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Posted by on in Other Addictions

As a Buddhist follower once said, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. This quote sums up the idea that we cannot prevent emotions or events from happening. We do however have control over how we handle them and how much they affect us. Many addicts or alcoholics use substances to numb difficult emotions in order to ‘escape’ or to ‘numb’. I propose ten more healthy alternatives to overcoming challenging emotions.


  1. Sharing Your Emotions

As humans, one of our most powerful tools is the ability to communicate and empathize with others. Talking to someone about your emotions can literally lessen their intensity. Often people want to bottle-up or hide their sadness, which can cause the emotions to get worse. So be brave and share your feelings!

2. Express Yourself


Posted by on in Alcoholism

Throughout my month as "expert" blogger I will be looking at the problem, addictive behaviours, as a researcher in the area of affective and clinical neuroscience and neuro psychology and as someone who has also recovered from alcoholism and substance and behavioural addiction.

I am someone who marries experimental evidence with ancedotal - this is hugely important for me, explaining what I have learnt, been taught and observed in the rooms of AA. AA meetings have also taught me how to live.  I seek to substantiate this vast experiential wisdom by explaining some of what I have learnt in other terms, in terms of neuro psychology, i.e. what happens to the brain and behaviour as the result of addiction and what happens in recovery also.

I will alternate between blogging about the problem and blogging about the solution, the disorder and the recovery. I also seek to explain this spiritual malady as an emotional disorder. 

I am often asked what I mean by "recovered". I simply mean restored to sanity. I have the power to make sane, sensible, reasonable, "sober" decisions today in a way I could never before.

In a sense my addictive behaviours were constantly the result of a decision making deficit (to be blogged about later) which always ended in pain. My thoughts and decisions got me to AA not just the final decision to go to my first AA meeting. My best thinking ended up in catastrophic degradation of my health, mind, body, spirituality and emotional well being. I have recovered all these thanks to the 12 step program of AA.


Posted by on in Drug Addiction

I'm sure that many of you can relate to coincidences like when you learn about a new word, you find that you hear it more, but when in reality it's just something new that has come into your awareness, it was really there all along.  This is of course something that happens to me often, but has certainly been my experience since I have been writing this blog, as it is now always in my awareness to look for opportunities for what to discuss next and they just keep popping into my life!

Working in the addiction field, and the job I have in particular, keeps me very focused but also very isolated.  Working in addiction also creates a sort of bubble, being that my clients are all trying to get out of their active addiction, my co-workers are all in recovery, and the doctors are addictionologists.  I had been in California for four or five years and didn’t realize that I was protecting myself in a way, by not branching out of my comfort zone.  So it wasn’t until about two years ago, that I started to go out to new places and interact with new people that have never struggled with an addiction.  (People that experience temporary stress instead of chronic anxiety are still a wonder to me!)

The benefit, however, of the bubble realization was that all of that prep work that I had been doing (working with a sponsor, doing the steps, going to multiple types of therapy to figure out the core issues as to why I was using inhalants, then working on those core issues) was in preparation for returning to the real world and all its challenges and this time having a more positive impact, on myself and on those around me, and it was time to use them!  The tools I have learned (especially emotional regulation, coping skills, and trigger identification) and the resources I have developed have been crucial in my relapse prevention, because life sure does throw me some curveballs and when I did come out of hiding, I found that some of my wreckage from my past was still there waiting for me.  I am definitely grateful that I was given the opportunity to have a second chance, to get to be the same person, but a better version.  By doing the footwork, it allows me to look at the same situations but have different reactions and therefore different outcomes than I would have in the past.

I feel that in order to be effective in communicating with people who are also struggling and/or looking for solutions or education, I need to write about things that truly affect me emotionally, because if what I'm writing doesn't induce some sort of feelings for me, how could it in someone else?  So full disclosure in the hopes that someone can relate and hopefully allowing me to be of service.

The reason that the ability to have different reactions that produce different and better outcomes is on my mind is due to some events that occurred in my week.  I felt discouraged this week for two reasons, and I feel like they have happened while I have volunteered to write this blog for a reason.  I am a person that falls victim to a certain type of mental trap, where your brain immediately jumps into negative thinking or disaster mode when you hear certain things that are not ideal.  In the treatment facilities I work with, we refer to it as addict brain.

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Posted by on in Co-dependency


I recently updated Raising Healthy Children in an Alcoholic Home, a book I wrote in 1992 to help parents in recovery from addiction  and co-dependence to heal relationships with their children. As I re-read and edited the book, I reflected on its essential message.  I  was heartened to discover that over 20 additional years of treating addicted  individuals and their families  has only  strengthened my views about the most important things  families in recovery need to know. Moreover,  the central idea  I was trying to convey then still seems to me to be the most important thing for parents in recovery to remember: A child’s chances of remaining healthy when a family plunges into crisis depends, to a great extent, on the ability of at least one parent (or other  adult caretaker) to remain emotionally sober–that is, stable, supportive and capable of holding the child’s most basic needs in mind.

Certainly other factors, like the child’s basic temperament,  influence a child's resilience in the face of extraordinary stress. However, even  sunny, hardy children   experience fear, sadness, anger, and many other kinds of emotional distress when a family is struggling to cope with severe illness. And typically, the younger children are, the less able they are to soothe themselves and maintain a hopeful and confident outlook when frightening things happen. Their cognitive and emotional resources are just too immature to help them assess the situation accurately and  imagine a path forward for themselves and the people they love. So a parent’s ability to maintain his or her own emotional footing, and to  notice and respond appropriately to a child’s pain is critical.  (Please continue reading.)

A parent's  response to a child in crisis does not have to be perfect. In many cases, it is good enough, at least in the short-term, if the parent perceives the child’s distress, conveys that it is normal under the circumstances, and offers assurance that it is okay to talk about feelings that  are bubbling up. Even if a parent has no clear ideas about how  or when the family’s problems will be solved,  it is very reassuring to a child in crisis to be “seen” and to have painful feelings noticed and validated by a person  she counts on. A parent who says, “I see you are scared, I see you are worried and sad”, and adds, “I understand why you feel that way and I want you to know we are working to figure this out and will make sure you are taken care of” makes a child feel safer and calmer.  A good many of the people I see in my clinical practice  grew up with an addicted parent. The ones who had at least one grownup they could trust and rely on during dark periods  are the ones who find it easier, as adults,  to find and form solid relationships with healthy  friends, partners and therapists who can help them construct rewarding lives.


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