Spring and the Cycles of Change!

Welcome to the Spring 2019 edition of Family Matters – Families Matter, our new blog authored and curated by FSDP’s Guest Blogger–pioneering harm reduction therapist, educator, advocate and author Dee-Dee Stout.
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I have been a Star Trek geek for as long as I can remember.  This infatuation even rubbed off on my son who designed the current World Tour stage for the multi-award- winning mega-band Muse to be shaped like a Klingon Bird of Prey[1].  I never quite understood my fascination with all things alien, watching the new Star Trek Discovery series week after week in tears.  Really??  Crying over a TV show, and a sci-fi show no less??    Well, after some 50 years of dedication and fanaticism, I think I figured it out:

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To borrow a phrase:  it’s the future, stupid.  The past is finished, complete, even if I do mine it reasonably often, still attempting to understand things as they unfolded oh so long ago. There is wisdom that has come from that exercise as well as some futility.  But it’s the future that really does it for me, makes me weak-in-the-knees excited & emotional all at once, like the old roller coaster The Big Dipper in Santa Cruz does every time I ride her.  And the relationships, the dedication, the incredible sacrifice and love emanating through every episode brings my heart into my throat with regularity.  That all makes me desire to keep going – which some days is a monumental feat I will admit briefly – as I see real possibility for us all, the Human Race.  And besides, if a Vulcan can ask for forgiveness (Sarek, in Part 1 of the second season’s finale) who am I to not give such a gift to myself and my families:  both the one of chance and the one of choice?  It appears this is the work of my future, the work of ‘Change to Come’.

And so we’re onto Change for this month’s blog.  And here’s where I’ll begin…

change

Change is about leaving what we know behind, jumping into the abyss of the unknown just as a starship jumps into warp drive.  Never knowing what’s on the other side should be exhilarating for me (Remember? Rollercoaster lover?) and yet it’s always filled me with fear & uneasiness.  I’m still here though, alive – as are many others who shouldn’t be – and that’s all due to this thing called Change and those who have ridden this wave with us all.

“Most people never get a chance to learn what’s in their own hearts.  If we figure it out it’s often not what we expected, or even what we would have chosen for ourselves.” 

—Capt. Christopher Pike, 2019; Star Trek Discovery, episode 13

What’s in my heart?  I wondered when hearing this line of dialogue.  As so many others have too, I have studied several religions at various points in my life. My first exposure was as a child when I was baptized in the Congregational church of my maternal grandparents, and then as a grade school-age youngster in my family’s home (in Midland, MI) at the United Church of Christ (UCC) which they helped to build.  I am proud of the heritage of the UCC as a church of social justice and inclusivity.  Even at the height of my drug use, my minister refused my mother’s request that I not be allowed to attend nor teach at the church.  He believed in me and the idea that Change could only happen in a place of love & inclusion.  He also preached that God was not something outside of ourselves but rather inside of each and every living thing.  Finally, he told us that our church was about ‘accepting the unacceptable’ of society (that belief is partly what drew me early on to helping problem drug users ironically).  I also recall as a teen wishing to become Catholic as I saw many of my drug using friends able to attend confession each week which they believed absolved them of their “bad behavior” as well as allowed them to repeat it the following week.  To me, it simply appeared that Change for them was easy[2] – and I was jealous.

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In the pagan Wiccan traditions, every season brings Change of a new variety.  As we leave April and head into May, the Wiccan calendar moves to celebrate the festival of Beltane.  This date is also known more commonly as May Day.  It is a time for birth and renewal:  pastel colored eggs to signify fertility; a Maypole around which songs are sung while long ribbons twirl while celebrants dance around the phallic symbol of the pole, and rituals around fertility, crop blessings, and romance abound.  After a long hard Winter, Spring brought promise to our ancient people’s here; a promise from someone, somewhere, that they had not been abandoned nor forgotten.

I see Change as a promise to us too:  a promise that no matter what, nothing will ever remain the same; all will be well; don’t worry, be happy!  Within addiction, this is ultimately the challenge as there often seems little to be happy about when things turn bad.  When I was using drugs problematically, I see now that a good part of my reasoning was to keep things the same, status quo.  That provided me with ritual, some strange stability, and again ironically, a sense that I always knew what to expect.  As a person with a history of trauma, I yearned for something to keep me centered, something expected.  It’s also what kept me in violent/abusive relationships.  I recall saying out loud finally that I understood that “to know something – even something violent – was better than leaping into the unknown.”  Some people believe that those of us who remain in these violent relationships do so because they’re comfortable, that we become comfortable with the abuse.  I disagree. I say we become familiar with it and that’s the point:  it is better to stay with what we know v be so terrified that Change could be worse.  That’s how frightened we often are of Change.  IT is the enemy.  It is the same with addiction:  fear of Change can keep us from trying something new.

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And this leads me to the topic of families and the people they love who problematically use drugs.  We all resist change to some degree.  To some degree we would rather stay in the status quo, in the familiar, than take a risk into the unknown – “to go where no one has gone before” – or perhaps we’d simply prefer that someone else makes the Change and not us.  But this isn’t how Change works!

Recently a post from my dear friend and colleague Andrew Tatarsky[3] (Board member at FSDP) came through my Facebook feed, which Andy had reposted from a colleague apparently having a conversation with Dr. Gabor Mate, the renowned trauma & addiction expert and author.  Much like my beloved Star Trek it, too, has left me in tears each time I read it.  I hesitate to repost this dialogue here for fear of offending people reading this blog.  But I am going to take that chance and hope you will hear the hope and joy and see the “Way Out” – as our Brit neighbors wittily call an exit – as I unexpectedly did after reading it. Bring the hankies.  Here goes:

“We weren’t quite finished yet. I wanted to know about family members who are dealing with addiction. What can they do for a loved one who’s caught in the grips of active addiction? Because when people are that deep in addiction, they’ve lost themselves—they’re gone in a way. I know I was. I know there was nothing my family could have done no matter how much they wanted to.”

Gabor didn’t agree with me. “You don’t know that. What you do know is what they tried didn’t work, but you don’t know that there’s nothing they could have done. In one sense, you are 100 percent right: There’s nothing they can directly do to change your mind. There’s nothing they can directly do to change your mental status. There’s no way that they can talk to you, advise you, control you, beg you, accuse you. That does not mean there’s nothing they could have done. Imagine if your family had come and said, ‘Chris, here’s how it is. We recognize that your addiction is not your primary problem. Your primary problem is that you’re in a lot of pain. And that pain is not yours alone. That pain has been carried in our family for generations. And we’re as much a part of that pain as you are. You’re just the one who’s soothing it with that behavior. In fact, you’re the one whose behavior shows us how much pain there is in our family. Thank you for showing that to us. So we’re going to start working on you, because we realize that we’re as much a part of it as you are. We’re going to take on the task of healing ourselves. We invite you to be there if you feel like it. And if you’re not ready, sweetheart, then just do what you need to do right now.”

“Families also have to decide, can I have this person in my life, or can I not? If I want them in my life, there must be certain rules, like they can’t steal from me and so on, but if I can have them in my life, I must accept them exactly as they are, exactly where they’re at, and 100 percent accept that right now they’re using because they feel they need to. I’m not going to nag them, cajole them, advise them. I’m not going to say a thing that they didn’t ask me about. I’m just going to accept that this is who they are and I’m just going to love them. That’s a rational decision to make. It’s equally rational to say, ‘You know what? It’s too painful for me. I can’t handle it. I can’t stand to see you do this to yourself. It’s too stressful. I can’t be with that, so I’m sorry, I love you very much, but I can’t be with you.’ That’s legitimate, too.”

“What is completely nonsensical—and unfortunately the pitfall for most families—is to try to be in the addict’s life and try to change them all the time. That’s the one thing you cannot do. So either accept or lovingly distance yourself, but don’t try to stay in there with the intent of altering the other person. To the addict, that signals only one thing: ‘They don’t love me the way I am.’ That’s my advice to families. I do believe that addiction in a person can be a healthy wake-up call for them and for everyone in their lives.” — Dr. Gabor Maté, Dead Set On Living

desert

Change, especially when we look at addiction(s), sure isn’t linear; not even close.  In fact, even the theorists behind the Stages of Change[4] now use a spiral model[5] rather than their traditional wheel.  Me?  I’ve always seen Change more like a pinball machine, and I’m no wizard:  you know, one minute you’re over here, the next down there, and a moment later, ding, ding, ding!  It’s unknowable, it’s exciting, and it’s scary as hell.  That’s the Change I know…and I am finally just beginning to like Change rather than fear and respect it like an overbearing & abusive parent.  Bottom line:  it always happens whether I like it or not!

If I may, this seems like a good point to insert briefly the 7 Stages of Change[6] (SOC) as they apply to any Change you might want to make, and of course I will provide you with references for more on them if you wish (apologies to anyone in the know here.  Feel free to skip this next part):  precontemplation, contemplation, preparation or determination, action, maintenance, termination & relapse/recycle.  In a nutshell, here’s the definition and task of each stage (please keep in mind that these stages aren’t linear; remember – pinball!!)

Precontemplation:  When my behavior is in this stage it means I can’t see it as a problem so I’m unlikely to see a need for change (think the old idea of denial).  Perhaps my family, friends, or employer is seeing a problem in my behavior.  So here the main task is to increase my awareness of the need to change – to help me/someone recognize that the cons of not changing are greater than the pros of change.

Contemplation:  This is the stage of thinking (insert Rodin’s The Thinker).  I see my behavior as being a possible problem but I’m not ready to commit to making a change.  Ambivalence lives here.  Think of this stage as “well, maybe I should make this change but…”

Preparation or Determination:  When my behavior is in preparation, you’ll know because I’m planning out the needed resources, discussing how and maybe even why I want to make this change.  I might even begin to take baby steps toward my healthier self.

Action:  In action, I’ve moved forward and state my intentions to keep on that path toward healthier living.  Any positive change[7] is the key here.

Maintenance:  Since I plan to maintain my change in this stage, I will need to work on recognizing obstacles and other speed bumps to my continued Change path.

Termination:  For the researchers, this stage was noted by the problem behavior being eliminated for at least 6 months.  This stage is often left out of behavioral health programs (including rehabs) however as many don’t believe this stage is reachable.  I believe this concept deserves review, and that “termination” should be viewed personally and individually.  For myself, I do believe my former addictive behaviors with alcohol and other drugs is done, finis, over with, hasta la bye bye.  I have all sorts of other problem behaviors to continue to work on but not those.  Others will likely feel more comfortable with termination being left out of the Spiral of Change.

Recycle/Relapse:  The researchers decided that the term relapse wasn’t good enough as it isn’t accurate for most people making Change.  This is because to relapse means to go back to the beginning, in this case to precontemplation. And while some people will indeed return to precontemplation, most will instead recycle back into one of the other pre-action stages.

 

 

change

Spring appears to have finally come to the Bay area.  While we are all grateful to not have to endure yet another year of horrendous drought, we are equally grateful to get a respite from the torrents of rain that have devastated communities throughout our Golden State recently.  Even as I write this, we are being warned of a touch more showers coming tomorrow, hopefully the last spurts for the wettest April I recall in my 40 years here.  Spring is a natural time to think of change:  flowers blossom; mice mate and dogs give birth; the seasons shift as our little Blue Marble of a planet tilts on its axis once again.  Like the seasons, Change is both predictable and unpredictable at the same time: the only thing we can be sure of is that nothing will remain the same and that Change happens, constantly and without permission.  I can accept that or not but like the moonrise, it will happen everyday in spite of my feelings about it.  So will my Change.  I will continue to change and grow because to do otherwise will be more painful. This I now know for sure.  So, I will make room for the Change in the same way as the philosophical cat Garfield says so brilliantly: “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks all over it!”  No one said I have to Change gracefully.  And I will wait to cry one more time at Part 2 of the final episode of this Star Trek series season to begin my long winter of wait for the next season to begin.  And the next season, and the next Change, will come gratefully – both for my beloved Star Trek and for all of us, if we can just hang on to each other a bit longer.  Let the adventure continue…

adventure

[1] The 2019 Simulation Theory World Tour (www.muse.mu).  The simulation hypothesis or simulation theory proposes that all of reality, including the Earth and the universe, is in fact an artificial simulation, most likely a computer simulation, leading to the 1990s-influenced stage and costume designs. (Wikipedia, accessed 4.14.19; 2019 personal communication with Muse Creative Designer Jesse Lee Stout).

[2] Please do not interpret my comments here as a negative stance on the Catholic church.  This is merely how I saw things as a teen, quite simplistically.

[3] Andrew Tatarsky, PhD is the author of “Harm Reduction Psychotherapy” (Guilford Press) and the founding Director of The Center for Optimal Living in NYC.  He can be reached at http://centerforoptimalliving.com/.

[4] The Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of Change was developed by the Drs. James Prochaska, Carlo DiClemente and John Norcross.  For more, please see their academic websites:  https://web.uri.edu/psychology/meet/james-prochaska/;   https://psychology.umbc.edu/people/corefaculty/diclemente/; https://www.scranton.edu/faculty/norcross/

[5] See “Changing for Good” by Prochaska, DiClemente & Norcross.

[6] There are a lot of good sources for SOC materials.  Here are a few standouts: https://www.lifehack.org/676832/stages-of-change-model; “Changeology” by John Norcross; “Changing for Good” by Prochaska, DiClemente & Norcross; “Changing to Thrive” by Drs. Prochaska.

[7] Thanks to my friend, the late Dan Bigg, founder of the Chicago Recovery Alliance (CRA) for this simple phrase. For more on CRA, go to https://anypositivechange.org/

 

Holy Holidays, Batman!…Or Ten Ways to Get Through the Holidays

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PLEASE SUPPORT OUR FAMILIES!

Welcome to our Holiday Special Blog, the December 2018 edition of Family Matters – Families Matter, our new blog authored and curated by FSDP’s Guest Blogger–pioneering harm reduction therapist, educator, advocate and author Dee-Dee Stout.

This month, Dee Dee, in her own inimitable style, shares some essential tips to navigate the holiday season in empowering ways…

To join our growing community of enlightened friends and advocates sign up here now.

Hello all! Here we are at the end of 2018 – and of my blogs for this year! Thank you all for your support and your readership! I have truly appreciated all the comments and shares over these past few months. And I’ve discovered just how much I love to do research on these topics!

In the past five months we’ve talked about the dangers and origins of Tough Love; recovering the word “recovery;” and Harm Reduction strategies for families. I know I promised 12 “Ways to Get Through the Holidays” but you know, I found myself doing only 10, perfect for counting on both hands! I hope you won’t be too disappointed. Most importantly, remember our 2018 take away for all families and their loved ones through this sometimes treacherous time:

It really is all about the love – and love is never tough!

love tree

So, who knows what the new year will bring. I know I’m eager to see 2019 and I haven’t felt that way in a long time. For the New Year, what ideas and suggestions do you have for new topics and conversations? Please write to me at deedeestoutconsulting@gmail.com and let me know. See you all next year!

Holy Holidays, Batman!

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Xmas trees

Holidays. I love them and hate them.

And regardless of which camp you fall into – or perhaps you’re in the “in between” camp – the winter holidays can be a challenge to navigate, especially when there’s added drug use (yes, I mean that tasty eggnog or rum punch too) by many involved. As I sit here with all my research and ideas in front of me, it occurs to me that I can’t think of anything to add to an incredible list of “do’s and don’ts” already available all over the internet and social media.

But that said, perhaps it’s worth revisiting some ideas with a “reduction-of-harm-to-all” bent – and so here goes (OK to sing your fave holiday tune along to these 10 tips, too. Ho ho ho!).

1. Eat light

One of the best tips we can use is to save those heavy conversations for another time. Sure, there will be exceptions to this, but the holidays are already such a heavy meal in so many ways that experts suggest benching the Big Convos until after things have settled down, including our stomachs. So what’s one thing we can do to lighten the mood?

Perhaps we can simply focus on the positives this season and save the less positives for later. That’s a tip for all seasons according to CMC’s 20 Minute Guides for Parents & Partners. What do we mean by this? Think of finding positive things – called “reinforcers” – to say to your loved ones – family, friends, and those using drugs problematically. And here’s why: “The value in reinforcing positive behavior…is that it can start to compete with the reinforcing effects of drugs and alcohol. In essence, your [loved one] can learn to “feel good” in other ways rather than using drugs/alcohol.”[1]

John Gottman, the famous couples therapist, has stated that we need a “magic ratio” of 5 positive statements for every 1 that we make to someone. Dr. Gottman and his team successfully predicted divorce with 94% accuracy in 700 couples 10 years after scoring their negative-to-positive responses in one 15-minute conversation.[2] That’s pretty darned “magic” indeed. We see similar results in workplace conversations as well. So lighten up on the negatives and accentuate the positive statements this holiday season. You might see a greater gift than you ever expected

2. Hang out in the bathroom

This is something I suggest to those trying to reduce or eliminate their drug use as a place to be alone and use a quick meditation. (side note:  I realize that for some this can also be a triggering place for both families and their loved ones using drugs so like all good suggestions, please use your discretion as to whether any of these are right for you). But this is also a terrific exercise for anyone to use for a quick fix. This exercise is known as “The Ball and Triangle.”[3] I learned it from the developer, Terry Gorski, back in the 90’s. And it can be done anywhere, with your eyes open or closed. Here it is:

To start, take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth, like a big sigh. Now imagine there’s an equal-sided triangle floating in space in front of you. In one corner of the triangle there’s a small ball, just sitting. On your next inhale, move the ball up the side of the triangle. On your exhale, allow the ball to fall back into its original place. Do this until you feel as relaxed as you desire.

There are many ways to get creative with this brief meditation too so feel free to experiment; make it your own.

3. Just like real estate: it’s all about location, location, location

One thing that I hear from families and their loved ones is that the location of the festivities is important. Some places encourage nostalgia though may also bring up tension. It may be helpful to discuss the location of events with the whole family. See how everyone feels. I have found with my own family that eating out at a local restaurant can be wonderful: a) everyone’s food intolerances can be honored; b) most folks will be on their best behavior when in public and finally c) no one has to do the dishes! Perhaps grandma’s or dad’s special chocolate pecan pie at Aunt Cristina’s house can be an alternative.

4. BYOB: Bring your own bottles

Even if you’re not the one with the drinking/other drug problem, it might be a good idea to limit your intake. The very best way to do this is to first, bring your own fave beverage. I’m a big fan of Pellegrino so typically carry a couple of bottles with me (I even bring a baggie of lime slices). That way I know what will be served. If you’re moderating your drinking especially, it’s really important not to get dehydrated which is easy to do in a heated room with booze. So experts suggest drinking water between alcoholic beverages. Again, an easy way to reduce your intake – and possible help stave off a nasty hangover too. Be sure to eat something as drinking on an empty stomach is never advised. Also food will help to absorb some of the alcohol which will keep your overall blood alcohol levels down. Finally since alcohol is known as a “social lubricant” for good reason, you might consider who you’d like to be in charge of your emotional state during this event (see # on Lizard Brain). But if you want to indulge more than usual, remember the previous tips and to call Lyft this holiday season. It’s so easy not to drive while intoxicated now – and expensive to get caught.

pup and mistletoe

5. Find support where you can

Hug your pet. See old friends. Go to a meeting at a support group, or a service at your local synagogue, church, temple, or mosque. Volunteer and make new friends. Lots of ways today to stay in touch with others even if only through social media. Visit someone in a nursing home or senior housing. Take a plate of cookies to a neighbor you’ve never met because you’re working all the time (no, they don’t have to be homemade).

6. Like a good photograph, mind your exposure.

If you’re spending time with those that irritate you, do so gently. It’s OK to limit the time you’re with those you love. This is your holiday, too.

7. Rest when you can

For many of us, the holidays are an expenditure of more energy. Sometimes more than we can muster! So resting and sleeping well are crucial to having the outcomes we want. You can think of rest as our body’s need to regenerate its resources to allow us to think before we eat, act, or wind up somewhere we didn’t want to go. I’ve learned that I can’t engage my mind when it’s running on empty, which leaves me with Lizard Brain[4] in control. Now I’m OK with old Lizard Brain having some fun once in a while but not all the time and especially not when I’m going to be in an emotionally challenging situation

8. Cravings aren’t just for drug users

Yes, you heard me right! I like to think of cravings as the body’s way to say “Holy crap, Batman, I need something – help!” The difference for families is that there aren’t any medications for your cravings (and yes I know there aren’t meds for all chemical cravings too but let’s ignore that for now). You may have physical or emotional cravings for all sorts of things from food to the latest mystery to taking a ski weekend in Banff. Whatever it is, it’s just possible that your body/mind is trying to tell you something. We want to learn from our emotions and not be afraid of them or ignore them. We all know the holidays are overfilled with stress so perhaps we can take a page from relapse prevention for drug users and learn to “urge surf”. Here’s how to do it[5]. And you can keep your eyes open or closed them as you find most comfortable:

First, think of something in your real life that’s challenging for you, something that actually triggers some strong emotions (be gentle with yourself here though. Nothing too tender please!). As you think about this challenging behavior or event, imagine that you’re NOT reacting in the moment with that usual strong emotion (you’ll be responding to the situation soon). As you’re thinking about this event, be mindful of where you’re sitting: how does it feel? Are you comfortable? Plant your feet gently and firmly on the floor if you’re sitting. Let your breath gently come in and out of your nose and notice the rising and falling of your chest/lungs. Now once again, think about the triggering circumstance. Really see yourself there at the moment and bring yourself right up to the moment that you’d typically lose your temper, or be overcome with sadness, or even use a drug/take a drink. Here we might think it’s a good idea to push away these strong emotions or swing the opposite way and give in to the emotion/behavior. Instead, I’m going to ask you to just be curious about this emotion and event without reaction. Ask yourself these questions: 1) what does the feeling really “feel” like? Where is it located in your body? 2) what about this situation/feeling feels intolerable? Can you stay with it and relax into it rather than get overwhelmed by the situation/feeling? 3) what is it you really need right now?

Finally, imagine that the feeling your experiencing is a wave on an ocean. You’re riding this wave like a surfer, using your breath as your surfboard. All you need to do right now is focus on your breath going in and out of your lungs and imagine that surfboard riding the waves like Bethany Hamilton! You’re able to keep your balance in spite of feeling a little frightened. Up and down, in and out, you’re riding your board; you’re not allowing the wave to push you off. This is “urge surfing”.

When you begin to feel relaxed and able to respond instead of reacting to a situation or feeling, you can let the board bring you home. Notice how you were able to ride the wave and not succumb to its power but rather allow it to be what it is: just a wave…and it will end. When you’re ready, come on back to the room while you let go of the triggering situation you were thinking of. Take a few deep cleansing breaths and know that you’ve got this! Bethany would be proud!free hugs

 

9. Ho, ho, ho!

I always encourage humor and lots of laughter during the winter holidays (actually I encourage it all the time!). Laugh till your face hurts. Be silly as often as possible. I read a piece recently on a family holding an “Ugly Christmas Sweater” contest with the winner getting a gift card to a favorite store. Wonderful idea! We humans are a pretty funny lot all in all and this is the perfect time of year to embrace that.

Movies are another great way to bring laughter into a room and there are some terrific old and newer holiday films that will make you pee your pants (in my family, it’s “A Christmas Story” hands down!).   Anything from “The Grinch” and “Charlie Brown Christmas” to “Bad Santa” and “Die Hard” are considered holiday fair game. Or perhaps you’re the sentimental type and look forward to watching your favorite heart-wrenching, tear-jerker each holiday. No problem! Those films are available as well (anyone for “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “White Christmas?”). Just be sure to temper those tears with some belly laughs

10 The holidays are a trip!

And they are literally for many of us! Traveling these days can be a trial-by-fire experience. Some quick tips: 1) Only use a carry-on bag 2) Bring something to read/watch/play and 3) slow down on imbibing early (planes really suck the moisture out of every part of us and alcohol makes it worse). For more excellent tips on everything “travel” this holiday season, check out Cheap Flights Survival Guide: www.cheapflights.com/news/holiday-season-travel-survival-guide

Bottom line for the season: Do your best, let go of the guilt/shame, and have as much fun as possible. That sounds like a pretty good recipe for 2019 to me, too. In fact, I think I’ve just found my 2019 New Year’s resolution. How about you?

chinese lanterns

[1] The Parent’s 20 Minute Guide by CMC: Center for Motivation & Change. (2016) Center for Motivation & Change. NY, NY. p93.

[2] https://www.ocde.us/PBIS/Documents/Articles/Positive+$!26+Negative+Ratio.pdf. Accessed 12.18.2018.

[3] https://terrygorski.com/2014/05/08/magic-triangle-relaxation-method/. Note: the Ball and Triangle exercise is now called the Magic Triangle Relaxation Method. Accessed 12.18.2018.

[4] The limbic system aka Lizard Brain is the seat of our emotions and the oldest known part of our brains.

[5] Bowen, S, Chawla, N. & Marlatt, G. (2011) Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention for Addictive Behaviors: A Clinician’s Guide. Guilford Press. NY, NY.

September is Recovery Month: Reinventing Recovery

 

Welcome to the September 2018 edition of Family Matters – Families Matter, our new blog authored and curated by FSDP’s Guest Blogger–pioneering harm reduction therapist, educator, advocate and author Dee-Dee Stout. To learn more about how your family can join our growing community of enlightened friends and advocates sign up here now.

In the first of a series of our Fall 2018 blogs, since September is Recovery Month for SAMHSA, this seemed the perfect time to write about the word, or concept of, “recovery” specifically as it’s typically applied in substance use disorder (or “addiction”) treatment.

September is also the traditional “back to school” month and many of us have kids who are returning to school or perhaps young adults transitioning to college. This is a good time to to review constructive ways to talk to our kids about alcohol and other drugs, and also to take a new look at treatment, drug policy, binge drinking. and how to negotiate the holidays  Therefore, for the remainder of 2018, our blogs will take a look at those topics and more. See you next month! #recoverywithoutabstinence #stopthestigma #familiesmatter

And now our 2018 “Recovery Month” edition:

Reinventing Recovery

DD 2 cups
Photo by Toa Heftiba from unsplash.com

Usually when we hear (or often use) the term “recovery”, it has a very specific meaning: nearly always 12-Step oriented, abstinence-only based, and says to us this is a disease you’ll have forever. I want to definitively make the case for a new kind of recovery in the world of addiction(s): an “inclusive v exclusive” recovery that does not require the elements we’re used to – including abstinence – but whose definition can certainly contain it …and so much more. 

Recovery. It’s a truly loaded word (pun intended). Let’s go on a bit of a journey to see how and from where our concept(s) of recovery stems as it’s a word that comes with a lot of baggage, both positive and less than positive.

According to etymonline.com, the origin/first use of the word “recovery” comes in the mid-14th century and meant “return to health.” “Recovery” originates from the Anglo-French word “recoverie” meaning “remedy or cure.” The additional meaning of an “act of righting oneself after a blunder, mishap, etc.” is from the 1520’s. Could this also be at the root of the word having such moral implications?

In his July 2014 article for Psychology Today, well-known addiction expert, author and former Harvard Medical School professor, psychiatrist Dr. Lance Dodes discusses some of the problems we have with the word “recovery.”[1] In part, he sees the word as acceptable in the context of “recovering from a medical illness”, meaning that 1) relapse/lapse is normal, and that 2) one is headed toward a cure or an ending of the condition/illness. Quoting from the article, Dr. Dodes says, “In most of life, ‘being in recovery’ means a person is making progress even though s/he isn’t ‘cured.’” This is far different than how we too often hear the word used in addiction treatment circles or our greater culture. In both places, “recovery” typically means that one is abstinent and attending a 12-Step group – “working the program” to use the language of AA for example. This is meant to establish an “us vs. them” quality: you’re either attending meetings, working the Steps, and have a sponsor so you’re “in recovery” or you’re not and therefore you’re not in recovery. Black or white; right or wrong. Plus, the implication is that anything short of a 12-Step traditional recovery means you’re not doing recovery “right.” A lot of people – including many professionals – believe this is what the word means and ONLY what it means. I, too, believed this for a long time.

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photo by Danielle MacInnes for unsplash.com

I went to residential treatment here in Oakland, CA, in the late 1980’s. These were the “salad days” for residential treatment, coming on the heels of First Lady Betty Ford openly discussing her addiction to alcohol and pain medications.[2] No one of her stature had ever talked about their alcohol and other drug problems in the US and her “coming out” can’t be understated; it was also a huge step in reducing the stigma/shame for others to seek help for their substance misuse/problems. Finally, this event was also partly responsible for opening the doors of treatment to become the Big Business it is today (more on that in another piece).

In treatment, we were taught that addiction is a 3-fold disease: bio-psycho-social (some also added “spiritual”). It was like a, sleeping tiger, always waiting to pounce on you unless you were constantly vigilant in your recovery (meaning abstinence, attending meetings regularly, and “working a good program.”). We were taught phrases such as, “Your mind is like a dangerous neighborhood: don’t go in it alone” and “Avoid old people, places and things to stay sober.” In other words, 1) don’t trust your own thinking because you’re an addict/alcoholic and “your best thinking got you here”, 2) you’re never fully recovered, and 3) you must cut off all your old friends as they were only using friends and therefore not interested in your well-being; your relationships were only based on drug use. I remember someone saying that everything I had done up to the point of my entering treatment/recovery didn’t count – but now my life could really begin: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”[3] was up on a wall somewhere. Scary stuff. And I was scared straight.

In what’s known in 12-Step circles as the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous 3rd edition), there are several references to the word “recovery” and “recovering” (somewhere around 15) but also references (about 10) to the word “recovered” which is akin to blasphemy today in most 12-Step circles.[4] This is another point of contention for many of us. Can we ever say we’re “recovered” or even “cured?” I say, “yes we can,” to borrow a phrase. And that we should. Why? Because to those outside of traditional treatment/recovery, I hear folks constantly say, “Apparently treatment doesn’t work because you people are never recovered!” I had never thought of the phrase “recovering” as potentially responsible for this perception. I personally say that after over 30 years of continuous abstinence, I am completely comfortable declaring that I’m “recovered;” the problems I have today have nothing to do with illicit drug and/or alcohol use (sometimes that would be simpler, frankly). The first paragraph in Chapter 2 of the 3rd edition of the Big Book titled, “There is a Solution,” also appears to see an end state to addiction. It states: “We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, (italics theirs) know thousands of men and women who were once just as hopeless as Bill. Nearly all have recovered (emphasis mine). They have solved the drink problem.”[5] This passage certainly seems to imply that one can indeed recover. But then what exactly does it mean to recover? And how do we achieve this state of being?

Mindfulness + Connectedness + Inner Growth

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Photo by Austin Chan for unsplash.com

 

A Phrase is Born. While working for the large American HMO Kaiser in the 1990’s, I was charged with developing and leading a relapse prevention track for patients in our Chemical Dependency Recovery Program (CDRP). These were folks for whom the course of treatment we offered (intensive outpatient program or IOP) didn’t work – or, as we phrased things back then, patients who didn’t try hard enough, were in denial of their “disease,” or simply relapsed back into drug/alcohol use due to inattention to “people, place, and things.” During one of our evening groups we were working on a definition for “recovery” and decided to see what we could come up ourselves. After all, we surmised, how can one relapse if you don’t have a clear idea of recovery?

Mindfulness, connectedness, and inner growth was the phrase we all agreed described the basic ingredients for recovery. It wasn’t until later that someone noticed we neglected to include anything about abstinence/sobriety, 12-Step attendance, or the other usual things we associate(d) with recovery. I remember that night well because a gigantic light bulb didn’t just light up, it blew up in my head! This was the moment I began to wrap my head around the idea that perhaps alcohol and other drug use itself – and abstinence specifically – really had nothing to do with one’s healing or recovery; recovery wasn’t in fact begun with stopping drug use first (which is what we always told folks). What was at the core of the concept of true recovery of one’s life we decided were these 3 elements defined here – which may or may not include an end to one’s drug use:

Mindfulness: paying attention – to what you’re doing, who you’re with, what you’re putting in your mouth/arm/throat/etc., really everything that’s happening as well as you humanly can, plain and simple.

Connectedness: this means getting reacquainted with yourself, a vertical connection, we called it – your body, your mind, your spirit – and fully trusting them. This also spoke to the idea that your mind is connected to your body (yes, no matter what Descartes[6] said, they’re attached; it’s called a neck!). This vertical connection could also be to a higher power or great spirit of some kind. Connectedness includes a horizontal connection, too, or connection with others.[7]

Inner growth: this was a bit more difficult to flesh out at the time but we settled on it meaning whatever an individual does that leads to their seeking out new information and new ideas, being a part of the world at large. This could be going to school, walking in the park, dating, making new friends, a yoga practice, meditation, attending synagogue/mosque/church/temple/circle, or even reading. Or anything else that “feeds” a human’s curiosity and need for knowledge.

And that was it. Drug use, abstinence, continued using or something in between, wasn’t mentioned. Why? Because we realized that in any other bio-psycho-social illness (which nearly all are), one did not have to recover perfectly. In fact, in my definition humans cannot do this – at least not all the time. And we realized that it wasn’t the alcohol or other drugs that were at the core of the problems we had: they were but a symptom. [8]

Therefore, one could indeed be in recovery and use drugs. Not problematically because then you’re not connected or mindful or growing. But we agreed (again to our collective surprise) that yes, one could be using alcohol or other drugs – having a healthy relationship with them – and be mindful, connected, and growing internally: in recovery. And we also agreed that for some folks, to have these 3 elements in their lives could require abstinence: total, partial, forever or for a while, we made no comment on those notions. That would remain up to the individual (which also fits within AA/12-Step guidelines of no one being able to tell another that they are an “alcoholic or addict.”). In fact, we realized that having healthy relationships of all kinds could be achieved through these three elements. What a jolt to the brain this was to us all!

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Photo by Ron Smith for unsplash.com

YOU GOTTA GIVE THEM HOPE”, Harvey Milk[9]

These days, I have come to realize that it appears these elements or ingredients of recovery also build on one another: for example, you first need to improve or have some mindfulness about what you’re doing before you can truly connect with others and yourself, and that action can lead to growing internally. And again, we made the argument then which I’ll repeat here, drugs and drug use (including alcohol of course) don’t necessarily impede one’s ability to recover or regain health from having problems with them – or being “addicted.” The problem is in one’s relationship with substances or behaviors that have become problematic or compulsive, and that we continue to engage in despite negative consequences – what we call “addiction.” So here’s the Big Question: what if we as a collective culture decided to work on these 3 ingredients and the issues that get in one’s way of achieving them? What if we decided to help those in need to uncover why they – or collectively, why so many of us in the wealthiest nation in the galaxy – need to use substances in order to cope? Hmmm…

It’s time to reinvent the word recovery to mean this: “I have recovered my life and my health. with or without abstinence. I am mindful, connected, and growing.” Now that’s real recovery!

One of the ways to address these issues of the lack of mindfulness, connectedness, and inner growth is with what the Canadian author, physician, and addiction expert Dr. Gabor Mate calls “compassionate inquiry.”[10] Dr. Mate makes the case for needing people in our lives who can/will listen deeply, compassionately to those of us involved in using substances/behaviors that are causing pain in our lives. Another advocate of doing things differently in treatment is Stanton Peele, PhD, JD. In his newest book on addiction, Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with The Perfect Program,[11] Dr. Peele discusses these issues at length, as he has for over 50 years. As an early adopter of harm reduction principles, he has tried to get us all – but especially we Americans – to see that the way we have come to view addiction is all wrong: 1) it’s not a disease, 2) most people quit on their own (so how can it be a disease), and 3) not all people are susceptible to becoming addicted. In fact, by viewing addiction as a disease, our society has actually increased the possibility of relapse[12]. It reminds me a bit of Charlton Heston’s famous line at the end of the film, The Planet of the Apes, when he realizes where he really is – back on Earth: “You finally really did it. You maniacs! …God damn you. God damn you all!” In looking for the reasons for addiction, we have to consider that perhaps, unintentionally, we have done much of the damage ourselves with our racist policies, unscientific treatments/interventions, and blaming of the people who use drugs (and often their families as well). It sure is easier to blame a drug(s). It’s much harder to look within, compassionately and deeply, for the reasons so many of us are in pain (of all kinds) and need relief to cope with living.

I see September’s Recovery Month as a great time to take a look at what we’ve done with addiction treatment and recovery. And to take a hard look in the Mirror of Truth about our society and its complicity in addiction(s). It’s time to stop the unscientifically-tested treatment of this “medical-and-more” complicated condition. It’s time to demand professionals who are highly trained and compassionate – always. It’s time to radically change how we view people with substance problems – and their loved ones – regardless of whether you believe this is a condition of their making or not.

It’s time to reinvent the word recovery to mean this: “I have recovered my life and my health. with or without abstinence. I am mindful, connected, and growing.” Now that’s real recovery!

DON’T MISS NEXT MONTH’s EDITION: 

COMMUNICATING WITH LOVE ABOUT DRUGS WITH SOMEONE YOU LOVE. 

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-heart-addiction/201407/what-does-it-mean-be-in-recovery

[2] A Johnson Institute-style intervention was held in 1978 for Mrs. Ford leading her to seek treatment for her substance use. In 1982, she founded The Betty Ford Center which is now part of the Hazelden family of programs.

[3] As discussed in our last piece on “tough love,” the originator of this phrase is the founder of Synanon, Chuck Dederich.

[4] “A Reference Guide to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous” by Stewart C.; (1986). Recovery Press, Seattle, WA.

[5] p17. Note: The “Bill” that is referenced here refers to the co-founder of AA, Bill Wilson.

[6] Rene Descartes was a 16th c. French philosophermathematician, and scientist; dubbed the father of modern Western philosophy who famously argued that the human body and mind were separate. Wikipedia.com

[7] Remember that church I mentioned in my first blog, the United Church of Christ or UCC? There we were taught that God was within each person and living thing on Earth and that we were all connected. Very Deepak Chopra. Hmmm…

[8] Interestingly enough, a similar idea can be found in AA’s Big Book on p85, in this line: “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” And I was taught that “spiritual” merely meant connected.

[9] Quote from slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, one of the country’s first openly gay politicians. This is from a tape recording (1977-11-18) to be played in the event of his assassination, quoted in Randy Shilts book, The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. (1982), p. 277. Wikipedia.com; personal communications.

[10] From Dr. Mate’s website, drgabormate.com: “Through Compassionate Inquiry, the client can recognize the unconscious dynamics that run their lives and how to liberate themselves from them.”

[11] For more information, view the results of the NESARC study and more, discussed in Dr. Peele’s book, p36-42. (2014), Da Capo Press.

[12] Miller et al; “What predicts relapse? Prospective testing of antecedent models.” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1360-0443.91.12s1.7.x