Recovery Doesn’t Work!

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“Recovery Doesn’t Work!”

Ever hear someone say that?  Perhaps you’ve said it yourself.  It’s true; some methods are more helpful for one individual base on his or her exact needs, personality, and background than for another.  But, to say, recovery doesn’t work, is a kin to saying, this hammer doesn’t work, because it has been lying here all day and my picture still isn’t hung up.  The hammer works just fine the question is, are you really going to pick up the hammer and use it the way it was intended?  There is no perfect recovery program out there.  True some are better than others.  One thing they all have in common is they offer tools.  It is up to the individual weather or not he or she will use the tools they have been given to aid in their own recovery.

That is why I like step 4 of the 12 steps.  “Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”  It is so easy to talk about recovery.  It is so easy to talk about ones feelings, and childhood.  It is easy to talk about triggers.  It is easy to talk.  Step 4 is where the rubber meets the road.  This is what we call a, “Treatment Method.”  This is something concrete you can do to aid in your recovery.  There are hundreds of tools out there.  Some may be more helpful for you where you are right now than others but, making a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself is a great place to start.

A moral inventory is simply a list of both the positive and negative attributes that make up who you are now.  This list may include resentments you have toward certain people or institutions.  This also may include a list of ways you have been selfish.  Some also include, “Unmanageable defects of character.”  These may include outbursts of uncontrolled anger, or the inability to tell the truth.  Many people will use a chart, or pick list like this one provided by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

step 4

Want to get serious about step four?  Here is what you do.  Make a list of as many negative traits as you can think of.  Here is where the word, Fearless, comes in.  It is often hard to admit to ourselves how negative, critical, and judgmental we have become.  Looking at ourselves critically is not always something we always do.  This may be a difficult step for some.  However, many have reported that using this simple tool has been a great help to them on the road to recovery.  To get started you might use the suggestions from recovery.org.  They give the following examples, “I lie to the people I care about, and it’s hurt them.  I am power hungry, and I boast about my achievements. I have alienated those around me by my selfishness.  I bring others down with my self-loathing and shame.  I am self-righteous and judgmental of others.  I am ill-tempered, and I have taken my anger out on my family and friends.”  Now, take what you see as your top 10 areas of weakness and write about how these negative traits led you to and keep you in your addiction.

Make a list of as many positive traits you can think of.  Ask a family member, close friend, and your sponsor to help you with this.  You might write things like, “I am committed to my children.  I have a fun personality and make friends easy.  I am a very detailed person.  I always try to keep the peace.”  Don’t rush through this.  Come up with as many as you can think of.  Next pick 10 of your best traits and write out how these positive traits will help you in your recovery.

This step will take some time.  I encourage you not to rush through it.  This is not just some chore to check off your to do list.  This is a tool that can help you for years to come.

The Apostle Paul said something very interesting in Philippians chapter three.  Paul wrote, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 3:12-14 ESV).  Paul was humble enough to realize he was not yet the perfect man God wanted him to be.  He said he focused on one thing- pressing on.  He knew one hindrance to living in God’s will for the presence is to live in the past.  A word of encouragement, as you do your moral inventory don’t  get too caught up focusing on the past.  The purpose of step four is not to remind you of all of the terrible things you have said and done.  It is simply to uncover the truth, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Remember, we learn from the past, we don’t live in it.

So, how about you?  What are some other tools, or treatment methods you use in recovery?  How has step 4 impacted your life?  I’d love to hear about it.  Leave a comment in the Reply box below.

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Holidays and Addiction

remember

Here is a friendly reminder of something you probably know well…

When I do a Treatment Summery for my clients who are getting ready to leave the program I will ask them to list some of the emotional, circumstantial, social, and environmental triggers they will face.  One of the most constant answers I hear from clients is that the holiday’s are particularly challenging.  This makes so much sense.

First of all the holidays are stressful on almost all of us. Sometimes the best and worst part of the holidays is that you get to see your family.  Broken family relationships can be a huge stress lead one to or keeping on in an addiction.

Second, holidays are often celebrated with some sort of party. For many a party is a chance to get drunk or high.  Going to a holiday party for these individuals can be on big trigger.  Seeing others drink or use drugs can be a huge trigger, even if the individual in recovery does not intend to use.

Third, the holidays can actually be a very sad time. For many the holidays are a reminder of the family or loved ones they lost to addiction or because of their own addiction.  The holidays are a painful reminder of what they have lost.  Often addicts and those in recovery are tempted to use in an effort to mask the pain of the holidays.

If you are in recovery I want to encourage you to stay safe over the Memorial Day weekend. Make a preplan of what you will do for a healthy pursuit of love, joy, and peace outside of your addiction.  If you love someone who struggles pleas keep in mind that the holidays can be very tough.  Give your loved one a call.  Invite them over.  Consider not serving alcohol at your family get together as to not be a trigger for those in recovery.  Finally pray.  Pray for those for whom the holidays are a great challenge.

We would love to hear from you!  What are some healthy ways you handle the stress of holidays?  Leave a comment in the, “Reply,” section below.  Have a safe and Happy Memorial day.

Words from an Inmate

A man came into the counselor’s office this morning and asked if he could read a poem he had written about the pain of addiction. He began to read:

Mom, dad, wife, & children too

Everyone I love, seems I hate them too

Running from home, spinning out of control

Coming back around with holes in my soul

A smile played all over my face

Choking back tears within their embrace

Destroying my home, steeling their hope

What right, I ask, did I ever have

By lying & steeling all they ever had

It’s funny now, through all of my schemes

They’re still holding on to all of my dreams

Love, hope, family, & home

All I gave up just to get stoned

Maybe I’ll wake up and get this thing right

Maybe I won’t & be high tonight

Pathetic addiction & choices I’ve made

Take me from home & close to the grave

Running in circles then back again

One last chance not to die in my sin

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10 ESV).

Problem Solving and Addiction

I didn’t know it was going to start an argument.  I stated what I thought was a forgone conclusion.  Apparently my co-worker didn’t see it that way.  We had been talking about one of my clients who had made some choices that not only got him kicked out of the recovery program but also landed him in segregated housing, or what some call, “Solitary confinement.”  This is a very small room where the client will spend 23 hours a day.

I had told my co-worker that at the root of it all is poor problem solving skills.  My friend vehemently disagreed.  “Maybe years down the line he can begin working on problem solving skills but for now he has much bigger issues to work through.”  He went on to list things like the clients mindset that leads to the drug and criminal lifestyle, possible childhood issues, lying, manipulating, and of course his addictions.

I explained that my theory is that at the root of all these things is poor problem solving skills.  Have you ever been so upset with your child that you screamed at them?  Have you ever been so frustrated in traffic that you yelled at another driver?  Have you ever stolen something from work?  Have you ever cheated in big or small ways in order to get ahead?  Have you ever turned to drugs, alcohol, shopping, pornography, or eating to comfort yourself after a bad day?  Most of us have.

My guess is that 90% of the challenges we have with our children is due to their lack of problem solving skills.  Because they have trouble thinking through the challenges of life and come up with positive solutions they attempt to solve the problems in other ways, such as throwing a fit, manipulating, lying, and so on. When we get older our temper tantrums look a little different than they did when we were kids.  Still, at the root of it all is the fact we sometimes don’t know how to solve our problems in healthy ways.

My client has a problem.  The best solution he came to at the time was to get himself removed from the program.  Are we any different?  Instead of doing the hard work of reconciling broken relationships are we not quick to dispose of them?  Instead of fixing the broken car we rush to the new car lot to take out a loan on a new car that we really can’t afford.  Instead of practicing patience and humility we react with rage when things don’t go our way.  At the root of many of our own challenges is a lack of problem solving skills.

This leads to the question, “How does one obtain problem solving skills?”  The answer, I believe, is twofold. First we need the proper tools.  Second, we need to learn when, where, and how to use these tools.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney are credited for writing the song, “All you need is love.”  Although I’m uncertain whether love is ALL we need, but it sure is a good start.  The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth gave a short list of tools needed if we are going to master the challenges that life throws our way without turning to our addictive and compulsive behaviors.   Paul explained that, “Love,” is more than just a warm fuzzy feeling you get but it is something that you do.  As you read through the short passage from Paul’s letter note the tools (In bold print) needed to love.  These are same tools needed to problem solve our way through life.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails,” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8a NIV).

I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.  Do you believe at the root of many of our challenges in life lies poor problem solving skills?  What tools are needed for us to navigate the challenges of this life in healthy, prosocial ways?  Reply below.

What are you hiding?

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As the old Eagles song says,

You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes And your smile is a thin disguise I thought by now you’d realize There ain’t no way to hide your lyin eyes

Do you ever try to hide your true feelings? Do you ever hide what’s going on inside. It might be harder than you think. In the same way, you can’t hide your lying eyes, we can’t really hide what’s going on in our hearts. The reason for this is revealed through the words of Jesus.

Jesus said in Luke 6:45, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Have you ever said, “What are You looking at, What’s Your problem, or What’s wrong with him?” Do you roll your eyes, give an exaggerated sigh, or respond cynically to bad or unfavorable news? Do you tend to complain and argue? Are your friends or co-workers likely to categorize you as a pessimistic person? How about your family? Are you over all negative, critical, and judgmental?

Here is what you need to know. You have a heart problem and you can’t hide it. Out of the over flow of our hearts, our mouths speak. Think of it like a bank. You can only withdrawal what you put in. If what you are paying out in your attitude is negative, critical, and judgmental the ugly truth is that’s what’s in your heart.

You know the guy at the restaurant who is loud and obnoxious? He ruins your whole dinner and is blissfully unaware of how he is affecting others. Many of us are the same way. We are pessimistic, negative, critical, and judgmental and we don’t even realize how bad it is. The painful truth is that everyone else sees it all too well.

The good news is that we can change all of that. Like the old computer programming saying goes, “You put garbage in you get garbage out.” It is time we stop accepting negative input from the world around us. The culture says that you are only valuable if you drive the right car, live in the right neighborhood, and have the right job. The culture says you are only valuable if you look a certain way, and act a certain way. If we don’t fit into these cultural molds we are outcasts.

We also have to stop accepting negative input from others. We have to give up the notion that we must meet the standards of others at the expense of our God given dreams. A person might never meet the expectations of their earthly parents and still be in the center of God’s will. No one else can live our lives for us and we must be careful not to put too much weight on the expectations of others.

We also must be careful about the input we get from ourselves. We are sometimes guilty of negative self talk. We will tell ourselves things like, “I’m such an idiot, I could never do that, or I’m so crazy.” These lies pour garbage into our banks. When it comes time to interact with others we find ourselves paying out some pretty ugly stuff.

I recently posted an article about Positive Affirmations.  It is far better to make a practice of positive input. If you are a believer in God or follower of Jesus Christ, why not fill your heart with the truth of God?

According to the Bible:

I am blameless and free from accusation. (Colossians 1:22)

Christ Himself is in me. (Colossians 1:27)

I am firmly rooted in Christ and am now being built up in Him. (Col. 2:7)

I have been made complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:10)

I have been spiritually circumcised. My old unregenerate nature has been

removed. (Colossians 2:11)

I have been buried, raised, and made alive with Christ. (Colossians 2:12,13)

I died with Christ and I have been raised up with Christ. My life is now hidden

With Christ in God. Christ is now my life. (Colossians 1:1-4)

I am an expression of the life of Christ because He is my life. (Colossians 3:4)

I am chosen of God, holy and dearly loved. (Col. 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4)

I am a son of light and not of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:5)

I have been given a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

I have been saved and set apart according to God’s doing.

(2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5)

Because I am sanctified and am one with the Sanctifier, He is not ashamed

to call me brother. (Hebrews 2:11)

I am a holy partaker of a heavenly calling. (Hebrews 3:1)

I have the right to come boldly before the throne of God to find mercy and

grace in a time of need. (Hebrews4:16)

I have been born again. (1 Peter 1:23)

I am one of God’s living stones, being built up in Christ as a spiritual house.

(1 Peter 2:5)

I am a member of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a

People for God’s own possession. (1 Peter 2:9,10)

I am an alien and stranger to this world in which I temporarily live.

(1 Peter 2:11)

I am an enemy of the devil. (1 Peter 2:11)

I have been given exceedingly great and precious promises by God by

Which I am a partaker of God’s divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)

I am forgiven on the account of Jesus’ name. (1 John 2:12)

I am anointed by God. (1 John 2:27)

I am a child of God and I will resemble Christ when He returns. (1 John 3:1,2)

I am loved. (1 John 4:10)

I am like Christ. (1 John 4:10)

I have life. (1 John 5:12)

I am born of God, and the evil one…the devil…cannot touch me.

(1 John 5:`8)

I have been redeemed. (Revelation 5:9)

“Then you will know the truth and truth will set you FREE!”

 

 

 

Is this a good idea??

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Bugs Bunny famously said, “if i dood it I get a whippin’…i dood it!”  Sometimes no matter the consequence we give into temptation and gratify our desire to say or do what brings us pleasure.  For many of us this mindset has caused great pain.  Some of us found ourselves in jail or prison.  Others have suffered divorce or damaged marriages.  Still others have found themselves broke and destitute.  This mindset has cost some their very lives.  In the end the consequences far outweigh the short term pleasure derived from our actions.  Yet, in the moment, like Bugs, we say with a smile, ““if i dood it I get a whippin’…i dood it!”

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If we hope to experience different outcomes in life we absolutely must change this way of thinking. To affect true lasting change in our lives we must be intentional about our thoughts. This is called, “Metacognition.”  Simply put we must think about what we think about.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” (Romans 12:2a).  The Bible teaches this age old truth.  If we are to affect true life change it begins with our thinking.

One tool I use in counseling is an old Rational Behavioral Training technique taught by Washtenaw County Juvenile Detention Center in Michigan.  This tool requires us to give pause before making decisions that have the potential to negatively affect our lives.  This tool asks us to consider if our thoughts or the actions we are considering stand up to a frog.  A.F.R.O.G. is an acronym.  It stands for Alive, Feelings, Reality, Others, and Goals.

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Alive

Here we ask ourselves the questions, “Do the thoughts I’m thinking about myself keep me alive? Will the things I’m considering doing affect my health in negative way, or possibly even kill me?  Does this thought or action threaten my safety in any way?” Whether we are considering giving someone a piece of our minds, doing drugs, or driving 100 mph on a motorcycle we need to ask ourselves the same question.  Is this choice I’m considering going to affect my health or safety?

Feelings

It is also important to take into account our emotions when considering our thoughts and actions. Although a thought might feel good at first, in the end it might negatively affect our emotions.  Have you ever been so angry with someone you daydreamed about how you would love to get even with them?  At first you might get pleasure in the thought of revenge.  However, as time goes on those hurts build up and you become a prisoner of your resentments.

The same can be true with our actions. What at first felt good can later have a negative effect on our emotions.  The drugs we used to feel a short term high can in the long run cause guilt and shame.  What started out as just something to do for fun can dominate and discourage us and begin to destroy our lives.

Reality

I think they are talking about me. He thinks I’m an idiot.  I’m the biggest loser in the world.  These thoughts are seldom rooted in reality.  We need to be careful how we perceive things.  If we are given to paranoia we are more prone to perceive people as being out to get us and generally negative toward us.

Another trap we can easily get caught up in is thinking the worst. Often we will consider what the worse possible outcome of a situation will be and then we focus all of our worry on that one scenario.  We can worry ourselves sick about something that may never actually occur.  It is vital when considering our thoughts and actions to ask ourselves if these thoughts and plans are rooted in the truth.

Others

How does this thought or action affect others? If what I’m about to do is going to have a negative impact on my spouse, children, other family members or friends, or if this is going to harm another individual physically or emotionally I should probably avoid it.  We are by in large a selfish culture.  We run roughshod over people without concern.  We do what we want to do to please ourselves without giving thought to those we may be hurting in the process.  Before we act we need to ask ourselves the question, “How might this action affect others?”

Goals

John was an accountant for a midsize firm in Chicago. He had his sights on going to an even bigger firm with a bigger office, and more importantly a much bigger paycheck.  John discovered a breakdown in the companies security and checks and balances system that would allow him to easily make off with a couple thousands extra dollars every month.  If John’s goal is to maintain a healthy and happy family, to get a better job, and be physically and emotionally healthy should he steel the money?

A great question to ask ourselves before we make any decision is simply, “Is this decision consistent with my goals?” By asking this one simple question many harmful comments would not be made, many letters and emails would not be sent, and many harmful self gratifying actions would not be taken.

You can help!

I’m always looking for new and different things to share with my clients. What are some tools, methods, or strategies you use to create or maintain healthy choices?  Leave your comments in the box below and thank you in advance.

Addiction and the Brain

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Addiction and the Brain

Dopamine is our brain’s natural fell good chemical.  We get a normal dose of dopamine when we do things that are pleasurable such as eating, playing, talking with friends, and making love.  When we use drugs, gamble, and binge eat, or view pornography we get an inordinate amount of dopamine.

When we use drugs or act out compulsive behaviors our brain remembers the circumstances surrounding the powerful rush of dopamine. The people we were with, the places we were and the things surrounding the compulsive behavior all get wrapped up and filed away together by our brains.   The next time our brains are reminded of the people, places, and things surrounding our compulsive behaviors our brain also remembers the powerful rush of dopamine.  Our brain then begins to say, “Go get that dopamine!”

Have you ever went to a movie and as you walked in the door you were assaulted with the smell of popcorn and immediately were thirsty for an ice cold Coke? The reason this happened is you have enjoyed a coke with popcorn before.  Your brain recorded the pleasurable event as a memory.  When the memory of the popcorn was triggered by the smell, the memory of the coke also fired.  Your brain immediately began saying, “Let’s do that again!” The same thing happens surrounding our compulsive behaviors leading us back to our addictions.

Now that we understand in part how our brains work in addiction, we understand more than ever the importance of avoiding triggers.  A great deal of recovery focuses on this vital step.

Often triggers are placed into three categories People, Places, and Things. A fourth more abstract category is also necessary.  I simply call this category, “Feelings”.  In the, “Feelings” category I place harder to define triggers like hunger, boredom, anger, anxiety, and depression.

Here is what’s going on in our brains during compulsive behaviors and or drug use:

#1. Pleasurable activities stimulate the VTA to make a normal amount of dopamine (Our brains natural pleasure, or feel good chemical).  Binge eating, Drug use, Gambling, Pornography, and other Compulsive behaviors produce extreme levels of Dopamine.

#2. The Nucleus Accumbens (Ventral Straiatum), pleasure center of the brain created to feel pleasure within normal ranges feels extreme amounts of pleasure when abused.  Excessive abuse causes, “Excitotoxicity” (Nerve cell damage from overactive receptors).

#3. Serotonin and GABA (Your body’s natural calming ability) are decreased.

#4.   Hippocampus: Remembers the details and context of our memories, the who, what, when, where, why, and how.”

#5. Amygdala: Connects emotions to memories.  The stronger the emotion (Good or bad) tied to the memory the more vivid it will be.  Also reinforces good memories and says, “Let’s do that again!”

#6. Locus Ceruleus: Alarm center of the Brain. Responds to Stress or Danger.  Tells the body to have a physical reaction if it does not get the dopamine rush.   (Believes we need the drug like we need food, water, air)

Matt Bulkley from starguideswilderness.com states, “When one uses drugs like cocaine, these pathways are tricked into releasing uncommonly high levels of dopamine in our brain without us having to do anything for it. The reaction of these pathways to viewing porn is exactly the same. These ‘pleasure’ pathways become permanent as the porn addict continues to go back to the activity – watching sexually explicit images – to experience the release of dopamine.”

 

On June 28 2012 counselingalliance.com stated, “The odd thing about chronic pornography users is that they generally began using porn as a result of the pleasure it brought them (dopamine’s role as discussed above). With continued use however, pleasure diminishes. The trap of pornography is that pleasure becomes an elusive prize. The more the user searches for pleasure, the less he/she finds it. Here’s why:

The repeated high doses of the “chemical bath” associated with orgasm result in the brain’s inability to process and enjoy those chemicals at the same level it so desperately craves. What was once like a jolt of electricity surging through the central nervous system is reduced to a point it is no longer satisfying. Addicts often report symptoms of depression, relational problems, and a general sense of the joy of life having been lost. Why? Because the natural balance and function of the brain’s neurochemicals have been replaced by frantic search for another “fix.”

Some refer to sex addiction as the ultimate attention deficit disorder (ADD). Like ADD, the addict is continually scanning and searching for a new and novel experience. One way this search for new and novel experience plays out in the lives of users is that their search leads them to web sites and areas that they would normally have no interest in. For example, some who consider themselves straight and traditional in their sexual preferences will find themselves looking at gay porn or sado/masochistic websites in an effort to discover something new. It is the brain’s search for novelty, and for a chemical fix that leads the person to such sites. This, coupled with the fact that the high resolution video often available in today’s Internet porn is more graphic and more violent than what was available even a few years ago, leads the user deeper and deeper into the trap of seeking a novel experience. The overall result is like the preverbal “carrot on a stick.” The satisfaction one seeks is always just out of reach and so the efforts to capture the experience continue on and on.”

I’m reminded of the age old story of Satan in the garden tempting Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. The ancient serpent promised the first man and woman that they would be like God. He sold them the lie that there is something far greater for your life if you just partake of this forbidden fruit. For Adam and Eve of course the deception distracted them from a healthy pursuit of love, joy, and peace. They became discouraged, and dominated by their sin which lead down a path of destruction.

The same is true for us today. When we believe the lie that there is greater love, or joy, or peace in our addictions or compulsive behaviors the deception distracts us from a healthy pursuit of love, joy, and peace. We become discouraged as the high is never enough; we can never replicate that original euphoria. Our behavior begins to dominate more and more of our lives until we are ultimately destroyed. These are 5 D’s of Addiction.