4 requirements for successful Recovery

jblea1016.com

Recovery isn’t about flipping a switch or waving a magic wand. There are certain elements that must either be in place or be developed before recovery can happen. As much as we want addicts to just simply stop using whatever substance to which they’re addicted, recovery just doesn’t work like that.

Therefore, someone is recovery requires four (4) things:

  1. A support system that’s educated on the relationship between anxiety and compulsion and how each maintains the addictive cycle. This education should include the pharmacology of the respective substance (or substances) of abuse, as someone addicted to cocaine requires different treatment tools than someone addicted to opiates.
  2. Recognition of the spiritual needs of the person in recovery. This does not mean pushing one religion or another onto someone; really, all it means is that each person should find a way to engage with something bigger than him or her self…

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You can learn a lot from fishing (4 photos 1 video)

On a recent warm day filled with early morning meetings, I had my fill of nonsense and wanted to get as far out of cell range as I could and headed for the Pecos River.  I can’t say I was too hopeful of catching anything; recent runoff has been strong and the water levels haven’t been conducive to good fishing.  But catching fish wasn’t really the point of this outing. What I wanted to clear my head and simply hit my internal “reset” button.

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I found a nice little spot where the water was slow and deep and on my very first cast I pulled out a nice rainbow trout.  The problem was that I barely hooked it and in securing the fish, I lurched onto my rod and broke it in half.  It seemed like a perfect way to end a week filled with addiction stuff and suffering.  However, I wasn’t ready to turn around and go home.

I remembered that I had duct tape and a ball point pen in my car.  So, I opened the pen and removed the ink tube and cut a 3 inch piece. I then placed the ink tube into the rod and then connected the broken pieces (effectively, the ink tube was a dowel that held the rod together from the inside).  I then taped the rod together with the duct tape and resumed fishing.

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At first, I was hesitant.  Although my repair job seemed to hold together, I wasn’t exactly sure it would hold up under the weight and resistance of an actual trout.  My first cast with the broken rod was a delicate affair: I actually held the top d of the rod with one hand and kept my other hand on the base of the rod.  But I really couldn’t feel anything.  It seemed that my hand placement diminished the rod’s sensitivity, plus I was focused on the rod and not the line.  So, I reeled in the the hook and casted normally and help the rod normally and WHAM! a huge bite.

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Not only did the repair job hold, it seemed to make the rod more sensitive with the extra flexibility.  Within 30 minutes, I had caught my limit and came home.  I cleared my head and caught enough trout for a nice dinner.

The thing of it all is that I’m always telling people that it’s not really about what happens in life, it’s more about how we respond to what happens.  Had I simply accepted the broken rod, I probably would’ve been in a worse mood and felt like a doofus.  Instead of accepting it, i fixed the rod as best I could and ended up catching a stringer full of fish and forgetting the bad juju I absorbed throughout the week. While I realize that it’s a much smaller scale, I do think it bears sharing with clients that they can accept life’s issues OR they can use them as a means of something from which they can learn. I don’t know what will come of what I learned, but i do know that I learned that I can catch fix with a broken rod.  The Pecos River has met its match…..

stringerOfish

Take Jack for example: An honest Recovery story

How do we honestly assess our failings and move forward with dignity?

To be clear, there is no easy way to take a hard look at ourselves and accept our failings and weaknesses. Looking at the “bad” things we’ve done and not internalizing the shame that can results from the reflection is not an easy proposition. But, in order to move towards a healthier place, it’s imperative that we not only look at our behavior, be we also need to reflect upon the circumstances in which we behaved.

Take “Jack,” a forty something Hispanic male who recently entered into recovery from an addiction to alcohol. When Jack entered treatment, he knew he wanted to be rid of his addiction, but the shadows from a divorce and from his subsequent alienation from his children hung over him and caused him to be a very shameful person. Jack is a talented and capable person; before his addiction took over his life, Jack earned a decent living as an auto mechanic. However, the more he slid into alcoholism, the less he was able to work. After the loss of his family, Jack pretty much gave up on holding a job all together. A DUI conviction forced Jack into treatment. Jack wore his shame like a suit or armor.

While I do approach treatment from a strengths perspective, I also recognize that if we do not assess our actions, we can are prone to repeat harmful and unhealthy behaviors. This is not to say that we should wallow in our past mistakes; we shouldn’t. However, we need to see that our actions tend to be the result of inaccurately processing our external circumstances. For Jack, he thought that having a beer after a hard day’s work was rewarding. He failed to value his family who begged him not to drink so much and as often as he did.

Jack was lucky in that he qualified for Vivitrol treatment. The Vivitrol helped with his cravings (may have been placebo effect, but who cares) and he was able to significantly scale back his drinking. As he did, he was able to see that he was mirroring behaviors he saw in his father. Jack felt that it was “ok” to drink in spite of his family’s concern because his father acted as he wished without regard for his own family. It wasn’t that Jack was a jerk; it was more that he thought he was acting in accordance with how a father was supposed to act.

As his thinking became clearer, Jack was able to mourn the loss of his marriage and find solace in the fact that his children were being cared for by someone who was strong enough to act on their best behalf. While he saw that his drinking led to significant loss, he also saw that he did not value his family or his work enough to make appropriate changes towards health. Once he corrected his erroneous thinking he began to act responsibly towards the people and activities that he really valued.

Jack’s been sober for almost five years now. He never mended fences with his ex, but he was able to salvage his relationship with his children. He found dignity in looking at his failings because he was able to recognize the context in which he failed was a result of his own upbringing. I think that this recognition neutralized his behavior; though Jack did feel guilty, he was no longer was ashamed of himself

Therefore, I think the way to look at our past failings is to understand them in context and then correct processing that led to the failures. Then once we understand the context and have corrected our thinking, we can then live with full knowledge that we have the power to change our behavior in context.

When stupidity is tolerated, ignorance turns into hate

While I do think that people are entitled to their opinions and I respect everyone’s right to express those opinions, what I don’t support is ignorant beliefs that interfere with people’s health.  When I hear people say things like, “Addicts are losers” or “Gay people are going to Hell” or “Anybody with a mental illness is just crazy” I can’t help but think that there’s something sinister afoot.

Ok, maybe sinister is a bit strong, but I do think that when stupidity is tolerated, it grows into a mass of ignorance that causes people undue stress just for being alive.  Someone who’s addicted probably faces struggles and challenges as a result of his or her addiction, but those struggles should be seen as limiting factors that can be transformed and overcome.  Someone isn’t a loser simply because they’re addicted.  If we, as a collective community, continue to allow judgment of those with addictions, we are creating the very environment in which Addiction as a disease prospers.

When we hate anyone for any single reason, we really only hurt ourselves. Right now, there’s a huge anti-gay bias that appears to be gaining momentum. This bias is no different than any other judgmental attitude. But for me, the topic of sexual orientation is as personal as a topic can get.  I don’t want ANYONE asking about my bedroom behaviors and I really don’t want to know about anyone else’s.  Whomever someone chooses to share physical intimacy is his or her choice.  I don’t care much about the argument of whether or not someone is “born that way,” all I care about, ultimately, is that someone lives to the best of his or her ability.  If anyone has to live with the idea that there’s something wrong with him or herself because of whom he or she is interested in sexually, then that idea is nothing but an unnecessary interference.  Plus, I don’t want to hear what the Bible says about the topic of homosexuality; the Bible also says that if a girl is proven to not be a virgin, she can be stoned to death.  The last time I checked, I think we’d all frown on women being killed for not being virgins.  The Bible shouldn’t be used as an excuse for hatred when really, there’s no excuse to limit a person for any reason.  We are all worthy to love and be loved.

Also, the idea that mental illness just means someone’s crazy is especially irritating to me.  Mental illness is diagnosable and treatable condition just like any other illness.  Mental illness can have biological and/or environmental bases, but it’s real and we as a community of people should seek to understand the way mental illnesses function so that we can share the resource or humanity with anyone who is struggling with something that he or she may not understand.  I struggled with Depression and sought to learn its nature and I continue to learn about how to best teach others how they can overcome it.  People may say I’m crazy, but that label hasn’t ever really worked for me and I’m certain all it does is make whatever mental or emotional illness a person faces much worse.

In the end, people will hold on to whatever stupidity they need in order to justify their hatred for others.  I pray for those whose ignorance breeds hate; I hope that God’s true love and light enter their calloused hearts because that’s the only way they’ll see that we are all worthy of love and respect and no one deserves to live in a world that hates them

Negative thoughts our own worst enemy

jblea1016.com

In many ways, I can’t help that think that people are somehow programmed to reinforce their mistakes into actual defects of characters. This reinforcement then permeates every aspect of our lives. But mistakes are things we do from which we should learn, not things we do that come to define who we are. Yet, our mistakes become powerful chains that bind us to visions of ourselves that make us “ok” with life circumstances that we just don’t deserve.

When people stay in situations in which they aren’t comfortable, to me, it usually indicates some type of limiting factor that buzzes and exists in our own minds. These limiting thoughts entrap people and prevent them from moving forward in their lives.

What’s especially strange to me is when someone knows where he or she wants to be, but then remains trapped in a circumstance. For example, I know people who will…

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The 4 areas where Addiction Education must occur

Because Addiction is a complex condition, it can be contradictory for pressure for recovery to solely fall on the person struggling with the Addiction. The reality, though, is that the lack of understanding about Addiction and Recovery is part of the reason why relapse rates are so high. Really, when it comes to Addiction treatment, there are at least four (4) arenas in which there must be some level of education delivered:

  1. Clients must be holistically treated in ways that include education about healthy living and coping, as well as, education about their respective addictions and possible paths towards recovery
  2. Family and friends of addicts must be educated about addiction and recovery that includes content that addresses the substance or process at the center of the addiction
  3. Clinicians who don’t primarily deal with Addiction must become familiar with the mechanics of both Addiction and Recovery. As a matter of fact, there are few cases of any emotional disorders presenting without any type of substance abuse. Because of this high prevalence of co-morbidity, clinicians should also become educated about the pharmacologies of common substances of abuse (including alcohol)
  4. The general public must become educated about the realities of both Addiction and Recovery. Even as Addiction research provides more and more insight into the mulit-faceted and complex nature of Addiction, there still appears to be a single-pronged desire to hold onto a purely 12-step approach to addiction treatment, evidenced in recent movies like, “Cake,” and, “Thanks for Sharing,” which both emphasized the need to “work the steps.” While there is merit in the 12-steps, there is a lot more to creating the circumstance in which a person can overcome an addiction. As the general public becomes more educated, policymakers can then pass laws that would allow treatment resources to become more available

Although it can appear as though an addict has to work to get clean (and he or she does), the onus should not be placed solely on an addict’s shoulders. If treatment providers don’t educate families and friends, there is no way a “recovery-friendly” circumstance can emerge. If Clinicians aren’t better educated about addiction/recovery, then any work will fall short as the Addiction will interfere with treatment of say, Anxiety/Depression. And if we don’t do a better job of educating the general public, negative stereotypes will persist. These negative stereotypes allow shame and fear to run freely and present unnecessary obstacles.

“Rock Bottom” means either prison or death

The idea that someone has to hit rock bottom before he or she will make a change is a misperception and leads to many people washing their hands of those who struggle with substance abuse challenges.  To begin, according to freedictionary.com, the definition of hitting rock bottom is to fall to the absolute worst possible situation.  So, by that definition, if someone isn’t in the worst possible situation, he or she will continue to use until they find themselves struggling in a living hell.  That is, only when a person has hit rock bottom will they try and make a change towards quitting the substance of abuse.

Letting someone fall until they hit the worst possible place he or she can hit seems cruel to me.  When we do allow someone to hit rock bottom, not only are we allowing suffering to grow, but we are also making recovery a harder and harder goal to achieve. The further someone falls in to the abyss of substance abuse, the harder he or she has to climb in order to free themselves from that pit of hell.  Seems obvious: The deeper someone gets trapped in a hole, the harder it is to get him out.  Hitting rock bottom makes recovery quite difficult.

People, in general, will choose a path that they see as easy over a path that they see as difficult.  Choosing the path of least resistance and discomfort is what keeps many people from quitting drugs and alcohol.  For example, quitting alcohol has a 10 to 14 day detox period that is painful and physically debilitating.  Once a person has detoxed, that person then has to deal with intense physical cravings that pull him or her to the bottle.  So, then, quitting alcohol doesn’t sound so good: Continuing to drink sounds a lot easier.  At least, it sounds easier on the surface.

The goal of any intervention, in my opinion, is to help the substance abuser see that continuing to use IS the difficult path.  Most people who abuse alcohol have a whole bunch of health, legal, and relationship problems as a result of their drinking.  It’s my role as a treatment provider to help people see the relationships between their drinking and their problems.  The more they can recognize the harm drinking causes, the more they look for ways to cut out harm.  Once someone learns that continuing to use causes all sorts of harm, there is more and more motivation to reduce his or her use and will accept some short-term harm (detox) for a greater amount of long-term gain.

So, then, rather than allow someone to free-fall towards rock bottom, maybe it’s better to approach the situation from a perspective of teaching that using is the harder path.  There is little doubt that abusing drugs and alcohol has really only two outcomes: Prison or death.   I’d rather help someone see than let that person end up hitting the two possible rock-bottom outcomes

I offer both free and customized substance use disorder continuing education

jblea1016.com

According to The Recovery Research Institute of Harvard University, “Several surveys have suggested that the majority of clinicians aren’t formally educated or trained in substance use disorder (SUD) treatment.” Because I believe it my mission in life to educate as many clinicians as I can about SUDs and their respective treatment, I want to remind people that I offer both periodic and custom developed continuing education workshops and seminars that pertain to SUDs treatment.

If you or your agency is interested, I could prepare a custom curriculum that would be best suited for your respective client population. I do offer pre-developed courses on the Three C’s of Addiction, Treatment for Opiate Addiction, and The Culture of Addiction. My costs are on a sliding scale basis; once we’ve determined the curriculum that best suits your needs, we can discuss the cost, based upon attendees and other factors.

Also, through my blog…

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Appreciation & Gratitude will beat the blues

I’ve been thinking a lot about ways to help get over a bout of general malaise.  There’s a ton of work out there about Depression treatment and there’s a whole slew of modalities that are recommended.  But, what about those moods that aren’t really a depressive episode?  We all have days where we just feel yucky and even if the yuckiness lasts a few days, there’s no other real reason to suspect a depressive episode.  What does the research say about those “down in the dump” moments?

Turns out, not much.  Clinicians tend to work with severe cases; that is, cases in which there is enough evidence of a disorder to warrant external assistance.  Someone who’s just got the proverbial blues may not believe that he or she needs that external assistance.  So, what are some ways to get over the malaise and get back on track?

Well, turns out, the more I think and read about ways that can help, I always return to the idea of appreciation and gratitude.  Life presents every single person with trials and challenges.  No one’s exempt from hard times.  To me, though, on average, people are quite fortunate, here in the U.S.   We may not all be one percenters, but for the most part, there’s good in our lives, even if it can be hard to see anything other that difficulty.

Usually, when I experience yuckiness, it’s because my life isn’t going EXACTLY as I want it to go, WHEN I want it to go a certain way.  I have to step back and remind myself that things aren’t always how we want them to be at the exact time we want them to be that way.  Once I accept that reality, I then look at the moment in which I find myself and I make it a point to find at least one good thing going on in that moment.  Since it can be hard to find good in my own life during a dark mood, I look at someone else who may be experiencing a smile or a laugh or something else that’s sharing positive energy.  Seeing others laughing and enjoying a moment is actually infectious for me.  Really, I feel better and the doldrums tend to dissipate.

Once the dark mood has lifted a bit, I then turn my attention to the blessings of my own life.  Really, I am lucky to be alive in this time of change.  All people in all of time lived in moments of change, it’s the one constant of human existence: Change.  We all live and make history and I feel an immense privilege to be a part of that historical record.  I appreciate all that is good and strong and beautiful and I also appreciate the hard times for forging courage in my heart and for teaching me that time and again: Darkness will pass.

So, to get over a bout of the blues, maybe try to count your blessings. Literally: Take out a sheet of paper and grab a pen and list your blessings.  We all have a lot to appreciate in this life.  we just need to remind ourselves of that, again and again.  How would you feel if you lost the things/people/relationships on that list?

The 4 things I’ve learned from blogging

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It has now been 4 years since I’ve started my blog, jblea1016.com. While I can’t say that blogging success has allowed me to retire, I can say that it has grown and continues to grow. I am quite grateful to everyone who reads visits my blog and actually reads the posts; it’s not easy to write new content. Believe it or not, sometimes, I simply don’t have any ideas about which to write. But I love writing and jblea1016.com has become my outlet to share things that I find interesting and/or useful (maybe even a little entertaining?) and now that I’ve been at it for 4 years, I can’t imagine my day to day (writing) life without it. But I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way and I am happy to say that I have learned form those mistakes and I wanted to share 4 things that I have learned since I started this blog 4 years ago:

1. Promoting the blog takes almost as much focus as actually creating content for the blog.

Figuring out that it takes social media promotion to actually push social media was a tough pill to swallow. I’m really not much for self-promotion, which has been a huge limiting factor in my writing career. While it may seem obvious that people need to know about a blog before they can visit it, it took me a really long time to accept the fact that I have to use other social media to get people to visit the blog. So, if you’re going to start a blog (or have already), then be prepared to promote your content with as much focus as creating it. For my purposes, I have found LinkedIn to be useful (although with its recent “upgrades,” it’s a lot less useful) and I have recently began using Instagram to get the word out about the blog. Surprisingly, social media promotion actually works (Obvious, right? What can I say, I’m a slow learner…)

2. People have a really, REALLY short attention span.

Content on my blog basically has an 8-10 hour window where it gets visited after I’ve initially posted it. One day, I might have a bunch of traffic because of a popular post, but lo and behold, the very next day that once popular and attention-getting post has fallen by the wayside like yesterday’s diapers. What’s worse is that if I don’t post regularly, the blog itself really fades in terms of visitors. I’ve always found it surprising how quick the decay rate is for social media; when I first started jblea1016.com, I thought that people would love each post and that each post would read over and over again throughout the week. But that’s simply not the case. If I really like a post (like the podcast posts), then I have to remind people about it every day sometimes 2 or 3 times a day! There’s such a huge bombardment of information that unless people are reminded, my content will be lost in the shuffle of high social media turnover rates.

3. Tend to resist the space between their ears.

I advise people, over and over again, both in real life and in the blogosphere that only they can own they space between their ears. One of the big reasons why I started this blog was to provide insight into how critical reflection and journaling can help people find their best and healthiest path. But really, people don’t seem to care much about my posts about critical reflection. As a matter of fact, I’ve written a few posts about demonic possession within the heroin addiction domain and those posts are, by far, the most popular on my blog. I would prefer that people use my blog (and my book, 49 Tips and Insights for Understanding Addiction) to mine the space between their ears. But alas, they don’t and in my experience, people really do resist turning the light towards their own abyss.

4. I have far more to learn than I know.

I’ve studied and written quite a bit on this blog (almost 1,000 posts) and I can safely say that, while I am an expert within the addiction treatment field, I know very little about anything, including that domain. There’s always a comment or two about what I need to learn and it seems like I really don’t know much of anything. I hope to continue growing and learning as a writer and as a blogger; I’m always open to suggestion about ways and means to improve my work (feel free to lambast me below in the comments section below).

So, after 4 years, I feel like a real blogger. I don’t make any money off of jblea1016.com and I don’t know that I ever will. But it’s a great avenue to express stuff and as a writer, I simply love my blog and I hope to keep it up into the foreseable future. Thank you to all of my readers; without you, I’m just talking to myself, a lot.