The Dangers of Prescription Drugs

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TGDGprescriptionIt’s almost expected that when you visit the doctor, you will receive a prescription for medication. If you are in pain, the doctor prescribes medicine that will reduce the pain. If you are having anxiety or mental issues, the doctor or specialist will likely recommend pills for that. In fact, there is a pill that can be prescribed for nearly anything that ails you these days.

Obtaining “Legal” Prescription Drugs

As addicts, maybe even those who have not abused prescription drugs, we know how easy it can be to obtain a prescription. It may take a bit of “doctor shopping” before you find a doctor who is willing to write you a prescription, but it can be extremely easy to get the kind of drugs you are looking for. Doctor shopping is a term used to describe when a patient visits multiple doctors to try and obtain multiple prescriptions for controlled substances, usually addictive narcotics or opiates such as Vicodin or Oxycontin. Some addicts are reluctant to carry out such a scheme, so they just look for others who use prescription drugs and are willing to sell their prescriptions. Furthermore, since addictive narcotics are so commonly prescribed, it is easy to search anyone’s medicine cabinet to “find” what you are looking for.

Spiraling Down

A big concern with prescription drugs is that consistent use may lead to addiction and a higher potential for abusing other drugs–a downward spiral many people have traveled. This may not seem likely for all people who receive prescription medications, but to those of us with addictive tendencies, it seems like a guarantee. With a prescription like Oxycontin, for example, which has been nicknamed the “legal heroin,” it’s easy to see why a prescription medication can lead to problems. An additional concern is the dangerous effects of mixing prescription drugs with other drugs or alcohol. We often see accidental overdoses in cases where people have combined multiple prescription drugs at the same time, or most commonly, combined pills and alcohol. Sometimes this is accidental. It is easy to forget you took a pill, and then accidentally take another medicine or even sip a drink without even thinking about the risks.

But I’m not an Addict!

In sober recovery meetings, I regularly talked with people who were addicted to pills because at the time, I was abusing prescription drugs myself. The people who shared their stories about prescription drug addiction often started their story with how they had sustained an injury or got into an accident and were prescribed painkillers. They would go on and on with their life story and, for some reason, I could never understand the point of their story. Finally I figured it out: Unlike me, these addicts had not taken their prescriptions with the intention of getting high or ever relying on these pills to function, but addiction does not discriminate. Some of these people had never even touched an illegal drug in their lives. They had relied on the recommendations of their doctors and had taken the pills as they were prescribed. Once the prescription ran out, however, they realized that they had developed a dependency on the pills and were helpless without them. Once the dependency on the prescription pills took hold and their doctors wouldn’t renew their prescriptions, these people felt they had nowhere to turn but to the streets for either the purchase of more painkillers or the use of illicit drugs to satisfy their body’s need for the drug. Luckily, many of these people found their way to addiction treatment and rehab programs.

What Is Being Done about Our Prescription Addiction Problem?

So what’s being done about the abuse and reliance on prescription drugs? There has been implementation of programs to reduce incidence of doctor shopping, and also more stringent monitoring of what kinds of prescriptions are being abused (and handed out). However, it never seems to be enough. The CDC has reported that every year at least 15,000 people die from prescription drug overdoses. We have heard positive news about one prescription drug that has been a problem–the pharmaceutical company Actavis is ceasing production of a popular cough syrup commonly known as “Lean.”  Yet, drug companies continue to release prescription drugs that are highly addictive. Zohydro, a new painkiller that is similar to Vicodin, has been shown to be much more dangerous than Vicodin because it only contains hydrocodone and no other active ingredients. For that reason, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick attempted to place a ban on the drug, but a federal judge overturned it.

We need more laws that protect the population from addictive prescription drugs. Must we wait and wonder when the madness from the pharmaceutical companies will end? Does it take years and years of drug abuse and overdoses to put more regulation on prescription drugs? It’s important to know that not all prescriptions are abused, but how many deaths will it take before someone in government or a regulatory position will step up and change the rules?

 

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.

Movies for Sober Inspiration

September 15, 2014 by  
Filed under People and Culture, Treatment and Recovery News

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The media and movies can be surprising sources of sober inspiration

The media and movies can be surprising sources of sober inspiration

Finding inspiration through the media and the arts can be extremely helpful for your sobriety. Music can be inspiring and lift our mood, and movies have an abundance of guidance and tools to help you get sober or stay sober. Movies can remind you to stay humble, grateful and emotionally alive. The storyline of a movie that covers the topics of alcoholism and addiction can be important reminder to you about where a relapse will take you or, if you are still finding your way to sobriety, it can keep the reality of what will happen if you continue to use.

Here are some movies to consider viewing as a way of keeping you on the path of sobriety:

Trainspotting If heroin was or is your drug of choice, this movie is as real as it gets. Starring Ewan McGregor and Johnny Lee Miller, the movie is very drug specific, but still a good example of the hardships that substance abuse brings. The movie brings life, death, withdrawal, relapse and more all to your living room. The movie still keeps a touch of humor and even has its own quotes and quips that can be used as references in your own life.

Gia This movie based on the true life story of Gia Marie Carangi, an American fashion model, and is a humbling biographical film. Starring Angelina Jolie, it’s a reminder that addiction does not discriminate. Whether you are beautiful, famous or a bum on the street, you can still suffer the pain and consequences of addiction. The movie only scrapes the surface of addiction because it focuses more on Gia’s life, but it is an emotional roller coaster that shows how quickly drug abuse can derail your life.

The Panic in Needle ParkOne of Al Pacino’s less popular movies, this movie is still effective at breaking down the everyday life of an addict and what hanging around with other addicts can do to you. It quickly dives into how substance abuse ruins relationships, and tears away your self-worth and pride. It also shows what happens when you get caught by the law. It is a clear illustration of how fast drugs can become an addiction and the things you’re willing to do to get them.

A Scanner DarklyFirst and foremost, I will admit I had to watch this movie twice to truly understand what was going on. Starring Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves, it doesn’t necessarily focus on drug addiction as much as some other movies. This one leans more towards a conspiracy theory involving pharmaceutical companies and drugs, but it certainly is easy to relate to. As addicts, our personalities change during active addiction and the characters in the movie become so easy to associate with from this perspective. The movie is filmed in live action animation so it keeps your attention while keeping you entertained. The movie sums up drug-related paranoia, the desperate need for a fix, and how easily “friends” turn their backs on you in your time of need.

BlowThis is another biographical film based on the life of the drug smuggler George Jung. In addition to starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, and being an excellent and engrossing movie, it shows the effects of cocaine addiction, as well as the experience of being on the other side of the spectrum as a drug dealer. Although the movie starts out portraying the characters on their ‘pink cloud,’ so to speak, their dreams are swiftly dashed by the reality of being broke, desperate and depressed. The movie leaves you with a sense of compassion for the main character and the losses he experienced.

Requiem for a DreamLike Trainspotting, this movie depicts the raw reality of substance abuse. The movie, starring Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly, is an extremely well-written film, but can be disturbing and nerve-wracking to watch. If you have already experienced the rock bottom of addiction, you’ll find yourself knowing what’s going to happen next because the movie gives the characters real life options as to what to do when they are desperate to get high. The film does not have a happy ending and it leaves you with an empty, terrible feeling in your stomach. The difference between this film and the others listed here is the sub-story it tells involving the use of prescription medicine. Many people don’t yet realize that prescription drugs are commonly used to get high and are very addictive. This movie will leave you truly grateful to be in sober recovery and drug-free.

Candy This may not be known as a top Heath Ledger movie, but it certainly should be. A little different than other films, the movie shows three stages of addiction – Heaven, Hell and Earth – which is the best part about this movie. The honesty in the film shows the false euphoria drugs may bring, but that it’s only temporary and the real life consequences that you’re hiding will rapidly come to life. It also reveals how relationships can be affected by drug use, as that many of the partnerships we form with other addicts are based solely on drugs or alcohol.

Some movies seem harder to watch than others because of the effect they may have on our emotions, but as a recovering addict, those are the ones I take time to watch. The movies and other media can provide an external source, not only of entertainment, but of tools and real-life situations that are easy to relate to and may help give you advice that you didn’t realize you were looking for. Although some of these movies may not end happily, it’s okay to be grateful when you shut the movie off and realize that isn’t your life anymore.

 

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.

What Is Rock Bottom?

September 10, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News

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TGDGsadgirlWhen you Google the words “rock bottom,” you will find a dictionary definition that classifies this term as a noun that means “the lowest possible level.” When it comes to addiction recovery, the words “rock bottom” can have hundreds of definitions. This is because not everyone’s “rock bottom” will be the same. If only rock bottom truly were that simple.

I know during my active addiction, I often found myself asking what my rock bottom actually was. Unfortunately, that question could not be answered by others. Every addict or alcoholic has a different rock bottom, and the variations can be dramatic. Some addicts may undergo very traumatic life experiences that signify to them that they have hit rock bottom. Some may lose their homes, while others may file bankruptcy or turn to prostitution to earn the income needed to pay for drugs. If you are at the point where you’re wondering if you’ve hit your “rock bottom,” here are three ways to find your answer.

1. Decide If You Have Had Enough

I think the number one question I found myself returning to again and again was if I’d had enough. For many of us, we continue to stretch the limits of how much pain and suffering we can sustain. For some of us, losing our homes or jobs is enough to make us realize how great a problem drugs and alcohol have become. For others, it can take losing the support of friends and family. For many, “enough” comes in the form of overdosing or selling your body for drugs. Deciding you have had enough is a matter of deciding whether you want to live or die, and what lengths you are willing to go to save yourself and get sober.

2. Make a Pros and Cons List

Weighing the pros and cons may seem like a silly way to examine the options of wanting to get clean and sober or not, but I believe you need to do whatever it takes. Some people need to visually see a list of all the consequences of their drug use before they can fully understand the pros of getting sober. A pros and cons list may not be the thing that motivates you to choose to get sober, but many times we can’t see the damage we’re causing until we make a list like this. We may be in the habit of rationalizing away the negative consequences of our addictions, instead of seeing our addiction as a major problem in our lives. The pros of using drugs may seem to be numerous in our heads, but on paper, they are few in number to non-existent.

3. Evaluate What Have You Gained

Addicts regularly encounter people who are incredibly belittling toward those caught in the treacherous cycle of addiction. These people may list all the reasons why using drugs is bad, but when you are active in your addiction, you don’t care. Many addicts are okay with being homeless or broke, since there are many alternative ways to get money, food or anything else we need–as long as we can get our drug of choice. One question I never asked myself as an addict was what I gained from my addiction? Did using drugs gain me friends? Did I gain wisdom and knowledge? Who was benefiting from my drug use? Who was I helping?

Even in our darkest days, we addicts know there are things we want in life aside from drugs or alcohol. Bring those things to light and see if you have accomplished any of them. I wanted to be a writer, but had I published any work? Your dreams and goals are still important, but you may have lost sight of those because you’ve been so focused on how to stay drunk or high.

Finding your own definition of “rock bottom” is a difficult task. Though it’s nearly impossible to define “rock bottom” before you get there, you sort of just know when you hit it. In a way, it almost brings you a feeling of relief to know that you’ve finally had enough. When I hit rock bottom, I was not only relieved but I was beyond grateful that I had found the willingness to quit before it was too late. People say you won’t quit until you’ve had enough and, as insincere as it sounds, it’s true. Search for answers inside yourself and you will find a solution, if you are willing to look at the big picture.

 

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.

Tips from an Insider: Getting the Best out of Rehab

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Signing up for a rehab program is a crucial step in your journey to sobriety

Signing up for a rehab program is a crucial step in your journey to sobriety

One of the hardest pit stops on the journey to sobriety for me was gaining the courage to sign into a rehabilitation center. Although this may be the hardest thing you’ll have to bring yourself to do, if you’re ready, it is a very crucial and beneficial step in your recovery.

Understanding Why You Need Rehab

The number one reason that most people fail in their attempts to get sober is that they try quitting when they are not yet ready to quit. When I went to rehab, it was not because I wanted to go, but because my family had intervened and given me an ultimatum: Go to rehab and get sober or lose all contact with family and loved ones. That ultimatum was a wake-up call for me–it made me realize I was ready to quit using. Even if you’re ready, it’s hard to bring yourself to ask for help, but it is a humbling and helpful step in your recovery. If you still remain unsure about taking that first step to rehab, research different types of rehab programs out there–while they might be similar, some offer different types of therapy that may interest you more than others.

Making Friends in Rehab

Making friends in rehab can be quite tricky, and so is dating while both people are in recovery. Forming bonds with people in the program who come from your geographical area can be extremely advantageous, especially if you’re someone who would appreciate a friend accompanying you to sober recovery meetings. Being willing to share insecurities with someone who shares common interests with you is a lot easier than people you may never see again. As long as you keep your mind focused on sobriety, you will attract others with the same goals. It is important to be aware of and wary of those types of people who are not in rehab to get sober, and are only interested in glorifying their past drug use and talking about how great getting high was–you will likely meet those types in rehab. Don’t worry: One conversation with a person who’s simply there for someone else’s sake will be easy to sniff out and even easier to walk away from.

Accepting All Possible Solutions

Let’s face it: When you’ve finally dried yourself out and are slowly recovering from a week of detoxing, the ugly truths of getting sober and rehab slowly begin to become apparent. This does not stop at rehab, in fact, making amends comes much later, so don’t sweat the small stuff too much during your stay in rehab. Your brain may be flooded with apologies you want to make and people you’d like to repay, but you don’t have to address all that at the beginning. Just take it one day at a time. The employees at a rehab center do keep a certain emotional detachment, but it is only so they can assist everyone with as many possible solutions to help as they can. Some of the suggestions they make to you may sound silly, like yoga or taking up drawing classes, but it is important to stay open minded about the possibilities. Our own choices and decisions are what landed us in the cycle of addiction and in rehab! Suggestions that seem to be out of your comfort zone may turn out to be an exceptional hobby that helps you to stay sober.

Taking a Break From Reality

The stay at the rehab center is only temporary, of course, along with the withdrawals. Going through withdrawals, for lack of a better word, sucks. There isn’t a whole lot they can do for you to diminish the discomfort of withdrawal and, depending on what sort of rehab center you attend, medication may not be an option for you. Just remember, the detox is necessary for your body to recover from addiction. It has withstood months–for some, years–of wear and tear from drug use. Detoxification is a scary but necessary evil for your body to have a fighting chance in recuperating from all of the damage you have done to it. Once the withdrawal symptoms have subsided, it’s easy to instantly think you are ready to be out in the world and seeing your family, but you’re not! Take a few deep breaths, and remember you will be back in the world soon enough, so enjoy your time in rehab. Everyone around you in rehab understands your world needed to stop in order for it to continue, so relax and study the paperwork you’re given, read the big book and enjoy a break from all the aspects of life that can be so overwhelming for everybody.

Rehabilitation centers are wonderful establishments and were created in the best interests of people who need tools and support to help them get sober. Before you decide to sign yourself into rehab, remember all the positive assets that they can equip you with. Many people attend rehab for the wrong reasons and do not take all that they have to offer seriously. The staff in a rehab center can give you the tools to get sober but you must carry and use them on your own.

 

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.

The Importance of Making and Keeping a Schedule in Early Recovery

September 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Treatment and Recovery News

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Scheduling can ease you through the recovery process day by day

Scheduling can ease you through the recovery process

While making a schedule is a good idea for keeping track of many of life’s events, we don’t always think of scheduling as a critical tool in sober recovery. We think, “Let me get sober first, then I’ll worry about a schedule.” Nevertheless, a schedule can be an important aspect of your recovery plan and a great tool for helping you stay sober.

Anxiety Can Prevent Clear Thinking and Planning

Even if you were relatively high functioning while using, you may find yourself struggling to know what to do next when you get sober. For some, alcohol or the drug of addiction was our anxiety-reliever, entertainment, recreational activity, and the glue that connected the different aspects of our life. When we get sober, we are usually a mess. Things will settle down eventually and seem less chaotic, but in the beginning, the reality is that the brain will not be able to focus on much of anything at all during the withdrawal period and for a short time afterward. Once that short time period after withdrawal and rehab is over, it may be time to begin planning a schedule of activities to keep us busy in our new, sober life. Having a schedule in place can help you steer clear of anxiety or avoid relapse during the early recovery process.

As Old Habits Are Broken, New Ones Must Be Put in Place

As with any habit, we need to break the old patterns in order to break the old habit. This is where a schedule comes in handy. Working with someone else in recovery to create this schedule may help. Nevertheless, there are a couple of ideas I can suggest to get you started on your own. Think of scheduling as turning over a new leaf.

Start with a template. Whether you use a computerized template, a calendar booklet, or a piece of paper, start with a weekly plan or weekly schedule sheet, with days of the week across the top, and times of the day down the side.

Plan on a full night of sleep. Sleep is important, so decide what your approximate sleeping times will be, and then mark your waking hours on the chart. Even though it may take a while to get a regular sleep schedule happening, it is good to start trying to do so.

Take time for recovery. One of the first events on your schedule should be some time set aside devoted to your recovery. Many people like to do focus on recovery exercises first thing in the morning with their coffee. Reading something on recovery, contemplating, and keeping a journal (“journaling”) are all things that can be included in this set-aside time. Try to make it a time when you are uninterrupted. You are setting a plan for the day, and you are setting your brain for the day. Take it seriously, and your day will begin on a positive note.

It is also important to schedule recovery support meetings, 12-step meetings or group therapy, or whatever else you are using to aid in your recovery. For any day of the week, it is best that you know where you are going, and at what time, so that you have only to look at the calendar and you know where to go. You can even schedule in extra meetings in the event that you find yourself with extra time on your hands (which can sometimes lead to anxiety). It never hurts to have a ready list of constructive and distracting things to do when you hit those down times or rough moments when all you can think about is drinking or using.

Include daily responsibilities—work, family, errands. If you are working or in school, you will want to put those daily commitments on your schedule. Be careful of spending too much time in these events, though. Time for recovery is crucial. We cannot simply stop using drugs or alcohol without giving attention to the part of us that needed that crutch in the first place. The time you spend on your recovery exercises and meetings, is the time you need to get in touch with that part of yourself, so you can begin to heal. And, as is often said, if you could find time to drink or use, you can find time for your recovery. Don’t let your work or school become an excuse to neglect your recovery or other areas of your life.

Time for exercise. Another helpful addition to your schedule is time for physical exercise. Whether that time is spent walking or running or working out at a gym, regular exercise will do wonders for reducing the anxiety created by withdrawal. Exercise can help relieve the anxiety that we generally attempted to cure with our favorite alcohol drink or drug of choice.

Time for play. Oftentimes, when we get sober, we get wrapped up in making up for lost time. As such, we sometimes forget that time is time, and we cannot undo a lifetime of mistakes in a few weeks. It is important to remember that we still need to take time just for relaxing and having fun. Organized sports, going out with sober friends, spending time with family, listening to music you love, and taking the time to do whatever you consider to be enjoyable. Fun time will rejuvenate you, and keep you from taking yourself too seriously.

Schedule even basic activities in the beginning. I find it is also important to include things in your schedule that may strike you as mundane. Learning to schedule everything is learning to get into a healthy routine. Schedule your daily shower. For example, perhaps you will get up, have your quiet time, exercise and then shower. That shower every day can be important for you psychologically. It says to you, I am going to show up for life today. Schedule a time to go to the grocery store. Plan what you will buy. Schedule time to make meals. All of these are merely suggestions, but it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about how you can take care of yourself, and learn to love your new, sober self. This is also a time to learn to care for your body. After all, you have spent a number of years abusing it, and it needs a little TLC!

Take a proactive role in your life. When we are using, we are reacting to life in a destructive way. Most of our reactions are based upon our need to feel good. When we get sober, we have the opportunity, perhaps for the first time, to live life proactively rather than reactively. Making a schedule is one way we begin doing that. We choose how we will live our day,and how we will spend our time. With this in mind, it is helpful, if you are unemployed, to decide when to add looking for a job into your schedule. Maybe you will schedule time to explore possible career fields. Maybe you have a dream job that you want to research. Maybe there is a skill you want to learn. When we schedule time for these things, they become more concrete. One small action can provide motivation for the next action, and the next.

Don’t become a slave to your schedule. More than anything else, though, it is important to remember that the schedule is a tool to help you organize your life. It should not be used to fill every minute, nor should it be used to beat your self up. You will find your schedule more helpful if you allow it to be dynamic. You may decide that it isn’t working for you. If so, you can change it. You may over-schedule yourself, so do what you can, and adjust accordingly. If the schedule becomes a weapon to beat yourself up with, you will quickly abandon it. Make sure the schedule works for you, not against you.

Create your new life. Consider scheduling as a process for learning to live one day at a time—and have confidence that each day will be better than the last. Design your schedule to meet life’s obligations, but also design it to make time for things that bring you joy. This schedule, and your life, is your work of art. Get busy creating it!

 

P. G. McGraw is a 30-plus 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.

 

Getting Help from Social Service Agencies

September 2, 2014 by  
Filed under Health, Treatment and Recovery News

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Doctor talking to her male patient at officeAdmitting we need help with addiction treatment or other issues can be difficult, but this is only one part of the battle. Actually getting services in place in order to get the help we need can be the bigger challenge. Most communities have free or low-cost substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling, housing, clothing, food, healthcare services (including insurance and contraceptives), career training, and employment assistance. Some communities can also assist with dental care, transportation, and daycare vouchers. Here are some ideas on how to get real help for addiction treatment through social service agencies.

Who Can Help You?

Call the county or city level Department of Social Services or Human Services first. State and federal level government agencies will likely refer you to your local department of services as a first step. It can also be helpful to call your local chapter of the United Way. The United Way usually only has information about programs they fund, but in many areas that covers a lot of different programs. You can also find information about programs by contacting local communities of faith, such as Lutheran social services and other faith groups. In addition to contacting any faith community that you belong to, also contact the large congregations and denomination associations in your area. Church-sponsored food banks, clothes closets, counseling, and similar services often go unadvertised. The Salvation Army and Volunteers of America also often offer more services than what is advertised to the general public.

Making the Call as a First Step

The first step is always to call your local social service agency first. Calling first can save you a lot of frustration. Agencies are often very busy and rapidly changing. Information you got from a flyer or their website may be outdated. The person you need to speak with or see may only work three days a week. There could be a power outage. Anything could happen. Save yourself a wasted trip by calling first.

When you call a social service agency, be prepared and have as much information about your situation as possible.

For each family member involved in the situation, have their legal name, address, best phone number, date of birth, social security number, health insurance information, employer’s name and phone number, school name, and anything else you think might be remotely relevant.

Sometimes services are provided based upon eligibility requirements that seem to have nothing to do with the circumstances related to the need. By having this information available the first time you call, you can save yourself a lot of time.

Also be prepared to spend a long time on the phone and keep a pen and paper handy. The first person you call may not be the best person to answer your questions and you may be passed to several people before you find the right person. Take down each person’s name and phone number so that you can call that person back if necessary. Avoid high volume call times such as early on Monday morning or just before closing.

Meeting Agency Representatives

Ask for details about what you should do when you actually arrive at the agency for services. You will need to know specifics about what to bring, who to talk with, approximate wait times, parking, and the times representatives are available if you do not have an appointment.

When going to an agency be certain to bring everything mentioned during your preliminary call. If you do not have a required document, call back and find out if not having that document will delay services or if a different document could be used. Ask if the document can be downloaded from the agency’s website, and ask for the page or link. Plan to arrive early if you have an appointment. If you are running late, call to find out if you will be accommodated or will need to reschedule.

When meeting with an agency representative, request details about the service you are seeking. When can you expect services to begin? If there will be a delay, are there any temporary services available? What is the next step following the appointment? How long will the services last? Are there any fees involved? Who should you contact if you have a problem or question and the representative is not available?

Always ask each agency representative if they can recommend any other services that might be helpful. For example if you are getting assistance with housing, ask the housing representative to recommend services to help with employment. Sometimes a representative in one agency has a close relationship with someone in another agency and can help you begin the process.

Work for a social services agency can often be a thankless job. Remember, your representative is human. Representatives have bad days, impossible deadlines, and overly demanding bosses like anyone else. If someone is rude or disrespectful, you can let them know you wish to be treated respectfully, but also understand that the problem is likely not personal and you need this person to get services in place. If a pattern of poor professionalism from an agency representative persists, ask to work with another representative or the supervisor. Remember the goal is to get the services you need, so it pays to be nice.

Following Up

If you are placed on a waiting list, follow up with agency on a regular basis. When you do, ask if there are any new services you may be eligible for that address the same problem. For example, if you are on a waiting list for transitional housing that is two years long, check in with the agency each season to find out where you are on the list. Ask if there are new programs for temporary rental assistance. Let them know if your circumstances have changed.

All good things must come to an end, but there are a few things you will want to do to make sure certain services do not end prematurely. Follow all the rules of the program. Be in regular contact with service providers. Respond to any correspondence that is mailed to you. Ask questions if you do not understand. Unfortunately, many people experience gaps in services because they failed to respond to a renewal letter, or a social worker did not have their new cell phone number, or some other break down in communication. If a service is ending because you are no longer eligible, get in contact with the provider to determine if another service might be available.

Don’t Give Up

Addiction and drug treatment costs can be high, so if you can get some agency help to cover at least some of the cost, it is worthwhile. Getting social services may require tenaciousness, patience, and organization, but getting just the right service from an agency could make a huge difference in your quality of life. Don’t give up!

 

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.

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.

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