Categories
Mental Health Recovery Trauma Treatment

In Recovery, We Lean In to Let Go

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.

Categories
Addiction Feelings Recovery Service

Foundations in Recovery: Being of Service

What is evident in any recovery practice is the encouragement and urging to be of service. The call to be of service starts in treatment and continues into aftercare and beyond.  Service work is a foundational piece in recovery, and it is something that provides a salient way to recognize we are not alone.

 

Often times, someone comes into recovery with a sense of feeling alone, unheard, empty, vulnerable, and emotionally and sometimes physically shattered. Parents and loved ones are often worn down from the negative impact of their child’s poor actions and disruptive behavior that resulted from their addiction and untreated mental illness. Essentially, the entire family system is dysregulated. Coming into treatment or walking into a 12-step meeting means learning to recognize this in order to begin the work of putting the pieces back together.

 

We talk about being of service a lot in this blog and at Visions, whether it’s at our residential, outpatient, or extended care facilities. We understand that being of service creates a sense of self-worth; it takes us out of ourselves and allows us to see that we are not alone, illuminating the fact that others are suffering too.

 

When we struggle with our emotions, and our fears loom over us, it feels overwhelming. It can feel like you are standing in the shadow of a great mountain. And if you are in the midst of this alone, it’s even more overwhelming. When we reach our hand out to someone else, we take a step out of that shadow and out of the mindset of self-pity and self-deprecation. We allow ourselves to help others and in the meantime, our own hearts begin to heal. Being of service shows us the way to compassion and kindness and encourages selfless acts.

You can:

  • Take a commitment at a meeting
  • Offer to drive someone home whom you know always takes the bus
  • Volunteer at an animal shelter
  • Say yes when someone asks you for help (within reason, of course)
  • Take the trash out or wash the dishes…without being asked
  • Reach your hand out to someone newer than you in recovery

 

Addiction is a disease of loneliness. We isolate when we get high, we isolate when we drink, and we isolate when we are depressed or anxious. Being of service shifts that isolation into inclusive action. It allows us to be a part of instead of apart from.

Categories
Anxiety Parenting Recovery Self-Care Stress

Is Your Teen Stressed About Graduation?

It’s time for Graduation!

During graduation time, it’s not uncommon for many teens to fall under great pressure from parents and teachers to exceed in academia or to get accepted into the ideal university. Stress tends to be high at the end of the year, no matter how you spin it. Often times, stress is somaticized (converted into physical symptoms) and it shows up in the form of : stomach aches, headaches, difficulty sleeping, eating more or eating less, and even mood swings.

 

Unfortunately, some kids turn to drugs and alcohol to attempt to quell the anxiety and physical manifestations of their stress, while others may sink into depression. Under stress, our nervous systems go on the fritz, thrusting the body toward a fight/flight/freeze response. If there is no healthy outlet to discharge that stress, it manifests physically.

 

At the end of the year, when graduation looms, there’s a very real potential for an increase alcohol and drug use, anxiety, and depression. We know that adolescent substance abuse tends to rise in the summer months of June and July. According to a report recently released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “approximately 11,000 adolescents use alcohol for the first time, 5,000 try their first cigarette, and 4,500 begin using marijuana” during the months of June and July. But facts aside, what can we, as parents, educators, and mental-health professionals do about it? Can you commit to this:

  • Create safe, open spaces for our kids to talk to us.
  • Create a  safe, open environment to facilitate healthy dialogue.
  • Be present for your kids, emotionally and physically.
  • Take care of your own needs and make sure your history is not spilling onto your kids’ present.

For teens already in recovery, managing that end-of-year stress around graduation is crucial:

  • Use your resources and ask for help from parents, teachers, your sponsor, mentor, or another safe adult.
  • Create prioritized lists, checking things off as you go.
  • Create a schedule.
  • Make time for self-care. Healthy physical activity is great for getting the endorphins going, a bubble bath is self-soothing, yoga or meditation will help you get grounded and settle in.
  • Take breaks. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take short 10-minute breaks every half hour and stretch, get up, walk around. You’ll notice an increase in your productivity.
  • Hang a picture of something or someone that inspires you near your workspace.

Try and remember that graduation is something to celebrate. It’s a wonderful accomplishment and something you’ve been working toward since childhood. All of the scraped knees, tears, trophies, reports, dissections and memorization got you to this place. Celebrate it healthfully!

Categories
Adolescence Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery

Can Contemplative Practices Foster Recovery?

In addition to our therapeutic programs, Visions offers contemplative practices to our teens that teach and encourage skills for self-regulation and self-care. We have regular yoga classes and a weekly meditation group.

 

Jessica Rosen, founder of One Down Dog in Silverlake, heads up our yoga program. She brings in a playful element to yoga that the kids love. This allows them to reconnect with themselves in a profound way. I spoke to Jessica and asked her what she feels she brings to the clients, and how contemplative practices are helpful in recovery. She said, “Through the practice of yoga I hope to offer students the tools to get comfortable in discomfort. Through yoga and meditation we explore our challenges, we confront our inner critic, we gain clarity and find acceptance. For example, the ability to sit in a hip opener may help us sit through a tough breakup, or better handle confrontation and fights with our friends/parents, and gain confidence in ourselves and our appearance.”

 

I also asked Joseph Rogers, Visions Education Coordinator at the Visions Day School, Chaplain and meditation facilitator, how he feels meditation is helping the clients.  Joseph said, “The most immediate and greatest benefit is that the clients learn how to, as the Big Book says, ‘stop and pause when agitated.’ Additionally, I try to make a great deal of effort to put these kids on the path of compassion for themselves and others.”

 

The contemplative practices can have a profound effect on one’s ability to self-regulate, self-soothe, and connect with the present moment. Both offer a chance to pause, to look inward, and to come to a place of equanimity (mental calmness and composure) when faced with difficulty.

 

I too teach yoga to youth, and one thing I notice are the high levels of stress these kids face. The pressures of being cool, getting good grades, and the discomfort of the rapid physical changes can be overwhelming. This is where contemplative practices are useful. I’ve found that teaching kids the ability to take a deep breath and pause before responding or reacting to difficulty is hugely beneficial. Developing a sense of self-awareness helps eliminate the sense of perpetual urgency to respond or act on an impulse. The contemplative practices also engage the parasympathetic nervous system—the area within our nervous system that quiets the fight or flight response, quells anxiety, and brings things back into harmony.

 

There are three key tools for self-regulation, and the contemplative practices are the perfect conduit for them:

 

Grounding, Resourcing, and Orienting.

 

Grounding: Reconnecting to the present moment, your emotions and physical sensations. One grounds themselves by noticing their feet on the floor, or placing your hands on something solid in order to help themselves get back into the body. Taking deep breaths while you are doing this can help you track the sensations mindfully. Taking a time out when you are dysregulated is the first step to getting grounded.

 

Resourcing:  We all have resources within us or outside of ourselves. Resources are tools we can easily access that make us reconnect with calm. For example, breath can be a resource. Your hands on your belly or lap can be a resource. Your pet can be a resource. A resource is something that helps you feel good when everything around you is dismal.

 

Orienting:  Checking in with your surroundings. When we are not self-regulated, we check out. This is a disembodying experience–one that feels determinedly unsafe and out of control.  So when we orient, we do so by consciously noticing our surroundings and we do this by looking around the room, noticing where we are, where we are sitting or standing—Orienting is acute observation or present-time awareness.

 

The contemplatice practices of yoga and meditation provide a means of engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. They create a sense of awareness, and allow the practitioner to be ok with not being ok, and to accept where they are emotionally and physically in that particular moment in space and time.  Addiction and mental illness are dysregulating, but the use of contemplative practices opens the door to self-regulation, which does foster recovery.

Categories
Adolescence Recovery Safety

Coachella: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Coachella is happening and there are tons of opportunities for sober fun!

MusicCares is in the house, representing artists in recovery. There are organizations like Soberchella who host 12-step meetings every day of the 3-day festival. Aside from listening to the varied array of musical acts (seriously, there is more variety at Coachella than at the 99-cent store!), you can enter a “Bad Dancing Competition,” or you can Hula Hoop, participate in a “Not-So-Silent Dance Party,” a Three-Legged Race, play Dodgeball, participate in a Joke Contest, or a Pinball Competition. The opportunities for sober fun are many!

 

There are tons of things to do at Coachella that don’t involve drunk and disorderly behavior.

 

Still, you should have an out, or a way to take care of yourself in the event that you get overwhelmed or someone in your party relapses or does something unwise. Know that your recovery isn’t contingent on being liked, popular, or the life of the party. It is contingent on self-care, healthy boundaries and a system of solid support. If you go, make sure you have:

1: Your sponsor’s number

2: Your parent(s’) number

3: A safe place to go if you want to leave early

 

Know your boundaries: Maybe this year, Coachella isn’t for you. Maybe you’re not in a place to be able to maintain healthy boundaries. Maybe “No” frightens you and is connected with your perception of being liked. Maybe your best friend is pressuring you to go but your gut tells you you aren’t ready. That’s tough, especially as a teen. It’s normal to think you will miss something or be left out of something über cool. The interesting thing about this: it will pass and you will begin to recognize that taking care of yourself and your recovery is far more important than being in the midst of temptation.

 

So, whether you go to Coachella or if you decide to skip it this year, remember to treat yourself the way you want to be treated. Everyone deserves to be loved, respected, and heard. Can you provide those things for yourself? I believe you can!

 

Categories
Family Mental Health Recovery

Ways A Family CAN Pick up the Pieces and Recover

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.

 

Categories
Adolescence Recovery Self-Care Wellness

3 Things in the Way of Asking for Help

Help! (Photo credit: Rainier N.)

Is asking for help a challenge for you or someone you love?

 

We often create more suffering as a result of our desire to control the outcome of a situation versus lessoning our suffering by asking for help. Frequently for those in recovery, whether from substance abuse, mental illness, or a combination thereof, asking for help is a learned skill. It’s something that is derived from doing step work, working with a therapist, and going to process groups. Sometimes asking for help requires that we confront the very thing we are struggling with: ego.

 

What does not asking for help look like?

 

1. Loss of Control. Assuming that one will lose control of a situation if they ask for help will inevitably create higher levels of stress. The fact is, we cannot do everything ourselves, at least not efficiently or without risk to our mental health. In our efforts to be in control, we end up feeling out of control and overwhelmed.

Ask yourself: “Would I rather do several things that are mediocre or one or two that are phenomenal?”  Or “Would it be better for me to do a little bit less but with more awareness and less stress and more effectively?”  I have honestly found that slowing down and asking for help increases one’s efficiency and lowers stress.

 

2. Fear.  Fear is another component in one’s unwillingness to ask for help. It could be a fear of not being good enough, a fear of being viewed as less than, or a fear of failure. We can turn our backs on fear or we can face it. In order to healing and evolve in our recovery, the only way out of this mess is through it. Think of it this way, the shadow on a wall is far larger than the person or thing making the shadow. That shadow tantamount to your fear: far larger than what is creating it. Asking for help is liberating. You are good enough; you are not a failure.

 

3. Perfectionism. “It has to be perfect!” “If I don’t do it, then it won’t be done ‘right.'” Does this sound familiar? You know how to do what needs to be done, and you can do it “right,” or faster than anyone else, right? Wrong. This sense that something won’t be done correctly unless we do it ourselves is a lie we tell ourselves to justify our inability or fear of asking for help. I am a perfectionist, and I can tell you, this character defect gets in my way more often than not. It is the “shadow” I work with when I struggle with asking for help. What I have started to learn is that perfection is in everything: it is in the flaws, the nicks, and the wrinkles. Embracing that has enabled me to ask for help.

Whether you are the control freak, in fear, or a perfectionist or a combination of all three, take this opportunity to pause and take some steps toward change. There is no reason you should have to do everything on your own, or from fear of judgment. With each new venture is an opportunity to do it with less suffering, and less drama.

Remember:

1: It’s ok to “not know.”

2: Perfection is a perspective.

3. Letting go is liberating.

4. Asking for help leads to self-care.

5. You cannot do this alone.

Categories
Feelings Holidays Mental Health Prevention Recovery Self-Care Stress Wellness

Compassion and Kindness Over Holiday Hustling

We are neck deep in last-minute holiday madness! Traffic is catawampus, and the stores

are loud and overly crowded. I am noticing and experiencing a real hustle and bustle to get things done for the upcoming Christmas holiday, but for many of us, holidays can represent added stress and perhaps anxiety.

 

How about flipping the holiday coin, so to speak, and leaning into the recovery work you’ve been doing around stress and anxiety? Try taking a look at this holiday as an opportune time to work with your discomfort and begin to hold some internal space for it. You may begin to notice some of the other amazing things that occur during this time of year: joy, friendship, abundance, and generosity, community and togetherness.

 

Here are some thoughts on how to do this while also taking care of yourself at the same time:

 

Self-care: You need to care for yourself first before you can care for others. You can’t do anything effectively if you are pulling from an empty well. So, what does that self-care look like for you?

 

Be of service: Do one random act of kindness every day (more if you are inspired).

 

1. Buy a coffee for the person behind you at Starbucks.

 

2. Buy a homeless person a meal.

 

3. Help someone with their groceries at the market.

 

4. Volunteer at an animal shelter.

 

5. Offer to help an elderly neighbor or with their groceries.

 

6. Take a commitment at a meeting. The greeter commitment is a favorite because you get to meet new people.

 

Be kind (to yourself and to others), even when you don’t want to.

 

Practice compassion. “Sympathetic concern for the sufferings and/or misfortunes of others.” There’s a difference between pity and concern: Compassion isn’t a way to feel sorry for someone. It’s an opportunity to show care and kindness to the suffering of others.

 

These small acts of kindness and service during the holidays may actually decrease our focus on stress and anxiety created around the holiday itself. Acts of kindness and compassion facilitate connection with others and allow us to let go of some of that stress and anxiety we are holding onto. Connected action allows us to reconnect with the roots of what the holiday is really about: community, love, and togetherness.  Ironically, all that running around to get last-minute items actually makes us disconnected.

 

So, I leave you with this: a video of two 16-year-olds engaging in random acts of kindness. They dress up as superheroes, wearing tights and capes, and running around paying for people’s food, giving tips to waitresses without even ordering, helping people out when they see they’re struggling to pay for something, and feeding a homeless guy. What can you do this holiday season to practice random acts of kindness? You don’t need a cape and tights, just some willingness to be kind.

 

 

Categories
Adolescence Communication Mental Health Parenting Recovery Therapy Trauma

Healthy Boundaries Make for Healthy Teens

© sarit z rogers

What steps can you take to ensure that you aren’t in violation of someone’s boundaries? For example, not everyone enjoys being hugged, nor is it always appropriate to express that level of touch. From the perspective of a teacher or a therapist, one must understand the innate power differential that exists between teacher and student or therapist and client. One is looking to the other for advice and pedagogic elucidation, and one is holding the power to elicit such information. We therefore need to be thoughtful in our approach to employing touch in these situations.

 

In a therapeutic environment such as Visions, we address more than substance abuse and mental illness; we are facilitating the excavation of trauma and creating safe boundaries. It’s important to maintain awareness around our own sense of boundaries and how execute them. Asking ourselves these questions and contemplating the answers through talking to our peers and writing them out will help you discern where you may need some work, and where you are strongest:

 

  1. What does it mean to set boundaries?
  2. Is it hard to say “no”? If so, what does saying “no” feel like?
  3. How do I feel when my boundaries are crossed?
  4. What is my reaction internally and externally?
  5. Am I afraid to set boundaries? Why?
  6. What is my history around setting boundaries?

 

As clinicians and teachers, it’s imperative that we know and understand where our weak spots are so we can work on them. For some people, it’s not uncommon to wait until someone pushes us to our edge before we set a limit. The desire to please others or to be liked plays a part here, and our own backgrounds and upbringing will also effect how we interact with others. Perhaps we come from a family where hugging and touch is part of the norm. It may be natural for us to reach out and hug someone when they are suffering, but it’s not always appropriate.

 

Hugging a client may be a violation of a boundary, but if the client has been traumatized in some way, they may not know how to set that boundary. Likewise, if a client persistently tries to hug you, you have to maintain a firm boundary so they learn to understand what is and what is not appropriate. I was volunteering at my son’s school recently, and a kid came up and hugged me, not wanting to let go. It was a child I don’t know and it was a clear violation of my boundaries and the school’s rules. I gently moved away and held a boundary with this child until he moved on. Teens look to us as examples to learn from and to emulate. If we don’t show strong, safe boundaries, they won’t be able to either. Understand that the boundaries we create encourage freedom to be who you are while creating a safe container for healing and recovery.

Respecting boundaries applies to parents too. If the family dynamic has been compromised, parents have to work to rebuild a healthy and safe family structure. Creating solid boundaries is key in that process. Adolescents love to push buttons and stretch boundaries; they are smack dab in the center of their individuation process. That doesn’t mean you, the parent, have to give in. Remember: “No” is a complete sentence, and when it’s said with certainty and conviction, it makes all the difference. A wishy-washy, non-committal “no” may as well be a “maybe” or a “yes.” Poor limits leave room for negotiation where there shouldn’t be.

We all have a part to play in creating safe limits whether we are parents, teachers, or clinicians. Kids, in their infinite wisdom and testing behaviors, demand strong limits, whether they admit it or not. Boundaries create safety. They provide defined parameters in which to develop and grow. So as much as a teen may push, inside, they really do respect a firm “No” and a defined environment.

Categories
Adolescence Mental Health Recovery School Treatment

The Benefits of Blending School and Treatment

There is tremendous value in blending school and treatment. Many clients come to us

(Photo credit: theirhistory)

having fallen off-track in their education as a result of substance abuse and mental health issues. There may also be undiagnosed learning disabilities that need to be addressed. Falling grades and school pressure can create another layer of stress and panic for a teen. When an adolescent comes to treatment, it is our responsibility to provide them with both treatment and educational support that fosters an environment of safety and encouragement around learning and healing. At the same time, providing school and treatment simultaneously allows us to notice where an adolescent needs extra support so we can provide that client with adequate educational and clinical support.

 

I looked to Daniel Dewey, our Residential Director of Education, and Joseph Rogers, our Educational Coordinator at our Outpatient Day School for some insight and perspective, particularly since they each see both sides of the education/treatment pendulum. Daniel sees our clients from their initial point of treatment, while Joseph spends time with our clients during their aftercare process. Both of them promote and create foundational pieces to add to the bedrock of an adolescent’s recovery; they invite curiosity about learning, provide support during times of difficulty, and provide individualized methods of teaching to facilitate and nurture a healthy outlook on education.

 

Daniel gave me some wonderful insight when he said, “School is important for treatment success; when a resident can stay on track (or in many cases gets back on track) they will have a stronger foundation for their aftercare. School can be a big stressor, so if school can work with treatment, we feel residents will be better equipped to leave Visions and follow their academic path. Additionally, doing well in school tends to be a source of self-esteem for adolescents.  We want our clients to feel good about learning. Many of our clients come into treatment hopeless. It is our goal to help them see the intrinsic value in education and to guide them toward a meaningful life.”

 

Joseph gave us similar insights, which also help identify the continuum that occurs with school and treatment. He said,  “The practical piece of joining treatment and education is having the benefit of rolling enrollment – clients can enroll at any time, increasing their opportunities of getting back on track. Additionally, students may not be emotionally able or prepared to go back into a normalized educational setting. Having them in a setting that is therapeutically structured for their safety gives them the chance to practice their new behaviors before they go back to their regular school, and because we have clinicians on staff, we can react to and notice a change in behavior quickly and effectively.”

 

We understand the importance of creating a therapeutically alive and nourishing environment for our clients and their families. Placing school in the treatment arena allows us to support our clients at optimum levels, and it provides a multi-level aspect to the healing process. Blending school and treatment from the residential and outpatient perspective is a necessary stone in the path to wellness. It is beneficial to the adolescent, building confidence and self-esteem, and it is advantageous for parents to see their children simultaneously succeed in their education and in their substance abuse and mental health treatment.