5 Stereotypes of Addicts

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Not all addicts lose their jobs and become homeless

Not all addicts lose their jobs and become homeless

You look like you do drugs.”

This was probably the statement I heard the most in the beginning of my drug using days. In fact, before I had even delved into using substances, I had heard this comment about drug addiction regularly. Unfortunately, I ended up proving this stereotypical comment to be true, but that certainly doesn’t have to be the case for everyone.

Not all drug addicts look like drug addicts, though sometimes you can tell someone is using drugs. In my experience, most of the stereotypes about addicts are extremely flawed. In fact, there are five particular stereotypes that always ring untrue for me. Have you heard any of these comments?

1. I just assumed that with the piercings and tattoos that you did drugs.

Gee, didn’t you read the section in the ‘Addict Manual’ requiring substance abusers to get tattoos? This comment (and assumption) is extremely offensive, and I have never seen any correlation between people who wear tattoos, body piercings or other “body art” and drug abuse. It’s true–I myself am an addict in recovery who still sports facial piercings and has plenty of tattoos. However, I’ve known plenty of people who favor tattoos and body piercings, but who would never use drugs. So, I can personally guarantee this stereotype is untrue.

2. Their families must not have been around for them.

Among my own circle of friends and acquaintances, I am familiar with a number of addicts who have come from wonderful, loving families. There may be statistics that support the argument that drug addiction is higher among poor or under-privileged people, it is safe to say that economics doesn’t necessarily equate to growing up in an unloving home or with a non-supportive family. I believe that addicts can come from many different types of families, rich and poor, loving and unloving, and from all different walks of life. As far as I know, addiction discriminates against no one.

3. He does drugs, he must be homeless.

Although in the worst days of my drug use I did lose my home, I was able to keep a steady job the entire time I was on drugs. Now don’t get me wrong, this fact does not justify my drug use at all. It should be noted, though, that many drug addicts are able to function well enough to keep their jobs and their homes. During the first job I held, I did a terrific job of hiding my drug use from my employer. When I later changed jobs, I continued for a long time to perform my job functions admirably, doing all I could to ensure I didn’t jeopardize my employment so I could continue to earn the income required for my next fix. When I finally lost that job, the next job I applied for was in the fast food industry, so there was no drug testing, of course. Though I did eventually end up homeless, I kept that job until I got sober.

4. You must obviously only hang out with other addicts or junkies.

This must be a common assumption that the general population has about addicts. Yet, many addicts  have mastered the art of hiding their addiction, and part of that means socializing with people who are not addicts or junkies. During my drug use I did have friends who used drugs, of course, but the majority of my friends were not addicts. A small number of my drug-using friends from those days also got sober and have been clean ever since. Of course, the friends I had who were not drug users or addicts were unaware of how bad my habits had gotten. Once I told them about my drug addiction, they tried to everything they could to be there for me along the way. It was only at the end of my long and bumpy road to recovery, full of relapses and destructive, addictive behaviors, that I managed to push all those sober friends away until they withdrew from my life.

5. You only care about yourself.

This stereotype about addicts seems to be the most common. Unless I am the only exception to the case, which I am certain cannot be so, addicts are not so self-centered that they don’t care for others. Granted, I definitely was uninterested in paying my bills or caring for my body, but even in my drug-addled state I never stopped caring for others. Unfortunately, when we are deep in addiction, we do things that hurt other people, such as lying or stealing– but that doesn’t mean that addicts are uncaring people. I always gave my change to the bell ringers at holidays, donated my cans to bums, and gave rides to anyone who needed one (when I still had a vehicle, of course). I will say that my definition of “caring for others” has clearly changed since I have gotten sober. Now I show my care for others by being more present and involved, rather than by just giving them material things. However, I’d like to think that I never stopped caring; it just seemed harder to show my feelings and support when I was drowning myself in substance abuse.

There are a number of exceptions to the stereotypes we have about addicts, and there are definitely more than the five common stereotypes I’ve listed here. Nonetheless, it feels good to finally have a clear head and be free of any of these stereotypes because I am no longer active in my addiction. This is just one more thing to be proud of in my sober recovery.

 

Cassandra Huerta is a freelance writer who lives in an extremely small Michigan town and lives life one day at a time. She enjoys regularly entertaining her six-month-old daughter and can thank her wonderful fiance and coffee for all of her work.

Establishing Healthy Boundaries

August 26, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News

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Establishing healthy boundaries can lead to healthier relationships

Establishing healthy boundaries can lead to healthier relationships

Healthy boundaries are key to healthy relationships rather than dysfunctional, destructive or addictive relationships. Boundaries define what we are willing to give and to take in relationships. Examples of this include: helping others only when truly able, ensuring one is treated respectfully, and maintaining personal safety. Understanding how to establish healthy boundaries in your relationships is a good way to prevent yourself from becoming co-dependent in your relationships. Here are some tips on how to establish clear, healthy boundaries in your relationships.

1. Understand Your Personal Values

A great way to start establishing healthy boundaries is by thinking about personal values. What virtues, ideals, or concepts are most important to you? It is important to understand what we value so that we know where the boundaries should be set.

Personal values come from many sources. For most, the primary source of values is the family in which they were raised. Family loyalty, hard work, the importance of education, and personal appearance values are often formed within the family during childhood. For example, a family that highly values family loyalty over education may frown upon a high school graduate leaving the immediate area to pursue a college education, while a family that highly values education would celebrate such a move.

Personal values are also influenced by community and culture. Consider how the civil rights and feminist movements changed how many people think about minorities and women. More recently, culture has changed in ways that impact how many people view celebrity, political involvement, violence in football, marijuana use, and even carbohydrate intake. Our appearance, entertainment choices, and career choices are often highly influenced by our culture.

Once we understand our personal values, we can set boundaries that help us establish when and where we are not going to allow others to cause us to violate our values. For example, if you value honesty and your spouse wants to cheat on your taxes, setting a boundary may mean insisting on honesty or filing separate returns. If you are trying to avoid being a workaholic and value family time, and your boss wants you to work overtime on a regular basis, you may need to tell her, “No,” or begin looking for another position. If you are a recovering addict or feel uncomfortable around people who have addictive behaviors, you might establish a personal boundary that you will not get into relationships with addicts or even date recovering addicts.

2. Know the Benefits of Boundary Setting

There are many benefits associated with healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries allows you to be at your best for the things you value the most. It can be a freeing experience to refuse to accept unwanted activities or behaviors that cause you fear, stress, pain or a sense of being overwhelmed. Healthy boundaries are a form of self-care. They help to build self-esteem and self-worth. When you are responsible for your self-care by limiting how much you help others, and you allow others to be responsible to do some things without your help, it gives them the opportunity to learn and grow. Sometimes setting boundaries is hard, but knowing the benefits can motivate you to follow through and stick to your plan without caving in to the demands of others.

3. Set Boundaries Early in the Relationship

It is ideal to set boundaries at the beginning of a relationship. For example, when starting a new job, state which days of the week you are available for staying late or, when meeting for a first date, make it clear your rule is to do so in a public place. Establishing boundaries early makes boundaries easier for you to maintain and allows the other party to decide if they are comfortable with your boundaries and would like to be in the relationship. If Wednesday night Bible study is important to you and an employer often needs employees to work late on Wednesday nights, it may not be the right job for you. Failing to state your boundaries at the outset could lead to problems as either you or your employer will be dissatisfied in the future.

Often setting boundaries early in a relationship is not an option. Making a decision to reset the relationship boundaries may be the next best thing. Here are examples of how to reset a relationship where boundaries were fuzzy in the past. “I know I have laughed when you made jokes about my weight in the past, but I really don’t find them funny. They actually make me feel bad. I’d appreciate it if you can stop making those jokes as of today.” “I enjoyed volunteering a lot in the past, but I cannot do it now. I will call you when I’m available again.” In each example, the speaker acknowledged the past was different from what is true now, or is about to occur, which alerts the listener to the reality of the change.

4. Express Boundaries Verbally and Clearly

In most cases, boundaries will need to be expressed clearly and verbally. Sometimes our boundaries are violated because we assume the other party knows and understands our boundaries, but we simply have not adequately communicated what those are. Here are a few examples:

  • An office worker who highly values organization becomes frustrated when others use his desk and move items, but he says nothing because he assumes adults should know better.
  • A parent complains his teenager borrows a car full of fuel and returns it without refueling.
  • The teen thinks as long as it is not on empty it is okay, unaware of the parent’s unspoken expectation of at least half a tank full of gas.

Unspoken boundaries are certain to be violated. Learning to state boundaries may be a struggle at first. It does take practice. When talking with someone directly, maintain eye contact and state your boundaries clearly. Remember, stating your boundaries is about stating a need, not a want or a hope. It is not necessary to over-explain or defend your boundary. “I will not be lending you any money. You can use me as a reference for that part-time job you were talking about, though,” is an example of a statement that is very clear and also demonstrates concern for the other person. If instead the person said, “I can’t lend you any money. I’m short this month myself and my car just broke down,” the speaker has positioned herself for an argument. The would-be borrower can challenge the speaker. “Short this month” could mean you’re okay to help out next month. If you are concerned about stating boundaries with confidence, practice in a mirror or try setting boundaries with strangers first.

5. Establish Appropriate Consequences

Many boundaries are presented in an “if, then…” format. If you do X, then I will do Y. We need to be careful about what we establish as the consequences if boundaries are not respected. Consequences that are not the appropriate in severity or effectively punish the wrong person will result in the boundary being broken repeatedly. Consider the following rather extreme example: A parent tells a child, “If you don’t clean up your room by Saturday, I’m throwing everything out.” If the parent follows through with this, the parent will find themselves doing a lot of shopping in the future. Instead, the parent could say, “If you don’t clean up your room by Saturday, I’m throwing out everything I don’t think you need.” We need to avoid setting up consequences we really do not mean.

Setting boundaries can be difficult work, but it is well worth the hard work when you take the time to do it, and can lead to more fulfilling relationships and a more fulfilling life.

Cyndy Adeniyi is a counselor and founder of Out of the Woods Life Coaching.  She enjoys hiking, Zumba, and flea markets in her spare time. She lives with her husband and two children in Maryland.

The Power of Thought Stopping

August 19, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News

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Proactively stop negative thoughts and follow them with distracting actions

Proactively stop negative thoughts and follow them with distracting actions

Sometimes unwanted thoughts simply will not go away and we spend a lot of time and energy focused on the wrong things. Thought stopping is a simple, but effective tool for getting rid of those unwanted and unnecessary thoughts.

Thought stopping can be applied to a wide variety of unwanted thoughts, and is particularly helpful as a tool for those in sober recovery or rehab. Any bothersome thought, including anxious thoughts, depressive thoughts, memories of addiction behaviors, thoughts of using drugs or alcohol again, and memories of trauma or abuse, can be addressed through thought stopping. Thought stopping develops the mental discipline needed to consciously take control over an unwanted, unconscious behavior.

Getting Started on Thought Stopping

The first step in thought stopping is to tell yourself, “Stop!” If you are alone, this means shouting, “Stop!” as loud as you can. If not alone, say it to yourself silently. For some, this is enough to break the cycle of unwanted thoughts and move forward. For others, the statement needs to be combined with another type of reinforcement. Perhaps the most famous method is to snap a rubber band kept on one’s wrist. Other, less painful methods include visualizing a stop sign, snapping your fingers, tapping on a table, brief bouts of physical exercise to distract you, or literally turning in the opposite direction.

Thought Replacement

Being clear on what one does not want to think about often is not enough. The unhelpful or negative thought needs to be replaced with a helpful or positive thought, even if the new thought does not have any relationship to the negative thought. To accomplish this, one can visualize a special place, embrace an accurate, logical thought about the situation, or engage in a task that requires concentration and focus.

Real Life Application of Thought Stopping

Sometimes thought stopping is criticized for being an overly simplistic response to complex emotional problems. While this may be a fair criticism, those who are successful at using thought stopping as a coping skill frequently incorporate several types of thought stopping techniques for each unwanted thought. The skill is easy to learn, but using the skill may require practice. Consider the following real life examples.

Mark has been invited to a restaurant he frequented during the height of his alcohol use. He has not been back since he became sober. As he and his friends are ordering, friends begin to order alcohol and Mark experiences unhelpful thoughts arising in his mind. The margaritas here are great. If I only get one I’ll be okay. Everyone else is drinking. Mark recognizes that these are addiction thoughts, and begins the thought stopping process by saying “Stop!” silently to himself because he is with others. He reinforces this by closing his eyes and picturing a stop sign. He replaces the thoughts of alcohol by saying to himself, My sobriety is important to me. I don’t need any poison today. To get his mind focused on something else, he asks the server to make a recommendation for an appetizer.

Diane works in a stressful environment with many deadlines and an incompetent boss. One afternoon her boss begins complaining about problems with her work performance, most of which relate to things she did not do. Diane attempts to return to work, but cannot get anything done because she keeps thinking, My boss is so incompetent. I don’t get why they don’t fire him. As the thought repeats in her mind, she becomes angrier. She shuts the door to her office and says, “Stop!” as loud as she can without attracting attention. She does three jumping jacks and starts to smile as she is beginning to feel silly. Okay, Diane, she says to herself, You have three projects due today. Focus on those. Diane gets to work on her projects.

Mark and Diane demonstrate how effective thought stopping can have multiple steps. If either had merely said, “Stop!” to themselves, there is a high likelihood the unwanted thoughts would have quickly returned. Each of them used thought replacement and an activity to fill their mind with something positive.

Myths that Interfere with Thought Stopping

For thought stopping to be an effective coping skill, one needs to have confidence that the process will work. The following myths and inaccurate assumptions are common hindrances to effective thought stopping:

  • I can think negative thoughts or unhelpful thoughts as long as I don’t act on them
  • No one will ever know if I just think about it
  • I deserve the joy of thinking about my old habit or addiction
  • Thought stopping isn’t really possible–you really can’t control your thoughts
  • This is psychobabble
  • I can maintain my sobriety even if I don’t do practice thought stopping

Each of these myths can turn into an excuse for dwelling on an unwanted thought, which is unnecessary and self-defeating.

Moving Forward

With practice, thought stopping can become a part of daily life. As one consistently replaces unhelpful thoughts with helpful thoughts, the new helpful thoughts become more automatic. Thought stopping can be an effective tool during particularly stressful periods of life, such as the holidays, when there may be more frequent triggers for negative thoughts or relapse into addictive behaviors.

 

Cyndy Adeniyi is a counselor and founder of Out of the Woods Life Coaching.  She enjoys hiking, Zumba, and flea markets in her spare time. She lives with her husband and two children in Maryland.

Sobriety from Serenity, Not Salary

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News

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You Can Achieve Serenity with Sober Recovery

You Can Achieve Serenity with Sober Recovery

For as long as I can remember becoming a physician was my goal. My father was a physician and the medical world was familiar to me. We lived in a small town, and I saw the admiration and respect that was bestowed upon my father. My siblings and I always had everything we needed from a financial standpoint. Our job growing up was to work extremely hard at our studies. It was an expectation that we would be successful in our professional lives, and I think for all of us success was equated with money. We felt a lot of pressure, and it’s not surprising that we all started using alcohol in high school to “let off steam.”

The Drive to Succeed Can Exert Pressure

I internalized that drive for financial success and combined it with my desire to work in a helping profession. I earned a medical degree. During all those years of education, I refused to acknowledge the voice inside my head that kept telling me this was not the path to my happiness. Drinking alcohol in college had always helped to quiet that voice. I never truly felt at peace with my career decisions. My desire to project a certain image as a medical professional conflicted with what I was feeling deep inside.

I kept telling myself it would get better with time. I thought that with experience I would gain confidence and, with confidence, I would attain peace. I gained confidence and I gained experience and I made sure I knew exactly what I was doing. I earned a solid reputation among my colleagues and patients for being thorough and competent, but that nagging voice never left. I just couldn’t find peace. I pushed that concern away and thought as long as I was good at what I did and made enough money to buy what I wanted, I would achieve happiness. I had to. I had already come so far, I felt that I couldn’t quit now.

Trying to Buy Happiness

The first paycheck I received when I went into medical practice was so exciting. It was such a reward for over a decade of hard work. I loved taking care of my patients and getting to know them and their families, but I was incredibly stressed all of the time. I had a great responsibility, and I criticized and blamed myself any time a patient became unexpectedly ill or progressively sicker. What was I doing wrong? Had I missed something? How could I have prevented that patient’s problem? These were all valid questions that deserved consideration, but I took it to the extreme and ruminated over these issues all of the time.

A Noisy Mind Can Lead to Greater Stress

My brain never shut off. I was constantly thinking about the same stressful job-related issues over and over and over, and never coming up with a different answer. I was unrealistic with my expectations, and I was making myself sicker and sicker with stress. I was exhausting myself. I would go on these binge shopping trips on the weekends and spend hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars at a time. I would buy, buy, buy. I would fill the void I felt inside with stuff, and then go home and have a drink. Alcohol was my friend and my comfort. It was the only way my brain ever let go of stress and truly relaxed. Otherwise, I was in a constant state of turmoil, unease, and unrest. I had been this way my entire life. This had always been my “normal.”

I had by that time bought a nice home on the water, I drove a luxury car, had two boats, and wore all of the latest fashions. I was who I thought I was supposed to be. I had achieved the financial success that enabled me to have all of those things–all the things I thought made for a great life. What could possibly be wrong? Why did I feel so empty?

There Has to Be More to Life

I lived that way for a long time. I remember saying to myself a few years after graduating from medical school, “This is it? There has to be more to life than this.” It felt like such a letdown from a personal perspective. I loved my patients and I would have done anything for them. I cried with them. I laughed with them. I watched them grow older. I talked about their families. I sympathized when jobs were lost, when kids graduated and moved away, when family members passed. I learned about their drinking problems. I loved that part of medicine. I loved being trusted and being let into their lives. I hated when they got sick.

Eventually, I left clinical practice and took an administrative role. I thought I would feel better emotionally without having that stress of direct patient care. I also put myself into a position where I could justify drinking and using regularly. No patient care. No weekends. No “on call” responsibilities. No prescriptions to write. I became a nine-to-five budget and policy person. I also no longer had a leash on the monster inside. I quickly became a daily drinker. I functioned that way for many years. I felt even emptier inside once I did not have patients to care for, but I quickly filled that void by using.

Achieving Serenity in Sobriety

Inevitably, I crashed and burned. A suicide attempt marked my “hitting bottom” and also the beginning of my recovery. Years of treatment and supervision in a recovery program designed specifically for licensed professionals provided accountability and support to return to the workforce. I routinely met with other addicted physicians, lawyers, therapists, and nurses. I sat next to CEOs of multimillion dollar global companies. I would talk with the high-profile lawyer from the T.V. commercials, police officers, teachers, elected officials, a singer from a famous band, even a lottery winner. Every socioeconomic level was represented in those addiction treatment and sober recovery groups. There were a staggering number of financially successful people sitting in those chairs, and one thing we all had in common was substance abuse. It was there that I learned that college degrees, large bank accounts, and high status won’t ever fill that void inside. All of the money in the world won’t keep someone sober. We cannot buy serenity.

I thought long and hard over those first few months after I got sober and re-entered the work force. I had learned new coping skills to deal with stress. I had learned how to address the inner demons that led to my using. What I learned in the addiction treatment program and sober recovery groups helped me to make the most important decision I ever made. I chose to retire from medicine. I finally had the courage to pursue the unknown. I had the courage to choose my happiness.

Achieving serenity for me meant making life-changing decisions. I had spent the majority of my life fooling myself into thinking it was the things on the outside that mattered. I had all of that and I still attempted suicide. I had all of that and was still so unhappy and so miserable with my life that I didn’t want to continue living it. While I was in treatment I had episodes of feeling happy–truly happy. It was an amazing feeling. I knew without a doubt that I had never really felt that before. I knew that was the goal I wanted to achieve.

I sold the house, the cars, and the boats, and used some of my retirement money to make ends meet. I met and married a wonderful man who wanted me and not my salary. We live together in an average-sized home in an average neighborhood. I drive a late model SUV. We have a mortgage and credit card bills. I wear jeans and flip-flops. I have achieved more than I ever could have imagined. I am happy. I have serenity.

 

E. Sparks is a recovering alcoholic and addict. She is a wife, mother, and dog lover. She has a medical degree and recently retired from medical practice to focus on her passion for working with abandoned and abused dogs. She is an aspiring writer and hopes by sharing her knowledge and experience that she may help others who struggle with addiction.

The Perks of Being a Recovering Addict

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I have so many negative qualities that were much less apparent when I wasn’t sober.

Daily reminders to help you stay on the road to recovery

Daily reminders to help you stay on the road to recovery

Taking the road to recovery has its hardships and regaining your self-esteem after addiction is definitely an obstacle that only gets better with time. It’s often easier to blame ourselves for our mistakes than it is to see how far we’ve come and the strides we’ve made in our sober recovery. Recovering addicts are working daily on trying to become better people. Even with a strong support system, some days it is difficult to see the positive qualities in ourselves, but here are some friendly reminders that can help you get through each day.

If, like me, you are a recovering addict, remember to:

Be Grateful. Gratitude is something we can be stingy about. I remind myself to be grateful, even when I have to put back a shirt I thought I had enough money to buy, but didn’t. Being thankful is something that I never get tired of. It makes me feel better as a person. I also feel better when I remind others how important gratitude is. Remembering to be grateful is a wonderful habit to embrace.

Be helpful to others. I may not be a doctor, but I often find myself answering questions for concerned friends about what particular medicines may impair them or what the mystery pill at the bottom of the drawer is and if it should be thrown away. I’m often asked approximation prices of pawn shop items, which stores offer ‘no receipt returns,’ and where you’ll get the best payout for your gold. These may seem like unusual ways to be helpful, but the joy of being able to help someone with what I once thought was useless knowledge is quite heart-warming.

Keep in mind how far you have come in your recovery, and never forget what hitting bottom feels like. I hear so many inappropriate comments about bums on the street or people who die from overdoses. As much as I am grateful I am alive and no longer on the street, I never forget that all of that is just one relapse away. I’m not saying I hand out a dollar to every person who asks for one, but I do my best to give back as much as possible. I continue to pray for the sick and suffering and always lend an ear to anyone who asks for help or needs a friend. I do not put myself in situations where I am hanging out with old friends, but I offer my guidance if they want to make the conscious choice to get sober.

Give and receive love. Although it does take a long time to regain self-esteem or learn how to forgive and love ourselves again, once we do, it is such a relief, because we then allow ourselves to love others. Once this stage is reached, loving others just comes easy, and there is so much love to give. I feel like we can never spread enough love to others, even if it just a smile to a passerby or continuous support and loyalty to our loved ones. I wouldn’t trade the ability to give and receive love for anything in the world.

Be humble and judge not, lest ye be judged. If I find myself judging someone based solely on a small piece of information or none at all, I quickly catch myself and apologize to that person–usually only in my head–over and over. It didn’t take long for me to learn that humbling myself would not only help me become a better person, but feel better all around. Being humble and non-judgmental may not be a quality that is clearly visible to others, but it feels good looking for the best in others rather than misjudging someone based on little knowledge of their story.

These habitual, daily reminders certainly aren’t the only positive actions we can take to stay on the right path through addiction recovery, but they are ones that are easy to do on a regular basis. These actions can be a wonderful way to start learning how to love yourself again and enhance your recovery process, without riding too high on that pink cloud. I enjoy practicing these daily “sober recovery reminders” because I think they are tools that help me to be a better person. Learning to use these tools on a daily basis is one of the perks of being a recovering addict.

 

Cassandra Huerta is a freelance writer who lives in an extremely small Michigan town and lives life one day at a time. She enjoys regularly entertaining her six-month-old daughter and can thank her wonderful fiance and coffee for all of her work.

Transference: A Weight Loss Story

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Trying to control what you see in the mirror may lead to issues

Trying to control what you see in the mirror may lead to issues

Hindsight is a powerful thing. In fact, I would even say that hindsight for me is a powerful tool. When I look back to a time in my life when my biggest fears revolved around my weight, how I viewed myself and how others viewed me, I realize that what I was reacting to was more of a symptom of a problem than the actual problem. The actual problem reared its very ugly head years later when I found myself in the throes of alcohol addiction. Could it be possible that after years of struggling with my weight, conquering that issue with the help of weight loss surgery and developing a healthy lifestyle, I had simply transferred my addiction from food (as my elixir to soothe my pain) to alcohol? Had I won the battle only to uncover the true war?

How My Addictive Behavior Started

Looking back, I can see clearly that my problems with addictive behavior didn’t happen overnight. The things I worried about as a teenager–fitting in, making friends, not standing out in the wrong ways–were the same issues that plagued me as a young adult–getting the right job, finding the right mate, hanging out at the cool places and being seen with the “in” crowd. The perfectionist within me wanted to get every single thing right. In fact not just right, but perfect. And when that didn’t happen–say, when something was out of my control and didn’t go my way — I began self-medicating. In it’s earliest stages, my self-medication was food. I would eat anything and everything, and I gained a lot of weight. I sometimes blamed my food and weight issues on the fact that I was always told as a child “clean your plate” and basically learned to eat anything and like it, but that was just an excuse.

My Real Issues Hit Me Like a Ton of Bricks

By now you’re probably wondering, “Why all of this talk about childhood and weight issues? I thought this was supposed to be about addiction?” Well buckle up, here it comes. After taking matters into my own hands in my early 20s (it was that need to be in control thing again), I had weight loss surgery, lost more than 150 pounds and became the “beautiful on the outside to match the beautiful on the inside” young, vibrant, career professional that I knew I could be. And then I lived happily ever after, right? Not so much.

That was when it hit me. That was when I realized my life had changed forever. Not because of my weight loss, but because it was now physically impossible for me to self-medicate with food. If you know anything about gastric bypass weight loss surgery, you know that the surgically-treated stomach is reduced to roughly the size of an egg. Continuing to soothe my emotional needs with food was out of the question. But liquids…liquids might work. The doctor had said that liquids would go straight through. He had been cautioning me about the pitfalls of drinking high-calorie drinks and not feeling full, inhibiting weight loss. Little did he know that this basic principle about liquids after gastric bypass surgery would become the catalyst for my addiction transference. Drinking my sorrows away–the sorrows that were now a lot closer to the surface because I could no longer blame them on my being the fat girl–became my new addictive behavior. I became an alcoholic.

I needn’t describe the downward spiral I experienced at that point in my life. You’re welcome to use your imagination on that. Suffice it to say, every moment of comfort the alcohol provided—and there were MANY moments—was followed by weeks of fear and dread about how to fix what I might have broken (yes, blackouts were a regular occurrence that created a whole new layer of anxiety. To say that I wasn’t always crystal clear is an understatement).

Coping Tools. Don’t Leave Home Without Them

What I have learned in hindsight from this experience is that I needed tools. Tools to help me cope with my own overly-controlling and addictive behaviors and tendencies. Not the tendency to want to fit in or to excel and have friends. Rather, the tendency to need to control my entire environment. Time and life have taught me to change what I can and simply control my own reactions and expectations around everything else. For me, it is now about progress, not perfection. I’m learning to use mindfulness as a daily practice along the way. Looking in the mirror and asking myself why I am behaving the way I am is the first step. I have much gratitude for the professionals and friends who have given me the insight and space to be able to both recognize and work on this, and I’m grateful they are there to pick me up when I fall down–which happens a lot.

 

Brooke Lyn Harper has been a senior leader in the healthcare industry for over 15 years, specializing in healthcare compliance and privacy. Having overcome the life challenges of addiction and mental illness, her desire is to “pay it forward” by sharing her own experiences and expertise in hopes of touching others in an informative and engaging way.

 

When Coping Mechanisms Become Addictions

July 29, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News

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Exercising can help you fight addiction and cope with problems

Exercising can help you fight addiction and cope with problems

Life is stressful, and everyone needs something to help them decompress. While some people manage to find healthy ways of relaxing, everyone is tempted by vices: junk food, reality TV, video games, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana…you know, outlets which offer immediate gratification and don’t require any real physical or mental exertion. Everyone gives in to vices from time to time, but some indulgences are much riskier than others.

No One Starts with the Intention of Forming a Habit

People use drugs and alcohol to relax. They use them to diminish their inhibitions so they can socialize with people more easily. They use them to unwind after a stressful day at work. In other words, drugs and alcohol become a coping mechanism for many people. For most people, the inclination to use drugs and alcohol stems less from a desire to cause pain than a desire to reduce pain. The problem though, is that this form of “self-medication” commonly begets addiction–the coping mechanism becomes an even greater problem unto itself.

The True Cost of Addiction

Chronic use of any drug will deplete you financially, impair your ability to make decisions, damage your health, and color your perception of reality. Becoming addicted to something means that you no longer use to get high–you use to sustain a consistent low. What was once a source of joy and a vehicle for escape becomes part of a boring, expensive, and generally destructive pattern of abuse.

As you develop a higher tolerance, or a chemical dependency, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve the sort of buzz which got you hooked in the first place–which is the ultimate irony with drugs and alcohol. Certain substances will have you forever pursuing an idealized high which you may never truly experience again.

Finding Healthier Alternatives

There are other, more sustainable coping mechanisms and lifestyle choices that you might consider trying. What makes the healthier choices less desirable for some people, however, is that they won’t provide you with gratification without requiring you to put forth a little effort. Lighting up a joint and going for a jog are measurably different activities. But, just as drug and alcohol abuse commonly damages your self-perception, you might find that the activities which challenge you will likely enhance your feelings of self-worth. And, ideally speaking, you might find that building up your confidence and self-respect decreases your desire to consume drugs and alcohol.

Devising a consistent fitness regimen is one potential solution. Vigorous physical activity causes your body to release endorphins which provide you with their own unique–and completely natural–euphoria. What’s more, regular exercise lowers your blood pressure, increases your confidence, and has been found to generally decrease anxiety and depression over time.

Some people adapt a personal artistic practice. There are many creative activities which can bolster one’s sense of self-worth, and provide a constructive outlet for otherwise destructive emotional tendencies. There are many activities you might consider picking up: sewing, baking, drawing, creative writing, dance, or even playing a musical instrument.

You might also try bubble baths, reading classic literature, listening to records…there are many, many healthy ways of decreasing stress. One danger to be aware of, however, is when a healthy habit turns into an addiction itself.

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

The first and most crucial step towards overcoming your addiction is recognizing that you have a problem. Self-deception and inadequate excuses only further perpetuate the cycle of abuse. Take a good, long, honest look at your life. Determine what your sources of happiness are, and maximize them. Determine what your sources of unhappiness are, and minimize their presence in your life as best as you can.

Brandon Engel is a Chicago-based author who writes about a variety of topics — everything from vintage horror films to energy legislation to drugs. Drugs are of particular interest to Brandon, partially because of the politics surrounding them and partially also because he has experimented with them and has struggled with certain substances in the past–particularly with alcohol. Brandon is sober now and eager to help others overcome their addictions.

Why You Should Get Physical in Recovery

July 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Health, Treatment and Recovery News

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Exercise Can Help Strengthen Your Recovery

Exercise Can Help Strengthen Your Recovery

In our drinking and using days, we beat up our bodies pretty badly. Living sober requires more than simply not drinking or using. There is a lot of healing to be done on a lot of levels.

As active addicts, we were sick pups–spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. Many times, we don’t give the physical aspect of our addiction recovery enough attention. Addiction treatment centers, recovery programs, counseling groups all help addicts with the spiritual, mental and emotional aspects of recovery. For physical recovery–eating well, sleeping enough, and exercising regularly–the responsibility lies directly on the recovering addict or recovering alcoholic.

In Recovery: Eat Well, Get Adequate Sleep and Exercise

Physical recovery includes things as basic as getting enough sleep and eating the right foods. If we are not sleeping well, we are not going to feel well. Likewise, if the food we eat isn’t healthy or makes us feel low energy and sick, it is going to affect how we feel mentally, emotionally and spiritually. For example, junk food makes us feel sluggish, and sugar binges result in depression. We need to take better care of ourselves by eating nourishing food and avoiding those binges. Many recovering addicts run the risk of switching addictions from drugs or alcohol to food. Our relationship to food needs to be healthy, and while in recovery we need to eat well for optimal health.

Although there is much more that can be said about eating well and getting good sleep, the aspect of sober recovery I wish to focus on in this article is physical movement. We alcoholics and addicts, especially while in early recovery, are prone to anxiety—anxiety that makes us think of ways to escape it. If we have made a decision that alcohol and drugs are no longer options for us, then we need to find a better way to relieve our stresses and anxieties. The best way to relieve the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety is through movement and physical exercise.

Get Moving to Feel Better in Recovery

It really does not matter how you move, as long as you move. For some people, that may mean walking or running several times a week. If you can get outside for your exercise, all the better. There is nothing like fresh air and the outdoors to relax and rejuvenate you.

Maybe your thing is working out at the gym while listening to your favorite tunes on a portable music player. Maybe you get more energized by group classes, or maybe you played a sport at one time and you want to pick it up again. Whichever form of exercise you prefer, just get moving!

Make Physical Fitness Fun

When we were kids, we ran around outside and just called it “playing.” As grown-ups, we call it a “workout” and that makes it sound so much less fun! We don’t need to strive to be professional athletes. We don’t even need to be good at it! We just need to get moving and have fun doing it.

Personally, if I am not having fun while exercising, then I am not going to stick with it. In my search for enjoyable ways to stay physical, I have done a lot of different types of movement over the years, including Taekwondo, yoga,  rollerblading, soccer, running, walking, and swimming. You might explore some of these fitness options, and also explore skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, playing baseball or basketball…Well, you get the idea.

Join a Sober League or Team

If a yoga class or jogging routine are not for you, there are sober leagues, and sober teams playing in leagues. Ask around, and you are sure to find others in sober recovery who want to form a sports team. It happens all the time, and this can be one of the best ways to get motivated to exercise and to get support for staying sober as well.

Enjoy the Benefits of Physical Fitness

No matter what you choose to do, if you stick with a physical activity that you enjoy, you will find other aspects of recovery, and life, much more satisfactory.

P. G. McGraw is a 30+ year sober alcoholic, writer, blogger and “joyfully rebellious heretic and mystic.”  She enjoys learning about Eastern and Indigenous Religions and applying that knowledge to her spiritual recovery. A former attorney, McGraw has a certificate as a chemical dependency counselor assistant and has worked as a sponsor, helping many people in the recovery process over the years.

What Alcohol Really Does to Your Body

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alcoholismAbsorption of alcohol into the body begins in the stomach lining, where it is assimilated into the body of the drinker. However, on its way there, it passes through the mouth, down the throat and the esophagus.

Alcohol Poses a Danger to Your Body

Because of alcohol’s caustic effect on the lining of the stomach and throat, several things can occur during this short passage into the body. The stomach produces acid to help digest food and beverages. If there is no food in the stomach, alcohol may cause the acid to back up into the throat and esophagus, causing acid reflux. This condition can erode the esophagus over time, a not uncommon condition seen among those who drink–even those who drink moderately. This can then cause bleeding of the esophagus. Another factor that can cause damage to the esophagus occurs when a drinker vomits from consumption of alcohol. These alcohol-related issues with the throat and stomach can pose a serious health threat.

Again, a drinker’s stomach is in danger. Another negative effect of alcohol consumption and a risk for the drinker is to get a hole in the lining of the stomach. This is known as an ulcer, and many drinkers develop ulcers from the excess stomach acid combined with excess alcohol, which can become a toxic mix. Drinkers, even those with moderate habits, develop bleeding ulcers. Over time, this creates an inability for drinkers to digest any foods properly. The condition is painful, as well, and may lead to hemorrhaging of the stomach, esophagus or throat; which can sometimes be fatal.

Your Brain and Alcohol

Without the complex mechanisms of the brain operating fully, no one can function. Alcohol use, even a single drink, can impair brain function. Some of this damage is reparable, but not completely. Any drinking damages the brain by altering the signals and messaging taking place there. These changes can alter mood, behavior and the physical responses of the human body. Over time and with heavy alcohol use, the damage can be devastating and permanent.

Your Heart and Alcohol

The heart is heavily impacted by alcohol use; even moderate drinkers have developed heart disease. While some medical practitioners may tout the benefits of drinking a glass of wine or two daily, the risk for some people is too great, and outweighs the benefits. Knowing if your heart is in danger from alcohol is not always possible, so it is often best to assume the benefits are easily outweighed by the dangers. High blood pressure is the most common health risk resulting from alcohol, and may occur with even a single episode of heavy drinking.

Your Pancreas and Alcohol

The pancreas may become toxic with alcohol assimilation. This means that it begins to create poison out of the alcohol in the system of the drinker. The condition created is called pancreatitis and can lead to numerous health risks that include diabetes, problems with blood sugar levels and ongoing digestive problems.

Cancers of the throat, liver, mouth and esophagus may take place in drinkers. Damage to the immune system that occurs with alcohol consumption may increase risks for cancers of these and other types.

 

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

How Yoga Can Enhance and Strengthen the Recovery Process

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Daily exercise is an integral part of the recovery process and most rehab programs for a reason. Exercise contributes to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of everyone, whether or not we are addicts. Exercise has been shown to enhance mood and fight depression naturally through the release of endorphins.

EndorphYogaforTGDGins can lower your perception of pain, improve self-esteem, and even act as a mild sedative. Incorporating regular physical activity into your life can reduce your stress and anxiety, increase your energy, and boost your sleep quality. Additionally, regular exercise can improve your heart health, blood pressure, bone strength, and muscle tone, as well as many other facets of your physical health.

Yoga offers all of the benefits of regular exercise and more to those who use it as part of their recovery process. The meditative quality of yoga encourages practitioners to examine their thought processes and learn to concentrate on posture and breathing with intention. If negative thoughts are dominating your mental space, especially during recovery, yoga will teach you to acknowledge those thoughts, and explore their source. If you have a self-defeating attitude outside of the yoga studio, yoga will shine a light on that attitude and force you to push yourself beyond your own boundaries and strengthen your willpower.

Here are three ways yoga can benefit your recovery:

1. Coping Mechanisms

An inability to cope with the everyday difficulties and the fluctuations of life is one of the underlying causes of addiction. Addicts who are in recovery often struggle with finding new and healthy ways of dealing with life stresses once they can no longer turn to a substance as a solution. Through reflective thought, controlled breathing, and mindful meditation, yoga intrinsically teaches the art of coping in healthy, appropriate ways. These new coping mechanisms are particularly useful for addicts and help to strengthen the recovery process.

2. Self-discipline

Improved self-discipline not only helps an addict to begin the recovery process, but it can also help an addict to stay on course and prevent a relapse. An important part of drug treatment is learning to greet a negative impulse with a positive action. When those in recovery learn to turn to yoga when they feel weak, the self-discipline skills required to overcome addiction are reinforced and enhanced.

3. Supportive Community

The culture of yoga is largely community-based. For a recovering addict, finding a supportive community is one of the keys to success in sobriety. Becoming a regular at a yoga studio will help introduce you to a new source of community that is generally health-minded and supportive of newcomers.

In addition to these benefits that yoga lends to those in recovery, yoga is considered by many to be a good source of spiritual guidance. These days, at least in most yoga studios in the U.S., yoga isn’t about a specific religion, but is a practice that helps us all live in the present moment. It helps us explore the depths of our mental and physical capabilities. This spiritual element of yoga is an added bonus for addicts who feel their addiction is rooted in a misguided way of life or lack of spirituality.

 

Elizabeth Seward has written about health and wellness for Discovery Health, National Geographic, How Stuff Works Health, and many other online and print publications. As a former touring rock musician, Elizabeth has firsthand experience with the struggles of substance abuse and the loss of loved ones because of it. She believes in the restorative power of yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and plant-based diets and she is an advocate for progressive drug policy reform.

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