“Sought Through Prayer And Meditation”

The Eleventh Step reads, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Since I believe that one’s relationship (or not) with a higher power is private, and that in the context of the rooms of recovery it verges on being an outside issue, I won't be getting into it here. However, there is no question that the meditation part is critical to healthy emotional growth for alcoholics and other addicts, and that it’s important for the population at large, as well. (See the preceding link) That being the case, and because meditation has gotten a bad rap from folks who think it’s tedious and difficult, I thought I’d hit some of the high points about how to meditate.

In a sense, meditation is planned boredom. We purposely put ourselves into a situation where we have no choice but to live with our thoughts. This was common a half-century ago and more, because life contained far fewer ways of filling up time with relatively unnecessary things. By that, I mean things that don’t increase our quality of life, but that simply fill up empty time that could more profitably be spent in — boredom.

Human beings need these periods. Our days are filled with things that take up our time, but that do nothing to uplift us. Those of us who have been able to slow our brains down and spend a couple of 20 minute periods a day in meditation have found that if we do so regularly, things just seem to get better. During those periods, we seem somehow to fit the irregular pieces of our lives together a bit more smoothly.

RoadHave you ever driven several miles, only to realize that you remembered nothing about the trip — not only the trip, but what you might have been thinking, the songs that played on the radio — nothing? Have you ever come to with a start, and realized that you had lost a few minutes? Have you ever been so deeply engrossed in reading a book, or listening to music, that you were oblivious to everything going on around you for several minutes — even hours? If you have had any of these experiences, you have been in a meditative state. Whether we call it hyper-focusing, daydreaming, or “lost in thought,” it’s all the same thing.  In our fast-moving world we have come to think of these periods as wasting time, when in fact they are probably the most important parts of our day in terms of emotional health and general wellbeing.

We are naturals at meditation, and since we already know how, the idea of doing so regularly may seem less of an ordeal. It really isn’t difficult, although it may require a bit of patience and acceptance to begin with.  We only have to learn to do on demand what we already know how to do unconsciously.

That is surprisingly simple. We simply remove other distractions. We find a quiet place, indoors or outdoors (outdoors is best). We desert our phones, iPods, books, lists and the other things that tyrannize our day — including the other people in our lives. We sit quietly.

Then we simply let our mind wander. If we find it focusing on problems, chores, ideas for new projects, our love life or other specifics, we acknowledge their presence and then let them drift away. We don’t dwell on them. If they come back, we say, “Okay, there it is again,” and we let it go.

After while, we will drift into what amounts to a daydream, where we are no longer conscious of trying, our minds wandering where they will. That is meditation. We are not working at thinking about specific things. Quite the opposite; we are giving our minds a chance to function a bit on their own, undirected, and able to exercise themselves without interference from us.

It takes a bit of practice to reach a point where we can do this more-or-less on command. Most folks find that about fifteen to twenty minutes a couple of times a day can work wonders, once we get the knack of it. Just remember that meditation is for its own sake. It has no specific purpose. If we start looking for one, we’re approaching it wrong.

Try it for a couple of weeks, then keep on if you find it rewarding. My guess is that you’ll be online buying meditation supplies (that you really don’t need) before you know it.

Let’s Not Take Boston To Chicago

I know I speak for the entire Sunrise family when I extend our deepest concerns and sympathy to the victims, families and others whose lives have been devastated by yesterday's awful tragedies at the Boston Marathon and nearby.  We have friends, colleagues and former clients in the Boston area, and some of us have family there as well.  Words can't express our dismay at these events — one more example of folks' inability to resolve differences without violence.

Ron P., one of my therapists when I was in treatment (you know, back when everyone was eating fermented fruit that they picked up on the way to the water hole), used to have a favorite way of putting things.  He'd ask a simple question, or be listening to someone going on at length in group, and then he'd say, “C'mon!  You're taking it to Chicago!”  Then he'd bring us back to the point or, as often as not, make it for us.

I couldn't help thinking of Ron while reading snippets here and there about the Boston bombings.  One theorist blames the US Government, who are allegedly trying to frame the opposite political party.  Still others are sure they know who and what ethnic groups were responsible, and so on.  Blah, blah, blah.

The bare fact is, no one knows who was responsible except for the people directly involved.  It is likely that the rest of us will know more soon, but it's by no means certain, and it's important that we keep our heads and not jump on our horse and ride off in all directions like the codependent cowboy.  It's especially important that we keep these issues out of the rooms of recovery.

We all have our feelings, and many of us aren't that good at keeping them to ourselves.  If we feel as though we need to talk about things, we need to remember the first rule of sharing in the rooms or elsewhere: keep in in “the I.”  We share about how these things are affecting us and our recovery.  We do not voice opinions on outside issues, in violation of our traditions, and we don't take a chance of offending others in the meeting.  We are not there to ride a political (or religious) hobby horse, but to facilitate our recovery, and that of others.

Let's keep our primary purpose in mind, when tempted to air the opinions that all us addicts have in abundance, shall we?  As a bonus, it may prevent us from having to eat crow later, when our pet theory may be shown to be incorrect.  Let's not take Boston to Chicago.


Need More Proof That “Non-Alcohoic” Beer Is A Bad Idea?

The taste of beer, without any effect from alcohol itself, can trigger dopamine release in the brain, which is associated with drinking and other drugs of abuse, according to Indiana University School of Medicine researchers.

Read more:

Antidepressants In Recovery — Just Another Drug?

Depression is not uncommon in the first year or so of recovery. Some people manage to avoid it entirely, but many of us experience it to one degree or another. That’s because sometimes the ability of our brains to produce the chemicals that make us feel good has been damaged by the alcohol and other drugs, and it takes time for the necessary repairs to take place.

Unfortunately for many of us, the drugs that we used masked underlying problems.  For example, roughly 65% of alcoholics are known to suffer from pre-existing emotional problems, most of them brought about by imbalances in brain chemistry.  Those folks usually find that the removal of the drugs brings out the underlying conditions, often severely so.  Thus, the idea that all we have to do is stop drinking and straighten up is often — sometimes tragically — not the case at all.

Whatever the case, if we end up feeling that we’re worthless, that life is not worth living, and that it’s just not worth the effort, that’s bad. Depression kills people every day — far more than it should, because in most cases it’s treatable.  The problem is that, in some cases, it worsens so rapidly that the time to begin effective treatment can be quite short, so it doesn't pay to wait around.  If you're feeling depressed to the point of not caring about your life, see a doctor.  Right now!  If you're having thoughts — even casual — of self-harm, then you're already in crisis.

Many folks have been on antidepressants, felt that they didn’t work, and stopped taking them. Most antidepressants take from three to eight weeks to have their full effect, and sometimes in the early treatment period they seem to have no effect at all. Combine that with an addict’s conviction that taking a pill should make us feel good right now, and you have a good chance that the patient is going off the meds before they have a chance to help.  Others have found relief, and stop because they believe they're cured.  AD's are not like antibiotics.  They cure nothing, they simply reduce the effects of the depression and allow us to function.

Not all antidepressants work for all patients, and if we toss one before it has a chance to work, we run the risk of missing the one that was right for us. Second, and perhaps more important, is the fact that sometimes the medication was beginning to work and we just didn’t notice. In that case, if we quit suddenly, we can experience a rebound effect that throws us straight into deep depression.

This brings us to the big point we’d like to make here. Depression is nothing to fool with! There is an unfortunate attitude among some of the laypeople in the recovering community that antidepressant medications are just another drug. That is emphatically not true!

Antidepressants (ADs) are not the sorts of drugs that most recovering people mean when they say drugs. They are not addictive, in the sense of creating tolerance and cravings for more. They will not interfere with recovery by preventing our bodies and brains from repairing themselves — in fact, they assist in the process. They do not alter our mood, except for the better, and they do not interfere with our judgement. They do not trigger the addictive process, and they do not make our lives unmanageable.  Quite the opposite: antidepressants in recovery can lift the weight of the world off our shoulders, and contribute to our recovery by giving us the ability to be enthusiastic about it and enjoy its rewards.

The greatest danger of antidepressants is the danger of not taking them when we need to. Depression can not only lead to self-harm in its more severe forms, it can keep us from seeing the gains we are making in recovery, putting us at increased risk of relapse.

That said, there are some downsides. In some people, ADs affect the ability to feel and express emotion. Some have other side effects that can vary with the particular medication. However, none of these are as dangerous as suicidal thoughts or acting out, or as harmful to recovery as a relapse because “Life sucks, so I might as well just use.” And, as mentioned earlier, going off an antidepressant without a physician’s guidance can have devastating results. Any undesirable side effects should be discussed with a physician.  It may be necessary to change a dosage, or switch drugs, but do not stop on your own!

We're not recommending that recovering folks run out and look for a doctor who will prescribe antidepressants, nor are we offering them up as some sort of magic pill. What we are trying to get across is that we need to listen to the experts, and we need to be careful about making medical decisions that we aren’t qualified to make.

For some of us, antidepressants in recovery can be a tool, but they are not the whole answer. The answer, as always, comes from remaining abstinent and learning how to live without addictive drugs through therapy, support groups, and an organized program of recovery, but it makes sense to utilize all the tools if we need them, especially if failure to do so can kill us.

Important Note: This article should not be taken as, nor is it offered as medical advice. You should consult with your personal physician or a specialist, as appropriate, before considering the use of, or ceasing the use of, any medication.

Remembering Bill C.

This is a lot longer than my usual entry, but that happens sometimes when I get to thinkin' about stuff.  If it doesn't seem to have anything to do with addiction, just bear with me a bit.

I don’t spend much time regretting the past. There are a lot of things I’ve done that, given the opportunity, I’d probably do differently or not at all, but you have to be careful what you wish for. The Law of Unintended Consequences is nothing to mess with.

Today I was thinking about my friend Bill. I met him during a time in my early twenties when I was hanging around the aviation industry. We were drawn to each other by a mutual love of airplanes, flight attendants, and the bars of the Fort Lauderdale area.

Back then there were the usual disturbances and upheavals in Central America, and there was a lot of stuff happening in Africa as well. The company we both worked for had, at one time, some clandestine connections with interests in the Caribbean, and shady characters of some repute still wandered around the small airports of South Florida and the islands to the south. I found this moderately interesting. Bill found it fascinating.

Douglas_A-26B_in_flightA fellow who shall remain nameless, well-known in the aviation community, acquired a Douglas A-26 that had been converted for use as a high-speed executive aircraft. I took one ride in the thing (the guy needed a copilot), noted the amount of oil leaking from one of the big radial engines during takeoff, and deplaned as rapidly and permanently as possible when we landed. Bill’s envy knew no bounds, and his fascination with the former attack bomber increased.

The Douglas languished at the local airplane patch for about a year before a potential buyer appeared. This individual had a reputation for shady dealings involving the transportation and sale of firearms—usually, or so the story went, in considerable quantities. When he showed up and began negotiating for the A-26, Bill saw his chance for glory. [Read more…]

Relapse Triggers — People, Places and Things

Knowing and avoiding relapse triggers is essential for folks in recovery from alcoholism and other addictions.

We addicts are accustomed to making things better right away. In our addictions, relief of our discomfort was only as far away as the next pill, the next drink, the next trip to see the guy down on the corner, the next shopping trip, the next snack, the next sexual encounter. You get the idea.

So it’s not surprising that we tend to think of recovery that way. We think we’re detoxed when we aren’t; we think it takes too long for our bodies and minds to repair themselves after we stop using; we think we don't need treatment, or AA, or other support.  We think we’re recovered, when we’re going to be recovering for a long time yet. In short, we look for the quick fix, the quick answer, and we misjudge our ability to deal with issues in early recovery. We make these mistakes because we are accustomed to living our lives in the short term, to making snap decisions, and to doing things without thinking them through, all in the service of immediate gratification, because we want what we want when we want it –NOW!

Far too often, after having demonstrated for years that we have no idea what's in our best interest, we decide after a few days or weeks clean that we know what’s best in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. We’re used to that quick fix that the drugs and booze used to give us, and we have no concept of the truth that “time takes time.” We think that our brains and bodies ought to straighten up and fly right, just because we want them to. We think that the damage and changes wrought by months and years of drinking and drugging should go away immediately — just because we’ve stopped using.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of alcoholics and other addicts who decide that it’s time to go home and make up for all the time we’ve lost. We want to jump back into our lives, re-establish our relationships with spouse, kids, family, employers, friends (and often our old buddies with whom we used), and set the world right again.

All this, when we have no idea of how to have a healthy relationship with ourselves.

The experiences of thousands of recovering people, along with many decades of observation by professionals, indicate that this is rarely the sensible thing to do. Recent scientific studies have shown that even a photograph of a person buying drugs, having a drink, shooting up — even a photo of a liquor store or an ad for beer — can be relapse triggers that stimulate responses in the portion of the brain that controls cravings. We can’t control that part of the brain by thinking. It’s part of the sub-cortical brain, inaccessible by conscious thought, and we can’t think our way out of those feelings. All we can do is fight, and often the feelings and cravings win.

It's better to avoid the battle.  We're not “strong.”  Strength comes with recovery, not when we want it.

Of course, as addicts we’re sure we have things under control, that we know what we did wrong, and that we know The Way Things Ought To Be. So we go back home, where we learned and perfected our skills at addiction, and where we are sure to run across the old relapse triggers — People, Places and Things — long before we’re ready emotionally, physically or spiritually.

Next: “They Don't Keep Cat Food In The Beer Cooler”

How Long Do Cravings Last After You Stop Using?

“I still have strong cravings to use, so my question is, does it get easier with time and treatment, or will I feel like this forever?”

The cravings that you feel should moderate soon.  It would be nice to be able to give you a simple yes or no, but you need to know a bit about what addiction actually is before you get our answer.

Drugs (including alcohol) make us feel good by imitating or increasing the levels of chemicals in the brain that act on the brain’s reward center. Different drugs do it in varied ways, but the overall effect is to overstimulate that part of the brain that gives us pleasurable sensations.

When over-stimulation occurs, our bodies try to bring things back into balance by reducing the natural production of those chemicals (neurotransmitters). Often, when the drugs wear off, we feel uncomfortable until the natural production of the chemicals resumes. We call this period of withdrawal a “hangover.”

With continued presence of the drugs, the body takes further steps: it begins to increase the number of receptor sites for the specific neurotransmitters in order to use up the surplus. Because of this, continued drug use causes “tolerance.” We need more of the drugs to fill up those extra hungry receptors, and we begin to feel uncomfortable when we don’t have them present in our bodies, or if they are present at too low a level. The process of addiction has begun.

Further drug use doesn't only increase the receptor sites. In its attempts to bring things back to normal, the brain slows production of the natural neurotransmitters. That means that when we stop the drugs, there are insufficient natural neurotransmitters, and we feel cravings and other symptoms of acute withdrawal. These vary, depending on how the drugs affected us to begin with, but they are generally the opposite of however we felt when we were using.

These feelings are most acute during the time the drugs are leaving our bodies, and begin to subside within days. However, the fun isn’t over. As George Carlin said, “Just because the monkey’s off your back, it doesn’t mean the circus has left town.” We will continue to feel discomfort until the body has shut down the extra receptor sites so that they are no longer begging for drugs, and until the natural production of neurotransmitters has resumed. This can take several months, and is referred to as Post-Acute Withdrawal.

Many authorities believe that the extra receptor sites just shut down, and don’t go away. They believe that they can easily be re-activated if drugs are reintroduced into the body.  That certainly seems to fit what we observe in real life.  That’s why we recommend abstinence. In most addicts, any drug use seems to slow and soon reverse the recovery process.

Because of this continued potential for discomfort, if we don’t take care of ourselves physically and mentally during the post-acute period, our risk of relapse is high. However, the discomfort tends to come and go, with good days and bad. Eventually the good days become more common, and the bad ones tend to occur less often and with reduced discomfort, until things are more-or-less back to normal.

You can most certainly look forward to a time when you no longer have the cravings, and those that you have will begin to ease off within a few more days. If you stay clean, eventually the discomfort will disappear entirely. Naturally, as addicts we want to feel better immediately, but it doesn’t work that way. We spent months or years getting our bodies used to drugs, so it’s hardly surprising that it takes quite a while to get over the effects.