Categories
Addiction Depression Mental Health Recovery

Privilege Doesn’t Mean Easy

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Sometimes, teen angst is obvious. It shows up as truancy, poor grades, and sullen or surly attitudes. But sometimes, it’s subtle, and easily missed by parents desperate to feel their child is doing all right. After reading this remarkable article by Dr. Madeline Levine, I was reminded about the elusive nature of teen angst and the parental actions taken to limit pain, sadness, fear, and frankly, some of the pertinent life experiences which are part and parcel to learning about the human condition. Dr. Levine noted how common this is amongst those more privileged when she states, “It would be a stretch to diagnose these kids as emotionally ill. They don’t have the frazzled, disheveled look of kids who know they are in serious trouble.” In these cases, it takes time to really unravel the problem because the outsides are masked so skillfully. Levine notes this as well, “After a few sessions, sometimes more, the extent of distress among these teenagers becomes apparent. Scratch the surface, and many of them are, in fact, depressed, anxious and angry.” She also notes the fact that it’s the kids requesting help, not always the parents recognizing there might be a problem.

Many parents will say,  “I just don’t want my child to feel pain or be sad, or get hurt.” While parents are providing tremendous resources and attention to these kids, there is still an internal sense of strife felt in many of them. This additional desire to protect and fix things with materialistic items is just a another way of muffling the reality of whatever it is we’re dealing with.  An iPod, or a new pair of Uggs won’t fix the emotional pain and loneliness of social anxiety or lift the spirits of the depressed. Sure, the thrill of getting something new may make us temporarily feel good, but those feel-good moments start to fade and we’re still left with the feelings we were trying to run away from in the first place.

This presents an interesting conundrum when it comes to asking for help. The suffering isn’t as obvious for these teens, and it becomes harder still to determine the root cause when the issues themselves are concealed. In this sense, the “privileged” may find it harder to reach out for help because their ability to acquire bigger and better things is easier, and their academic and social resources are more viable. In this case, the ability to stuff feelings comes at a higher price, both literally and figuratively.  And while some may view those who are more privileged as spoiled, I hesitate to think this is entirely the case. In fact, I would venture to say some of this is the manifestation of a larger issue: parental denial, a need to run from feelings and the financial ability to do it in bigger and more aggrandized ways.

Sometimes it’s harder to ask for help when it looks like you have it “together” from the outside. The assumption is that one is doing well because they may not have lost everything, or because they appear fine solely because their outsides are seemingly put together. Unfortunately, the outsides don’t always match the insides. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt low but was complimented on my appearance. It’s a trick we play to hide what’s really going on. That “trick,” however, leaves us lonely and sometimes isolated from the very people who can help us. Our kids need us to be there for them, but we can’t always intervene. In doing so, we teach helplessness, when what we really want to do is provide a safe foundation at home so our kids can develop the tools they need to experience life. As Hodding Carter once said, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.”

Read the article in its entirety (I highly recommend this).

See here for more information about The Price of Privilege.

Categories
Mental Health Recovery

Facing Our Fears & Meeting Our Grief

It takes more strength to feel your feelings than it does to hide them. As counterintuitive as it may seem, I’ve found this to be true. Because we encounter so much anxiety and depression in our lives and in our recovery, it ‘s appropriate to also notice the element of grief which often acts as the undercurrent and silent driving force. If there’s a history of abuse or abandonment, neglect, or bullying, there is grief. If a parent suffers from a mental illness and/or addiction, there is grief. If there’s social anxiety, there is grief. It’s a pervasive feeling, and one which we often ignore or pass off as a phase, something that happens in passing. But in recovery, be it from addiction or mental illness or both, we need to address it.

How do we face our fears—especially when they are paralyzing? How do we defy this part of being human which urges us to avoid pain at all costs? We eat to feel better, drink and smoke to feel better, have sex to feel better, live on our phones to feel better, surf the Internet to feel better, ad infinitum. We do whatever it takes to go as far as possible from that nagging pain in our guts. With the addictive personality, this behavior is even more pronounced. If there’s a mental illness co-occurring but not acknowledged, the desire to resist the fear and feelings might be even greater. It can get pretty darn lonely, especially when one’s ego and fear kick in, coupled with a refusal to ask for help.

Certainly, there is an imperative to face these fears and the grief associated with them, but we can’t do it all at once. Since it requires us to look deeply within, I have found it far more beneficial to do in pieces. Even in a therapeutic environment, one doesn’t address every single issue at once. The trouble is, addicts and alcoholics don’t like to do anything in pieces. It’s usually all or nothing. It takes a new outlook and a commitment to slowing down to start to change that perspective. But it is possible.  Keep in mind, alcoholism and addiction are oftentimes symptoms of a much greater problem. The question is, are we brave enough to determine what that problem is?  If it’s a mental illness, do we have the courage to take care of it appropriately?

Instead of attempting to lift a tree to see its roots, try lifting one leaf at a time. Eventually, when it’s time to lift the tree, it may not be as heavy.

 

Categories
Recovery Service Treatment

Visions Hits Double-Digits: Celebrating a Decade of Adolescent Treatment

This past decade, Visions has set a mission to provide a treatment plan that truly caters to youth and their families. We’ve coexisted alongside a myriad of recovery centers, working hand in hand with them to bring a sense of healing to the entirety of the family dynamic. As we celebrate 10 years of providing treatment, our professional growth, and the program development we’re embarking on, it behooves us to acknowledge and celebrate our treatment team and the culture they have built at Visions.

There is something that lies within every single person at Visions, something which connects all of us in a very unique way. As I’ve sat and pondered what that “thing” is, I‘ve realized it’s the sense of being of service which we all embody. The thing that drives us to get up and “do it again” isn’t the promise of a paycheck or the gratification of completing a task on time; instead, it’s the desire to put forth the effort in watering the seeds of recovery planted at the very beginning of treatment. It’s a continuum, this process, one which starts at intake and continues on to supporting healthy living. There is no “end” to the dedication and perseverance of our team. Selflessness is what I continue to notice about those who’ve been here since the beginning and in those just planting their feet. There is an element of altruism within the team, not forced, just naturally there and engaged beyond any expectations placed upon us by simply being an employee.

Amidst all of the selflessness and service, however, runs an underlying tone of never taking ourselves too seriously.  The team wears their hearts on their sleeves and carries laughter in their hearts. Frankly, we can’t see any other way to show our clients our authenticity.  As we know, adolescence is strife with the mistrust of adults and a deep need for autonomy; having adults who care for them and are willing to share their ability to be themselves while maintaining positive boundaries is crucial. There’s nothing forced about this, and the organic factor allows us to be consistent in our care and treatment. Remember, teens can suss out a fake in two seconds flat…especially when it comes to adults.

The treatment world understands a language all its own.  It feels the pain of the mentally ill, the addict, the depressed, the eating disordered, the anxious, and the suicidal. From our perspective, there’s no judgment, just the sincere effort to help someone heal. There comes a point where the need to “just” be of service ceases to solely focus on recovery and begins to seep into paving the path to living better lives. At Visions, we shoot for the families’ new beginning and aim to be the best examples of recovery, compassion and fun. As Dr. Seuss liked to say, “Fun is good.”

Categories
Addiction Alcoholism Recovery Self-Care

Love and Boundaries

What happens when someone you love relapses and decides not to get sober again?
Regardless of whether that person is a parent or a close friend, it’s a challenge, to say the least. In AA, we are told  “we simply do not stop drinking so long as we place dependence upon other people ahead of dependence on a higher power¹” This statement alone verifies the need to allay one’s reliance upon the static nature of the sick, and instead turn the focus on paving a new path toward healing.

In 1951, Al-Anon began using the steps, giving those married to and reared by the alcoholic, tools with which they could live by. One thing is key: Al-Anon and Alateen don’t focus or talk about the alcoholic; they instead focus on themselves and learn how they can lead a happier, freer life. Here, the lesson is not to fix the person we love, but rather how to live life fully and independent of their disease. That’s tough, especially when  our expectations have taken hold: “If only they get sober, then everything will be okay.” or  “I’m not the one with the problem, they are.” But when we place our focus on fixing someone else’s problems, obsess over their emotional health, and base our lives around their well-being, that IS a problem.

Alateen is a wonderful support for kids struggling with alcoholic/addict parents or siblings. When chaos is the norm, then Alateen provides tools for weathering the storm. As kids living with alcoholics and addicts know, reaffirming reality in their day-to-day lives is the norm; the steps and fellowship: however, help provide a healthy, non-threatening way to do that. At some point, we find that part of supporting someone else’s sobriety means allowing them to walk their own path, no matter how rocky that path may be. We can’t walk it for them. If that means that their sobriety is tenuous at best, then we have to learn how to step aside. I call it loving someone with boundaries. In other words, we can love you when you’re in your disease, but we won’t hold you up.

¹ BB Page 98 (Note: “God” was replaced with “higher power” in the post.)