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  
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.

The Importance of Making and Keeping a Schedule in Early Recovery

September 3, 2014 by  
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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.

 

The Power of Thought Stopping

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

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Proactively stop negative thoughts and follow them with distracting actions

Proactively stop negative thoughts and follow them with distracting actions

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

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

Getting Started on Thought Stopping

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

Thought Replacement

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

Real Life Application of Thought Stopping

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

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

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

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

Myths that Interfere with Thought Stopping

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

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

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

Moving Forward

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

 

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

Sobriety from Serenity, Not Salary

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

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You Can Achieve Serenity with Sober Recovery

You Can Achieve Serenity with Sober Recovery

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

The Drive to Succeed Can Exert Pressure

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

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

Trying to Buy Happiness

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

A Noisy Mind Can Lead to Greater Stress

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

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

There Has to Be More to Life

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

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

Achieving Serenity in Sobriety

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Perks of Being a Recovering Addict

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

Daily reminders to help you stay on the road to recovery

Daily reminders to help you stay on the road to recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

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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