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Anaheim Lighthouse is a drug and alcohol treatment facility that offers detox, residential treatment, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and sober living to men and women. Our team of experts provide compassionate care in a clean, safe and structure environment. We also offer additional group and individual sessions in emotional trauma recovery and pain management.
At 24, I had never been in a sober romantic relationship in my life. I had started drinking at 13, a year and a half before I started dating. By my first date, I was smoking weed, too. We met at the local skating rink, joined our friends behind the building, and got high before we even went inside.
Alcohol was my first love, though. It was also cheaper and easier to get. I had a large group of friends, and we all ended up dating each other at some point. I had created quite a comfort zone for myself, one that I never really thought about ending until my freshman year in college. My core group was now scattered all over the country.
So, I started over the only way I knew how, by drinking. I was spiking my coffee all day long just to get up the nerve to put myself out there so I could get to know people so that I could have a social life!
Eventually, I ended up at my first AA meeting. I was so dedicated to following the program and getting my life together. Dating was the last thing on my mind.
Then, he showed up. And everything changed.
I had never seen him at any of my meetings before, and I was instantly attracted to him. Once the meeting ended, however, I found myself frozen in my seat. This was the first time I was attracted to anyone since I got sober, and I simply had no idea what to do.
As I thought about it afterward, a part of me said to go ahead, give it a shot, since I had my first year of sobriety in. But the fearful part of me kept giving me reasons to stay single.
For example, what if this guy does come back to our meeting, becomes part of our home group, and we start dating? What happens if it doesn’t work out? I am not going to be comfortable sharing the stress I would be feeling over a break up with him sitting right there. I am going to want to run away and hide. Missing meetings could very well be the outcome, which would jeopardize my sobriety.
I didn’t see him again for a month, and then another. He mentioned that he was here once a month to visit his mother who was admitted to a nursing home in my area. His home group was actually two hours away.
We started chatting a little after those monthly meetings and then started keeping in touch on Facebook. He had been sober for three years, had a steady job, and had just adopted a puppy. Before long, we were talking on the phone every day and going out once a month for coffee after the meeting.
As our relationship developed, we agreed to keeping our home groups separate, and we did so for the next two years until we got married. We settled midway between his hometown and mine and began attending the same home group, but we don’t always go together. While we are a couple, we also recognize and support each other’s individual journeys.
I believe the reasons we have been successful are that we took the time to really get to know each other and became friends before dating and that we continue to respect our individual recovery needs.
Also remember that in AA they refer to focusing on dating too much or pursuing newcomers as the “13th step”, because it is not part of the 12 step program.
So, yes, AA and romance can go together. But you have to be very careful to put your recovery first. Just give yourself the time you need to live sober, make sure you’re really compatible before you hop in the sack, and respect your individual boundaries.
Whether you’re recently clean and sober or a long-term recovery veteran, relapse is always a risk. You may slip up, run into triggering events, or find yourself suddenly unable to cope with cravings. However, in most cases, addiction relapse doesn’t happen overnight. It builds up over time, and there are signs and symptoms that it will happen.
By recognizing yours, you can work to change your behavior and your mentality so that you can keep yourself clean and sober. While most relapses start from a single ‘triggering’ event, it is your behavior, your choices, and your attitude that contributes to whether that trigger results in relapse or not.
1. You’re Unhappy
Unhappiness of any kind will almost always contribute towards substance use. People use substances to cope with stress, anger, loneliness, exhaustion, and nearly every other form of negative emotions. Worst of all, negative emotions feed into addiction, you feel bad, so you use to give yourself a boost or a break and then you feel worse because you used and you broke your sobriety – quickly leading you into a continuous cycle of abuse and back into addiction.
If you recognize that you’re unhappy consistently, get help. Try to work out or solve the problems causing unhappiness, attend therapy, and make sure you’re seeing your support groups. You can’t always avoid being unhappy and being happy all the time isn’t possible or healthy, but you should be able to manage your emotions, take time out, and destress with exercise, mental health time, therapy, and hobbies.
2. Withdrawing from Friends, Family, and Support
Many people come to the subconscious realization that they want to use again before actually doing so. They then begin to withdraw from family and friends as well as support groups – usually with excuses like it doesn’t matter, doesn’t help, or ‘whatever’. Once you’ve begun to rationalize drug or alcohol use to yourself, you naturally remove accountability and people who might judge you for it – even if you haven’t yet admitted that you’re thinking about using again to yourself.
What can you do about it? Start spending more time with your community, your support groups, and your friends and family. When you’re thinking about using, you need everyone the most. Don’t be afraid to talk about it in group therapy, or if you don’t have a group therapy, try to join one.
3. You’re Overextending Yourself
HALT or Hungry Angry Lonely Tired describes a series of negative emotions that lead to relapse. If you’re trying to do too much, overextending yourself, and never have time to rest or relax, you might be headed for a relapse. It’s important to pace yourself, take time to relax, and make sure that you don’t do more than you can without causing unneeded stress or unhappiness.
What can you do about it? Start saying no to other people more often, review the things you’re doing every day and cut back more possible, and take a more moderate approach to everything you’re doing. If your plans take a little longer to achieve, that will be better than driving yourself into relapse.
4. You Catch Yourself Being Nostalgic or Rationalizing “One More Time”
Whether old friends are back in town, you find yourself romanticizing substance use, or fondly remembering ‘the good old days’ in any way, you’re setting yourself up for relapse. Remembering substance use in a positive light and reminiscing about it will generate cravings and you will have difficulty saying no. If you let yourself do it often enough, you might relapse. You might also be thinking of the good times with substance use after you’ve been exposed to a trigger and you’ve already subconsciously decided to start using again. You might also find yourself romanticizing old friends and friendships, but if they’re still using, it can only turn out badly.
How can you fight good memories? You don’t have to. Just make sure you remember the bad at the same time. For every minute of good times with drug use, you likely had an equal or longer period with rough hangovers, no money, no friends, health problems, and pain. Remind yourself of all the reasons you quit and all the good things you’ve achieved since then.
5. You Get Defensive and Angry
Getting defensive and angry about someone asking if you’re using or thinking about using is a bad sign. Defensiveness and anger are a sign of guilt, and if you’re not thinking about using, you’re not usually guilty. That’s important, because many of us develop strong habits of self-denial when addicted. Going through therapy may not be enough to correct those habits.
If you’re defensive when someone asks, you probably need to go back to a group, get further counseling, or talk about your cravings with your substance group.
Similarly, some people develop addict-behavior right before a relapse. You might suddenly become selfish and agitated, have a low tolerance for noise, be irritable, and easily become upset. These are all symptoms that you are headed for a relapse and you need to talk to your counselor or therapist.
6. You’re Experiencing Emotional Turmoil
Emotional upsets like breakups, deaths in the family, car accidents and other forms of trauma are all huge triggers for addiction. You also have to watch out for suddenly being on your own (even on a vacation), losing a family pet, or otherwise experiencing emotional turmoil of any kind.
The only real way to fight this is to work on self-discipline, learn to cope with grief and emotions in behavioral therapy, and ensure that you have a strong support group to lean back onto.
7. Something Major Happens in Your Life
While it makes sense for most of us that we might slip up and relapse when bad things happen, the opposite is often true. Most people don’t relapse when the family pet dies, they relapse when they buy a house, get a new car, get married. Good events kick off a need for celebration, which can quickly turn into a strong craving for substances. Caught up in a celebratory mood, you might be more prone to saying “just the once”.
Make sure you’re around people who will hold you accountable, remember that you are at risk when good things happen, and ensure that you are ready to fight cravings.
If you’ve slipped up and had a drink or used, it’s not the end. Relapse is very often part of the process of recovery. Many people slip up and then return to abstinence, more aware of what causes them to relapse and ready to go back into treatment to ensure that they don’t slip up again. Relapse is never good, but the important thing is that you don’t stop there, go back into treatment, see your counselor, go to AA or NA, and keep yourself moving forward.
Hopefully, you can stop yourself from relapsing before you actually do. If not, get clean and sober again as quickly as possible so you can continue your recovery. Being honest with yourself, understanding what went wrong, and talking about it with your recovery group and your therapist.
No matter where you are in your recovery, relapse is a risk. If you understand the warning signs and can admit when you need help, you can avoid a relapse.
Recovering from a substance use disorder is a long journey. Coming out of addiction means moving past learned behaviors, battling triggers and cravings, and moving past trauma. It also means overcoming the habits and problems that led you to addiction in the first place. During this recovery period, peers can help you by offering support, motivation, and assistance.
Self-help and support groups like AA and 12-step are extremely common, because having peers to assist you in recovery works. Studies show that peers hold you accountable, help to motivate you to move forward, provide inspiration, and can offer the help you need to walk away from cravings. A friend who has also recovered from a substance use disorder may also help you to recognize your own failings, and to move them, give insight into something you’re struggling with, and give you someone to talk to, whom you know will understand you.
Peers help in different ways depending on your personality, level of addiction, and your social status and family, but can benefit in numerous ways.
Types of Peer Support
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) strongly recommends peer support-based recovery solutions, including separate peer support therapy, self-help groups like AA, and other forms of peer-based complimentary treatment like SMART.
SAMSHA suggests that you should get a combination of emotional, informational, instrumental, and affiliational support from peers alongside mentoring and coaching.
Mentoring and Coaching
A peer who has been clean or sober for a long duration works with you to guide you on your journey to recovery. This is known as Sponsoring in AA, but is common in many types of peer-based support. Here, you are directly given knowledge, expected to learn, and are a student rather than an equal. Mentors and coaches can be crucial in situations where you have been addicted for a long period of time and need assistance, are confused or doubt yourself, or need help steering yourself away from cravings.
Friendship is equally important in recovery. Having people, you can trust, whom you can lean on, and whom you can rely on to help you when you need it is a crucial part of the human experience. As a recovering addict, you miss a large part of the connection you would otherwise have with healthy people, because they cannot and often do not want to understand your experiences with substance abuse. Making friends who understand where you are coming from, your choices, and the cravings and trauma you face gives you people you can open up to, be honest with, and whom you can connect with, with no fear of judgment.
SAMSHA breaks this down into the following support levels:
Emotional – Peer-mentoring and peer-led support groups offer emotional support and empathy, often working to provide support, to undo the effects of poor self-esteem, and help recovering addicts to build the self-esteem to recover.
Informational – Classes, facilitators, coaches, and mentors offer support, learning, and knowledge which you can use to recover.
Instrumental – Peers offer physical aid, like transportation, housing assistance, child care, help accessing health and social services, etc.
Affiliational – Peers help you to meet new people, get involved with your community, and acquire a sense of belonging with others.
Peer support works because it offers a sense of belonging and accomplishment to those doing the teaching, and a sense of belonging and accountability to those just learning.
How Do You Benefit from Peers in Recovery?
Humans are social creatures at heart. Even when we’re loners, we still crave attention, love, and care. Unfortunately, addiction causes us to withdraw from the same social support we need to stay mentally healthy. Recovering means stepping back into a social circle where family and friends don’t understand you or how you’ve changed – and that can make reconnecting with them extremely difficult. Recovery groups and peer support services offer social benefits from people who do understand.
If you’re in a recovery group, you know that everyone there is a recovering addict. You may face social stigma and judgment outside, but in the group, everyone is equal. This makes it easier to share, to talk about problems, and to discuss trauma so that you can move past it.
Most peer groups focus on sharing and problem solving, using personal stories to discuss things you learned or what motivated you – and sharing your problems so that you can get support as a group.
Most peer support groups give you the opportunity to learn new skills, like social skills, dealing with cravings, and taking care of yourself. Many also encourage you to learn new life skills, and may host classes on budgeting, cooking, nutrition, and much more.
Peer-support groups allow you to get help from others, but asks that you help others in return. This can help you to feel needed, valuable, and to feel good about yourself. You can help people in the same way they are helping you, by listening, offering your story, and eventually, guiding a newly clean or sober person towards their own recovery.
Knowing that you have a group of people trusting you to stay clean or sober, whom you have to report to, and who are also struggling with their own cravings can be immensely helpful in pushing you to stay clean or sober. Just like many people find exercise motivation in social media, social support and accountability through a support group of your peers will keep you accountable, because you know that if you slip up, you aren’t just letting yourself down.
Recovering addicts are often left with large gaps of time, where it’s difficult to spend time with friends or family and you would previously have been using or drinking. For example, when regular friends and family go out drinking, when family members haven’t forgiven you, and when you would have gotten high or started drinking in the past. Social interaction with sober peers gives you a productive and healthy way to spend your time, while preventing you from becoming lonely.
The benefits of peers in addiction recovery can change dramatically depending on you, your friends, and your social situation, but everyone benefits from having a social group and peer support.
The first step to recovering from substance abuse is detox. Afterwards, you likely have to approach your psychological behavior and emotional distress to learn how to live without substances, learn how to deal with cravings and triggers, and learn to heal the problems that led to substance abuse in the first place. A good rehab program will include medical detox to prevent dangerous withdrawal symptoms, cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, and group support for peer therapy and socializing.
Studies show that peer support and peer groups can be beneficial as part of or following a recovery treatment program. However, support groups are not therapy. You need both to make a full recovery.
No matter what form of peer support you seek out, good luck with your recovery.
When people looked at me, they didn’t have any idea that I was in recovery. They saw a mother, a grandmother, a widow, and I am all of those things, but they didn’t see the addict inside me.
It’s ironic, because at 66 years old, you would think people would just do the math. I was a teenager in the 60s for crying out loud. However, it doesn’t stop with the baby boomer generation.
According to John Hopkins Medical School, the number of Americans over age 50 abusing prescription drugs is going to rise to 2.7 million in the year 2020. That’s an increase of a whopping 190% since 2001.
Those of us beginning the recovery process at this stage of our lives are faced with a unique set of challenges. All of these must be addressed as part of a successful treatment program:
1. A Longer History of Substance Abuse
Since many of us began abusing drugs and alcohol at such a young age, we never developed healthy coping skills. It quickly becomes a pattern that whenever we felt overwhelmed, we reached for our substance of choice. We continued to function for years, however, as spouses, parents, employees, and as those years added up, it became the only way we knew how to live. It takes courage to walk away from that, and it is imperative that our support system is designed to help us develop that courage.
2. Dealing with Chronic Pain
One of the most common addictions we seniors develop is to prescription pain medication. Getting sober means that we have to learn a whole new way to treat that pain, which involves more than a few lifestyle changes. Recovery is a lot of work; recovery while dealing with chronic pain can be so taxing. It is much easier to pop a pill and feel like superwoman than it is to commit to a whole new routine of various therapies.
3. Case Management Services
Many seniors do not have the social network available to act as a support system after we get out of rehab. Family and friends move, they die, or they have simply gotten tired of our crap. Relapse becomes a huge danger if we are out there on our own. Referrals to social, medical, and psychiatric services must be part of our discharge plan.
4. The Learning Curve
As we age, we don’t assimilate new information as quickly as we used to. Learning recovery skills and putting them into practice takes more time. If we enter a program that is not tailored for seniors, we can become overwhelmed.
5. The Big Four
Loss, Depression, Loneliness, and Grief. The longer we’ve been in this life, the greater the chance that we are facing any number of these simultaneously. Not only do these emotional elements lead to addiction, they can also stand in the way of recovery.
6. Nutritional Deficiencies
While everyone is susceptible to experiencing nutritional imbalances during active addiction, those of us who are older are less likely to bounce back without intervention during recovery. Malnutrition is yet another barrier to recovery.
The standard approach can be more than some of us seniors can handle. Our bodies are a little frail in comparison to our younger counterparts, and many of us have underlying conditions. Nursing and medical services must be available around the clock.
I relapsed over and over again with conventional treatment. It wasn’t until I went through a detox, recovery, and aftercare program customized for my specific needs did I achieve long-term sobriety. Now people see the recovery inside me.
If your loved one is recovering from a substance use disorder, they’re likely working hard to heal themselves from damage that was likely spread out over years. During that time, they need space but also support, so that they can recover at their own pace. Some people may rely on you to be there for them while others will withdraw and lean into professional support first. Either way, you want to be there and ready when they are. But, even if your loved one is working hard to improve and move past their addiction, your family has suffered because of it. Addressing existing problems, working move past problems, and recovering as a family will help both your loved one and the whole family to recover and move on.
How Addiction Affects Families
Addiction changes family dynamics, removes trust, and can dramatically change family roles. If a child or teen becomes addicted, you must work to rebuild trust. If a provider becomes addicted, the entire family hierarchy shifts, and you must rebuild relationships based on new roles and new responsibilities.
Addicts suffer from shame, guilt, poor self-esteem, and a history of dishonesty and possibly manipulation. If you’re going to rebuild your relationship and give them the support they need to recover, you have to move past everything while supporting them in recovering from their own problems. You have to rebuild trust if you want to rebuild a family hierarchy that supports every member of the family.
Family Survival Skills in Early Recovery
Taking the steps to make the right choices and the right steps can help your loved one to recover. It will also bring your family back together.
Learning – Knowledge is power, and the more you know about addiction and how it affects your loved one, the more easily you can react and make good decisions. Attend family therapy, read books about your loved one’s specific addiction, and if you can, attend support groups like Al-Anon to learn different perspectives and to get help from others.
Practicing Empathy – Empathy, or the practice of understanding the emotional needs of your family, is crucial to recovery. If you can recognize when someone is in emotional pain and upset, you can react appropriately and take steps to help them feel better. Recognizing when family members are uncomfortable, afraid, shy, or even embarrassed will go a long way towards bridging gaps and helping you to recover.
Listening – Listening Is a strong skill but one that many people forget to practice. If you can listen without judging, without deciding what to say, and without expectation, just giving the other person your attention, you can better understand what is being said, understand the emotional undertones, and work to communicate more easily.
Being Positive – If someone is working to heal themselves, they need a certain amount of positivity and emotional support. That means offering encouragement and motivation, working to help them, and being positive. If you can give up drinking yourself or don’t use substances around them, that’s also support. Offering words of encouragement, telling someone in recovery that you’re proud of them, and telling people when they’re doing a good job or making the right choices can boost their confidence and their ability to stick to their decisions.
Confidence – You might not think that confidence is a skill, but it is. Having the confidence to talk about your feelings, to step outside your comfort zone, and to talk about problems without being apologetic or reducing the power of your argument will go a long way to helping you communicate.
Communication – Families often communicate based on habit. Those that get into a habit of disagreeing and arguing will often do so for no reason. If you’re accustomed to someone not having anything worth saying, you likely won’t listen. And if they’re accustomed to not being listened to or believed, they won’t talk. Working to break existing bad communication habits and build new ones is crucial to giving your loved one the support they need to rebuild.
Self-Care – No matter how much you’re working to help a loved one recover, self-care is still more important. Your mental and physical health come first. You won’t’ be able to help your loved one if you are tired, constantly stressed, anxious, or depressed. Part of being in a family means taking care of yourself, getting help and support when you need it, and taking time for yourself so that you can be there when you are needed. This also means taking care of yourself. If you’re suffering from substance dependence yourself, getting treatment for it is crucial if you want to remain in your loved one’s life after they are in recovery.
Building New Relationships
When your loved one recovers, they won’t be the person they were before. Their experiences, mental and emotional, will change who they are. Your loved one may act like a completely different person, be more sober, more withdrawn, and have more difficulty connecting with others. You can’t reestablish your old relationship, but you can build a new one. At the same time, it’s also important that you build new relationships. Falling into old habits and patterns can create dissatisfaction and unhappiness, giving your loved one room to relapse.
For example, many people try to fall back into the same bargaining and manipulative habits they used when addicted. If you’re making promises or offering conditional support to your loved one when they’re already getting help, you’re telling your loved one that you don’t trust them.
Rebuilding relationships on your own is difficult. You may not be able to do it on your own. However, many rehabilitation programs now offer family therapy, designed to help you and your family work through problems, build new and healthy relationships, and learn to communicate in healthy ways.
Family therapy is increasingly seen as crucial to some forms of therapy and essential in giving recovering addicts the family foundation they need to build a new life. If your loved one is going to stay in recovery, they need healthy family relationships, good living conditions, a healthy lifestyle, and emotional support from the people they live. Choosing to work towards that benefits you as a family, helps them in their recovery, and ensures that you can remain a meaningful part of your loved one’s life.
No matter what your current relationship with your loved one, getting help, working to improve your relationship, and developing the skills to be there for your loved one will help.
Whether you’re struggling with a substance use disorder or well on your way to recovery, you’ve likely heard of people using flotation tanks or sensory deprivation chambers to treat addiction. In fact, some flotation tank facilities even advertise sensory deprivation for addiction treatment. However, before you jump on the opportunity to boost your recovery, it is important that you know how sensory deprivation works, what it does, and how it may or may not affect your recovery.
What is Sensory Deprivation?
A flotation tank or sensory deprivation chamber is an enclosed tank, typically heavily insulated to maintain a completely dark and soundproof environment. The chamber is filled with water and Epsom salts heated to body temperature, causing the body to become weightless. The result is that when you step into a flotation tank, you see nothing, feel nothing, and hear nothing.
Isolation tanks were first developed in 1954, by Professor Dr. John C. Lilly who was working on sensory deprivation. He wanted to study the brain free or interruption or stimulus, but later began to combine his isolation chamber with other experiments. Later, isolation tanks were picked up by NASA to prepare astronauts for the weightlessness of space.
To use an isolation tank, you simply step into the chamber and close it. Heat and air pumps maintain a steady temperature, and you can rest in the water, hanging motionless with no effort. With no physical stimulus to distract you, you are free to think, to focus on whatever you want, or to meditate.
This, in turn, has many benefits which may help in your recovery.
In 2004, a study incorporating 27 previous studies and 400+ test subjects were used to test the efficacy of REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy) on stress-reduction. The outcome was positive, with the control group showing no improvement and the flotation tank group showing marked reductions in stress, improvement in sleep quality, and reduced anxiety. While the study has yet to be followed up with a larger-scale clinical trial, the results are promising.
The Meditation Effect
Flotation tanks put you into a weightless and sensory-free environment, are often deeply relaxing, and allow you to meditate very easily. Many people use tanks for meditation, using breathing techniques and focusing the mind to relax the body. This enhances the stress-reducing experience of the sensory deprivation chamber, but also builds mental discipline.
Meditation is commonly included as part of REST therapy.
Improvements in Sleep and Pain Reduction
Flotation tank therapy is often used to treat pain and insomnia, with some studies showing that patients see a decrease in pain symptoms and severity after use. Studies also show that people who use flotation tank therapy may see as much as a 30% increase in sleep after treatment. These studies have all been small, some of them too small to show the actual efficacy of flotation therapy, but are promising for the future of the treatment.
Is there an Effect on Therapy?
Flotation chambers have been used to supplement therapy or for psychological experiments since their creation. In the 1950s, their creator used the tanks to test the effects of LSD in a sensory-free environment, the U.S. Army tested them, and China supposedly used sensory deprivation chambers as part of a brainwashing trial. Many of the tests conducted on flotation chambers came after scientists noticed that persons using the chambers were more susceptible to influence shortly after leaving the chamber or while in the chamber. While the latter part is true, sensory deprivation chambers cannot be used for brainwashing or hypnosis. But, they may have a positive impact on how you receive therapy by making you more open to suggestion and more open to listening to an outside voice.
Unfortunately, with no real scientific data to back it up, there’s not much that you can say for certain, so it’s not a guarantee.
Does Sensory Deprivation Help Addiction?
Sensory deprivation chambers have been used to treat nicotine and cigarette addiction for nearly a decade. But, can they be useful in treating stronger addictions? While many people are increasingly adopting sensory deprivation to treat opium and alcohol addictions, the jury is still out. We don’t have enough scientific evidence to prove if sensory deprivation is helpful or not. Why? Very few studies have been performed on whether or not REST or other flotation tank therapy actually helps with recovering from a drug addiction. Those that have been published are often very small and don’t use enough quality assurance factors, such as a larger test group, peer review, or standardized results.
However, there are a few things that you can consider without a direct scientific yes or no.
Stress Relief – Stress is one of the number one causes of addiction and relapse. Using flotation tank therapy to destress can help you relax your mind, help your brain to produce endorphins like serotonin and dopamine, and can help you to relax so you can handle new stress and cravings more easily.
Meditation – Meditation is heavily linked to improved mental health, discipline, and stress relief. It’s also commonly used in addiction treatment alongside mindfulness. Studies show that mindfulness-based meditation programs can significantly improve addictive behavior, reducing the chance of relapse in people who continue to practice. Because flotation tank therapy has a strong meditation element, it may similarly impact persons suffering from addiction.
Mental Discipline – Sensory deprivation requires you to be alone with yourself, to focus on something, and to continue to go into treatment even if it’s unpleasant or scary. Like with meditation, this requires and builds a certain amount of mental discipline, which can help you in other areas, such as when facing cravings or when making decisions.
Enhancing Self-Image – Self-image or ego is an important part of psychological health. But, it’s also something that’s heavily damaged by substance abuse. Flotation tank therapy forces you to be alone and often forces you to come to terms with yourself. With no distractions and no way to distract yourself, you can build your self-image, which can help you to move past addiction.
Most of these benefits of flotation tank therapy are shown in small studies averaging a few months in length and including a few hundred people. This means that most are not extensive or large enough to be widely accepted by the medical community.
While the jury is still out on whether flotation tank therapy helps with addiction treatment, it certainly doesn’t hurt. However, flotation tank therapy is not addiction treatment. You can use it as a supplement to cognitive behavioral therapy or a full treatment program, but you cannot expect it to be successful on its own. Isolation tanks do have numerous benefits which can help you to get through withdrawal and into recovery, but they are not a treatment on their own.
It’s a difficult question for many people. I never gave it much thought in the beginning. My early sobriety was so stressful that the idea of falling for someone seemed preposterous. Until it happened.
You see, my rock bottom, the event that led me to seek recovery in the first place, was my husband’s fatal overdose. We had known each other since we were kids, were married nearly 30 years, and he was the love of my life. My only goal was to get through life until we met again.
Getting clean, however, had awoken all sorts of emotions in me that I never thought possible, and then one day, he came along.
Suddenly, my six months of hard-earned sobriety began to feel more like six years. I felt so ready for some lighthearted living, the feelings of falling in love, and there was just something about him…a safe familiarity and the intrigue of a stranger all wrapped up in one. I wanted to get to know him better.
Also in recovery, James and I met at a meeting, like so many couples do. And while I was still relatively a newbie, he had been sober for two years, which appealed to me. At that stage of my recovery, two years seemed like a whole new lifetime.
Of course, I hadn’t met that benchmark yet. On one hand, I thought he would be a stabilizing force in my life, having been living the sober life so much longer than I had. On the other, everyone at AA always advises you to wait at least a year, and many of them recommend doing so due to their own failed dating experiences during the first year of their recoveries.
And James, while it was clear he was developing feelings for me, kept those feelings in check due to being given the same hard-earned advice. So friendship was enough for us, for a little while.
As the weeks dragged by, and temptation kept rearing its ugly head, I did a lot of relationship research and created a checklist for myself. My goal was to be able to tick off all of those boxes before taking the relationship plunge.
Here’s what I came up with:
I know myself, my values, wants, and needs
I am already living a full, happy life
I can talk about my feelings
I am honest with myself and others
I am able to say no to anything I am uncomfortable with
I understand the art of compromise
I have learned how to receive as well as give
I am continuing to learn and grow without comparing myself to others
I feel like a whole person, happy on my own, yet connected to the world around me
I have released all my guilt and anger about the past
I recognize unhealthy relationships
I use good stress-management techniques
I am able to recognize good character and have surrounded myself with trustworthy people.
I have developed the right balance of structure and flexibility; I know what I need without feeling the need to control everything around me.
I decided to give myself time to deal with the myriad of emotions that come with recovery, and I learned how to handle them without transferring them to another person. I didn’t want a relationship that was based on need.
A year later, I met someone at my cousin’s wedding. I ticked off all the boxes, and we are taking it slow. The most fulfilling of all, however, is knowing I can handle whatever the future may bring.
It seemed like I had barely digested my Thanksgiving dinner when plans for the “real” holidays were being made. As I excused myself from the table, I felt like a complete loser.
My family doesn’t just enjoy a few cocktails. Drinking on holidays is like a religion to them, much like football is to other families. And New Year’s Eve celebrations are their super bowls.
This was going to be my third sober New Year’s, but instead of getting easier for me, it just seemed to be getting harder. While everyone else was running around making party plans, all I wanted to do was crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head, and wait for it all to be over.
And it’s not just my family, who should be understanding and supportive of me instead of treating me like a freak, it’s also all my oldest friends and even my co-workers.
My brother usually hosts the festivities, which makes the anticipation even greater, because he lives at the base of a mountain where there is a midnight fireworks display every year.
My attempt to ride that out during my first sober holiday had been an unmitigated disaster. I have had my fill of drunk people running around bonfires, thank you very much.
The next year, I stayed home alone in my apartment and was equally miserable.
It wasn’t fair. While I accepted the fact that I couldn’t drink, I was having a very hard time reconciling that I couldn’t have any fun at all. Something had to give.
I remembered that when I first got sober, my sponsor made me aware of a bunch of folks from AA who got together every year to get through the party hours. That’s always a great option, but I wanted to explore some alternatives as well. If I was going to enjoy New Year’s Eve this year, I was going to have to do some creative planning.
While the rest of my family were nursing massive hangovers, this is what I came up with:
1. Plan your own party
Instead of looking for ways to avoid the party scene, create a sober one. I made a guest list and printed out invitations, but instead of writing the all-too-familiar BYOB on them, mine read BYOR – bring your own recipe. I’ve been enjoying some of the best non-alcoholic drinks ever since.
2. Bring a sober friend
Have a work party you feel obligated to attend? Bring your support system with you, and always have someplace else you have to be in a reasonable amount of time.
3. Give yourself the spa treatment
Some spas are recognizing this niche market and are staying open on New Year’s Eve. Bring a sober friend with you.
4. Dinner and a movie
Make it a movie you are really excited to see and a restaurant you have always wanted to try.
5. Check out an indoor entertainment center
These facilities are usually very family friendly and offer a wide variety of activities for all ages.
6. Get away from it all
Pick a new destination to explore every year, an overnight trip that doesn’t have to be far away or expensive.
7. Plan a cozy evening at home
Create a journal, make some New Year’s resolutions, start a new project or craft, try a new recipe, begin reading a new book, or anything else you have been wanting to do.
That was ten years ago, and I am happy to report that I have tried every one of these ideas with great success. Having something to look forward to has made New Year’s Eve fun again.
Sobriety is an adventure. It involves facing new challenges, doing our best to meet them and learning more about ourselves and our recoveries in the process. We don’t begin sobriety with all the answers. In fact, we usually begin with no answers! “Alcohol” was our response to everything for so long, and now that we’ve stopped drinking, we need new go-to coping skills. We need to relearn what to do, what to say and how to navigate social situations. This isn’t as overwhelming as it sounds! You don’t have to do it all at once. You can’t do it all at once, so don’t beat yourself up when you struggle or just don’t know what to do.
Recovery is a journey. It is okay to worry about making friends, keeping old ones and balancing sobriety and a social life. It is okay not to have all the answers. Just know the answer is never “alcohol.” The rest will come through time, practice and support. Worries are normal. Just don’t let them keep you from living the life you deserve — the healthy, sober life that will take shape as you live it.
Why Do We Relapse?
Social events challenge sobriety. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a social life in recovery. It means you need to be aware of the risks and be prepared to face them. Scientific American1 explains, “Male alcoholics typically relapse when they are in social-drinking situations.” Men need sober friends and coping skills for these situations. On the other hand, “Female alcoholics … are more likely to drink when feeling down.” Stress and worry about social situations can lead to negative feelings and relapse. Loneliness can lead to cravings. No matter the emotions or worries you experience in the face of social situations, you don’t have to relapse. You can practice and prepare. You can have a healthy, social life in sobriety.
Tips and Tricks for Being Social and Sober
Social events can be a big source of stress in sobriety. What do you say, what do you do, how do you avoid temptations to drink? Prepare yourself as best you can, but also know that it’s okay if you are unsure of what to do in a certain situation.
Navigating social events begins with learning more about the event. This can calm a lot of worries and help you prepare some strategies for staying sober. Will there be a bar? Does the event focus on or revolve around drinking? What non-drinking activities will be part of the event? Can you bring a sober friend? Answers to these and others questions will help you talk with peers in recovery and your treatment professionals about how to approach the situation. It will also give you time to prepare some coping tips and tricks in advance.
One tip for navigating a social event is to get ready to say “no” to alcohol. If you aren’t comfortable sharing the reason why you don’t drink, you don’t have to. You don’t owe anyone a detailed explanation. But be prepared by having some general responses ready, so you aren’t caught off guard. You are the designated driver, you have an allergy, you just don’t want to. Hold a non-alcoholic drink to stave off offers and the need to explain at all. Mostly recognize that no one is putting your drinking or not drinking under as much scrutiny as you are.
The Pat Moore Foundation2 shares, “No matter how vulnerable and exposed you feel, no one is thinking about you as much as you are thinking about yourself. Happily, you are not the center of the universe! I am most anxious when I assume that everyone is watching my actions under a microscope. Remember that most people are wrapped up with their own lives and concerns, so any reason you give them for not drinking, they will take at face value.” You aren’t the center of attention. You can make your own choices about what you do and don’t do at a party, and most people will not judge or question — if they even notice at all.
Really want to take the pressure off? Just don’t go! You can skip any and all social events you don’t feel comfortable attending. Tell people you are busy, you have to work, you can’t find a sitter — or tell them the truth: you just aren’t ready or aren’t comfortable. Good friends will understand. They want you around for a long, healthy life more than they want you at a one-time social event. Make plans to meet friends for coffee or lunch at a later, quieter time.
Opting out doesn’t mean you have to sit home, alone. That can be just as triggering. Call a sober friend from treatment or from your support group. Go to a different or sober event where drinking isn’t a focus. Take yourself out to the park, the movies or a nice dinner alone. Your life is no longer dictated by alcohol or addiction. You have so many options, both social and independent, when you are sober.
What If Everything Goes Wrong?
The beauty of recovery is that there is no true failure. There is no “wrong.” There is just the opportunity to learn and move forward. Stop playing worst-case scenarios in your head. You can experience negative feelings but still have a positive experience. According to Psychology Today,3 “Sometimes emotional sobriety is about tolerating what you are feeling. It is about staying sober no matter what you are feeling. It means that you don’t have to blame yourself or your program because life can be challenging. It means that you don’t necessarily need to do something to make the feeling go away.”
“Finding my voice has been one of the greatest gifts I have received from joining the recovery movement. Now, when I am confronted with the question ‘Why don’t you drink?’ I am empowered to say ‘I am a person in long-term recovery, and for me that means that I have not used alcohol or used other drugs since August 3rd of 2013. Recovery has brought stability to my life and my family, allowed me to return to school to pursue my masters degree in social work, and given me a voice as a recovery advocate which allows me to help others and strengthen my community.’” –Abby Foster, an advocate for Heroes in Recovery, shares about her story of recovery.
Be willing to worry, stress and feel bad in recovery. Why? Because you won’t always feel that way. Alcohol is a dead end, but sobriety is an open book. One bad experience teaches you how to have better ones in the future. One bad day is followed by many more good ones.
Sobriety Is the Beginning
Recovery is not the end of your social life. It is not the end of fun. Addiction is selfish and isolating. Your world revolved around alcohol, and now it can include so much more. This “more” does come with potential challenges, but trust us, you are ready to meet them! You are stronger than you know, and there are more people willing to help than you think. Recovery is the beginning. It is the beginning of fresh, new friendships and a healthy social life. It is the beginning of discovering your life and how to live it truly and fully.
The Life Challenge, also known as the L+C, is a recovery initiative to support those who have, and will, face challenges. Whether your challenge is getting out of bed in the morning, reconnecting with a loved one, or making strides towards a personal goal, we are here for you. We are a positive and motivational community. Together we will break down life’s barriers and celebrate the accomplishments along the way.
Moyer, Melinda Wenner. “Male and Female Alcoholics Risk Relapse in Different Situations.” Scientific American. 1 Jul. 2013. Accessed 4 Oct. 2017.
“Explaining Sobriety at Social Events.” Pat Moore Foundation. Accessed 4 Oct. 2017.
Most people know that a large portion of the U.S. prison population is incarcerated for drug use, where they are presumably kept away from substances and forced to withdraw and recover from their addiction. Fewer people are aware of the extent of drug-related incarcerations (17% of all inmates in the United States are serving on drug-use or sale charges) or the prevalence of continued use behind prison bars.
In 2014, the United States actively took steps to reduce the number of addicts and users in prisons, making it easier to seek out rehab and treatment instead of a prison sentence and shortening many drug-related sentences. However, the vast majority of convicted drug addicts, those arrested while committing a crime, still receive traditional prison sentencing.
Drug Use is an Influential Factor in Crime
Studies show that drug and alcohol use and abuse dramatically affect crime, with the large majority of arrested criminals engaging in some form of substance abuse. In one study, it was shown that persons who were arrested where 47% likely to be under the influence of a substance, and in that study, which included blood tests of 200 arrested criminals – every one with a narcotic substance in their system had been arrested previously.
While the idea of the ‘drug crazed criminal’, where a person who takes drugs will go and commit a crime is a myth – it is also true that drugs increase reckless and selfish behavior, lowering inhibitions, and decreasing coordination and awareness of surroundings. Long-term drug users are more likely to commit crimes to get money for drugs, but also more likely to be caught.
This results in a naturally higher influx of drug users, who are both casual users and fully dependent, into the prison system, with most estimates showing that 80% of all prison inmates have used illicit substances at some point in their lives.
An Epidemic of Drug Use in Prisons
In February of 2010, a CASA report found that 65% of inmates met medical DSM-IV criteria for substance use disorder, yet only 11% ever received treatment. The study showed that many were incarcerated for committing felonies or other hard crimes, served prison time where drug use was not restricted, and then eventually released after serving their sentence only to commit crimes again. The study also found that offering treatment and aftercare to substance dependent individuals would pay off financially, lessening the number of incarcerated individuals in just one year if treatment had only a 10% rate of efficacy.
Availability of Drugs in Prisons
While drugs are tightly regulated, and often illegal and difficult to come by outside prison, many prisons experience a flourishing ‘black market’ of contraband ranging from food to cigarettes to drugs. This black market is often pushed by corrupt or lazy staff members, who either profit from it or who simply don’t care. In one investigation by the Economist, an inmate was reported saying “Drugs are easier to get than soap”.
Modern technology, including cell phones, drones, and computers, make it easier for inmates to connect with drug sources outside of prisons, and without the knowledge of staff. Drugs are so easy to get that in 2016, Michael Jones, a convict in high-security incarceration on death row in California, was able to obtain so much that he suffered an overdose. His case is not alone, with toxicology reports showing that 6 inmates in the San Quentin State Prison high-security ward died between 2010 and 2015, with high levels of opioids or amphetamines in their blood. This prevalence of usage is despite high security, cameras, frequent strip searches, and 30-minute interval checkups by guards.
An Environment that Encourages Addiction
Most American prisons are designed for punishment, offering little to do and few activities. Prisoners are often lonely, guilty, angry, and sometimes abused by their fellow inmates or the prison staff. Because many are also long-term drug users, all of these factors act as triggers for an addiction. For example, HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired), is an accepted series of triggers for addiction in recovering patients, and many inmates are frequently exposed to those and other stresses.
With only 11% of inmates suffering from substance use disorder receiving treatment, the vast majority are eventually released back into their communities, where they most often continue to use and often commit new crimes. Inmates serving on drug-related crimes serve an average of 14 months, after which they are released back into the general population, without the tools to recover from or fight their substance abuse.
This results in a 12-fold increase in the risk of overdose in the first 2 weeks after release, as former inmates are given access to cheaply available (typically less than 10% of the cost of drugs in prison) substances, no security, and often very little or no prospects.
Alternatives to Incarceration for Drug-Related Crimes
While anyone who commits a felony will be sentenced to traditional incarceration, many courts now recommend drug-related arrests to drug courts. Here, the offender is reviewed by a caseworker or counselor, who determines if the person is addicted and if they could benefit from treatment rather than incarceration. If recommended to treatment, the person is typically given a mandatory 30-90-day rehabilitation, time in a halfway house, and must attend mandatory AA or other 12-step meetings.
In more severe cases, someone who commits a crime may be recommended to incarceration with addiction treatment. Here, sentencing can vary between attending treatment before incarceration to attending a specific treatment-related facility, depending on what is available and the severity of the crime.
If you or a loved one have been arrested for a drug-related crime, or are serving time for a drug-related offense, it is important to get help. If your loved one still has to go to court, discuss your options with your lawyer to determine if it will be possible to request drug rehab instead of prison time, or if treatment can be included as a mandatory part of incarceration. If your loved one is in prison and using, it may be crucial to get them into rehab for treatment as soon as they are released.
While the vast majority of inmates in prison have a history of substance use, and many use while incarcerated, they can get better. Treatment will teach mental skills to cope with cravings and triggers, give users motivation to get better, and help users through the worst of detox and withdrawal, so that they can go back to their life, and rebuild it drug and crime free.