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Posted by on in Alcoholism

As I sit in my weekly home-group meeting, I comb my fingers through my hair while listening to the chairperson tell a compelling story of resilience and gratitude. I look around the room at everyone's faces and see that they are all astonished at what the chairperson is revealing to his trusted support group. As I scan the room, my eyes end up at the spot on the table directly in front of me and I make a horrifying discovery. My hair is all over it! I wish I could say this is the first time that's happened...but it's not. Suddenly, I can no longer hear the chairperson speaking because the voice in my head is screaming "HOLY CRAP! I'M BALDING! BUT I LOVE MY HAIR! HOW CAN THIS BE HAPPENING TO ME?!" I scan the room again and realize that almost every single person has a great head of hair! I find one man, Bill, who is bald. Bill is much older than I am and the longer I stare at him, I start seeing my face on his body and hairless head! "That's me in 30 years!" I fearfully exclaim to myself. 

As I sink off into deep thought and lamentation, the thought process in my follicley challenged head goes as follows:

Why am I so panicked about my hair loss? Why do I find myself immediately creating resentments towards 99% of people in recovery that still have their head of hair in tact?

The answer to that question...Pride and Ego. I've spent my life so concerned with my outward appearance. Constantly exercising to tone my body, spending money on expensive clothes, and trying the newest hairstyle. My "outsides" mattered so much to me because if I looked good on the outside, maybe people won't notice who I am on the inside. While I was still in active addiction, my self esteem was all based on false principles. That went on for years and even though I've attained a number of years in recovery now, clearly, old habits die hard. 

During my time away from drugs and alcohol, I've learned what real self-esteem feels like. Evidence-based self esteem that I've earned from doing esteemable acts. I've learned to love myself and accept myself for who I am, and not for the fraudulent person I used to portray. I no longer have to hide behind materialistic concepts but, instead am free to expose my true self for I am no longer ashamed of the person I am today. With these lessons in mind, I come to the realization that my hair loss needn't matter much because it is not a fancy outfit or trendy haircut that defines me. What defines me are my actions, my efforts, and my intentions leaving anything else to just be an added bonus. False pride and ego have slowly faded and what I am left with makes me...


Posted by on in Alcoholism


"We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee."
– Marian Wright Edelman

The Twelfth Step of Mutual Support states that as we recover, we carry the message to other’s that still suffer.  A basic spiritual principle of our world is, “we must give it away if we want to keep it.”  This sounds so illogical yet it is powerful beyond measure.  When we close our hands to hang on to what we have already received, having our hands closed we are  limited and cannot receive more because there is no room to recieve anymore.  The fact remains, the more we give the more we receive in future blessings.
Most of us are raised to quench the drive within ourselves that seeks to become all that we can become.  We look to make a difference in the world in some way.  Some folks strive to make a difference globally while others limit themselves to their immediate families and community.  Many times we utilize our failures to create our future endeavors.  For instance, Bill Wilson the Co-Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous utilized his struggle with and ultimate recovery from alcoholism to make a global impact on millions of people throughout the world.  This was not necessarily his intention, but step by step the daily progress created long term impact.
As we recover and we take additional steps to overcome addiction, we help others to do the same, we begin to make small differences in others’ lives as well as our own.  Often, when we recover we begin to look to the future for our vocational and life purpose.  We recognize that life is more than just a party.  We learn that life is meant to be enjoyed and not endured yet not in some Hedonistic way of seeking pleasure but in a way in which we make a significant impact in the lives of those around us and extending as far out as we possibly can.  Life is good!
Dan Callahan, MSW



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Posted by on in Recommended Reading

"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.


Posted by on in Alcoholism

"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.


Posted by on in Drug Addiction

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!



Posted by on in Alcoholism

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.


Posted by on in Alcoholism

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.


Posted by on in Alcoholism

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.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism




We are no longer showing the newcomer that we have a solution for alcoholism. We are not telling them about the Big Book and how very important that Book is to our long term sobriety. The book blatantly tells us: “to show other alcohol ics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book”, the main purpose! I have lost count how many times I have heard the book misquoted, and it’s usually to newcomers.


Posted by on in Alcoholism

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.

Cross-posted at Thump.

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