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 Can You Relate?

As one person struggles with recovery from severe childhood abuse (multiple kinds), she writes here about her view of alcohol throughout her journey. In the absence of effective coping strategies or when the stress becomes overwhelming, we tend to turn toward less healthy and unhealthy coping strategies. These can unfortunately offer temporary relief which itself become desired, yet, over the long run, poorer coping choices contribute to worsening thoughts, feelings and of course behaviours.

Check out the following list of pros and cons for alcohol use and you can determine if any of these may apply in your way of thinking…

PROS

  • I feel like I am close to being human
  • I’m not scared of noises I can’t identify
  • I’m not paranoid of people
  • I laugh and I can feel happy
  • I can walk in public around other people and feel like I almost blend in
  • I can express my feelings better or at least some
  • I can’t feel my constant anxiety, worry and stress
  • Flashbacks don’t stress me out as much
  • I eat…because I need to….
  • I dance, sing, swim, listen to music, roller blade , bike ride, play with the kids, jog because it’s fun
  • It tastes so good and feels warm inside my body
  • I don’t focus on anything bad… I just enjoy floating around with no inside pain
  • It feels familiar and comforting
  • I don’t feel so alone and hopeless

CONS

  • That makes me an alcoholic = not a nice label
  •  My liver probably hates it
  •  My moods, emotions, memories, identity can change quickly
  •  I have less control over who is in charge… if any….
  •  Past experiences have led to many undesirable consequences, eg. abuse, jail, loss of a child, suicide  attempts, car accidents, homelessness, etc.
  •  Shows a bad example to my children so it must be hidden and it makes me a liar
  •  I can’t afford it
  •  Sometimes it makes me not human
  •  Sometimes it makes me forget my body belongs to me and I don’t care about it
  •  I can be too impulsive
  •  I can find myself places I don’t want to be
  •  I forget who I am or where I am and where I belong..

Using alcohol comes with risk. Why do I sometimes feel like it’s worth it? It’s not. I know that. It’s just so nice to have a break from my dysfunctional exhausting brain.

 


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ANTS: Our Thoughts or Not ?

The following contribution is from a middle-aged woman who suffered severe child abuse, sexual abuse, containment and physical violence as well as the early demise of her mother. Father’s subsequent downturn to alcoholism and grandparents scornful childcare assistance appear to have contributed, along with multiple sexual predators, to her ultimately suffering from complex post-traumatic stress “reaction” and dissociative identity symptoms. Despite the severe stress and strain on her psyche, she manages to strive to improve for her family and to attempt to regain her sanity. Her interpretation of how her brain works follows:

“I used to think that the four lobes of my brain just worked separately. Decisions made came from whatever lobe was healthiest at that moment. Like the wire connecting them together had a break in it. Over the years, I have tried to get control over which lobe would work but realized I don’t get to decide.

I have tried so many different attempts at control: changing my diet, adding different vitamins, punishment and rewarding the lobes that seemed to work best. Giving control to others who thought they could fix it for me using whatever methods they thought would work… (drugging, restraining, electrocuting, depriving, thought control, etc.). This has proved impossible so far.

Now I don’t think my four lobes work separately. I feel like my brain has turned into a giant anthill, each ant having its own job to do. Sometimes they seem to work together but sometimes they seem to eat each other and fight. It feels like a war inside the hill.

Sometimes, I think the poisonous ants are the big ones that overpower the small ones. The small ones have to fight and stay on alert at all times for the big ones. They have to follow the poisonous ants and do what they say, if they are not strong enough to fight. Other times, they get too tired and surrender themselves to the poisonous ants and get killed if they step out of line and do not follow. Sometimes, the small ants can win. It takes teamwork by many different small ants but they CAN choose their own job to do. It just takes more than one.

I can sometimes feel them in my skin and head. It makes me itchy. It makes me wonder if they are getting along or struggling. Sometimes, I see ants all over my bed or couch or wall…wherever I’m sitting. I think it’s the BIG ANTS making me see them and feel them, reminding me they are in control.

Sometimes, the small ants can be tricky and be poisonous too but you don’t know it at the time. You can’t assume anything with ants of any size. They switch jobs without notice. They fight without reason.

I don’t like ants. I enjoy spraying ant killer into their tiny hills. I like to put them out of their misery. I can’t imagine them being happy. God would likely disapprove, as he created such creatures but they can really torture you if they were to live inside your head. They have such a nasty sting for such a small bug.”


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A psychological term, from cognitive-behavioural theory, uses the acronym ANTS to refer to our “automatic negative thoughts” It almost seems as though the author of the words above has a hypersensitivity to her negative thinking processes. It would be nice, I suppose, if it were much easier to get rid of our ANTS or “Stinkin Thinkin” than it is. Help is available to reduce our ANTS.

Therapy is designed to help people uncover ANTS and find new ways to think that promote improved mental health. For help recovering from abuse, resolving relationship concerns or to improve your view of yourself, contact one of our registered therapists for your confidential consultation today.

 


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Let Others Help You Untie / Lose the Addiction

Does it feel like every day there is a bulletin on the latest celebrity who has admitted himself or herself into rehab? The unfortunate passing of Phillip Seymour Hoffman was due to a heroin addiction. The death of Glee celebrity, Cory Monteith, was also from a drug overdose.

Some may perceive these celebrities as having amazing lives; they make a lot of money; they own multiple cars and homes. It appears that they have all the opportunities to have amazing lives and relationships.

If celebrities, people who seem to have so much, struggle to overcome addiction, how can the common-folk do it? On the radio, one doctor commented that there is no cure to an addiction. That’s all that was on the broadcast. There were no other comments to possibly instill a grain of hope in the listener’s mind.

So what about the so-called “addicts” who are not celebrities?  What about the people who mortgage homes to pay for rehabilitation programs. What about those who have such a hard time believing they are worth the effort?  What about those courageous people who, admittedly with help, have overcome addictive patterns of behaviour,  persevere,  improve their relationships and have been able to co-create happier lives? These are the stories and truths we need to hear more about.

Technically, many might agree with the doctor’s negative, “to-the-point” comment… “There is no cure to addiction”. It is absolutely possible,  however, to have suffered from an addiction, overcome it with hard and consistent effort and to develop a happier life. YES!

If, as the doctor says “there is no cure”… then maybe it is not an illness. Perhaps it may, at least in some instances, be better viewed as an inappropriate coping strategy or poor stress response. In still other situations, it may be seen as learned behaviour that can be unlearned?  With an accurate assessment, it is possible to determine the factors contributing, the level of risk as well as the strengths and resources available to effectively overcome addiction. This is the kind of news we should hear about. The opportunities and success stories are not heard enough.

If you’d like to tell your success story… please submit it to our email (jeff@jeffpacker.com) with your clearly stated permission to post it anonymously on this blog.

Thanks


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Addiction to Sex Hurts

Perhaps one of the less understood and less talked about addictions, the addiction to sexual activities can, just like drug and alcohol addictions, leave a path of destruction in the lives of those connected to the “one addicted”.

The following is submitted by a brave young woman who tells of her healing process and the importance of family and forgiveness.

“I was in a relationship for three years.  In the latter part, I got pregnant.  Needless to say, the relationship ended.  I was overwhelmed with feelings of hurt, anger, and sadness.  I could express the ups and downs of being in a relationship with a sex addict, however why bother? Why go back to those times?

One thing I could mention is the support I had from my family and friends. They saw my efforts to fight for that relationship and even his efforts to try to overcome his addiction.  Although there were subtle (and obvious) hints for me to get out, my family provided me with unconditional love.

So as the pregnancy progressed, I began to realize continuing to dwell in hurt and pain was not a healthy option.  To cope with the break-up, I kept busy, read books, wrote in my journal, and had my support system to lean on.  As the sad feelings subsided, I knew I was ready to start the forgiving process.

Many counselling professionals may suggest that the process of forgiveness is to benefit you and not necessarily the other person.  In addition to this, I knew that for the sake of my child’s growth and development, forgiving her father was non-negotiable.  My family and friends, on the other hand, have not been able to reach the point of offering forgiveness to him.  So how do I help them get there?

People may initially assume that a love relationship consists of just two people. It is true that it may start out like this, however, as the relationship evolves, we expose our significant others to our families and other friendships.  Years of involvement makes it more difficult for everyone to witness the loss of that person when the relationship ends. In the case above, her family and friends were probably exposed to more of the relationship than the average.  Setting healthy boundaries in relationships protects and provides clarity for how much to involve others in personal matters.

Involvement of family and friends in the couple’s personal struggles can actually serve to destroy family supports and eat away at the relationship as well.  While loved ones may have observed happy times, they likely find it easier to recall the stories of bad behaviours and not-so-good times before and when the relationship ends.  While focus on negatives is quite common, all it does is reinforce pain and foster feelings of anger.  Staying stuck in blame and judgmentalism blocks movement toward forgiveness. Unfortunately, this can stand in the way of a healthy relationship with the person about to become a co-parent.

In this particular case, the mother’s modelling forgiveness can be a powerful and influential message for her friends and family.  Most adults and children can pick up on the energy in a room and the emotional states of others from nonverbal communication (face and tone).

Given this, we are all responsible for the quality of relationships by our actions and choices… to forgive and extend grace or not. 

Individual, co-parenting and family counselling can help to overcome addictions, improve relationship skills and heal woundedness as well…  Contact us today!

 


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I am sitting in a make-shift auditorium and am choking back tears. Although I have sat through similar ceremonies numerous times, they invariably move me this way. 8 men and 3 women sit proudly at the front of the room – two of them with their young children on their laps. 3 short weeks ago these 11 souls ran, walked or crawled into this inpatient treatment program – most of them dishevelled, beaten down and/or spiritually wounded. This morning they are graduating from what is commonly referred to as ‘Rehab’. It is a symbolic graduation of course, but the pride, renewed hope and healthy fear in each of their voices as they speak is palpable and incredibly moving as is their clear connection to one another. They are a victorious troop – forever connected by their mutual struggle.

There are many misconceptions about what ‘Rehab’ actually is. Many people think of it as a mysterious place where celebrities go when they hit ‘rock bottom’. The idea of ‘Rehab’ is more of an American term and here in Southern Ontario, similar treatment programs are referred to as Inpatient Addiction programs or Residential treatment programs. While the dramatic depictions of ‘Rehab’ in American television and movies involve a good deal of confrontation and ‘drama’ between counsellors and those in the facility, the clinical approach in the vast majority of inpatient programs in Southern Ontario more client-centred, respecting the importance of building a supportive relationship between addiction counsellors and the people they work with. Most programs are 21-days long and most of them are covered by OHIP. Although most programs support either long-term abstinence or moderate use goals, people attending inpatient programs are typically required to abstain while in the program as well as for at least a week prior to entering (so they are not going through intense withdrawal symptoms while in the program).

Most inpatient programs are designed in a way that requires the people in the program to be very busy for much of the day. Some of the day will usually be spent in ‘psycho-education’ groups, which focus on teaching about concepts relevant to overcoming addiction. There are often daily group therapy sessions, physical activity based sessions and art or music therapy sessions as well. People in the program will often have a counsellor assigned to them to help them to successfully navigate personal challenges they are encountering while in the program and to start to make plans for the important changes they will make in their lives after they leave the program.


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Inpatient programs have been primarily designed to help provide a type of jump-start or model for the type of healthy lifestyle which is most likely to allow graduates to maintain their treatment goals. The days are very structured – people eat regular meals and develop regular sleep routines, they engage in regular physical activity, spend most of their time engaging in positive social interactions and try to develop practices which help them to manage their emotions in less destructive ways. These lifestyle-related habits have been well researched and the evidence shows they lead to positive treatment outcomes. This is why these strategies are the focus of most treatment programs, including outpatient follow-up therapy.

The biggest change I usually observed in people after they have completed a 21-day inpatient program was in their ability to have faith in people again – including themselves. While most people seemed to come in with their guard up and their head down, the vast majority of graduates left the program more open to others and with more faith in themselves. I have often said to both my colleagues and graduates of 21-day programs that if we were all required to complete a 21-day inpatient program every few years – addiction issues or not – we would all be more grounded people and our society would probably be a much happier and healthier place.

If you are interested in exploring options for addressing addictive behaviours, either in your own or a loved one’s life, please contact us today.

 

 


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Some may read the title of this blog appalled by the assumption that everyone is an addict. So let’s consider this statement from Christopher Kennedy Lawford, author of “What Addicts Know.”

As a culture we’ve become addicted not only to gambling, drugs, alcohol, sex, and other suspects, but also technology and the acquisition of material possessions and every conceivable promise of instant gratification: More is better has become society’s mantra. We eat more, spend more, take more risks, abuse more substances…only to feel more depressed, unsatisfied, discontented, and unhappy. You may know these symptoms firsthand, or recognize them in the lives of people you care about,” (www.Today.com, January 16, 2014).

Given the statement above, we may all be able to identify that we have, or have had at some point, some addictive behaviours. Merriam-Webster’s definition states: Addiction: a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble). The key word is harmful. In this light, one could even postulate (and we have) people can be addicted to arguing and fighting, thus, also to the chemicals released from the adrenal gland?

Did you know the actual term “addiction” was originally used in the slave trade? (see Drugs, Morality and the Law). When a slave was sold to the “owner”, they were said to be addicted to their master which meant “tied to”. Well, if you and I can be tied to something… yes… we can also be untied! 

When asked in counselling; What is an addiction?, we often respond anything (thoughts, emotions and behaviours) that significantly interrupts or gets in the way of an important area of your life. Harmful may mean persistent thoughts and behaviours “threatening” to healthy functioning in our vocational (work/school), social, emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, family, marital spheres. Of course, we may all have a different definition of what “threatening” is as well and the threat may not be immediately evident, recognized or acknowledged.


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Admitting our personal areas that are unhealthy can be difficult enough to do and others generally see the problem before we do.  Owning hurtful behaviour exposes the “dark side” of being human, something few of us are comfortable letting out about ourselves. Many who do admit openly and acknowledge their addictive behaviour, report feeling liberated, relieved and energized with a renewed sense of hope and joy.

This is most evident for those with addictions who go through the recovery process (a clearly defined step-by-step program with accountability measures built in). Those who were once showing characteristics those around them would call deviant, deceptive, manipulative, self-absorbed, and disrespectful can come out of recovery having rediscovered long lost gifts of self-awareness, honesty, integrity, grace and forgiveness. In addition, when we overcome a particular challenge, we gain greater understanding into human behaviour and change processes, also gaining an acquired skill set to become the greatest role models and teachers.

So do we all need to be in recovery?

Consider these questions, also suggested from Lawford:

  • Am I generally content with the way things are?
  • Are my emotions mostly on an even keel?
  • Are my personal relationships strong and supportive?
  • Is there enough joy in my life?

Careful before you answer: Those in self-absorbed, manipulative and deceptive modes of functioning even “swindle” themselves to believe they are content and happy with their lives. So another question may also be considered when this is the case:

  • If there is content and joy in your life, why do you have feelings of being depressed, unsatisfied, and empty? (What is fueling this is not always “biochemistry”)

Instant gratification, the main ingredient and greatest influence of our addictive behaviours refuses to remind us of the fact that the satisfaction we experience is only temporary. Short-term gain, long-term pain! If we can consider those questions on a grand scheme of our lives, we may come to realize that we are not truly happy. We have lost sincere human connections with others through a series of poor thoughts and choices. We have been selfish and have neglected the true meaning of love, trust and support for others and for ourselves. We do need help.


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Changing ourselves without input from others doesn’t work. This is the profession of counselling: assisting others to bring out their inherent skills and qualities and develop new ones to effectively improve their quality of life, overcome challenges faced and, thus, develop satisfying and caring relationships with others. We can also get good coaching advice from books and web resources to be used in concert with evidence-based therapeutic counselling.

We can all benefit from quality counselling to improve our lives. Contact us today.

 


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How can one decide between a treatment plan that is strict on abstinent behaviours and one that offers stages of reducing addictive behaviours (“harm-reduction”). Some may prefer the latter because, to them, complete abstinence seems unrealistic, overwhelming, and destined for failure. Families may encourage abstinence programs because of the impact that addictive behaviour has made on family members’ lives. Nonetheless, the difficulty in choosing the right treatment program is not made any easier from simple internet research.

Studies have shown that regardless of the method employed to become sober/clean, the number one factor for sobriety success is a permanent commitment to discontinue use permanently; a commitment to abstinence. It actually is much easier to just give it up entirely than punish yourself trying to moderate or control your addictive behaviour (SMART Recovery).  That said, the more times you work on quitting an addiction, the better your chances of reaching the goal of quitting permanently.

Data from several countries shows that treatment policies that insist on abstinence lead to a greater number of deaths than those that allow some kind of substitution therapy, with safer opioids such as methadone or buprenorphine (Subutrex) for heroin use. Although less well studied, the same is likely to be true for alcohol, where substitution therapies such as oxybate and baclofen exist but are less widely used (The Guardian).

Many recovery program staff and professionals espouse that abstinence is the only viable approach, and they reject any program that does not demand abstinence. This is such an obvious truth for these disciples that further thought is pointless. (Canadian Harm Reduction Network)

Despite their popularity, abstinence programs have come increasingly under pressure from research. Scholarly studies based on motivation theory, pharmacotherapy, and cognitive-behavioural therapy have shown that abstinence is not the sole route to recovery from addiction. Although proponents of the abstinence approach have argued that drug use is the defining feature between recovery and addiction, most experts believe that recovery is more accurately represented as a process in which clients move through a series of distinct stages, including relapse (Prochaska, Norcross, & DiClemente, 1995).

The different forms of information out there are not providing much ease in choosing the right treatment program. The choice should not be made according to majority votes or majority statistics. The choice should be made based on the addicted individual’s (1) willingness to recover, (2) individual goals, and (3) understanding of the impact the addictive behaviour has on his/her life and the life of others. When these are established, treatment programs can effectively address the person’s specific needs as well as those in their family.

Contact us today for more information and to start an individual assessment and to explore your addiction treatment program options.