mind body spirit

Why Should I Stay In Treatment?

Bored In Treatment

If you hang around treatment centers for any length of time, you will eventually hear someone say (or say yourself) something on the order of “I already know this stuff.  Why should I stay here?”

This makes perfect sense, from the standpoint of someone in very early recovery.  In treatment, there are things that get repeated over and over.  That’s because we learn by repetition.  If we were studying for a part in a play, we would think nothing of going over our lines and actions repeatedly.  In recovery, we’re trying to replace old ways of instinctive thinking with new ones.  Repetition helps, but it can be the “same ol’ same ol’” after a while.

We know, however, that addicts often need a second or third trip through treatment before they actually learn what they need to know to change old behavior and stay clean and sober.  It takes some people that long to absorb some recovery principles, and apply the insight they bring to the changes they need to make.

Sometimes the things that we are asked to think about in therapy are painful, or involve feelings that we’ve suppressed so long that we can’t even identify them when asked.  The old “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before” reaction is often a form of denial to help protect us from the pain of confronting issues that may be hampering our recovery.

We need to pay attention to the details, and grab hold of new ideas when we can.  No one, not even an old-timer, knows all there is to know about recovery.  The more we know about how our own heads work, the easier it is for us to know when they’re leading us in the wrong direction.  If we listen to other clients when they share, pay attention to outside speakers, and instead of criticizing actually consider how their experiences and solutions might apply to our own situation, we can remain not only interested, but actually engaged in our own treatment.

The same is true of new ideas and therapies that may be suggested by staff.  We need to give those things a fair chance.  If we had cancer and the doctor said she thought we needed to try a new therapy, we’d at least give it a long, hard look.  Why shortchange ourselves when it comes to getting clean and sober?  After all, addiction is a deadly disease too, if left unchecked.

If we keep an open mind, treatment can not only be tolerable, it can be fascinating as we learn more about who we are, and about how to become the people we would like to be.

Questions From Newcomers: Is it possible to have a healthy life right after detox?

The smart-aleck answer to the question “Is it possible to have a healthy life right after detox” is “What…are you kidding?”  However, the straight answer is “What do you mean by ‘healthy?’”

When it comes to recovery, we speak of at least two kinds of health: physical, and emotional.  Some folks would add spiritual health (which has nothing to do with religion) to that list.  We need to remember that our bodies and minds were subject to the effects of chemicals more-or-less continuously for months — in most cases, for years.  Major changes took place due to the effects of drugs on our brains, as well as their effects on other body systems, especially in the case of alcohol.  It would be unreasonable to expect these changes to reverse and return to normal overnight.  Just as it took years to create the problems, so may it take months to recover from them.  The good news is that it rarely takes anywhere near as long for repairs as it took to do the damage, and improvements begin to show up relatively soon if we’re patient.

Our physical health depends on what condition we were when we came to detox (young, older, fit, couch potato, etc.), what residual effects we may experience from the drugs (post-acute withdrawal), and what other health problems we brought with us.  Many, if not most, addicts suffer from a variety of problems that can range from cirrhosis of the liver and/or viral hepatitis to diabetes, malnutrition, or general poor physical conditioning — often several issues of varying severity that need to be addressed.  Even those of us who styled ourselves athletes during our addiction may find that the reorganization of our internal chemistry leaves us with less get up and go than we figured, or that the drugs were covering up some condition that is revealed by a physical exam when we’re sober.  These things aren’t inevitable, but the possibility of some problems should be anticipated.

Mentally and emotionally, most of us addicts (alcohol is a drug, and alcoholics are addicts) find that for the first few weeks and months we run the gamut of emotions, from manic highs — where we believe recovery is the most wonderful thing that could happen to anyone — to bouts of depression and the thought “If this is all there is, I might as well use.”

But there is good news!  For one thing, though we may feel lousy, physically and emotionally, these things slowly improve if we stay clean and sober and work on a program of recovery.  Furthermore, we have the assurance that, even though it may seem as though it’s happening at a snail’s pace, people who remain abstinent and take care of themselves otherwise always improve eventually.  For us addicts, accustomed to feeling good in a matter of minutes whenever we feel like it, these periods may seem endless.  But they are not, and periods of feeling good eventually occur, increasing in frequency and quality as the repairs take place and we get back into the swing of living.

As time passes, we begin not only to feel better, but to think about getting back to what we perceive as our normal lives.  We want to clean up some of the messes we made, right some of the wrongs, find jobs, begin to save a little money, and try to earn the respect and trust of others.  These improvements are immensely aided by the support and help of other recovering people.  Put succinctly, people who go to meetings and develop a support system, learning to follow directions and do the next healthy thing, tend to recover if they persevere.  Those who don’t rarely remain clean and sober for long.

So the answer is that it is possible to live a healthier life immediately after detox.  A healthy life may be further down the road, but it is attainable.  Millions of people have gotten through the first weeks and months of abstinence, and achieved lasting sobriety.  The secrets are, first, to want it more than anything else, and second to stick with it and — as they say — wait for the miracle.

Blood Sugar and Recovery — A Critical Issue

The farther I got into the mind, body and spirit thing that is recovery, the more I realized how completely the three aspects dovetail. It is possible to be spiritually and mentally healthy while in poor physical condition, but generally the aches, pains and discomfort associated with such things — even with poor nutrition or lack of exercise — will interfere with our overall recovery. As someone so succinctly put it (it may even have been me), “When you feel like hell, it's hard to rise above it.”

In recovery we say, “Don't get Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired” (H.A.L.T.). It's amazing how often those seem to go together. We feel low on energy, may have a dull headache, and become irritable, stubborn, and prone to seemingly irrational fits of anger or even rage. I've often wondered how many cases of “Road Rage” could have been avoided if the perpetrator had eaten a decent snack before beginning the drive home after work.

What we're talking about here is levels of blood sugar. Regulation of blood glucose is one of the many bodily functions that are messed up by alcoholism and addiction.  Roughly 25% of the calories we eat go to keeping our brains operating at their most efficient level. When our blood sugar begins to drop, our brains begin to malfunction for lack of fuel, and that can cause big problems.

Until recently it was thought that each person's reaction to a given level of blood sugar was pretty much the same, but it has been found that many people are affected emotionally by glucose levels that were once believed to be within the normal range.

To find out if you suffer from mood swings caused by low blood sugar, use this easy way to self-diagnose. Get a small candy bar and a package of snack crackers (not cookies). About three hours after your last meal or snack, eat the candy bar. Begin keeping track of the way you feel. The symptoms of sub-clinical hypoglycemia may include any or all of the following symptoms:

* Irritability, ranging from mild to raging
* Low energy
* Depression
* Rigid facial muscles (can't smile)
* Muscle tension
* No sense of humor
* Dull headache
* Minor visual disturbances
* A jumpy, edgy feeling
* Difficulty concentrating
* Light-headedness.

These symptoms will normally begin to occur within an hour, often in much less time, and tend to worsen rapidly. Once you have satisfied yourself about the symptoms, go ahead and eat the crackers; they'll help stabilize your glucose and bring you back to normal.

The cure is simple: don't get that hungry. Our bodies are designed to work best when we eat several small meals a day, rather than three larger ones. We have artificially imposed a schedule on them that they don't accept well. We should eat a good breakfast, not too heavy on sweets, because we have been fasting for a third of a day.  A low-sweet snack at mid-morning will hold us until lunch, at which time we again avoid heavy sweets. A mid-afternoon snack will take us through the rush hour commute to dinner time, with a reasonable dessert, in a far better mood. A high protein snack before bedtime will help us sleep better.

The big trick is to avoid things that will cause our blood sugar to rise quickly, like our candy bar on the empty stomach did during the test. When our glucose level rises too rapidly, our bodies overreact and bring it down too far and too fast. That's what causes the hypoglycemic episodes — the blast of sugar. If it was accompanied by caffeine, the result is likely to be exaggerated even more. A low-sugar snack will bring the glucose up slowly and avoid the overcompensation. Obviously another candy bar would bring it up, too, but that will result in chasing our blood sugar curve all over the place, and many of us are doing that already.

A common complaint is “I can't eat all those snacks — I'll gain weight!” You will probably find, if you choose your snacks carefully, that you'll actually eat less over the course of a day because you won't be as hungry at meal times. Also, remember that we're cutting down the sweets. Sweets are OK, but not by themselves. We need to have them after a decent meal, or small amounts with our snacks, to avoid that blood sugar “spike.”

Give up the donuts and coffee for breakfast and the high-sugar snacks between meals. If you can make yourself reduce your caffeine intake, that's good too — especially if you're in the habit of drinking sweetened coffee or energy drinks on an empty stomach. Try it for a week, and keep a log of how you feel. You may be amazed at the difference it will make in the quality of your life. I was.

This is also the recommended diet to reduce the chance of developing diabetes, especially when combined with exercise and sufficient rest.

Remember, the Universe will cheerfully refund your misery at any time; all you have to do is ask.