Friday, March 25, 2016

Navigating Labels In Addiction

Rose Lockinger, another sober and passionate member of the Recovery community is sharing an important article she wrote that I wanted to share on my blog:

Addict. Alcoholic. Drunk. Lush. Junkie. Offender. Criminal. Sober. Clean. Recovering Addict.

These are some words, labels and terms that are frequently tossed around in and out of the addiction and recovery community. They can be confusing. They can be derogatory. One simple word, turned into a label, can have the power to change your life and the way people see you. So what does it all mean, and what needs to change?

Labels And Stigma

First, let’s address the power of labels in society. Society loves labels. Labels are a way of identifying, categorizing and filtering. As people, we often use labels to save us the trouble of digging any deeper. We run across many people in our lives, and we frequently use labels to help us determine who we should avoid, who is important, who we can be friends with, and who we should be afraid of. Labels are limiting and damaging.

When it comes to the disease of addiction, labels are thrown around pretty casually, and they can have a significant impact on how a person is viewed in society. Take the words “addict” and “alcoholic.” Within the addiction recovery and treatment world, these words aren’t negative. They are identifying terms that indicate someone has a problem, or had a problem. Outside of this community, the label “addict” can cause people a great deal of alarm. Alcoholic is generally not viewed quite as badly, but there is still a great deal of stigma in both those labels.

More derogatory labels include: Junkie, drunk, crackhead, tweaker, lush, etc. These are words that are used by many to describe people who are struggling with the disease of addiction. People who may die if they don’t get help, and people who are capable of recovering and leading full, satisfying and successful lives if they do get help.

These derogatory terms are used to criminalize and make a moral judgement against the people who are struggling with this powerful illness. It is no different than making a derogatory label for someone who is fighting cancer or diabetes, but people think nothing of throwing around a term like “junkie” for a person who is facing death each and every day.

Changing the language we use to label people who are addicted can help reduce stigma, shame and help in decriminalizing people who are sick and need help. A place to start this change would be in the treatment setting itself.  Starting with changing the way that addicts talk about themselves early on would be key in revolutionizing the way that they view themselves.  It should be stressed that instead of addict they have a problem with substance use.  Residential treatment is an appropriate setting to start this change as an important part is education and information on the disease itself. 

12 Step Confusion

Even within the addiction and recovery community, labels can be confusing. You will hear the terms “addict” and “alcoholic” used interchangeably, and you will also hear “sober” “clean” and “clean and sober” used frequently. This is a common issue in twelve step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous keeps the focus on alcohol, although plenty of recovering alcoholics also struggled with drugs. Narcotics anonymous considers alcohol a drug, so regardless of what substance you struggled with,  you are an addict, or a recovering addict. If you are an addict who is no longer using, you are considered “clean.” People of either fellowship who are working a program, are considered to be in recovery. You can see where all this terminology can create confusion.

Being A Recovering Addict Or Alcoholic

There are times when disclosing that you are in recovery will happen. Unfortunately, when you identify yourself with the label recovering addict or alcoholic, you run the risk that people may only hear the second word. People often have the mistaken belief that being an addict or alcoholic means that you are somehow damaged beyond repair, and that people who have struggled with addiction can’t change or are bad people. This is a belief that must change, and the stigma of addiction must be removed. When this happens, these labels will cease to have the negative power that they currently still hold.

How Can It Change?

It is changing, albeit slowly. There was a time when addiction was simply not talked about. People didn’t admit that they had a problem to just anyone, and they didn’t talk about their recovery, either. High profile people kept their struggles under wraps as best they could. Being an addict or an alcoholic was shameful, and other than the inevitable gossip, it simply wasn’t addressed. This has changed. More and more people are “coming out” as being in recovery.  People are sharing their stories, publicly. Awareness of addiction is increasing. There is still a long way to go. People still insist on holding on to derogatory labels and stereotypes, but education and awareness is starting to chip away at it.

Today not only do we see the public struggles that celebrities have with substances but it also becoming a hip thing to share that you are in recovery. Celebrities and their struggle with substance abuse is nothing new.  In the year of 2015 there were tragic struggles with substance abuse and celebrity drug related death.  More and more people are coming forward and talking about how they sought help and recovered. They are even starting to fight for increased awareness and acceptance, many of them coming forward publicly to speak about their own struggles.

Social movements are also contributing to changing labels.  The movements of Young People in Recovery and I am Not Anonymous are both organizations that are advocating for change in the way that addicts talk about themselves and about each other. Labels are powerful and affect the way that we think about ourselves there is even a psychological term that refers to the power they have.  Self Fulfilling Prophecy- is when a person unknowingly causes a prediction to come true, due to the simple fact that he or she expects it to come true. In other words, an expectation about a subject, such as a person or event, can affect our behavior towards that subject, which causes the expectation to be realized.  This is important to remember how many things have you willed into your life because of distorted expectations of yourself?  Personally this is a criticism I have of 12-step programs that they need to encourage the use of recovering addict or alcoholic not the terms alone.   What we say and think about ourselves is so powerful!  Please remember this the next time you want to call yourself an idiot or stupid. 

As science learns more about the disease of addiction and educates the public about
what it is, people will begin to understand that it is an illness, not a moral or criminal issue.  What is going to make the biggest impact is the continued efforts of people raising their voices and saying I am in Recovery I was an addict.  People coming forward and breaking the silence showing that recovery is possible and does happen with treatment.  The thing is we do not shame or silence people for having other chronic health problems, why should we continue to do this with addiction.

Whether you consider yourself a recovering addict or alcoholic, either way you are a miracle. If you are still struggling with the disease of addiction, know that recovery is possible.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

This week we have a guest blog post by Ocean Breeze Recovery.

The Riddle of Addiction by Ocean Breeze Recovery:

What is addiction?

Typically, the textbook example of addiction says that, addiction is a condition in which an individual ingests some substance or participates in a behavior harmful to themselves or others, but is also found pleasurable to the point that the neural networks in the brain hardwire that behavior into the individuals framework.

This very black and white explanation is great on the surface, but for us flawed humans, tends to not factor into it the behavior we all exhibit relating to it. There is a mystery to the way many see addiction. Can it be said that one is addicted to water? Most certainly, without water we would most certainly die. If starved from water long enough, wed long for it like a euphoric paradise.

Can it be said that one is addicted to food? Definitely. Some more than others, but for the most part we all are. Without food our very society might collapse. Famine alone has been known to cause wars and bring about the darker side of humanity, but all in all we still need it.

The only reason we even need these substances is because our brain knows it needs them to survive. It will then manipulate the emotions and taint the actions of whoever it controls, to the point we eventually become powerless to the needs of the flesh.  Without our brain reacting to these external factors that might cause the body harm, we would most likely not be here as a species, hence is the very nature of the universe. But what if the brain is getting a misinterpretation of what the body was feeding it?

What if the brain cant tell the difference between something the soul wants and something the body needs?

The brain is the command hub of every living being. It will always call the shots as to what the body does. Through our daily motions, we feed information to this command hub, which will then interpret and give out commands. But all to often we feed it wrong and manipulated information regarding the world around it. We tell it that we crave that extra cigarette like we crave water when were thirsty. Soon the brain will react accordingly. The brain doesnt know the difference between water and the cigarette, it just knows that according to the body it controls, it needs it. Through time and error, we eventually lie and manipulate the brain into thinking this is part of its reality. No longer will the brain try and sort out that information. Now it knows that whatever substance the body craves, it must crave because it's vital.

It is this that makes addiction so prevalent and confusing to many.

Addiction over time becomes another element in nature like water is to the laymen. The addict unknowingly modified the brain into thinking something about reality that isnt real. But in all its glory as the most complicated and successful machine we know of yet in the universe, it adapts and does its job fantastically. Addiction now has became a certain part of what the brain considers reality, and changing neural superhighways in the brain, created in this mass exodus of new information, can sometimes be a life long struggle.

It is because this strange paradox of addiction that many have an even harder time to understand it.

If a man were walking around with a visibly crushed foot, it wouldnt take long for someone to stop him and take him to a hospital. The damage is clearly debilitating, if not excruciating. Rarely if ever, would we hear of someone saying that the person is weak That the person should just suck it up. If anybody would ever say such ludicrous things, they would be seen as a person gone mad.

We now know addiction changes and cripples the brain like the crushed foot of the man earlier. But somehow because the injury isnt visible, we treat it completely differently.

This type of thinking is the antithesis of what it is to think rationally. We know now, more than ever before what is going on in the mind of an addict. The disease of addiction, like viruses manipulating the DNA it invades, changes the way the brain will react to external stimuli. Simply because the way addictions are formed, anything and everything can cause it. The reason we as rational human beings dont get addicted to everything is because we build within ourselves a resiliency.

Understanding Addiction

A simple and easy way to understand the very many faces of addiction is to use going to the gym as an example. Going to the gym is difficult for most people, reason being that we are putting time aside from our day only to inflict pain and stress on our body. Naturally the human body will fight this by way of procrastinating and making up excuses as to why not to go. It is in this phase that it is easy to fall into temptation and give up, as many people do.

How, might one ask is addiction prevalent to that?

How would anyone get addicted to pain and stress?

If one were to ask around to those people we see wake up early every morning to go for a run, or people who go the gym after work day after day, many will give the same excuse: they feel terrible when they dont. In their brain they have cemented a benevolent addiction of sorts, that only after forcing their bodys to withstanding it, the brain eventual responded by making room for this new information, information the body thinks is important enough to warrant it a permanent mental task.

Giving the example of the gym and running might seem absurd to some, but I used those examples only to show the strength at which the brain will make real estate in itself for any task we deem important. The brain doesnt know whether a certain activity is good for it or if something else is bad for it. What it knows is positive stimuli and negative stimuli. When the body responds positively to an action, the brain records it and makes a note. Depending on how much the body want it, it will actively seek whatever that might be, creating the addiction.

Addiction is something that every living being will always have to deal with.

It is a mechanism that our very own body created for our survival, but that mechanism is easily able to change and run amuck unknowingly. Becoming more aware and understanding what addiction is and how one can benefit from it rather than suffer from it, is vital for all our futures. Understanding that we can use its own momentum for us rather than against us.

It is the riddle that addiction truly is. Terrible, destructive, and yet undoubtedly needed. It is a tool that can burden us for eternity, or simply make us stronger to it. However, it ultimately depends on the person using it that will determine its inevitable outcome.

 Contact Ocean Breeze Recovery Today
 If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, contact Ocean Breeze Recovery today at 1.855.960.5341 to speak to an addiction specialist about getting help now. Dont wait.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Living an Honest Life

One of my biggest reliefs when I got sober was that I could stop lying.  The jig was up – no more BS and lies to family and friends about “what I was doing”.  It was such a relief not to carry that bag around with me, especially because I wasn’t a good liar.  I got caught a lot – whether it was white lies or stealing or making up stories (that was one of my biggest charades), it seemed no one really ever believed me.  Or at least I didn’t think they did. I was able to compartmentalize my indiscretions and turn into who you wanted me to be.  I did this for a very long time and surrounded myself with others that seemed to be doing the same thing. 

So when I made the choice to get sober, the lying stopped.  I had nothing to lie about anymore.  The freedom I felt from that is unlike any other.  It’s hard to explain, but to use an analogy it was kind of like living in color vs. black and white.  I found the yellow brick road and my life made sense.  I realized that not living an honest life was such a draw back to who I was as a person that I didn’t even realize what being honest was all about.  Sure it was easy to be cash register honest, but to be truly honest with who I was and what kind of a person I wanted to be came slowly.  I had to ask my new sober tribe how to be honest and what did that look like?  Two Examples:  I was a few years sober and was traveling in Palm Springs with my sober tribe and when we were leaving to travel back home and driving out of the hotel, sober driver commented, “Hey what’s with all the towels in the back seat?” I piped in, “Oh those are mine, I snagged them from the Hotel.”  Apparently that is called stealing.  Even at three years sober I didn’t realize some of my prior behaviors were still considered dishonest.  Who knew? 

The stronger example would be on the crush I had on someone when I was newly sober, I called him my “imaginary boyfriend” and my sponsor at the time said I wasn’t sober enough yet to tell him how I truly felt.  The thought of telling anyone how I truly felt, let alone a guy, was just so unfathomable to me.  When I was sober almost a year, I did tell this person how I felt – we were good friends – so it wasn’t awkward for me to have normal daily conversations with him.  So when I was finally guided by my sponsor and another wise sober woman on how to communicate my feelings to Mr. Imaginary, I felt like I was a teenager and fraught with nervous energy.  That was the first time I had to get really honest with someone in early recovery and it was so hard to do.  Be honest.  Share how you feel.  Be true to yourself.  All of that – just gut wrenching.  Mr. Imaginary was kind in his response, but not interested.  I was crushed – but I learned so much from that experience.  It gave me confidence, self-worth and integrity, and really helped me move forward on my journey of sobriety and recovery.   Fast forward almost 12 years later and speaking my truth isn’t as difficult as it was then. I rarely lie – and if I do – well it’s not as bad as it used to be.  I think my most recent lie was to my boss about “attending a family event” for a 4 day vacation trip to San Diego to attend a recovery conference.  I don’t really think that’s lying, I think it’s just taking care of myself and not offering personal info to my boss.  My anonymity is important to me and when, and if I see a need to divulge that, then I will, but for now no need .

A friend of mine, who has relapsed off and on for the past few years, recently said to me, “I want to live an honest life” and I totally understood what he meant. It’s a rush to live our lives with honesty and integrity.  It’s just a shame that not everyone is on the same path as my sober self and I can only hope that the Universe knows I’m doing my best one honest day at a time. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Getting a sponsor - its important - at least it was for me!

Did you get a sponsor yet?

That was the $64,000 question I kept hearing when I walked into the rooms.  I didn’t really know what a Sponsor was, but I was so annoyed that everyone kept asking me that it definitely pushed me to get one sooner rather than later.

In my first week of sobriety I went to my first women’s meeting, as it was suggested for me to do, and that’s where I found my first sponsor.  She was a nice lady who said Hi to me in the bathroom.  First Sponsor had a nice outfit on, her smile made me feel at home and she was about the same age as me. Also, she had this confidence and air about her that made me feel relaxed and calm.  Moreover, when I heard her share at the meeting she shared about her anger towards her husband and how he pissed her off so much she fled the house and checked into the most expensive hotel in town – I knew right then and there, I wanted her to be my Sponsor.  I related to that feeling of “F you” and I’ll do whatever I damn well please.  She was exactly what I needed in my first year of recovery. 

However, no one sat me down and told me how to find a sponsor and what to look for.  I didn’t get the crash course in “how to sponsor shop”.  I’m over 11 years sober now and I’ve moved at least four times in sobriety -- so I’ve had a few sponsors.  I wanted to share my cliff notes on what I look for when I’m “sponsor shopping” hoping I’ll be able to help someone else in their quest for a new, or first time sponsor.

1.    You need to want what they have:  I was told this early on in recovery and I didn’t understand what it meant until I did.  I was probably about 45 days sober when I realized that I was surrounded by very good sobriety, specifically the women. They all had double digit sobriety, there were about 7 of them in our Fellowship, and they exuded confidence, grace, wisdom and God in their daily life - I referred to them as the “Spiritual Goddesses” because I wanted what they had.  All those women are still sober today and ladies that I am lucky to call friends.  

2.    Find out if they have a sponsor:  I didn’t know this when I asked my first sponsor.  But it’s important to know that your Sponsor is being sponsored and runs a program as well.  How can they work the steps with you if they too aren’t being active in their own program?  There are many folks in the rooms that don’t work the steps or have a sponsor.  Somehow they can still stay sober, but I usually don’t want what they have.  I want to have a sponsor who is actively working a program and seems to put her program first – that’s the most important thing to me. 

3.    How much sober time do they have?: This is another question I didn’t ask my first sponsor – however, it didn’t matter to me at the time.  However, I think it’s usually important to make sure they have more time in the program than you do.  It’s not a must have, but it makes the sponsor/sponsee relationship more even-keeled.  I started sponsoring my first sponsee when I was eight months sober and she had under 30 days.  It was kind of a fluke, but I took this young gal under my wing and she started calling every day and within a week or so she asked if I’d sponsor her.  It took me by surprise as I didn’t feel qualified to do so, but my sponsor had commented to me that I hmad more time than her and was already mid-way through my steps and that one of the most important pieces of the program was our service to others.  It was such a great experience for me as I learned early on the how to be a good sponsor to someone else.

4.    Find out how they work their program:  Some sponsors like to take you through the Big Book and read it with you and highlight and disucss and do the corresponding step work.  Some like to take you through the 12 x 12 (12 steps and 12 traditions) and some have their own methods using AA or even non AA approved literature.  This is an important question to find out as it may dictate to you whether or not this person would be a good fit for you.  In turn, I would also ask them “What do they expect from you?”  Some sponsors like you to call them daily or weekly and meet each week.  While others may be more easy going – it’s really just a preference as to what “kind” of sponsor you may need at the time. Some of us like discipline and rigidity and thrive in that kind of relationship.  On the other hand, some of us won’t take so easily to that approach and will want a little more softer and gentler approach.  Make sure you find what suits your needs for your recovery.   

5.    Find someone who is a good match with you:  This suggestion may seem a bit off base, but personally, I’ve found it easier to bond with a sponsor who has the same life situation that I may have.  In the beginning, I was single for a while and felt I had a stronger bond with my sponsor that also was single.  Then when I got into a relationship I sought out a sponsor who had been in, or was currently in, a sober relationship so I could go to her with my relationship questions – because let’s face it, getting into a relationship in early sobriety (which for me was a little over a year in) is much more challenging than when we were drinking.  Alternatively, I found too when I was sponsoring that it was easier for me to offer my experiences as a single, or now married, woman in recovery.  Since I’ve never been a Mom and haven’t had any kids, it’s been more challenging for me to sponsor women that have had children, as I wasn’t able to offer any sober life experiences to them. 

Sponsorship is a little like dating.  It’s finding that perfectperson who will inspire you and lift you up.  That person that will make you want to be a better human and push you to the limits of your character.  If you have a sponsor who doesn’t want the best for you and who isn’t available to you, I would strongly suggest getting a new one.  There is no right or wrong kind of sponsor to have – just as long as you get one.  And sometimes the timing could be for a few weeks, a couple of months, or years  - it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have one.  I don’t feel bad when I have had to switch sponsors either, as each new sponsor is placing different stepping stones along my recovery path.  I truly believe that God has put specific woman in my life at exactly the right time.

Each new experience with these women strengthens my recovery and makes me feel like I fit in and belong.  And isn’t that what we all strive for? That sense of belonging and completeness?  Pretty sure that’s what makes me keep coming back.