Once again, we’ve happened upon that time of year for some organized, sober fun at our annual Alumni Weekend! In addition to the standard softball game that everyone invariably loves, there are a slew of other happenings ready for the taking. Haven’t RSVP’d yet? You still have time! The event is sure to be a blast for the entire family!
So, how can we help teens gain a better grasp on a spiritual path when the exact nature of their development is such that this understanding is still in evolvingt? How can we address the need to ask for help and encourage the necessity to rely on others when developmentally, the tendency is to believe in self-reliance? Young people’s AA is a great beginning, as it allows for teens to find some common ground in recovery, providing a regular group of like-minded people seeking a similar solution. Still, it isn’t the only solution. Adolescence is a time when the religious traditions normative in early childhood are becoming questionable. Part of this is the natural, developmental proclivity toward being anti-authority and of course being inherently rebellious. Part of it is the curious, often exotic thought processes which are part and parcel to their emotional development. If we address recovery with rigidity: “you must believe/submit” rather than encourage the broader concept of “your own understanding,” we risk alienation and ultimately steer teens away from recovery. Instead, encouraging discovery of their own beliefs and supporting their curiosity for meditation, Eastern practices, or any other place where their personal search might take them is highly beneficial.
The benefits of a mindfulness practice can be felt by anyone willing to be present and prepared to stop running from their feelings and fears. The practice of mindfulness allows us to come into direct contact with the here and now, bringing with it a sense of awareness and healing. In doing so, we are able to directly see how our addictions, actions, and behaviors are causing us suffering. Similar to the 12-step model, mindfulness provides us with the opportunity to take contrary action. As a result, we begin to notice and work with our uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and reactions to the physical and emotional cravings closely associated with addiction.
Confronted with anxiety or fear or panic, our basic, human instinct is to run in the opposite direction as quickly as possible, hoping to get out of harm’s way. These feelings are uninvited guests, after all, right? In this case, our bodies’ “fight or flight” response is immediately triggered. So, what happens if we go the other way? What happens if we turn into our fear, into our anxiety, or into our trauma? What if, through conscious breath and direct attention, we learn to give those feelings space? The interesting thing about doing this is the intensity of those feelings will eventually begin to lesson and our unwanted guests start to lose their footing. No, the trauma isn’t gone, but in that moment of stopping and facing our fears, we have done something incredibly powerful: shone light into the darkest corners of our hearts and minds.
Through my own experience in recovery, dealing with trauma and its corresponding anxiety, I have found the most peace and healing through my practice of meditation and yoga. I have learned to use my breath in a way that allows me to move with my emotions rather against them. I liken it to moving with the ebb and flow of the sea. In early sobriety, when a higher power was in question, I remember being told to “try and stop a wave” only to discover that I most certainly could not. Within that phrase also lies an inference that we cannot “stop” something from coming at us. Utilizing mindfulness, we then learn how to to ride the wave without causing additional harm and without getting lost in the energy driving the fear or addiction. In turn, we may discover that those blasted shadows we are accustomed to running from appear much larger than their reflecting counterpart. From this perspective, things look a heck of a lot more manageable.
As we are challenged to turn off the autopilot we’ve become accustomed to, we are given an opportunity to learn to respond to triggers and cravings in a non-harming way. As such, we are beginning to view our feelings, thoughts, cravings, and sensations with curiosity and non-judgment rather that the usual disdain. In those moments when the freedom of awareness and being present are there, the real healing has a chance to begin: one breath at a time.
Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. has a wonderful series, which I’ve linked to below:
Meditation for Addiction Recovery
Mindfulness and Addiction meetings:
Against the Stream
Recovering from opiate addiction is no walk in the park. With something like heroin, symptoms can occur within 12 hours of the last high, causing addicts several days of sheer misery. Some addicts have no other choice but to detox on their own, suffering the miserable consequences of their addiction. In some ways, if they can make it past that second day, they have a good chance for a successful detox. Some, however, have the opportunity to go to treatment, which provides addicts the benefit of supportive care and medications to ease the pain and discomfort of withdrawal. A common medication used for this is called Suboxone (bupenophine and noloxone) and purportedly shortens the length of the detox while also treating the withdrawal symptoms. It’s also used for long-term maintenance much like methadone has been used in the past, sans the stigmatization. A prescription for Suboxone means you don’t have to stand in a clinic line for your daily dose, but rather, you get your 30-day rx from a physician.
There are three phases to the using Saboxone in opioid addiction therapy. The induction phase, which is a “medically monitored startup” of the medication, begun 12-24 hours after the addict has abstained from opiates and is in the early stages of withdrawal. This is typically done under observation in the doctor’s office. Next is the stabilization phase, which happens when the patient has “discontinued or greatly reduced” the use of their drug of abuse and is suffering from little to no cravings. Last is the maintenance phase, which culminates in a “medically supervised withdrawal.”
Nothing is ever that simple, though, when it comes to treating addiction. While Suboxone certainly has its value for assisting with opiate withdrawal and turning people’s lives around, there is a dark side. It is just another opiate after all. Some addicts will inject it, some will take more than their prescribed dose, if just for a brief bout of euphoria. Suboxone reportedly has a “ceiling effect,” which means it levels off after a certain amount. Additionally, the naloxone component of the drug is supposed to “precipitate withdrawal symptoms” when the drug is injected. Still, the state of Maine has reported some pretty disturbing news events surrounding Saboxone, with reports of the drug being smuggled into prison, hidden behind postal stamps and kids’ coloring pages. Prison smuggling of this drug is widespread, creating problems from New Mexico to Massachusetts.
Despite the reports of abuse and prison smuggling, the use of Saboxone is still proving to be a promising component to treating opiate addiction. Some experts suggest more training for physicians and tighter regulation of the drug in order to address the rate of abuse. This is definitely something the recovery industry will be paying attention to.
Understanding Drug Addiction Withdrawal (everydayhealth.com)
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?
“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.’”
Which emotion will you feed?
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?
Challenging the Second “A” in A.A. (nytimes.com)
Should Alcoholics Have to Stay Anonymous? (healthland.time.com)
Can AA survive our tell-all era? (salon.com)
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.
Kevin Griffin: A Buddhist Approach to Recovery: Step Four — Searching and Fearless (huffingtonpost.com)
|image © sarit photography|
I know an 8-year-old who’s been known to choose an outfit specifically because it makes her “look thin.” This same 8-year-old often doesn’t finish meals because she thinks she’s fat. She’s the same 8-year-old that has begun to develop food rituals, often leaving the table with a reorganized plate full of uneaten food. Simply put, she already has an irrational fear of getting fat.
It’s hard being a girl. It’s hard to find a way to look at your unique self without comparing it with images of Barbie or Bratz. It’s hard to accept that the beauty standard set by Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty isn’t actually real. But children, whose minds are filled with wonderful imagination and fantasy, aren’t going to cognitively recognize images that are potentially harmful. Instead, many will attempt to achieve the pink, thin, fluffiness of a Disney princess, or the skinny sass of a Bratz doll. Often times, even when parents are encouraging a healthy body image, the education on the school yard has a dramatically different lesson plan than the one from home. I’ve overheard conversations on the school yard that have made me pause – -it’s clear that body-image issues are in abundance and the pressure to look thin and svelte is invasive and intense.
So what can parents do? Start with eliminating the shame game. This might mean letting your daughter dump that maple syrup on her pancakes or having a cupcake at a birthday party. It’s a treat, not a vehicle for punishment! Encourage healthy eating, but can you do it with compassion rather than the mallet of criticism? Eliminate “fat talk”: your kids don’t need to hear it and frankly, it’s not good for you either. Stop trying to control what those around you eat. It’s not your job! I’ve seen dads controlling the food intake of their wives and daughters to the point of devastating eating disorders (my dad was one!); and I’ve seen moms spewing “fat talk” or signing up for any and every diet fad while their daughters learn to eat in secret or restrict because they’re terrified of the incendiary reaction of their parental food monitors. These behaviors certainly don’t encourage self-love. If anything, they sow the seeds of self-destruction.
(Please note, certain behaviors are warning signs, but in combination and over time, they can become quite serious):
Behaviors specific to anorexia:
- Major weight loss (weighs 85% of normal weight for height or less)
- Skips meals, always has an excuse for not eating (ill, just ate with a friend, stressed-out, not hungry).
- Refuses to eat in front of others
- Selects only low fat items with low nutrient levels, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and sprouts.
- Reads food labels religiously; worried about calories and fat grams in foods.
- Eats very small portions of foods
- Becomes revolted by former favorite foods, such as desserts, red meats, potatoes
- May help with meal shopping and preparation, but doesn’t eat with family
- Eats in ritualistic ways, such as cutting food into small pieces or pushing food around plate
- Lies about how much food was eaten
- Has fears about weight gain and obesity, obsesses about clothing size. Complains about being fat, when in truth it is not so
- Inspects image in mirror frequently, weighs self frequently
- Exercises excessively and compulsively
- May wear baggy clothing or many layers of clothing to hide weight loss and to stay warm
- May become moody and irritable or have trouble concentrating. Denies that anything is wrong
- May harm self with cutting or burning
- Evidence of discarded packaging for diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics (water pills)
- Stops menstruating
- Has dry skin and hair, may have a growth of fine hair over body
- May faint or feel dizzy frequently
Behaviors specific to bulimia
- Preoccupation or anxiety about weight and shape
- Disappearance of large quantities of food
- Excuses self to go to the bathroom immediately after meals
- Evidence of discarded packaging for laxatives, diuretics, enemas
- May exercise compulsively
- May skip meals at times
- Teeth may develop cavities or enamel erosion
- Broken blood vessels in the eyes from self-induced vomiting
- Swollen salivary glands (swelling under the chin)
- Calluses across the joints of the fingers from self-induced vomiting
- May be evidence of alcohol or drug abuse, including steroid use
- Possible self-harm behaviors, including cutting and burning
If you notice even one of these, it’s time to address it. Talk to your daughter or son, talk to your doctor. If necessary, elicit the help of a treatment facility. In other words: Get help. Showing our kids that we care and are willing to stop our own negative behaviors in order to help them is invaluable. It’s a family problem, not an individual one.
Some helpful links: