Being in recovery from mental illness, substance abuse, alcoholism, eating disorders, behavioral issues, et cetera, require that we lean into some things that make us uncomfortable. Let me tell you, “leaning in” isn’t easy. Our brains like pleasure and revile pain. In fact, finding ourselves in rehab tells us that our habitual patterns of trying to put an elementary salve on a gushing wound weren’t working very well. It means that drinking, drugging, stealing or lying our way out of our feelings doesn’t work — at least not permanently. Frankly, none of these “solutions” ever work. Not in the long or short term.
By suggesting that we lean into our difficulties instead of leaning away, I am asking for you to embrace your courage. I am also asking you to trust in your exemplary clinical team, your support team, and in your own ability to do this difficult work while you are in treatment and beyond. Positive thinking or praying for it all to magically go away are both examples of temporary, feel-good actions that don’t provide a long-term solution. It’s wise to also recognize that the recovery process often requires legitimate, clinically supported psychological care.
Recovery is about change. It’s about shifting perspectives and learning how to redefine and revise old paradigms in order to create healthy ones. When we face our old thought patterns and old ideals, we offer ourselves the opportunity to let go. We often find ourselves able to walk through our issues not around them, recognizing that while they are present, ready and willing to make us miserable, we don’t have to take the bait. When we begin to look at our issues with some awareness and compassion, their negative influence has a chance to dissipate.
Our ability to recognize the negative for what it is allows us to invite the positive experiences and influences into our lives. In our recent blog, “How do You Stay Motivated,” I quoted Dr. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., who addresses this very thing: “The remedy is not to suppress negative experiences; when they happen, they happen. Rather, it is to foster positive experiences – and in particular, take them in so they become a permanent part of you.”
Negative experiences do not have to own us; in fact, they can be part of the landscape without being part of our foundations. This is emblematic of recovery.
The process of recovery is not something you have to do alone. In fact, you can’t. There are support groups, clinicians, treatment facilities, therapists, et cetera, as available resources to you. Yes, there are things you may have to face and work through, but coming to an understanding that you don’t have to ride through that storm alone is a welcome relief.
Beginning in June of 2014, Visions will launch our Three-Day Family Intensive program. It is a small, intimate program, which will facilitate therapeutic and clinically supported opportunities to help parents view their current roles and reactions within their family systems. To heal, all pieces of the familial puzzle need to come together.
Terra Hollbrook, MSW, LCSW, CADC and her husband, Jeff Hollbrook, BRI-III, have been working closely with our clinical staff to review and expand our family program. Their experience ranges from personal to professional, and as a result, their contribution to the Family Program has added experiential depth and weight. Within the context of the Three-Day Family weekend, families, with the help of clinical staff, will address:
The Three-Day Family Intensive will provide experiential learning meant to facilitate the recognition of similarities while adeptly addressing differences within the family dynamic. Visions’ Three-Day Family Intensive program will also provide the family with the experience of being the identified patient, a necessary tool when one is doing this kind of work. Understanding what it’s like to be in someone’s shoes can create a profound paradigm shift.
Day one is designed to be purely educational in which participants will gain a more salient understanding of their own powerlessness.
Day two will allow for a deeper divulgence into that powerlessness as families are broken up into small groups facilitated by clinicians guiding them through the emotional process of looking inward. On days one and two, parents are without their teens.
On day three, families come back together so parents and teens can reconnect in a therapeutic and supportive environment. Families will do group work together, which will include sculpting a more therapeutic and functional family environment from that point forward. In addition, families will participate in group activities together. Finally, the weekend will culminate in a closing circle and a therapeutic process facilitated by a clinician where families are able to discharge from the emotional stimulation.
Family work takes time and dedication. There are no magical buttons that will make everything suddenly line up the way we want them to. However, with practice, and consistent work unpeeling the layers of internal stories and traumas, healing will happen. Families do find their way back together.
The heart is an amazing thing: it heals even when we believe it’s broken beyond compare. Our goal with the Three-Day Family Intensive Program is to teach families that they can heal and that they can create new, healthier root systems from here on out—that their hearts can, in fact, heal.
Entering adolescence is serious business; it evokes rapid change and confusion for parents and teens alike. From a parenting perspective, sometimes it seems your child is suddenly unrecognizable. From the teen perspective, the sudden physiological and emotional changes are confusing and perhaps even frightening at times. There can be an internalization of, “What is happening to me” but sharing that would be significantly “uncool,” or so it seems.
We know that adolescence is a time of great transformation. Teens are individuating, their hormones are raging, and things are moving faster than even they can grasp. Try and remember what it was like when YOU were a teenager. Do you remember how you felt?
This generation of teens is faced with even higher pressure. I have seen parents pressuring their elementary kids to perform better for the sake of college, or the perception of prestige. I have had a 13-year-old tell me they she was having an existential crisis – that she didn’t know what she was going to do with her life – all because of parental pressure to look toward college. Between parental pressures and the sheer nature of adolescent metamorphosis, the teen years can be intense.
But does adolescence have to be as disruptive?
Can we as parents take things less personally and develop a healthy way to show up for our teens? Yes, I believe we can. It requires that we educate ourselves in the ways of adolescence, and it also involves remembering and holding space for our own adolescent experience, without projecting it onto our teens. This may mean getting involved in a support group, or seeing a therapist and beginning the transformative process of unraveling any traumatized roots within oneself. Allow your teen to have their own adolescent experience rather than interpreting it as your own. You are not your teen’s experience; you are a guide and a representative of safety and security.
If you find yourself in a situation where your adolescent is perpetuating harmful behavior via drugs and alcohol, or if they are displaying significant emotional dysregulatory behavior, it’s important that you seek help. There’s adolescent angst and then there’s addiction and mental health issues. There’s help if you need it.
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.
Visions knows that a family in crisis needs requires an intensive family program. It doesn’t benefit a family to be viewed as having individual branches that need to be removed, trimmed or repaired. We are thrilled to be building out our 3-day intensive family program with the help of Jeff and Terra Holbrook. They have been doing family work for almost two decades and are deeply committed to healing the family system. Their insight and experience are invaluable and in line with the culture of Visions. Visions wants the family to heal from the inside out; We require all families to go to:
Weekly parent support groups;
Weekly multi-family groups; and
Individual family sessions.
Families are also encouraged to go to outside support groups (Al-Anon, AA, ACA, Refuge Recovery, et cetera). When we meet with families, we address issues of attachment, enmeshment, codependency, and we assist families in creating healthy boundaries. The recovery process requires a level of willingness and curiosity on everyone’s part and it is particularly important to do family work because addiction and mental health are rooted in the family system. It is not uncommon for parents and loved ones affected by their child’s addiction or mental illness to become angry, place blame, distance themselves from their child, or try to fix the problem themselves; often times, the focus remains on the addict. Here’s where an intensive family program comes in.
Think of the family system as a garden. Imagine the roots of everything in the garden weaving their way through nutrient rich soil containing love, respect, healthy boundaries, positive attention, and connection to healthy resources. Now imagine what happens when that same soil becomes fallow: The roots begin to suffer from neglect, abuse, abandonment, deprivation, and entanglement; the garden begins to whither away, grasping onto whatever is closest to try to survive. Family systems need to be nurtured from their root systems all the way up. Removing one unhealthy part won’t allow the entire system to heal. In fact, the entire root system will malfunction as a result.
Our intensive family program provides salient educational tools for parents to learn to face addiction and mental health in a healthier way. Families must begin to unpeel their own layers, and begin looking deeply within themselves and at the origins of their own root systems. Parents must also understand what they are asking their kids to do to recover, and more importantly, it’s invaluable for parents to show their kids they are willing to do the same hard work. For example, if a family is asking their kids to look at how they are powerless, that same family needs to ask themselves the same question. Addiction and mental health are a family disease; they are not isolated incidents wherein one family member goes rogue. As David Sheff, author of Clean says, “The addicted are not morally bereft, they are ill.”
An intensive family program will also help parents move away from the stigma of mental health and addiction and move toward acceptance and healing. Families are often surprised to find out that their feelings are in line with their child’s: Both may feel angry, betrayed, ashamed, scared, resentful, frustrated, tired, and so on. When parents are able to shed a light on these similarities, the willingness to look at the hows and whys of addiction and mental illness becomes more palpable. Recognizing this similarity also elicits compassion and empathy for their child and for themselves. When a family can recognize that everything is connected, recovery can truly bloom.
for the first time is a courageous, albeit scary leap toward self-acceptance. Often times, one embarks on this leap with great trepidation, avoiding conflict with aversive family and friends while creating a whirlwind of conflict within. In cases where there is little to no familial support, this process can really be challenging. We have hosted several LGBT youth in our programs and we offer them a wide variety of support while also encouraging them to be unabashedly who they are.
I asked Joseph Rogers, one of our teachers and the Education Coordinator at our Day School, to identify some ways to support LGBT teens in their recovery. Joseph says,
“I think one of the most important aspects of recovery for an LGBT teen is the availability of LGBT meetings. Additionally, it is important for LGBT youth to develop a mentor relationship with someone who has dealt with the challenges of growing up as an LGBT youth in American society. LGBT youth, like all young people who get sober, need to see that there is a life beyond drugs and alcohol; that there is a life to be had and a life to be built.”
Some other challenges LGBT youth often face is familial discord and deep resistance to a sexual identity different from the family’s perspective on societal norms. Often times, families are more concerned about what others thing rather than focusing on what their teen needs. When I asked Garth LeMaster, MA, LMFT, and therapist at our Outpatient Program about what parents can do in order to support their teen, he said,
“The most important thing for a parent to do is get support for any feelings that may arise. The kid may be dealing with enough regarding their feelings, so parents must provide a safe place for them to land. If they do not, they make like infinitely more difficult for the kid and can seriously damage the relationship.”
A component of our treatment programs are our family support groups and we offer them to parents throughout their teen’s treatment. These groups are a terrific resource for parents to use and lean into. They can provide the group support necessary to help parents unravel the tangle of emotional difficulties they may be experiencing. It’s also beneficial for parents who are having difficulty accepting their LGBT teen to have individual therapy, which facilitate a deeper unraveling and investigation of the root causes of resistance.
8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide
5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression
3.4 times more likely to use illicit drugs; and
3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sex—
Compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.
Family acceptance helps:
Protect against depression, suicidal behavior and substance abuse;
Promote self-esteem, social support, and overall health.
LGBT teens faced with this inner conflict can often feel like outcasts, castigated for not being like “everyone else,” and challenged to conform. If we as a community can provide support for your LGBT teen, we can help normalize the transition from feeling apart from to feeling a part of a community.
Creating a safe, supportive space for a teen coming to grips with their sexual identity is a necessary component in allowing them to land on both feet in their recovery and in their process of self-acceptance. Showing our kids that they are loved and cared for, regardless of who they are, is an invaluable gift we can give our kids.
They are hard-wired to defy, irritate, be irritated,rebel,question, and be dramatic; what better way for a human being to learn how to be authentically who they are, right? As a parent, however, those adolescent behaviors can be frustrating and overwhelming. A key component to working with this behavior is creating good boundaries. Setting really clear boundaries shows teens they are safe.
Here are 5 challenging teen behaviors and suggestions for healthy parenting responses:
1: Oh the Drama!Everyone is horrible and out to get them, life is full of “he said,” “she said” problems and absolute statements like, “Mom! You just don’t UNDERSTAND!”
Parents, this is a great opportunity for mirroring. While you know that the world isn’t out to get your teen, learning how to respond to them kindly is important for their emotional safety. With mirroring, your job is not to analyze or sympathize but to reflect back what was said. In doing so, you are saying to your teen, “I see you,” something teens often don’t feel from adults but desperately need. Being “seen” is something vital to building self-awareness and confidence. They need to know they are being seen and heard without being judged. Here’s an example of mirroring:
Teen: “School was horrible, everyone’s a jerk,”
You: “I hear today was difficult at school.”
In this example, you are actively listening instead of analyzing the problem or trying to fix it. Sometimes, kids just need to vent.
2:“I hate you!” “You’re ruining my life!” “Why don’t you let me do ANYTHING?!”
In adolescence, teens are continuing to individuate. They are trying to find out who they are as individuals — separate from who their parents are. As a result, teens attempt to pull away from the familiarity and safety of their familial setting in order to find their own authenticity, and often times they do this harshly. This is not easy to watch and it is harder still not to take the behavior personally. However, this doesn’t mean parents become doormats for their kids or receptacles for abusive behavior. Create boundaries and disallow abusive language or violent behavior while continuing to support the process of discovering oneself. Your job as the parent is to remain calm amidst the storm: A: adolescence is temporary, and B: your parents survived. Ensure you are getting time for yourself and for self-care. Remember, if you are an empty well for yourself, you are an empty well for your child.
3: Not THAT friend.
Rest assured, there will come a time where you will feel with absolute certainty that one of your teen’s friends is questionable. Before you toss this friend to the wolves, ask yourself why this kid is so triggering for you. Are you reminded of something? Do you see yourself in this child? Are the parents troublesome? Do you have information your child doesn’t have about the family? Understanding why we’re reacting the way we are can be profoundly helpful. It may prevent us from projecting our fears onto the innocent. This also presents an opportunity to open up a dialogue with your teen about safe friends, safe behaviors, as well as to talk about the red flags for dangerous behavior. After that discussion or series of discussions, if a friend is truly dangerous, you have to set firm boundaries. Sometimes arming your teen with knowledge will allow them to see the wolf in sheep’s clothing themselves. However, sometimes, it won’t and it will encourage a teen to rebel further. In this case, you may have to set firmer boundaries or take more drastic measures. You are at the helm of the parenting ship and it remains your responsibility to create and maintain safe boundaries for your teen and your family.
4: “You’re so embarrassing!”
It’s so tempting to hug and show affection to your teen, especially if you come from a family that is demonstrative with their expressions of love. But nothing is more embarrassing to a teen than having their overenthusiastic parent insist upon squishing their son or daughter in front of their friends. In fact, it’s mortifying. So, as much as you hate to do it, try and curb your enthusiasm, at least while you’re in public. The overarching message: love your teen but don’t show it. Ew.
5: “Put the phone DOWN!”
Oh, technology, what would we do without you? Everything has been made so much easier because of the advances in this area, and we are at a place in our culture where we depend upon it for efficiency. As I’ve mentioned in another post, we have unfortunately taken this tool for connection and unfortunately become terribly disconnected. To help families reconnect, I suggest setting some rules aka boundaries around phone use. Limit phone use (texting and calls) until homework is done and ask everyone to turn them off at dinner. Make a commitment to connect in real time, it’s invaluable for opening the heart.
Our teens are growing up and becoming the best humans they can be. Our job as parents is to nurture them into the big shoes of adulthood. We have to do our best not to take their sharp twills to heart, to honor them as individuals, and to provide them with support, boundaries, and encouragement. Parenting teens can be extraordinarily challenging, especially if there is substance abuse or mental illness involved. If the latter is the case, please seek help. You don’t have to trudge the parenting path alone.
Every day is a day for practicing kindness, compassion, and generosity. In fact, these qualities and practices shouldn’t be relegated to once a year around the holidays. However, that’s often the time when we hear about it the most. Around Thanksgiving, there’s a flood of people who commit to feeding the homeless. Ironically, that’s the one time of year that the homeless aren’t actually seeking food. The shelters, the food banks, the plethora of good Samaritans are all providing that one hot, nourishing meal. The day after Thanksgiving, however, many of us move on with our lives…until next year, when we commit to feeding the homeless of helping the helpless.
What happens if we consciously choose to practice kindness and compassion in this way every day? What if we decide to be of service, and practice kindness, compassion, and generosity as a way of living our lives? Would we be happier? Would we be less stressed? Would our mental health improve or at least be less overwhelming? I would garner a resounding yes to these questions.
Consciously choose to be kind, compassionate, and generous…every day:
By doing so, we have the opportunity to get out of ourselves and realize that we are not, in fact, the center of the universe. In the AA big book, alcoholics (and I am going to include addicts as well) are referred to as “selfish and self-seeking” or as the “actor, director, and producer” of their own show. By choosing to be kind, compassionate and generous in our daily lives, we have a chance to overcome this state of mind. Being of service is key.
Happiness is contagious. If you can find one joyful thing to focus on or go back to during your day, your day will be brighter. Surround yourself with joyful people, have random dance parties, revel in the little things that bring you joy. I giggle every time I hear my dog snore, or when little kids laugh, or when my son cracks a joke. Joy is everywhere, even when things feel dark.
Pay attention to the little things and find gratitude in that: the way the light hits a flower, the fact that you got a parking spot…right in front, waking up at home with family, seeing your kids, a shared smile with a stranger, or a shared joke with a coworker. The list can go on. Essentially, begin looking at the seemingly banal and find some gratitude there.
Things that have gone wrong or which present difficulty for us is also something to be grateful for: These are often our greatest teaching moments.
Thanksgiving may have passed, but your ability to engage in compassionate acts, kindness, and gratitude are alive and well. These practices contribute to better mental health, a fuller life, and a higher level of optimism. Being present and honoring what’s happening right now is a gift and an opportunity to open your heart. When you show someone kindness, they are more apt to show someone else kindness. It’s a wonderfully positive domino effect!
Thanksgivukkah? Yes, that’s right, there’s a rare convergence of two holidays happening this week because of a rare occurrence in the lunarsolar Hebrew calendar, whose dates reflect the moon phase and solar times of the year. I am definitely intrigued by the meshing of Thanksgiving and Chanukah and have been creatively thinking of culinary ways in which to blend the two. Pumpkin-pie cream-filled donuts and latkes are definitely entering this once-in-a-lifetime menu of obscurity.
Thanksgiving and Chanukah are holidays that encourage togetherness, and for both of these celebrations, gratitude is the main dish served. Additionally, these holidays invite the possibility of family gatherings. For some, this is exciting and long awaited; for others, it’s tantamount to walking into Mordor. Honoring either of those situations, and the feelings and sensations that arise is going to be key in navigating the holiday.
If you are freshly in recovery from mental health issues or substance abuse, and your trauma is in your face, being gentle with yourself is going to be imperative. Honor what you need, how you feel, and create some healthy boundaries for yourself. If going to a particular family member’s house is too triggering, see if you can go to a friend’s house or maybe invite friends over and make your own wild adventure of a meal.
If you are the parents of a child in treatment and this is your first holiday together, try to come into it with an open heart and mind. It won’t be easy for any of you, but there is a clear opportunity to create healthy, healing familial change. Both holidays are tied together with the idea of unity, togetherness, and community. Taking baby steps to develop new traditions can be eye opening and fun.
We are all grateful for something. Start making gratitude lists and checking them twice. Gratitude lists can be simple, complex, silly, or serious. Gratitude is gratitude and Thanksgivukkah is a perfect opportunity to get grateful. Chanukah celebrates the miracle of light and the miraculous fact that a day’s worth of oil lasted for 8 days. Thanksgiving celebrates a bountiful harvest. Both of these conjoined make for a celebration of epic gratitude. Yes, epic. Mixing traditions and discovering their similarities is pretty darn cool.
So, whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving this week or Thanksgivukkah, use it as a time for reflection on community and gratitude. You never know what nuggets of wisdom or moments of awakening and change will arise.
Father’s Day came and went, but I was struck by the aftermath of the day, nonetheless, when my son sat in the midst of his anger and disappointment after his own father didn’t show up for him. When my son said, “Not only did my dad not show up, he only spent 2 minutes with me on the phone,” I felt his deflation. I felt the letdown and longing for a father that would never be. And I had a visceral memory of what that was like. However, as a parent, my role isn’t to project my past onto my son’s present. Rather, my role is to hold space for him to feel and experience that which ails him, allowing his emotions to safely ride though his body. As a parent, I have to do my work on my own. Not via my son.
Father’s day, like Mother’s day, can elicit a varied set of emotions for our kids and for us as parents. They can range from untended loss, or expectations, abandonment, and deep grief rising internally around parents that were never available for us, be it physically or emotionally. When I first became acutely aware of this in my own life, I did what many of us do: I spiritually bypassed the situation and filled my time with practices of avoidance. At that time, my outsides appeared to be ok, but my inner voice remained devastated. The scary part is finding our voice amidst that loss. Sometimes it wobbles. Sometimes it screams. But it’s there, waiting to come out.
My son found his voice yesterday; he used it well. He leaned into his resources and shared his frustrations and sense of loss. He really discovered how available his step-dad is for him, finding grounding in the emotional presence and support that has been made available to him over the last 5 years. I had the honor of baring witness to such splendor.
Sometimes, we find ourselves grappling with the reality of having what we need but still wanting something we cannot have: my son wanting his father to be a dad but having a step-father who gives him everything he needs. On Father’s Day, we ventured to the beach, and when Joseph dried him off and kissed his head, my son giggled and said, “My dad would never do that.” It is in these moments where we hold space for that grief I was speaking of; here is where we can allow this young man the time to process the weight of his loss while reveling in the joy of the experience itself.
Parenting is a process and being a kid is a process. Somewhere, we meet in the middle, knees and hearts bruised along the way. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: our hearts have a tremendous capacity to heal. The heart, I know, is a muscle of great resilience. It can even open to the tumult of holidays, learning to forgive and/or navigate the foibles of clumsy parents and the awkwardness of adolescence.