Addiction comes in all forms and wears many disguises, and even though you cannot always identify them, they are always bound up in the history of the family. Through some intensive work I have done at various rehabs, I have conceived of a program for “Overcoming Addiction Through A Holistic Approach.” The reason for this being that from my vantage point, the first 30 days of sobriety are only the beginning and one must follow up with aftercare which includes some kind of program – be it AA or a similar program, as well as psychotherapy for the addict and their family. The addict cannot go back to the dysfunctional situation without information, education and insight. Alanon can also play an important part for the family members. Addiction is often a combination of a genetic predisposition and the particular dysfunctional environment of the family that the addict grew up in.
It is common knowledge that some people have alcoholism in their families and do not grow up to become alcoholics or addicts. Let me address this. Things that tend to contribute to addiction in families might center around abuse (physical, sexual, emotional), lack of appropriate boundaries, neglect, loss, easy availability of drugs or alcohol at schools and parties for adolescents and the world they live in. In the past, it was felt that going to a treatment program such as Betty Ford was the answer. But I have come to see through my work that there is much more depth in a holistic approach that I shall discuss in this article.
Let me begin on a positive note. I would like to refer to Melanie Beattie and her book “The Language of Letting Go” and the meditation called “Gratitude”. In it she talks about being thankful for our problems, our difficulties, our challenges, even our enemies or rivals. These things help us define who we are and challenge us to become our best which allows us to grow. Instead of complaining about that problem or circumstance, Beattie says thank it for being there. There are valuable life lessons hidden in seemingly difficult life situations. OUR ENEMIES ARE OUR TEACHERS. There are a lot of people I have worked with in hind sight 15 or 20 years later that have said getting sober and going through that experience was the best thing that ever happened to them. It is such a sense of victory, heroism and bravery. It is something that you own that no one can ever take away. You know that if you can conquer this, you can conquer anything!
When you are an addict, the family focuses on you. I will call the addict the Identified Patient. If I’m the mother, I don’t have to look at my own problems, I’m focusing on how to make you better. That becomes all of our roles in the family. It’s a diversion. Once the Identified Patient gets sober and begins to heal, the family members are now freed to once again look at their own problems. This can be very uncomfortable. The family fights for homeostatis – which means keeping things the same. It’s familiar. The known and familiar is always more comfortable than change and the unknown. This becomes a delicate time in the recovery process. This is often the moment when families throw up their hands and create a new drama by cutting off their support (i.e. financial-therapy and emotional).
One of the most important things an addict must learn is how to take care of oneself in relationships as a newly sober person. All of the issues that the addict has been burying by self-medicating will now begin to rise to the surface and how to navigate thru that process is one of their biggest challenges. Support during this transitional time is crucial. Psychotherapy in addition to a 12 step program is essential. A 12 step program for support of others – the knowing you are not alone – you are all sharing the issue of addiction. It teaches you, among other things, how to be accountable. Psychotherapy because each of us is a unique individual with our own personal story to tell. One must honor that. The beginning process of psychotherapy is important because the therapist joins with the addict, establishes trust and becomes the holder of the hope. As therapy progresses, the client becomes more able to mourn their losses and pay their respect to the child they once were while building self respect and dignity. I have often likened therapy to the characters on the yellow brick road, off to find the wizard…to restore and return to them courage, strength and an ability to love. I’d also like to say a few words regarding cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy can provide help in teaching the addict how to recognize the events, thoughts and feelings that lead to self destructive behavior and can also give them the tools to change that behavior.
Most addicts suffer from depression which is why they start self medicating in the first place. Often times it can be beneficial to work with your therapist and psychopharmachologist as well. They should both consult with each other and be a support team. Many people who self- medicate lack the ability to soothe and calm themselves. Meditation, guided imagery, yoga, journaling (as well as humor and laughter) are all effective in gaining self soothing abilities. Exercise such as running or working out at a gym is also important and releases endorphins which are crucial to releasing tension and feeling good.
These things will help to identify your triggers, learn how to get focused and centered , have confidence in taking risks , and teach one to stay balanced. For instance, when I was working in a particular rehab, one of my clients after the fact, was able to recognize her trigger and recount to me that after a good workout at the gym, she withdrew money and bought herself a drink. She recognized through therapy how anxious she felt over looking good. My client soon came to understand that even though she was able to recognize her trigger, staying sober is a choice. But, make no mistake. Without making that choice – no meeting, no amount of therapy alone, can keep you sober. It is important to think of sobriety not as a SPRINT – but as a LIFELONG MARATHON!
Now I want to address unrealistic expectations. As a woman there is an unconscious wish for a knight in white shining armor to rescue us and keep us safe. In real life, there is no white knight. It is important to keep our expectations realistic. Disappointment leads to anger and hurt which tempts us to drink or use. One thing we learn in sobriety is that we must be our own heroes and rescuers!
As you read this article, take a moment and think about a time when you felt empowered – when you have been your own hero. Was there a cigarette you didn’t take, a piece of cake you didn’t eat, an airplane you were afraid to go on that you did, a drink that you didn’t take, where you felt like your OWN HERO? You overcame an obstacle!
Then you know what victory feels like and what sobriety feels like. How empowering that can be….
I want to take a minute here to return to an issue that is often present in the making of an addict and the relapse of an addict. How many of you reading this article remember the inanimate object that you became attached to as a young child (the blankie, teddy bear, etc.)? This is referred to as the transitional object. A concrete object that is not me and not mommie that often gives us the courage to go out into the world. As a therapist I often get concerned when a client tells me they never had a teddy or a favorite blankie. During the period of beginning to separate from mom, the child becomes aware that there are two people, not just one. A new kind of relationship is born. The child cannot at this point run back to being an infant nor can it run out into the world alone. This transitional object (the blankie) gives the child courage. This object can also give the child more ability and confidence to soothe and calm itself.
It has been said that addiction is related to some maladapted form of a transitional object. One in which the addiction is used to try to soothe and calm oneself. Addiction is also often used for the courage to separate to go out into the world.
I’m presenting this because I want to state that the lack of ability to self-soothe and calm oneself, as well as the lack of sense of competency and courage, is not only present during the making of an addict but also reappears throughout your entire life. Whenever a challenge appears, the longing to self-soothe will come up again and again. This is why I cannot reiterate strongly enough the need for support through mind, body and spirit.
In returning to the topic of aftercare, too many people are still under the impression that 30, 60 or even 90 days in rehab will resolve all their problems. What a timely topic this has been in the newspapers and on the news. Especially if your name is well known on a daily basis, we hear of one relapse after another. This is a disease of relapse. Thirty days of sobriety is only a beginning. Many addicts before they even go into rehab have to detox first. They then proceed to rehab for 30 to 90 days. After that the real journey begins.
We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. One way to be prepared is to think negatively. Let me explain. I’m a great optimist. But when I’m trying to make a decision, I often think of the worse case scenario. If I do something, what is the most terrible thing that could happen? Would I be eaten by wolves? One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose. There are lots of things I don’t worry about because I have a plan in place if they do. I am always prepared.
You have life insurance – right? You also need emotional insurance. The premiums for emotional insurance are paid for with your time, not your money. Nurture yourself spiritually.
One of the greatest forms of learning how to self-soothe and calm yourself is spirituality. This fills the empty space where the drinking and the drugs previously filled. I can’t emphasize enough the need for spirituality be it religion, meditation, mindfulness or yoga. You need something to fill that emptiness, that hole. It is the nature of man to need a spiritual life to provide protection and courage as well as passion. I am also a recovering addict of thirty years. When I was in the darkest part of my recovery, I was in therapy and I can remember my therapist saying find your passion. It took a long time. It was not my mothers artistic ability, not gardening, nor music, but when I lifted my tennis racquet, I found my passion. Playing tennis filled the empty space, helped me deal with anger, frustration, disappointment and released endorphins that gave me a tool for self-soothing. I always feel great after a good game of tennis! It is such a good distraction and you get to exercise and take care of your body as it relieves all your stress.
In closing, I want to talk about the film “What the Bleep Do We Know?” It was a fascinating movie all about quantum physics. The part I would like to refer to now is the story of water. These physicists took a glass of water, had a Rabbi bless it and a psychotherapist say loving and nurturing things to the water. They then took this water and put it under the microscope. They found the water completely changed its molecular structure. This made them curious. They then took another glass of water and played loud, angry music to the water and said mean, nasty things to the water. The physicists then took this glass of water and put it under the microscope. They found the water again completely changed its molecular structure in a whole different way. What they discovered is that water responds to thought. Human beings are 90% water!
Self approval and self acceptance in the now are keys to positive changes. Every thought we think is creating our future. Everyone suffers from some form of self-hatred and guilt. The bottom line for everyone is “I’m not good enough.” It is only a thought, and thoughts can be changed. In this program, we learn to forgive and love ourselves. Self-approval and self-acceptance are keys to positive change. This is a valuable component of getting sober and through insight, education, courage and tenacity to staying sober. This will result in one leading a healthier, sober, more balanced, quality of life which open the door for joy, prosperity, hope and love.
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