addiction

We Don’t Have To Give In To “Stinkin’ Thinkin'”

Everyone in recovery knows someone who tried to go back to “occasionally” using alcohol or other drugs — with predictable results. Many of us have personal experience. It often starts out with being sober for a few months, but it can happen in a program that has gone smoothly for years. We begin to think that we've been feeling so good lately that maybe we aren't an addict after all. Maybe we can “handle it.” Of course, now that we know all about addiction, we won't let it get the best of us.

Sometimes we try it, sometimes not, merely teetering on the edge for a bit. Those of us who did try tend to have the most interesting stories, and they all center around the idea that we convinced ourselves that we didn’t need to remain abstinent, or that we concentrated on some terrible thing that someone had done to us, dwelling on that instead of the good things in our lives.  Or perhaps we simply forgot to look for the good and concentrated on the bad, so that drinking or using drugs seemed like a reasonable alternative to the way we were feeling. Professionals call these ideas “reservations.”  But call it that, or a “dry drunk, “stinkin’ thinkin’” or whatever you will, it is the main component of relapse. (Remember, we relapse before we use.)  And it causes a lot of misery, even though we may technically remain clean and sober.

But it doesn't have to work that way.

Photo: DigitalZen

When we are active in our addictions, we dwell on our problems.  After all, they give us a marvelous excuse to use.  And, as we progress in our addiction, we learn to project our feelings about ourselves onto others.  It is much easier for me to resent the fact that my spouse spends all her time at work than it is to admit that if I got off my butt and found a job, she wouldn't have to work so hard.  Thinking like that would threaten my drinking and drugging, and I need to avoid that at all costs.  This way of thinking rapidly becomes a habit, because it allows us to feel more comfortable despite evidence that we shouldn't be. Eventually it affects our entire view of the world.

But after we're clean and sober, we no longer need to protect ourselves that way. One of the things I’ve learned through years of meditation is that I actually do have a reasonable amount of control over what I think. When we meditate, we try to concentrate on something without intellectual content — our breathing, say — to the exclusion of outside thoughts. This allows our subconscious to percolate uninterrupted, and we begin to gain some insight about ourselves.

To begin with, it’s hard. Thoughts about all sorts of things come along. We get really pissed off at our inability to do anything about it. Then someone tells us that it's a normal part of meditation. The idea is not to fight the stray thoughts, but to just let them arise, and then bring our mind back to the breathing, mantra, rosary, or whatever we’re using as a meditation tool. The key is that I can’t stop thoughts from coming to my mind, but I can control whether or not I concentrate on them, even if they come back over and over again.

Instead of drinking the poison of resentment and then waiting for the other guy to die, I can choose to turn my mind to something else. I can do it over and over again, until eventually I’ve distracted myself into thinking about other things entirely. The same is true of obsessions like drinking, or unsatisfied sexual urges, or the new toy that I think I need. It is entirely within my power to control those thoughts — not to pretend that they don’t exist, or fail to acknowledge them, but to choose not to dwell on them. In doing so, I rob them of their power, instead of giving them mine.

A Look At Sunrise Ft. Lauderdale, Our New South Florida Facility

Today I was able to stop in at the Open House for our new facility at 2331 N.E. 53 St., in Ft. Lauderdale.  I snapped a few pictures, and I thought you all might like to see how it looks.  We expect to begin receiving clients in mid to late June.

Click the thumbnails for larger images.

 

Do I Really Need A Program Of Recovery?

If there is one form of denial that is common to most folks who aren’t sure if they really want to stay clean and sober, it’s “I don’t need a program.  I can do it myself; all it takes is willpower;” or, “I have plenty of support at home, I don’t need to go to meetings.”  Hard on the heels of that idea is “I don’t like (insert 12-step program here), it’s too (insert excuse here).”

You don’t have to spend much time in recovery to hear folks make these statements, and if you work in the recovery field, you hear it all the time.  It usually doesn’t take too long for those people to fade out of sight, and sometimes we see them come back, weeks, months or years later, with a better attitude.

Often we don’t.

There are a couple of secrets to making it in recovery.  One is to do whatever we can to get over the habits, both mental and physical, that led us to, or reinforced the use of, our drugs of choice.  Without going into detail, some of those are:

  • using at certain times and in certain places, or with particular people
  • making excuses to justify our using (“I deserve it; If you were married to her, and so forth)
  • “drinking at” people, using booze or drugs to withdraw and let them know we don’t need them
  • always smoking a cigarette when we’re on the phone, if that’s the addiction we’re working on
  • we could continue the list ad infinitum.

The other — perhaps the biggest — secret, isn’t really a secret at all.  It’s bounced around the rooms all the time, but somehow some of us manage not to hear it.  That’s to keep an open mind!  If we don’t like what we’re hearing, we need to remember two things:

  • there are no rules in the 12-step rooms, only suggestions; no right and wrong way to do it, only ways that we have found — through 70-odd years of experience — work for most people; and
  • use common sense.

The common sense part is obviously open to interpretation.  For example, the “no romantic relationships in the first year” suggestion is a good one.  A new relationship is about the most distracting thing that can happen to anyone, and we don’t need distractions.  On the other hand, if we’re already in a relationship that hasn’t soured completely, that suggestion obviously doesn’t apply.   However, if we used with our partner, (or used them as an excuse to use) maybe we need to re-think that, too.

Another example would be the “Higher Power Issue.”  If you want the god of a particular religion as your higher power, that’s fine.  If you don’t, that’s fine too.  The thing is, we need to admit that we can’t do it alone, and surrendering to a higher power has terrific symbolism.  It works for a lot of people.

If it doesn’t work for you, great.  Just remember that part about not doing it alone.  It’s nearly impossible to recover without the support of other recovering people.  We need to remember, too, as long as we’re on the subject, that just as we have a right to choose what we believe is right for us, so do others.  So if they want to talk about their god, that’s OK.  It isn’t catching.  If we can’t be that flexible, we’re in trouble already.  After all, tolerance is the first step toward a spiritual life.

Ask yourself these questions: Do I really want to get clean and sober?  Do I want to have a full, satisfying life?  Do I want to improve my self-esteem, clean up some of the wreckage, and generally become a productive human being — or do I want to die in my active addiction?

That, my friend, is the most important question you will ever ask yourself.  Don’t answer too hastily.

Easy Does It

Every so often — too often — I run across a newcomer with a few months or even a couple of years, who has decided to become an addiction professional or otherwise involved in the field, and help save all the poor folks who are still “out there.”

It scares the hell out of me.

The last thing a person in early recovery needs is more stress, and let me tell you: going back to school, working as a tech and picking up contact hours, and then the life of a newly-hatched counselor or therapist is not conducive to good, long lasting recovery.  As much as it seems like these things would enhance one's understanding of the disease and the recovery process, the exact opposite is true.  It puts us directly in a position of being unable to see the forest for the trees, distracts us from the steps, practicing the principles, and generally focuses us on other people at a time when we should still be focusing on ourselves.  Not only that, but it can fool us into believing that we know all that we need to know about recovery.  I'm here to tell you that is rarely the case even for old-timers. I learn new stuff every day — often from newcomers who have done the research for me and lived to tell about it.

Goodness knows that if several folks with good recovery hadn't gone on to become professionals and been there to help me, I'd be dead. I like to think the same is true of my efforts, in at least a few cases.  But, without any exceptions that I can think of, the truly good counselors and therapists are the ones who had several years of recovery under their belts before they became immersed in the field.  I'm sure this isn't the case with all, but I am willing to state unequivocally that it is true of most.  The experience that makes recovering people some of the best therapists needs time to develop, and if you don't have the fundamentals down for yourself, then you don't have anything to give to others.

So all you folks who are living in the fast lane, holding down a job or two, maybe trying to raise kids, and planning to hit the books — please think about what you're doing.  I've seen that kind of recovery end abruptly, sometimes years down the road.  And you know what?  It's really hard for those folks to get back.

Take care of yourself, or you won't be able to take care of anyone.  And remember, anything you put ahead of your own recovery, you are likely to lose.

 

Are there effective online AA groups and sponsors?

Q. Are there effective online AA groups and sponsors?

[The person asking the question is a public figure, concerned about negative publicity and broken anonymity.]

There are good online AA groups.  Most, if not all, have provisions for connecting newcomers with online sponsors.  Any program of recovery is only as effective as the desire of the individual to work at it.  In that respect, an online program is better than no program at all, and no doubt they do the job for some recovering alcoholics and other addicts.  Consider, however, that the purpose of a program is not only to keep from drinking.  Recovery is about unlearning how to be an addict, and learning how better to function in the world outside of AA, NA or whatever program one has chosen.

During our addictions we learn a great many undesirable habits.  We all lie, to ourselves and to others.  We are all thieves.  We may not take material things, but we steal time from our employers and families.  We steal other people’s pleasure in having a clean and sober family member, friend, or business associate.  We steal the time and resources of courts, social services, hospitals, insurance companies and law enforcement — things that are desperately needed by society to accomplish other purposes.  We steal the health of others by causing them stress, causing accidents, and taking up space in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms and other health facilities.

We also develop dysfunctional ways of dealing with other people, with stress, with personal problems, even efforts to enjoy ourselves.  Those of us who continue to function effectively in society still create our own little worlds of quiet chaos — otherwise, why would we be seeking recovery?

When we first get clean, the habits of addiction are still with us.  We have to unlearn them, and learn other ways of dealing with people, the world at large — and ourselves.  In some cases, we have to relearn skills that we’ve forgotten, or get up to date in our fields of expertise.  We have to clean up the wreckage we left behind, and reestablish ourselves in our families and society.  We have a lot to accomplish.

The Twelve Steps are a template — an agenda, if you will — for getting these things done.  They work exceptionally well, at least as well as any other programs of recovery, and better than the majority.  However, they were developed on the basis of face-to-face contact.  Some “solos” have managed to stay sober by letters and (now) email, but the great majority of successful recovery comes from the meeting halls where we interact with others who can guide us.

Sure, some of that can be done online.  This very article is one of the ways that can occur.  But online does not put us in the presence of others.  Online can’t hug.  Online can’t look at our face and tell that we’re having a crappy day, despite our protestations, and call us on it.  Online can’t give us unconditional love — because we need to see that in the face of another human being.  Online can’t tell when we’re full of b.s. — nor can we tell that about the people we interact with online. Online can’t go out for coffee and a chat, or to a picnic, or just be companionable.  We can’t call online at 3:00 AM, the midnight of the soul.  Online can't phone us to find out how we're doing if it hasn't seen us in awhile.  Nor can we do those things online for others.  In short, it’s a weak substitute for f-2-f meetings.

That’s not to say online meetings can’t be helpful, but in my opinion they should not be substituted for the real thing.  Alcoholics and other addicts need contact with people.  We avoided real interaction by keeping ourselves high and detached.  Now we need to do the reverse.  There are meetings for professionals, held privately, to avoid the issues of unethical media who no longer respect our anonymity as they once did.  A call to our local Intergroup office will probably turn up at least one in our area.

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”  Sitting in front of a monitor, regardless of good intentions, is not being thorough.  This is not meant to take anything away from the good people on line, but merely to say that depending on them alone is likely to be a recipe for disaster.

If I’m On A Suboxone Or Methadone Program, Am I Clean?

justice.gov

Q. Is being prescribed methadone or suboxone considered being clean, even though they are addictive, abusable substances?

You’ll get different answers to this question from different people.  Generally the division lies between those who are on maintenance drugs and those who are not.  Both sides of the discussion have their valid points.  However, I believe you answered your own question when you used the expression “addictive, abusable substances.”

The consensus among most professionals and recovering addicts is that “clean”, when used in the context of recovery, means drug-free.  Having all mood-altering substances out of our systems is necessary before the changes that addiction creates in our brains can be repaired.  As long as drugs that modify the reward system (which includes all recreational drugs) are in our bodies, repair and normalization cannot begin.  When we are on Suboxone or methadone maintenance, we are still addicted¹, and our brains are essentially in the same condition as when we were actively using other opioid drugs.  It would seem to be pushing things to call us clean.

That is not to say that there are no benefits to drug maintenance programs.  To the extent that they allow people to cease other drug use and begin to take care of themselves and fulfill their responsibilities, they have some validity.  The problem is that the addiction remains in full force, and relapse — whether to other drugs or simply recreational doses of the maintenance drugs — is only a hair’s breadth away.  Adherence to maintenance programs rests squarely on our willingness to continue to follow them.  That is an extremely dangerous place for an addict to be.

Here at Sunrise, we believe that the proper uses of these drugs are as short-term substitutes for the drugs being abused, with a relatively rapid taper to a completely drug-free condition.  If we wanted, we could easily become licensed to provide maintenance services.  However, we do not believe that is in the best interest of our patients, their families, and the other people in their lives.
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¹If you don’t think we remain addicted on maintenance doses of opioid substitutes, just try quitting.  Both Suboxone (when used for long periods) and methadone have withdrawal syndromes that are worse than the drugs for which they’re being substituted.  Truth.

Addicts, Alcoholics and Holiday Parties: What’s A Hostess To Do?

Folks in the addiction and alcoholism treatment fields are often asked about how a host should handle holiday parties attended by recovering friends.  Social occasions that involve people in recovery, especially those in early recovery, can pose some perplexing problems for a host.

On one hand, a host who is aware of a guest’s need to avoid mood-altering substances may wish to do what is possible to keep from exposing them to temptation.  On the other hand, social drinking is a part of everyday American culture. Most social gatherings involve some drinking by some of the guests, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, for some of us, it might not be the healthiest of environments, and a host may be at a loss as to how she ought to deal with guests who are in recovery. Here are some pointers on how to handle this delicate situation while, at the same time, being fair to all.

There are some simple things to remember. [Read more…]