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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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From Blame to Ownership

“I started working at sixteen. Wanting to make my own money and buy my own things. The only lessons on saving (if you’d like to call it that), came from my mom saying that I should put a little away and give some to the church. My young ignorant mind knew nothing about credit, debt, fees, or expenses. And that little bit that I was supposed to be putting away was rarely done. I’ll always be making money….right?

Well, after university with four credit cards and my line of credit maxed out, I was forced to wake up. My financial instability felt like walking with a heavy weighted ball chained to my leg. When pay day arrived, I felt a glimmer of sunshine beam down on my face, through this cloud of debt, only to have to contribute 90% of it to a credit card or bank debt.


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Many young adults can relate to this scenario. We ask ourselves if we will ever get out of this cycle of debt. Will we ever be able to make more than minimal payments? When we experience days of frustration, we sometimes place or want to place the blame on others. We might blame parents for not teaching enough financial lessons or we may place blame on creditors for making it impossible to make larger payments due to interest fees.

The trouble with placing blame on others is that it does not provide a solution for financial strain. What can provide a ray of sunshine and power is to look within. Taking ownership for the decisions we have made helps increase optimism and opens up opportunities. We actually get energy from taking responsibility for our situation. We can even become more open to assistance from others, professionals and family. Counselling helps many individuals achieve their goals of financial freedom.

Financial counselling helps by assessing behaviour trends in our spending. For example, many of us may use the phrase, “I need this,” rather than “I want this.” We have grown accustomed to using the word ‘need’ to refer to a ‘want.’ When we look into how and why we are spending, great changes in our spending behaviours can be altered.

Counselling also helps us create a plan. A counsellor may hold us accountable to our plan, in a non-judgmental way, helping us chip away at debt with a consistent and calculated approach. Creating a plan to better manage our income, savings, and our debts is an approach to get us out of being in a stressful financial cycle. The plan shows us what we are moving towards. Money troubles??? … get help!


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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.

 

Addiction Recovery: Hope May Be A Bit Blurry At First

Entering an inpatient addiction recovery program can be seen as the most difficult step and a very challenging experience in the life of those struggling with addictive behaviour. The full exposure of the person’s history is to be revealed and, depending on the specific program, exposure can be up to fifteen hours daily (most programs average 20 to 45 days). One requires an acknowledgment of and a “breaking down” of the old negative patterns in order to make room for new strengths and healthier behaviours.

Once deconstruction of the old ways occurs, the person recovering now has room to develop a new perspective, receive new tools for coping and to develop realistic and achievable goals. As the more positive outlook develops and an optimistic narrative unfolds, people in rehabilitation can begin the process of rebuilding relationship patterns with loved ones. Life changes need to be made, both during and after recovery, with the person in treatment co-writing the “how to” and positive choices ahead.

Following the short-term treatment program, however, it is a whole new ball game. While residential rehab may be quite intense, “aftercare” can prove to be even more taxing than the relatively brief inpatient process. One explanation is the significant decrease in support outside of the treatment facility. Twenty-four hour support is not possible like it was in recovery. In times of need and temptation, it is easier to feel alone and uncertain. It is very important to put an aftercare support system in place, prior to exiting, with many programs encouraging this to be developed from the very day of admission.

Here are some tips that can help people successfully transition back into the community:

  • Get a sponsor / accountability person
  • Seek a professional, experienced addictions counsellor.
  • Reach out to support groups (AA or SA have meetings every day of the week).
  • Take care of yourself and attend to your feelings and practical needs (food, sleep, work etc.)
  • Rediscover your inner child. You’ll be surprised by the peace and joy that can be experienced by simple, basic playful activities.
  • Work on your relationships.
  • Include  one or two loved ones in your recovery process
  • Have personal conversations about your addiction (e.g. mutually share each other’s thoughts, feelings, the impact of your addiction and hopes and goals)

Life after recovery programs can be quite challenging; Prepare for it in advance. Seek out and rely on the resources available to bolster the effectiveness of your success. Call us today so we can help you with this life transition.

Horrendous secrets many people carry for months, years, decades and maybe even to their grave can lead to debilitating stress. This can result in what many people call a “break-down”.  It was historically referred to as a “nervous breakdown”, “hysteria” and “shell shock”.

I like to call it a “letting out“, in what may appear like sudden release of the awful trauma from the past. The information may be considered held in the background of the mind until the person suffering is better equipped to deal with it. It can take years to reach the point of release. When the abuse and violence happens during childhood, it is quite common to keep it secret; possibly not wanting further upset in the family, because of embarrassment, confusion, shame and guilt or simply because the child has no way of dealing with this at their age and stage.

This is a very serious psychological dilemma, a catch twenty-two. Victims are caught between two very stressful choices: speak up or not?

Studies show as many as one in four girls and one in six boys experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of eighteen. Not only is the offending behaviour severely troubling at the time, in the years that follow there is usually increase in emotional upset and imbalance. Negative thoughts can gradually increase with one’s heightened awareness of the nature of such an offence, the stigma associated and throughout the subsequent stages of sexual development.  

Of course, with the negative thoughts, or what I reframe as “stinkin thinkin“, comes negative emotional states and the negative behavioural patterns are not far behind. Those suffering from what Judith Herman (Trauma and Recovery, 1992) first called post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (or reaction – PTSR) may display symptoms often related to depression or anxiety, may engage in harmful and hurtful “risk-taking” behaviours, substance misuse and experience severe and chronic difficulties with relationships.

If you have experienced such a trauma, and feel ready and able to work on this obstacle to growth, I encourage you to seek out a specialized professional counsellor for assistance. There are also good books and resources to use in combination with recovery and restorative therapy. For more information on this and other issues  Contact us today

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Why stop any addictive behaviour? Because it has reached the point where it is getting in the way of important relationships, blocking progress at home and work and/or because you simply want a better quality of life. Addictions can become such habitual behaviour that the body and mind simply become used to this.  Stopping addictive behaviour in its tracks often requires a team effort with a wide variety of supports and strategies.

Motivation to change increases when we explore the benefits or positive results that will happen as we take back control of our health.

One young man listed his top 10 motivators for stopping drinking as follows:

  1. Better myself
  2. Quality of life – e.g. travel, socialize
  3. Accomplish things – around house, with friends, at work
  4. Own a house – currently drinking a mortgage payment per month
  5. Family’s well being – so they don’t worry and are happier with me
  6. Physical health – healthier energy levels, organ functioning and sexuality
  7. Mental health – increased confidence, happiness and peace
  8. Spiritual health – strengthen my spirit, explore faith possibilities
  9. $$$$$ – save and re-invest thousands ($1000.00 to $1400.00 per month)
  10. LOVE – express this emotion through my actions toward me and others more!

Addictions can become all consuming thoughts and actions interfering with almost every area of our lives. No matter what the addiction, we can overcome it with help and by shifting our thoughts toward more hopeful and positive ones. Intentionally changing our mind is complicated.

Our professional registered counselors in Oshawa can assist you anywhere in Durham Region or even farther via internet video counselling sessions.

If you are, or a friend of yours is, struggling with an addictive behaviour, one that is causing you concern… even modest concern…then dig deep for the courage to reach out for help!  To find out how we can help Contact us today

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