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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dry Drunk Syndrome

How does it happen and what can we do about it

By Dan Stone, MSW, LCSW, LISAC

When I had a few years of recovery, my family and I went on a Caribbean cruise. One day I decided to catch some sun on one of the decks. The majority of the people were drinking but I was not triggered as I heard the servers announce special drink deals like “Bahama Mama.”
Wondering if anyone around me was sober, I noticed a man, nearby, who was drinking Ginger Ale. Somehow we started to converse. He stated he had 12 years of sobriety from alcohol and drugs, but did not participate in 12-step recovery. He had attended meetings when he first got sober but had not done so for many years. It was not his “thing.” The longer we talked the more uneasy I became. Sadly, this gentleman was filled with resentment and bile. He was quite miserable. It happened to have been his birthday and he was not a happy guy.

The Phenomena of Dry Drunk

I had heard about “dry drunk” at meetings and I was now face to face with a prime example. It made a powerful impression on me. Why get sober to be that unhappy? In preparing for this article, I started thinking about defining the phenomena of dry drunk. The word “dry” refers to abstinence from substance use, a person that has stopped using. “Drunk” implies behaviors and attitudes that occur when intoxicated. Therefore, “dry drunk” can be described as intoxication without alcohol or abstinence without recovery. Many recovering people are aware of an old expression, “What do you get if you sober up a horse thief? A sober horse thief.” You could add, “You still have to teach him how to stop stealing horses!”
This is an exaggeration but it helps us to understand that when people become sober, there is a need to make internal changes to avoid a relapse or to become like the man on the cruise. The syndrome, or group of symptoms, can be identified in two types of people.
Some addicts and alcoholics have achieved abstinence but with limited emotional and behavioral changes. They tend to stay fixed in early recovery. Another group is the people who were once active in their recovery and making progress, but have returned to rejecting help, self-pity, defensiveness, impulsivity, and resentment. We often see people, in this group, becoming compulsive in process addictions such as gambling, spending, internet, and sex. I remember knowing a man who had two years clean and sober. He was working out intensely and was looking very buff. Eventually, he started using IV steroids and this lead to a return to his drug of choice, IV heroin. Fortunately, he was able to make it back into recovery.

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

In early recovery we experience what has been described as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). I experienced the symptoms as difficulty sleeping restfully, short term memory loss, coordination problems, impaired focus and concentration, and mood swings. I had difficulty comprehending what I read. My forgetfulness was so bad that my wife told our counselor that I had Alzheimer’s disease. I had two minor accidents in the first month of sobriety that had freaked me out after 20 years of driving under the influence without an accident. My moods varied throughout the day between irritability and immense sadness. I later learned that my central nervous system was healing and the symptoms would lessen over time. This can become dangerous for early recovering people as the flood of feelings can be overwhelming. Unless this phenomenon is understood and treated, a person can fall into the category of dry drunk.
There are obvious and subtle traits that emerge in a person experiencing a dry drunk. The Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2001), on page 52, describes what can be referred to as untreated alcoholism. I believe these “bedevilments” can also refer to abstinent alcoholics and addicts who have stopped working a program of recovery.
“We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people.”
Recently, I was having a conversation with my sponsor about dry drunk. We were describing examples of behaviors that fit under this description. There are people who will work steps one and twelve and never address the other ten steps. They stay clean and sober and may perform service such as speaking at meetings and helping the newcomer. When you listen to them, it sounds like they are models of recovery. Yet, in other ways they may betray the lack of internal changes that appear in people who have become spiritually evolved and truly happy.                                                                                 

The Dry Drunk Syndrome

One prime example is “thirteen stepping”. Many of us are familiar with this behavior. A newcomer starts attending meetings. She or he may be approached by someone who has several years of sobriety. Under the guise of being helpful, they offer support. What starts out as innocent meetings over coffee sometimes become romantic relationships. After the initial courtship, the relationship may end. Often, the newcomer may relapse when feeling confused and heartbroken. This is a scenario that is unpleasant. There is an incongruity within people who articulate spiritual principles and behave otherwise. I wish I could say that this is a rare occurrence but I have observed this, repeatedly, over my years of recovery.
There are several observable traits that can be classified as dry drunk syndrome. Grandiosity can be manifested in behaving as if we are unique and the rules don’t apply to us. We may believe in our self importance and superiority. We may revert to self centeredness which can also manifest itself as self-pity.
Sometimes we may become judgmental, making harsh criticisms of others and engaging in cognitive distortions such as black and white thinking. This can manifest in making comparisons either favorably to ourselves or self condemning. One of my warning signs has been when I’m at a meeting and I hear the same story I’ve heard many times before. I find myself becoming impatient as I mentally criticize the person who is sharing. I believe I can label this as a form of intolerance. 

The Red Flags

Another red flag is complacency. I believe when we are in dry drunk behavior it can often lead to relapse. I know I am heading in the wrong direction when I start “blowing off” activities that are part of my positive self care. A warning sign is deciding not to go to meetings or other treatment activities, declining social interactions with friends or family, procrastination and wishful thinking or fantasizing ruminations. Thoughts of wanting to be happy without taking action or a sense of increasing inertia can be predictors of relapse. Indecision or paralysis can become more dominant in our thinking. I believe it is difficult to stay in one place when in recovery. Either we are moving forward or backwards. It is said that we are always either moving away from a drink or towards it. We need to continue to be introspective and self aware. I have revised a statement from the “Big Book”, “I know only a little”. I believe we have to take ourselves to higher levels of awareness and improvement. A structure that is not renovated and repaired will experience entropy, or a return to chaos. I have never been comfortable with the concept of maintenance. If I want to be happy, joyous and free, I need to learn more, do more and connect more both with others, myself and my higher power. 
Unless there is an intervention by ourselves or others who care, we start to experience discomfort on a mental, physical, cognitive and spiritual level. Some of us experience increasing mood swings, variability between irritability, anxiety, and sadness. We may start to think more pessimistically about the future. Our ability to balance past, present and future becomes unstable and we focus more on fear, remorse, and resentment. We start to regret the past and we wax nostalgic for the “good old days”. Sometimes, these thoughts take the form of euphoric recall. I have a built in forgetter in my brain. Without self inventory, I might start longing for the “summer of love” back in 1967 rather than remembering the pain of the Fall of 1987. Once again daydreaming and escapism start to insert themselves into my thinking.
Physically, I may start to neglect exercise, nutrition and rest. My immune system becomes less effective and I am prone to somatic complaints. Focus and concentration decrease. I become less effective in my work, making mistakes as I bemoan the way the powers that be screw things up and are insensitive to my needs. 

What Happened to My Spirituality?

Spiritually, I start to pull away from conscious contact and connections. I stop routines of prayer and meditation. I narrow my world view and question the existence of a power greater than myself. Cynicism gains a foothold and thoughts of being helpful to others get pushed out by my egocentrism. Ultimately, the warning signs of relapse escalate until the thought of returning to destructive behavior is enticing. Thoughts of being in recovery are slowly replaced with thoughts like, “This is too hard. Why me? And, “you would use if you had my problems.” I start to have thoughts of wanting to use or act out. Mental cravings become prevalent. I rationalize that “one won’t hurt”, “no one has to know, I’ll start over tomorrow, and I deserve this”. As I go through this process, my ability to intervene on my own behalf becomes less likely. I start to plan my relapse. 
Throughout this process, I am more vulnerable to high risk factors and situations. Negative feelings like resentment and shame rear their ugly heads. Positive feelings like reward and celebrating my successes may rationalize the use of substances or other behaviors. Physical discomfort or illness can make us more susceptible to thoughts of relieving distress in old ways. We experience problems with sleeping and look to unhealthy ways to fix the problems. We become secretive about pain medications and may begin to abuse them. We begin keeping secrets.
We start to test our control by placing ourselves in risky situations. We become like the jaywalker, putting ourselves in danger. We become more vulnerable to social pressure when around people who do not know we are in recovery. We want to belong and feel shame about being different. We reminisce about the ways we used to have fun using social lubricants to enjoy music, films, dancing, and sex. Our ability to cope with conflict becomes inappropriate. We start manifesting inappropriate responses in coping with conflict. We become quick to anger and argue in an extreme manner. We bring up irrelevancies when dealing with the here and now. We return to the use of bad language. We externalize blame and alienate our partners or significant others.

Are We all Subject to Dry Drunk Syndrome?

As I write this I realize how bleak this sounds. The consequences seem dire. Are we all subject to dry drunk syndrome? What can we do if we detect that we are pulling away from what we have worked so hard to achieve. Certainly corrective measures are necessary. I think that at any time we can be vulnerable to dry drunk behavior. If we stay in recovery long enough we are going to experience life on life’s terms. Loved ones become ill and die. Relationships can become troubled. We experience career setbacks. We find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to cope with loved ones who succumb to addiction. We may be troubled and unsure about the future.
I have to increase my attendance at meetings. Sometimes, I need to hear new voices and regain enthusiasm as I get a fresh perspective. I have found that meetings that are literature based are helpful. Also, hearing others talk about their experience with the steps can help me to regain focus. 
 I didn’t get sober by myself and I need others to confront me, in a loving way, when I stray from the path. If we have avoided working with a sponsor, it’s time to get one. If we have created distance from our current sponsor, we need to get reacquainted. Perhaps we have a sponsor that is unavailable or inaccessible. The sponsor may be caught in the same malaise that we are struggling with. It may be an opportunity to work with someone else. I want a sponsor and people in my support system, to confront me when I am engaging in self sabotage. But I want this to happen in a loving spirit. Many of us have experienced abuse and require more patience and understanding. When I was in early recovery, I attended a spiritual retreat for recovering men in New Jersey. The leader for the weekend was a priest who happened to be in recovery himself. I will never forget Father Jack saying, “If your sponsor never makes you feel uncomfortable, you better get a new sponsor”. 
I have always worked with sponsors. I enjoy the relationship and value the guidance and support. Several years ago I was traveling to the east coast for business. My most frequent stop was to New York City. I would fly in on a Sunday and return the following Saturday. I have an older daughter who lives in New Jersey and works in Manhattan. My routine was to call her to see if she was available for lunch or coffee. One week, I called after I arrived. Monday she didn’t get back to me. Tuesday and Wednesday were the same. I was now irritated and hurt that she didn’t return my call. My plan was to call her again and give her a piece of my mind. I had my guilt trip script worked out. 
Somehow I thought that maybe I should call my sponsor first. When I did so he said, “Why don’t you reconsider. If you tell her what you are prepared to say, you might create some bad feelings. Why don’t you try something like this instead?” “Hi, sweetheart. I called and didn’t hear from you. Is everything all right? Is there anything I can do to help you?” He also reminded me that she was pregnant at the time and had a toddler at home. She had a job that required working on deadlines. I followed his suggestion. She called back saying, “Dad, I’m really sorry. The baby has a cold and I’m all jammed up”. I was so grateful that I called him first. 
Along with meetings, we can get involved in service such as taking meetings to correctional institutions and treatment centers, reaching out to others, chairing meetings and other activities. Sponsorship has always been personally helpful. There have been times when I was preoccupied with my own problems and a sponsee called asking for support. When I focus on how I can help him, I forget about me for the moment. Participating in the fellowship aspect of recovery can help us to feel a part of what’s going on. 

Co-occurring issues

Many of us have co-occurring issues such as Post Acute Traumatic Disorder (PTSD), depression, Bipolar Disorder, anxiety and issues relating to our family of origin. Some of us have grown up in dysfunctional homes that have left lasting scars. At three years of sobriety I joined a therapy group. It was helpful in addressing anger issues related to my childhood experiences. There are some problems that cannot be treated at 12-step meetings. We may need professional help. Sometimes psychiatric care is necessary. Staying sober with untreated Bipolar Disorder can be difficult. Sometimes, the workplace can help by providing Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) on a confidential basis.
Spirituality is a valuable coping tool regardless of belief systems. Many people have confused spirituality with religion. It doesn’t have to include belief in a personal deity. There are many ways to explore our personal definitions of what is spiritual. Certainly, participation in religious practices has often helped. Yoga and meditation have proven helpful in helping us to get centered. Exercise and proper nutrition are also helpful.
In closing, it’s important to remember that dry drunk syndrome does not mean that we have to relapse. It can be corrected. In fact, when we have the awareness that we need to make changes and have the willingness to do so, we can experience our recoveries in ways that can be even more fulfilling. We can, then, experience life to the fullest.

Dan Stone, MSW, LCSW, LISAC is a member of the Clinical Team and Cottonwood Team since 1995. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Dan received a B.A. in History from Brooklyn College, and after a twenty-year career as a New York City schoolteacher got an MSW from New York University School of Social Work.  He is a certified thanatologist working in the area of death, dying and bereavement, and has received training and certification through the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Dan’s extensive training and professional experience is augmented by 22-years of personal experience with recovery from chemical dependency.

For more information on Cottonwood Tucson visit www.cottonwooddetucson.com or call 800 - 877-4520.

Staying Sober During the Holidays

If you or someone you love is in recovery, the following tips can reduce the stress of the holidays and help you or your loved one stay strong and sober while still enjoying the season.
The holidays are a time of celebration, filled with family get-togethers, social events and gift exchanges.  For those recovering from alcohol problems, however, the season may make refusing alcohol and staying sober more challenging than usual.
In addition to the abundance of alcohol, many people in recovery may feel more depressed or lonely during the holidays. Even if they are in a good place now, memories of past holidays spent drinking too much, fighting with family members or sitting alone in a dark room can come flooding back.

Stay connected. Make going to 12-step meetings a priority, even when you are really busy and feel you don’t have time. Put meetings on your schedule and plan other activities around them.

Have an escape plan by bringing your own vehicle or figure out the available public transportation near the holiday event that will enable you to leave if you are feeling tempted to drink or uncomfortable.

Ask another sober alcoholic to be “on call” for you to check in with during the event for additional support.

Let someone whom you trust at the holiday event know that you may need additional support during this occasion or time of year.

Find a tasty non-alcoholic beverage you can drink that will give you something to hold and may prevent people from offering you an alcoholic drink.

Acknowledge past mistakes and painful memories, and give yourself credit for moving forward. Again, staying connected with others who share similar experiences and are now sober can provide valuable support for everyone.

Choose your activities wisely. You don’t have to attend every party or event you’re invited to. Everyone is busy during the holidays, and people will understand if you have another obligation or can only stop by for a short time.

Get involved. Volunteer for a community organization, tackle a project you’ve been putting off or offer to help a friend or family member for an afternoon. When your mind and body are active and engaged, you’re unlikely to think about drinking or using drugs.

Take care of yourself.  Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get plenty of sleep. When you feel good and are well-rested, you are more likely to stick to your resolve and make smarter decisions—which only makes you feel even better about yourself.

If you’re going to an event where alcohol will be served, bring a friend or family member with you for support. He or she can keep your glass filled with non-alcoholic beverages, help you resist temptation and be your excuse if you need to leave suddenly.

Be prepared. If you know the host of a party well enough, ask if there will be non-alcoholic beverages available, or simply bring your own. If you feel pressured to explain why you are not drinking alcohol, you can say that you have to drive, do some work, or need to wake up early in the morning. But really, you don’t have to justify your choice of beverage to anyone.

Avoid even the smallest temptation. If there’s a toast, fill your glass with sparkling water or juice. You’ve worked too hard to get where you are – don’t risk it for a sip of champagne or wine.

Plan celebrations with sober friends. Many 12-step groups have holiday events. Invite your fellow members over for dinner or a potluck.

Be honest with loved ones if you are having a hard time and let them know how to support you.

Remember that “this too shall pass” and there is life after the holidays.

“HALT”: avoid being too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired before attending a social event.

For “mandatory” work events: show up early, make the rounds to all the key people (ie, staff, co-workers, boss, etc.) and once the room has filled, you can easily leave early.

“Book End” the party: go to a mutual help group meeting before and/or after

Be thankful — for your recovery, your support group, and everything else that has helped you get and stay sober. Let those who have helped you know how much you appreciate them. Remember, your recovery is one of the best gifts you can give your family.

Self-esteem check: Too low, too high or just right?

Self-esteem is shaped by your thoughts, relationships and experiences. Understand the ranges of self-esteem and the benefits of promoting healthy self-esteem — including mental well-being, assertiveness, resilience and more.

Self-esteem is your overall opinion of yourself — how you honestly feel about your abilities and limitations. When you have healthy self-esteem, you feel good about yourself and see yourself as deserving the respect of others. When you have low self-esteem, you put little value on your opinions and ideas. You might constantly worry that you aren’t “good enough.”
Discussions about self-esteem often are centered on children. However, many adults could benefit from improving their self-esteem. Here’s how to tell if your self-esteem needs a boost and why it’s important to develop a healthy sense of your own worth.

Factors that shape and influence self-esteem

  • Your own thoughts and perceptions
  • How other people react to you
  • Experiences at school, work and in the community
  • Illness, disability or injury
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Role and status in society

Relationships with those close to you — parents, siblings, peers, teachers and other important contacts — are especially important to your self-esteem. Many beliefs you hold about yourself today reflect messages you’ve received from these people over time. If your close relationships are strong and you receive generally positive feedback, you’re more likely to see yourself as worthwhile and have healthier self-esteem. If you receive mostly negative feedback and are often criticized, teased or devalued by others, you’re more likely to struggle with poor self-esteem.
Still, your own thoughts have perhaps the biggest impact on self-esteem — and these thoughts are within your control. If you tend to focus on your weaknesses or flaws, you can learn to reframe negative thoughts and focus instead on your positive qualities.

The ranges of self-esteem

Self-esteem tends to fluctuate over time, depending on your circumstances. It’s normal to go through times when you feel down — or especially good — about yourself. Generally, however, self-esteem stays in a range that reflects how you feel about yourself overall. Consider how to recognize the extremes, as well as a healthy balance somewhere in between:
Overly high self-esteem. If you regard yourself more highly than others do, you might have an unrealistically positive view of yourself. When you have an inflated sense of self-esteem, you often feel superior to those around you. Such feelings can lead you to become arrogant or self-indulgent and believe that you deserve special privileges.
Low self-esteem. When you have low or negative self-esteem, you put little value on your opinions and ideas. You focus on your perceived weaknesses and faults and give scant credit to your skills and assets. You believe that others are more capable or successful. You might be unable to accept compliments or positive feedback. You might fear failure, which can hold you back from succeeding at work or school.
Healthy self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem lies between these two extremes. It means you have a balanced, accurate view of yourself. For instance, you have a good opinion of your abilities but recognize your flaws. When you understand your own worth, you invite the respect of others.

Benefits of healthy self-esteem

When you value yourself and have good self-esteem, you feel secure and worthwhile and have generally positive relationships with others. You feel confident about your abilities and tend to do well at school or work. You’re also open to learning and feedback, which can help you acquire and master new skills.
With healthy self-esteem you’re:

  • Assertive in expressing your needs and opinions
  • Confident in your ability to make decisions
  • Able to form secure and honest relationships — and less likely to stay in unhealthy ones
  • Realistic in your expectations and less likely to be overcritical of yourself and others
  • More resilient and better able to weather stress and setbacks
  • Less likely to experience feelings such as hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt and shame
  • Less likely to develop mental health conditions, such as eating disorders, addictions, depression and anxiety
  • Self-esteem affects virtually every facet of your life. Maintaining a healthy, realistic view of yourself isn’t about blowing your own horn. It’s about learning to like and respect yourself — faults and all.  Source: Mayo Clinic

How to Get Santa to Deliver

My Australian client Meg was tired of her corporate job and wished she could create a layoff with a generous severance package. So for fun she wrote herself a severance letter offering her desired package, printed it on company stationery, and signed it from the CEO. This was her idea of creating a treasure map toward her ideal scenario.

The next day Meg’s supervisor called her into his office and told her he had some disturbing news. Someone had written Meg a severance letter and signed it as if from the CEO, but the CEO knew nothing about it. The supervisor produced the letter in question—the very document Meg had written herself and printed on the office printer. Apparently she had “accidentally” printed two copies and left one in the office printer.
Two weeks later Meg got a real severance letter from the CEO, with the terms she had written herself. Christmas came early this year.

As children, we all delighted to believe in Santa Claus. What a thrill to sit on his lap, look into his twinkling eyes, and tell him exactly what we wanted, trusting he would deliver! Then some buzzkill elder brother or cynical teacher told us that Santa was just a guy the department store hired to don a white beard and red suit and tell kids what they wanted to hear. End of childhood, beginning of cold hard reality.

Or is it?

Santa Claus is not a person, but he is a principle, a dynamic, a universal idea that goes far beyond a person. Santa Claus represents a benevolent universe that knows our needs and can and will deliver our good to us. Just as Jesus is a channel through which the Christ energy flows, and Buddha is the being through which Buddha Mind is expressed, Santa is a cultural form—a local permission slip through which we allow ourselves to receive the blessings we desire and deserve.

There are two ways of asking:  asking from need and asking from fulfillment. Hardly anyone asks from fulfillment because we usually indentify with need. “I am lacking. I want this and I don’t have it. I am empty and I need the universe to fill in the blank.” But the results we get depend on how we ask.  Meg’s self-created layoff letter is a clever example of asking from fulfillment. She went to the place she wanted to go to even before it showed up. Her sense of having what she wanted was stronger than not having what she wanted. She affirmed the solution rather than the problem.

Many people are familiar with the science fiction theme of parallel realities. But the principle is more science than fiction.  There are an infinite number of realities occurring simultaneously.  Jesus stated this in the language of his time:  “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.”  Anything that has existed, will exist, or could exist, already exists.  So even while you experience a lack of something in one reality, in another reality that lack has already been fulfilled. More precisely, in that reality, there has never been a lack. There is always and only fulfillment.

The key to manifestation is to go to the reality where fulfillment already exists even before you see the evidence in the realm of the five senses. This is the technique that makes all visionaries, inventors, and creators successful. The invention is already real to them in their mind or imagination, and they bring it to life. The genius scientist Nikola Tesla recounted that all of the ideas for his world-changing inventions came to him in mystical flashes of insight. He found entrĂ©e to the mansion where they already lived, and then fleshed them out in the world.  Steven Spielberg said, “Once a month the sky falls on my head, I come to and I see another movie I want to make.”  The movie is already a reality. Spielberg’s job as director is to deliver it to the world.

You, too, have access to fabulously creative and successful ideas that can and will change your life and the world. They are already real and in a particular reality, already accomplished. You may not affect the world like Tesla or Spielberg, but you have your own sphere of influence it is your destiny to touch. Mothers, waitresses, and van drivers sometimes bring more blessing and healing to the world in their own quiet ways than moguls who move lots of money and people around, but are devoid of happiness.
This holiday season you can get Santa to deliver. Sure, you can manifest stuff, but why not manifest the most valuable present of all: inner peace. When you are at peace with yourself, you bring healing to everyone you meet. Peace is not something you import from the outside. It is an inner state that you claim.  Sort of like writing yourself a love letter from the universe and then discovering the CEO has already signed it.

Alan Cohen is the author of many popular inspirational books, including Enough Already: The Power of Radical Contentment.  If you would like to become a professional life coach or incorporate life coaching skills in your career, Alan’s celebrated Life Coach Training program begins January 1, 2014. 
For more information about this program, Alan’s other books, free daily inspirational quotes, and his weekly radio show, visit www.alancohen.com, email info@alancohen.com, or phone (808) 572-0001.

For me, God Knows Best

As I reflect on the last 12 months — of course life brought many changes, some easy, others difficult. Yet through all the ups and downs, the gains and the losses, the big guy I connect with — God, always allows me the gift of learning and I hope it never stops.  This is but a few of my lessons:
  • I’m grateful for the peaks and valleys I have traveled so far
  • True relationships survive the storms when graced with willingness & forgiveness
  • Doors close – others open — and I do not know what is next
  • I am not afraid to ask for help
  • Learning to be good to myself
  • If I didn’t make mistakes, would I ever learn?
  • My wonderful friends and colleagues are blessings
  • I’m constantly grateful for my sobriety
  • It ain’t all about me
  • When the pain is great, the lessons are unforgettable 
  • It’s never a good idea to believe everything I think
  • Standing in my truth is empowering - as long as I don’t go backwards
  • God’s plan is far superior  - to anything I think I want
  • If you are in my life and I am in yours - Thank You 

From all of us at Together AZ and the Art of Recovery we wish you happiness, 
health and healing for the coming year. 

Detaching From Emotional Negativity

By Elisabeth Davies, MC

Have you ever wondered, “Why do I feel so negative?
All of us have felt negative emotions at some time, or some point in our life. Emotions are created from thoughts. It is estimated that a typical human being has an average of 12,000 to 50,000 thoughts per day.
Negative thoughts bring forth negative emotions, and positive thoughts invoke positive emotions. Thoughts are generated from two primary sources, our beliefs and external influences.
Fortunately, you can control which thoughts you focus on. As thoughts arise, you can pay attention to them and grow the emotions they produce, or you can distract yourself by focusing on something else. Longstanding negative thoughts lead to depression and mood disorders. Longstanding positive thoughts lead to contentment and enjoyment.

An attachment to a thought is formed from repeatedly giving a thought your attention. This attachment, if repeated long enough, can become a belief. Beliefs drive your behavior and behaviors create your life.

Five thoughts toxic to emotions and mental health:
Hatred -  extreme hostility, or  desire for vengeance
Judgment - critical or fault-finding
Dishonesty - disposition to lie, cheat, or steal
Covetousness -  desiring something with no regard for the rights of others
Scarcity - deficiency or having less than what is deemed important

Ruminating on any of the above thoughts creates negative energy in your mind and adversely affects your mental health and well being. Having thoughts about the past that invoke toxic emotions is an indication that you have stored emotional negativity in your body.

Harmonizing energy
Your breath, thoughts, emotions, memories, and beliefs are all a part of this energy system. Holding your breath suppresses emotion and the flow of energy in our body. If done often enough, it can lead to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. * Whereas full deep breathing dislodges and releases stored emotion. It is important that you do not suppress (cover up feelings) or repress (block feelings) emotions if you want to be mentally healthy. Having a healthy outlet, such as journaling, talking to someone you trust, or expressing emotions through a creative outlet are a few ways to let out stored feelings.

Detach from toxic emotions
Release negative thoughts each day. Take in a deep breath, expanding oxygen to your lower abdomen. Slowly exhale and say in your mind, “I release all negative thoughts and emotions from my being.” Do this for a minimum of 45-60 seconds to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response). This releases the negative energy and stress built up from toxic thoughts.

Protect yourself from the negativity of others. Before you interact with negative people, close your eyes. Bring your attention to the coccyx (base of your spine). Focus on bringing up your breath from this area. This Life Force energy is the essence of the Creator/Source of Life. Slowly inhale this energy up from the tip of your spine to the tip of your head. You may visualize this energy as a pure light or color. Slowly exhale and imagine this Life Force energy expanding in your being. Repeat this breathing exercise for a minimum of 60 seconds or until you can visualize this Life Force energy expanding in you and moving out past your physical space, until you can visualize yourself encased in this energy. This energy acts as a protective barrier from others negativity and toxic energy.

Snip the cords of negative energy. If you are interacting with others and your mood changes, their energy has penetrated your being. This is fine if their energy is positive and it uplifts your mood. If their words (energy) are negative and your mood declines, snip this cord of negative energy by forming scissors with the index and middle finger of your hand. Take your hand and move it in a semi-circle around the front of your mid-section and quickly open and close your two fingers together, like scissors cutting the cords of negativity. Exhale the negative energy that has been absorbed. This is a literal action that reinforces your intention to detach from unhealthy forces in your environment.

Forgive the past. Forgiving yourself and others releases negative energy attached to the memory of a “wrong” that you did, or that someone committed against you. Each time you recall a memory of a “wrong” say to that thought, “I unconditionally forgive myself for___________(wrongful act),” or “I unconditionally forgive  _________(name of the person who wronged you) for saying or doing_________ (the act).” Forgiveness neutralizes our emotions and frees us to be present for new experiences that are presented each day. If you have truly forgiven, this will be evidenced when you recall the “wrong” memory and no negative emotion (hurt, anger, guilt, regret, or shame) is invoked.

Practice contented thinking. Happiness (positive emotion) comes from our own contented thinking. When we focus on what is good enough in our life on a daily basis, this grows contented thinking. Begin each day with noticing at least 10 things in your life you are grateful for. Say ‘Thank-You” for these things. This expands positive emotion in your energy system, flourishing mental health and wellbeing.

Detaching from emotional negativity not only enhances your emotional health, it also enhances the people you interact with by emitting positive energy for them to absorb.
Be mindful of the energy that you emit towards the people around you. The people you come into contact with will be able to feel it and their mood will be altered accordingly.
Always look for the beauty in life so that you can emanate positive energy.

Elisabeth Davies, MC is an author and counselor. She founded Bright Alternatives Counseling and has counseled thousands of clients struggling with addictions, depression, trauma, anxiety, self-esteem and relationship issues. She is also the creator of Good Things Emotional Healing cards©, which reinforce healthy thoughts and beliefs.  Elisabeth is the author of ‘Good Things Emotional Healing Journal: Addiction.’ It is available online, at her website, or on Amazon. Reach her at  (602) 478-6332 or Elisabeth@GoodThingsEmotionalHealing.com or visit www.GoodThingsEmotionalHealing.com

*Collinge, William PhD Recovering From Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Guide to Self-Empowerment

Knowing How to Disagree

Somewhere, while we’re growing up, we learn right vs. wrong. This became the battle ground of most of our arguments; who’s right — who’s wrong. Some of us need to be right, so we will argue and fight with someone else, as if they are trying to control us and make us wrong. We must win, ‘to be right.’ All the while, in order “to be right”, the other person must be made “wrong.” When I argue to be right and argue to make you wrong, I’m actually attempting to win the outcome; to receive the trophy of right. 

How We Argue

Out of our addictions, we have a core understanding of how we argue based on our view of right and wrong. Not all of us fight to be right, some of us actually argue to “not be wrong.” I can be the person who has to be right or I can be the person who fights not to be wrong. The person wanting not to be wrong appears to be trying to control, when in reality, the fear of being wrong is greater that the need to be right. 
When observed, both argue the same except the person who needs to be right has to make the other wrong. The person who is fearful of being wrong, needs to make the other wrong and therefore, it’s nearly impossible to resolve the conflict. To end the argument one simply walks away into isolation and avoidance only to repeat it all again another day. We may change and have a different story to argue about, but it will end with the same result. We can do this for years and never know how to resolve conflicts with others. This can be extremely damaging to a relationship when we don’t know how to disagree.

Resolving the View of My Story

The reality is most arguments are an attempt to resolve a different view of the story we know. We need to convince the other of the rightness of my view; my story. Before we learned right and wrong, we actually were right and learning. We could make a mistake and learn from it. We were right and were given a chance to express what we thought and to have the opportunity to learn a better way, a different way or simply another way. 
Usually around five or six years old, we begin to learn our negative emotions such as fear and the fear to be wrong. Who among us today has the intent to be wrong with relationships? Every discussion we have with another is started with the feeling of being right. We share our thoughts and our view. We express our thoughts with our words as right as we believe them to be. When the other person has a different view and it’s expressed, a feeling of wrong can begin. For years, we’ve been practicing a need to be right or a need not to be wrong and we bring this need into our relationships with others. We will do it this way for years without a method to resolve.

Learning and Validating creates Relational Intimacy 

Each of us has life experiences that gave us impressions, words, thoughts, feelings, needs and wants. We have learned how to express ourselves from these life experiences. When someone shares their thought and we define that thought as incorrect, we are actually violating the person. When someone shares their thought and we learn more of how they came to their view, then we validate the person. 
What would happen in an argument if we choose rather than being right or wrong, we choose to be right or learning? By allowing the other person to be right, allows me the opportunity to ‘learn’ their view. By doing so, we share intimacy. 
When I make someone wrong they pull back away, when we make someone right, they move towards intimacy. If all we do is argue the story, intimacy will decrease. To argue the story is a fight of right and wrong. To be relational, we argue to make the other right by learning who they are. 
Taking time to learn some ones impressions, words, thoughts, feelings, needs and wants is taking the time to develop healthy intimacy. When we argue only to be right or make the other wrong, we fail our relationships. We each have a choice to be right, to not be wrong or to let the other be right. If one is talking and one is listening, then the listener validates what is shared and allows the other to be right. We each have a right to what we think, and we each must allow the other this truth. No one starts a conversation with the intent to be wrong and no one has intimacy with someone who believes it’s their responsibility to tell us we’re wrong. I’m right and I’m learning.

Michael is the co-founder and Clinical Director of North Pointe Counseling Center. Michael holds a Master of Arts in Professional Counseling, and a Bachelor of Science in Electronic Engineering and Technologies. Visit www.npccaz.com/

The Greatest Gift

You find the greatest gifts between the words in the silence and in the midst of a lightening stroke of awareness. It’s between the aisles at Costco and in the parking lot at Toys R Us. It’s in that moment that you realize that nothing you can buy; nothing material you can touch matters.

Perhaps it’s having passed the speed limit in age. Or it could be having, as we all have, life altering challenges to over come, or maybe it’s simply sagey wisdom arriving. However, my sense of value and reverence for the gifts in my life, have changed dramatically. I am always reminded about what matters during the holidays. It’s so good to know the blessings in my life are not at Macy’s, Needless Mark-up or even my favorite Internet shops. They cost nothing and they are much closer to home.

Consider these:

Helen Keller once said…Tolerance or acceptance is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle. Life requires this balance and mastery. When you are in this balance, it is as if you are holding, with widely outstretched arms, both ends of this or that, good or bad, love or hate, right or wrong and peacefully being not attached or too focused on either. That’s — an amazing gift of spirit…called grace.
Another fine gift is a willingness to seek out and embrace the truth. Yes, I can see the ways that you were broken, I too am broken, and I thank you for that gift. It teaches me patience, forgiveness and unconditional love. Here is what I am committed to do about my flaw and how can I support you in healing yours? The truth that we make mistakes, are not perfect and never will be is liberating. However, how you deal with these discoveries, is what this game is about. Will you package them up in bows and pretend no one notices?

Will you lie about them, project the responsibility for them on to someone else or will you respond with, “ I apologize. I was wrong and I intend to work on that for myself.”
Some people call me intense. Go figure. Okay so they are right. Most of my clients are referrals who often arrive having been cautioned that I am direct. I admit that is true. I don’t think people pay good money and come to therapy to visit a blank wall or a person who has not done enough healing work to get in the soup with them. If they are going to be courageous and vulnerable, then so too am I. I have deep passion and commitment. I have righteous indignation. Injustice, the misuse of power and prejudice wrap me around an axle. The greatest gift I ever got was the day a client standing in the door way, as she was leaving, turned around and flipped me off with a intensely delivered middle finger. She said, “Nobody ever dared to get to me like that…thanks. See you next week.”
Life is about passion. It’s about not being concerned about what everyone else thinks or who he or she wants you to be. It is about getting all in or you miss the gifts. Unless you are all in, you also deprive the ones you love from the gifts you came here to give them. You can say it in a million ways: Live Loud, Get Present, Show Up, Get all in… but it all boils down to a couple of things. Live your life with purpose and create a life of meaning and passion.

Rob Lowe will tell you, “Sobriety was the greatest gift I ever gave myself. I don’t put it on a platform. I don’t campaign about it. It’s just something that works for me. It enabled me to really connect with another human being - my wife, Sheryl - which I was never able to do before.” True connection with one’s self and another human being is a gift that endures lifetime after lifetime and changes the very fabric of our soul. It’s as important as air and we can’t survive without it. It’s a major part of what we came here to do. No more I love you see you in six months. Deep meaningful connection to others is as important as the air we breathe.
So, before you bustle off to that family dinner you moan about, take a minute to remind yourself, that each person around the table, enjoyable and annoying, is on a path just like you and either consciously or unconsciously, they have chosen bravely to stay and go the distance. They are, yes each and every one of them, is there to teach you something. Perhaps it is patience, acceptance, forgiveness, ego or love. They are the gifts your spirit has called to you so that YOU can find out who YOU really are. And if you want the gift, you don’t get to leave the party before it arrives.

From all of us… a heartfelt Happy Holiday. After all, you are the gifts from which we learn. So, thank you and have that second slice of pie.

Dr. Evan is a life/soul coach in Arizona working with individuals, couples and corporations. For more information 602-997-1200, email drdbe@attglobal.net or visit www.DrDinaEvan.com.