From addiction recovery support to expert input, our blog provides the tools and inspiration you need to thrive in long-term sobriety. Sharing hope, encouragement, and support to help people bounce back from substance abuse & behavioral addictions.
It’s true – being a mom is tough. The long hours, the sleep deprivation, the non-existent time for yourself. It can be a stressful and isolating experience. And now, with the advent of social media, there’s the added pressure of being the perfect parent. But more and more mothers seem to be turning to alcohol to deal with the stressful demands of childrearing these days – whether it be partaking in boozy playdates and mom meet-ups or unwinding within an alcohol-fueled book club.
In fact, the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions recently reported that between 2002 and 2013 the number of women who consumed more than four drinks a day (considered high-risk drinking) rose by almost 60 percent, while those meeting the criteria for alcohol use disorders – or problem drinking that increases over time – rose by nearly 84 percent.
Rise and Wine
The rise of the wine-as-reward culture is fueled in part by the fact that our society seems to encourage it. Everywhere you look there are messages advocating moms to relieve stress with “mommy juice” – fridge magnets, baby onesies, Instagram memes.
Ironically, it’s doing the opposite of what it’s intended to do. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can actually increase anxiety within the user after a few hours of consumption, leading to poor sleep quality, and, ultimately, more drinking. And let’s not forget the serious health risks we’re subjecting ourselves to. Women metabolize alcohol faster than men and absorb it in higher concentrations, making us more vulnerable to organ damage, heart disease and several types of cancer involving the digestive system.
Yet, despite the consequences, wine has practically become the must-have accessory for motherhood. So, how does a mom stay sober amidst all this temptation? Experts suggest finding a new group of friends – one that isn’t dependent on an afternoon glass of pinot grigio.
Also, get creative on ways to relieve stress. Try acupuncture, get a massage or start adding a nice, long bath to the end of your day. Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep at night can go a long way in helping you stay strong against temptation.
It’s About Being Present
Yes, life can be pretty stressful, but there are plenty of other alcohol-free options to turn to in order to cope. Not only will these help give you the energy to get through the day, but they will also allow you to be more present with your kids – which is ultimately the best thing you can do for them as a mom.
Years ago, long before I met my husband, I was involved in a very toxic relationship. This man was a charmer and, as I later discovered, a master of manipulation.
His ability to spin any story to his advantage made me question my memory and doubt my intuition. He regularly cheated and lied throughout our relationship. However, when confronted about his indiscretions, he twisted the facts to where he was the victim.
His skillful manipulation made me feel like I was crazy – like I was the one to blame. To make things worse, I mistakenly tried to dull the emotional pain he inflicted by drinking alcohol. Looking back now, I can see this man for who he was.
He was a gaslighter.
Gaslighting Feeds on Self-Doubt
The term “gaslighting” refers to the use of psychological methods to cause someone to question not only the known facts, but their own mind. It’s a deliberate pattern of manipulation that’s used to alter a victim’s perception of reality, doubt their own sanity, and ignore their gut instincts – a tactic similar to brainwashing.
When gaslighting starts, you might initially feel guilty for being suspicious of this person. After all, you’re supposed to trust your friends and loved ones, right? Those constant feelings of doubt and guilt eventually lead to a decrease in your own self-confidence.
To further play with your mind, the gaslighter might even offer evidence to show you that you’re wrong. And this person will undoubtedly offer up plenty of justifications and explanations to help you reason away any discrepancies in his or her story. Despite being temporarily reassured, deep down you know something isn’t quite right, and you become even more confused and full of self-doubt.
It’s a vicious cycle and the tormentor thrives on keeping you stuck, constantly questioning yourself and feeling as if you’re to blame for their painful actions.
Ending a Toxic Relationship and Focusing on Your Mental Health
Unsurprisingly, gaslighting can damage your self-esteem and self-assurance, but there are some steps you can take to move forward and start to restore your sense of self.
It’s time to regain your power and break free of the gaslighters influence. Begin your journey by taking the following steps:
Recognize Gaslighters Have No Accountability
When you’re involved with a gaslighter, it’s important to understand logic and reason don’t apply to them. They will never be able to empathize with you or take responsibility for their actions. Asserting yourself won’t help much either; that’s because the gaslighter won’t acknowledge their own transgressions.
Step Out of Denial
You want to believe they’ll change and somehow, miraculously, things will work out and you’ll live happily ever after. (If you just stay in the relationship a little while longer, things will get better…right?) But it’s important to realize – no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try – a healthy, functioning relationship will never come to pass. It has nothing to do with you or anything you’ve done wrong; the blame falls squarely at the feet of your gaslighter and his or her own insecurities.
Once you identify these manipulative behaviors, it’s time to fully and completely break away from the gaslighter. It’s the only way you can heal. This step can be easier said than done, however. It often takes time to wrap your head around all the facts you now know to be true – all the lies and manipulation you’ve endured certainly take an emotional toll. In order to move forward and heal, you need support. Seek counseling, join a support group, lean (heavily) on your real friends, avoid bottling your emotions – basically, do everything you need to do in order to end this toxic relationship and move forward. The sooner you do it, the sooner you can begin to rebuild your self-esteem and trust yourself again.
I had a pretty easy childhood growing up: I made good grades, excelled in sports, and had a large circle of friends. I never really had to try that hard. And I got used to things going my way, to tell you the truth.
While it sounds nice, these “advantages” actually did me a disservice down the road. When the time came to rise up and navigate life’s inevitable setbacks, I was ill-equipped to face those challenges.
Instead, I turned to self-pity and alcohol as solutions, a move that ultimately cost me more than I ever thought possible.
Establishing Healthy Ways to Cope
Now that I have a daughter on the way, I want to make sure she doesn’t make the same mistakes. I also want to ensure she has the proper coping mechanisms to get through life’s challenges. I’d never want to see my daughter attempting to escape problems through drugs and alcohol.
Thankfully, there are ways to experience pain in healthier ways and “suffer more successfully” without losing everything. Here’s a few of those coping skills:
If you’re like me, you tend to be impulsive and make snap judgments. Resilient people acknowledge difficult situations and evaluate things rationally so they can make a plan and act. Doing this allows you to stay calm and keep the situation in perspective, without letting your emotions get the best of you.
Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario
Most of the time, we realize that after analyzing the worst-case scenario, it isn’t really that bad – that we’ll be able to survive it. We’ll also be able to adapt to it, become stronger and actually find happiness through it. Coming to this conclusion not only prevents us from being paralyzed with fear, but it allows us to make peace with the worst-case scenario – should it happen – and then, move on.
When things go south, our natural tendency is to get sad, scared or retreat – which doesn’t help us actually get through the mess we’re in. Resilient people, on the other hand, know that staying busy not only helps keep us calm, but it also allows us to be productive and stay motivated.
Get Help and Give Help
We all know reaching out for help during low points is crucial. But, did you know that giving help is just as beneficial? Helping others increases the feeling of meaning in our lives, which ultimately helps us succeed in tough times. For example, while I was in prison, I tutored a group of inmates in pre-calculus and algebra – something that gave me purpose each day and, frankly, was what got me out of bed most mornings. Helping others provides personal fulfillment and helps us rise above our fears – all qualities that can help us succeed during the worst of times.
We Can’t Escape Pain in Life
The bottom line is, pain is a natural part of life. The sooner we learn to face it head-on and not be afraid, the sooner we can overcome life’s obstacles, rather than escaping from them through drugs and alcohol.
Soon – very soon, in fact – my husband and I will become first-time parents. Our daughter will be born, and she’ll know we love and support her every day of her life. We’ll love her enough to teach her that pain and heartache are inevitable parts of life. And we’ll respect her by instilling her with the strength to overcome those painful times and the healthy coping skills to become a better person through adversity. That’s my promise.
Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed a collision of two cyclones. One of the storms is opiate addiction; the other is rampant homelessness. Both are powerful forces fueled by human condition, leaving paths of destruction in their wakes.
Unfortunately, a large portion the homeless community struggles with substance abuse. On the flip side, those caught in the web of addiction often face homelessness. The two are intricately linked. And it’s easy to see why.
Maine’s Citizens at Risk
A life wrecked by chemical dependency results in financial instability and significant loss. A life on the streets includes significant exposure to drugs. If you’re homeless, survival – not health and personal improvement – is what matters. If you do manage to get sober, temptations to relapse are all around you. As a result, the issues of homelessness and substance abuse co-exist.
Residents of Maine have found this to be true within their borders. As the death toll from substance abuse continues to rise in the Pine Tree State, policy makers are taking notice.
In 2016, 376 Maine residents died from an opioid overdose. This number is triple the figure from 2013. At such a high risk, the homeless population accounts for many of those numbers. Without a support network to provide help, these individuals remain stuck in the cycle of homelessness and chemical dependency.
Enter L.D. 1711
In response to these alarming statistics, representatives of Preble Street, a nonprofit that serves Portland’s homeless population, approached Rep. Drew Gattine about a bill proposition. The congressman agreed to sponsor L.D. 1711. The bill resolves “To Save Lives by Establishing a Homeless Opioid Users Service Engagement Pilot Project within the Department of Health and Human Services.”
The pilot project would involve creating a medication-assisted treatment program and stable housing for up to 50 people. The MAT would provide Suboxone or Methadone, plus daily therapy and additional mental health and vocational services.
Similar programs have enjoyed success elsewhere. They work because they break down several barriers to sobriety and stability at the same time. Those barriers include:
Housing: With this basic need met, individuals are under less stress and enjoy greater stability. They can focus on other needs, and they’re off the street, where temptations to use drugs are rampant.
Therapy: These sessions address behavioral, mental and physical issues that often drive people to homelessness and substance abuse.
Education/employment: By guiding participants toward education and employment opportunities, the program helps individuals achieve self-sufficiency.
The program would serve homeless Mainers from both rural and urban areas. It may only help a few people initially, but it’s a start. Homelessness and opioid dependency are intertwined issues that offer bleak outlooks in either direction. If this program can offer a new, hopeful direction for even a small segment of the population, it’s a step in the right direction.
Fresh out of rehab, I was determined stay sober and make up for all of the time I’d lost drinking. My schedule was packed; I went to meetings every day and attended school full-time. My body was still recovering from the toll alcohol had taken on it, and the medication I was on for anxiety relief left me even more tired. I was unemployed and living off my savings, so I worried constantly about money.
My attempts to maintain this hectic schedule left me stressed and on the verge of a breakdown. I needed a way to relax, but I just didn’t know how to take the edge off without alcohol.
That’s when I discovered the power of the pedicure; self-care rituals can help relieve the tension you used to blow off with alcohol or other drugs. I also learned how to fight back against those voices in my head (and other’s opinions) that I was being vain or irresponsible to spend money on myself.
Show Yourself Some Love
Here’s how I used self-care rituals, even the “girly” ones, to teach my body that it deserves love instead of the abuse I inflicted in active addiction.
There are lots of places where you can get one for a good price, and there’s no better feeling than soaking your feet in hot water and getting a foot massage. They’re not just for women – guys get them too. It’s also nice to walk out feeling pretty!
Take a Brain Break
Give yourself time every day to rest. It will pay off in being more efficient later. My biggest trigger (other than stress, men and money!) is not taking enough breaks – pushing myself too hard. Many a binge happened when I didn’t take time for me.
It’s okay to spend money of yourself; give yourself permission to buy those shoes or a meal at a nice restaurant. It doesn’t need to be extravagant even a hot cup of tea can take the edge off.
Develop Rituals to Relax
I’ve only recently discovered that watching television late at night, instead of staying up working, is a great way to give myself a break.
Talk to a Friend
In early recovery I was so busy that I often wouldn’t make time for idle chit chat with buddies. Take a few minutes to catch up, share the latest gossip, or vent some of your pent-up frustration.
Sleep and Recharge
Take a nap if you feel overwhelmed, instead of trying to get just one more task done.
Play With Animals
Even if you don’t have a pet, usually you can find a friend who will share. The most relaxing thing for me is when my cat sits down next to me on her favorite white blanket and we have what I call a “pet and purr.” Taking a friend’s dog for a walk, cuddling the cat, even just going to a park and petting other people’s dogs (get permission! Otherwise if a dog isn’t friendly you could lose a hand!) are all good ways to relax.
Most of us feel a lot of guilt in early recovery. You might think that you have to spend all your time “making up” for things you did in active addiction. But you have to make time for self-care in order to stay sane, healthy and sober!
He was famous in his field: a psychiatrist and professor at the local Ivy League university. A flyer initially drew me to one of his lectures.
As he spoke, it felt like my mind was exploding into millions of revelations. He spoke about things I’d always suspected, but had never known much about. And he showed, through studies and his own experience treating patients, how it worked. And it did work. I felt hope start to rise within me.
I asked him to sign a copy of his book after the lecture, and he said to write him anytime with questions. We struck up a correspondence, and I read every article he sent, every book he recommended. He encouraged me to write too, if only in my own journal.
A Swift Descent
Then came the crash. It doesn’t really matter why – most of us have relapsed enough to know that anything from the death of a parent to somebody putting the salt shaker in the wrong place can be a trigger. I picked up a drink, then another…and another. Soon I felt my brain was coming apart.
I was becoming more and more desperate and it seemed like nothing helped. I got myself sober – I’d done it so many times that I already knew how to survive the anxiety, shakiness, and nausea. As my head cleared, I knew I had to do something.
At four in the morning, with hands shaking from nervousness (not detox), I wrote him. I told him everything. I was worried that I would be bothering him. I felt I had no right to ask him for help. I had no money to pay for fancy therapy or rehab, and my health insurance was so minimum it probably wouldn’t cover any decent sort of treatment – you know, the kind you get with good insurance or cash.
I was afraid he’d never write me again, that my rambling disclosure would’ve destroyed my image as promising student of addiction medicine.
It was just before 9 am when he wrote back. Just two words. “Call me.” And so my life began again…
Reach Out for Help
Most of us in recovery had a hard time asking for help. On the surface, my life looked awesome, perhaps a bit unconventional. On the inside, I was coming unglued.
We all want people to think well of us, and no one wants to show their struggles to the world. We want to put on a glittering image. But the time to reach out is when we’re really in crisis, as opposed to crawling inside and hiding from our problems. When you find that the fear and pain are too much, or find yourself turning to addictive behaviors to medicate, it’s time to reach out and grab the lifeline.
This particular lifeline I’ve shared with you occurred many years back, and I’m fine now. (Thanks for asking!) Today I spend my days trying to help others, while taking time to take care of myself. It is my way of paying back the tremendous gift of the lifeline. It’s my way of paying it forward.
A couple of weeks ago, I watched an interview with survivors of mass shootings. The massacre in Las Vegas had just happened, and these brave individuals spoke about how their lives were changed forever by that one scarring event.
The longer I listened, the more I identified with them. Tragedy had altered the course of their lives just like it had mine. Even though our situations were completely different, the underlying theme wasn’t: We’d both experienced and survived a traumatic situation. Mine hadn’t involved a gunman, but it had involved serious injury and a tremendous amount of pain to multiple families.
In an Instant
One night, after drinking heavily, I crashed into a car waiting at a stoplight, gravely wounding two of its passengers. I was arrested and later sentenced to four years in the Florida state penitentiary, followed by six years of probation.
Even to this day, over eight years later, I can still remember everything in perfect detail about that horrific night: The blinding lights above me as I laid on the hospital bed, the squeeze of the handcuffs around my wrists, and the moment the police officer told me two innocent people had been hurt by my reckless actions.
At the time, I didn’t know if I had the strength to get through what awaited me or if I would ever be able forgive myself and move forward. But, eventually I did, and here’s what helped me to do so:
Leave it in the Rearview Mirror
As much as I wanted to, I knew I’d never be able to change what happened in the past. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent pondering the “what if’s,” but at the end of the day, it did nothing but waste time and make me feel worse. So, ultimately, I came to a place of acceptance and decided to make each day worthwhile and full of purpose moving forward.
Things Could Be Worse
I’m not going to lie: when you’re spending years behind bars, it’s easy to get depressed and slip into the “life couldn’t be worse” frame of mind. But the second I put things into perspective – that everyone in the car I’d hit could’ve been killed – I immediately felt grateful for my current reality. And sometimes, that little bit of gratitude was what got me through each day.
This one might seem like a no-brainer for anyone who has experienced trauma, but I believe there’s nothing more crucial to a person’s emotional well-being. I immediately went into counseling after my release from prison – and have continued to do so to this day, nearly four and a half years later. I also found it really helpful to get involved in a support group, since initially I felt no one could relate to or understand my struggles.
The road to recovery has been a long and difficult journey. I had to work hard to pick up the pieces and find the strength to forgive myself. Even though I still have scars that will never be erased, I’ve grown more than I could’ve ever imagined and became the person I always wanted to be.
Veterans are twice as likely as civilians to die from an accidental painkiller overdose. These patriotic men and women are severely over-represented in the alarming number of overdose deaths that occur in the U.S. each year.
In 2016, prescription opioid overdoses took more than 42,000 American lives. To put this statistic in perspective, consider the casualty numbers for military personnel in war:
What’s their secret? They’re using new weapons. Armed with a battery of alternative treatment solutions and close monitoring programs, the center has developed a culture that doesn’t rely on opioid medications.
To effectively reduce the number of opioid prescriptions, the VA center incorporated the following solutions:
Non-Drug Treatment Options for Chronic Pain
Spinal manipulation therapy
Non-Opioid Treatment Options
45-minute doctor appointments to take the time to understand the patient
Healthcare Provider Education
Best practices for prescribing opioids
Weekly training sessions for pain management physicians
Dr. Ali Mchaourab, chief of medicine at the Cleveland medical center, explains, “There are so many things that can be done other than being on a pill – but if that pill is needed, a low dose is needed, then we make sure that other things are being added as well so that his function and quality of life can be improved.” He adds, “There’s no way you can curb this problem by cutting patients off of medication. We don’t want them to feel judged because they’re on opioids. We’re successful because we want to provide them an alternative.”
Naloxone (sold under the brandname Narcan) is known as the “anti-overdose drug” because it quickly reverses the effects of opioids. Recognizing this injectable medication can save thousands of lives, legislators from Utah agreed to distribute free naloxone kits in an attempt to stem the state’s opioid crisis. Sounds like a good plan, right? Not so fast…
In a truly bizarre turn of events, law enforcement officials in Utah are now confiscating the syringes included with these naloxone kits, claiming they’re “drug paraphernalia.” Sadly, it’s come to a point where the persistent negative stigma associated with substance abuse can prevent the use of a life-saving medication like naloxone.
Police Impede Delivery of Narcan
Since naloxone is used to reverse opioid overdoses, more states and municipalities are making its distribution legal, even providing kits at the government’s expense.
The Utah Department of Health, for example, has distributed nearly 2,000 injectable naloxone kits throughout the state. Since this form of naloxone must be delivered by injection, clean syringes are essential for use. Yet the police, long directed to seize needles as part of drug raids, are taking the syringes from kits legally obtained, leaving people with no way to utilize the life-saving drug.
Both government officials and law enforcement leaders are shocked by this trend. According to an article in the Desert Post Utah, Attorney General Sean Reyes says, “This kit isn’t a drug-paraphernalia kit. This kit is a lifesaving kit that we need to make sure we get into the hands of as many people as possible.”
According to Utah’s Medical Director, Jennifer Plumb, law enforcement officers who carry naloxone are advocates for its use. However, the head of the Utah Police Chief’s Association, Tom Ross, expresses a different opinion. “When an officer’s doing a drug investigation, they’re collecting needles. Sometimes it may not be clearly understood – what is treatment and what is drug abuse or use.”
Medical Director Plumb reports a rapid rise in syringe confiscation since fall. In fact, back in October, she received five reports of confiscations within 48 hours.
Misinformation Or Stigma?
A lack of knowledge among police may account for some of the confiscations, but stigma also plays a large part. The Director of One Voice Recovery, Patrick Rezac, explains, “It just feels like a punitive, sort of targeted response toward substance abusers. There’s no other reason to take a life-saving tool from somebody.”
What caused this unfortunate situation? Is it a lack of information? Is it confusion about the legality of naloxone and the syringes required to administer it? Or is it stigma? Law enforcement officers see the tragic overdose deaths caused by opioids, along with the wreckage inflicted on families and communities. In this case, a lack of information and understanding could be the difference between life and death for those who desperately need naloxone.
The crisis in Utah could be a symptom of the nation’s slow-moving shift from seeing substance abuse as a criminal behavior to a medical problem requiring compassionate treatment. While no one would think of confiscating the insulin syringes of a diabetic, the same standard doesn’t seem to apply to people who use drugs.
Anita walked out of the treatment facility discouraged. She knew they were trying to help, but the counseling and support groups simply didn’t suit her needs.
She felt the programs didn’t address her personal struggles, and they failed to see how her needs as a woman differed from the needs of the men in treatment. So she decided it was time to find a program designed with women in mind.
Does Gender Play a Role in Recovery?
Anita’s reaction isn’t unreasonable or uncommon. Women have unique needs, and addiction treatment programs must address them to be more effective. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that 15.8 million women over the age of 18 have used an illicit substance in the past year, yet women are less likely than men to seek treatment.
This discrepancy can be attributed to the distinct obstacles women face when seeking treatment. Women, especially mothers, fear being judged and labeled as a “bad parent.” As the primary caregiver, women also have to address child-care needs before entering into treatment.
Other barriers to treatment include social stigma, interpersonal relationships, and socioeconomic factors. These recovery roadblocks can discourage a lot of women, but for those who choose to get help, a gender-specific approach can greatly improve the odds of a successful recovery.
If a program aims to effectively treat women, their approach must be designed to address the gender barriers and a woman’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
Complex family dynamics: Women may be in unhealthy domestic relationships or struggle with their interactions with parents or siblings. They may also be concerned with childcare while in treatment.
Higher rates of domestic abuse: Substance abuse is more prevalent among women who experience domestic abuse. Additionally, women in abusive relationships often report being coerced into using substances by their partners.