Certainly, for some teens, plastic surgery can be positively life-changing. For example: a child who’s subject to excessive teasing because of an inordinately large nose may positively benefit from rhinoplasty; a burn victim can return to relative normalcy with appropriate plastic surgery; a breast reduction can allow a young girl to exercise without neck and back pain. On the other hand, what lies beyond what’s necessary for some is the skewed perceptions of beauty and perceived normalcy inadvertently thrust upon teens through social and mainstream media. The innate dissatisfaction with how we look contributes to how we meet the world. To really illustrate this, we can look at the recent uproar that came about when a mother defended her decision to give her 8-year-old daughter Botox injections. Makes you wonder: What 8-year-old has wrinkles? Better yet, what 8-year-old is even aware of wrinkles?
“Statistics gathered over the last several years indicate a decrease in the overall number of cosmetic (aesthetic) surgeries of teenagers (those 18 and younger) having cosmetic surgery, with nonsurgical procedures including laser hair removal and chemical peels being the most popular in 2010.”
These statistics are both good and bad. I mean, the fact that less invasive surgeries are on the decline is certainly positive, but I am concerned about the remaining high numbers of girls seeking these procedures. We know teens are up against extraordinary pressure to look and be a certain way–some of it is normal adolescence–but when parents start giving their kids gift certificates for a new nose or new breasts, the lesson becomes less about self-esteem and more about trying to attain the pop-culture paradigm of perfection.
So, what does this mean from a recovery standpoint? Well, if we start by parenting our children with this idea that they aren’t enough, we end up sowing the seeds of self-hatred and dissatisfaction. Instead of laying a foundation of confidence and positive self-esteem, we end up paving a rocky road to addictive behaviors, which inevitably contributes to disordered eating and eating disorders alike. There’s no reason why this can’t be a springboard to have a heart-to-heart with your teen. It’s also an opportunity to look at what messages we are trying to give our kids. Being a teen is tough; let’s not contribute to the social tyranny by fanning the fires of social awkwardness. This too shall pass.
Bottom line? There are far more appropriate gifts for your teen than going under anesthesia and accumulating scars, no matter how small they are.
When I think of the phrase “I’m an alcoholic,” I often think of Popeye and the fervency behind his frequently uttered catchphrase: “I yam what I yam.” When admitting to being an alcoholic, you’re taking the first step towards admission of powerlessness. It implies an understanding that in claiming that label, one is willing to look at the mind-body connection to their drinking and using. According to the 12 and 12, “Admission of powerlessness is the first step in liberation.” It is the way those of us in 12-step recovery begin to build the foundation on which our sobriety will steady itself; it is “the firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built.
I recently had an opportunity to do a workshop on addiction and pain with a Tibetan nun by the name of Chonyi Taylor. It proved to be a fascinating experience, particularly since there is a burgeoning movement to blend Buddhism with recovery. One of the things that really resonated with me during this workshop was the perspective she shared regarding addiction being a habit. Chonyi said, “Addiction is a mental habit in which there is no conscious control, which gives short-term pleasure and long-term harm.” Being able to look at my own addiction patterns as habits, and discovering that I can systematically break them by admitting powerlessness and renunciation, is incredibly helpful. Because, frankly, as addicts and alcoholics, we have terrible tendency toward getting stuck, reacting and responding to our triggers the same way over and over again. In essence, we have developed habits. We repeatedly meet negative experiences with the desire to get drunk or high. When we get sober, sometimes the habit of seeking numbing pleasure continues, often presenting as promiscuity, gambling, eating irresponsibly, et cetera. By admitting we’re powerless and that our lives are unmanageable, we are given our first opportunity to free ourselves from our negative, addictive, habitual behaviors.
No matter how you look at it, the message is this: we are required to admit powerlessness, renounce negative behavior(s), write moral inventories, and develop a spiritual path paved with honesty and service work. I’d rather have the opportunity deconstruct bad habits so I can build new, healthy ones, wouldn’t you?
What do they do with the hopeless, late-stage alcoholics in Minnesota? They sometimes send them to the St. Anthony Residence, which is one of five “wet-houses” in the Twin Cities area. Wet houses are residential facilities where sobriety and recovery aren’t expected. They use a “harm-reduction” model, which employs a set of strategies meant to reduce the negative effects of alcohol (homelessness, panhandling, jail, etc.). These wet houses also provide shelter, meals, and medical attention for late-stage alcoholics. Often, their modality of thought is, “It’s safer and cheaper to have these guys drinking in a controlled environment than out on the cold Minnesota streets.” And expense certainly does motivate: Rather than the state spending inordinate amounts of money on jails, detox, et cetera, they now share the $18,000 per year costs for room and board with Catholic Charities. Residents receive $89 a month for expenses (most of which is spent on alcohol). This is a clear savings for the state. In fact, research done regarding a similar program in Seattle and published in the American Medical Association in 2009, showed striking savings in their public spending:
Still, according to Bill Hockenberger, a recovering alcoholic who manages St. Anthony’s, three to five percent of the residents stop drinking. But I wonder if cost is really a good reason to give up on the 12-step model that has been clearly shown to work.
As I watched these interviews with some of these men today, I was struck by the textbook depiction of their addiction to alcohol. Deluded into thinking that all they’ll ever be is an alcoholic, they’ve literally thrown in the towel and succumbed to the disease. One resident says, “There’s no hope for a scoundrel like me.” Their descriptions of drinking and their corresponding alcoholism mirror the way it’s described in the “Doctor’s Opinion”: “The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one.” Many of these men were homeless and had been in and out of detox facilities and treatment centers–all resulting in relapse. Their “failure” at sobriety ultimately led them to their residency in a wet-house either via county recommendation or by a self-appointed application. Residing in a wet house may mean retaining the last shred of one’s dignity, and it also may represent the end of the line for the hopeless and often-times dying: the “unfortunates” as the Big Book describes them, those “constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”
St. Anthony’s takes men who would otherwise be homeless and panhandling and provides them with a safe place to lay their heads…and to drink. Perhaps placing an active, low-bottom drunk in an environment which actively shows them what drinking does will bring about an awareness of the disease. There are certainly those who stay in these wet houses and choose not to drink. In fact, some even get sober and leave, though I believe those to be in the minority. Even though counseling is made available, and drinking is only allowed in one area, I’m just not convinced that sobriety is attainable when recovery is looked upon with such complacency. Just because the alcoholic is hopeless doesn’t mean we have to become hopeless in our approach.
“Anger is like a hot stone. When you pick it up to hold or throw at someone, you get burned.”Ancient Proverb
Anger is an emotion most often legitimized by righteousness: anger at our assailant, anger at the hit-and-run driver, anger at our victimization, anger at our addiction. Justifiable anger certainly makes sense in some ways, but when we begin to examine our anger from a neutral position, finally seeing its source, our perceptions begin to change. Working with anger has been a key part of my own recovery. Anger would consume me when I was a teen, and it continued to do so well into my early sobriety. At that time, the justification felt authentic. I responded to most things by getting angry: Scared? Anger. Stressed? Anger. You can see where I’m going with this. Like drugs and alcohol, the anger stopped working. It was one more thing I was addicted to. I liked my justification.
I’ve learned that anger is fear’s way of not showing its wide-eyed terror; it’s hurt’s way of shielding a broken heart and hurt feelings; it’s loneliness trying to appear courageous. Anger, despite its deeply embedded hooks, is merely a mask. In reality, it is a secondary emotion. Granted, everyone gets angry, however, what we choose to do with our anger will ultimately choose its outcome. Because anger exhibits itself in our body’s “fight or flight” response, employing some self-awareness can be especially helpful. For example, pay attention to your body’s physical reactions. You can ask yourself questions like: What’s happening with my breathing—is it faster? Is it shallow? Is my stomach tight? Am I afraid? Stopping when the anger starts allows us to take care of the anger. It allows our anger the space it needs to dissipate, rather than being fed by the fires of our reactions. Buddhism suggests we observe our anger and send it compassion. In fact, they say compassion is the antidote to anger, which is a wonderful way of addressing anger. I rather like what Lama Surya Das has to say:
“I believe that anger is just an emotion. We needn’t be afraid of it or judge it too harshly. Emotions occur quickly; moods linger longer. These temporary states of mind are conditioned, and therefore can be reconditioned. Through self-discipline and practice, negativity can be transformed into positivity and freedom and self-mastery achieved.”
The truth is, feeding the fuel of anger only breeds more anger. Learning how to sit with the uncomfortable sensations that come with rage teaches us that those intense emotions will pass. It provides us with an opportunity to transform an emotion that has the potential of destroying us.
Here’s a story typically attributed to a Native American elder which explains this better than I ever could:
A grandfather imparting a life lesson to his grandson tells him, ‘I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful. The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene.’ The grandson asks which wolf will win the fight. The grandfather answers, ‘The one I feed.’”
Bipolar disorder isn’t soley an issue for the adult population—it affects children and teens as well.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness categorized by its behavioral and mental extremes. Often called “manic depression,” this illness is clearly defined by its moods. Typically recognized as the manic stage, the sufferer may be elated or intensely “up,” even hyper. The flip side of this is the depressive stage, identified by its extreme lows, deep sadness, physical ailments, and for some, suicidal ideation.
According to NIMH, several factors may contribute to this mental illness:
Genes, because the illness runs in families. Children with a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder are more likely to get the illness than other children.
Abnormal brain structure and brain function.
Anxiety disorders. Children with anxiety disorders are more likely to develop bipolar disorder.
Since the causes aren’t concretely defined, scientists continue to do research, seeking more definitive answers in hopes of finding viable solutions, including a possible means of prevention.
These mood episodes can last a week or even two and are heavy in their intensity. NIMHhas provided a listof symptoms from the two phases of bipolar disorder. Keep in mind,these symptoms are determined by their intensity and are not to be confused with the natural ups and downs of childhood emotional development.
Children and teens having a manic episode may:
Feel very happy or act silly in a way that’s unusual
Have a very short temper
Talk really fast about a lot of different things
Have trouble sleeping but not feel tired
Have trouble staying focused
Talk and think about sex more often
Do risky things.
Children and teens having a depressive episode may:
Feel very sad
Complain about pain a lot, like stomachaches and headaches
Sleep too little or too much
Feel guilty and worthless
Eat too little or too much
Have little energy and no interest in fun activities
Think about death or suicide.
Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose in children because symptoms often mirror other issues, for example: ADHD, conduct disorder, or alcohol and drug abuse issues. Bipolar disorder can, however, occur alongside these other issues, so it’s important to see a professional skilled in recognizing the affectations of various mental health disorders. Treatment for bipolar disorder requires the use of medication, but because the effectiveness in children isn’t as well researched, it’s wise to take note that children may respond differently to medications than adults. NIMH recommends children and adolescents take the “fewest number and smallest amounts of medication possible to help their symptoms,” additionally noting the danger in stopping any medication without the advice of a physician.
A recent NY Times article written by David Colman triggered a firestorm of responses by “challenging the second A in AA.” In fact, he disregards his own anonymity by beginning his own piece with, “I’m Dave, and I’m an alcoholic.” Colman says, “More and more, anonymity is seeming like an anachronistic vestige of the Great Depression, when A.A. got its start and when alcoholism was seen as not just a weakness but a disgrace.” He also brings up the vast range of celebrities who’ve used their recovery stories as fodder for books or albums, clearly stating their involvement in 12-step programs, and as a result, violating the 11th Tradition, which states, “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.”
Now, in the early days, being an alcoholic was certainly heavily stigmatized, and admission to being an alcoholic was tantamount to social death. Alcoholism was often aligned with humiliation and shame, and public disclosure of your newfound life wasn’t always met with acceptance. In fact, anonymity was key to their survival in the public sector. Without it, many risked losing their jobs and destroying their reputation.
Colman is right when he talks about our awareness of alcoholism being much different today than it was 75 years ago when the recovery industry wasn’t even a glimmer on the horizon. At that time, Alcoholics Anonymous was merely a blip on the undercover radar. It was an opportunity for the desperate and demoralized to find shelter from the shame and indecency brought about by their alcoholism. Frankly, that’s still the case, albeit much larger and much more accessible. There is something interminably safe about not having to be anyone or anything other than your first name. When I was getting sober many moons ago, I remember sitting in meetings amongst a celebrity or two. I’ll tell you what, it’s not the movie stars and musicians we admire sitting in those cold, folding chairs. Instead, they’re just some guy or gal trying to stay sober, one day at a time. Anonymity is what’s allowed them to do that, not public disclosure.
And let’s not forget the 12th tradition, which reminds us that anonymity is our spiritual foundation:
“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”
You know what that means? It means not using our recovery for profit. It means that our spiritual life depends upon that. It means that when our egos get involved, we are prone to come crashing down in a fiery blaze. Disclosure is often food for the ego, which will, in time, hinder our spiritual progress. Sobriety isn’t guaranteed: Do you want to announce your relapse as publicly as you did your recovery? Most don’t. In fact, the more public you are in your sobriety, the more terrifying it is to come back. I’ve seen it too many times.
Regardless of the deluge of articles suggesting the removal of anonymity, I still believe it has extraordinary value. And while I may eradicate my personal anonymity in personal conversations or within these blogs, I do prefer its maintenance more often than not. I see how damaging it can be to AA when someone like Charlie Sheen gets up and spews venom our way. I see how damaging it is when Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan makes their struggles with addiction public. Some of us just want to stay sober without the glitz and the glam. I don’t know about you, but my using days weren’t glamorous. Why should my sobriety be?
Resilience: That’s something an addict/alcoholic discovers in their back pocket when they overcome a difficult situation. It’s the ability to bounce back after the multitude of knocks we’re sure to get just by being alive.
In the using days, problems often seemed unsurmountable, so the only way to “deal with it” was to drink or use. In sobriety, that’s no longer an option. Instead, we sometimes try to “deal with it” by shopping, gambling, sex, video games, food, exercise, you name it. In the end, those behaviors don’t really correct the problem.
Sobriety presents us with an opportunity to learn how to live without the crutches of drugs and alcohol. Instead of infusing ineffective “solutions” to mounting troubles, we now have a toolbox equipped with the 12 steps. One by one, step by step, viable solutions will unfold. Before we know it, the hard work pays off, and our proverbial tool box gets filled with a variety of options. Mine has, anyway.
When I come across an aversive situation, I now have choices. I start with the foundation: the 12 steps, remembering I can approach difficulty one breath at time if need be. Or I might engage the tools of a meditation practice, asking myself, “Am I breathing?” Try it. You might even discover that you’ve been holding your breath! Other times, I might engage the tools garnered from my yoga practice, asking myself, “Am I present?” The majority of the time, however, it’s a combination of all three, allowing me to season my responses/reactions accordingly.
Recovery teaches us to face adversity with an open heart and a present state of mind. It teaches us that our previous acts of avoidance merely created a diversion to feeling better. The wreckage of our past proves when we walk around the issue, the solution feels and often is unattainable. Here, in sobriety, we learn to “uncover, discover, and discard,” rather than to “run, hide, and duck for cover.” So, if/when you find yourself faced with adversity, ask yourself this: “Is my reaction helpful or harmful?” If nothing else, you’ve provided yourself with a break and an opportunity to do the right thing.
There’s value in suggesting one can enjoy their teen years without the added stress of sexual relationships added to the mix, but that’s not always realistic. Adolescence means hormonal changes (puberty!), accelerated brain development, and of course a natural proclivity for recklessness. Puberty is confusing: thoughts are scattered and often vacillate between sexual urges to feeling depressed and shut down; we are, by nature, unpredictable during this developmental period. But you know what? This is also normal!
So, it’s not only important to talk about pregnancy prevention, but also the emotional and physical states that tend to lead us toward getting pregnant in the first place. The pressure to fit in and do what everyone else SAYS they’re doing can be overwhelming. Adolescents are also prone to having a tight relationship with hyperbole when it comes to their sexuality. Remember Jonah Hill’s character in Superbad and his exaggerated boastfulness about sex? Or how about the iconic scene in 16 Candles where The Geek borrows Samantha’s panties for 10 minutes so he can hold them up for his friends as proof of his sexual prowess? Anything to prove he’s not a virgin, right? Ironically, statistics prove otherwise and frankly make The Geek look pretty average. In fact, “nearly 8 out of 10 guys say there is way too much pressure on them to have sex”!
Here are some things to think about before things get hot and heavy. Better to be preparedthan placed in a position to struggle with your own maturation in tandem with a child’s.
If you’re drunk or high, it’s hard to make good decisions about sex. Don’t do something you might regret or might not remember!
Did you know: Half of high-school teens haven’t had sex.
It’s OK to have friends without “benefits” — Sex ≠ love!
Think twice before pressing “send” on your phone or email. One third of teens say that those who share sexy images of themselves are “expected” to put out. Is that the impression you’d like to leave?
If you are going to have sex, use protection. Condoms are the only birth control method that can reduce your risk of getting HIV or STDs. Know your options.
Some statistics about teen pregnancy:
3 out of 10 girls in the US get pregnant at least once before age 20.
Parenthood is the leading reason why teen girls drop out of school; less than half of teen mothers complete high school and fewer than 2% earn a college degree before age 30.
Having a baby won’t make him stay – 8 out of 10 fathers don’t marry the mother of their child.
More than half of all mothers on welfare had their first child as a teen.
The daughters of young, teen mothers are 3 times more likely to become teen mothers themselves.
The sons of teen mothers are twice as likely to end up in prison.
Have a plan. Educate yourself and start asking questions. Parents, school counselors, Planned Parenthood: those are all viable options. Also, if you aren’t comfortable having a direct conversation with your potential partner(s) about sex, you probably aren’t ready to have sex in the first place. Take some time and get informed! And remember, it’s okay to say “No!”