Staying Sober

In Rockville Center, Long Island for Town Hall

Sunrise Detox in Rockville Center, Long Island

A great message from kids for kids

Rockville Center Against Youth Substance Abuse

The Rockville Center, Long Island Town Hall meeting tonight is dedicated to “Underage Drinking and Drug Use”, and Sunrise Detox is there represented by myself (Joe Horrocks) and my associate Joe Chelales.

The topics of discussion range widely from prevention through treatment issues, with concerned parents, loved ones, police and policy makers looking to discuss all sort of related issues. With the rise in heroin use, a record numbers of overdose deaths in NY & on Long Island, people want information and answers.

Community Support for Keeping Kids Safe

Tonight's meeting is co-sponsored by the Rockville center Coalition for Youth, the RVC School District, the RVC Youth Council, the RVC Police Dept., as well as Dynamic Youth COmmunity, “Don't Press Send”, St. Agnes, and Senator Todd Kaminsky's office.

Joe Chelales Sunrise Detox on Long Island

Joe Chelales of Sunrise Detox on Long Island at the Rockville Center Town Hall

The kids have done a great job with Live your Life Drug Free” T-shirts, and a community Scrabble board made up of tiles contributed by students.

Some of the messages the kids placed into their “Tile Your Own Way” Scrabble board? Everything from the classics like “Crack is Wack” and “Don't Be A Fool, Stay In School” to a few I have never seen before, including “Don't Do Drugs, The Thrill Can Kill“, “Destroy What Destroys You” and “A Friend Indeed won't make you Smoke that Weed“.

Rockville Center residents address the Town Hall panel to discuss the need for Narcan response in the community (an emergency response to heroin overdose)

Sunrise Detox on Long Island

We will be busy tonight offering information and insider knowledge to everyone with questions, as much as we can. There is never enough information when you are faced with an addiction in your family, or your own life, or when addressing an epidemic of drug and alcohol abuse in the community.

Complete Honesty In Step 4 Is Difficult The First Time

This is going to offend some folks, and that’s the point.

Over the years, I’ve spoken with alcoholics and other addicts who have done three and four 4th Steps, and (presumably) a 5th and 6th along with them. I’ve also talked with others who have adamantly stated that they did their 4th Step, cleaned house, and that’s it, that The Book doesn’t say anything about doing it more than once, and The Book is the way they work their program.

Without wanting to seem confrontational, that’s pure b.s. Honesty in Step 4, especially, is nearly impossible in early recovery and The Book doesn't say we shouldn't repeat it, either.  When Bill Wilson wrote the book Alcoholics Anonymous three-quarters of a century ago, there was a boatload of things that he left out simply because no one had thought of them yet. Bill followed up the Big Book with several others that expanded on his thinking, but some folks seem to believe that all essential knowledge about addiction reached its peak in 1938-39. And, let’s be honest, the basic texts of virtually all the other fellowships rely so heavily on the Big Book that they’re practically interchangeable except for the adjectives and a few nouns, so it’s easy to carry that thinking over to those fellowships as well.

Fast-forward 70-odd years, and we know incomparably more about alcoholism and other addictions than Bill ever thought of. For example, there’s a superb article in last week’s edition of The Fix, CBT and the 12 Steps Have a Lot in Common, that compares the Twelve Steps to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  It establishes in one more way the validity of the Steps as they compare to modern knowledge and theory, and also confirms (once again) Bill Wilson's brilliance.

I recommend the article, but it’s not the point of this one. The real point is that in the first stages of sobriety we aren't able to face and/or talk about all of our issues. Our fragile self-image, just beginning to emerge from the shame of our primary addiction(s), can’t take any more battering, and we’re extremely likely to sweep a lot of stuff back under the pantry door instead of finishing the job of cleaning the kitchen. We aren't able to be completely honest with ourselves, let alone with someone we've known for only a few months, no matter how sincerely we try.

So how can we trust a process we went through in the first few months of our recovery, and truly believe that we've done a good job with that initial inventory? The answer is our old demon, denial. We want to believe that we’re finally okay, and we are afraid to face the facts that mean we are not, that ignore issues that we've failed to address, and that are still screwing up our lives.

My drug of choice was alcohol (not that I didn’t sample many others over 20+ years of active substance addiction) and I was also addicted to some prescription drugs. Fortunately, circumstances in my life precluded easy access to illegal drugs, or undoubtedly I would have been hooked on some of those too. In any case, booze brought me to my knees, and that and the surrounding issues are what I dealt with during my step work. There was enough chaos connected with alcohol that it was easy to ignore some other things that were, in their way, creating dysfunction just as powerful if much less obvious. I’m still working on some of those, many years after that initial step work.

Nicotine, shopping, sex, codependency, gambling, energy drinks, eating disorders of any kind, hoarding, collecting carried to ridiculous extremes, video games (again, to excess), over-exercising — anything that will allow us to distract ourselves and that will give us that brief rush of feel-good brain chemicals — are disorders of our brains’ reward response. They make us feel better, while allowing us to ignore for a bit the normal problems of life that we haven’t learned to face. The trouble is, the good feelings don’t last and we’re so confused we don’t know or remember how to look for them in places less harmful.  Our unhealthy attempts to avoid the normal unpleasantries and pain of life simply increase, along with our dysfunction, until we are in some way forced to contemplate change.

So I put it to you this way, my fellow addicts: If we think we have nothing to deal with but our substance abuse, the chances are we’re fooling ourselves. Until we become willing to revisit Steps 4, 5 and 6, whether in the rooms or with a good therapist who understands addiction, we may be hopping through life on one lame leg, thinking we're just fine. And that kind of movement through life is not only uncomfortable, it also makes us far more likely to fall under a bus.

It’s Okay Not To Feel Okay

We addicts are delicate folks. Things that other people shrug off hit us deep in the gut and stay there. Discomforts that other people find annoying are major issues. An off-the-cuff remark becomes a long-term resentment, minor aches and pains a medical catastrophe, and heaven help us if we have real issues to deal with!

We were people who didn't know that it’s okay not to feel okay, and we knew just what to do about it. We chased okay around casinos, crack houses, malls and singles bars, shooting galleries, sleazy hotels and online porn sites, and into and out the other side of all sorts of jackpots. We messed up our lives and those of bystanders (innocent and not-so-innocent), and we finally reached a point that the alcohol, other drugs, sex, shopping, football pools and what have you no longer did it for us. In the end, we were unable to believe that we were okay, even for a few minutes, no matter what we did.

That’s what got us into recovery: the realization, momentary though it may have been, that if we didn’t get clean and sober we had no chance of feeling okay, ever again.

Then we discovered that early recovery is, to a considerable degree, a lot of not feeling okay. We had to deal with the aspects of day to day living without the cushion of alcohol, drugs and other feel-good behavior. Accustomed to easy, quick answers to troubled feelings, and to easy obliteration of them when we couldn’t find the answers, we found ourselves bewildered when things in our lives didn’t get better right away. Personalities used to popping a pill, downing a couple of beers, hitting the slots or the mall or the back streets suddenly had to face real feelings, and life on life’s terms. At one time or another in early recovery, every single one of us thought that sucked.

But if we stuck with our programs of recovery, we got over it. We came to understand that the changes we made in our view of the world and others by our use of artificial ways of coping with feelings had caused, or were the results of, personalities that needed readjustment. It eventually got through our addled senses that we couldn’t expect bodies — especially our brains — that had been changed by the presence of those artificial ways of coping to get back to normal right away, either. It finally occurred to us that the days of buying answers were over, and that we needed to learn how to live a new way of life without covering up emotions artificially. We took suggestions, and we learned to work through the things that we used to use over. Slowly, we learned how to live without using, and to enjoy it.

Those of us who made those changes in our worldview, who learned that it’s a normal part of being a human not to feel okay sometimes, stayed clean. We learned that it's okay not to feel okay.  We found that feeling okay only part of the time worked just fine for us, because gradually the problems that we were trying to solve with drugs, booze and other behavior just seemed to sort of fade away — and that, sometimes, we were just plain happy, often for no particular reason.

The folks who were afraid to do the work…well, we don’t see them around much any more. And every single one of us thinks that sucks.

Clients’ Questions About Recovery

From time to time we post a few of our clients’ more interesting questions about recovery.

Why do I have to continue this detox?  I am ready to go home.

We are glad that you are feeling better, but that is because you are on powerful medication.  You need further monitoring, until you are off the meds and able to manage without them.

As far as going home is concerned, it is our hope that you will decide to go to treatment instead.  It has been our experience that clients who go back to the old people, places and things don’t do well unless they have a firm foundation of knowledge, some recovery, and are able to take full advantage of available supports. Familiar situations and faces can set off powerful cravings in people who are unprepared.

How do I deal with my baby and wife leaving me because of my addiction?

As we gain sobriety and work on a program of recovery, we learn to deal with problems like this one, and many others as well.

There are only two possible ways of handling this matter.  Either you go back out and use again, continuing the old ways of solving problems that didn’t work so well, or you get clean and sober.

Option number one will certainly be easier, but will accomplish nothing except your eventual death.  It certainly will not help you regain your family and self respect, and will simply add more pain to everyone’s lives.

On the other hand, if you get humble, follow suggestions, and do the things that you need to do for yourself, you have a chance at sobriety.  If you are able to remain sober, you will at some point at least be able to have a relationship with your child, and might actually be able to get the family back together.  Seems to us that the choice is pretty clear.

I would like to know how I get a sponsor.

We find sponsors by going to a lot of meetings, listening carefully to a lot of people, and finding out who is happy, productive, and working a good program of recovery.  Some folks choose “cool” sponsors.  The smart ones look beyond the surface and try to figure out if that person has what it takes to weather the long haul, and whether they can pass it on to others.

Our blogger Bill W. has two full posts devoted to choosing a sponsor, here and here.

How long should you be clean before you can actually go around social events with alcohol?

It seems to us that the issue isn’t so much how long as it is how well prepared we are.  We need to have enough sobriety that thoughts of drinking have pretty much disappeared, along with the nostalgia when we see a beer commercial or drive past a bar.  Beyond that, we need to consider the situation: will it be a gathering when we would have participated heartily and gotten blasted — perhaps a family party or shooting pool with our old buddies — or will it be a situation with less powerful triggers.

Finally, we need to be prepared, and we need to take someone sober with us.  Again, Bill W. has a post here that covers the matter.  Check out his archives for more answers to questions about recovery.

Have a great weekend!

Once An Addict, Always An Addict?

A client asks, “Is it true that ‘once you’re an addict, you’re always an addict?’

“Once an addict, always an addict” is  hurled around the recovery field and among recovering people with considerable abandon. It’s an easy way of describing a pretty complex situation, but it’s misleading to a degree. A far more accurate way of putting it would be “Once you stop using, you have to change the way you live and the way you look at life. If you fall back into thinking and behaving the way you used to, you will almost certainly relapse, and if you don’t you will still be a miserable s.o.b.” To that extent, the addict is always waiting in the wings.

When we began using alcohol and/or other drugs to change the way we felt, we essentially shut down our emotional and social development. Healthy emotions require not only a foundation that is often missing in addicts, but also a clear mind to deal with the many issues, pleasant and unpleasant, that arise in our personal and interpersonal lives.

Since someone who is under the influence of mood-altering chemicals is, by definition, not operating with a clear mind, nothing much useful is going to happen in our emotional development from that time forward. Trauma, such as child abuse, severe injury, parental separation, poor parenting, loss of a loved one and similar things can create the same sort of obstacle to becoming a functional person. Combine the two, as so many of us did, and we end up a real mess.

We can see that sobriety involves a lot more than just quitting drugs. Abstinence is essential to recovery, but by itself only allows us to begin to think clearly. True recovery involves learning how to live without drugs: cleaning up the issues that separate us from others, learning to deal with our emotions, resolving the shame and guilt that always go along with active addiction, and building living skills. These are the abilities that we develop in our recovery fellowships, therapy and spiritual practice. Without them, we have no reason to remain clean and sober.

So — once an addict, always an addict?  To the extent that we practice those skills, and continue to practice them, maintaining an emotional and spiritual condition that will enable us to live a life without drugs, we are insulated from our addictions. However, the other side of the coin is obvious: if we fall back into our old ways of thinking and dealing with life, the addict has returned.

What is the Choice Model of Addiction?

In simple terms, the choice model of addiction contradicts the “disease” approach employed in 12 step treatment by stating that each individual is able to choose whether he or she uses drugs. Whilst some advocates of the 12 step approach will concede that drug use is initially a choice which then develops into a brain disease, supporters of the choice model refuse to accept that a disease has anything to do with addiction at all. They believe that choices were made to start using drugs, and therefore that choices can be made to stop. The debate between these two camps has raged for decades, and shows no signs of abating.

Read more at Everything Addiction – What is the Choice Model of Addiction?

NOTE: Sunrise Detox supports the disease model, but believes the important thing is recovery, not arguments.

Trusting Your Gut

Every now and again, we hear someone in recovery say, “Trust your gut.”  They're right.

There is nothing mystical about hunches, intuition, and trusting your gut. We are, each of us, the sum total of billions of experiences, and we remember many of them on some level. We are well-equipped to let our subconscious minds help us out with problems, armed as they are with that wealth of experience, but we often force ourselves to ignore those gut feelings — the feeling that something is just sort of “icky.”

We want to do something, say something, buy something, to fill that empty place inside, and we think up all sorts of ways to justify our wants to ourselves and ignore the message that our subconscious mind is sending loud and clear. Then we go on with the self-deception and make up ways to justify whatever it is to others – our partner, our business associates, our sponsors, our friends – but, ultimately, to ourselves again.

Healthy ideas seldom need justification. Feeling a need to explain, to justify, should tell us that something’s wrong somewhere. It may simply be a neurotic need on our part to assure ourselves and everyone else that we’re really OK, but there’s also an excellent possibility that we’re about to venture where we ought to fear to tread, guided by the child inside who is telling us it’s OK because I Want, I Want, I Want.

In either case, there are two possible clues: the urge to hide whatever it is, or the urge to justify it. Both should set off our alarms.  Learn to trust your gut instead, and live accordingly. A happier life is guaranteed.