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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Monday, March 10, 2014

Finding Purpose and Meaning through SPIRIT: A Somatic Equine Workshop Experience

By Colleen DeRango, MA, LISAC, SEP, The Meadows

As I turn off Highway 60, and follow the bumpy gravel road with its winding twists and turns, I feel as if I am entering an enchanted desert valley. The railroad trestle anchored on each side by the rustic red cliffs feels like a gateway of sorts; emotionally and physically, where one experiences the sensation of leaving one world, and entering another. As I drive through the wash and turn the corner onto Rancho Rio Bonita — the ranch — I feel what our clients describe as “the subtle shift into calm.” The glowing campfire in the distance, moonlit in the early morning hours, encourages a welcome comfort.
One of my favorite moments is when clients first arrive at this magical place. I love watching their eyes widen in wonder, their breathing shift, their lips form into a smile, and often times tear-filled eyes, followed usually by a moment or two of silence. The words that are often expressed are along the lines of: “This is so beautiful; I can heal here.” Each time this happens, I look at the long row of stalls, each housing a different color and breed of horse; the working round-pen near the tree that serves as an umbrella to the table, chairs and campfire beneath; the two large pastures in the distance filled with horses of the ranch owners; and even further away the cattle-working round-pen and arena; all surrounded by the desert mountains, cliffs, and Hassayampa River giving one the sense that “the container is big enough” for healing to occur.

The Workshop

Spirit: A Somatic Equine Workshop uniquely interweaves The Meadows Model, Somatic Experiencing® (SE), mindfulness and natural horsemanship to create the space for healing to happen. Integrating experiential activities with the most gifted clinicians of all, horses, fosters self-esteem, boundaries, spontaneity, and perhaps most importantly, nervous system regulation. The Spirit Workshop was created exclusively for a small group of no more than five participants, and is a five-day outdoor experience facilitated by me, a seasoned therapist at The Meadows and Somatic Experiencing practitioner, along with an uncommon and highly-skilled horseman/trainer, our local Buddy Uldrikson, who is also trained in SE.
It’s challenging to try to describe what the Spirit Workshop is about partly because it is an “experiencing of” versus a “description about.”
The human mind is always thinking, thinking, thinking, and it even wants to keep thinking in the round-pen with a horse; until “coaxed” into not thinking and just allowed to “be.” This experience of being, and being in connection with another “Being” which happens to be a 1,200 pound four-legged teacher often feels as if a miracle has taken place. Yet, it isn’t a miracle, rather, it is just the experiencing of “presence;” presence in communion, or true connection with another.

Pathways to Healing

Research has proven that having the ability to be fully present in one’s body is one of the pathways to trauma healing. Trauma healing is what The Meadows does really well. More than 35 years ago Pia Mellody’s (Senior Clinical Advisor at The Meadows) genius, along with that of a few gifted counselors, developed The Meadows Model. This therapeutic model views addictions, anxiety and depression through the lens of trauma. As counselors at The Meadows, we are fortunate because we have access to our Senior Fellows including Peter Levine, Ph.D., Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, and Dr. Shelley Uram, all of whom are world-renowned in understanding Trauma, Trauma Healing, and Trauma and the Brain. Peter Levine is the originator and developer of Somatic Experiencing, one of the most profound methods used in trauma healing, and the one we facilitate in our Spirit workshop.
When I first heard Dr. Levine say, “trauma is in the body, not in the event,” it changed my life as a therapist forever. There was a reason why my clients couldn’t “just get over it” and we found the answer in the new research of the brain. Analysis was no longer the approach to healing trauma; rather new methodologies aimed at nervous system regulation were the key.
The Spirit Workshop begins with mindfulness exercises in support of people increasing their ability to be fully present with themselves, their sensations, and their sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Once this is achieved, it becomes the pathway to their participating in SE while learning basic natural horsemanship skill-sets with a horse of their choosing. Our entire focus is on supporting clients to “get out of their heads” and “thinking” and into their “felt-sense” while working with their horse. Buddy often says: “The horse gives you what you need, not necessarily what you want” and for our clients, it is the somatic experience of moving through these “stuck” places that is transformative.

Clients often experience what we call a “pendulation” or movement back and forth between activating senses, and calming senses; and are encouraged to stay in touch with these shifting sensations, versus “thinking.” So, we don’t ask “why?” or “what is that about?” or “what does that remind you of?” Rather, we ask questions like “where do you notice that sensation in your body?” and “what does it feel like?” It truly is “bottom up therapy” versus “top down.” And, as Peter Levine also shared: “When the body shifts, the mind takes on new meaning.” Once a client stops “thinking” and their ability to “track” sensations broadens, emotions often percolate up and we support them in “allowing them to flow versus brace against them.” What is consistently fascinating and endearing is that as the client gets more in touch and is congruent with what they are sensing and feeling, their horse seems to sense this and responds in quite astounding ways; ways that both Buddy and I have looked on in amazement, as at times, their horse appears to “nurture their partner’s soul” with their subtle connective responses.

My absolute favorite part happens toward the end of the workshop. By this time, most clients are more fully present in their bodies and “attuned” with their partnering horse. With skills-set in place we invite them to create a round-pen demonstration. They may do something as simple as have their horse walk a circle, trot a circle, yield his hind-quarters and then front-quarters, come to a stop and back up. The amazing part is that although bumpy at times, it is usually done with such fluidity of motion and connection it truly looks like you are witnessing a dance of shared grace. The client’s hands become the unspoken language, as pressure and release become the “please and thank you” with their horse. I cherish witnessing their final dance step; the one where the client and their horse “meet in the middle;” as a gentle hand makes contact with the more gentle and welcoming forehead; where softness is revealed and exchanged. When this occurs, there is this profound stillness that takes place; it is as if what is happening inside the round- pen in this intimate partnering expands to envelope all of us in this sacred space, where the sensation of true healing is felt by all. It’s a transformation back into what has always been there deep within; one’s true essence of who they really are. I have no doubt at all that the fostering of this “emergence of essence” actually comes from the soul of the horse.

One of our Spirit Workshop participants commented: “The workshop facilitators presented challenges and elicited emotions I may not have otherwise accessed. Without ever mounting a horse, I felt connected to them, myself, and nature in a way I hadn’t for some time. The horse represented struggles in my life and inspired me to stretch.

These horses and facilitators helped me connect to my higher self, providing the guidance and the healing I sought in an organic way.” Buddy and I often talk about how it truly feels like a privilege to be a small part of this jump-start of healing.

Collen DeRango is an equine therapist at The Meadows Wickenburg and a facilitator of the Spirit: A Somatic Equine Workshop. Combining The Meadows Model, Somatic Experiencing® (SE), mindfulness, and natural horsemanship, this cutting-edge workshop allows for a distinct healing experience. The program consists of experiential activities with horses addressing self-esteem, boundaries, honoring reality, wants and needs, emotional regulation, and spontaneity.
Equine Therapy is generally used during the middle and late phases of treatment, as well as in the Relapse Prevention phase. There is no horsemanship required to participate, as there is no riding involved. Following the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) methodologies, both therapists and clients can reach new heights of awareness and growth.
Equine Therapy is often noted as a highlight of the treatment program. To learn more about this effective and popular program, contact The Meadows at 800-244-4949 or visit www.themeadows.com.


Commentary: What You Need to Know About Heroin Addiction

By Dr. Barbara Krantz


philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death has focused attention on heroin addiction. Unfortunately, heroin addiction is on the rise from teens to older adults.

Heroin Addiction doesn’t Discriminate
Individuals from every socioeconomic background have access to the drug because it’s cheap and easy to get. According to SAMHSA, in 2011, 4.2 million people age 12 and older used heroin at least once in their lifetime, and 23 percent became dependent.

Although heroin addicts are treated alongside those addicted to alcohol and other drugs, heroin addiction can be especially difficult to treat because of the euphoria it produces in the brain. Heroin can reach the brain more quickly than other drugs — depending on how it’s administered. For example, injecting it intravenously can actually speed up the process of becoming addicted.
For this reason, we do often recommend that heroin addicts stay in treatment for at least 60 days. We find that individuals addicted to heroin need extensive time in treatment because of how much the drug impacts their brain and behavior. Cravings can be intense and they need to relearn how to deal with life stressors and be able to use non-chemical coping skills.

One of the challenges for many recovering addicts — especially those with a preference for opiates — is that painkillers prescribed for a legitimate reason are addictive and lead many people to heroin. If a doctor is unaware of a patient’s history of addiction or the patient is unaware of the addictive nature of prescription painkillers — a dangerous flame is ignited. In some cases, patients don’t have a history of addiction, but their painkiller use eventually becomes abuse and spirals into heroin addiction.
In the case of a relapse, as was the situation with Mr. Hoffman, we believe this process happens even before someone picks up a drink or a drug again. They begin to fall back into unhealthy behavior such as not reaching out for help when dealing with stress, isolating themselves and not being accountable to friends and family. Addiction is a chronic disease and is therefore encoded on their brain. Therefore, once unhealthy behavior starts again there is a tendency to slip right back into old destructive familiar ways.
It’s important to understand that relapse isn’t synonymous with failure. Just like any other chronic illness – people who relapse can recognize that they need help and get the support they need to get back on the path to sobriety. A person has to be actively involved in order to achieve a full recovery.

The pain of addiction doesn’t just impact the individual. Families also suffer extensively. Some family members develop anxiety, depression or hypertension, for example, in response to being with the addict.
Families require treatment separately from their addicted loved one, which is an important part of any treatment center experience. At Caron Renaissance, for example, we have a specialized family restructuring program where families attend their own intensive treatment program.
For those families who are grappling with heroin or other addictions, I offer the following recommendations:
Learn about the disease of addiction. Many family members think, “If only they had loved me more, they wouldn’t have gotten addicted.” That’s not true. You need to understand that addiction is a disease and that it affects you as a family member. Whether or not your loved one is ready to accept help – I want to encourage you to practice a healthy recovery program yourself, whether through Al-Anon or a family support group.

Know what is in your power to control. You can’t control another person; you only have control over yourself. Family members who want to talk to their addicted loved one could use this type of language: “You don’t look well. I’m worried about you. There’s a lot more stress in your life right now because of x, y, and z. Do you have a professional you can talk to or would you be open to attending a 12-step meeting?” You can’t force an adult into treatment but you can stage an intervention in which friends and family express their concerns and feelings to the addict in a loving way.
Learn how to appropriately set boundaries. Families often want to keep a loved one close to them because they feel like they can keep an eye on the individual and help to ensure their safety. However, that behavior frequently enables the addict to continue his or her use. It may seem counter intuitive, but many families have to enforce difficult consequences such as asking the addict to leave the house.

Dr. Barbara Krantz is the Medical Director at the Hanley Center.

Ruled by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

“I couldn’t do anything without rituals. They invaded every aspect of my life. Counting really bogged me down. I would wash my hair three times as opposed to once because three was a good luck number and one wasn’t. It took me longer to read because I’d count the lines in a paragraph. When I set my alarm at night, I had to set it to a number that wouldn’t add up to a ’bad’ number.”
“I knew the rituals didn’t make sense, and I was deeply ashamed of them, but I couldn’t seem to overcome them until I had therapy.”
“Getting dressed in the morning was tough, because I had a routine, and if I didn’t follow the routine, I’d get anxious and would have to get dressed again. I always worried that if I didn’t do something, my parents were going to die. I’d have these terrible thoughts of harming my parents. That was completely irrational, but the thoughts triggered more anxiety and more senseless behavior. Because of the time I spent on rituals, I was unable to do a lot of things that were important to me.”
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have persistent, upsetting thoughts (obsessions) and use rituals (compulsions) to control the anxiety these thoughts produce. Most of the time, the rituals end up controlling them.
For example, if people are obsessed with germs or dirt, they may develop a compulsion to wash their hands over and over again. If they develop an obsession with intruders, they may lock and relock their doors many times before going to bed. Being afraid of social embarrassment may prompt people with OCD to comb their hair compulsively in front of a mirror-sometimes they get “caught” in the mirror and can’t move away from it. Performing such rituals is not pleasurable. At best, it produces temporary relief from the anxiety created by obsessive thoughts.
Other common rituals are a need to repeatedly check things, touch things (especially in a particular sequence), or count things. Some common obsessions include having frequent thoughts of violence and harming loved ones, persistently thinking about performing sexual acts the person dislikes, or having thoughts that are prohibited by religious beliefs. People with OCD may also be preoccupied with order and symmetry, have difficulty throwing things out, or hoard unneeded items.
Healthy people also have rituals, such as checking to see if the stove is off several times before leaving the house. The difference is that people with OCD perform their rituals even though doing so interferes with daily life and they find the repetition distressing. Although most adults with OCD recognize that what they are doing is senseless, some adults and most children may not realize that their behavior is out of the ordinary.
OCD affects about 2.2 million American adults, and the problem can be accompanied by eating disorders, other anxiety disorders, or depression. It strikes men and women in roughly equal numbers and usually appears in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. One-third of adults with OCD develop symptoms as children, and research indicates that OCD might run in families.
The course of the disease is quite varied. Symptoms may come and go, ease over time, or get worse. If OCD becomes severe, it can keep a person from working or carrying out normal responsibilities at home. People with OCD may try to help themselves by avoiding situations that trigger their obsessions, or they may use alcohol or drugs to calm themselves.
OCD usually responds well to treatment with certain medications and/or exposure-based psychotherapy, in which people face situations that cause fear or anxiety and become less sensitive (desensitized) to them. NIMH is supporting research into new treatment approaches for people whose OCD does not respond well to the usual therapies. These approaches include combination and augmentation (add-on) treatments, as well as modern techniques such as deep brain stimulation.

For information visit http://www.nimh.nih.gov/ (National Institute on Mental Health)

Standing on the Shoulders of GIANTS

A student told her spiritual teacher that she was suffering under “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” quoting Shakespeare’s famous verse from Hamlet. The teacher looked her piercingly in the eyes and asked, “Are you so sure that fortune is outrageous and it must bear slings and arrows?” 
The stunned woman replied, “But Shakespeare was a genius. He had penetrating insights into the nature of life.”

“Maybe life in his time,” the teacher said. “But that time is not this time.  “We are moving from an old paradigm of outrageous fortune to a new one of blessed fortune. If you wish to dwell in the new paradigm, you will have to let go of Shakespeare’s words. Are you ready?  Are you willing?”
Paradigms work for the moments they serve, but then they evolve to more expansive domains. Every belief system gives way to a greater one. Even science, which seems “solid,” is constantly casting aside old notions in favor of new ones. Sir James Jeans noted, “Science should give up on making pronouncements. The river of truth has often turned back upon itself.”
The teachers and methods that once guided you, the ones that changed and saved your life, the ones that seemed solid as steel, may no longer be appropriate for you.  To the ego, that suggestion is quite scary. But, as Mahatma Gandhi declared, “I am committed to truth, not consistency.”  Just because a pathway healed or saved you at one time, does not mean it will serve you in the same way at this time.  This does not make the system, the people who represent it, or related experiences wrong. It just makes them outdated. For you, at least. The teacher or system may be totally valid for those who use it now. But you have a different path, and you must be true to it. 

Let’s take some beliefs and teachings that many of us have embraced on the spiritual path, and hold them up to the light to see if they still work for us. Karma, for example. Is it the ultimate truth, or does the principle of grace supersede it?  The religion you were brought up in—does it uplift you now, or does it bind you?   Following an external guru—it works for many, but does it work for you?  The notions of having to work to earn a living; or suffer to become free; or to have to walk through hell to earn heaven; or the belief that pain buys you anything worthwhile; or that sacrifice is required; or that one person’s self-diminishment results in another’s strengthening; or that one person’s death gives another life.  And do we really reincarnate in a linear fashion, or might we be One Mind living all lives simultaneously? 

My mentor once advised, “You must devour your teacher. You must go beyond what your teacher taught you.” We must honor the giants who have helped us, but ultimately we must stand on their shoulders. Those who have changed the world for the better have always questioned and transcended the world they inherited. If initial methods were the only methods, we would all still be writing on papyrus. E-mail? Crazy!
I saw a display at an ocean museum showing several nautilus seashells, each larger than the one before it. The guide explained, “The same creature could have conceivably lived in each one of these shells at different times in its life. The animal spins the shell as its ‘house,’ and when it outgrows the house, it leaves the shell behind and spins a new home to accommodate its larger size.”
We, too, outgrow the shells that once housed and protected us. For all of them we must be grateful. But we must also be great-full, allowing greatness to shine to us and through us in ever more expansive ways. In horticulture, there is one sure sign that a plant is healthy: the presence of new growth. If the plant is forming new leaves and flowers, it is in good shape.

Likewise, we must always be forming new leaves and flowers to stay alive spiritually.  For new growth to come, the old leaves must fall away. They have done their job. They will be recycled by the universe to create new and more wondrous creations.
Shakespeare rocks. He was a genius. Yet he was a writer for his time more than ours. Certainly he captured certain eternal themes. Yet new Shakespeares are being groomed even as we speak. Perhaps you are one of them, in your own unique way. The new paradigm might be flowing through you as a painter, inventor, or mother, You must be true to what is, not what was. Then you will be a living corroboration of the bard’s visionary prophecy that “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”


Alan Cohen is the author of 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 or personal life, join Alan’s celebrated Life Coach Training Program beginning in September.  For more information about this program, Alan’s other books, free daily inspirational quotes, and his weekly radio show, visit www.alancohen.com, or email info@alancohen.com.

Understanding Cravings in Recovery

By Jacque Miller

While some folks may not experience cravings early in recovery,  many do. However, you can look forward to a time during your recovery when you no longer will have the cravings and they will begin to ease within a short time. Addicts and alcoholics spent months and years getting their body used to using, so it is hardly surprising it may take time to get over the effects.

What are cravings? 

Cravings are urges that start in the brain and can become a whole body neurochemical experience that translates into a sensory experience. Imagine your brain poking you — you respond with all of the physical and emotional responses know so well: hunger, desperation, anxiety, obsessive thoughts — you name it, it’s part of the craving experience.
Cravings are different from the physiological need for drugs one might experience when using. The need then was to prevent withdrawal — cravings are experienced when you are totally clean and sober. It is the urge and desire to use again, despite knowing the experiences and havoc it caused in your life.
Anti-craving focus options:
Since cravings start in the brain focus is needed to stop them. Techniques to help modify cravings can also be applied to everyday living during recovery.
If you begin to struggle with thoughts of using, try to think positively. Take your mind in a new direction. Get active, go hiking, listen to upbeat music, write a gratitude list or try an activity you have never done before. Got to a meeting and call your sponsor or anyone you consider a strong support system to help move you through the moment.  Avoid people, places and things that may lead you to use or drink. Replace them with safe, sober, healthy alternatives.
This too will pass, like an anxiety attack the feeling may build but it will subside.
Did you know that new neurological pathways develop each time you make it past a craving experience? In time, the more you move past these experiences, the more you break the connection of wanting to use.  The brain has the ability to rebuild or develop new connections that will move you past the cravings sober.
Learn from your craving experience. A craving may be an indicator you need to do more to address your recovery, and is a warning sign to stay on your toes.

Learn to relax

Anger, stress, frustration, anxiety, and depression — are powerful triggers that may cause cravings to resurface. How you deal with these emotions can help curtail cravings. Relaxation techniques may include meditation, yoga, Pilates, massage, prayer, biofeedback, and deep breathing exercises.

Proper nutrition

Good nutrition habits are important yet often overlooked component of a healthy recovery process.
An individualized eating and supplementation plan is necessary to bring consistency and balance to any recovering addict.  Eating in a balanced way helps keep blood sugar stable and results in decreased cravings for sugar, refined carbohydrates and other chemicals that can undermine the brain’s ability to produce a stable, happy mood. Unstable blood sugar fluctuations also affect and increase the desire for sugar and caffeine —both of which can fuel anxiety and trigger cravings that encourage unhealthy eating habits.
Understanding the nutrition behavior that impacts the creation of healthy habits is crucial to recovery. When nourishment is consistent and balanced we are able to respond, rather than react, to our bodies natural need for food while averting cravings and mood fluctuations. We all make nutritional choices that may sabotage our health but an addict’s nutritional sabotage is linked to cravings and triggers often a direct path to relapse.
All addicts are nutritionally comprised while using no matter what their drug of choice. It is one of the ‘signs’ of using that we all can recognize so it is only logical that the addict’s body/mind/spirit must be replenished before they can fully recover.

Jacque Miller MHN CLE CBS is a Behavioral Nutritionist and the founder of Jacque Miller & Co. an addiction and recovery resource. She is an author, Speaker/Educator She teaches behavioral techniques to practitioners/families/addicts that improve communication and effectiveness with their staff and clients. Jacque can be found on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/jacque46 and www.twitter.com/jacquemiller. www.jacquemiller.com

What Matters?


Like it or not, our world is changing and so are our priorities. As an infant, our only priority was milk, mother and more diapers. These survival needs, remain most important at the bottom of the hierarchy of needs when we are young, according to Maslow, a humanistic psychologist.
As we grow in consciousness, our need for basic survival or material wealth begins to change and we start to explore our need for social connection and spiritual understanding. Somewhere in the midst of our mid-life crisis, the reality that we are all born and we all die, smacks us up side the head and if you are awake you begin asking, “Who am I and what am I here for?
That question becomes as loud as a bass drum banging incessantly in our head by the time we hit our sixties. This is actually a question we ought to be asking every day. 

Who am I at my job and what am I here for?
Who am I as a partner and what am I here for? 
Who am I as a human being on this planet, and what am I here for? 

Gandhi tells us our actions express our priorities. If true then, on what are we spending the most time and energy? No matter how much life we have left when the question arises, the question moves us to live life fully and do what matters.
But, how do we determine what matters? Trash cans matter. Chocolate matters. Books matter. Teachers matter. Sobriety matters. Friends matter. But, what matters most? Author Gary Hamel in his Book What Matters Now says, “Obviously, there are lots of things that matter now. But, in a world of fractured certainties and battered trust, some things matter more than others.

What matters most to you? 

Is it fairness and justice? Is it saving animals or feeding the hungry? Is it living your values? Is it caring for the earth? Is it dignity or peace? Is it the ocean? Is it our youth? Is it revolution? Is it climate change? Is it exploration of new frontiers or new ideas? Is it ending poverty? Is it resolving conflict? Is it gender equality or the right to love whomever you choose? Is it protecting the wild open plains or figuring out how to feed this planet? Is it clean air? On the other hand, is it closer to home?
Is it ten minutes of meditation a day? Is it not losing your temper? Is it outwardly demonstrating the love you feel on the inside? Is it excruciating truth telling? Is it a more peaceful, orderly home? Is it your state of mind? Is it the quality of your life? Is it your spiritual walk? Is it your healing process? Is it that look of adoration in the eyes of your child or your beloved? Is it doing no harm? Is it the sunset or the sunrise? Is it learning and growing? Is it living in the moment, in the nowness? Is your health and well being? 
What ever it is…don’t miss it!

I believe we are all intuitive enough to determine what matters most. It may be in that sentence you read from the list above that tugged at your heart, made you want to cry or gave you pause. Perhaps, there was even more than one thing in the list that caught you up. The problem is not so much deciding what matters, as it is what action to take once we know. Here what it’s important to remember.
Energy is like a ripple on a pond. No matter how small an action you take, it becomes exponentially larger in its effect. Every action counts.
It’s not about the action, it’s about who you are doing it and the relationships you create in the process. These are the things that raise our consciousness and touch our soul.
There is no one right thing. It all matters. It only takes one person to make that difference.
Living what you believe is most important is really the only goal.    
     
Make a plan and give yourself the gift of meaning in whatever amount of time you have left. After all, that is what we came here to do. I promise it will light up your life! After all, that is what we came here to do. I promise it will light up your life! Start your exploration with the movie “Happy.” It’s one hour of gifts to help you on your way.

Why do I have an addiction?

There are many addicts and alcoholics who say, “I want to be sober, and yet there are times I need to get high. I sometimes hate my addict but will seek the high at any cost. I’ll chase my addiction with compulsive behavior and I’ll obsess over getting high. I build tolerance and want more or change to something that is stronger. I’ll do what I do even though I know it’s going to cause regret. I want what I want when I want it.”

A common thought process

How many of you see the similarites in this story? 

The first time I got high, the rough edge of living was removed and I was less angry. I was able to socialize, my thoughts became still. I never realized when I used addictive behavior was being reinforced. That’s why it’s hard to quit. I wanted the pleasure, the high, and emotional relief. I wanted control over my environment and to be the boss of me. I was not aware that as I sought pleasure, I was only numbing the pain I’d experienced. 

Drugs of choice

For some, the addictive choices share a history of our life. The use of alcohol supports some in fitting in, improves social interactions and minimizes the risk of using illegal substances. Marijuana used frequently as a teenager and young adult can be a mask for anger as it takes the edge off.
Some believe that using drugs to stay awake may be my need to be acknowledged or accepted. Opiates are often abused because the user has already “seen too much” and needs to just close his or her eyes. Some use, meth and opiates together. Getting ‘up’ for the hope that the one I want will come for me and I must be ready when they do. Getting ‘down’ is for the events and/or person we don’t want here and the pain makes me want to leave, even when it’s only in my addiction. 

Giving up control to achieve sobriety

Achieving sobriety starts with the first step.  Powerlessness – needing support of a meeting, a sponsor, God. Unmanageability — what we do to control pain has become costly to living life. Giving up control lets the pain become real. Letting go of addiction can expand into grief, like losing a best friend. The friend that helped me cope with pain and had always been there for me. Grief begins with acceptance that the relationship of the addiction is over. To argue with perceived reasoning against sobriety is the addict talking and being in the denial of grief. Giving up control is difficult because of the inability to have skills of dealing with pain. Many of us become addictis as avoidance of pain, to accept sobriety is to accept the pain even we don’t know what to do with our emotions.  When we let go of control and drop the wall addiction supports, we give up the control and allow the emotional self to express emotions. The day we choose to stop feeling is about the age often referred to the “12-year old running your life”. 

Sanity in the Second Step

Emotional resolve is found in the second step  — the word sanity.  To be sane and sober is to allow emotions to occur and be okay with what we feel. A healthy person knows how to emote and have empathy and sympathy for others. When we learn to emote in a healthy manner, we learn sanity in my sobriety. Somewhere in our life, we learned negative emotions are bad, unwanted and or wrong.  We used addiction to ensure we never feel emotions. 
The intention of this article is to express the need to let go of control, grieve the loss of addiction and accept negative emotions aren’t bad. They’re just emotions. We have many emotions to express and the fear to express is strong.  We all seek love and usually end in fear with addiction.  
Given a choice when looking at core fear within, are you fearful you don’t matter or you are not enough?  The fear to matter if rooted in a fear of rejection and abandonment. The fear based on enough is based in the fear of intimacy.  To minimize the fear of rejection is to accept I matter and I choose not to give anyone the power of rejection.  To minimize the fear of intimacy challenges me to express from the inside out. I must stop running and simply stay. I need to know inside that I am enough, worthy, and human.  Addiction destroys humanity; sobriety returns it to us to share.  My resolve is letting go and knowing its recovery to feel, even when that feeling is negative. 

Hooked on the Win

ambling starts out for most people as a simple pastime that adds a bit of excitement to their daily life. This may include small wagers with friends on sporting activities, heading out to a casino or betting on a card game with friends. However, for some individuals, the excitement and the subsequent release of the pleasure chemicals in the brain creates the need for more and more pleasure and the driving urge to gamble again and again.
Just how gambling impacts the brain and triggers an addictive behavior cycle is very similar to the way that drugs become additive. The most problematic part of gambling is that every time the gambler wins two different types of positive reinforcement for the behavior occurs. First, the gambler gets an actual tangible reward, which is the money. Second, this is paired with a flood of pleasure chemicals in the brain that provide a positive reward. Since these are delivered randomly, the gambler continues to bet to try to obtain these rewards. Despite the fact that the gambler invests much more than he or she wins, the rewards are so pleasurable they will keep on and on.
Not all people that gamble have this behavior problem, just like all people that use drugs or alcohol don’t become addicts. There is actually a change in the neurological responses in the brain and the brain circuitry. Over prolonged time gambling this pattern of responses becomes hard wired, creating the addiction that will eventually lead to complete personal and financial ruin if not treated and managed.
If you are concerned about a family member, friend or yourself with a gambling problem these are a few red flags:
Belief that gambling is a game of skill not a game of chance.
Belief that gambling poses no problem despite relationship destruction, financial problems and trust problems.
Gambling becoming the primary interest in the person’s life.
Hiding or lying about gambling activities.

What is problem gambling?
Problem gambling includes all gambling behavior patterns that compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family or vocational pursuits. The essential features are increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, “chasing” losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences. In extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide. For more information on criteria for gambling problems, see Problem Gambling Self Quiz at http://www.problemgambling.com/self.html

Isn’t problem gambling just a financial problem?
No. Problem gambling is an emotional problem that has financial consequences. If you pay all of a problem gambler’s debts, the person will still be a problem gambler. The real problem is that they have an uncontrollable obsession with gambling.

 Isn’t problem gambling really the result of irresponsible or weak-willed people?
No. Many people who develop problems have been viewed as responsible and strong by those who care about them. Precipitating factors often lead to a change in behavior, such as retirement or job related stress.

What kind of people become problem gamblers?
Anyone who gambles can develop problems if they are not aware of the risks and do not gamble responsibly. When gambling behavior interferes with finances, relationships and the workplace, a serious problem already exists.

Do casinos, lotteries and other types of gambling “cause” problem gambling?
The cause of a gambling problem is the individual’s inability to control the gambling. This may be due in part to a person’s genetic tendency to develop addiction, their ability to cope with normal life stress and even their social upbringing and moral attitudes about gambling. The casino or lottery provides the opportunity for the person to gamble. It does not, in and of itself, create the problem any more than a liquor store would create an alcoholic.

What types of gambling cause the most problem gambling?
Again, the cause of a gambling problem is the individual’s inability to control the gambling. Therefore, any type of gambling can become problematic, just as an alcoholic can get drunk on any type of alcohol. But some types of gambling have different characteristics that may exacerbate gambling problems. While these factors are still poorly understood, anecdotal reports indicate that one risk factor may be a fast speed of play. In other words, the faster the wager to response time with a game, the more likely players may be to develop problems with a particular game.

What is the responsibility of the gaming industry?
Everyone who provides gambling opportunities has a responsibility to develop policies and programs to address underage and problem gambling issues.

Can you be a problem gambler if you don’t gamble every day?
The frequency of a person’s gambling does not determine whether or not they have a gambling problem. Even though the problem gambler may only go on periodic gambling binges, the emotional and financial consequences will still be evident in the gambler’s life, including the effects on the family.

How much money do you have to lose before gambling becomes a problem?


The amount of money lost or won does not determine when gambling becomes a problem. Gambling becomes a problem when it causes a negative impact on any area of the individual’s life.

How can a person be addicted to something that isn’t a substance?
Although no substance is ingested, the problem gambler gets the same effect from gambling as someone else might get from taking a tranquilizer or having a drink. The gambling alters the person’s mood and the gambler keeps repeating the behavior attempting to achieve that same effect. But just as tolerance develops to drugs or alcohol, the gambler finds that it takes more and more of the gambling experience to achieve the same emotional effect as before. This creates an increased craving for the activity and the gambler finds they have less and less ability to resist as the craving grows in intensity and frequency.

  Are problem gamblers usually addicted to other things too?
It is generally accepted that people with one addiction are more at risk to develop another. Some problem gamblers also find they have a problem with alcohol or drugs. This does not, however, mean that if you have a gambling problem you are guaranteed to become addicted to other things. Some problem gamblers never experience any other addiction because no other substance or activity gives them the same feeling as the gambling does. There also appears to be evidence of family patterns regarding dependency as many problem gamblers report one or both parents had a drinking and or gambling problem.

How widespread is problem gambling in the U.S.?
2 million (1%) of U.S. adults are estimated to meet criteria for pathological gambling in a given year. Another 4-6 million (2-3%) would be considered problem gamblers; that is, they do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling, but meet one of more of the criteria and are experiencing problems due to their gambling behavior. Research also indicates that most adults who choose to gamble are able to do responsibly.

Can children or teenagers develop gambling problems?
A number of states allow children under 18 to gamble, and youth also participate in illegal forms of gambling, such as gambling on the Internet or betting on sports. Therefore, it is not surprising that research shows that a vast majority of kids have gambled before their 18th birthday, and that children may be more likely to develop problems related to gambling than adults. While debate continues on this issue, there appears to be a number of factors influencing this finding. Parental attitudes and behavior play a role. Age of exposure plays a part, in that adults who seek treatment for problem gambling report having started gambling at an early age. A number of adolescents reported a preoccupation with everything related to gambling prior to developing problems.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death Saved 10 Lives

Aaron Sorkin:
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death Saved 10 Lives
The creator of ‘The West Wing’ and the renowned actor shared a struggle with drug addiction. Sorkin remembers a performer who dominated the real estate upon which his characters walked.

Phil Hoffman and I had two things in common. We were both fathers of young children, and we were both recovering drug addicts. Of course I’d known Phil’s work for a long time — since his remarkably perfect film debut as a privileged, cowardly prep-school kid in Scent of a Woman — but I’d never met him until the first table read for Charlie Wilson’s War, in which he’d been cast as Gust Avrakotos, a working-class CIA agent who’d fallen out of favor with his Ivy League colleagues. A 180-degree turn.

On breaks during rehearsals, we would sometimes slip outside our soundstage on the Paramount lot and get to swapping stories. It’s not unusual to have these mini-AA meetings — people like us are the only ones to whom tales of insanity don’t sound insane. “Yeah, I used to do that.” I told him I felt lucky because I’m squeamish and can’t handle needles. He told me to stay squeamish. And he said this: “If one of us dies of an overdose, probably 10 people who were about to won’t.” He meant that our deaths would make news and maybe scare someone clean.

So it’s in that spirit that I’d like to say this: Phil Hoffman, this kind, decent, magnificent, thunderous actor, who was never outwardly “right” for any role but who completely dominated the real estate upon which every one of his characters walked, did not die from an overdose of heroin — he died from heroin. We should stop implying that if he’d just taken the proper amount then everything would have been fine.
He didn’t die because he was partying too hard or because he was depressed — he died because he was an addict on a day of the week with a y in it. He’ll have his well-earned legacy — his Willy Loman that belongs on the same shelf with Lee J. Cobb’s and Dustin Hoffman’s, his Jamie Tyrone, his Truman Capote and his Academy Award. Let’s add to that 10 people who were about to die who won’t now.

Sorkin is an Academy Award–winning writer who wrote the screenplays for two of Hoffman’s films: Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) and Moneyball (2011)

G r a c e

Grace is such a beautiful word, and one definition that seems to be applicable to addicts and alcoholics is this:

“Unmerited divine assistance given humans
for their regeneration or sanctification.” 

For 24 years, addiction had me by the throat. Even though I functioned, had a job, lived in a great city, had clothes to wear and money in my bag, I was desperately lonesome, angry, and tired. I spent so much time and energy chasing the next high, or trying to piece together blackouts, followed by another horrible hangover — that was my life. Every morning my entire being was engulfed in shame, fear, denial, and self pity. I was nothing more than an empty shell trying to destroy myself. It was only when my family and friends had finally cut me out of their lives completely that I hit bottom.

Enter divine assistance. As clear as yesterday, I remember the moment — when everything changed — the moment of surrender. Was it Grace?

Obviously my Higher Power believed there was a reason for me to be here, I surely didn’t. And never — not once — have I gone back out to test the waters to see if I was really an alcoholic and addict. I am. I know it.
I was given a chance, not because I earned or deserved it, yet grace stepped in anyway. Everyone who has risen from the dark shadows of addiction — has been granted the very same gift. Grace.

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”—Anne Lamott