A Recovery Coach, also known as a Sober Coach, is a generic term that covers many different roles. They provide invaluable support for people trying to overcome their compulsive, obsessive, destructive behaviors. A Recovery Coach is a kind of “Life Coach” that helps clients make smart choices and healthy decisions, with the number-one priority being not picking up a drink or a drug that day, or acting out in their addiction. Hiring a Recovery Coach is like buying an insurance policy against relapse.
Why use a Recovery Coach?
Thousands of people go to inpatient treatment centers to recover from addiction every year. These programs provide a safe, structured environment for learning and developing a new, healthy and satisfying way of living.
While “Rehab” can be difficult and challenging, the most troubling times for a person attempting recovery is often the first 90 days after leaving treatment. Returning home, familiar sights like drugs and alcohol left in the home can be triggering, while the realities of life—job pressures, family tension, bills piling up—can all be overwhelming. This is when a Recovery Coach can be most helpful.
Encouragement, Guidance, and Support
Recovery Coaches can help the recovering client navigate the treacherous path of early sobriety. They provide a bridge between the safe and secure world of inpatient treatment to the real world where all the old temptations lie in wait, ready to sabotage your recovery.
Recovery Coaches continue working with clients on a daily basis to help them establish habits and behaviors that encourage and reinforce a healthy lifestyle. They also help them connect with the local recovery community to find the resources they need to support their sobriety:
Appropriate twelve-step meetings
Therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and other medical support staff
Outpatient programs that ensure clients get an appropriate level of support
A gym, yoga studio, or athletic activity groups, such as a running or cycling club
A sponsor to take them through their 12-step recovery program
The goal of a Recovery Coach is to allow the client to find their own niche in the recovery world, reminding and encouraging them to have fun and explore new activities that are healing and supportive.
Why use a recovery coach when you can go to AA and get a sponsor for free?
A Recovery Coach is not an AA sponsor. They possess many characteristics of a good sponsor, but a Recovery Coach does much more. Assessing what the client’s needs are, and recommending more than one suitable option is just the beginning. It’s like having your own personal case manager:
Unlike a volunteer sponsor, a Recovery Coach is a professional who works for you. They can be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will help you devise a plan with realistic daily goals, help keep you accountable to it, and continually reassess and make adjustments as you progress.
A good Recovery Coach leads by example. They share what’s worked in the past and what’s working now. They relate on a personal level with the client, meeting them exactly where they are, spiritually, mentally and physically. They not only help clients stay sober but also show them how to be happy and enjoy their sobriety.
Recovery Coaches can help create healthy boundaries in all areas of your life. They can teach communication skills to help you relate openly and honestly with family members and challenging relationships in your life. In the workplace, they can guide you on how to respond to questions and concerns of co-workers, customers, and colleagues, helping you learn what to say and what not to say.
How do I find a Recovery Coach?
Most inpatient treatment centers can recommend a Recovery Coach that they have experience with. A simple Google search brings up numerous resources for finding a Recovery Coach. As of now, there is no official federal licensing process for Recovery Coaching, but some states have various certifications for “Peer-to-Peer” coaching for addictions and severe mental illness that require a demonstrated proficiency in various aspects of Recovery Coaching.
A little bit of research is well worth the effort because a good Recovery Coach can make the difference between staying stuck in an endless cycle of addiction and breaking through to a life of fulfillment in recovery.
Hygge—roughly pronounced “HUE-guh”—is a Danish word that has been adopted into the English language because no English word properly captures the concept. The closest equivalent is “coziness,” but hygge also implies self-pampering, companionship, soft light, good food, simplicity, and freedom from concern.
It also implies an outside backdrop of cold and darkness—of which Denmark has plenty during the long Scandinavian winter. Even if you live where the temperature rarely gets below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the shortest day of the year has 10.5 hours of sunlight, there are bound to be days of gloom and chill—plus times you feel that way even on the brightest-blue sunny days. Especially if you’re in addiction recovery and facing a holiday season without your old methods of “celebration,” with the fear of relapse vs. the fear of lasting misery engaging in a violent tug-of-war for control of your gut.
You can learn from the Danes, who have a reputation for being consistently cheerful thanks largely to hygge. Try these tips for a happy and sober holiday season.
Contrary to popular rumor, it’s not selfish to take a break from meeting others’ needs or to do something simply because you enjoy it. And contrary to popular opinion, you don’t literally “need a drink” to relax—in fact, talking like that usually means someone already has a foot across the line between enjoying a glass of wine for its own sake and becoming dangerously dependent on it.
Try these chemical-free methods of self-pampering. (Pick the ones you like best—this is about respecting yourself as well as enjoying yourself.)
Soak in a hot bath.
Inhale your favorite aroma.
Listen to your favorite music.
Curl up with some funny or inspirational reading, or a good volume of poetry.
Take a long outdoor walk.
Watch the sunrise or sunset—or the moon and stars.
Spend time with your favorite animal companion. (Note to cat people: there’s scientific evidence that a feline purr is a form of “healing”)
Share Time with Friends
Good human company—not big crowds, but smaller, more intimate circles—is another hygge essential. Why not skip the big office party or neighborhood open house, and invite your closest friends over for a light meal, a board-game or crafts night, a sing-along, or just an evening of chit-chat? Choose no more than a dozen people who support your sobriety journey and with whom you feel safe sharing your hopes and dreams, your plans for next year, even your deep secrets. Make it clear that conversation is to center on pleasant things. (You might put a coat rack outside with a sign saying, “Please hang your gripes and worries here until you leave the gathering.”)
Let the Outside World Alone
While you’re at it, take your landline off the hook, and ask your guests to turn off their personal phones. Don’t be surprised if you meet—or feel—an aghast “But I might miss something important!!!” reaction. Many people seem convinced that their survival depends on receiving news updates 24/7: they keep their home televisions on whether or not they’re watching, accept CNN broadcasts as normal ambience in public, leave their email boxes open to interrupt their work every five minutes, and nearly faint at the thought of leaving their smartphones at home.
If you truly value the spirit of hygge (and the sobriety value of keeping stress down), be willing to leave the larger world and its worries for a while. Besides your phone, turn off all other “screens” and enjoy your own little cocoon of coziness for a few hours, alone or with friends.
Light up Your Life
Since hygge is traditionally associated with the dead of winter, light, as well as warmth, is a standard part of the ambiance. Not the room-filling glare of a 100-watt overhead bulb, but the light that enhances a sense of coziness: decorative area lamps or chandeliers; candles; a fire in the fireplace. There are also electric fixtures that imitate the movements and warmth of the natural fire.
Add aromatherapy to the light with scented candles, incense, or an essential oil diffuser.
“Eat well” doesn’t necessarily mean “eat super-healthy” in the no-fattening-foods-allowed sense—you need more calories in cold weather anyway. The traditional hygge fare is rich, hot, flavorful, homemade, often slow-cooking to give its aroma time to fill the house with anticipation—and it’s not too fancy or effortful to make. Try any version of these classic Scandinavian-themed favorites (recipes are easy to find online):
Just about anything with chocolate
—plus “mocktail toddies” and other nonalcoholic hot drinks. (Heated apple juice with a cinnamon stick is a favorite in my family.)
Keep Everything Simple
One factor common to all the above—and to hygge in general, and to sobriety as a lifestyle—is simplicity. No trying to stuff every possible option into a hectic holiday schedule. No stressing about getting everything perfect. No hanging your entire sense of self-worth on whether the results of your work are flawless or meet with everyone else’s approval. Just taking time to savor life on a small scale, enjoying it the way you like it, knowing that your real friends love you anyway and that you’re saving more of your best self to share with them.
In the interest of carrying hygge simplicity into the new year (you may need it all the more once the holidays are over but winter isn’t), here are a few “complications” you can resolve to remove from your life starting now:
Chronically negative and critical people (even if they’re your own relatives or friends-since-childhood)
Automatically saying “yes” to every request
Sense of obligation to finish a third-rate TV show, book, food helping, or project just because you started it
Checking and double-checking to make sure nothing is overlooked
The idea that your personal value is determined by how consistently “thorough” you are
Learn to love yourself for yourself, your work for its own sake, and life’s simple pleasures for their own sake. When that happens, you catch the spirit of true happiness and have no need for chemical “happiness” that only makes you more miserable in the long run.
Pregnant and Addicted to Opioids? You might want to read this.Introducing The Positive Direction Model: Opioid Use and Pregnancy, 1st Edition
Davina Moss-King, PhD wrote The Positive Direction Model for pregnant women diagnosed with opioid use disorder. The book focuses on women and their newborns, highlighting the opioid epidemic’s impact on the infant’s health when the mother used or is using opioids. The book introduces the Positive Direction Model and the Positive Direction Matrix, the four components of concern for the medical professional; along with the model’s six components of comprehensive care for healthy pregnancy and safe delivery. The Positive Direction Model: Opioid Use & Pregnancy is a helpful educational reference for women during their pregnancy. The six chapters focus on explaining the ‘positive model’ that decreases fears, enhances knowledge, and promotes healthy decisions with self-confidence.
The purpose of the ‘Positive Direction Model’ is to decrease fears and encourage women to experience pre-natal care early in the pregnancy with the proper supports. It is with high hopes that these supports continue postpartum, decreasing insurance costs and lessening emergency room visits for mom and baby.
The initial low price, and the eventual high cost.
According to the Center for Disease Control (2017) opioid abuse increased dramatically over the last decade. The staggeringly significant numbers of overdoses, compiled with more and more women misusing and abusing drugs, stem from the overhaul of unnecessary prescriptions for opioids and other narcotic/habit-forming drugs (CDC, 2014). The increase in prescription opioids affects men and women in various life areas, but the most significant concern has been the use and abuse of opioids during pregnancy.
From 2000 through 2012, the incidence of maternal opiate use during pregnancy increased from 1.19 to 5.77 per 1,000 hospital live births each year. Every 25 minutes an infant is born with chronic opioid withdraw also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome.
(Source – National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2017)
The cost to insurance companies coupled by the dangers mothers and infants face are causing a national concern. The length of treatment for the NAS infant, the pharmaceutical regimens administered to treat the baby, render a wider scope of problems not only for the adults involved, but the newborns as well.
Fear of being judged
Treating opioid use disorder during pregnancy can be complex, requiring an extensive amount of assistance and knowledge from providers and of the pregnant mother. As the opioid epidemic rises in numbers of affected families, fewer and fewer women with substance use disorders seek medical treatment prior to pregnancy. This behavior continues during pregnancy. And the cycle continues.
Prenatal care may be difficult because of social, psychological and environmental influences. Fear of being judged or uncertain of the medical professionals involved with their prenatal care may also affect a mother’s decision to seek medical assistance.
In order to provide optimal care for this population of patients, health care providers must treat these women in a caring, non-judgmental way.
Opening up the lines of communication
There is, however one consistent problem that will make the difference in the woman’s pregnancy and in her unborn child’s first stages of life in utero, and that is the communication of all providers. Communication between providers is imperative. Each provider should understand any changes in the mother’s health. A multidisciplinary approach, which is the six comprehensive components of the ‘Positive Direction Model,’ can be implemented as the woman and her baby are the main focus in the prenatal care. The positive direction model is designed to decrease the infant’s hospital stay for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and decrease state and federal costs for an infant immediately following birth and beyond.
The Positive Direction Model: Opioid Use & Pregnancy will help the mother begin to understand the four components of concern that Obstetricians and Gynecologists have for pregnant women with opioid use disorder, called The Positive Direction Matrix:
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome,
Substance use Disorder, and
The struggle is real
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is the diagnosis for opioid exposed infants after birth with withdrawal symptoms and physical discomfort the infant displays after birth due to opioid exposure. By reading the book, the mother will learn about NAS and the pharmacology used to assist the infant while he or she is experiencing withdraw to opioids. Withdrawal for an infant can include: diarrhea, temperature fluctuation, intense high pitch crying, and the inability to become comfortable. She will learn the importance of mental stability pre and postpartum.
The possibility of postpartum depression is surreal a the intervention of a mental health specialist may become necessary to maintain stability. Mothers need only to take the necessary prescribed medications during pregnancy.
This is extremely important, along with implementing relapse prevention strategies during prenatal and postpartum. Lastly, family is a concern; the woman will need to identify her support circle during the pregnancy and if there is a safe environment for daily activities and appropriate self-care.
Pregnancy can be overwhelming; however, combining pregnancy with an opioid use disorder can increase anxiety and fear that the mother will not seek prenatal care or providers to prescribe appropriate medication for a safe pregnancy. The Positive Direction Model is implemented for the pregnant mother to have a safe pregnancy and a safe delivery. The model’s six comprehensive component s guided by:
A navigator to include the following providers for the moms prenatal and postnatal care;
Opioid Maintenance Therapy Provider (Assisted Medication Provider) is used to prescribe medication that is safe for the mother and the infant during pregnancy and delivery;
Mental Health Specialist / Behavioral Health Specialist;
Substance Use Disorder Counselor;
Obstetrician / Gynecologist; and finally
Evidence of proper interventions using the Positive Direction Model’s Matrix as six comprehensive components include infants born safely with limited symptoms of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, spending less time in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The average stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for an infant born exposed to opioids is 60 days. With the implementation of The Positive Direction Model, infants stayed in the hospital averaging only five days. Mothers were empowered knowing that they were a positive contributor to their prenatal care and the healthy delivery of their infant.
To order The Positive Direction Model: Opioid Use & Pregnancy, 1st edition (March 15, 2017; ISBN: 978-1-5246-6905-8) contact Dr. Moss-King via e-mail Davina.Moss-King@pdawny.com or contact 716-961-3434.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2013, 2017). National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Key findings: Maternal Treatment with opioid analegesics and risk for birth defects: Atlanta, GA.
Moss-King (2017). The Positive Direction Model: Opioid Use & Pregnancy, 1st Edition. Bloomington, IN
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2017). Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
Why “Everything in Moderation” Is Still, Sometimes Too Much
You have likely heard the phrase, “everything in moderation” many times. Usually uttered while someone is indulging in sweets or a glass of wine, the phrase seems a handy rule to keep one from overindulging. But, it acts more like an excuse for a lot of people.
Moderation can lead to addiction. And once someone is addicted, moderation will almost definitely lead to a relapse.
Aristotle’s Ethics and Moderation
The concept of consuming things in moderation comes from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, a work of ten books, likely based on notes from his lectures at the Lyceum. These books explain that the “moral life” is one of moderation in everything but virtue.
Three Big Problems with “Everything in Moderation”
There are three major issues with the interpretation that humans can consume anything in moderation.
1. Not Everything is Good in Moderation
Some things are better left alone. Substances of abuse are one good example.
You may use heroin once or twice and become addicted while someone else uses casually for months and walks away from it for good. In this case, moderation will not necessarily keep you from developing a problem.
2. Moderation is Relative
If you grow up with a parent who has five beers every night, you may consider a beer or two every evening as moderation.
Someone who grew up in a dry household may consider one beer a week as moderation.
There are no rules to moderation, so you define moderation to suit your perspective. This is a problem with substances of abuse. You may become addicted while you think you’re practicing self-control.
3. Moderation May Lead to Overindulgence
There is a slippery slope between moderation and overindulgence. Let’s say you set your moderation level at one drink a night. On special occasions, you may have two or three.
You’ve had a bad day, so two or three is also a reasonable amount, right?
When you allow yourself to consume addictive substances in moderation, you may gradually work up to overindulging without realizing how far you’ve progressed.
Why Moderation is Especially Dangerous in Recovery
Moderation may work for problem drinkers who are not alcohol dependent. Although the research is sparse on this topic, one article published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs supports the theory:
This study evaluated whether Moderation Management (an alcohol self-help organization which targets non-dependent problem drinkers and to allow moderate drinking goals) drew into assistance an untapped segment of the population with non-dependent alcohol problems. Although interventions like MM are unlikely to benefit all individuals who access them, they do attract problem drinkers who are otherwise unlikely to use existing alcohol-related services.
Still, there are obvious issues with moderation as a recovery tool. This is evidenced by one high-profile case.
Audrey Kishline founded the Moderation Management (MM) group in 1994 after struggling with the Alcoholics Anonymous program. The moderation movement aims to help problem drinkers moderate their drinking without having to abstain entirely. Six years later, Kishline posted a letter on her website confessing that her problems with alcohol were too severe for the moderation approach. Over the course of many years, she was in the media, on Oprah, and in several interviews with Dateline NBC.
MM’s founder later caused a fatal accident while under the influence of alcohol.
Problem Drinking Versus Alcohol Use Disorder
Moderation is dangerous for anyone, but it is especially dangerous for people who are problem drinkers. There is a fine line between problem drinking and alcohol use disorder, and it is difficult to know when you have crossed that line.
If drinking is negatively influencing your life in any way, you are a problem drinker. If your body is reliant on alcohol to function, you are a person struggling with alcohol use disorder.
In both cases, moderation can be dangerous. Even if you are not physically addicted, it is easier to get to that point as a problem drinker attempting to moderate your own use.
Moderation and Alcohol Use Disorder
In recovery from alcohol use disorder or any other substance abuse disorder, your brain and body must reacclimate to life without the substance. Detoxification is an important part of healing. You must give your body time to learn how to function without the substance.
Addiction changes your brain’s chemistry. With alcohol use disorder, your brain becomes reliant on alcohol to provide a surge of dopamine in your brain’s reward pathway. During recovery, your body must go back to producing these chemicals on its own.
This is why it is best to let your body recover without reintroducing alcohol into the system. If at all possible, detox from alcohol instead of practicing moderation.
Moderation is a well-intended concept, but difficult to practice. This is especially important for anyone who has struggled with addiction. As a person in recovery, I recommend that if you want to live your best life – avoid substances that can lead to addiction. This way, you will not have to worry about whether you are gliding down a dangerous path.
On a daily basis our society requires us to operate within a great amount of tunnel vision through activities such as driving, reading, and the ubiquitous use of electronics. Focusing with our eyes directs energy. In tunnel vision everything is focused with visual emphasis, no other senses are in use and there’s very little sensitivity to motion; improved consciousness doesn’t occur. We have a tendency towards operating in similar patterns. Or worse, we become adept at establishing ruts, “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change” (Oxford Dictionary).
From left to Right, fire-circle, and Stalking Wolf, “Grandfather,” with baby. Source: https://www.trackerschool.com/
Stalking Wolf, otherwise known as “Grandfather,” was a member of the nomadic Lipan Apache born in the 1870s, prior to Apaches being relocated to reservations. Stalking Wolf’s son was stationed in South Jersey, so he came to live there and became an important mentor for his young grandson, Rick, and his best friend, Tom Brown, Jr. It was through this association Tom was taught tracking, observation of nature, wilderness survival skills, and his grandfather’s wisdom. In 1978 Tom founded the “Tracker School,” building his life’s work around Grandfather’s lessons. Part of the basic philosophy taught in the Standard course are the seven elements of awareness, one of which is wide angle vision – a dynamic state of meditation.
Wide-angle vision is a method that assists human ability to access alpha states. Benefits offered in alpha states are numerous: heightened awareness, peak physical performance, increased creativity and intuition, greater learning efficiency, and enhanced healing potential. In this state the brain slows down, and how we process information changes. Normally 80% of what you see, our brain doesn’t process; it takes areas of continuous tone and averages it. Our eyes focus 4-6 times per second, focusing on highlights. Wide-angle vision takes out areas of continuous tones.
Wide-angle vision is accessed through the deliberate choice to pay attention to everything in one’s field of view while not paying attention to anything in particular. Peripheral vision is activated. The eyes, using its rods and cones, see in the dark, detecting movement and leads your senses outward so one can discern differences in patterns or disturbances. In wide-angle vision you diffuse energy— or “zoom out” your viewing.
One way to practice WAV (wide angle vision) is as a standing meditation, first slow down and relax your breathing, let it flow gently in and out. Look forward. Raise both arms in front of you; wiggle your fingers. Notice your eyes focusing on your fingers. Continue to do so as you move your arms perpendicularly [to your sides] with fingers wiggling on both sides. Allow your gaze to soften as your focus expands peripherally. You can experiment moving your arms from the front to the sides.
Keys to the Kingdom
For years I suffered from such an extreme fear of heights to the point where simply going up a flight of stairs, in which you could view the floor below, would immobilize me. Through the use of wide-angle vision, utilizing it as a form of self-hypnosis, this fear has been conquered. On a recent trip to the Grand Canyon, a hike into a sacred Paiute box canyon entailed maintaining a three-point contact (two hands and one foot) on a very narrow ledge with a shear drop. WAV enabled me to traverse the narrow ledge which lead to astounding natural beauty. To quote Stalking Wolf, “Awareness is the doorway to the spirit.”
With Halloween approaching, many people are looking forward to a few scares.
Right now, are you looking forward to personal life changes that are strong and positive—yet scary?
When you’re fresh out of detox, the prospect of lasting sobriety can look terrifying.
Will you be able to resist temptation? Will you get a reputation for weakness or prudishness? Will your friendships or career suffer?
While the scares of Halloween are all in fun, in everyday life we often see only the negative side of fear. Yet anxiety needn’t rule us, and can even be a starting point for the thrill of positive anticipation.
Here are hints for coping with six common recovery fears:
Fear of Facing up to Guilt
Somewhere along the path of recovery, we all realize that no matter what others have done, no matter how unfair life has been, no matter how powerless we became—there are still plenty of things for which we bear the blame ourselves. And like it or not, that’s where we have to start. Six of the 12 Steps focus on admitting our wrongdoings and making amends: not one Step mentions seeking reparations for ourselves.
If you fear that others will reward your openness with contempt, consider that the people who attract the most contempt are the ones who’ll do anything to avoid admitting a mistake.
Admission of wrongdoing—coupled with a sincere apology and an offer to make amends—actually earns you new respect, which is the first step in rebuilding healthy relationships. And while your pride may initially protest at owning up to your failures, in the end you’ll also respect yourself more.
Fear of No Longer Being Pampered
If you’ve been addicted a long time, your family may be in the habit of picking up your pieces. Hopefully, your loved ones are involved in your treatment and recovery—but while this puts them in a better position to help you, it also means they may stop “helping” in familiar ways, and start expecting you to clean up your own messes. Adjusting to that can be tough and unnerving.
Have a long family talk (preferably with a therapist as facilitator) to clarify what will be expected of everyone. Write down the final agreement and post it prominently in your home.
Fear of Major Life Changes
You probably know that to keep from being tempted back into addiction, you’ll have to give up some longtime buddies and old-favorite leisure activities. Depending on what temptations lurk in familiar venues, you may even have to find a new job or a new place to live.
Major transitions—even positive ones—are by nature stressful and scary.
To keep transition anxiety from becoming overwhelming:
Keep your strength up—take care of your physical health.
Be gentle with yourself. Ease back into regular life rather than taking your full workload back immediately. Don’t berate yourself for small mistakes. Ask for help when you need it.
Don’t change more than you actually have to. Keep up existing healthy patterns in your exercise, sleep routines, and family activities.
Fear of Setting New Goals
While the “don’t change too much” principle includes not rushing to take on new responsibilities, sobriety also brings a fresh appreciation for goals and dreams.
However, this tends to mix with thoughts of “I haven’t a chance; I’ve already wasted the best years of my life.”
Well, the idea that great dreams must be pursued from youth is a myth. The majority of fulfilled achievers get that way through ten or twenty years of hard work that might or might not have been consciously recognized as relevant to a life passion. (The book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport discusses this truth in detail.) What’s more important is to keep learning and developing new skills, and to think about ways you can give wholeheartedly to others.
Fear of Our Own Minds
It may be monstrous urges surfacing unbidden.
It may be old pains or misdeeds we don’t want to look at again. It may be “just can’t get it right” guilt, beliefs we dread the consequences of questioning, the emotional agony of challenging our comfort zones, or all the above—regardless, “I’m my own worst enemy” is never so true as when our conscious wills collide with what other parts of our brain are throwing at us.
Nearly everyone in addiction detox needs an initial psychiatric evaluation, if only to determine whether the patient has a co-occurring mental illness. Most likely, you’ll need longer-term therapy as well—and most likely, therapy will require confronting your own thoughts in ways that feel about as pleasant as dental surgery without anesthetic. Some of this can’t be helped, but having the right therapist can go a long way toward easing the pain and keeping up your courage to see the process through.
Find a therapist who:
displays a high level of empathy
doesn’t try to rush you through anything
encourages you to think for yourself and come up with your own ideas
is someone you can easily relate to as one human being to another
helps you set short-term and long-term goals
Fear of Failing to Stick to It
Speaking of the long term: as they say, life is a marathon, not a sprint. When it first dawns on you that recovery means permanent abstinence, the prospect of “never a drop, never again” is terrifying. Even if you’re reconciled to giving up the “good times” with the bad, it’s hard not to think, “I could never hold out for ten years, twenty years, fifty years!!!”
Remember, you don’t have to live fifty years’ worth of days all at once, any more than you have to drive a 3,000-mile road trip in five minutes. All good support programs emphasize “one day at a time.” Today is all you have to work with, so concentrate on making the best of the present.
No question, transitioning to a sober life is a major adjustment and a scary prospect. But you’ve come this far, and you have a perfect record of living to talk about past challenges. Take up your courage and go forward!
A fascination with, and exploration of, the spiritual-self is a common thread, binding all cultures of the world, traversing space and time. We can see it in the centuries-old use of ayahuasca in the Incan cultures of the Amazon Basin. We can imagine it in the spiritual drive that resulted in the building of the pyramids; a sanctuary offering safe-passage for the deceased pharaoh’s soul. And, we can feel it, in the Sanskrit texts from the Vedic period, detailing the workings of a complex spiritual movement on the Indian Subcontinent, long before the monoliths of Hinduism came into existence.
It is from the Vedas that I developed my understanding of meditation, a practice providing the tools necessary for intrinsic exploration. We all have the ability to easily and effortlessly transcend the mind and journey to the source from which these thoughts are coming. This is the truest essence of what we are, our Atma. From here we can develop a conscious contact with a new spiritual plane; one that has been accessed since prehistoric times by ancient Rishis in the Himalayas. Yet, with all the possibilities for growth that meditation offers, there remains several misconceptions. For that reason, I want to clear up four myths of what meditation is not.
Myth One: I am bad at meditation because I can’t stop thoughts or quiet my mind.
The nature of the mind is to think. The average brain fires off between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day. Take solace in this finding; we can’t forgo the automatic workings of the mind. That said, everyone can learn a simple technique and begin implementing it daily with ease. If you can think, you can meditate, it’s that simple.
The only goal we should have with meditation is to do it. The practice of meditation is process-oriented rather than goal-driven. Pivoting to this mindset is freeing; we’re no longer bound to speculation and can relax into the practice. I recommend setting aside fifteen minutes of your day to start. This mental reprieve is just one percent of your day, and with consistent practice, will begin to quickly yield the fruits of its labor. Consistency is important for meditation, as it is for all behavior where you hope to improve over time. If I have a membership to the gym but never went, I can’t blame the gym for lack of muscle growth.
Myth Two: There is no correct way to meditate.
One of the most common questions I receive is, “Why do I need to be taught meditation if it’s a process of self-discovery?” I can best answer this question with a personal anecdote from my childhood. Swim lessons boggled me as a kid. I remember my initial fears early one summer, as I learned to slowly build up a stride, diving head-first into the deep end, and swimming across to the pools side. By the end of the summer I had mastered this sequence, coming back the following summer to learn a variety of strokes from the same instructor. Had I not learned the proper techniques in sequential order from a coach, would I have figured out how to swim efficiently and with grace? Probably not. Would I have been able to get certified as a lifeguard and be able to utilize the techniques learned to then be of service to others? No.
Meditation, like virtually all disciplines, improves with proper instruction and consistent application. Two individuals; one using the doggie paddle and the other slicing through the water with freestyle and flip turns, are both swimming. But, if you asked yourself, who’d you most want to offer you tips on your own swimming, it’s an easy answer.
Myth Three: I don’t have time to meditate.
We make time for things that are important. These things fall into two categories; activities we want to do and activities we need to do. Meditation applies to both categories, and as it becomes habitual, it no longer appears to be taking time from other activities. The idea of meditation has changed for me over the years. At first, I found it difficult to sit for even a very short period of time. I knew meditation was good for the mind, body and spirit, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy it when I was “dabbling.” And when I say “dabbling,” it varied from a few times a week to a few times a year. In reality, I was doing the best I knew how but I did not have a foundation to build on. It was like trying to figure out how to swim after being dropped in to the vastness of the open water ocean.
My lukewarm approach to meditation changed when I learned the simple techniques behind Vedic Meditation, a practice whose use is backed up by hundreds of scientific studies. My practice went from something I “had to do,” to something I “got to do.” This shift in mentality made all the difference, with the fruits of my meditation appearing in the first weeks of persistent practice. Events that use to upset me no longer controlled me, and I developed a new level of introspection. I was now able to sit with myself, alone, in a quiet room, and not feel the urgent need to do something. For me, that was huge.
Myth Four: I can meditate while doing other things.
Now that we’ve covered some primary misconceptions surrounding meditation, I’d like to turn to a question I’m often asked. “Can I meditate while doing other things, like exercising?” The short answer is, no. When we partake in high intensity physical activity the body utilizes the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response). The brain then induces a release of chemicals (e.g. cortisol or adrenaline) indicative of what would have been needed to survive a prehistoric altercation. With the sympathetic nervous system on high alert, or body is unable to alleviate stressors using the parasympathetic nervous system. This precludes proper meditative practice from taking place.
Beyond exercise, there are a couple other things to avoid before meditation. With meditation, we are in the business of de-exciting mind and body. This can’t happen anytime we ingest food or have an intake of caffeine. These catalysts light up our body’s mechanisms, blocking an enjoyable meditative experience. When both mind and body start to de-excite the body can then go into a deep state of profound rest. This is critical as approximately 90 percent of our body’s repair occurs during rest states.
Meditation does not have to be boring, something you struggle through or something you are afraid of doing. In fact, meditation should be none of that. There is a technique it which it can be easy, effortless, beneficial and quite enjoyable.
Photo provided by Matt Cardone; used with permission.
In February of 2014, I was ranked number one in the nation for a Fortune 500 company’s sales division. Two weeks before our national meeting I totaled the company car crashing into a telephone pole at 50mph. Three days later, I was arrested for DUI in a rental car the company had provided for me. I was bare-chested, in gym shorts and house slippers. Soon after, I received a call from the Vice President and HR agent relinquishing me from my position within the company. That wasn’t enough for me to stop. I kept using, and in May of 2014, woke up in a treatment center after an overdose.
Learning about myself was an inside job and would start with a psychic overhaul via a 12-step program. One of the foundational steps in continuing spiritual growth is the daily practice of prayer and meditation. My early attempts at meditation were weak, at best, until I heard what I needed at a Santa Monica AA meeting. I can still remember it, “If you are not meditating, then you are not working the 12-steps.” The meditation I learned is a practice of when the mind and body silently experience a mantra and settle down. It takes the mind beyond thought to its most settled state while maintaining full alertness, a state of inner contentedness.
When clinicians are trying to help women to change, grow, and heal from addictions, it is critical that they place women in environments in which they can experience mutual, empathetic, healthy relationships with their counselors and with one another.
Quote: Stephanie Covington
Barriers To Treatment For Women
Many treatment centers claim to provide gender-specific treatment. In my experience, programs which also work with men often tend to overlook the unique needs of women. According to SAMHSA, 15.8 million women over the age of 18 have used an illicit substance in the past year. Despite research showing the increasing number of women struggling with substance abuse issues, women are less likely than men to seek treatment. When they do, they often experience greater barriers to entering treatment programs such as socioeconomic barriers, interpersonal barriers, and often carrying the primary caregiver role for children. These, plus social stigma against women with substance abuse issues, often overwhelm women into not seeking treatment.
Women Face Unique Challenges Entering Treatment
Once a woman enters into treatment, she also faces unique challenges. Complicated family dynamics, higher rates of domestic abuse, and high rates of complex trauma all pose challenges for women entering treatment. Women often enter into treatment with negative, distorted views of themselves and their place in the world. They also tend to struggle with changes in their physical bodies as a result of getting sober and are at increased risk of developing disordered eating habits or full-blown eating disorders. If these issues are not addressed, women continue to be at higher risk for relapse post-treatment.
Treatment Created For Women, By Women
Anchored Tides Recovery was founded on the belief that treatment created for women, by women, and based on empowerment, can help women achieve lasting sobriety. Based on the research of Stephanie Covington, and other researchers, we set out to design a program to empower women and to help them learn to empower themselves and each other. According to Factors of Empowerment for Women in Recovery from Substance Use, by Bronwyn A. Hunter and Christopher B. Keys, empowerment based interventions have positive impacts on under-served populations, such as women. The two researchers found that gender-responsive treatment yielded positive results when it helped women increase their sense of autonomy, increase their sense of self-efficacy, increase their ability to make positive choices, and increased their access to social support.
Treatment That Yields Recovery
Our core curriculum focuses on helping women learn about, process, and move past attachment wounds and past trauma, learn about codependency and boundaries in relationships, and helping women to form an authentic sense of self in recovery. We help women learn to express themselves in various ways through music, art, mindfulness, and movement based therapies. In addition, we provide nutritional counseling and support for women who struggle with body image issues. Our program also has a strong focus on helping women to find work, engage with academics, or to find meaningful volunteer work. We believe that these help women to increase their sense of self-esteem, autonomy, help to build a sense of mastery, and help decrease their financial dependence on others. Our case management team also helps our patients with budgeting and saving to build a foundation for themselves post-treatment.
Safety, Mutuality, and Empowerment
Research on women seeking substance abuse treatment also found that women tend to respond better when the therapeutic environment promotes safety, mutuality, and empowerment. We took this into consideration for every aspect of our program from the decor, to the group schedule, to the staff we selected to work with our clients. Our clinicians model mutual respect and teach clients how power can be used with them instead of over them. We teach women to listen to their inner sources of power and how to use these powers responsibly in the world.
EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a method for helping the brain resolve inner conflict.
What does this mean for a potential client?
Your brain can resolve inner conflict!
Most clients come into my office hoping to resolve some emotion or behavior that is blocking them from living the way they want to. These emotions or behaviors can often be confusing. Daily, I hear such phrases as, “I have no idea,” or “why do I keep doing this?” or “it makes no sense.” Apparently, there is a mysterious element inside that brings these symptoms while somehow remaining hidden!
An EMDR therapist makes certain assumptions about situations like this:
The brain is doing what it’s doing for an adaptive reason,
The brain is in conflict with itself, and
The brain is not aware of alternative behaviors, emotions, or thoughts. We’ll take each of these in turn.
Let’s explore these…
The brain is doing what it’s doing for an adaptive reason.
The EMDR approach is built around the concept of the Adaptive Information Processing System (AIP). This is a fancy way of describing what our brains do all day: take in data and then integrate it in with the rest of the data. As you are reading this article right now, your AIP is hard at work taking in data and integrating it across various areas of knowledge, experience, emotion, belief, etc… Imagine the AIP like the digestive system. Whenever the digestive system encounters material to be processed, it uses a variety of mechanisms to break things down into useful parts, eliminate waste, and transfer those useful parts to where they will be most useful. The point of this whole process is to help the person become more adaptive; if I know more then I can do more. The AIP is the way the brain digests information.
So then how is depression adaptive? Addiction, anxiety, anger? In the EMDR world, we see these as the brain trying to protect itself. Of course, your next question might be, “from what?” Glad you asked…
The brain is in conflict with itself
Let’s face it – there is a lot going on between your ears – all. day. long.
The AIP occasionally runs into material it doesn’t want to process; kind of like me with brussel sprouts! But, unlike me, the AIP cannot simply choose not to take in one thing or another. Every input into your brain is irreversible. Perhaps you’ve heard phrases like “you can’t un-see that,” or, “thanks, now I’ll never get that out of my head. These are examples of how the brain simply cannot choose what comes in and what stays out. So, the AIP, quite cleverly, develops another way of handling what it considers “un-processable” material: isolation.
While the AIP is adaptively integrating new information in with the old, there is another system that is adaptively isolating new information from the old. Although there’s no formal name for this, I like to call it the Protective Information Quarantine System (PIQ). This system’s sole purpose is to keep material away from the AIP. In the PIQ, material is not integrated or processed, just stored like on a computer hard drive, frozen, locked away in a corner where it can’t contaminate the rest of the system. The problem with the PIQ is that it can’t keep material from being activated, only from being integrated. Herein lies the conflict: what if you absolutely had to carry a rock in your back pocket? Because you put it in your pocket, often you’ll forget that it’s even there; it’ll just sit there while you’re talking with friends or going on a walk. But, when you sit down, you all too quickly remember that uncomfortable lump that you can’t get rid of.
This is what the PIQ (Protective Information Quarantine) is like: a pointy rock that pokes you without warning.
Think about how this rock would impact your behaviors and emotions: you might sit down less often or become more irritable when you do. It would be harder to focus on the present or to feel compassion when someone complains about their own pain. Welcome to the PIQ dominated life.
So then what’s the advantage of the PIQ? You don’t have to walk around constantly bothered by disturbing material. The disadvantage? It comes back to haunt you.
The brain is not aware of alternative behaviors, emotions, or thoughts.
With EMDR, we reach into the PIQ, pull out that threatening information, and then present it to the AIP for reprocessing. Why does this work? You have options you didn’t know about.
It just so happens that the AIP is much more powerful than it thinks. While, at one point, the information placed the in PIQ was too much for the AIP to handle, it is no longer. While your AIP has grown up and become more adaptive and sophisticated, your PIQ has not. So, even though the AIP perceives a threat in the PIQ, this is only because the AIP’s intelligence gathering is out of date. Sure, this was a threat to you, but things have changed since then.
Surprisingly, when EMDR re-presents the material to the AIP, the AIP processes it just like it processes everything else! Suddenly panic is not the only response available to passing a dark alley. Now, instead of re-experiencing trauma every time the PIQ is activated, the AIP resolves the trauma and we begin to respond more adaptively to that dark alley. This is the difference between a feeling of panic and street smarts: one is adaptive, and the other is not.
If these concepts resonate with your experience, then EMDR might be right for you. Use the contact information below to get in touch and set up an appointment. Your brain is ready. Are you?
Stress is a major factor in most cases of addiction relapse. Life transitions are by definition stressful. So it follows that anyone in recovery, and especially in the early stages, does well to approach transition periods with extra caution.
That also applies to “regular” transition periods such as the end of summer. Illogical as it is, many people—knowing full well what things happen consistently at the same times every year—continue to react as if those things couldn’t possibly have been anticipated.
So the first rule of minimizing stress during the end-of-vacation, back-to-school period is:
Plan Your Calendar in Advance
Hopefully, you already have started your autumn preparations. If not, here are a few things to put on your next-few-weeks schedule right away:
Confirm your furnace is in working order, your chimney is clean, and your home is well insulated. (Unless you’re an expert do-it-yourselfer, the best time to do this is while the weather is still hot, before service providers are inundated with last-minute calls.)
Air out your cool-weather clothes. Make sure they are in good condition and still fit.
If anyone is starting a new school year, check the school website(s) for “what parents/students need to know” guidelines.
Budget for all of the above. (And consider whether you spent too much on summer indulgences and should save more for fall next year.)
And to prepare for shorter periods of daylight:
If you’ve been spending evenings outdoors, decide what indoor activities will now occupy those hours. You don’t want to leave a vacuum that will fill up with boredom and temptations.
If commute hours will soon have everyone in your home returning from work after sunset, consider installing photosensitive lights or a timer so you won’t have to come home to a pitch-black walkway and house.
If your regular commute route leads down dimly lit streets after dark, the time to consider alternate routes or travel methods is before you get seriously nervous. Anxiety ignored too long may persist as a habit—and a temptation generator—long after the original cause for concern is eliminated.
Consider whether convenience stores and restaurants along your route, even if they’ve never presented temptation in daylight, might turn on conspicuously lit “BEER” or “BAR” signs after dark.
Be Ready for Back-to-School Season
Even if you personally have no school-age kids, we all share public areas with back-to-school sales, school zones, and school busses. And if you live in a college town, both motor and pedestrian traffic will likely increase substantially.
Plan in advance for longer commute times. Know where the school zones are, and when they are in effect: you can’t always trust school-zone signs to activate flashers on schedule. Remember, if you have DUI offenses on your record, the law will likely come down harder on you for any violation.
On foot, you can minimize risk of being trampled by back-to-school shoppers if you avoid stores holding large and well-publicized sales. Also, dodge the worst crowds by shopping at off-peak hours—early on weekend mornings is best.
And if you do have your own kids starting a new school year, here are some hints to make the transition easier for you both:
The best-advertised school-supplies sale isn’t always the best money-saver, especially after you factor in travel. Consider whether you might get better deals at “ordinary” discount stores or supermarkets.
Do your school-supply shopping in stages—a few items a week, combined with other outings. Or, order supplies online.
Consider seriously whether to do back-to-school shopping with or without the kids. Find out if they really want to go and how far they trust you to choose school gear for them. If you do make it a shared outing, plan it together and include an extra stop with a “pure fun” element.
After elementary school, kids typically prefer to do their own shopping. This is a good thing more often than not, as it encourages responsibility. Do discuss any safety concerns and how much of your money they can spend; but make it a real discussion, with two-way input.
If you’re sending children off to college, your personal experience with addiction probably has you doubly worried about how well they’ll handle temptation. Besides helping them plan how they’ll deal with tough situations (chemical-related and otherwise), encourage them to get involved with an Al-Anon or similar group on campus.
Enter the New “Meetings Year” with Caution
Besides being the time students start a new school year, late August to early September is the time most clubs and committees start fresh cycles of activity. Especially if you have a job or are an active member of a religious congregation, you may be bombarded with “join” and “volunteer” requests at this time.
Think hard—and get input from your support network—before saying “yes” to any new request. Ideally, do this even before resuming a former activity, especially if you started recovery over the summer. Trying to “do everything and be everything” puts anyone in a high-risk category for relapse, and if you aren’t careful, “a few” extra things can domino into overwhelm with no apparent warning.
On the other hand, your support group and relapse-prevention plan may already have confirmed this is a good time for you to move to new levels of responsibility. In that case, instead of waiting for the best option to find you, take up your “proactive” reins and decide for yourself what (and how many) activities will allow you to make your best possible contributions. Often, just having a clear idea of what you’re looking for, and sharing it with acquaintances, will start doors opening. If you need a little more help than that, check activity databases such as Meetup.com, or run a Google search for “[activity] groups [your geographical area].”
One Final Hint
And to keep the all-too-common “What?! School starts in August–September this year??!!” trap from catching you again, save this article and make a note in your calendar to read it again in ten months!