Mental Health

Zoloft Put the Pleasure in My Sobriety

I've recently run across the old bugaboo in the rooms related to taking antidepressants. Because not taking them when needed can not only impact our ability to work a program but can also lead to serious debilitation and even suicide, I think this article is a must for everyone in recovery.

“Better living through chemistry” isn't just a slogan: I've been on antidepressants for 20 years, and can still remember exactly when the first one started to work—allowing my recovery to begin for real.
By Maia Szalavitz

Read more at The Fix

“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.

Eat, Smoke, Meditate: Why Your Brain Cares How You Cope

Our National Director of Admissions, Joe Horrocks, suggested this as a basis for an article.  After re-reading it several times I decided that I couldn't present the subject any better then the author has done, so I decided to publish a link instead of reinventing the wheel.  This article explains the “why” of the exercise extremely well, and I'll follow up tomorrow with some information about the “how.”

Most people do what they have to do to get through the day. Though this may sound dire, let’s face it, it’s the human condition. Given the number of people who are depressed or anxious, it’s not surprising that big pharma is doing as well as it is. But for millennia before we turned to government-approved drugs, humans devised clever ways of coping: Taking a walk, eating psychedelic mushrooms, breathing deeply, snorting things, praying, running, smoking, and meditating are just some of the inventive ways humans have found to deal with the unhappy rovings of their minds.

But which methods actually work?

Read more: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2011/09/21/eat-smoke-meditate-why-your-brain-cares-how-you-cope/

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…]

What Did Adam Lanza Have In Common With Us Addicts?

Family secrets.

Family secrets are those things that everyone close to a person or situation knows or suspects, but never talks about. Often the thoughts aren’t even put into words. When they are, they come with adjurations: “It’s no one else’s business!” “What would people think?” “We don’t want people sticking their noses into…!” “It would ruin his (life) (career) (reputation)!” “We don’t talk about that!” “How dare you say that about your uncle!” And so forth.

Frequently such secrets involve substance abuse. Just as often, they hide other sorts of abuse, addiction, and other unhealthy behavior from child molestation to spousal abuse, bingeing and anorexia to cluttering. In every case, this pervasive form of denial prevents individuals and families from getting the help they need.  And all too often it “protects” people with mental illnesses. Failure of a variety of people to look at the facts and deal with unpleasant issues prevented Adam Lanza from receiving the evaluation and treatment that he needed.

If Adam Lanza’s mother had sought help when she noticed his peculiar behavior, instead of convincing herself that he was merely suffering from a mild form of Aspergers Syndrome (which does not involve the same sorts of behaviors at all), things may have been completely different. If the other folks in his life, from family members to teachers, guidance counselors and other professionals with whom he crossed paths over the years had not failed to take the extra steps necessary to bring attention to his problems, things may have been completely different. If his mother had not had a perverse streak that caused her to keep firearms in a home with a troubled family member…. If… If… If…

My point here is not to defend Adam Lanza. What I’m trying to do is point out that keeping secrets does not enhance other people’s lives. People with self-destructive behaviors — whether they are using drugs, mentally unstable, or otherwise functioning outside the boundaries of a healthy life — are the business of the people around them. The havoc wreaked every day by people who are having difficulty controlling their lives and impulses affects us all, in one way or another.

And then there was Adam Lanza, and the others.

After Treatment, Veterans Fare Better Than Civilian Alcohol Abusers

ScienceDaily (Oct. 29, 2012) — Male military veterans with a history of heavy alcohol use are more likely to seek treatment, later report better overall health and less depression than their civilian counterparts, according to new research…

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