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Posted by on in Alcoholism

We stood at the turning point
– From Chapter 5 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous 

Staying sober requires we develop skills that further long-term abstinence. While there are many ways to achieve recovery, I would like to discuss an idea which has been invaluable to me and a host of clients I’ve worked with over the last 32 years.

Being Present is related to the practice of focusing your attention and awareness based on the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation. While Being Present is a relatively new approach to addiction recovery I have found this concept to have merit. I quit using alcohol and drugs over 36 years ago and have found success by incorporating this idea into my recovery and my life. 

In 1985 I read a book entitled Chop Wood, Carry Water. The book bills itself as a spiritual treatise, a guide for dealing with the distress and chaos of daily life. I didn’t resonate with the spiritual aspects of the book, however, the title has remained with me and has reminded me of a simple truth: if you can’t chop wood, carry water. It’s the notion of playing to your strengths. Playing to your strengths is one of the keys to developing resilience and a major component in Being Present. 

Contrary to popular belief, human beings cannot multitask. Rather, we are capable of handling a number of tasks in rapid succession. It’s akin to mixing automatic and conscious tasks and being mindful we can only do one thing at a time, no matter how much we wish for this to be different. 


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 Alcoholism

thinking errorsDo You Make These Ten Widespread Thinking Errors?

There are particular mindsets or points of view that can be counter-productive. These errors in thinking, especially if taken to the extreme, can inhibit the personal growth and development in relationships.

1. All or absolutely nothing pondering: You see items in extremes, everything is black or white. This can be evident or subtle, for instance saying 'He is always late, but I never get angry about it'. This mindset can be that of the perfectionist also. This thinking error is common amongst addicts.

2. Minimizing or catastrophizing: You exaggerate the relevance of modest issues. 'The whole meal was ruined since the desert was not served promptly.' Is this a catastrophe? An illustration of minimizing is taking a substantial problem or occasion and minimizing its value so it seems inconsequential. People often do this so as not to have to deal with uncomfortable feelings or consequences. It is a form of averting from discomfort and confrontation.

3. Overgeneralization: You get a single event and draw basic conclusions that it is universally true. If your date is late you say 'No guys/girls are ever on time'.

4. Minimizing or qualifying the optimistic: If an individual says you did well, you reply by saying 'I could have/should have done better'. These thinking errors are often a result of low self-confidence.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

IMG_4306Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva) is the practice of earning a living in a mindful and compassionate manner. At its foundation is not violating the Five Precepts. The Five Precepts teach us not to kill, not to steal, to abstain from sexual misconduct, not to lie, and not to use mind-altering substances. In making our living, we must not violate these precepts. It has been explained by one of my teachers as not harming others in the way you make your living. We should not deal in arms, human beings, meat, intoxicants, nor unlawful labor.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says on page 104 of his book The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings, "To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others... Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living."


As the Fourth Precept says, we should abstain from using false speech. As discussed in the Five Precepts article, this is more than simply not lying. It also involves not using half-truths nor exaggerating. We must be careful that our professions do not require us to violate this precept of honesty. If we are to observe Right Livelihood, we must make our living through honesty and Right Speech.

Not Stealing

We also must observe the Second Precept and not participate in stealing in our work. More than just not stealing, we must "not take that which is not freely given to us." Obviously, we should not steal from our employer, co-workers, or employees. We also must be conscious of the social impact of the business or industry we are in. If we are hoping to learn to live in Right Livelihood, we must not work in businesses that utilize inhumane labor, deceive customers or suppliers, nor take advantage of the ignorance or cravings of others.

Not Harming

In earning our living, we must be mindful of the people we may be harming. Are we dealing in weapons, intoxicants, or breeding ignorance? Our jobs cannot cause harm on others; we must be compassionate and loving with our work. Practicing loving-kindness in our career, we cannot possibly harm others in any way.


Posted by on in Alcoholism

The Second Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." The principle behind Step Two is hope. The 2nd Step is also closely related to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, especially the Third Noble Truth.

Step Two and Hope

In Step One, we admit powerlessness over drugs and alcohol. We concede to our innermost selves that we are addicts, and practice rigorous self-honesty. In Step Two, we essentially do the opposite. We are offered hope for a seemingly hopeless state. The phrase, "Came to believe" tells us that our faith does not always happen instantly. It takes time. We slowly open our minds and hearts to see what the Twelve Steps have to offer us. As we know we are powerless over things and our lives are unmanageable, we are being offered a way to live a life manageable by a power greater than ourselves.

Step Two not only gives us hope in terms of a power greater than ourselves. In the Second Step, we are offered hope in a more general sense. We feel quite hopeless and as if there is nothing that will help us. Step Two is the door that once we begin to open, we are presented with a beautiful path of work toward a joyous and free life.

Step Two and the Third Noble Truth

In the First Step, we have our limits brought to light, and are practicing Right View. We recognize the first two Noble Truths of suffering and the causes of our suffering, which are our addiction and own powerlessness. In Step Two, we are presented with the reality of the Third Noble Truth: that the cessation of this suffering is possible. Just as the Second Step is beginning to open the door to the rest of the steps, the Third Noble Truth leads us into the Fourth Noble Truth of the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Third Noble Truth teaches us that ending suffering is indeed possible. Once we have learned to understand our suffering and see it clearly, we have the potential to eradicate it completely. The Third Noble Truth, like Step Two, is of hope. The possibility to progress and leave behind the suffering is a reality for each and every one of us.


Posted by on in Alcoholism

The twelfth step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests we "practice these principles in all our affairs." In prayer and meditation, our work with others, and meetings we are able to be present and work our spiritual program. However, the majority of our days are spent in the real world. It is much more difficult for us to work our programs in daily life, and we must remain vigilant.


A fundamental tool we have for practicing the principles in our lives is to remain mindful. When we are truly present, focused on what we are doing in the moment, we are able to see more clearly our own actions and thoughts. With mindfulness, we are able to be conscious of our spiritual practice. Whether we are meditating, walking, or working, we always have the potential to be mindful. People hear the word meditation, and most commonly think of a formal sitting meditation. Meditation means, "To focus one's thoughts." Recognizing where we currently are physically, emotionally, and mentally is focusing one's thoughts.

Thoughts and Emotions

One of the first thing we often notice when practicing this mindfulness is the arising of thoughts and emotions. We begin to notice more frequently anxiety, fear, resentment, etc. This can be painful, but leads to great insight. As we recognize our emotions and thoughts, we take some of their power away. Sometimes we feel that we are suffering but not exactly sure why. This is because the emotions and thoughts are being pushed down and eventually build up. When we are mindful and recognize them, we are able to prevent them from controlling us so much. Simply recognizing to ourselves, "I feel anxious" has tremendous power. Speaking about it with somebody else is even more powerful.

The Quality of Our Actions

Our thoughts and emotions drive our actions. When we become aware of the feelings and thoughts, we see the actions that follow them. We must ask ourselves many times throughout the day where our actions are coming from. Are they coming from a place of love? Of fear? Of anger? Of compassion? When we recognize where our actions are coming from, we gain insight into our true nature. The principles we are working to practice become more visibile to us, and we gain judgement in our actions.

Right Speech

A big part of looking at the quality of our actions is how we speak. Speaking accounts for the majority of our communication with others, not just what we say, but how we say it. Remaining mindful of our speech, we often say things and are able to see where in the heart or mind they came from. With this knowledge, we are able to work on these thoughts and feelings, or at least on not acting (speaking) on them. We check if our words are helpful, true, and loving or if they are vengeful, jealous, or harsh.


Posted by on in Alcoholism

In daily life, we have many experiences.  Sounds, smells, physical sensations, tastes, sights, thoughts, and emotions fill our lives.  Although we are constantly being flooded by stimuli, we still have time to add a lot to our direct experience.  There is a big difference between our direct experience and what we add on to it.

Direct Experience

Our direct experience is often lost with everything going on inside us.  Our direct experience is the sensation we are experiencing.  Without adding on anything, our direct experience is simple.  Pain in our knee, the smell of coffee, or the sound of cars passing by are all direct experiences.  Direct experience can be painful, pleasurable, or neutral.  However, our direct experience is just this, and nothing else.

Without judgement, our direct experience is more than enough to focus on.  Practicing mindfulness, we become aware of what are bodies are telling us.  Through body scans and walking meditations, we learn to be mindful of the sensations in our bodies.  Hearing meditations help us become aware of the sounds that we experience every day.  Through these meditative practices, we become more aware of our direct experiences.  We have innumerable experiences throughout the day if we are being mindful of them.  With focus on our direct experience, we are able to be mindful of and grateful for the world around us.


What happens after we have an experience?  We add-on.  We feel pain in our knee, and we begin thinking about how out of shape we are, how we shouldn't have worked out so hard, or how we will be in even more pain shortly.  These add-ons are thoughts in our heads that are stealing us from the present moment.  Add-ons are not helpful for us, as we are not maintaining our mindfulness.

When we are being mindful, we focus on the direct experience.  When we begin adding things on, we are acting unskillfully.  Add-ons are stories we make up in our head, are the result of delusion and attachment, and prevent us from living mindfully.  Add-ons often rule our lives.  Most of our thoughts and emotions are actually add-ons rather than direct experiences.  As we add things on to our experience, we spend the majority of our days focusing on add-ons rather than the sensations.


Posted by on in Drug Addiction


Daily Mindfulness 4/24/13 - Setting an Example
A need to control is a defect for many of us.  We want things to go our way, people to act our way, and we suffer when they don't.  We try to lead people by telling them what to do, acting as a boss, and being what we see as a leader.
Practicing mindfulness, we recognize that we only truly have control over ourselves.  Knowing this, the best way we can be a leader is to set a good example.  Setting an example means we do what we think is right, work our hardest, and behave in ways that we think are healthy and moral.  As we begin practicing mindfulness and any sort of a spiritual life, our values tend to change.  As our values change, so do our lives.  Other people aren't blind; they see this change within us.  As we begin bettering ourselves and our interaction with the world, we become happier, more stable people.  We glow with the light of metta, and people are drawn to it.
Mindfulness Practice for the Day:  Today, when you find yourself looking to lead people, remind yourself that a good example is the best form of leadership that we may provide.  We cannot force anyone else to do anything, but our own growth can serve as a demonstration of what our work is doing for us.



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Posted by on in Drug Addiction


Daily Mindfulness 4/22/13 - Intuition
The words instinct and intuition are often used synonymously, but they have quite different meanings.  We often are following our instincts, which are our primitive survival habits such as fight or flight.  Our instincts are often fear-based.  When we feel pain and avert, this is an instinct.  Following our instincts is following our habit energies.  We continue doing what we are doing without investigating how it serves us or why we do it.
Practicing mindfulness, we drift away from instinct and into intuition.  Intuition is listening to our heart, to the feeling we experience, and to our better judgement.  Where an instinct is more of a reaction, intuition is a sometimes subtle feeling of what should be done.  Our intuition is connected to our heart.
Mindfulness Practice for the Day:  Today, be mindful of where your instinct is driving your actions.  Rather than act out of fear, get in touch with your heart and your intuitive feeling.



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Posted by on in Other Addictions

In some ways the Law of Attraction is Positive Psychology meets Metaphysics.  Positive Psychology states if you have a positive outlook, you will have a happier and more fulfilling life.  Studies in Positive Psychology report certain strengths and virtues enable individuals to thrive.  For example, emotions such as zest, gratitude, hope, and love are the most strongly associated with a satisfying life.

The Law of Sobriety is a program of seven steps that can be combined with twelve step programs or utilized on their own not only to assist in living a life clean and sober, but to live a life that has purpose and meaning.  It is about being called forth to do what you were put on this planet to do.  The seven steps include:

Finding Your Purpose with Intention

Living a life that is true to your Values

Living a Life of Authenticity


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