LWC Podcast Episode #3: How Northern NM’s Historical Trauma Killed My Grandmother and Created the Region’s Heroin Problem

Welcome to the Lamb in wolf’s clothing podcast. My name is Juan Blea; I’m a writer and addiction counselor from Santa Fe, NM. In this episode I will be discussing how the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo killed my great-great grandma and created the conditions from which Northern NM’s heroin problem emerged and what we can do about this historical wrecking machine.

Guadalupe Hidalgo isn’t a person, it’s actually the place in Mexico where the US’s war with Mexico ended with the signing of peace treaty named after that location. Now, while this treaty ended the war, it did so by giving Tx, NM, AZ, and California to the US and allowed the United States to colonize that entire area. But, it wasn’t simply a matter of land, it was also a matter of the people living there who almost overnight, went from being Mexican citizens to territorial assets of the US. For the life of me, I can’t imagine what that was like; however, when I was in grad school, I took a Psychology of the Family class through which I learned about genograms, which are basically a family tree that shows any dysfunction the family members faced. What I saw within my own family was a pattern of depression and alcoholism that reached back for generations.

One of my ancestors really struck me though, and to this day, I still search for the truth about how and why she died, but without much luck. Family legend has it that she hung herself; however, the few documents that I have been able to unearth seem to indicate that my great-great grandfather may have killed her. He spent time, in the months before she died within the state mental hospital for what their records indicate was “exhaustion.” It appears that exhaustion was a precursor to what we know as PTSD and I suspect, strongly, that he had something to do with my great-great grandmother’s death. But in studying her death and the circumstances surrounding her death, I see that the treaty of Guadalupe hidalgo was more to blame than my grandfather because, my grandparents, like many other people in Northern New Mexico lost their land to a US initiated lawsuit and had to move and learn to function in a system that used English, while they all spoke Spanish…

Fast forwarding from those days of early statehood when hundreds of people lost their land to lawsuits and their language to a new system of government and what we’re left with is a whole group of people who had to develop a whole new identity in order to assimilate within the US cultural experience. While many families were able to become Americanized, many were not. Those that could not, seemingly live as though they were in fact traumatized, even though they haven’t really experienced any trauma directly. What’s more, almost every person I’ve worked with who’s addicted to heroin can meet criteria for either PTSD or Generalized Anxiety disorder, or both. And so, from my research into my grandmother’s death and my current work with people addicted to heroin, I am convinced that social and genetic programming in this region has created a community containing “embedded” traumas. This community seeks relief from this embedded trauma through an unconscious drive towards unhealthy behaviors, including heroin abuse. Also, this social and genetic programming has led to generational poverty, which contributes to the region’s struggle with opiate addiction.

And so, I believe with all that I am that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with all its consequential losses of land, language, culture and identity have allowed the perfect storm to emerge:

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In her book, Chiva: A Village Takes on the Global Heroin Epidemic, Chellis Glendinning describes the path heroin took to get to Espanola and so I’ll leave it my listeners to read that book, but the reality is that the Perfect Storm exists in Northern New Mexico and has led to a real problem with Opiate Addiction and we need to first wake up to this reality and then we all need to come together within our greater community to disrupt this perfect storm.

How?

I tend to look through the lens of empowerment to find answers and one concept that I teach over and over again comes from attribution theory and is called locus of control. Simply put, locus of control describes the way a person approaches life. According to attribution theory, people believe either that they make things happen and rely on their own actions (in which case they are internally locused), or they believe that things happen to them and rely on luck or some other external mechanism to get things done (and they are said to be externally locused). Because people lost so much to the treaty of Guadalupe hidalgo, I believe that whole communities became externally locused and passed on limiting beliefs to subsequent generations. Basically, people came to believe that there isn’t anything they can do to affect their lives, as they were just living their lives and lost everything. What’s worse is they developed GAD and/or PTSD and then passed those genes on. And so those limiting beliefs were passed on socially and became genetically entrenched..

So then, the short answer is that we must collectively build a sense of individual capability in our children, students, patients, or clients. It takes time, but there is hope.

Addiction treatment requires an addict to become aware of the situation in which he finds himself. In order to develop that awareness, we should not oppose the symptomatic behaviors within the addiction, but we should in fact seek to understand those behaviors. I recommend a program that includes reflective journaling in order to provide a mechanism through which a person can see his or her situation in his or her own terms and understanding. To do so, a person must name the situation; reflect upon its meaning, and then act to change the situation.

For example, when it comes to addiction, I propose that the addict: (1), first name the limiting situation or thought, then (2) he or she needs to reflect deeply upon its meaning and come up with a plan to eliminate the limiting thought and/or situation; and then (3), the addict must execute the plan step by step. Treatment providers through various modalities can obviously guide this process, but it’s a matter of developing the belief in personal capability. The battle against heroin may seem to be an external war, but in order to win, it has to be fought internally.

Admittedly, it takes time to build that sense of capability — and as an aside, art/music/creative writing are all great avenues of building that sense of capability – but when an entire region has lost its sense of place, then we all must act to rebuild that identity. I’ll continue to research and share ways and means of rebuilding and creating a healthy identity for my community. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and its subsequent and generational psychological occupation of this area will be eliminated some day.

That concludes this episode and I hope you found it valuable. Please do share your thoughts through my blog, jblea1016.com or you can email me at jblea1016@hotmail.com and please don’t forget to check out my award-winning book, 49 Tips and Insights for Understanding Addiction.

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What is Energy Psychology?

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In attending a recent Energy Psychology workshop, I can say that I learned enough to reduce any skepticism I had when I entered the classroom. It wasn’t that I didn’t think there was such a thing as a “psychology” of energy, because I’ve always known that humanity is energy living through physical containers. However, my skepticism derives from the cultural hijackings that can come with topics based in Eastern philosophical traditions. The reality is that, while we can all benefit from learning about other traditions, my experiences with those who profess to understand those traditions come off as hokey and, well, weird. But in taking the class through Odyssey Counseling‘s Mary Baca, I can see the power of not only understanding Energy Psychology, but also, in using it.

So, what is Energy Psychology?

According to the course contents, Energy Psychology is a set of mind-body approaches that work within a Mind-Body energy system to treat people holistically. Simply said, energy psychology is a set of tools to guide a person mentally, physically, and emotionally. In hearing the definition I did ask about spirituality, and Mary’s response echoed my own hesitation in using the word, “spirituality.”

“Well,” Mary said. “People tend to get freaked out by the term, ‘spirituality’.”

So, really, the idea behind energy Psychology is that we are all surrounded by energy, both positive and negative and understanding how that energy affects and impacts us is key in learning to heal ourselves. it’s a powerful way to understand and reflect upon the energy systems in our own lives and I was reminded my a tool I learned back in grad school called, “ecomaps.” The purpose of these ecomaps is to map out people and circumstances in our lives that both provide and consume our energy. As Mary spoke I realized that I’d been using energy psychology for many years, just didn’t have the terms and framework. And while we did discuss Chakras, the topic was presented in a very pragmatic way that wasn’t hokey in the least. But I think the biggest technique discussed was something called “muscle testing,” which is a way to use a person’s body to understand their own truth. I can’t say I “get it” enough to write about it, but I do plan on learning more until I can.

How will I use energy Psychology?

Well, the reality is that I have a lot to learn before I can really apply any of the concepts. However, right off the bat I can see how vibrational energy impacts people, especially within the Addiction domain. Addicts tend to be surrounded by negative energy and seek to “clear” that energy using substances. Plus, inside of themselves, their own positive energy is blocked and trapped by the limits that their absorbed negative energy creates. My plan is to learn enough about the tools within Energy Psychology such that I can form a framework of it specific to Addiction and Substance Abuse.

I will take more workshops within this field until I can become certified as a Holistic Practitioner. I strongly recommend anyone (whether a counselor or not) to attend a workshop with Mary Baca (check out the course listings), as she will guide you to a higher order of understanding. If a skeptic like me can turn, then anyone can.

LWC Podcast Episode #2: How to help someone with an Addiction

Episode 2 is here!  In this episode, I provide my best advice to anyone who wants to help an addict.  I discuss: 1) The 3 most important things to educate yourself about; 2) Talking openly with a loved about his or her relationship with a substance; and, 3) Gathering treatment resources to have available for someone who’s ready for healthy recovery!

Enjoy! and please let me know of any comments/questions/suggestions!

4 requirements for successful Recovery

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. All people have different needs and throwing a higher power at an atheist may be iatrogenic.
  3. An understanding of the underlying causes of the Addiction. The underlying cause may be a co-occurring issue such as Depression or General Anxiety Disorder or it can simply be a desire to use the substance. Either way though, finding the root cause is critical to developing and maintaining recovery.
  4. Recognition that recovery begins again, every day. The truth is that recovery begins again every day. Addiction isn’t cured; it’s managed and it’s done so over time. There is no quick fix; plus, relapse may be a part of recovery. Daily focus (or refocus) is a basic component to successful recovery and must be renewed every day.

If we can build these four elements, then someone can recovery from an addiction. If, however, we keep hoping that a genie will spring forth from a magic lamp and grant us some wishes, then recovery probably isn’t going to happen…

What is heroin, anyway?

I challenge anyone to think of heroin and not have an association to bad stuff.  Really, heroin evokes images of criminals and addicts and most people who’ve had no real contact with heroin addiction probably think heroin is something evil.  And while I do think heroin’s effects are significantly adverse, I think that nothing, in and of itself, is evil.  It’s use makes it so…

So, what is heroin and why do people use it?  For starters, today’s heroin is a street drug that derives from poppy seeds, just like opium and morphine.  As a matter of fact, heroin is a direct descendant of morphine and codeine because, well, codeine is an isolated component of morphine called methylmorphine and when acetic anhydride was mixed with methylmorphine the result was a highly addictive version of morphine called diacetylmorphine, or as we know it: heroin.  I don’t provide this information as a chemistry lesson, rather, it’s intended to show that heroin is a close cousin of a very important medicine.

Morphine s used to treat pain. It is a nervous system depressant – meaning it slows the heart rate and the respiratory system; as well as, desensitizes pain receptacles and clouds thinking.  Heroin does the exact same thing, but has a shorter half-life, meaning it’s effects wear off faster and the potential for physical dependency is high due to its effect and to its short half-life.  Part of the problem with street heroin is that it’s not pure – it’s often mixed or “cut” with all kinds of stuff which make the risk of toxic impacts from using it very high.  Heroin is usually smoked, injected, or snorted and when people overdose, it’s usually because the dose is different than what they normally use and/or the place they use it is different that their normal location.  Since heroin isn’t regulated, there’s always a chance that the dosage could change.  Due to the respiratory system depressing effect of heroin, overdosing usually means the person has stopped breathing.

Heroin use is scary, but understanding it’s effects is very useful for treatment.  It’s critical to treat the physical dependency using legal and regulated drugs like methadone or suboxone.  Switching a heroin addict to either of those meds is safer, as they are regulated and administered by medical professionals.  There’s a lot more top treating heroin addiction, but I wanted to present a quick overview as a way to show that there are objective mechanisms behind heroin addiction that can make it a lot less scary once they’re understood….

Addiction treatment should address spirituality. Here’s why and how…

The biggest challenge with which I’m faced as a substance abuse counselor is the idea of spirituality both while in active addiction and while in recovery.  In my opinion, the reason people cower at the idea of spirituality is that it immediately brings to mind religion.  But, religion is NOT spirituality, although there can be a relationship between the two.  From my perspective: 1) Religion is the set of rituals and beliefs of a specific “faith” community; and, 2) Spirituality is the care and maintenance of that which is sacred to a person.  Furthermore, religion is communal, while spirituality is personal.

These concepts are not really interchangeable, especially from an addiction treatment perspective.  When a person is actively maintaining his addiction, the only thing sacred to him is his drug and the “hustle” through which he goes to get it.  This singular sense of value allows for any form of malevolent behavior because the drug is all that matters and nothing or no one has any value in comparison to the drug.  When we factor in the physical impacts of the drug’s pharmacology, we can see that the malevolence really can develop into something evil.

For example, heroin addiction provides abundant material for the study of malevolent spirituality.  I’ve written at great lengths about the relationship between heroin addiction and demonic possession and I have no doubt that heroin addiction really can open a “portal” through which pure evil can enter a person’s humanity.   That’s not to suggest that heroin addicts are evil, because they aren’t.  However, heroin creates the perfect storm for the emergence of malevolent spirituality.  Even if a person doesn’t believe in “spirituality,” it’s not hard to see how a heroin addict becomes inhuman with those who love and care for him.  Lying and stealing are the domain of the addict; however, heroin’s short half-life and intense withdrawals exponentiate the lying and stealing for the drug.

What’s needed is the create a healthy and benevolent spirituality as a part of a treatment program.  Each layer of humanity must be addressed, including the re-initiation of healthy sense of the sacred.  “Conscious creativity” is at the core this the re-initiation process. The idea behind “conscious creativity” is that a vision of a healthy life must be defined before it can be attained. Therefore, conscious creativity seeks to evoke both the reasons and the vision for developing a healthier life. When it comes to Addiction Treatment, there are two (2) things about Addiction that I feel make conscious creativity effective: 1) Addiction, by definition and by nature, is driven through unconscious processes. That is, once an addict (for lack of a better label) is triggered, he will seek his drug of choice without much conscious thought. It’s as if the addict switches to “auto-pilot” and doesn’t see anything else but the drug; and, 2) Addicts, to me, are quite susceptible to energy and often turn to drugs in order to “dampen” what they sense. The amount that they sense leads to over whelming feelings that mimic anxiety. Several people who I’ve worked with have been hyper-sensitive to their surroundings and then want to numb out how much they sense and feel. They may be “creative” in some ways; I’ve known several musicians, for example, who are great songwriters and performers, but they drink and drug quite heavily. However, if they approached their art from a conscious drive toward health, they would be less inclined to reinforce the feelings that evoke the darkness within themselves. To me, then, the idea of conscious creativity disrupts the unconscious drive towards a drug and can redirect overwhelming adverse emotions and coping mechanisms.

There are NO shortcuts for addiction Recovery

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Beware: This message may offend you…

One of the harder aspects of trying to treat addiction and substance abuse is that sometimes people want me to have answers that are somehow easy and/or guaranteed. But, every time I take on a case or follow-up on an existing case, I learn more and more just how much people want someone else upon whom they can either project responsibility or place blame. Here’s the thing, though: I’m not here as a lightning rod to displace the negative emotion that accompanies substance abuse. I’m here, in my opinion, to teach the mechanics of substance abuse and substances, and to also teach tools for coping with those mechanics, once understood. But I can’t teach what someone isn’t willing to learn and to learn, ultimately, means to process and use the information I teach.

I get asked questions, all the time, about things to do…

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Why should you explore the space between your ears?

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So, I’ve begun teaching a writing class (can’t disclose where) that I call: Exploring the space between your ears.  The point of this course is to lead addicts through a series of reflective writing exercises such that they learn to “own” the space between their ears (you know, their thoughts, emotions, etc.)

It’s like this: cave exploring is a generally lightless experience.  It’s probably a bad idea to explore a cave without a flashlight.  What’s an even worse idea is to dive into a cave without an idea of where it leads and how much room there is to navigate and move around.  Yet we tend to live our lives without knowing where the space between our ears leads.  We don’t explore that area enough, and when we do, we usually find things there like self-doubt or fear.  For some, the space between their ears holds unearned shame which then leads to other dark places from which people can’t escape.

Substance dependency further clouds that space between the ears because all it leads to is more substance use.  For those addicted to drugs and alcohol, the space between their ears isn’t theirs, really; substances of abuse hijack that space such that people can’t even explore that area because all they’ll find is a never ending desire for MORE….

That’s where the class comes, in – at least, the hope for this class is that participants learn to both explore that space between their ears in a safe and creative way so that they can wrest the map away from substances’ clutches and create their own map to a healthier place from which something good and strong and beautiful can emerge.

Since no one can know anyone else’s space between their ears and I since want everyone to get to know their own, I’m sharing the exercise through which I led the class.  I asked the participants to answer:

Have you ever done something that you didn’t understand? In looking back at your behavior, why do you think you acted as you did?

(an aside, this exercise comes from my book, “49 Tips and Insights for Understanding Addiction”)

The class found value in looking inside the space between their ears and I think it was a good introduction for them to reflect on their behaviors that they may not have understood when they first acted as they did.  As a matter of fact, their general responses showed real thought and I would even dare to say that they gained some valuable information that they can use along their path towards Recovery.  I offer this same exercise to anyone: Really dig in to the space between your ears, addict or not, I can safely say you can learn about yourself in a very deep and real way.  Good luck and safe travels down the rabbit hole that can be our innermost thoughts….

Change your thinking to stop being your own worst enemy

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There’s a belief in treating substance abuse that there’s some magic location where people can go to get “sober.”  Whether it’s an inpatient facility or an outpatient program, people honestly believe that the answers they seek are somewhere “over there.” The reality, though, is that people really do have the answers they seek, it’s really a matter of asking the right questions.

There’s a technique called “cognitive restructuring” that counselors use to “reframe” someone’s thoughts such that they can then redirect their behavior; what it comes down to is a set of questions that people can ask themselves in situations where they might be getting themselves into compromising situations.  Really, the purpose of this technique is to reduce negative thinking which is often at the core of a person’s behavior (turns out, people really are their own worst enemy).  The main questions used to redirect thinking are:

  • Is my thinking in this situation based on obvious fact or fantasy?
  • Is my thinking in this situation likely to help me protect my life or health?
  • Is my thinking going to help me achieve my short and long-term goals?
  • Is my thinking going to help me avoid conflict with others?
  • Is my thinking going to help me feel emotions that I want to feel?

While these questions are used within substance abuse treatment, often to prevent relapse, I find them helpful whenever I start feeling a bit wacky.  So, I figure if they work for me, they can work for anyone who’s his own worst enemy.  No one “out there” can guide your thinking better than you can.  Shouldn’t you learn how to take control of your own thoughts?  Really, I can’t think of a better starting place than to ask yourself these questions whenever things start getting off-kilter.  They do work, as most tools will if they’re used…. (If you do happen to try this technique, please do let me know how it works for you)

Substances of abuse aren’t either good or bad…

There are many times when I feel like a broken record that repeats itself over and over again. Believe it or not, even if I’m just sitting on my couch visiting with people, the subject of substance abuse ALWAYS emerges. When it does, I try NOT to engage and let people’s opinions be what they are. But, when I hear someone say, “Man, if she could stop using that crap, she’d be able to get her life together” I can’t help BUT to engage.

“Well, what’s going on?” I asked and awaited the typical story of lies and manipulation because of a “drug.” It didn’t take long; the person I asked then shared with the entire group of people gathered to eat turkey about how his daughter keeps asking for money so that she could get more pills and yada yada yada. To tell you the truth, the “yada yada yada” isn’t about the drug. More than likely, the drug use masks the real issue.

But if there’s one thing Addiction does, it’s that it sucks people around the addict into a drama that mistakenly creates focus on the drug and distracts from the root cause of a person’s NEED to use. In this case, pills are nothing more than a red herring that throws everyone off the scent of the core problem that needs attention. Look, substances are nothing but chemicals in various forms that alter people’s personality in various ways. They aren’t good or bad, they’re just chemicals (well, except for crystal meth: that stuff is pure evil and needs to be eradicated from the face of the Earth…).

I’ll even go one step further, it really isn’t whether or not someone uses a given substance; the issue is HOW someone uses a given substance that indicates the real problem in someone’s life. For example, if someone turns to a given substance to handle stress, then, regardless of the substance, the inability to negotiate stress is the problem. The substance use can be managed, but the inability to handle and resolve stress may be a harder egg to scramble (or unscramble).

Really, (and here comes the broken record), anxiety is the core symptom: the cause of the anxiety is the real clue in the hunt for an addiction’s root cause. Anxiety triggers compulsion which then triggers an automatic behavior, whether it’s ingestive or process focused. So, if you want to engage someone’s substance abuse: QUIT BLAMING THE SUBSTANCE! The real problem can’t be solved while you’re focusing on a chemical. Ok, learn about the way a substance impacts the body; learn about the culture that associated with a substance, but, then, focus on the person’s anxiety and you will find the real problem that you can then help solve.

Or you can make yourself feel better by blaming an inanimate object and deflecting from the real issue.