Tending the Fires of Self-Care

Do you ever get lessons or metaphors from everyday actions? I get them quite often and wanted to share this one that popped up on a chilly, snowy day last winter.

Photo by andre govia on Unsplash

I am fortunate enough to have a fireplace. I am even more fortunate that I was able to have an insert put in, which is basically a wood-burning stove with a nice glass door so that I can still see the flames crackling away.  Don’t you feel warmer just reading that? I certainly do.


On this particular day, I started a fire and closed the door. At first, the cheery fire burned brightly. Then I went out of the room, and when I came back, the fire was almost out. I pretty much had to start from scratch to get the fire going again, which was the lesson. I needed to tend the fire. To check on it frequently, even when it was burning brightly. I needed to keep feeding it, to add wood in the right size pieces. The hotter the fire burned, the bigger log I could put on.  If I started the fire and as soon as a flame showed up, I put too big a log on so I didn’t have to tend it so frequently, I would smother the fire. If I kept putting kindling size sticks on an established fire, the would burn out quickly, and I would either have to keep putting more and more on more frequently, or the fire would burn itself out in short order.

What does this have to do with self-care? It’s a similar process to take care of one’s self on every level: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. We need to develop a regular habit, with frequent checking. It will be most beneficial to start with small, consistent actions. As we get more comfortable with these actions, as they become a part of what we do regularly, we can add more or bigger actions.

On the physical and mental levels, it could be starting yoga. You might take a yoga class once a week. When you are comfortable with that (and you might be surprised how quickly that can happen) you can add a second class, or start a practice at home. The better you feel, the more motivated you will be to continue the practice. That’s feeding the fire, the weekly class. The bigger log is adding another class. It becomes easy and regular practice to keep feeding your fire often enough with just the right log to keep it burning brightly.

On the emotional level, it might be finding a therapist to help you break through the blocks and barriers to feeling how you want to feel. I see that as finding the right size log at the right time to keep the fire burning, but not smothering it or having it burn out too quickly.  When you understand your feelings, and how feelings impact behaviors, you are on your way to a more mindful way of living. Not that you won’t feel the undesirable feelings, but that you learn that undesirable feelings pass, and don’t need to result in undesirable actions.

The spiritual level is very personal and could be a very long post. In essence, what is it that feeds your soul, that connects you to the bigger energy outside of yourself? What kind of community or practice fuels you? I wonder if this is less about the wood and more about the reaction with air, which is also necessary to keep a fire burning.

Self-care is an ongoing process of connecting all the elements that keep you burning brightly. It can be joyful, sometimes a little painful, sometimes a little difficult journey with bright rewards along the way.

Should We Do An Intervention?

This is a question that I get asked frequently. I have posted about this before, and it is such an important question, that I realized that I need to comment about it often.

Families and friends of addicts and alcoholics rarely come to me to ask for help for themselves. They are worried about someone else’s use of drugs and alcohol on that person. It doesn’t take much for them to start sharing about how the addict or alcoholic’s behavior is affecting them and the rest of the family.

As the addict (seemingly) goes blissfully about the business of using, the rest of the family feels that their life is turned upside down and inside out:

  • They walk on eggshells, either to not upset the addict, or not upset other family members.
  • They aren’t sleeping
  • They are overeating or not eating
  • They are developing illnesses and emotional issues
  • Their finances are affected
  • Their own work or school performance is suffering
  • They worry the addicted person will die

Family members and friends seem shocked when I tell them “Help Yourself First!” I remind them of the instructions on the airplanes. You know, the one that says put your oxygen mask on first then help others; even (and especially) if you are traveling with small children, put your mask on first so you don’t pass out before you can help them. Those few precious seconds can save both (or all) of you.

So I ask them questions about themselves. It’s not why they think they came to me, but it is so important. In order to develop the plan they need to address the addiction, we need to explore their values, their knowledge about alcoholism and drug addiction; their strengths, hopes and fears.

Then we move into the story about the addicted person. What is their (his/her) Age, relationship, do they live in the home, what is their level of functioning as a student, employee, parent, child, spouse, and friend? Have they had treatment before? Was it considered successful or completed? What was the family’s involvement in any treatment?

.With the popularity of the TV show “Intervention” some people think that a “formal” intervention is the only type of intervention. This type of intervention requires time and resources. It can be very effective in some cases. The anticipated end result is the addicted person in residential treatment. That’s great if that is the appropriate level of care needed, and in many cases, an addicted person can be helped in other ways. Inpatient, or residential drug or alcohol treatment is not the only alternative, and is not always necessary or indicated.

So to answer the question “should we do an intervention?” my answer is you already are, you are here, asking for help and guidance. Once the secret it out, the family is eager to know, what do we do next?  The plan is individual for every family. Some families have more influence than they realize, and can engage the addict with a focused conversation. That focused conversation is actually an intervention. The family coming to a therapist, counselor or recovery coach to ask for guidance is an intervention. Breaking the silence is the first step to stop enabling; to stop keeping the addict’s secret, to healing the family and creating an environment of healing that strengthens the family and invites the addict or alcoholic to participate in the new paradigm.


Can I help your family take the first step? You can email me at jerri@jerrishankler.com to set up a complimentary consultation.

Canine Wisdom for Dealing with Urges

We have three Puggles who live across the street and drive my dog Loki crazy. They are barkers and howlers (the Beagle part of the Puggle), and Loki just can’t resist answering. Loudly, intensely and bark for bark. He just can’t seem to help himself, and sometimes, he will respond to my shushing him, and sometimes not. Sometimes I have to stand right in front of him and interrupt him to focus on me, sometimes I have to drag him away from the window or door. That, by the way, is no small feat since he is 75 pounds of muscle, tense, agitated muscle when he is “puggling.”

loki and sigLoki has some other more endearing qualities, like his job as a bed warmer (which I appreciate way more in the winter than the humid NJ summer). He jumps up and then circles a few times before plopping down right next to my legs with a big contented sigh. Here’s the really interesting part: if the Puggles start barking, the most he does is lift his head, look back at me, and then lays his head back down with another contented sigh. The dog owner sighs contentedly also. [Read more…]

Don’t buy into the blame game from the addict in your life

The blame game doesn’t just happen to celebrity and high profile families. It happens every day, too many times a day. The celebrity status of this story can promote hope and healing for families of addicts. You are not to blame! Talk about it, get help for yourself! Know someone who needs to talk about it? jerrishankler.com jerri@jerrishankler.com There’s help, there’s hope, there’s a plan.

From the Huffington Post:

Madonna’s Homeless Brother Says She ‘Doesn’t Give A Sh-t If I’m Dead Or Alive’

Madonna may be a billionaire now, but she’s reportedly not worried about her brother’s well-being.

The 54-year-old singer’s homeless brother Anthony Ciccone has spoken out about his famous sister, claiming that she doesn’t care whether he lives or dies.

Ciccone, who is an alcoholic and lives on the streets of North Michigan, tells the Daily Mail that Madonna “doesn’t give a sh-t if I’m dead or alive. She lives in her own world.”

“I never loved her in the first place, she never loved me,” he adds, “We never loved each other.”

It was first reported that Ciccone lived under a bridge in Traverse City, Mich., 16 months ago after he revealed that he had been homeless for over a year. In October 2011, he told the Daily Mail that he lost his job at the family’s winery due to his alcohol addiction and that neither his father nor Madonna had done anything to help him get back on his feet. And it appears his story hasn’t changed.

“My father would be very happy if I died of hypothermia and then he would not have to worry about it anymore. He’s old school, he grew up in the depression,” Ciccone explains to the Daily Mail of his dad Tony Ciccone, continuing, “He doesn’t want to be bothered, he’s lived his life you see. He doesn’t like me. He doesn’t want me to be me, he wants me to be somebody else. He thinks the way I live is intentional. He simply doesn’t know me.”

Still, Ciccone’s refusal to accept that he has a drinking problem seems to be the root of the issue. A family friend Kathy Meteyer said Madonna’s father and stepmother Joan were distressed by her brother’s actions.

“He just can’t come back until he stops drinking, because they think it will kill him, it already kind of has,” Meteyer admits to the Daily Mail. “They have helped him so many times. Tony has put him through rehab and given him lots of chances. I think Madonna paid for rehab a few times. The alcohol has taken over his brain.”

But Ciccone says he won’t seek treatment because he doesn’t think he needs it.

“I’m a human being, you can call me what you want. [Alcoholic] is a label, I don’t like it. I don’t need brain surgery, I merely need love and care of family and friends,” he explains.

“[I got] no family back up, when the chips fell, no family back-up,” he adds. “I’d rather be working. What would you do under these circumstances when your family has stood against you completely?” “

Are 12-step programs the only way to recover from drugs and alcohol (part 2)

I wanted to start Part 2 with a clarification.  Sometimes, readers assume that I am not a fan of 12-step programs. That is not true, I am actually huge fan of 12-step programs; however, I also believe that if someone is not a fan of 12-step programs or won’t go to them, that there needs to be support options for them too. Refusing 12-step attendance is not necessarily a one-way ticket to death, jail or institutions.

In fact, there is little data about addicts and alcoholics who have recovered by other means. Or about people who attended 12-step programs for a time then stopped but continued to maintain abstinence and a successful life. Certainly treatment centers aren’t going to pay for these kinds of studies. I suspect it would be a challenge to find the subjects to participate. The data available is soft anyhow, as it’s all self-report. They can be tested for actual abstinence via blood, urine, breath and hair, but how to we measure “recovery?”  Is it living a life abstinent from substances? Is the quality of that life and where does the criteria for quality of life come from? [Read more…]

Are 12-step programs the only way to recover from drugs and alcohol? (part 1)

This commentary was inspired by a comment on a Facebook post by The Addict’s Mom asking the question “Do you believe that recovery can only happen in a 12 step program?” My response got so long, that I decided to post it to my blog instead.

There is no one “right” thing that works for everyone. There needs to be more attention paid to alternatives. One reason 12-step is “pushed” is because it is free. Treatment plans, motivated by $$, include connection clients with community (read free) resources for post treatment support. Insurance has shaped the current treatment models, and even the legal system has bought into this notion that 12 step is the answer.  It is good that the legal system is recognizing that treatment is essential, but again, 12-step and 12-step based program as not the only effective treatment modalities. [Read more…]

Your Script for Assertive and Effective Communication

This script is for talking with important people in your life; it is not necessary to talk to just anyone from a feelings place.  Eventually, you will be able to communicate this way without using the exact script and will find it not only to be effective, but a relief as well.

In therapy and in self-help book and meetings, people are encouraged to speak assertively and express their feelings. Sometimes, this message is misunderstood and misused. I have heard people in my office say awful things to a spouse or child and then say “I am just expressing my feelings.”  Well, ok, they are expressing their feelings, but not in a way that has the other person listening. In fact, they are often attacking and spewing pent up hurt and anger, which leave the receiver running and ducking for cover, or curled up in the fetal position on the floor trying to protect themselves. Sometimes, the recipient has emotionally checked out, or will physically leave the room. [Read more…]

More thoughts about drug and alcohol interventions

I recently reviewed a book that I highly recommend: “Interventions: Opposing Viewpoints” After thinking about all of the information in that book, did a few searches about interventions and realized how easily one could become overwhelmed with information, not all of it in agreement. On a site call All About Interventions, I found an article called What is an Intervention?  It is a well written article that describes the process that the writer follows when helping a family get a loved one into treatment. There are two points in the article that I would like to comment on.

The first point is “An intervention is merely an invitation to seek additional care. Viewed in this way, it does not become a drama, but rather a reality of everyday practice.”  [Read more…]

Book Review: Interventions: Opposing Viewpoints edited by Susan Hunnicut


I saw this book on my local library’s new books shelf and am very glad it picked it up. . This is one of the best books I have read on the basics of addition and treatment. Of course, many of the chapters espouse my point of view, and I like them best, but even the viewpoints I disagree with are well-written and referenced.

There are four chapters, with various articles taken from other sources in each chapter that support the theme. The book is easy to read, the language is not highly medical or technical, and at the beginning of each article, there are questions to think about as you read. [Read more…]

Cleaning up loose ends by addressing depression

It’s that time of year, nearing the end of December,  when I feel the urge to clean up loose ends, finish projects started earlier in the year, to clean my house top to bottom and clear out what is no longer useful emotionally and materially. As much as I love books, I know I need to cull the collection every so often. Of course, my old text books from grad school were easy to part with. The hardcover novels are being repurposed into altered books and art journals.

I’m starting to go through the stack of books that I have read or scanned for useful information. Today I landed on Yoga for Depression by Amy Weintraub. This was my first introduction to Amy, and what followed was collecting her CD’s, DVD’s and taking a class with her at the Kripalu Center. I surprised myself by opening the book and beginning to read it, again. [Read more…]