Are you faced with a big breakup and having trouble letting go? We all know breaking up is hard to do. It’s tough whether you’re in a failing relationship, a waning friendship, a job that isn’t working out, a partnership that feels splintered, or any relationship that has simply stopped serving you. What if that relationship you so desperately need to end is your relationship with drugs and alcohol? What if the relationship that isn’t serving you is your relationship with your anger or greed? Being faced with a breakup of this caliber is tough.
It’s not ironic to me that we stay when we should go. Letting go is hard. It’s scary. It’s full of what-ifs and the unknown. Letting go of something that isn’t working can mean failure, but really what it most often shows us is great success. Our attachment to the familiar holds us back from investigating and cultivating change. In fact, change is something many of us fear. I once knew someone who was so afraid of change that he stayed in the same house, wore the same clothes, ate the same foods, spoke to the same people, and lived in the same town, all to his detriment. Every time an opportunity for change appeared, he recoiled, and became angry, volatile, even. The unknown was unbearable; change was his bogeyman. He ended up stuck in the sticky bitterness of his fear.
Addiction and the behaviors around addiction represent an unhealthy relationship. Addiction is that relationship we attach to while spinning out of control, creating external and internal harm, along with a cycle of shame. This relationship with addiction reminds me of the abuse cycle itself:
We are intimidated by it
We feel threatened by it
We feel bad about ourselves because of it
It isolates us and controls our relationships
We deny its existence
We lose our jobs or can’t get a job
It makes us financially unstable
It lies to us, making us feel good so we forget and start all over
These relationships with addiction and anger are the ones we need to end. Breaking up is hard to do. In letting go and moving toward freedom, we face the unknown, and often times, we have to face the thing we were hiding with our addiction. Things like untreated mental illness, poverty, sexual abuse, domestic violence, alcoholic parents or caregivers, and untended trauma are daunting. They are the beasts in the shadows. Still, the relationship to addiction has to end in order for any truths to come out. We have to lean toward our difficulties so we can eventually move through them. This is the breakup of your life: the one that will change your life for the better, and the one that will ultimately set you free.
Your relationship to addiction does not serve you. It never did. This breakup? It will serve you well. Recovery will set you on a path to heal. You will learn to set healthy boundaries; you will learn to love yourself; you will learn to be of service. You will learn to let go.
Remember this: Asking for help is a form of self-care, and accepting it is a form of self-love. You are worth it.
Self-care is one of the most important things we learn to do in recovery. When we drink and use, or when we suffer from mental illness, we look for outside sources to self-soothe. Our internal resources are often verboten to us; they are either non-existent or significantly unsafe. The recovery process helps us cultivate that inner resource, where we become able to self-soothe, and take care of our own needs without sacrificing our well-being.
Occasionally, one of our alumni writes guest posts for us, sharing what it’s like to be a young adult in recovery from mental illness and addiction, and how she is learning to live fully. To every woman I work with, I encourage self-care. To every newcomer I meet and extend my hand, I encourage self-care. This young lady really breaks down some of the necessary components of finding and cultivating self-care. I’m honored to share her voice:
Personal or self-awareness is essential when acknowledging and learning about yourself. Recognition of your needs is the first step. Second would be to put those things into action. In dealing with physical needs you must first distinguish the basics.
Sleep is essential for all humans; it plays a major role in ones emotional state. Exercise also has a sizeable portion in a healthy life. Staying active is vital in maintaining ones physical health. Whether it be a lot or a little, it is incredibly important. Keep in mind that exercise of any kind releases endorphins in the brain, and this is equally significant in supporting and preserving a healthy emotional state of mind.
When it comes to both of these forms of self-care, moderation is imperative. Where sleep and exercise are helpful and quite necessary, too much or too little of each of these things are not. Too much sleep may indicate a person who is suffering from depression. Sleeping the day away could be a direct result of trying to hide or suppress feelings. Sleeping too little could also suggest that a person is overworked or even depressed.
On the other hand, exercise, while very important, should not become your main focus. If exercise becomes an obsession, this could be viewed as a type of disorder (specifically having to do with your health concerning your weight and appetite). And exercising too little may force you to become sluggish and will not help your healthfulness.
Hygiene and nutrition are two more exceedingly important factors to be aware of when handling self-care. Hygiene goes without saying, but nutrition is something that many either do not take into consideration at all, or become preoccupied with. Overall, physical needs transfer to emotional wellness when you begin to take your health and wellbeing into your own hands.
For emotional security, taking pride in yourself is crucial when working on self-care. Doing things for you should be your main priority. As my mom often says, “You cannot help someone else without first taking care of yourself.” Happiness comes from doing what you love, so pursue hobbies that you find joy in and take pleasure in. For me, that means going on a bike ride, playing the drums, taking photos, and writing. It took me a long time to find things I genuinely liked. For some people, they have known their whole life and even turn it into a profession. Others may pursue their passion as a hobby and many people have yet to find out what they love to do. Even if you don’t really pursue something, there are plenty of things that you can do to have fun and enjoy yourself.
Some other activities one can partake in are singing, dancing, taking a drive, or riding a train, taking a bath, going to the beach or for a swim, getting a massage, or even being of service to someone else in some way.
Doing kind things for other people is probably one of the most helpful things you can do for you. Helping others encourages you to get out of yourself.
Acknowledging my own specific difficulties and balancing love and patience for myself with gratitude and recognition for what I already have is a critical balance. For example, I personally struggle with manic-depression, or Bi-Polar disorder. This means that taking my medication for the mental illness that I face is a fundamental and key part of upholding and literally balancing my life.
Reaching out to others whether it is a friend, relative, or a therapist, is a productive way to take care of your mental state. Checking in with someone to not only talk about your struggles and/or triumphs, but also about theirs, is a great method when encouraging self-care for you and others. For those of us in 12-step programs, calling a sponsor and going to meetings is a positive way to turn your frown upside down. Relating to another person is almost always helpful when you are struggling with something. Going to a meeting can get you out of your head and into the open arms of a fellow 12-stepper.
Many people believe that spirituality plays a large role in turning one’s attitude around. I believe that no matter what religion you practice, faith you believe in, or Higher Power you trust and respect, you can find self-care in spirituality. My teacher, and someone that I look up to and greatly respect likes to approach every situation with a level of compassion that is almost unheard of. However you practice self-care, do it kindly, but whatever you do, get into action.
Refuge Recovery was birthed in direct response to the clear need for a viable, non-theistic approach to recovery. Noah, feeling disconnected from the 12 steps’ theistic philosophy, found deeper relief within the 4 Noble Truths and the 8-Fold Path of Buddhism. Many members of Against the Stream who were talking about similar difficulties pursued similar conversations. There was a need to shift the paradigm of 12-step recovery and open the door to an alternative path. Refuge Recovery doesn’t ask anyone to shift a belief system, nor does it require anyone to believe in something. It simply asks that you “trust the process and do the hard work of recovery.” You also don’t have to be Buddhist to participate.
The Four Truths of Recovery are:
1: We suffer due to our addictions and the general difficulties of being human in this world of constant change and loss.
2: Craving is a natural phenomenon; it is not our fault, but we are fully responsible for our healing and recovery.
3: We can fully recover and enjoy a life of sanity and well-being.
4: This is the path to recovery: the Eight-fold Path.
Refuge Recovery begins with the First Truth: addiction creates suffering. Understanding that addiction always creates suffering is crucial. Suffering is craving the next drink or drug. Suffering is the idea that you can’t get enough; Suffering is the loneliness and shame and isolation. Suffering is the desire for more pleasure and less pain, which we persistently seek in our addiction. Suffering shows its face in a multitude of maladaptive behaviors. Understanding this first truth and then accepting it as reality also means accepting that drink and drug aren’t an option any longer. Recognizing the multiple layers of suffering is encouraged through inventory work: “Without full acceptance and disclosure, recovery is not possible. We cannot skip this step; we must be thorough in our inventory process.” (page 6, RR)
The Second Truth asks you to do another inventory, this time seeking clarity and acceptance around the causative factors behind your craving. “The addict is not at fault for the root causes and conditions that lead to addiction, only for the habitual reactive patterns that perpetuate it.” (page 11, RR) More often than not, someone suffering from addiction is suffering from deep pain and dissatisfaction in their lives. Perhaps there is abuse, and drugs and alcohol help numb the pain; perhaps there is neglect, and drugs and alcohol make you forget. The reasons and root causes are many and they are varied, but they all lead to the same place: suffering.
The 8-Fold Path of Recovery directs us toward maintaining safety and creating a refuge from addiction. The Eight-Fold Path of Refuge Recovery is:
1: Understanding: We come to know that everything is ruled by cause and effect.
2: Intention: We renounce greed, hatred, and delusion. We train our minds to meet all pain with compassion and all pleasure with non-attached appreciation.
3: Communication/Commmunity: We take refuge in the community as a place to practice wise communication and to support others on their paths. We practice being careful, honest, and wise in our communications.
4: Action/Engagement: We let go of the behaviors that cause harm. We ask that one renounces violence, dishonesty, sexual misconduct, and intoxication. Compassion, honesty, integrity, and service are guiding principles.
5: Livelihood/Service: We are of service whenever and wherever possible. And we try and ensure that our means of livelihood are such that they don’t cause harm.
6: Effort/Energy: We commit to daily contemplative practices like meditation and yoga, exercise, and the practices of wise actions, kindness, forgiveness, compassion which lead to self-regulatory behaviors in difficult circumstances.
7: Mindfulness/Meditations: We develop wisdom by means of practicing formal mindfulness meditation. We practice present-time awareness in our lives.
8: Concentration/Meditations: We develop the capacity to focus the mind on one thing, such as the breath, or a phrase, training the mind through the practices of lovingkindness, compassion, and forgiveness to cultivate that which we want to uncover. (pages 24-26 RR)
What Refuge Recovery does is encourage practitioners to lean into their discomfort, investigate it, notice its impermanence, and begin to let it go. It encourages a deep shift in one’s relationship to suffering, creating an element of space around it, and it provides a unique ability to begin to care for your own suffering with compassion. Ultimately, we learn that we are not our suffering.
Refuge Recovery asks practitioners to know and understand that everything has a cause and effect and to take action to shift toward making better, wiser choice. Our actions are never without a reaction, good, bad or indifferent.
Refuge Recovery has been a deep, grounding cornerstone of my own recovery for the last 6 years. It has profoundly shifted how I view my own difficulties and allowed me to come to a deep understanding of how to hold my pain with compassion and approach my difficulties with kindness. It’s exciting to see this work come to fruition and to have been involved in the Refuge Recovery movement since its inception. I have been fortunate to witness the efficacy of Refuge Recovery for those who are just getting sober and for those with long-term sobriety, proving to me that this method works. It’s also been a wonderful alternative for clients struggling with the 12-step model; these same clients have embraced the Refuge Recovery process, finding relief from their suffering and formed a solid foundation of recovery and service.
There are regular Refuge Recovery meetings in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Oklahoma City, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and Nashville. See HERE for a complete list with times and locations. If one isn’t in your area, you are encouraged to start your own. You can download meeting formats and Refuge Recovery inventories and meditations at RefugeRecovery.org. In addition, BLVD Treatment Centers is offering the first Refuge Recovery track for adults in treatment. There is also a Refuge Recovery sober living that has recently launched, that is has created a sober living environment in coordination with the Refuge Recovery Model.
After the makers of Oxycontin changed their formula, presumably making it harder to abuse, something unforeseen happened: heroin use began to rise amongst white suburbanites. This is a significant shift from the historically urban prevalence of heroin use. It used to be that heroin was the drug of choice for city-dwelling, young, male minorities. However, the current path to heroin use is paved with prescription opioids. The reality is, addiction doesn’t have any real barriers; it has a broad reach and an even broader topography.
When 9,000 patients in treatment centers nationwide were surveyed, its findings showed “90 percent of heroin users were white men and women. Most were relatively young — their average age was 23. And three-quarters said they first started not with heroin but with prescription opioids like OxyContin.”
While RX opioids are still one of the more popular drugs of choice, the shift toward heroin was a direct result of cost and availability. For example, OxyContin can go for $80 a pill on the street, while a bag of heroin might be $10. An addict doesn’t care whether or not the chemical compound is safe or consistent: they care about the high.
In 2007, over 2,000 people died of heroin overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 200,000 went to ERs after overdosing in 2008.
According to this NY Times article, “from 2007 to 2012, the number of people who reported using heroin in the previous year grew to 669,000 from 373,000,” presenting a substantial increase in heroin use.
Experts are saying that the aggressive prescribing of opioids like OxyContin and Percocet in the last decade is part and parcel to what has caused the increase in heroin use in wealthier areas. These areas have more access to medical care and doctors willing to write prescriptions. As patients become addicted and the prescriptions dry up, addicts are hitting the street. What seems cheaper at first ends up being financially debilitating as the addiction progresses. That $10 bag becomes two bags, then three, then 10, and before you know it, that heroin addiction has bankrupted your family and destroyed your life.
In order to gain control of the increase in heroin use, physicians need to prescribe more cautiously, lessoning the quantity and frequency of prescriptions. And those addicted, be they teens or adults, need to get help and get into treatment. There’s no hope for moderation for an addict – complete abstinence is the only way.
Addiction is an effect of human unhappiness and human suffering. When people are distressed, they want to soothe their distress; when people are in pain, they want to soothe their pain. So the real question is not “why the addiction,” but “why the pain.” Gabor Maté
This is a profound statement from Gabor Maté about addiction. In his work, Maté focuses on the link to childhood attachment and trauma as the source of addiction. Similarly, Terra Holbrook, MSW, LCSW, CADC, utilizes the lens of codependency to explore the ways in which deficits in early childhood development shape our thinking, feelings and behavior, which often leads to codependency traits and addiction. According to Terra, “Codependency is a child in an adult body.” She goes on to say that codependency “is the disease of immaturity; the developmental arrest that leads to immature thinking, feeling and behavior that generates aversive relationships with the self, which the codependent acts out through self destructive or unduly sacrificial behavior.” Thusly, it’s appropriate and necessary to view codependency as a facet of trauma work, because it addresses the adverse responses one may exhibit as a result of a deficit of early attachment, abuse, neglect, and physical and emotional abandonment. The underlying wounds and their effects on one’s worldview and personal expression of unaddressed traumas must be addressed as part of addiction treatment, and as a part of family treatment.
Alcohol and drug abuse as well as addiction are a response to a larger issue, and that’s where treatment comes in. That’s where skilled clinicians and systems of support become imperative to excavating the causative factors of addiction itself. A kid coming form a supportive, loving home where they are regularly seen and heard is less likely to use drugs and alcohol than a kid who comes from a home where they are neglected, ignored, pawned off, and unseen. If you add in the factors of poverty, then you add another layer of trauma as result of being forced to take often-detrimental measures to make ends meet and having multiple layers of unmet needs. Likewise, privilege can produce factors of emotional neglect and abuse not always recognized as problematic at the fore. For example, a kid can seem to have everything when you look from the outside, in, but inside, it may be a different landscape. Perhaps parents aren’t readily emotionally available or the child is left to their own devices while parents are busy doing other things. Neglect may have many faces but it always has the same result.
Addiction and codependency affect everyone. The way in which it presents in each individual may differ, but the essence is always the same: a “developmental arrest that leads to immature thinking, feeling and behavior” which leads to “self-destructive” behavior. Treatment and therapeutic support are a necessary factor that will foster healing and recovery. Doing it without support denies one the ability to break free from the habitual nature of repeating history and perpetuating dysfunction. Delving into the roots of addiction allows one to reconstruct their lives to create one that is healthy and thriving. Recovery is possible.
The latest research shows that there are tiny particles of metals in the vapor from E-Cigs. Dr. Stanton Glantz from University of California at San Francisco, and one of the leading researchers on E-Cigs, says, “If you are around somebody who is using e-cigarettes, you are breathing in ultra-fine particles and you are breathing in nicotine.” Scientist Prue Talbot and her research team at the University of Riverside is one are one of the first to analyze the vapor itself. The findings were metals and more metals in the vapor; along with some oxygen, they found tin, copper and some nickel. Inhaling nanoparticles is dangerous and with a vehicle like E-Cigs, the nanotoxins will go deeper into the lungs. According to Dr. Glantz, “These particles are so very small, they go from your lungs, straight into your blood stream, and carry the toxic chemicals into your blood and then appear in various organs.”
While E-cigs may not be as polluting as tobacco cigarettes, they are not harmless. Each brand varies in terms of its content, so while one may be heavier in tin, another may have more copper. Certainly, E-Cigs may facilitate smoking cessation, however, there is a lack of information regarding product safety and toxicity, and currently there aren’t any FDA regulations regarding quality control and production during manufacturing. As a result, we have limited information about the legitimate safety of e-cigs aside from the short research done around the vapor itself. There isn’t enough data to sufficiently indicate the long-term effects of smoking E-Cigs and that means users are essentially the guinea pigs for this method of harm-reduction.
The pros: E-Cigs deliver fewer total chemicals and fewer carcinogens.
Perhaps you want to quit smoking and E-Cigs seem to be the easy way out. Think about it this way: is there ever an easy way out? My experience has shown me that taking shortcuts in recovery, regardless of what one is recovering from, typically has negative results.
Noah Levine’s Refuge Recovery provides another approach to recovery–one seeped in Buddhist practice. We were inspired by his talk at this year’s Innovations in Recovery conference. Since 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous has been a foundational component of recovery for millions of alcoholics and addicts. It is free, it is available for all ages, it is simple in the way it’s shared and processed, and it also hasn’t really changed. When I take sponsees through the steps, they often comment on my old, tattered copies of the Twelve and Twelve and Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Over the years, however, my perception and process around the steps has shifted. It has evolved, if you will, to include another path, one that I share with those willing to begin the process of uncovering, discovering, and discarding old behaviors in a new, approachable way.
Refuge Recovery requires that practitioners practice renunciation: a formal rejection and abstinence from harmful behavior, including using drugs and alcohol. One is required to start with an in-depth personal inventory: a thorough, inquisitive investigation of one’s behavior, traumas, and resulting consequences and how they have manifested in one’s life. One is asked to take refuge in their community, and in the practices of meditation and renunciation. Here, taking refuge means we are taking shelter or finding safety and protection in recovery and community. In many ways, addicts and alcoholics have been attempting to take refuge via substances for years, only to find there is no real sanctuary there.
Refuge Recovery is based on Buddhist principles, which integrate scientific, non-theistic, and psychological insight. Addictions are viewed as cravings in the body and mind; using meditation to create awareness can alleviate those cravings and ease one’s suffering. It is done through this adaptation of the 4 Noble Truths:
1. Take inventory of our suffering: that which we have experienced and that which we have caused. (Uncover)
2. Investigate the cause and conditions of our suffering. (Discover) Begin the process of letting go. (Discard)
3. Come to understand that recovery is possible, taking refuge in the path that leads to the end of addiction and suffering.
4. Engage in the Buddhist Eightfold Path that leads to recovery.
What follows is the Buddhist Eightfold Path.
The first two address the development of Wisdom.
1. Wise understanding
2. Wise intentions
These three address Moral Conduct:
3. Wise speech/community
4. Wise actions
5. Wise livelihood/service
These three address Mental Discipline
6. Wise effort
Another difference between Refuge Recovery and the 12 Steps is there is not a specific order: this is not a linear path. Through this process, one develops compassion and wisdom: two sides of the same coin, if you will. Compassion is equated with love, charity, kindness, and tolerance—qualities of the heart; Wisdom represents the quality of the mind: our ability to concentrate, make wise choices, and to critically think. However, compassion without wisdom, leads to foolishness, and wisdom without compassion leads to stoicism. The two must interweave.
I share this with you not to berate AA, but to provide a view outside of what we are familiar with and to open the doors of the mind and heart to see a way of broadening one’s path. Bill W encouraged a broadening of the spiritual path: Refuge Recovery is that broadening. This is an opportunity to really look deeply into ingrained habits and patterns that prevent us from being truly free from our suffering. Visions began taking our teens that are on our mental health track to Refuge Recovery meetings with much success. Of late, our teens that usually go to AA meetings are also enjoying Refuge Recovery meetings. It’s important to note that one is not better than the other: AA and Refuge Recovery can complement each other, leaving space for curiosity and introspection from a theistic or non-theistic path.
We leave no stone unturned in treatment: we provide what is necessary to recovery and we are grateful that the options for support are expanding.
Hope is fleeting or nonexistent for someone locked in the downward spiral of mental illness and substance abuse. In many ways, the transient quality of hope in the mind of the sufferer creates a sense of dissonance; it always seems to be out of reach. Recovery makes space for a more tangible kind of hope to develop and take root. The hope we do have when we are in our diseases is hope for an escape. However, the hope we have in recovery is revised to resemble its true meaning: a desire for something good to happen and the capability to see its fruition.
We need to integrate hope into our lives as part of our recovery, viewing it as an action rather than as a “thing” to grasp. If we are going to recover, we have to have a life worth living, and building a foundation for hope is one of the actions needed to create such a life. This provides us with something to reach for and hope becomes something actively fostered in our lives.
There are some basic things one can do to work toward bringing hope into their lives:
Connection: Connect with others and begin to develop healthy relationships with people. The fellowship in 12-step meetings is helpful in creating connection with others. Fellowship provides opportunities to build new relationships with people who are on the same path. Within that context, one can begin to heal old relationships and build new ones.
Have fun: How often does someone come into recovery and assume that because they aren’t drinking and using that “fun” is off the list? Guess what—it’s not. When you realize you can laugh, and I mean, a stomach-clutching-falling-over kind of laugh all without the use of drugs or alcohol, it is liberating.
Get an education: This is a positive step to building hope for a fuller, better future. Feeding your mind with knowledge and realizing your potential is a powerful thing. An education provides fertile soil for hope to take root and blossom. It puts our foot on the path toward building a future that we want to be a part of.
We recognize that many of our teens and their families have lost hope. We support families in developing courage to change, and we foster the desire to heal. Every week, Visions facilitates Recovery Fun outings where we encourage teens to have fun, to laugh, and to find joy in their recovery. We host yearly alumni and client events such as: the Big Bear ski trip, our staff vs. alumni softball game, our Catalina Adventure, and Halloween Fright Night. Fostering joy and laughter breeds healing and it leads to hope. Having fun reminds us that we are alive! Just because we are dealing with heavy issues doesn’t mean that joy doesn’t exist. We won’t let kids give up on themselves—we want them to start to recognize their potential. We give them skills that provide them with the knowledge that they are capable, and with that, they build an environment of hope.
Healing a family from addictive behaviors and emotional dysregulation takes work.
It takes willingness from all parties involved and a moment of clarity from the addict as well as the family in order to get the ball rolling. It takes dedication and a commitment from the entire family system. When someone says, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” it helps us to recognize that this is the brain’s way of taking a breath of fresh air. That “breath of fresh air” is the internal shift an addict or alcoholic needs to embrace and encourage them to move toward the next level. In our last blog, we noted the following 4 things a family needs for recovery. I thought it wise to break it down further:
1. A healthy home
2. Mental and physical health
3. Sense of purpose
4. To have and build a sense of community
What does a healthy home look like?
When when Visions’ Noelle Rodriguez, Psy.D. is working with families and helping them heal broken or disrupted family systems, she stresses the importance of “having an intentional culture in the home that supports open communication, boundaries that are well defined, and have mutual respect.” In this way, home can become a refuge instead of a place of commotion.
Mental and Physical Health:
If a mental health diagnosis has been made, it is imperative that there is consistency with medication, consistent medical and psychological follow-ups, and that the family as whole is on the same page. Recovery requires a broadening net of support. It often begins with the clinical support in treatment, and expands to include a network of sober, healthy peers, and often reparation of the family system.
Sense of Purpose:
Find something that inspires you: Something that is positive and supports your path on recovery. Remember, purpose is another word for motivation: take commitments at meetings, be of service, volunteer somewhere that you love, take a morning walk. Joseph Rogers, Assistant Education Director at Visions’ IOP says, “If students/clients don’t have a light at the end of the tunnel, something to look forward to, it is hard for them to see why they should continue making an effort.”
To have and build a sense of community:
One of the most amazing things about treatment and the path to recovery is fellowship (community). Knowing that you have a net of like-minded people in your corner is a powerful salve. How often do we hear the John Burroughs quote, “Leap and the net will appear”? I have to tell you from my own recovery experience, building and sustaining a healthy community of support and care has shown me truth in that very quote. I have leapt often and each time, I have been met with an incredible “net” that I call community. Your community will tell you the truth, love you when you can’t love yourself, and hold you accountable when you make a fool of yourself. Community aka fellowship is a glorious thing.
I recently heard something I found revolutionary from an addiction psychiatrist about hitting bottom, saying that it’s important that we as professionals and families “eliminate rock bottom as a condition of recovery and find the right conditions for recovery.” This moved me because it encourages taking action sooner, it encourages destigmatizing what recovery can look like, and it provides a sense of hope. Families need hope. They need to believe that recovery is possible. They need to know and understand in the fiber of their being that there is light at the end of the tunnel. UCLA’s Dr. Tim Fong said, “Addiction and mental health are not necessarily curable conditions, but they are controllable conditions.” In other words, recovery is attainable.
We recently had the opportunity to hear David Sheff, author of “Beautiful Boy” and “Clean“, speak about addiction and mental health at UCLA’s Friends of the Semel Institute’s Open Mind series. Sheff is a journalist, and New York Times best-selling author who writes and speaks about addiction and recovery though the lens of a parent and as a well-researched journalist. Our family program is dedicated to approaching recovery from the eyes of the addict and those within the family system. David Sheff reminded me of the parental side of addiction and mental health that we don’t always hear.
Our kids are our babies: we see them as our innocent, silly, curious, innocent offspring. When it comes to addiction and mental health issues, parents often hang on to this ideology, telling themselves, “Not OUR kids. Addiction and mental health issues happen to other families.” There is a natural contradiction that occurs, marking the innocence parents seek to hold on to and the utter despair and devastation that is actually taking place. Addiction and mental health could care less about your financial status, race, religion, or gender, or age. What David Sheff does is talk about it. He names the elephant in the room. He invites parents to face the shadow side of addiction and mental health and bring it into the fore. He challenges us as a culture to unabashedly squash the stigma associated with addiction and mental health.
This stigma I’m talking about increases the suffering families experience around addiction and mental health. It inhibits one’s ability to move through the processes required to heal. If worry and concern about what people migt say hangs over the head of a family, how willing will they be to do the work? How frequently will they suffer in silence? How long will they go before asking for help? Shame is the muzzle of addiction.
Sheff pointed out some staggering facts:
80% of children will try drugs or alcohol before age 18.
Addiction is the #3 killer
The #1 reason teens use drugs: Stress
90% of addictions begin before 21
Only 6% of pediatricians are able to recognize drug use
There are 3000 addiction informed physicians and over 3 million addicts
But he also reminds us of this: these kids who are suffering from addiction and mental health issues aren’t bad kids; they are our kids. The focus needs to be on what is causing the use of drugs and alcohol, not the drugs and alcohol themselves. Kids are using because of stress, anxiety, social situations, trauma, et cetera. Our kids live in an environment that resembles a pressure cooker. I teach yoga to teens and tweens and I can tell you from my experiences with my students, the main reason they are there is because of stress and anxiety. And part of my work with them is teaching them tools for self-regulation.
These kids, our kids, need a reprieve from their overwhelm. Sure, drugs might offer a quick fix, but they don’t offer a solution. The solution has to come in the form of recovery, stress management and developing healthier means of self-regulation that allow for a better approach to being overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed out. If there are addiction or issues of mental health, it becomes imperative to give them a voice. Shame keeps us silent. Shame keeps us sick. Shame increases our suffering.
Dr. Tim Fong, an addiction psychiatrist at UCLA also had some salient things to say that evening, but one that really strikes home is this. Families need the following 4 things for recovery:
1. A healthy home
2. Mental and physical health
3. Sense of purpose
4. To have and build a sense of community
I encourage parents to seek help if they recognize that their child is in trouble. You are not alone in your fear, your suffering, or your need to be heard. Your child needs to be seen and heard as well, and the sooner you can get them the help they need, the sooner the recovery process can begin. Remember this: if your child has some hiccups in their recovery, YOUR recovery doesn’t have to hiccup as well.
I will leave you with this, a quote from Anne Lamott: “Never compare your insides to other people’s outsides.”