Addictionland - Addiction Recover Blog
"Excellence is not an act but a habit. The things you do the most are the things you will do the best."
– Marva Collins
Recovery is not an act it is a habit. The more we practice utilizing the tools of recovery the more integrated they become into our lives thus forming positive habits. As we continue doing the next right thing we continue to strengthen our resolve as recovering people. The truth is as we form habits those habits form who we become as people. Therefore, we want to form the right habits in order to build the best life possible.
Building daily disciplines in our lives are essential to a productive recovery process. Arising in the morning at a consistent hour on a daily basis is the start of a productive day. As the old saying goes, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Once the day has begun prayer and meditation on a consistent basis is one of the daily disciplines that help to promote wellness. Whether it is traditional prayer, journaling, positive affirmations, Eastern Meditation, Yoga, or simply talking to a higher power are all examples of prayer and meditation.
Attendance at mutual support meetings is an integral aspect of the recovery process both in the action and maintenance phases of recovery*. Mutual support whether it is a Twelve-Step process, SMART Recovery, or any other self-improvement program, group attendance at meetings is an essential aspect of the disciplines necessary to make lasting change.
Tony Robbins is quoted as saying, “Success leaves clues.” It is true if you want to recover from a hopeless state a good plan to adopt would be to find someone that has recovered, do what they did and do, and your chances for success increase. In the Twelve-Step community finding a sponsor is the equivalent of this principle. In amateur and professional sports having a coach is similar. Business leaders have mentors and religious folks have spiritual advisors. It simply makes sense to have a helping hand to guide you through the process. The daily discipline is to communicate with the sponsor or mentor every day and to take their advice....
"People in good moods are better at inductive reasoning and creative problem solving." Salovey, Mayer, Goldman, Turvey, and Palfai.
Simply ceasing the use of alcohol or illicit drugs for many people recovering from addiction is not enough to fully recover from the “hopeless state of mind and body” of the afflicted is in. Emotional Sobriety is the positive regulation of our emotions. During the recovery process individuals that are or have been addicted to drugs, alcohol, or both and or those that have relied on their use tend to have significant emotional incapacities at times. Flying off the handle at situations that frustrate them is commonplace. As they gain strength in their recovery they begin to recognize that their emotions have a tendency to control them rather than vice a versa.
"My father used to say to me, 'Whenever you get into a jam, whenever you get into a crisis or an emergency…become the calmest person in the room and you'll be able to figure your way out of it.'"
– Rudolph Giuliani
The recovery process that an individual chooses to implement for their recovery should include the integration of exercises to enhance their emotional sobriety. Failing to address the regulation of our emotions leaves us susceptible to negative consequences and potential relapse....
Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. -- Helen Keller
Addiction is the cause of extreme suffering for many individuals and their families. The use of illicit drugs and the abuse of alcohol will often result in significant consequences for many Americans let alone the harm caused to our communities. With the proliferation of the electronic age there is not a lack of information or awareness with the scope of the addiction challenge.
Pharmaceutical Opioid drugs such as Oxycodone has wreaked havoc in middle income neighborhoods that at one time seemed to be exempt of such mass damage. The Crack epidemic of the 80’s and 90’s seemed to rear its ugly head in the inner cities of the country. Methamphetamine played a huge role in the South and Southwest regions of the country. But today the every region of the country seems to be impacted by this epidemic. Alcohol issues continue to play a negative role in the country as well with little signs of letting up its strangle hold on millions of Americans.
Yet with all of that said, as bleak of a picture as it may seem to be, recovery works. Millions of Americans seek treatment each year and many are successful. Mutual support and recovery groups have strengthened the access to long-term community support and fellowship. Groups that utilize the Twelve-Step process continue to grow as well as new science and psychological based groups that have emerged on the scene offering a wide variety of self-improvement options. Yes, the world of addiction is full of suffering, but the recovery process helps those afflicted to overcome it!
The Fifth Pillar of Brain Fitness-Novel Learning Experiences
Hopefully you have begun to get a feel for what the concept of brain fitness is about, and a feel for how you can facilitate the daily growth of new neurons in your own noggin by attending to the pillars of brain fitness, which are physical exercise, good nutrition including omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants, good sleep, stress managment, and novel learning experiences.
Novel learning experiences are required by your brain to form new connections between neurons, which can happen within minutes, by the way.
I always thought that connections between neurons were built only after I had memorized something, and my brain had reached some kind of overflow state which became a long term memory, but that is not true.
Memorization means that fragment of knowledge is now in long term memory, but connections between neurons happens sometimes in minutes when something new is learned, so if you read an interesting blog post somewhere about PTSD for example, there may be a new connection happening rapidly....
What has the brain in the heart got to do with brain fitness? Your heart actually has a very sophisticated nervous system all of its own, which sends more data up than the brain sends down. Your heart actually regulates itself, rather than run on signals from the brain.
Turns out that if we can regulate the time between heart beats, which the scientists call heart rate variability coherence, we keep the inside of our body full of DHEA which is the anti-aging hormone instead of adrenalin and cortisol, which are the stress hormones which can take us into fight or flight chemistry in all of 1/18th second.
If we are driving down the road and someone crosses the center line, we need stress hormones to save our life, but unfortunately, the body will give us lots of adrenaline and cortisol and fire us up for fight or flight when we get a nasty letter from the IRS, which is not life threatening, so the latter stress response puts us at risk for inappropriate behavior.
One of the side effects of too frequent doses of adrenaline and cortisol is the death of new born neurons.
So imagine yourself learning to pay close attention to the inside of your body, and creating heart rate variability cohence (feels good) on demand....
Harm reduction is a way of helping the alcoholic manage their drinking. For instance, if an alcoholic is prone to drinking and driving, maybe he should move close to a bus route or a subway line so that driving isn’t necessary. Not drinking is, well, not drinking. Harm reduction has its very strong proponents.
As for me, when working with someone, I’m always thinking not just about the harm I want to help them reduce, but about completely replacing harm with life. No change that. Life: with a capital L. This is much like the OCD client’s I have that are consumed with reducing risk in their life so they stop going out … it’s a wonder they even get out to see me. The idea is to be free of the addiction.
When I think of the client who stops drinking at 26, gets a productive job, becomes supportive and loving spouse and father. The ripple effects of all the people that this person touches in a positive way are literally infinite. There is no comparison to that and if he had learned how to manage his drinking, and shrunk his life into a small flat near the bus line, working the system for what meager funds he could pull together to drink alone in his apartment until he died. One is a giver of life and the other is a parasite on society and a downer even unto himself.
Are there times when I’ve engaged in harm reduction? Yes. Productively, I can see harm reduction as beneficial if it is seen as the pre-contemplative phase of recovery. In other words, it is something that is useful once they have become a nuisance to themselves and society but before they are ready to throw in the towel. In those cases I will help with harm reduction. Having said that, it is something that I do with trepidation, because addiction is very unpredictable. Just because an alcoholic moves near the subway line so that he won’t drive drunk, is not guarantee that the once drunk, he/she won’t rebel against the who system and drive anyway. Or like one young man I worked with who fell alone in his apartment, bashing his head on the corning of his stereo and bleeding to death. Ultimately, the concept of managing addiction or alcoholism is very arrogant. Sadly, sometimes, as a professional, it is the only tool I have. While I will use the tool if that is the only place the client will meet me, it is, in essence, a lousy tool.
Sobriety is such a blessing with so many rewards - rewards that are measured in reunited families, careers that never would have been, in spiritual enlightenment that is bigger than any of us – when I am backed into the corner of harm reduction, I feel so impoverished, a little like Dr Kevorkian.
The typical picture painted of alcoholism is the staggering, drooling drunk-- usually a pathetic, affable person making a scene of some sort.
I've come to understand that this does not capture the true essence of alcoholism. It merely paints a picture of the alcoholic who has found a temporary solution (alcohol). The spiritual malady has been sedated, the resentments and fears that eat their insides daily have been put to sleep. Drunkeness provides relief from alcoholism.
To see true alcoholism, watch the sober, untreated alcoholic. They are coming out of their skin, perhaps because they are doing all they can to fight a physical compulsion to drink, or maybe because they've been without a drink for a week or a month or a year and are battling daily mental urges to drink. Impatience, irritability and edginess mark their day, they often appear forlorn and lonely, and any happiness often appears disingenuine and affected. For me, I often felt like my head might explode at any given moment, and I often wished for it.
This is why we drink: this condition becomes unbearable. It's often a choice between a bottle of vodka and a three state killing spree. And we choose vodka, thankfully. When we hear it said that certain dry alcoholics should just drink, this is what drives it: that person creates less havoc, misery, and destruction when they are drunk than when they are not.
Abstinence does not treat alcoholism, it aggravates it. It's an untenable, in-between state for the hopeless alcoholic-- they either return to drinking or they find a spiritual solution to their spiritual problem.
Don't ever tell me my worst day sober was better than my best day drunk. Utter nonsense.
Our former group secretary started her share yesterday saying "I have no idea what happened," and unintentionally captured the most maddening, misunderstood quality of alcoholism. She got drunk the night before, and-- in addition to being shocked and mortified-- was scratching her head.
"I had to plan it, because there was no alcohol in the house," she said. "So I had to go the liquor store. You would think I would have stopped myself at some point."
It reminded me of one of my own relapses. I was strapped to a hospital bed, tubes in my mouth, and my sponsor at the time stood at the end of the bed and asked, "Why didn't you call me?"
"Really?" I remember thinking. "That's what you've got for me?"
"The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called willpower becomes practically non-existent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our conciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink." Alcoholics Anonymous, page 24
The majority of people in A.A. continue to believe that this program is about building obstacles to the first drink, about not taking the first drink no matter what, about creating a support network of people that will stand between you and alcohol. As well-intentioned as these tactics are, they ironically only work for non-alcoholics. If simple awareness and understanding of the disease, or the admonishment of another human being, are sufficient to keep you sober, you aren't powerless over alcohol. Don't misunderstand- perhaps it's better that you not drink. There are plenty of hard drinkers who create havoc and misery, and if you have a desire to not drink, there's a place for you in A.A. But when I read the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous, I see you differently than me.
I require a spiritual awakening to survive, you require a well-charged cell phone.
But back to the point--dissecting relapses is a staggering waste of time, and a thinly veiled attempt to regain power over the disease of alcoholism. I've come to appreciate my relapses as critical evidence about the futility of my condition, as experience that lined up perfectly with the information I was presented from the AA Text Book. I can't not drink. I must find a power greater than myself that will solve the problem for me.
There are several components to the first step. The physical allergy-- when I put it in me it says "give me more"-- is just the first part. This is the part that nearly everyone in A.A. gets. But the second part-- the mental obsession-- is casually dismissed by most. The broad side of Alcoholics Anonymous operates under the painfully misguided idea that once sober, once dried out, the alcoholic must now use willpower and other humans to stay away from the first drink. And when the alcoholic fails at this-- and most do-- they are often told that "perhaps they are not ready." Or, "maybe you need to drink more."
This sort of staggering ignorance could drive a man to violence, you know?
If I believe my disease is ocassion-based, I will likely have occasion-based sobriety.
I noticed this weekend in a local AA meeting that the group member list -- a document distributed for members to contact one another-- includes a column for sobriety date. It wasn't the first time I'd seen the list, but it was the first time I noticed the sobriety date column and it made me uncomfortable. It was not lost on me that when I had 11 years of sobriety, I probably liked it listed next to my name; now that I had 18 months, well, not so much. But there was more to it than ego.
Despite proclamations that "we've only got today" and "whoever woke up earliest has the most time," time is the most respected AA vital sign. Many people like to slip it in casually when they share, and it's often the first or second question asked when people meet someone in the fellowship for the first time (how much time do you have?). It's human nature--we want to know how we stack up. If you don't believe me, try to think of someone in your home group whose sober time you don't know.
On one hand, I get it-- the amount of time you've been able to stay away from a drink has to indicate something about your qualifications, right? If you're hiring, you want someone with continuous experience, not the guy who's been in and out of jobs.
But when I started to think about what it used to be like for me-- way back when I had double-digit sobriety and never hesitated to work it into a conversation ("'Hey, Jay, how you doin'?' 'Fine, thanks, for a guy with 11 years!'"), I started to see something clearly.
All I had was time....