A Milestone for FSDP: Family Drug Support USA, a Step Forward for Families Impacted by Substance Use.

E9EBF66E-DF9E-4FAE-A784-24EFD7AB8B2AA long-awaited milestone for Families for Sensible Drug Policy of bringing a new paradigm of support for families impacted by substance use occurred last month when Tony Trimingham, founder of Australia’s Family Drug Support, came to the United States and trained our first group of family members and professionals from across the United States at a sold-out workshop in Family Drug Support USA.

Family Drug Support USA, co-hosted by our friends at the Center for Optimal Living in New York City, is a program of innovative non-judgmental, peer-led support groups with solutions and strategies that encourage self-empowerment by recognizing each family as unique. It will provide our families with an opportunity to access much needed community support and connection based on what families need, expect and experience. This model of support helps families better understand and strengthen the connection between ourselves and loved ones who use substances.

We were humbled by the interest of the attendees in learning the model and impressed with their passion and brilliance in their shared experiences. Family members and advocates from diverse communities attended the training to bring the groups home, planting seeds of harm reduction and hope.  It was a remarkable weekend, tangible evidence of our mission to bring communities together to embrace enlightened drug policy–empowering families, restoring health and saving lives.

The workshop was in two parts: On Friday night was “Support The Family Improve The Outcome”, an introduction to the Family Drug Support model providing an in-depth overview including harm reduction tools and coping strategies. Saturday and Sunday was a two-day intensive training, which afforded participants an opportunity to work directly with Tony in an experiential workshop learning specific skills using harm reduction principles and the psychological approach of motivational interviewing to deliver support to those in need.

Families have a vital role in the development and resolution of how substance use impacts their home—for far too long our families have not been afforded the opportunity to engage as active participants and problem-solvers.

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Our commitment to making the family voice heard will continue on February 24 as we bring communities together to commemorate International Family Drug Support Day, (IFDSD) a global event which aims to highlight the need for families impacted by substance use to not only be recognized and heard, but to be supported and encouraged to speak about their concerns and needs in drug policy.

To learn more about what you can do for IFDSD, please…

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.

FSDP at The 12th National Harm Reduction Conference in New Orleans, LA

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Thanks to the generosity and support of our friends and stakeholders Team FSDP attended the 12th National Harm Reduction Conference #harmred18 in New Orleans, LA, October 18-21, representing a growing number of families who are adversely impacted by the unprecedented public health crisis surrounding substance use.

This biennial event brought together some of the most creative minds from the US and abroad to address a myriad of complex issues facing the harm reduction movement. A diverse community of people who use drugs, social justice activists, service providers, healthcare workers, researchers, policymakers, public health officials, and law enforcement gathering together determined to put an end to the harms and injustices caused by the War on Drugs.

FSDP is dedicated to serving the needs of our families and our participation in this conference is a heartfelt expression to honor our loved ones who have been lost to overdose and to save the lives of those who remain at risk.

 

FSDP co-founders Carol Katz Beyer and Barry Lessin were privileged to be invited to join harm reduction pioneer and visionary Patt Denning, Ph.D. on her panel: “Loving Someone Who Loves Drugs and Alcohol.”

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Patt outlined specific strategies for family members and friends based on guiding principles of harm reduction including “there are no rules except the ones you make”, “establish your absolute limits”, affirm your values, “identify what’s most important for you” and “tough love is neither, and it feels bad to all”.

The packed meeting room was inspired by Carol sharing how her lived experience inspired her to advocate for impacted families by creating a space to powerfully speak the truth to the powers that be in the broken treatment-industrial complex.

Barry gave an overview of the work of FSDP and shared how family and friends can become empowered by being open to reality-based harm reduction information and sharing it with peers, planting seeds of hope in their communities.

Our dedicated team was on hand to welcome attendees at our exhibit table continuing the conversation, networking and providing conference attendees with educational materials, tutorials and resources.

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Thank you Juan Fernandez Ochoa for sending us the Support Don’t Punish t-shirts. They were a big hit!

The 2018 Harm Reduction Conference comes at a time when harm reduction, health care, and drug policy reform have entered a dynamic and critical phase. The prescription opioid and heroin overdose epidemic has captured national attention, with renewed focus on transmission of HIV and Hep C among people who use drugs. These trends are reshaping the policy and public health landscapes, making harm reduction more urgent and relevant than ever before.

Because of your ongoing support, we are bringing our communities together, empowering families, restoring health and saving lives!HandDonate

“Love Has No Labels: The Rise and (hopeful) Fall of Tough Love in America?” — Part 2

Welcome to the August 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.tyler-nix-525388-unsplash

Last month we started our discussion of “tough love” and its origins. This month we’ll continue this look at this well-known and used concept to see if it really works and is the most effective strategy for families who love someone who misuses drugs.

We’ve discussed Synanon and its use of harsh confrontation and “tough love” in treating drug use problems. We’ve looked at Al-Anon and its concept of “letting go with love” and seen that what that often looks like is anything but love – though setting limits is important, too. Also, we’ve discussed how this concept of “tough love” isn’t just bad for helping drug users make changes but also bad for loving family members. We also talked about the difference between gaining or giving approval versus love. Finally, we looked at what more pain does for drug users: encourages them to use more, not less. So, let’s pick up the conversation here, starting with more on harsh confrontation.

You may have questions by now and I’m going to try to guess what some of them are and provide answers here. 1) Is tough love the same as harsh confrontation? The answer is yes! 2) I thought treatment is supposed to break through the denial of a person addicted to substances? The answer is no, that’s actually more likely to harm clients especially those with other underlying mental illnesses including trauma. 3) Don’t people who use drugs problematically need to be shown what a mess their lives are and how they’ve hurt others, such as their families? Again, the answer is no, they’re fully aware already and are usually extremely ashamed of their lives and behaviors even though families may not see this.

By the way, these are all reasonable questions to ask. Let me suggest, as many experts in the field do, that we look at how we treat other chronic medical conditions. Let’s take diabetes for example: when one has diabetes and is reliant on medication, do we complain that they are “addicted” to insulin? Of course not. We’re happy that there is a medication that can help them live a more full and healthy life. But with medication-assisted treatments (MAT) we hear negative comments (Narcotics Anonymous (NA) has made their views clear in their official pamphlet on MAT) such as how folks are just trading one drug for another; that they aren’t really “clean”. Here in California, our Department of Health Care Services has informed treatment providers that they expect us not to ask clients to engage in activities that we wouldn’t ask of those with other chronic health conditions such as diabetes. So, for instance, would we ask someone with diabetes to list their character defects that may have led to their illness? Of course not. Would we ask them to hold hands in prayer around a circle? No again (while any individual may find this helpful, we wouldn’t consider this professional treatment). We certainly wouldn’t put a toilet seat around their necks and tell loved ones to throw them out of the house for eating less healthy foods! But these are all deemed reasonable treatment approaches to addiction to many in our profession even today. (This calls for a lengthier discussion on addiction that I’ll do in another installment)

As I often do, I got out the dictionary to view some definitions of these 2 words as I prepared to write. Using the online version of Merriam-Webster’s (M-W) dictionary, I found “tough” means durable, strong, resilient, sturdy, rugged, solid, stout (I couldn’t resist!), long-lasting, heavy-duty, industrial-strength, well built, made to last. And what of love? “Love” is defined by M-W as “unselfish, loyal and benevolent; concern for the good of another.” Love is further defined as “an assurance of affection.” An assurance of affection. Wow. In my experience with “tough love”, there was absolutely none of that. In fact, withholding affection/love is at the crux of “tough love.”

So if these 2 words are polar opposites, how did they come to occupy the same space in our heads and in our common lexicon? As stated previously,    the phrase “tough love” was originally used by therapeutic community programs such as the former Walden House in San Francisco and DayTop Village and Phoenix House in NYC and continues to be used frequently today (just Google it to see for yourself). Using this concept of tough love, parents were encouraged to check their troubled teens into wilderness camps and behavior modification programs to deal with their kids increasingly frustrating and sometimes dangerous behaviors. And parents absolutely mean/t well; they were at a loss as to how to control their “out of control” teens. Plus they were listening to the so-called experts tell them, “you have to stop coddling your kids; you need to get tough with them – show them who’s boss.”

My own parents tried to do this with me when I was 15 or 16 (It backfired. I filed for legal emancipation and won. However, my relationship with my parents and siblings was forever damaged, as was I). It would seem that the concept of tough love is really about control. And when did control become synonymous with loving?

“Tough love” is also often associated with criminal activity or with children. In other words, if you’re a person who uses drugs problematically – or a criminal or a child – our society says using tough love is acceptable. The thinking is that in any of these three instances the person you’re using “tough love” with is incapable of learning any other way; their behavior must be controlled for their own good. In fact, the definition according to an old book we used to use in addiction treatment and studies called “Addictionary” (by Judy and Jan Wilson, 1992; Hazelden) “tough love is a phrase that describes behavior to stop enabling addiction. When you refuse to cover up for an addict, to rescue them, or to prevent them from experiencing consequences of their addiction, that is tough love. It is loving of the person but tough on the disease.” But is this true? And is this the most effective treatment modality? Perhaps the best question is who does the concept of tough love harm? I’d argue that tough love harms everyone involved – and that often once used, it damages relationships beyond repair.

But it works sometimes, right? I guess that depends on your definition of “works.” Can you get your loved one to behave or not behave in a way that’s acceptable to you? Probably, with enough threatening and coercion. But again, that’s not love. And it usually isn’t helpful for those of us diagnosed with a mental illness or substance use disorder (or chronic pain condition). In fact, Johann Hari, in his book “Lost Connections” argues that disconnecting from loved ones (as parents and partners are often told to do) who are “misbehaving” is typically the worst thing a parent or partner can do; losing connections to love – friendships, enjoyable activities such as sports, pets, and more — is often the exact scenario that is ripe for addictive behavior and other mental illnesses to thrive in, to fill the void left by the withholding of love and affectional bonds. I know I can definitely relate to this.

Now let’s be clear here: I’m not saying that limit setting is unnecessary. Of course, it’s necessary. Limit setting is part of being a responsible parent and, sometimes, a loving partner. But the most important piece is that when you set limits with someone, you do so with unconditional love and appreciation for the other person.

You listen to their ideas, negotiate, and you have this conversation–this is crucial–when you’re not emotional. Once again, the time for limit setting is BEFORE the undesired behavior occurs, not afterwards (when limit setting is done after the behavior occurs, it’s called ‘punishment’). There are exceptions, which again each family must work out for themselves (this is the work of family or couples treatment/therapy). Bottom line, when dealing with the problematic drug-use of a loved one, yelling, screaming, throwing out their alcohol or other drugs, etc, isn’t helpful to anyone.   And it certainly isn’t loving behavior.

Now let’s be clear here: I’m not saying that limit setting is unnecessary. Of course, it’s necessary. Limit setting is part of being a responsible parent and, sometimes, a loving partner. But the most important piece is that when you set limits with someone, you do so with unconditional love and appreciation for the other person.

OK so what about the idea that “addicts” must be shown what a mess their lives are and take responsibility? Well, I can tell you that I was aware every moment that my life was a mess when I had a substance use disorder as we now term the condition. There was no need to show me how bad things were. In fact, whenever I got a glimpse of the mess that was my life, I wound up using more to cover the pain and the shame. This is a typical response we see in many problem drug users. Lastly, let’s look at how tough love confronts personal responsibility. The tough love that my family of origin gave me did two things: 1) made me more ashamed and reluctant to try to change (if it’s my fault and I’m such a fuck up, why bother trying to change?); and 2) ruined any chance of a healthy family system because my family couldn’t look at what they may have contributed to my life of addiction (no I don’t blame them). Most of the “mess” or “unmanageability” as 12-Step would describe it, are problem behaviors of illicit drug users due to the illegality of most drugs of misuse. When drugs are illegal, drug users must go to places to get drugs where they are likely to be put in danger, risking rape and other physical harms, as well as jeopardizing their freedom by being caught by police with the results often being arrest/jail/prison, especially if you happen to be black or brown. Plus, drug users tend to use more in these circumstances than they would in safer locations, and they overdose more often. More on this in future segments.

So here we are at the end of this discussion on “tough love”. And I hope I’ve shown that tough love doesn’t look much like love at all. Instead the concept appears to be all “tough” with “control” at its core. Think of it this way: with positive reinforcement (think B.F. Skinner and others), I reward you for positive behavior (coming home on time) by giving you something you want (perhaps an extended curfew on one night) and set limits regarding less positive behaviors (think staying out after curfew) but I do this BEFORE you are late. And I do this when I’m not emotionally raw. If I wait and give you “consequences” for your undesired behavior, then I’ve punished you. That does not lead to positive behavior change. It leads to controlling with fear. Also, too often we fail to couple “consequences” with any kind of reward for the positive behavior. And when that consequence is withholding love and affection, well, can you see where this could lead to increased drug use? Not what anyone wants. But now we’re “woke” and can see while it isn’t what I wanted, it is expected. This denial of love and affection leads more people to have a (another?) traumatic experience and we know trauma and addiction – and other mental illnesses – tend to feed off each other. I am sure that this is not the outcome that any parent – or partner or loved one – wants for their child/partner/loved one.

So what have I learned – and what do I hope I’ve shared with you all here on this topic of “tough love?” Here are my Top Four “Take Aways” from this discussion:

1) Perhaps the most important take away is this: I hope I’ve made the case that we as a culture need to stop treating the concept of “tough love” as something positive and healthy. I’m optimistic that I’ve shown how inaccurate and horribly damaging to individuals and families tough love actually is, too;

2) That the concept of tough love really means that this concept is tough on all of us: drug users and loved ones/families alike. Like my own unrepaired family of origin, I have seen so many that will never recover from this so called “treatment intervention/sign of love.” Nothing could be further from the truth;

3) That what we really need instead is a concept let’s call “love AND limits,” meaning there is no limit on our love – ever – and (not “but”) we human beings have limits, too: on our time, our resources, our finances, and more. That’s called life and should always be negotiable and honest.

4) We can no longer afford to use a tired, inaccurate, corrosive concept such as “tough love” to (hang in here with me ok?) “excuse” us from the task having difficult conversations about hard topics with people that we love, what I’m calling “Compassionate Conversations.” What do I mean by this? I mean we must begin the work of having conversations that are about deep, profound, empathetic listening to one another, conversations that seek to really understand.

Today it seems that the conversations we typically have with loved ones – especially with drug users – are ones with agendas to get them to stop using. So, what’s the worst that could happen if we could truly let go of our old agendas and just listened? And just for the record, I’m not suggesting that we should agree with how our loved ones view something or how they behave right now, but rather I’m suggesting that our conversational goals change from getting-them-to-do-something-I/we-want to one of astonishing appreciation: of their views, their perspectives, their reasons for using/behaving in less than healthy ways. Let us decide that gaining compassion will be our attending agendas in these conversations.

Our world today is filled with rhetoric (with few real conversations) that is siloed and dishonest, cut off from reality, and full of prejudgments and predetermined agendas. Sadly, when we act from these values, we do so from fear–fear of losing power, fear of not being accepted, fear of losing our place in the world, fear of losing our loved ones to drug use and more. But when we push forward incorporating these fears rather than fighting them and force ourselves to see what is and become “woke” as the modern vernacular states, we have opportunities galore to change our relationships to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to the world. We learn how to say things like, “I love you more than anything AND I’m uncomfortable/unhappy/it’s difficult being around you when you’re loaded/high/under the influence. But when you’ve come down/sobered up/are able to moderate, let’s have lunch/dinner/go to that movie we’ve talked about.” Or how about, “I really love spending time with you when you’re emotionally available to me/us/the family/yourself.” I realize these “compassionate conversations” aren’t dramatic so they won’t make for good “reality” television, however they do make for good, healthy, strong relationships in real life. Plus research shows us these types of conversations are also more likely to help encourage positive changes toward healthier behaviors for everyone.

So, let’s tip “tough love” into the collective trashcan and from our collective vocabulary. Instead let’s work towards an agenda/belief of “love and limits” through “compassionate conversations.” Frankly, after all the pain caused to us all from using “tough love”, just how much harder can this new way of being really be?

#stopthestigma #recoverywithoutabstinence

In honor of September being Recovery Month, don’t miss next month’s edition: Reinventing Recovery

 

“Love Has No Labels: The Rise and (hopeful) Fall of Tough Love in America?” — Part 1

 

Welcome to the second installment 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

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(photo by Tyler Nix @unsplash)

Hello again!

Before we get into the meat of this topic, I need to say a couple of things: First, I apologize for not finding a way to present this in my usual more light-hearted way. This just seemed too serious of a topic for that. I just finished reading Maia Szalavitz’ 2006 book Help at Any Cost which deeply disturbed me. Although I was certainly aware in a general way about a lot of the material about teen “treatment” programs, I was both obsessive to finish the book (reading until 2AM) and distressed that these programs are still around. Here in the Bay Area, our local newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle just did an expose on teen “leadership” schools. As a result of the excellent journalistic work, many supporters and contributors to these programs have now removed their support, both financial and verbal. But there are some who insist these programs are meaningful.

This is also true in Ms. Szalavitz’ book. I’ve seen this in my classrooms over the years of teaching folks to become certified alcohol and other drug counselors. Many of my former students came from Synanon-influenced programs (often ones they attended as clients and then became workers, which I did, too) such as the former Walden House and Delancey Street (which is the only true therapeutic community (TC) left as they do not employ any professionals, the definition of a TC) and some have insisted that they were helped by such “tough love.”

I had the opportunity to ask the world-renowned researcher, Emeritus Professor William R. Miller (author/developer of Motivational Interviewing (MI) about this once. “is it possible that these folks were actually helped by these abusive tactics?” He responded, “I believe that these are people that are so motivated to make a change in their lives that you could have put them anywhere and they would’ve found a way to get better. So, their lives improved not because of the treatment they received but in spite of it.” That response has stuck in my mind and did so while writing this blog installment.

Finally, I was allowed to view the new film Fix My Kid, a documentary on the organization Straight, Inc, a popular behavior modification program for teens from the 1970’s (it was closed in the 1990’s but really just redesigned and opened under new names).  I can’t begin to tell you how upset I became watching this.  Some of this is certainly due to my own experiences with “tough love” but as a human being, I don’t see how anyone could view this without teetering between anger, outrage, and incredible sadness.  I highly recommend a viewing when it becomes available – but be prepared.

And two more blog housekeeping things:  1) As this topic is both so important and large, I’m doing two installments this time.  Today we present Part 1, covering some of the basics of “tough love” and approximately one month later you can expect to see Part 2, which will go into more detail especially as to how the culture came to embrace this concept.  Please let me know at info@fsdp.org what you think about this two-part format.  2) Since September is National Recovery Month, I’ll be doing an installment on the word “recovery” then which I promise will not be your typical take on the word!

And so…here we go again!

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” If you remember that phrase, you were around in 1970 when the film, Love Story, came out (starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal) and this phrase about love was the tagline in the studio’s advertising that, using today’s language, went viral. Even then I wasn’t very fond of the phrase. To me, love was quite the opposite: it meant I could make mistakes and saying you’re sorry was part of the healing process – and love would always still be there; it was a given; it had no limits – even if I do. We’ll return to setting limits later.

I’ve been reading a lot of things about love/tough love/etc, preparing for this blog. In a piece from the HuffPost from 2012, writer Sheryl Paul states that if there are conditions on love, then it’s not love but approval – either trying to get it or give it. I hadn’t thought of it in quite that way but she’s absolutely right. And love is NOT the same as approval. In fact, the challenge of love is to love. Full stop. Anything else is based on approval and doesn’t feel like love to the person on the receiving end – because it’s not. Real love isn’t conditional.

A popular phrase in 12-Step/AlaAnon is “you have to let them hit bottom.” We are told as family members that this is “letting go with love.”  However, what if “their bottom” is death? Or jail/prison? Or something else traumatic? How is letting someone “hit their bottom” showing love and not simply trying to control or give approval for “doing the right thing” and not “enabling”? And what evidence do we really have that hitting bottom works? None, save some individual stories of such (side note: I just googled the phrase “hitting bottom” and found a disturbing number of articles and treatment centers advocating this approach). Back to Dr. William Miller: MI has shown us, as has CRAFT (Community Reinforcement Approach and Family Training; developed by Dr. Robert Meyers), that standing by and letting a problem drug user get to the absolute worst place they can does little to actually help them seek treatment/change. In fact, it typically makes things worse (the late Dr. G. Alan Marlatt showed this in several studies and discusses this in his seminal books, Harm Reduction and Relapse Prevention).

Anecdotally, when I was in more pain (of all kinds) and things got even worse, that made drug use even more attractive, no matter the negative consequences. And this is typical. This doesn’t mean family shouldn’t allow for some natural consequences. What those are and how one decides when enough is enough must be decided by each individual family and needs to be discussed with the problem drug user beforehand so there are no surprises

So, where did we get this idea of “tough love” especially if it’s harmful? And why is it still such a popular approach? Although tough love is a concept used on adults as well as teens, according to Szalavitz’ book, Help at Any Cost, the phrase “tough love” was first coined by Bill Milliken in his book of the same name in 1968 that discussed parenting approaches. There is also another book of nearly the same name, ToughLove by Phyllis and David York from 1985. Either way, the phrase started out as a term for parents to describe interventions to be used as their teenagers began to act out – perhaps using/misusing alcohol and other drugs – and engage in other less-healthy/desirable behaviors. Unfortunately, typical adolescent separation/developmental behaviors became pathologized (still often are….more on that perhaps at another time). Before the phrase “tough love” caught on in parenting circles, the concept was used here in California by a group long gone but whose long reach can still be felt in drug treatment facilities here and across the country: Synanon.

Synanon was a California institution. It was founded in 1958 in the then sleepy beach town of Santa Monica, by Charles (Chuck) Dederich. According to journalist Matt Novack, Synanon “was one of most dangerous and violent cults America had ever seen…” I have seen the outcomes of Synanon up close and personal through my work in treatment facilities, many founded by former Synanon members. Several ideas of these persuasive and talented people were sensible. Sadly, though I believe all meant well, many of their ideas were still too infused with the highly confrontational concepts of Synanon. Having worked and been trained in some of these treatment centers, I am saddened to know that while I helped many people in the dozen or so years I worked in this confrontational style, I am aware that I harmed many others. But Synanon was more than highly confrontational. It was far worse and caused far greater harm.

Synanon was the developer of something they called “The Game.”

“They played the “game” in which anyone was allowed to say anything, true or not, to someone to cause an effect. Only the threat of violence was prohibited. It was a game because one being gamed could turn the game on another.

Addicts’ behaviors and past lives were attacked viciously in games, members were told their lives depended on staying, contacts with family were prohibited, and a system of rewards and punishments was applied. Publicly one was berated ({given a] “haircut”) for misdeeds…Dederich and Yablonsky acknowledged that the system was brainwashing…”

And brainwashing was what Synanon leaders believed drug users needed. According to Paul Morantz (an attorney Dederich attempted to murder for suing Synanon) is credited with coining the phrase “Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life.” He also “preached “Act as If” which meant do not try to reason as to what Synanon asks they do; as thinking got them there, just trust what they were told and act as if it is right.” Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) uses similar slogans today. In fact, Dederich was a longtime AA member and popular speaker before his transformation to cult leader (Dederich later became mentally unraveled, extremely paranoid, and preached of a new religion he called Synanon III.

Synanon was heralded as a drug addict-saving program and even had the blessings of Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown, who exempted them from health licensing laws. They also started seeing monetary gains as Hollywood superstars such as Robert Wagner, Leonard Nimoy, and Ben Gazzara came to play “the game.” Life magazine did a 14 page in-depth article in which they quoted a Congressman calling Synanon the “Miracle on the Beach.” Columbia Pictures even made a film on it. By the mid-1960’s, Synanon was known as a alternative community which attracted its members through a focus on living a “self-examined life” using “the Game” to uncover hidden truths in group sessions. Even non-drug using professionals were invited to join as long as they “gifted” their assets. Like other cults, Synanon worked by controlling its members. In Synanon the main source of control was by use of “the ‘Synanon Game.’ The “Game” could be considered a therapeutic tool, likened to group therapy; or a social control, in which members humiliated one another and encouraged the exposure of one’s innermost weaknesses, or both.” This was truly tough love at its “finest.”

Today we may not see toilet seats around clients’ necks (I heard reputable reports that this was done in some drug treatment facilities up to the late 1990’s, to demonstrate that a client had behaved like a ‘piece of shit’) but we certainly continue to have the ethos of stigma, shaming, and harsh confrontation we inherited from Synanon. The threads of Synanon are woven throughout drug treatment programs everywhere in the US (and further in a few cases) today.

PART 2 “Love Has No Labels: The Rise and (hopeful) Fall of Tough Love in America?” coming August 2018

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IMG_6574Dee-Dee has worked in the addictions/mental health worlds for more than 30 years and continues to maintain a busy clinical practice where she works with a variety of clients whose behavioral goals include abstinence, moderation, and “anything they want and in any way they want” to achieve their goals. Her book, Coming to Harm Reduction Kicking and Screaming: Looking for Harm Reduction in a 12-Step World is widely available and has received positive reviews.