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.
Today, in the world of addiction recovery, there is one big factor in how we perceive addiction’s effect on people. This factor, of course, is our classification of addiction as a mental disease. However, while this is a classification that is taken for granted in the medical world, nowadays, we should always leave room for our suppositions to be challenged, as it can provide a tremendous insight, even if these challenges may be wrong.
Over the past several years, one such professor has been leveling some thoughtful criticism towards the ideology of how we view addiction, as well as the entire addiction recovery industry, in general. This man’s name is Marc Lewis…
Marc Lewis has made an illustrious career as a developmental neuroscientist who studies human behavior and how it is affected by the emotional composure of an individual. He is certainly a voice that demands attention, due to his authority in his field of study. On top of his research positions, Marc Lewis was a longtime professor at the University of Toronto, and continues to be a professor at Radbud University, which is in the Netherlands.
What makes Marc an important figure to listen to on this topic, however, is that he is not just another academic researcher. Marc has his own history with addiction, which dates back to being an Undergraduate at Berkeley. Lewis’ experimentation with psychedelic drugs eventually led him to become addicted to opiates.
His controversial proposal
The radical notion that Marc Lewis is presenting is that addiction should not be viewed and treated as a disease. Indeed, he purports that such a classification is actually harmful for the people involved. Rather than being viewed as a chronic brain disease, Lewis says that addiction is about brain development, and should be treated much more as a behavioral issue. By taking this approach to addiction, he believes that approaches to treatment will improve and that new solutions to fight addiction will start to emerge.
The importance of another perspective
Ultimately, one of the greatest humanitarian benefits for addicts that came from citing addiction as a disease was that it was able to help break some of the stigma that addicts face. However, viewing addiction as a behavioral problem doesn’t necessarily bring the stigma back into it. Instead, addiction can be viewed as a developmental process, one in which the addict must continue to develop beyond the scope of their addiction. Whether or not this concept has weight is yet to be seen. However, it is always important to examine viewpoints outside of your own, especially when the topic is as important as this
Dreams are powerful. They create a world that is so real that we can feel the effects of our dreams even after we wake. It is quite common for recovering addicts to have dreams where they are again using drugs or that they relapse. The dream may be a pleasurable experience or a nightmare, it just depends. These dreams can be very frustrating, as they can create guilt for using drugs, even though it was just a dream.
Additionally, they can untimely remind you of things that you were trying very hard to forget. Your subconscious mind can create very powerful and realistic dreams while you are trying to recover. If you have recently experienced using dreams, read on for a few tips to help you deal with them.
Remember That It Was Just a Dream
While your using dream could have been incredibly vivid and felt superbly real, it was just a dream. Take a couple of deep breaths and relax. Turn on a light, look around at your surroundings, and ground yourself. You have not relapsed, it was not real. Remind yourself how far you have come and what is is real.
Pay Attention to Your Emotions
Were you upset by the dream? That’s good. If you felt frustrated or unsettled by your dream, that is a good thing. It means that you are taking your recovery seriously, and that you are striving to stay sober. Recognize how you feel and how you were affected by the dream, and then move forward. One study about using dreams indicated that it didn’t matter what the dream was about, rather, your response to the dream.
Dreams Can Create Change
Studies show that recovering addicts who have using dreams achieve longer periods of sobriety. Their dreams remind them that they need to be vigilant in their recovery. Studies also show that recovering addicts first have dreams that focus around them using drugs, and then many of them begin to have dreams of them refusing to use drugs. Your dreams can be a way for your mind to rehearse the future.
Be More Vigilant
Use your dreams as a reminder of why you have started along the path to recovery. Decide to increase your efforts to live a sober lifestyle rather than becoming discouraged. Over time, your using dreams will decrease, and you will be strengthened. If for any reason your dreams give you the urge to drink or use drugs again, see a therapist immediately, or talk to someone that you know and trust to help you work through the effects of your dreams.
New Year’s will soon be upon us, and so it is time to think about making a few New Year’s Resolutions. If you have decided to start the year off sober, you have a long but rewarding path ahead of you. While the resolution “To be sober” is a good one, without proper planning, you may find yourself unable to keep it. We have compiled five mini-resolutions to help you on your journey to recovery.
Attend All of Your Meetings
If you have joined a recovery group, or if you are part of an outpatient program, make a resolution this year to attend all of your meetings. Stop making excuses for why you cannot go, and find ways to make your recovery a priority.
Make a resolution this year to be honest in your recovery. Be honest with yourself, be honest with your family, be honest with your recovery group, and be honest with your therapist. You cannot expect a full recovery if you cannot be honest with those around you. If you feel like you cannot reach out to those around you, keep a journal so that you can write your thoughts down and be more accountable for your actions.
Develop a New Hobby
You will find as you begin your recovery that you will have a lot of time on your hands. If you are serious in your recovery, you need to find ways to occupy that time. Pick up an instrument, learn to paint, start stilt walking, learnt to sew, or join an exercise class. Fill your time and occupy your thoughts with positive activities to help you recover.
Change Your Routine
Active addicts have a routine that they follow that enables their addiction. For example, if you drive home along a route that has many bars along the way, you will be tempted to stop by for a drink. Find a different route home. If you watch a certain show or listen to certain music before you used to use, find a different show or a new artist to listen to.
Make New Friends
Some of your friends that you have had during your addiction may be addicts themselves. Resolve to change up your friend circle to help you through recovery. Find new friends who will help you live a sober lifestyle. Join a club or take a class and reach out to the other people around you. If you befriend another recovering addict, you can help each other along the road to your recovery.
One of the most important and unique parts of the 12-step program is the content of part 2: accepting a higher power. The foundation and essence of the other parts of the program are all built upon the belief that a higher power can help restore sanity inside of us, and be used to cure addiction. Without this important step, the rest of the program would be weak, by comparison. You cannot separate the need for a higher power from the entire idea of addiction recovery.
It as an absolute necessity, and here are some reasons why…
Accept something bigger than yourself
The biggest thing that accepting a high power in your life does for your treatment is allows you to step outside of yourself by acknowledging that there is something much bigger than your own life at work. When you can see that there is something bigger than you, it puts a lot of things into perspective regarding how your actions affect other people.
This provides a cornerstone from which to build yourself back up as a stronger and better human being, with something more wonderful to strive towards. Having this spiritual structure early on will give you something to lean against in your journey towards recovery.
Something in your life stronger than addiction
Another way that accepting a higher power into your life helps you fight addiction is that it gives you something that has power and is good. Addiction is a powerful mental disease that can be an immense challenge to fight. To many addicts, it may represent the most powerful force in their lives, and make their situations seem helpless. However, acknowledging that there is a higher power at work puts something in your life that is more powerful than addiction, and having that spiritual backing as an ally is something that can never be underestimated.
Even atheists and agnostics need a higher power
Even if an addict isn’t religious, or even if they don’t believe in God, they are still in need of a higher power in their recovery. Accepting the scope of the universe and acknowledging that it is beyond their control brings them back to reality and sanity, instead of caught up in the devastating mindset that is brought about from addiction. Even those without God in their life will eventually need spiritual fulfillment, as man cannot live on bread for his body and mind, alone, but must also feed his soul.
One difficult part that comes later on in recovery is building your social circle to reflect your new lifestyle. Obviously, for those who have suffered from alcohol abuse, they probably have friends who partake in alcohol, even just moderately.
This may add a certain level awkwardness, and a whole swath of questions about how this will effect the newly formed you. Clearly, you may very well still want to be friends with these people, as nobody wants to say farewell to a friendship.
Here’s some information on balancing friends who still drink…
How badly do they use?
Is this friend of yours also an addict?
Do they feel that they absolutely have to drink when you are around them, sometimes without control? If so, you may feel a strong desire to help them overcome this.
Are they committed to helping you in recovery?
And while this is certainly a noble pursuit for later in, you should probably limit your contact with them early on in your recovery. This type of environment can be very triggering for a recovering alcoholic.
Focus on making yourself the best person that you can be before you try to fix other people. Once you have found your footing, you will be a much more valuable tool in helping a friend find recovery. However, you don’t have to avoid people who drink, as a matter of principle. Being around alcohol use probably isn’t the best idea, but most of those who drink moderately every now and then probably won’t feel compelled to drink while you are around.
While people who still drink aren’t joining in your journey towards a life without alcohol, they can definitely still contribute support. Emotional support and encouragement can be given by anyone, regardless of their personal usage. Keep these people close and let them help you. It does nobody any good to lose relationships that are meaningful and valuable. However, if someone is acting in a way that is detrimental to your recovery, and contributes negatively to your attempts to get sober, there should certainly be a discussion on whether or not it is in your best interest to continue associating with that person.
You don’t have to cut entire groups of people out of your life
Remember, there isn’t always a need to be dramatic and cut people out of your life. Cutting yourself from everyone in the world who drinks isn’t exactly realistic, and is a silly way to approach recovery and life. Recovery is about being stable as your own person, and working to build a better life for yourself and those around you. If there are friends who support and work alongside you to do just that, then they are your true friends, through and through, regardless of whether or not they drink or use.
This week, we’re going to talk about your spouse…
Closest person to you
It is very likely that your spouse is the closest person that you have in your life. Your partner in marriage is going to know you better than anybody else, and is aware of your many eccentricities. This knowledge of you makes it easy for them to relate to you, as they will sympathize for whatever you have to go through. This attachment provides a very good support system. Sees you frequently Your spouse is somebody whom you sleep in the same bed as, every single night. They see you every day of your life, for long periods at a time. It’s very likely that nobody on this planet spends more time with you than them.
This means that your spouse is your most readily available support system, as they are there for you every day. This constant interaction will also make them the best person to keep track of your recovery, as they can see how it is affecting your day-to-day life.
Took an oath
When you marry somebody else, you swear an oath that you will stand by their side. Your spouse took that very same oath to protect you. Don’t push this person away, as there is nobody else on this planet that has taken up that same level of commitment. Naturally, the person whom you married won’t want to see you suffer, because they were the person who loved you before this all started. Marriage comes with an obligation to help and protect your significant other. Let them stand by you in your fight against addiction.
It’s their problem, too
You are an absolutely integral part of your partner’s life. Don’t ever, ever forget that. You are the person that they were planning on spending the rest of their life with. Addiction is a disease that can greatly affect those plans, and nobody is going to fight harder for you to overcome that than your spouse. Whether or not you are able to recover will greatly impact their life. Don’t ever forget that!