Reasons for Relapse and Avoiding Them

August 18, 2016 by  
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Businessman wearing blue shirt drunk at desk on white backgroundRelapse (i.e., going back to using after abstaining for a length of time) happens to many people on their road to recovery and, if it does, is not a sign of failure. The National Drug Association reports the relapse rate for drug addiction to be 40 to 60 percent. People relapse and then try again. But being aware of these three signs can help you be mindful and avoid your own triggers before relapse happens.

1. Old Playgrounds and Playmates

This is a big one to put on your priority list. Even those who have been sober for years are subject to relapse if they choose to play in old playgrounds with old playmates. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term often used in AA and NA, this refers to people and places you have used with or at. It’s easy for others to say if he or she is sober to obviously avoid the crack house, but it’s not always that simple. It may mean leaving behind your best friend of 20 years. It may mean breaking up with the love of your life, if they are actively using. Changing your surroundings is a vital part of your sobriety.

2. The Pink Cloud

If you have already gotten sober, congratulations. I’m sure everyone has heard of “the pink cloud” or, more bluntly, your new drug-free beginning. The first few weeks and even months of sobriety is so exciting, new and refreshing. The feeling of getting clean successfully is quite overwhelming, in a good way, but can also be something to remain wary of. Overconfidence may be something to watch out for, as those who are overconfident can overstep their boundaries, fall back into old practices and relapse more rapidly than they ever thought. When referring to the pink cloud, it is associated with those who think they can hang out in old places or around drug or alcohol use and assume that they themselves will not use. It may sound unreal but let me tell you from experienceit is real. It’s okay to stay away from people or places because you think you might use. There is no shame in being honest with yourself.

3. Emotional and Physical Triggers

A trigger is simplistically described as something that can set you off. It may be a person, place, thing that reminds you or even drives you to use drugs or alcohol. It can be anything from seeing someone you used to get high or drunk with to even the feeling you get when listening to a song you enjoyed while using. Recognizing your triggers is a key part in your recovery, although they aren’t always easy to spot in the beginning. Some people have to immediately experience their trigger to know that they are dangerously close to a relapse. If you have attempted to get clean several times before, you may already have a general idea of what sets you off to relapse. Unfortunately for myself, that was the only way I discovered my triggers to begin with; relapsing because of them, over and over again.

Other causes for relapse can sometimes be identified as H.A.L.T hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Those feelings or states of mind are also closely associated with reasons of relapse and are extremely important to stay mindful of. Ridding the chaos in your life is a big change for many addicts but getting bored may also lead you to a relapse, so keep your interests peaked and engaged. Do not forget that addiction is a disease, just like diabetes or cancer. We take steps every day to avoid consequences caused by our disease even if they may not always be laid out in front of you.

 

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.

Preventing Relapses by Embracing Prolapses

March 6, 2015 by  
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Girl-DepressedWe all make mistakes and miss the mark at times. If we allow a single lapse to cause us to move backwards, relapse begins and can take over our lives. If we learn something from the lapse and it helps us to grow, we can instead experience a prolapse.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of a relapse from what we know about addictions. Someone who is addicted to a drug stops using the drug and then at some point starts using again. Often the person is more enslaved to the drug than they were before. This cycle is common in drug addiction, but it can also apply to any habit we attempt to change. The disorganized person fails to put away a day’s worth of mail and suddenly finds a month’s worth of mail scattered across the dining room table. The successful dieter eats cake at a birthday party and suddenly finds cake has become a daily indulgence. What if every lapse did not turn into a relapse? What if a lapse became an opportunity to grow and become stronger? This is the idea behind a prolapse.

A lapse turns into a prolapse when one is able to identify the triggers contributing to the lapse, increase outside support and create a viable plan for moving forward. The first of these three steps—identifying the triggers to the lapse—is a key step that’s often overlooked but all three steps are an important part of the process.

Discovering Your Triggers

Triggers can include events or circumstances, emotional or hormonal changes, anniversaries and the like. Triggers vary significantly from person to person and monitoring how someone else is triggered may help increase understanding of the concept—but it will not necessarily help one gain personal insight. Consider, for example, three former gamblers. The first ex-gambler played the lottery for the excitement. She is triggered when the jackpot gets over $100 million dollars. The second ex-gambler enjoyed going to the casino with friends. He is triggered when feeling lonely. The final former gambler enjoyed a wide range of gambling and gravitates to whatever is closest if she is short on cash. For her, being low on funds is a trigger. Each gambler had a different set of triggers for the same behavior. In each case, identifying the trigger for the unwanted behavior starts with understanding why the unwanted behavior started in the first place.

Once we understand why unwanted behaviors surface, we can then start looking for patterns. A smoker may notice that they lapse and have a cigarette right after work. Ending the work day is therefore a trigger. A former gossiper may notice they lapse when a certain person is in the office. That person’s presence then is a trigger. Finding patterns may mean taking a look back to when the habit was commonplace even though that may be a painful process.

Increasing Outside Support

Support can come from many different directions. Involving friends and family in the process is a great first step. This could include asking them to be mindful of what they bring into your presence, asking them to hold you accountable or helping you get to other resources. Many times the people who are closest to you know you best and also how to help. Other times friends and family are too emotionally involved to provide true support or have needs of their own to take care of. You may have to look elsewhere.

Outside support could alternatively include professional assistance. For serious or dangerous lapses, that could mean the assistance of a mental health or substance abuse professional. For other situations that could mean hiring a life coach or accountability coach. A dieter with frequent lapses may want to turn to a weight loss program with an accountability component such as Weight Watchers. Asking for professional help is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it demonstrates true courage.

Outside support may also come from setting up systems to slow or delay the negative behavior. For example, someone who struggles with overspending on their credit cards could freeze their cards in a block of ice, call the card company and request the card be placed on hold for a period of time, or cancel their cards altogether. It can be very valuable to take some time to consider what creative intervention sparked by a person, computer or circumstance may slow down impulsive behaviors.

Creating a Plan

Understanding triggers and finding support may help one feel good, but without a plan for moving forward, the first two steps will likely be ineffective. In the addictions field this plan is formally referred to as a relapse prevention plan. It should just as easily be called a prolapse plan. Such plans can be applied to any behavior we are trying to overcome – not just addictions.

A great plan begins with an acknowledgement of triggers and a list of how to reach identified supporters. The next major part of the plan is what can be done when the triggers have risen. This is a detailed list of realistic actions that can be taken during times of temptation. For the overeater it could mean drinking a bottle of water. The disorganized may plan for 10 minutes of uninterrupted cleaning. The lonely ex-gambler may call a sponsor or have coffee with a friend. These small steps are what make the prolapse come to life.

If Another Lapse Occurs

Lapses happen. When they do, start the prolapse process immediately. Identify the triggers. Write them down. If you are not able to identify a trigger, talk with a supporter for suggestions. Revisit your list of outside supporters. How can your support system be modified to be more effective? Finally, revisit your plan while keeping what you have learned in mind. Tweak the plan as needed and move forward.

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.

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.

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  
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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.

When Coping Mechanisms Become Addictions

July 29, 2014 by  
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Exercising can help you fight addiction and cope with problems

Exercising can help you fight addiction and cope with problems

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

No One Starts with the Intention of Forming a Habit

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

The True Cost of Addiction

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

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

Finding Healthier Alternatives

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

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

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

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

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

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

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

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.

I Need a Drink, My Child Needs a Mother

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Recovery Can Bring Back the Sunny Days

Recovery Can Bring Back the Sunny Days

Back when I was drinking all of the time, I saw things a bit differently than I do now. My son had food, a place to live, family, friends, and much more. He wanted for little and had everything that he needed…or so I thought.

I Was an Alcoholic: Our Life Then

I worked almost every day in order to provide for my son. We were on government welfare, and we were in an assisted living apartment complex. I made pretty good money, so there was no reason that I should have needed help paying my bills, but I just could not manage them on my own. Looking back, I now know why.

You see, I went out every night that I was not working. I would take my son to a trusted family member or friend, and then I would go out and get drunk. If I was not working at my bar job that night, I was still going there to drink. I went to the birthday parties at the bar, the friends’ nights out, and a lot of times, just to go there to hang out. I was an alcoholic, but it was worse than that. I was an alcoholic who felt the need to be around other people to drink and, because of my alcohol addiction, I was often using my bill money to pay for my drinks.

Looking Back on My Drinking Years

What I thought was good parenting, was a lie. I was lying to myself, to my friends, to my family, and even to my son. I provided everything that he needed physically, but I was not there for my son in the way that really matters. I was not tucking him in at night–something he loved. I was not taking him to the park, and he enjoyed that so much. I was not even really speaking to him, and I feel terrible about that.

Looking back, I would change it all. I realize now that I was neglecting him. His needs were not being met, and I was not being a mom who he could be proud of. Through it all, he loved me. I do not know why or how I ended up with such an amazing child, but I did, and I was missing it. I was missing all of the little things. I was missing the late night snuggles, the morning laughter, and everything else that comes along with having a child.

We Have Come So Far

We have come a long way since those times. I have realized the mistakes that I made during the years I was drinking. I now take him to the park, I take him for mommy-and-me days, and I listen to him as much as possible. I have other children now, and we are a happy family. I was lucky to find a husband who is there for me, who loves me unconditionally, and who supports me through all of my trials and errors.

My family was once broken, but we are mending. It is a struggle every single day, and I will not lie about that. Recovery is tough and I have relapsed on occasion, but my family is there to help pull me through it. To be honest, I hate that my life is still focused on alcohol. I hate that there are some days that I just want to sit down and drink a six pack. I believe that I will always have the urge to drink, but I now know that I have the power to overcome that urge. And for that, I am proud.

 

Cryste Harvey has battled addiction since the day she was born. From family issues to personal issues, she has seen many things, but she has taken the leap to be sober and to help inform others of the hardships, trials and tribulations associated with addiction. She is now a mother and wife, and she has vowed to help others on their road to recovery. With little to no help from her parents and siblings, she was the first person in her family to graduate high school and then continue on to college. She is currently working towards an English degree, and she hopes to become a published author.

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