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Addiction Alcoholism Recovery Self-Care

Love and Boundaries

The teen life...

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.)

 

Categories
Addiction Recovery

Service and Recovery With Heart

As I live-tweeted Intervention last night and watched the undoing of a young lady who’d experienced excessive trauma and abandonment, resulting in drug abuse, prostitution and suicidal ideation, it got me thinking. A lot. When someone is struggling with what seems like untenable, almost Sisyphean circumstances, how do you break the barrier so they can get help? My experience with sobriety and recovery from my own trauma has shown me the mind’s utterly powerful ability to protect itself. We build walls, compartmentalize, push people away by means of anger and aggression, we isolate, act like we can “handle it,” et cetera, yet when we’re alone, we tend to crumble: we get high, we cut, we starve ourselves, we overeat, we act out sexually. It never makes the pain go away.

Image via Wikipedia

Getting sober is the the doorway into healing and positive change. It’s an opportunity to look inward and make space for restoration to occur. As I watched this young lady on Intervention come undone, I watched her family react in anger and panic. This young mother reminded me of a scared, trapped animal backed into a corner. While I’m not a therapist, or even an interventionist for that matter, I am someone with over 17 years of recovery and some significant experience in dealing with trauma. Watching that show last night reminded me how much significance there is to bringing heart into what we do in sobriety as we approach the wounded. The inherent value of heart is immeasurable.
So many of us come into the rooms of recovery with those old, mental tapes playing “It’s all your fault” on a vicious loop. One of the the toughest things I’ve had to do is learn to re-record this tape. It’s possible, it just takes a lot of time and willingness to be uncomfortable. As the Buddhists say, everything is impermanent. Yes, even that lousy feeling in the pit of your stomach or the craving for drugs and alcohol. It passes. If we’re willing to allow it.

Categories
Anxiety Depression Mental Health Recovery Self-Harm

Cutting: Beyond YouTube

Cutting is back in the spotlight after a study by TheJournal of the American Academy of Pediatrics brought attention to the high numbers of YouTube videos showing teens and young adults exhibiting self-harming behaviors. By simply typing “self-harm” and “self-injury” into YouTube’s search engine, Dr. Steven P. Lewis, et al, discovered numerousvideos showing various levels of self-harming behavior.After extensive review and documentation, these were the findings:

“The top 100 videos analyzed were viewed over 2 million times, and most (80%) were accessible to a general audience. Viewers rated the videos positively (M = 4.61; SD: 0.61 out of 5.0) and selected videos as a favorite over 12 000 times. The videos’ tones were largely factual or educational (53%) or melancholic (51%). Explicit imagery of self-injury was common. Specifically, 90% of noncharacter videos had nonsuicidal self-injury photographs, whereas 28% of character videos had in-action nonsuicidal self-injury. For both, cutting was the most common method. Many videos (58%) do not warn about this content.”

Researchers worry that these videos might lead to a normative view of cutting and self-harming. As one who self-harmed for years (even into my sobriety), my concern isn’t whether or not this will be viewed as normal, but rather, is anyone taking action and listening to this loud cry for help?
It’s not fun to self-harm. It isn’t a source of pride. It’s not something you share with those around you. It’s not something you do to feel “a part of” or to be “cool.” For me, it was something I did to actually feel because I was so numbed out. In the flash of the adrenaline rush, I felt alive and present when I self-harmed. I felt like it was the only way to feel “real” in my otherwise surreal life. I also felt immediate and devastating shame. It was scary. It was embarrassing. Having to explain abhorent injuries to the curious when the perpetrator is you is nightmarish.
Getting help took an act of bravery on my part. I had to tell someone. I had to talk about it…openly. I had to face my shame and fear so I could transform it into something positive. I had to do some deep, spiritual work in order to learn how to turn self-harm into self-care. I continue to do this work, so I can  revel in self-care and be of service to others. I had to build a fellowship of support that would be there if I slipped back. I empathize for the kids on YouTube. I hope someone reaches out the hand of recovery and lets them know they don’t have to hurt like that anymore.

Categories
Mental Health Recovery Spirituality

Acts of Kindness

I came across a beautiful article written by Ed and Deb Shapiro, authors of “Be the Change” in which they call for a “Revolution in Kindness.” Their article expressed the need for compassion and kindness and asks us to change our actions. It really made me think about recovery and how we so often come into the rooms bereft of problem-solving skills, angry, and hurting, and lashing out.

Most of us come in as the antithesis of kind. The change we experience in recovery is profound as we learn to transform our programmed responses to people, places, and things. Truly, these new actions do require a sort of metamorphosis. As we begin the recovery process, we are choosing to cease fighting. We admit we’re wrong, we admit powerlessness, and slowly, we begin to learn how to function gently and with clarity.

It’s tough to admit we’re wrong, especially when we are attached to the context of the situation itself, and even more so when we’ve invested so much energy in our anger and its corresponding story. But wouldn’t it be liberating NOT to fight–to admit that you are (gasp) wrong?! Sounds crazy, I’m sure, but think about it: so much of our conflict is created because our egos command us to prove we’re right (even when we’re not!). We often fight to the point of ending friendships, both personal and professional, but in the end, our fight means nothing at all.

The 12 steps ask us to give up our ego and self-centered behaviors. By demanding honesty in our inventories and actions, we are propelled to adopt a more altruistic approach to the world. We make amends for our actions, righting the wrongs we’ve caused, and we learn to stop the harming behaviors that got us here. This also means approaching our difficulties with kindness instead of closed fists. When we change our actions, we ultimately have a chance to end the incessant violence permeating our lives: the bullying, school shootings, hateful speech, drug and alcohol abuse.  Ed and Deb Shapiro said, “Kindness is completely revolutionary: it will change each one of us, it will change others, and it will definitely change the world.” What a wonderful reminder, then, to take responsibility for our actions and point less fingers at those around us. The world can be a sticky place, so why not begin to unstick it with small acts of kindness and compassion? Try it: One kind act, one day at a time.

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Holidays

Holidays, Part Deux

For many, the holidays bring copious joy and a sense of celebration: there are a bevy of lights illuminating the city streets, Santa’s everywhere you look, school’s out for two weeks, family gatherings are plentiful, and everyone is ready for a “break,” right?  Well, that’s not always the case for the alcoholic/addict. When I was new in sobriety, the holidays were dreadful, and I had little to no coping skills in terms of dealing with the inevitable difficulties that can arise around family. I would spend every waking moment in marathon meetings, eager to recreate a sense of connection. I’m forever grateful for that experience.

As I gained more years under my belt and my proverbial tool box filled up with a variety of solutions applicable to most situations, my coping skills became broader. I became able to engage with my family in small doses, despite the fact that the sense of discomfort hasn’t ever really gone away. The thing is, just because we’ve continued to work on our behavior and our sense of disillusionment, doesn’t mean the rest of our families have as well. A lot of the time, they’re going to be the same as they always were. So, what does that mean for us addicts and alcoholics?

For starters, it’s an opportunity to put all of the hard work we do into action, but on a grander scale. Perhaps we can begin to treat a difficult person as the suffering being that they are and offer them compassion. What do you think would happen if you approached them with an open heart instead of anger and resentment?  If that’s too hard, because the trauma is too fresh or too deep, then treat yourself with compassion and take a break. Call your sponsor, or a safe friend and check in; step outside and take 10 (yes, really) deep breaths–the kind that fills your lungs all the way to the top! And if all else fails, get yourself to a meeting. It’s one of the best aspects of recovery during the holidays: the meetings, just like the holiday cheer, are a-plenty!

Categories
Holidays

Surviving the Holidays

Wondering how you’re going to make it through a day of screwball family dynamics and holiday “cheer”?  You’re not alone. This time of year can bring up a flurry of emotions, some ecstatic and some reminiscent of Chernobyl.  Since the curve is broad, managing it all can be difficult. So, then how do we do this?

Taking an honest look at our expectations is a great start. We have them from our internal sources of desire as well as the implied expectations put upon us by the bottled cheer we see when we’re out in the world. It’s the holidays, we are supposed to be happy, right?  Perhaps, but it doesn’t always go that way. We may find ourselves stuck sitting next to our biggest button-pusher, or suddenly engaged in a conversation about “what it was like” with a well-meaning member of the family. What’s important, at least for me, is the way in which to respond. It’s a great opportunity to be gentle with yourself in the face of adversity and a wonderful reminder to hold up those boundaries you may have set.

Something else that can be helpful is staying in the present moment. It’s easy to get locked into the stories of our past and sometimes difficult not to react to those echos. For me, setting an intention for my day, either in a quiet moment of meditation or in my yoga practice, is key. Sometimes it can mean acknowledging there may be difficulty, but finding a way to approach it differently; it could mean setting an intention to be kind to yourself and to approach others with compassion; or it could mean setting the intention to be in gratitude.

This holiday season, we have a wonderful opportunity to take contrary action and meet our pain with compassion, and our frustration with gratitude. Remember to laugh, take breaks, and enjoy each moment–you are amazing!  As the Buddha said, “The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.”