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Posted by on in Alcoholism

 

How The Alcoholics Anonymous’ program of action helps with emotional dysregulation.

When I first came into recovery I was surprised how much more time I spent embroiled in thinking about past incidents and how I had numerous murderous resentments  about people who had supposedly done me wrong, than I did thinking about drinking.

The thought of drinking terrified me rather than enticed me. Fortunately it also made be nauseous and fortunately still does. A full year of vomiting on an empty stomach, throughout each and every interminable day and night, has had some aversion like effect.

I had literally hundreds of thoughts and negative emotions about the past streaming through and around my aching head and piercing my heart. They were like toxic mind darts that flipped my guts and almost made me physically ill. Even thinking back now makes me feel queasy.

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Posted by on in Drug Addiction

How to Create a Postive Transformation in Your Own Life in Four Easy Steps, by Daniel D. Maurer

 

Generally, I have an allergy to any online article using the words "Easy" and "Steps." It seems, more often than not, that anything I can read under five minutes isn't going to effect a significant change in my life. (Yes, writers and editors, I used "effect" as a verb in that sentence.) However, here are four simple things I learned in recovery that anyone can learn to do. And guess what? They really work! For now, the title of this little essay stands, as is. - DTSM (Daniel Maurer)

It's very likely that some readers will recall nightmares with this picture.

It's very likely that some readers will recall nightmares with this picture.

Ever play the game Tetris? Yeah, you know the one. The object of the game is to fit in differently-shaped blocks into slots with other blocks to create a complete row. When you do that, the row disappears.

Whether you've played the game on your old Nintendo Entertainment System or on an online site today, you know the sadistic power that game has on your brain after you've played it for a while — after you're done playing, you close your eyes AND YOU KEEP SEEING TETRIS BLOCKS!

Pretty soon, Tetris blocks are everywhere. You see them in grocery store aisles with the soup cans; in pet stores in the kitty litter aisle; on a Christmas tree with the lights; in rows on cars on a highway; even within people walking in a mall. Everything gets tetricized!!

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

If I spend time thinking about the various issues specific to addicted clients I come up with a few central themes. Many people need to find a sense of purpose, some need to find a sober place to live, and others need to find a way to earn income or repair family relationships. However, what is needed to follow-through on any of these tasks is a sense of self-esteem, or what I like to call ‘Emotional Competence’ or EC. I think of of EC in this way: are you up to the task at hand? Do you have the ability and wherewithal to follow-through? It seems to me that if you don’t like who you are and you can’t take ownership of the successes in your life then it’s very likely you’ll never like who you are. I am convinced that there is a direct relationship between poor self-esteem and giving away all of the credit in your life to a higher power.

While there are many causes of poor self-esteem, I am not convinced it is necessary that you need to know why you dislike yourself. All of the reasons we dislike who we are tend to manifest in the same way and the end result is the same: poor self-esteem, diminished self-confidence, and a poor self-concept. Rather than focus on changing the past (which is generally impossible) let’s use this time to focus on how we can feel better about our place in the world. I want to posit seven ideas for change. It’s important to try and change how you feel about yourself as poor self-esteem can lead to relapse.

1) Sentence completions: on a piece of paper start with a sentence that says “I like myself because” and complete the sentence as many times as you are able. If you feel blocked you can try “I could like myself if…..” and complete several sentences. Note any patterns and share what you learned with a trusted friend or mentor and ask for feedback.

2) Affirmations: I could spend hours writing about affirmations so I will simply encourage you to look online for ways to create affirmations. When you complete affirmations just remember: they need to be said in the present, they need to be realistic, and they need to include a level of risk. When I say ‘level of risk’ I am simply suggesting that you can read them aloud, read them to yourself in a mirror, write them on a piece of paper, read them into a tape recorder and play them back, or you can go for the highest level of risk and read them to another person.

3) Forgiveness: I suspect we all have done things which are less than flattering to our ego. It will be likely that many times the stupid thing you have done will simply work itself out and people will see that you made a mistake and will be able to let go of their annoyance about you and your actions, so take heart in that. Other times the act perpetrated against us is so great that forgiveness seems like too huge a leap – perhaps we can begin by remembering that forgiveness is about forgiving the person and not the act. Seek more support if this is a block to you.

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Posted by on in Gambling Addiction

Hello And Happy Memorial Weekend Recovery Friends!


 

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Some days living life in recovery can be a bit of a challenge. What I mean is, no matter how much recovery time one gets under their belt, we still may have a day when something from our “Wicked Past Addiction” just might come back and ‘Bitch Slap’ us in the face of our present.
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It’s why it’s important to ALWAYS have a plan. And especially for long holiday weekends like this one, *Memorial Weekend*…

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Even when that “Slap” comes around, we need to have a safe plan to deal with Life on Life’s terms. I mean, our higher power never said recovery was going to be an easy journey right? Here is what happened to me a while back. When we moved from So. Oregon, to here in Glendale, Arizona,…it was a very traumatic move for me in many ways. I had to adopt out my 2 baby kitties, actually my good friend who has a mini 3 acre ranch took them for us, but it was traumatic for me. Also the 3 day ride in the car was also a traumatic event for me, and had to stay a wee bit extra medicated with my psych meds for the long trip, as I suffer from Bipolar depression, mild PTSD, and Agoraphobia with panic, so need I say more? When we finally got her to AZ we were living with my husbands siblings until we could move back to Oregon. Well, there was SO much DRAMA and arguing that I was having 5 panic attacks a Week!!

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

Many years before I found my way into a group room or sat in a chair before a client, I listened to a recording of Dr. King and his "I Have a Dream" speech.  Having listened to his speech I knew I wanted to help people in some way and I knew I wanted to affect change, I just didn't know how. I had a dream of supporting clients to find a way to exit addiction. I suspect I must have found a way to reach my goal as more than 28 years later I continue to support people to find a way to to achieve sobriety. When I was wandering about trying different careers, I tried selling cars for a bit.  The work didn't engage me, but in some way I latched on to the idea of sales.  In some way I sell sobriety.  I am able to highlight the various features of recovery and like car maintenance, I am able to show clients what they need to do to achieve lasting recovery.  Taking care of your car is a choice, much like recovery is a choice. To stay sober you need to do many little things on a regular basis that support you to abstain from chemicals or support you to make a decision to use in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary.  It's not much different than maintaining a car.  If you neglect the maintenance your vehicle will cease to run. To this end I think that everybody has the ability to make a choice and find sobriety.

Over 32 years ago I made a conscious decision to quit using chemicals.  I found a way that worked for me with the help of my grandparents.  The way they supported me to remain sober looks very similar to the way I have been able to help clients find sobriety.  Throughout my career I have seen various trends in the field of addiction recovery.  While the addiction treatment industry was borne out of the self-help movement, things have changed.  While I can see the benefit of attending support groups, most research has not affected the way support groups and the 12-step movement operate.  However,  great strides in modern science have brought many changes in the way addiction treatment and mental health services are delivered. We have seen the the advent of anti-craving medications, the creation of various cognitive behavioral therapies, motivational interviewing, the creation of the Transtheoretical Model (stages-of-change) short-term therapy, goal-based treatment, and the implementation of peer-led support.

While I think many changes in the addiction treatment industry have been helpful, I have seen an intensification in the negative attitudes from some folks in various support groups or clinicians in the recovery community suggesting the "new methods" are essentially harmful.  I don't think this is the case.  I think that many people who see the "new therapies" as harmful are misinformed and narrowly focused.  It seems to me that at times people forget that recovery looks different for everybody.  I am not sure how attending 12-step meetings gives a person special insight over someone who found recovery though a therapist and anti-craving medications.  It seems to me that recovery is a choice.  How we get there shouldn't matter - what matters is that we find a way and that we get there.

This might be a contentious statement for some folks, but my sense is that recovery alone is not a job qualification.  I don't think that being sober gives us any special insight into the addicted mind or the behavior of an addict.  In some ways we could suggest that a period of recovery without a professional and educational background to complement our experience could be seen as a hindrance and allow us to be less than objective?  Perhaps recovery alone positions us to be too close to the issue at hand and would serve as a deterrent for a sober person trying to run a group in a treatment facility.  I don't think that being sober makes us special, just different.

Many times I will hear someone in recovery suggest that 'only an addict or alcoholic can understand another addict or alcoholic'.  I don't think this is the case and is essentially an urban myth.  When I think of addiction I think of people feeling helpless, powerless, and being held captive by their dark side. My sense is that we don't need to be brilliant to understand the mind of an addict, just human.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

If I’m to be honest answering this question, there will be no quick way through it. I could say I became a sober coach because I was tired of going to bed at 6am and sick of having to shout over loud music to be heard  - but that’s only part of it.

When I got clean in 1988, I placed all bets on my writing. This meant that instead of taking a job that would have career advancement, I stuck with freelance work, doing anything that could finance large chunks of uninterrupted writing time. I came up during the late 70s and 80s among a scene of underground artists, musicians, and filmmakers, many of whom went on to mainstream success. After I got clean, I became the go-to girl for anyone from my previous life wanting to get off drugs. This lead to my first coaching jobs inside the entertainment industry. The calls were so random that I never considered it a real employment source. In between coaching gigs, I continued to take on whatever work paid the bills. Coaching and sober companion work felt like the right fit but I never gave it much thought as a career. At the time it was controversial and renegade.


As the years passed, I continued to write and perform. Although my work was being published and optioned, I still hadn’t made it through the “big doors". It killed me to watch my friends’ lives successfully moving forward while mine seemed, at least outwardly, frozen in time. What was i doing wrong?  My moment of clarity came at fifteen years clean. It occurred to me that I had never stopped directing my romantic and financial affairs and those two areas were not changing. I needed to let go (as they say in 12 step programs) but I didn’t know how. I definitely couldn’t think my way into a new life. I suppose I needed a spiritual experience but being an atheist this was difficult to imagine.

Right as my screenplay was gaining momentum and I was being flown back and forth across the country, the writers’ strike happened. Out of money, I went back to working in bars. The loud music and crazy hours were killing me. Like my final days with drugs, I was absolutely miserable and hopeless. At seventeen years clean, I was back at square one. Then the most amazing thing happened - I ran out of ideas on how to run my life. I was having tea with an old friend from the music industry when I asked him “You know me really well – what do you think I should do for a living?” It didn’t take a minute before he said, “You’d be perfect as a sober companion.”  I had no idea that sober coaching had come into its own as a profession. The renegade rock and roll days had paved the way and now treatment facilities, therapists, and psychiatrists were seeing positive results from setting up clients with sober companions. My friend suggested I contact a couple LA friends to see if anyone had leads.

The stars aligned and within 24 hours I had my first client outside of the entertainment industry. What was interesting to me was how everything I’d ever learnt in my life came into play - not just my personal experience in recovery but the information I’d amassed on nutrition, exercise, meditation, dealing with anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Every aspect of my life had prepared me to do this work.

The real test came on day three when my client’s prominent psychotherapist called for an update. Until then I had been working intuitively and unlike managers, agents, and the people I was used to dealing with, the person on the other end of the phone was skilled in mental health work. If I was a fraud she was going to call me out. Nervous, I took a deep breath and told her honestly what I saw and what I was working on with the client. The phone went silent and my stomach flipped. “I have been working with ___ for three years and you nailed every single item on my list”. His words confirmed that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

For me, falling into coaching was a spiritual experience. When I finally “let go” sober coaching came into my life. I loved it and had great results with clients. From that point on, doors kept opening. One day I got a call from the producers of Intervention about a new mini-series they were casting. Over night, this semi-secret career of mine became very public.

The television series shifted the direction of my life yet again. I received many heartbreaking emails from addict viewers who were without financial resources for treatment. I decided to set up a website and share freely what I do with clients. Currently I’m in the process of writing several books on recovery. What started as a part-time job to finance my writing has become the subject of my writing. No one could be more surprised by this than me.


To read what I do with clients as a sober coach, visit http://pattypowersnyc.com/sobercoac/

 

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

When a person decides to get sober the idea of staying sober can be overwhelming.  The fear of relapse looms large.  A quick review of the literature suggests that the success rate is relatively small when compared to the number of people who attempt to find sobriety.  According to a 2003 study, the Caron Foundation documented that nearly 50-90% of people relapse within the first year after treatment or involvement in a 12-step program. Precursors to relapse can include anger, frustration, stress, or positive emotional states. The National Institute of Drug Abuse have determined that relapse rates from addiction can be compared to those suffering from other chronic illnesses such as Type I diabetes (30 - 50%), Hypertension (50-70%) and asthma (50 to 70%). Drug addiction should be treated like any other chronic illness, with relapse indicating the need for renewed intervention.

It is important to make the distinction between addiction and dependence.  Addiction is a change in behavior to accommodate or obtain the chemical, while dependence is indicated by measurable physical symptoms that arise when the chemical is not consumed. It is the general opinion of many addiction specialists that addiction is largely biochemical and that relapse is largely the result of cravings and proximity to alcohol/drugs or uncomfortable feelings.

Another skill which can be utilized to support recovery is the application of mandates and injunctions. A mandate is a set of thoughts that direct the addict to engage in using behavior when they have an urge to use.  An injunction is a set of criteria that provides the recovering person a way to think about their recovery so they don’t compartmentalize the skills and gifts they bring to their sobriety. In its simplest form it’s a part of a relapse prevention plan.

This approach is another way a clinician can help a client develop additional skills to maintain abstinence. Part of this includes an emergency sobriety card and an accountability contract. An emergency sobriety card provides a brief list of specific and concrete instructions that a person in recovery can refer to anytime when he or she needs help. It’s a small discreet tool that helps the addict find and build confidence in their ability to remain sober. The accountability contract is a set of permissions that an addict gives to his or her family and friends when its determined their recovery is in trouble.  The inclusion of family and friends as part of an addict’s recovery can provide support and help an addict get back on track.

Recovery need not be overwhelming and can be managed successfully. Matching a client to a recovery program is paramount, as we understand that recovery looks different for everyone.  In recovery from addiction, it is important to change your lifestyle to include abstinence from alcohol and drugs; involvement in healthy relationships; good nutrition, rest and exercise; and working to resolve one's personal problems.  Being mindful to incorporate the philosophy of mandates and injunctions will go a long way to build confidence in your recovery program.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

 

You know the drill: you have spent countless hours in meetings, on the phone with your sponsor asking endless questions about your desire to use.  You have worked the steps and you’ve even consulted specialists.  In a moment of desperation you found help by attending treatment. You’re able to rack up six to twelve months, but eventually you find yourself in the throes of your addiction. None of this seems to work.  You find yourself questioning your commitment and ability to stay sober.  Maybe your sponsor was right when he said you lack willingness.

Not so fast….

What you are likely experiencing is Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or PAWS.

PAWS consist of a set of impairments that occur immediately and at times simultaneously after the withdrawal from alcohol or other substances.  These impairments affect three distinct areas of functioning and last six to eighteen months from the last use of alcohol or drugs as your brain tries to regain homeostasis.

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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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Posted by on in Alcoholism

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.

 

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