiday season and the abundance of your sober life by taking time for yourself. Appropriate nutrition, exercise and great sleep can do wonders for your well-being. The better you feel physically, the stronger you will be emotionally. Nurture your spirit as well through personal reflection and connection with those you love. Find some quiet time each day for relaxation and meditation—if only for a few minutes, no matter how busy you are. Let your spirit be your guide.
Have a sober game plan
Create a safety plan to protect your sobriety ahead of any holiday event and activity that could possibly trigger relapse to substance abuse. This may mean going to a Twelve Step meeting before or after the event, attending the parties with your sponsor or a sober friend, or making sure you can leave the event at any time and are not reliant on someone else for transportation. Your plan to stay sober could also include safety calls before-and-after telephone calls to someone in recovery. Feel encouraged to limit your time in stressful situations or around challenging people—and always have an escape plan. Much of relapse prevention is having an awareness of the people, places or things that could trigger trouble and planning strategies for staying sober given those predictable situations.
Helping others and serving
The holidays offer potent opportunities for spiritual growth by sharing your gratitude and joy with others. Bonding with others in this way can be a new experience that takes courage. But because you're in recovery from active addiction, you've already shown the ability for incredible courage and change. So, keep supporting your recovery. Look for ways to be of service to others. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter, reach out with generosity to a newcomer at a meeting, spend time with a neighbor or friend who is alone or struggling. There are many different ways to give back, pay it forward and be of service.
Manage your expectations and your mindset
Talk with your sponsor, a friend who understands addiction recovery, or a professional counselor about the feelings and hopes you have enveloped up in the holidays—especially if you find yourself repeating childhood experiences or memories during this time of year. Remember that your loved ones, coworkers and friends are probably feeling tired and stressed during the holidays, too. This awareness alone will help you adjust your attitude, lower your expectations and be forgiving of yourself and others. Instead of showing up at a holiday event feeling on edge or defensive, adjust your thinking to be open, accepting and optimistic. Ask yourself, what is the next right thing for me to do in this situation? It's also important to be aware that some people in addiction recovery are at risk to substance abuse relapse after the holidays. The increase of stress and anger that might come with the holidays can lead to justifications, denial and relapse. In other words, we can persuade ourselves that, taking into account what we've been through, we are entitled to drink or use. Sometimes, as alcoholics and addicts, we manage things better when we're in the middle of a crisis than afterwards. Remember, the disease of addiction is as powerful the day after a holiday as it is the day of and the day before. As we learn during addiction rehab and in the meeting rooms, recovery is a one-day-at-a-time endeavor, no matter the season.
Keep your wits about you, always know what you’re putting in your body
At social get-togethers, it might be helpful to always have a beverage in hand so people aren't constantly offering you a drink. When you order a beverage, pay attention to how it is being made. If you ask someone to get a beverage for you, he or she may not know your situation or might forget your request and bring you an alcoholic drink. If you by mistake pick up the wrong drink and swallow some alcohol, this doesn't mean you will automatically relapse. But watch for any justification that could creep in. Don’t trick yourself by thinking “I guess I can handle alcohol in social situations after all. Perhaps my period of abstinence taught me how to control my drinking." Do not go down that road. Instead, tell someone who understands recovery from drug or alcohol addiction about your experience as soon as possible. A mistake is not a relapse, but it can lead to one if kept a secret.
Stay away from situations that will threaten your sobriety
If you know a family member is going to grill you about rehab, and that conversation will make you uncomfortable then be prepared and have your response rehearsed and ready. If a “good friend” will try to mix you a stiff drink, stay away from them. If the New Year's party is really all about drinking or other drug use, make a short appearance or better yet don't attend. It is impractical in all of these scenarios to say, "I can tough it out and not use or drink." That's what Step One of the Twelve Steps teaches us, right? That we don't have the power. So, why put yourself in the situation of having to "tough it out" through obstacle course of relapse triggers? Staying sober and protecting your recovery must always come first.
By Chasity Edwards
How is he/she doing? Are they doing ok? What is going on with him/her?
If you have a loved one in active addiction or recovery these are phrases, you get used to hearing. We spend so much time worrying about them that we often forget to “worry” about ourselves, and when others are focused on them as well, it can be hard to make that shift in our focus. We hear the term self-care often, but what does that mean, and how do we focus on self-care when we have someone who is in active addiction?
Every time I would talk to someone I hadn’t seen in a while I would hear this phrase “How is he doing?” And I would give them an update, or just say “Oh, he is ok”. After a while I started to get frustrated. Especially with family. I felt frustrated because no one ever asked how I was doing. How the kids were doing. We were the ones dealing with the wreckage he left in his wake. We were the ones left feeling every emotion while he got to keep drinking to numb his feelings. And I let that frustration fester until one day I said, “I am done worrying about you. It is time I take care of me.”
So I started trying to figure out what self-care looked like when you have a loved one in addiction. The media portrays self-care as a day at the spa, chocolates, or a bubble bath. But, I knew that wasn’t what I needed. While those things would help me for a moment, I knew I needed time to focus on my emotions and thoughts.
Self-care is vital to happiness. I found this out by finding happiness when the world around me hadn’t changed. I choose me. My self-care meant time at the gym most days of the week. It meant taking the time to journal and process my emotions, it meant figuring out what I was ok allowing to continue and what I was’t; and then setting boundaries that aligned with those things. It meant choosing to not eat and shop when I was Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. It meant accepting my emotions. It meant long talks with myself and God, and long moments of listening. It meant giving myself permission to put myself first. This was the hardest one. Putting myself first. I have four kids. They should come first, this was the dysfunctional thought I had told myself for years. Realizing that by not putting myself first I was harming my children was a wakeup call. They already had one unhealthy parent, they didn’t need another. Giving myself permission to go to the gym after work was hard. It made me feel guilty at first, until I started seeing how happy it made me. In return, I was able to be happier at home and this gave my kids a happy mom. This was me putting my kids first.
So, what is self- care? Is it bubble baths and chocolate? Yes, it can be. But, it is so much more. Self- care, by definition is taking care of yourself. While it does mean eating healthy and being physically active, it has to be deeper to be effective. Anyone can eat healthy and workout and not be happy. Self-care is finding what you need to be happy and doing it. It is creating a budget, and sticking to it. It is setting goals and developing steps to accomplish them. Sometimes self-care is doing the dishes, and sometimes it means not doing the dishes. It is identifying emotions and talking about them. It is being true to yourself and authentic. It is choosing the path of happiness.
The one thing I realized in my process is self-care is not a one size fits all. It is a very personal path of self-discovery that can include an unlimited number of routes. Self-Discovery! What a powerful statement; and journey we can all benefit from.
By Taz Decker
Creating healthy boundaries is crucial for developing a strong balanced relationship, and for our ability to give and receive love. In a relationship, boundaries are key to resolving conﬂicts and building a relationship that has been hampered by problems that have not been dealt with for years. Sadly, the idea of establishing boundaries has also been misunderstood and misused. Often the result is increased isolation instead of increased love. This is not what boundaries are meant to be about. They are not intended to end relationships but to repair and deepen the relationship. Boundaries can be used for the beneﬁt of any relationship, not to exclude others, an excuse for selﬁshness or self-righteousness, or as a means for ﬁxing, punishing, or controlling others. I would like to talk about how we can set up healthy loving boundaries in a way that makes the relationship to your spouse grow stronger and deeper. However, we must keep in mind that there is no special formula for establishing proper boundaries, but it can be simple. Here are some ideas that has worked for me.
Some people have the idea that setting boundaries is a means to end discomfort in their lives. Setting boundaries in your relationship is not meant to make life easier and more relaxed, but at making it healthier and a more profound relational connection. In other words, boundaries are not a quick escape from discomfort, but an increased focus on a meaningful relationship. Suﬀering is often a necessary part of growth, I have heard “there is no growth in comfort and no comfort in the growth”. It is an important component of the procedure that helps us develop character and become more tolerant and accepting of others. Through the struggle, if dealt with in the right way, can help us accept life on life’s terms. We will gain awareness around our limitations, give up control, learn to serve others, and learn to trust God, while becoming humbler. All this helps us become more whole, grow in our faith, and strengthen our relationships. Almost all the processes that strengthen and deepen our relationships will involve some form of pain and discomfort, but it’s all worth it.
Those who have a difficult time setting boundaries will be tempted to jump from agreeing easier softer way to extremely rigid boundaries. Instead of confronting the issue lovingly, they go from silence about it to an ultimatum. I have found its best to try and find balance. Often a spouse, family member, or friend will have endured a specific behavior for years and having had enough of the behavior give an ultimatum, change right now or else. And usually the consequence the is rather drastic. Unfortunately, such an approach usually backﬁres severely instead of bringing about the solution they desire, as it makes the two of you adversaries instead of partners in resolving a conﬂict. If you don’t give them a chance to understand the problem that you have with them but confront with threats right away, they will only sense your anger, not that you have a genuine interest in resolving the issue. How would you react, if an ultimatum was placed before you the ﬁrst time they talk about a weakness of yours? The purpose is not to shame them, but to help the relationship. Establishing appropriate boundaries is much more than just setting limits. It is a part of a spiritual and emotional growth process that shall bring you closer together – instead of driving you apart.
Consider the following elements when establishing boundaries in your marriage.
Love is the key ingredient of any relationship. Love always wins. When you love someone, everything you do is for them, and nothing you do or say comes from a vengeful or punishing perspective. Before you establish limits, help them understand that you desire the best for them. The limits you have set may be painful, but your love balances the pain and replaces the fear, that may be triggered by your limits, with the hope what you do is for the best of your relationship. Not all people respond openly to the love you show them. But be assured that your love reaches their soul even if they don’t show it.
Outside support. Everyone needs to have friends or a support person, particularly in times of relationship conﬂicts. If you don’t have supportive relationships to other people, chances are that you will set no boundaries at all or that you will set extremely harsh ones as a response to your lack of feeling loved. Either way, you will not get the best result everyone wants.
Ownership. In a relationship, no problem is only the fault of one partner. This may be hard to believe when you see yourself as the innocent victim of someone irresponsible. But whatever the problem is, you will discover that you have contributed to it as well – even if your share is only a small portion. Perhaps you have not spoken up when you should have. Perhaps you have told others about your problem but have never gone directly to the other person with it. Humbly take responsibility for what you have done or failed to do, apologize honestly, ask for forgiveness, and make a sincere effort to change. If you own your part of the problem, they will not feel judged and put down by you and will be more likely to accept your boundaries.
Invitation. The ﬁrst step in confronting should never be a limit, but always an invitation to change. Bring up the issue, clearly and speciﬁcally. Let them know how their actions aﬀect you and that you want them to change because you want to be closer to them. Maybe they did not realize they always had a critical tone that hurts your feelings. Your loving request gives them a chance to empathize with your feelings and to repent. Of course, a request to change will not always ﬁnd a positive response. But if you don’t even try, you miss a great chance to resolve an issue peacefully.
Warning. One of the biggest mistakes that you can make when establishing boundaries is not giving appropriate warning. If you just set limits out of the blue, they will feel ambushed and rightfully become angry at you. A warning, on the other hand, gives them a choice. Something painful may happen in the future, but their behavior will help determine what happens. Knowing what consequences, the future may bring helps us take ownership of ourselves.
Patience. A warning, if not done patiently, is an ultimatum. Sometimes, you may have a diﬃcult time accepting irresponsible or controlling behavior. You want to see it changed and you want this sooner than later. You may not be so lucky. Only few people in the world can change immediately when they see their error. Try not to be critical if they fail or even resists the growth process. Be patient, they may need time to adjust to the new reality. However, that doesn’t mean you should be ignoring the lack of progress either. Silent suﬀering is not the same as patience but only an attempt to avoid conﬂict. Patience means providing the ingredients for growth while allowing them time to respond. This is how God deals with us, he allows you to grow at a slow pace, but he provides all the help you need.
Consequences. When all the above ingredients are in play and there still isn’t change, you may have to follow through with your consequences. Keep in mind however, that consequences have nothing to do with anger, revenge, or punishment. They are there to protect you and to help your loved ones deal with the reality of their actions. Be loving but be consistent too. Otherwise all you have done is nagging and letting your spouse have their way anyway.
Renegotiation: Boundaries don’t have to remain the same forever. They can be changed and even dropped altogether as your loved one matures over time. As you and your loved one grow, you will have less of a need to protect yourself and will be able to be closer to them. Renegotiate the rules that you have set in the past if you feel the need to, the fewer you need, the better it will be for your relationship.
Forgiveness: Finally, leave space in your relationship for forgiveness. If you don’t live in forgiveness, all you try to accomplish by setting boundaries can be severely hampered by blaming, judging, laying guilt trips on him, or being unable to let go of the past. Don’t give these attitudes a chance to grow – practice forgiveness day by day.
None of the above steps are easy. If they were, we would all do them automatically. As mentioned before, growth involves suﬀering. But this form of suﬀering gives us hope.
Enabling and Caretaking - by Katie Decker
"How many times have you tried to help your addicted loved one and realized that your efforts to help backfired or were left unrecognized? This may be sign that you are indeed caretaking and enabling instead of actually helping. Enabling and caretaking are a destructive form of helping that prevents our loved ones from suffering the consequences of their actions and makes it easier for them to continue to use." ~ Codependent No More
We can often find ourselves trapped in a cycle of caretaking and enabling and not understand what is happening. The Karpman Drama Triangle explains this cycle perfectly.
1. An event happens that gives a reason to rescue our addicted loved one such as they need grocery money, go to jail, car gets impounded, can't pay their cell phone, need a ride, etc. We may suddenly feel this overwhelming anxiety to help them and control the situation and rescue them.
2. After we rescue them from their responsibilities we then get mad at them and persecute them because maybe they didn't appreciate our help how we thought they should. This is where resentment and anger come up and we become the victim who's hurt and unappreciated.
3. Feelings of shame and self- pity comes up and we usually stay there in those feelings until the next event happens that we need to rescue them from. Then we suddenly feel a sense of purpose and feel needed again and the cycle stats all over again.
If we are constantly keeping them from suffering the consequences of their actions we are keeping them from true and everlasting change. We are taking away the opportunity for them to grow and learn from their choices. When we caretake and enable it keeps our loved ones just above rock bottom. Just above admitting they need help.
The majority of the time we start out believing that what we're doing is in their best interest but as our codependency progresses along with the addicts addiction we unknowingly cross the line into caretaking and enabling.
When debating on whether to jump into a loved ones problems ask yourself these three questions.
1. What is my motivation?
2. Did they ask for my help?
3. Is this something they can do on their own?
If you cant answer those questions correctly then you need to stay out of their problem and allow them to solve it on their own. A codependents self worth tends to be wrapped up in the validation gained from serving, fixing, and problem solving. This is what makes letting others be responsible for themselves so difficult. With patience and practice you can slowly make the changes it takes to stop caretaking and enabling and let go with love.
By Shane Robison
Impossible. That was a word I lived by throughout most of my life. I could do nothing and accomplish nothing because I didn’t believe that I was capable. No one had told me that I wasn’t and nothing in my life at the time suggested that I was incapable. It was just a feeling that had always been with me since the time I was very young. I don’t know where it originated from but nonetheless it was there. I wasn’t as good as, smart as, strong as, and those were the thoughts embedded in every fiber of my being. No matter how much people told me that I was talented and amazing, no one could remove the idea that I had in my mind that I wasn’t good enough and that life was going to be impossible for me.
As I grew up and saw others excel in their lives and become what they dreamed of becoming I felt stuck in a rut. I wanted to have what they had and be what they were. I can remember several people that I knew if I was just like them then I would be happy in life. If I could be as good looking, as strong, as outgoing, then I would be well on my way to a happy and successful like. I knew that me alone, by myself, I was not enough. I couldn’t understand how some people could have it all and I literally had nothing good to offer to anyone. Everyone else had what it took in this life but not me. Once again, these were thoughts that I grew up with. I didn’t have anyone in my life suggesting that I was nobody or that I had nothing to offer. It was my own mind that was playing these tricks on my and my own mind that was suggesting to me that these were the cold hard facts.
Years and years of living with these thoughts and feelings led to so much pain and sorrow. I had been dealing with depression and anxiety my entire life and I didn’t know that there was another way to live. I thought this was it and I was doomed to a life of feeling uneasy and uncomfortable in my skin. At a very young age I found relief from these feelings by using drugs and alcohol. As an addict this became the solution to all my problems and I turned to them for every emotion that I had. I hadn’t learned how to deal with my problems and cope with life on life’s terms. I just knew the quick fix and how to make it all disappear for hours at a time. I soon lost myself and quickly began the path to self-destruction. I thought that I was nothing before and now I had become an addict.
I had simply given up on life because everything I wanted to achieve felt impossible to me. I was full of fear and unwilling to try anything and especially anything new. Because of my fear and unwillingness to try things, I missed out on so many things including the lives of my children. They suffered severely because of my feelings of inadequacy. I know today that all they wanted from me was my time and my love. I thought I had to be the best at everything to be somebody to them.
Recovery from drugs and alcohol has given me a new pair of glasses to look through. I see everything differently now. All things seem possible if I am willing to try and give it my best. If I face my fears, I can work through all things. I don’t have to compare myself to other people because I am good enough just the way that I am. Today, I have what it takes to be the best me. I have talents that I thought I lacked. I am blessed with so many different abilities that I didn’t think mattered when I was growing up. Now I see them all for what they are worth, and they are priceless. I still have fears in life but if I face those fears head on, having faith in my Higher Power then those fears are conquered. I have a relationship with my Higher Power today. I am in constant communication and accepting of the answers I receive. I often think today, how many people looked at me and thought I want to be him.
Trudge the road, face your fears, love unconditionally, and believe the impossible is possible. There is nothing impossible to him or her that will try.
By Claire Rubio
Romantic relationships can be a great source of happiness in recovery, however, they can also be the cause of great pain. I had to learn that it is not smart to jump into a new relationship early in recovery. At the beginning of my recovery journey I was a single mom, with three beautiful children, going through a divorce. This was a difficult time in my life and the thought of going through it alone was unsettling.
It was strongly advised that I remain focused on myself until my recovery was secure and focus on learning who I truly was. I needed to love myself before I could learn to love another. Once I settled in to my new life, then I could then begin to consider sharing it with somebody else. Unfortunately, this advice was not initially heeded. I was told it was not a good idea to be in a relationship during the first year of my recovery, however, my addictive thinking ended up justifying the idea of “friends with benefits”.
I found myself using someone and switched addictions. I was less than six months clean and sober and found out I was pregnant with another child. With three children already, fresh into recovery, and going through a divorce, I could not fathom having another child to raise. I tried a relationship and soon found the father was in active addiction. The relationship ended before it ever began. I did not give myself time to heal or grow. I had no idea who I was and how to take care of myself and my new baby.
I came to realize where I was at that time was unhealthy. I was seeking someone at my same level and found an even unhealthier person. I read somewhere that relationships are like water. “Water seeks its own level”, simply means that quality people of integrity find other quality people of integrity and vice versa. Although it took me getting pregnant, I finally learned to give myself the time to grow.
I chose a different route for myself and realized it was my time to heal and grow; I was finally ready to be open and teachable in my recovery journey. This was my turning point. Suddenly, I was faced with so many questions about myself. It was more than just relationships with other people, this was about the relationship I had with myself. Until this point in my life, I felt like I was defined by the people I surrounded myself by. I had come to realize that I did not have a clue as to who I was as a person. What where my values? Did I value myself or even like myself? What was my purpose? What did I want to get out of my recovery? I finally learned that I had to recover for me. It wasn’t for my family, my friends and loves ones, or even my children. I realized it was for me. Everything else was just a gift of my recovery. I learned to get out of my own way and take suggestions. I had to stumble to learn that I was worth more than just a casual hook up. I was worth love, companionship, and respect; not necessarily from another person, but from myself.
I needed to get to know myself better before I could choose a partner fit for me. It was a drastic realization and change not to replace my addiction of drugs and alcohol to companionship. I needed to take time to focus on myself and figure out who I was before being able to have a healthy relationship with anyone else. Instead of giving myself a time limit to when I felt I could begin another relationship, I allowed my recovery to take charge. For this to happen, I began to make profound changes: I cut my hair, changed my daily routines, and I even started dressing differently. I started making new, healthy friends. Learning about boundaries were a big step and I eventually learned that having personal boundaries was important. I realized I did have values. My self-esteem was developing, and I finally knew I was worth giving love and, more importantly, being loved.
This process took time. After a year hit, I made an agreement with myself: I was going to build a better relationship with my children. I was ready to focus on being a mother. Almost as soon as I made this dismission, a good friend introduced me to someone. At this point, I was comfortable with being single and okay with just being a mom, sister, and friend. Romance was the furthest thing from my mind. I got to know this man as just a friend, and kept that boundary. We talked about everything together. We went everywhere together. We built a relationship based on who we are on the inside. Our relationship was not based on sex or lust, drugs or alcohol, or superficial things. This took years to find, years of being patient with myself and accepting who I was and what I valued in myself as well as in other people. I now knew what it was to love unconditionally and fully. I was finally in love with another person. It was unselfish and complete. It was love with respect and full understanding of one another.
After being “just friends” for two and a half years, he proposed. We never had a title for our relationship besides being friends. My husband and I married June 2014. We agreed to wait for marriage, which was a new concept for the both of us. We both had a past with addiction and unhealthy relationships. The experience of waiting to be with someone you love deeply is a new inexplicable experience. An experience we never knew was worth waiting for.
In order to be happy in a relationship, I needed to be happy with myself. I needed to learn how to love myself and care for myself first rather than look for the support of another. This was a very difficult and humbling lesson. My husband has now adopted my four children in the winter of 2017. We are a family filled with love and respect for each other as a whole and individuals. I now know that my substance addiction and relationships do not define my self worth. I know who I am and have finally learned how to love and value myself. Yes, I do have my down days, however, I take each trial one step at a time while enjoying each little moment.
By Scott Corsi CSW
One amazing opportunity about working at a Renaissance Recovery is that I get to watch the progress of people who struggle with alcohol and drug addiction through the various phases of recovery. Sometimes it’s exciting, sometimes heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking. As clients take steps to recover they start to get in touch with their self-worth, family relationships are mended, difficult legal situations are made right, and various other amazing results can happen as part of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. Unfortunately, the opposite sometimes happens as well. As I’ve watched this process over and over I’ve begun to see common denominators with those who find success in recovery. Two of these are vulnerability and connection.
When someone starts substance abuse treatment they are asked to begin taking certain steps to ensure their success in recovery. As part of drug and alcohol treatment clients are asked to complete self-searching assignments about their lives as part of group therapy. They then share some of these completed assignments with the group. Clients are also asked to attend individual therapy to support them during this process. By taking these steps clients can address issues that have kept them stuck in their addictions. They are also able to challenge negative self-beliefs that have held them back. Those who seem to find the most success in this process are the ones who are very thorough and detailed in their assignments, are very open and honest with others about their addictions, and are willing to take suggestions from others. Through this process the clients invariably experience vulnerability and find connection. It is not enough however to have this experience in treatment only. They also need to experience vulnerability and find connection in their community as well.
In addition to group and individual therapy they are also asked to take other important steps to address this issue. The first is to attend support groups in the community. These could be Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, LDS 12 step, USARA, or other meetings. Next the clients are asked to keep in regular contact with others in recovery to gain support from them. Finally, the clients are asked to find a sponsor or mentor. At first many people are hesitant to attend support groups in the community and to reach out to others. But as they do so it becomes easier. In this area those who seem to find lasting recovery are the ones that this process stops being a chore and becomes something they enjoy. Again, as they are willing to risk they experience vulnerability and find connection.
As I’ve seen these specific things bring success for those in recovery I have begun to wonder about the how and why of it all. I have found a couple TED talks that explain the relationship between vulnerability and connection very well. The first talk is by Johann Hari called “Everything You Know About Addiction Is Wrong” (https://youtu.be/PY9DcIMGxMs). The second is by Brene Brown called “The Power Of Vulnerability” (https://youtu.be/iCvmsMzlF7o). Both of these talks alone are very good and worth listening to but together they have answered the “how and why of it” for me.
Johann Hari’s talk “Everything You Know About Addiction Is Wrong” references the rat park experiment and Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs. The rat park experiment is a variation on the experiment where they took a single rat and gave it a surge of heroin when it would tap on a lever. In this experiment the rat would always end up overdosing and dying. In the rat park experiment they gave the rats the option of drinking water with morphine. But in the rat park experiment the rat was not alone but with other rats to interact with. They also had as much food as they wanted and things like tunnels and running wheels. Given this social environment the rats stopped overdosing.
When Portugal decriminalized drugs they stopped incarcerating people for having small personal amounts of any drug. These individuals were referred to panels of experts to help dissuade them from using illicit drugs. If someone found themselves in this situation repeatedly they would be referred to some type of substance abuse treatment. They also took some of the money that they were spending on incarcerating people for drug possession and spent it on trying to integrate them back into society with things like helping them obtain employment etc. Using this model Portugal has seen many improvements. For one, rates of new cases of HIV have decreased significantly. Overdoses have also plummeted as well as IV drug use overall. After considering these two models the conclusion that Johann Hari reached was that “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection”.
Brene Brown’s talk referenced her own research on connection. As she did this research a theme came up over and over which was shame. She defined shame as: “the fear of disconnection…Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it that I won’t be worthy of connection?”. We as humans have an innate need for connection. Shame is so debilitating when it comes to recovery in that when we experience it we likely feel disconnected and it also keeps us from trying to connect, the very thing we need. So, if the opposite of addiction is connection the equivalent of addiction would be shame. If we are to find recovery from addiction, we need to find connection and reduce shame. In her research Brene Brown was able to determine the bridge from shame to connection is vulnerability. We need to be willing to risk by letting others see our real selves. This is easier said than done as vulnerability requires real risk. One definition of vulnerability is: “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally”. In vulnerability there is real risk but there is also a real payoff which is connection. The steps of recovery previously mentioned are a blue print for this process of vulnerability and connection.
Ultimately through this process we experience love. We learn that our deep dark secrets aren’t as dark as we thought. We find others who can relate and that have had similar experiences. We find that as we share our story we give others permission to be vulnerable and share their stories as well. We find healing in our relationships. And in the end, we find ourselves connected.
By Mark Pepper CMHC, Clinical Director
September is National Recovery Month, which gets me thinking about what recovery means to me, and what It means overall. With a history of several years of relapse, going in and out of drug treatment centers, 12 step programs, and a continued slide into the darkness of alcoholism, I look back now, with 16 years of continuous sobriety, and believe that all of the time spent trying to seek recovery has actually been my recovery. I believe all of it was necessary for me to ultimately give up the fight with my disease, once and for all.
I previously held the belief that recovery was only abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and that it had to look a certain way. I have come to see and know that what recovery means and looks like is very different for me over the years. I have my recovery, which is about abstinence, then there is the recovery that includes all the other people I know and connect with at various levels. To think that recovery is only about them being sober seems to be lacking. I have had such wonderful relationships with people in ‘recovery’ whether they were sober or not, and I know they have helped me greatly along my journey.
I want to propose that any and all efforts at a life of change, the ‘spiritual experience’ as it were, qualify as valid and honorable in the fight against addiction and alcoholism. There are likely as many different experiences as there are addicts, and to put only sober people in that box seems small. The journey, not the destination, is the recovery itself, and again, that can look so many different ways. I am so grateful that my path has included not only my own relapses and struggles but sharing so many others’ struggles along the way. “The touchstone to spiritual growth is pain” is not hyperbole….it seems the truth.
There is a notion from some people that ‘relapse is part of recovery’. I would propose that relapse is not a part of recovery, but part of the path many of us take to ultimately get and stay sober. My experience is that relapse is not recovery, actually non-recovery. I am either heading towards another drink or heading away from one. All my behaviors lead me in one of those two directions. I am not sure I can be in relapse and be in recovery at the same time; I suggest that it is one or the other.
That being said, the whole journey often takes one into relapse, and, thank God, I made it back to recovery. That is not always the outcome of relapse and or using, as we well know. I want to remember always that my sobriety is God’s gift to me, that if I think I could do this alone, I need only reflect on my own experience to see that it is not at all possible to do alone. The fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, and others, help support the notion that what I cannot do alone, I can do with God’s, and another person’s help. And with all of that, it is a very personal journey we have in recovery, unique to each of us in our own way.
With National Recovery Month, I get to recall the journey I have had to date. It has included so many wonderful people and experiences. I love that we all get our own paths, and the one I have been on is full. One of the things I have learned is that I cannot get other people sober, or get them drunk, just as no one person could get me sober or drunk. I am just responsible for myself, and even with that knowledge, I still know I need God’s help.
Thank you all for the wonderful help along the way!!
Feelings……nothing more than feelings…and yet…aren’t feelings EVERYTHING?
What is the Ultimate motivation and purpose for everything that we do? To feel good. That is the Dilemma of the Addict. An Addict doesn’t have to get good grades to feel good. An Addict doesn’t have to learn how to be in relationship. An Addict doesn’t have to live within a budget and save for the future. An Addict doesn’t need any sense of accomplishment to feel good.
Just a fix, and the whole world is right………. for a time.
The Addict stopped learning to deal with feelings the day they discovered their Drug of Choice (D.O.C.). In fact, most development slows down or stops when the Addict discovers their Drug of Choice. That Drug of Choice can be alcohol, crystal meth, porn, heroin, or video games. Using is Euphoric. Using feels not just good, it feels great because drugs artificially raise the amount of dopamine in our brain. This is the core of addiction: Feel great without any effort. No need for development.
This is also why consequences don’t matter to the addict. Consequences can even threaten the Addicts sense of feeling good, thereby making them want to use even more to ESCAPE and to DISCONNECT.
Welcome to ROCK BOTTOM.
This is an instructive phrase from AA. There will come a point when the Addict begins to break out of the Fog of Use when the consequences of use become too painful. So painful that the pleasure of use can’t keep up with the pain of consequences. Using disconnects the user from reality. (Have you ever – as a caring individual- softened the consequences of use for an addict?)
A critical component of success in recovery is learning to deal with feelings. Unless an addict begins to move forward and experience real successes and happiness, they will only maintain abstinence for a relatively short time. Abstinence is great but it is not recovery. ‘Recovery’ is getting back what is lost – including the development that should have taken place during the using years. What is the biggest threat to feeling good? Feeling bad. But don’t non-addicts have bad feelings – even bad days? YES.
A major part of the addict’s recovery is learning to process feelings. Not just ‘Coping Skills’ but a deep understanding of emotions and the core components of life and living --- how to find joy and satisfaction in life. Of course, this is a developmental process that everyone has to go though, Addict or ‘Normy’ (AA term of endearment – person who can drink ‘normally’ and not be addicted). If you are the loved one of an addict, you will have to disconnect to the old ways of interacting with your addict. You will have to get into your own recovery from his or her addiction and learn completely different ways of being with your loved one. The old patterns will keep relapse a constant threat. Learning how to ‘process’ feelings is a great starting point for Addict and Normy to get started and get to work. What does it mean to ‘process’ feelings? Well, right now you ‘process’ feelings automatically without being aware of doing so; Feelings just are. Sometimes they suck. Sometimes they’re great. Processing means to take an active part in emotions by being purposefully involved in how feelings formed and sometimes reinterpreting the data to see if our emotion is warranted.
In particular, we want to examine big, life size feelings that may be persistent and devastating. Some of these ‘emotions’ can form the core of how we think, see ourselves and how we interact with the world – and our addiction.
The Dog Letter. A few months ago, as I was getting into my car that was parked on our street, I lifted a note off the windshield. It was an anonymous rant about how cruel it was for me to leave my dogs out in the cold all night. Not just to the dogs, but also to the neighbors who lost sleep due to the dogs barking. Now think for a moment about how this letter might have made me feel; Ashamed - because I’d been caught in the poor treatment of my dogs? Embarrassed – because I caused some neighbor to lose sleep? Angry – because my neighbors were all up in my business? How would you react?
My emotional response was easy. I smiled and drove off to work. I had no feelings at all about the letter. Am I just cold hearted? Maybe, but there is a critical piece of information that you need to know that had an important impact on my reaction: I don’t have a dog. My dog passed away 6 years ago. He used the doggy door to come in and out as he pleased. I loved my dog and he was very well cared for, and rarely barked.
Did you notice the dramatic shift in your thinking/feeling when you found out I didn’t have a dog? Emotions are often shifted just as dramatically by new insights and new ways of thinking. Processing feelings is about becoming aware and intentional about thoughts and emotions and applying principals and processes to clarify our thoughts and feelings. This process is actually a therapeutic modality called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is a mainstay of treatment here at Renaissance Recovery Outpatient in Las Vegas NV and St George UT. If you or a loved one is ready to put their derailed thoughts, feelings and life back on track, please reach out and call us.
St George (435) 703-9840
Las Vegas (702) 983-4464
Phil Allen, Therapist Intern, Renaissance Recovery Outpatient Las Vegas Copy Right Phil Allen 2017 All rights reserved.
As many young people in modern America are struggling with various forms of alcoholism, whether chronic drinking on a daily basis, or consuming extreme amounts of alcohol in the process of binge drinking, society must look inward to find ways to deal with the threats and issues that seek to pervade our lives. One such way that society has been able to do this throughout history is with religion, which has the power to build a person’s personal strength through community and inner-belief.
However, the religious facets of America must have the insight to learn how best to help lost souls struggling with the throes of addiction…
Higher power of recovery is inherent in religion
A very important step of the 12-step recovery program, one that is necessary to achieve personal growth, is the acceptance of a higher power. While this step doesn’t necessarily need to have a religious angle, as an atheist can accept a higher power by simply acknowledging that there are greater powers beyond their control, the entire concept of a higher power is inherent in a religious institution, making it a wonderful asset in the journey of addiction recovery, and a great step towards finding stability in life.
Traditionally religious married people are less likely to drink.
While religious institutions are a great venue for people to accept that there is a higher power in control of their lives, there is another benefit for religious people in the fight against addiction. Most religious adults, especially ones who are married and consider themselves more traditional, are far less likely to drink than other adults in their age group. As a matter of fact, men were likely to drink as much as 80% less, while women were likely to drink as much as 86% less, as opposed to their non-religious, single counterparts. While this may be partly due to single people drinking as a social activity, the role of religion cannot be ignored in this equation.
Religious communities must shy away from shame.
While religious communities are a great environment that stop many people from getting caught up in the throes of substance abuse, there is still a demon that American religions must work to wrestle within themselves. This struggle has to do with the immense shame that many addicts from these communities feel for their action. While most religious teachings warn about passing judgement on our fellow man, there is an undeniable tendency for many highly religious communities to use shame as a method in dealing with people who are pursuing undesirable behavior. This is dangerous, though, as the psychological effects of shame can often push an addict further away from those who would have otherwise been able to help.