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.

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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…]

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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…]

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Remember the siblings of the addict

I got a note today from a client who’s son is unfortunately now on his own journey doing the addiction dance. He’s actually too young to be labeled an addict yet, or right now in his journey in my opinion. However, early intervention is an important step. The family is being referred to a very reputable program; I mean, the son and his parents.

He has 2 siblings, one older and one younger who are not going to be included in the program.  They are all teens in middle and high school, and I think that this is a pretty big flaw in most adolescent treatment programs. Uhmmm,wait, that is a pretty big flaw in most drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Family programs, at least the ones I know about, and I’ve been in the business almost 25 years, focus on education about addiction and continue to put the focus on the addict and how everyone dances around the addict. Oh , they are told to go to Al-Anon or Nar-anon and take care of themselves ,but most families need more than self-help to learn to do this. The resources are limited for the adult members of the family and even sparser for the child members. Good intentions ,but not so great in practice.

Family and friends may not understand exactly what the addict is going through, but they are an integral part of the recovery process. Addicts do need a sober support network, but they also need to be a functioning part of their family, if they still have one. Yes, there are folks to do not have a family, and create a family in self-help and that’s really important.  This message isn’t for them, it’s for the families and friends who are still connected with and addict and want to be supportive and have the person back in their lives and a healthy and functioning way.

I am putting the finishing touches on just such a program.

What would YOU want to see included in a program to help your family, especially the siblings?

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Addiction is like Poison Ivy

You may know that you are allergic to poison ivy, and avoid it. Yet, you still end up with the telltale uncomfortable rash that let’s you know you were not as successfully avoiding it as you thought.

Or you may not know you are sensitive to poison ivy, and suddenly, after a lifetime of recklessly dancing through poison ivy patches that have your friends and family cringing, you end up with a wicked case of itchy, painful poison ivy and didn’t even remember coming in contact with it. (OK, yes, that was me)

Addiction is a lot like that; other people’s addictions: those of your family members, close friends or loved ones. Ouch, ouch, ouch!

The person in your life may have an addiction that is obvious and the toll it takes on everyone around them is obvious. If all of you are lucky, then the addicted person gets treatment and into recovery. They bloom, grow and change.  And if all of you are very lucky, then those affected by the addict bloom and grow and change as well.

If no one educates the family on what to expect, sometimes they get left behind. They remain confused, hurt, angry, stuck. There’s a lot of support out there for addicts who want help; not so much for the family and friends.

Sometimes the family and friends think they have not been affected by the addict’s behaviors. The addiction is not so obvious, or the family and friends have found support groups or therapy. The addict may have found abstinence but not “recovery.”  Or the addict relapses. Or…well, the list goes on.  They notice this little itch, so they scratch it. Then they look, and see that it’s not just an irritation or a bug bite, but a blistered, spreading rash. YIKES! Where the heck did that come from? I didn’t see any poison ivy..I don’t think I did anyhow. What does poison ivy look like again?

The solution is simple, although the process may not be: Family and friends of addicts must learn to take care of themselves FIRST. When they are emotionally and physically healthy, they can learn what to do next to keep their own balance and deal with the addicted person in their lives, whether the person is using or not.

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Like trying to look away from a bad accident…

We just can’t seem to help ourselves. So as I was downloading my Sunday crossword puzzle from the LA Times website, I noticed that Charlie Sheen was on the “In the News” line. I just couldn’t help myself, I had to look. He seems to think he is doing well, I guess, that he has an upcoming roast. Good for him. I’m thinking of his family. I wonder how they feel about it,what are they thinking; are they still hoping he will get help or are they just resigned to watching him continue his downward spiral.

And I wonder who is offering them support? Who is offering them help to process how they are affected by all this, and helping them take care of themselves while continuing to love him but not enable?

When I came back from my reverie, I noticed another sad but happier story, at least for now. Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter, has admitted he had a serious drinking problem, and has been committed to a sober life. for almost a year. He like it, he feels better about himself. Bravo! As a celebrity and a young person, it’s a huge step to make the commitment  to care about himself enough to get sober.  He managed to keep his drinking a secret, and his sobriety has been a private experience as well.

I hope that his family supported his transition; I hope someone has offered them support also. Even when someone we love takes the important step to get clean and sober, we still need to learn how to adjust to this. Often family members don’t know what to say; what not to say; how to be supportive with enabling or helping by doing what the recovering person should be doing for themselves. They don’t know how to express their relief, or their leftover anger and resentment.

Some treatment centers offer family programs for patients in their programs. Some even offer treatment for families who need to get a family member into treatment.  Al-anon and Nar-anon are good resources also. There are some great books on co-dependency.

When you are ready, find a therapist or a recovery coach who focuses on you, teaching you how to take care of yourself so you know what to do next. Many family members feel like they are surviving or have survived their loved one’s addiction.

You CAN learn to THRIVE not just SURVIVE a loved one’s addiction. Let’s develop your recovery plan.

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It’s a family dis-ease

I have seen some examples recently that remind me how much families are affected by mental illness and addiction.  The family intentionally or unintentionally does a dance around the mental illness sufferer or addict.  This is often labeled as enabling, but I have found it to be exacerbated by the lack of education, intervention, support and resources for the family members.

In some cases, the “identified patient” (IP) , the addict or severely mentally ill person has declined treatment, or will not comply with treatment recommendation such as AA, abstinence, therapy and/or medications.  Many families do not know what to do that this point, where to turn, who to ask. Families of addicts are told to attend Al-anon or Nar-anon and “work on themselves.” This is a very good recommendation, but they often need more: education, options, resources, coaching. Sometimes, they just want to ask questions like what can the addicted person expect in treatment? In AA or NA? What will change for them and us if our “IP”  takes medication, or gets sober or whatever.  A professional if better prepared to answer these questions more objectively and help the family develop a game plan, goals and initiate self-care whether or not the IP is getting treatment.

Even when the “IP” is getting treatment, family members feel left out or that they are walking on eggshells. They do not know if they can ask questions, let alone what questions to ask and how to ask them. They are reluctant to express their own concern and feelings, even optimism.  This is especially true of families with young adults who still live at home. They may understandably want to limit the family’s ability to “butt” in by not signing releases of information. At the very time the family can help, the young adult, addict or mentally ill, will decide to exert their independence.  I’m not talking about crashing boundaries here, but understanding how to communicate and realizing how all family members are affected. In fact, it is often a time to establish or reestablish boundaries, and redefine private vs. secret. It’s a time to visualize mental illness into mental wellness.

Yes, family members do need to do things to take care of themselves, but they often desperately want to know how to help the IP, and don’t want to be told to” butt out, it’s their problem. ” If they can learn healthy ways to help and support the IP while taking care of themselves, the process is less painful.

In response to this need, I will be launching my Recovery Coaching products and services over the next few months. In short, the goal is to teach families how to recover from the impact of addiction or mental illness in their family. How to return to or create equilibrium. How to set goals as a family and as individuals that promote health and a peaceful spirit.

Additionally,  many recovering addicts/alcoholics get to a point in their recovery when they no longer need therapy, but need help to envision the next step in their life journey. They may need to work on certain areas within their recovery that do not get addressed in 12-step meetings, such as mindfulness, nutrition, “secondary” addictive behaviors such as food or love.

So what can you do today? Well, you just did something by reading this post.

What else? Talk to the “IP” in your family, and simply remind them “I love you and I care about you.”

How about telling yourself: “I love you and I care about you.”

Start to learn about mindfulness: Take a few moments to sit quietly and focus on where you are in the moment. Notice where you are sitting, what is around you. Observe or witness your thoughts: who are you thinking about and how does that change when you sit quietly and simply breathe. Close your eyes, count 5-4-3-2-1 slowly, then open your eyes.  You may be surprised and delighted how centering and refreshing a mini-mind-vacation can be.

To your mental wellness!

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Keeping it simple

That is the best way I can think to start blogging. Just setting up a blog is exciting and a little overwhelming!  So many options, so many directions, so many distractions!

So, to keep it simple, I’ll start with some basics about addiction and options and opportunities for moving into recovery.

As far a language and defintions, I will use the word addict to include those addicted to all drugs, including alcohol will strive to speak in gender neutral language.

One definition of addiction is the inabilty to stop using substances in spite of negative consequences. This can apply to self-destructive behaviors, such as gambling and overeating. The negative consequences generally continue to escalate, and the risks of continuing to use increase.

The concept of recovery also has many descriptions and definitions. Probably the simplest expectation is abstinence. A better description of recovery is the journey of getting and remaining abstinent, and is a more active experience. It is a time of enlightenment and joy, of struggle and self-acceptance. And a time when a support network is imperative.

A support network varies from person to person, but includes other sober and recovery people, family and friends. Friends and family often want to help and support, but don’t know how. They have their own recovery process, and need to learn more about addiction and recovery, the addict’s and their own.

Traditional recovery programs are 12-step based, and introduce addicts to 12-step recovery programs, such as AA and NA, to support their ongoing abstinence and recovery efforts. Other programs exist that are not 12-step based, and are often not in insurance networks; some are not in for good reasons, but others could benefit those for whom 12-step is not successful or of interest.

I fear this a somewhat heretical statement for me, as my initial training was in 12-step recovery programs. Over the years, I have seen many clients, in program and in my private practice succeed utilizing 12-step recovery programs. Others have not, for a variety of reasons. In the “old days” , these clients were told they were failures, that even if they were abstinent, they would fail if they did not embrace 12-step programs.; that they were “dry drunks.”Some did fail; other succeeded, and developed a solid pattern of abstinence, and a rewarding, successful life.

So which is the best approach? That varies from individual to individual. In my experience, the one factor that determines whether or not a person succeeds is a desire to do so. That is, that the person wants to recover. Can willpower alone do it? Maybe for some. It is more the concept of willingness, a willingness to do whatever it takes, to get on and stay on the path of recovery.

 

Suggested Readings:

AA and NA literature

The Tao of Sobriety by David Gregson and Jay S. Efran, PH.D.

Mindful Recovery: A Spiritual Path to Healing from Addictions by Thomas and Beverly Bien

The Thirst for Wholeness: Attachment, Addiction, and the Spiritual Path by Christina Grof

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