Addiction from the Outside Looking in

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beauty girl cryHeath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Cory Monteith, River Phoenix – and other talented celebrities we had all seen and grown to love, only to later learn that these gifted individuals were are all victims of addiction. During my own active addiction I had many friends who overdosed, went to jail or passed away due to their drug abuse. Unfortunately, these crises weren’t concerning enough for me to get sober. It took more internally-driven motivation for me to straighten out and, after years of drug use, I finally got clean and am now standing on the outside of addiction looking in.

Celebrity Deaths

For most people, it is normal to not feel emotional about a celebrity who dies in tragic circumstances. Let’s be honest here: It’s not like they are family or we know them personally. But as an addict in recovery, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of sympathy and concern–not only sadness over the loss of a great human being, but for the family of the deceased. It had been almost a full year since I had chosen to get sober when I heard the news of Cory Monteith’s passing. As many people know, he was one of the stars on the hit T.V. show Glee. When I read the news on the Internet, I immediately started crying. I wasn’t sure if I was crying for Lea Michele, his on-screen and off-screen girlfriend; his family who had lost such a young member of their clan; or if it was the fact that he had overdosed alone. He died in a hotel room, by himself. The same sick, terrifying feeling overcame me when I saw the breaking news of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death. The feeling was almost a morbid sense of relief that I never had to worry about that kind of ending for myself, but it was an intense reminder that a relapse is only one step in the wrong direction. Addiction has many faces. It can afflict a celebrity, a friend or a respectable-looking passerby in the street. I often remind myself that it is humbling to feel sad when someone passes away from drug or alcohol addiction.

Personal Acquaintances

Two months after I had gotten sober, I was told that a former friend of mine had passed away due to substance abuse. It was a friend I used to use with, so it wasn’t a huge surprise, but that did not lessen the blow. It was a strange, overwhelming feeling that I had never experienced, even with the loss of other people unrelated to substance abuse. In this instance there was something about the possibility that it could have been me. I have now cut off all contact with my old ‘playgrounds and playmates’ so I definitely don’t surround myself with any negative influences, but I still pray for the sick and suffering. It doesn’t cause any less pain to know that people I used to see everyday are out there still living in the same sick cycle that I had been caught in. I have a strange sense of compassion when I think of the path I was on that many people are still traveling.

Feeling Empathy

It’s odd to discover that people you barely know or don’t know at all can affect you. When a addict you were acquainted with dies, the feeling is similar what you feel when a celebrity you like dies, except it almost seems more real, in a sense. We generally put celebrities up on a pedestal, which places them at a distance, one step removed. However, when another “regular” person dies from addiction, it engulfs you. Before an AA meeting, if a regular member of the meeting has passed, they will be recognized at the beginning of the meeting. When this happens, it seems as if a cloud has fallen over his or her friends and the rest of us who were unfamiliar still feel empathy. It took a long time for me to realize that it is okay to feel such sadness for those who fall victim to addiction and lose the battle.

I think too many people with addiction problems often feel judged by those who have not experienced substance abuse – as if it others expect that they should just be able to get clean. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that. So, if you find yourself crying or feeling upset over someone who has lost their battle with addiction and paid the ultimate price, then let it all out. When you’ve never been an addict or have a good amount of sobriety under your belt, it’s easy to forget about the small things on your gratitude list. Having empathy for others who have struggled with addiction is never a bad thing, and is a poignant reminder of how important it is to stay sober.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Animal Assisted Therapy and Recovery

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animal-assisted therapyDogs in the Betty Ford Center. Horses at Hazelden. Wolfdogs and young addicts in L.A. The use of animal-assisted therapy is increasingly used in addiction recovery, as well as many other fields.

So how does it work? The point is not that the animal is supposed to replace a human relationship, according to Phil Tedeschi, founder and director of the Institute for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Denver. Animal-assisted therapy instead aims to be a bridge back to healthy relationships with other humans.

As anyone in addiction recovery knows, trust issues are the norm. Most addicts have burned others and been burned by others. After this has happened, it becomes difficult to rely on your instincts about who to trust. Animals lack the emotional agendas of humans. You treat the animal well, and it will likely reciprocate. Developing a bond with an animal can open an addict’s heart and help to develop healthy bonds with humans again.

One study done by Seton Addictions Services in Troy, NY, found that patients opened up to addiction counselors more about their personal histories while dogs were present. Counselors gained insights into patients’ emotional and behavioral patterns and could guide them to better interaction choices. For example, when patients were annoyed that a dog didn’t immediately want to bond, the counselor could suggest ways to slow down and gain the dog’s trust.

Equine Therapy

While dogs are the most common therapy animals – easy to come by, fairly obedient, of a manageable size and easy to take them almost anywhere – many other animals are also used. The famous Hazelden recovery center in Minnesota introduced equine-assisted rehab therapy in 2005. Now some patients participate in an eight-week program that integrates horses with the 12 steps of recovery. The focus is more on interacting with horses on the ground rather than riding them. Several other rehab centers are now using equine therapy and other types of animal-assisted therapy.

Lynn Moore, the addiction counselor who developed Hazelden’s equine program, says that horses mirror human feelings. Patients who have lost all touch with their emotions find that horses can stir up joy, fear, sadness, anger, loneliness, resentment and peace. She recommends equine-assisted therapy for patients who over-intellectualize. Horses, she says, help people get out of their heads and back into their bodies and hearts.

Addicts and Wolfdogs

You could draw a pretty good analogy here: As wolfdogs are to dogs, addicts are to “normal” humans. While genetically similar to their “normal” counterparts in their respective species, wolfdogs and addicts don’t quite fit in. They’re considered dangerous in their societies.

Wolfdogs – hybrids that are too dog-like to survive in the wild but too wolf-like to be adoptable – really get a bum deal. Many are abused, neglected and abandoned. They might be confiscated by authorities, taken to a shelter and euthanized. Young addicts from messed up homes can relate to the difficult path that a wolfdog typically must journey on.

Promises, a West Los Angeles addiction treatment center, teamed up with Wolf Connection, which rescues wolfdogs. Now wolf therapy is part of Promises’ treatment for young adults. While the young addicts help save the wolfdogs from death, the wolfdogs teach their human caregivers wolf principles. These include teamwork, respect, setting and maintaining boundaries, forgiveness, trust and acceptance.

Prison Programs

In 2012, more than half of the U.S. incarcerated population was doing time for drug charges. Prison dog training programs are not aimed solely at recovering addicts, but this type of animal intervention is important for many folks who are beginning recovery behind bars.

Prison dog training programs have popped up around the U.S. in recent years. Often the dogs themselves are on death row – about to be euthanized by local animal shelters – when they’re rescued and distributed to inmates. Prisoners see themselves in the dogs, according to Tedeschi, who works closely with prisoners in the program at Colorado Prison. As prisoners rehabilitate the unwanted pets, they begin to rehabilitate themselves. Usually the prisoners train the puppies until they’re between one and two years old, then hand them off to Tedeschi’s grad students in the School of Social Work for further training as therapy dogs. Both prisoners and dogs thrive under this system. The men and women in the training program are the most successful inmates upon release, Tedeschi says.

Someone Who Cares

Most addicts have alienated at least some of their friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances by the time they hit bottom. Addicts can feel disgusting, dehumanized and thoroughly unlovable. But animals see people differently than other people do. As long as you treat the animal well, it doesn’t care whether you’re rich or poor, or have scars on your body and soul.

The beauty of animal-assisted therapy is that it’s two-way. The addict needs somebody who cares about him or her. The animal needs someone to care for it. The act of taking care of an animal turns an addict into someone who cares for another living creature.

 

Teresa Bergen is a Portland, Oregon-based health, fitness and travel writer. She enjoys exploring the human-animal connection in her writing and in her life.

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