My patient and I were locked in a game of decision-making hot potato. “What would you do, Doc?” he said. We’d been discussing whether he should get screened for prostate cancer. Such questions trouble most doctors.
Last year Dr. Dennis Charney, a resilience researcher and dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, was leaving a deli when he was shot by a disgruntled former employee. Dr. Charney spent five days in intensive care and faced a challenging recovery.
1. In one major study, 25% of gay men admitted to using the drug at least once. So if you know 4 gay men, one’s probably used and might still be using today. 2. Meth can be instantly addictive, like crack.
What’s wrong with being Confident? What’s wrong with being sober? Not a f**king thing! Got a bit of a crush on this one.
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP Demi Lovato rang in four years of sobriety on Tuesday, taking to Twitter to announce the news. “This last year I experienced so much life and too much death… But I made it through… Sober,” she wrote alongside the hashtags, “#4Years #GodsWill.”
Here’s what gets me upset: regardless of the program, therapy, rehabilitation program, or self-help book off the shelf at B&N, attempting to tame an addiction without a thorough investigation into one’s mental health by a professional (not a therapist, not a sponsor, not a general practitioner, but someone with the specific credentials to understand mental health “disorders” and the drugs that can possibly help), is like teaching braille to someone with complete hearing loss. It might open up a new world of sensory exploration for your fingers, offer an insight and language with which to communicate with a specific group of people who share a different physical problem than your own, but it does not address the bigger issue of not being able to hear. And lumping all mental health disorders into one massive category and allowing non-professionals to diagnose and prescribe, even via a casual personal story, is no less harmful than saying addiction to alcohol is the same as every other addiction whether it be sex, bath salts, binging/purging, meth, heroin, and on and on.
Too often, addiction is a symptom, not the problem, but in the hands of the wrong people, that claim can be turned on its head and used as some form of sick proof one is “in denial” or that their ego is fighting against the fact they are really just a ‘bozo on the bus’ and not being honest with themselves about their true condition, a condition through which adherence to a few simple steps can bring freedom, serenity, and joy.
Somewhere along the way, it became cool to be a part of a larger program of recovery; that’s great. Actors step forward and claim their seat. Writers do the same. Politicians even. But it seems that with this new esteem has come the bashing of psych-meds, medications that not only save lives but that treat the problem, not the symptom. I could run through the list of diagnoses I have been given by various professionals throughout my adult life, could tell story after story of how I fooled some professionals into giving me the exact diagnosis I wanted to hear at the time, and more tales of unsolicited advice from people who insisted they knew what I was going through because they, too, shared the label, “Addict.” Or they were a family member of an addict or a whole family of addicts. Often, these people are the ones out there shouting the loudest in a well-intentioned attempt to bring relief to others. Often their shouts just confuse the issue for those of us suffering from something other than our addictions.
Lithium. What does that word bring to mind? To me it’s looney-bins, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Francis Farmer (or rather Jessica Lang), and on and on. So unfair, so off-target, such a stereotype from an old generation of labeling. I don’t know a thing about Lithium outside of what I just read in the below article. Not a thing.
But I do know about Wellbutrin, Effexor, Zoloft, and Prozac. In the first three, up until last December, I held my hopes for some relief along with a heavy dose of therapy and 12-step. Why the first three and not Prozac? Because of magazine ads, commercials on TV, suggestions from friends, and stories in ‘the rooms.’ These were the newer, cooler, if you will, medications that could and would bring relief.
A week before the end of a 90-stay in my first rehab, 90 days after having tried to shoot an 8-ball of meth into my arms with a 4 year-old rusty veterinarian’s needle previously used on our cat, 11 weeks after telling one of my rehab counselors I wanted to die to which she replied, “Oh Spencer, leave the drama for the stage,” 5 days before leaving that rehab, my other counselor said, “You don’t need that Effexor. Just stop taking it.” Literally. I was advised to go cold turkey days before heading home. What happened after isn’t the point; the point is this person wasn’t qualified to discuss psych meds, a psych med that had been prescribed by a physicians assistant the previous year.
I stayed off that med and all others until 5 years later Wellbutrin and Zoloft were prescribed by that Harvard trained psychiatric nurse. They worked as well as they could while I secretly kept my truth: I was raiding the needle-exchange closet of all the used needles dropped off by the meth users in town, sometimes scraping the residue out of those needles and using the clean needles on the shelf above, but at other times, just filling the used needle up with water, shaking the left over crystals together with the client’s blood and shooting it into my veins. At work. Yes, I hit a major bottom, nearly killed myself by going septic, and eventually went away to the PRIDE institute. There, the doctor, a pediatrician, gave me her diagnosis and psychiatric recommendation. A pediatrician.
A few more years later, last fall, when I finally accepted I couldn’t stop thinking about killing myself, I finally admitted to my therapist these fears (they had become not just ideations but a fear I would succeed), and I saw a psychiatrist for the first time in my life. There was an initial diagnosis, multiple visits to ensure ‘bi-polar’ was not appropriate, and a thorough discussion of my med history and my current two meds (Wellbutrin and Zoloft). We eventually landed on my needing to stop Zoloft and to add Prozac. Prozac? Isn’t that so 80’s? Wasn’t that the catch-all drug of a generation of self diagnosed depressives? Wasn’t it a joke? I had to check my biases, my baggage, my history in order to hear what he was saying and to realize he was the one with the expertise who could possibly give me my life back.
He did. As did Prozac. You see, I’m on the obsessive compulsive spectrum which I never really knew. My binging, purging, love of sticking needles into my arm, self-mutilation, and addictions were as much a part of obsessive compulsion and they were in what I thought was an inability to stop (addiction.) Suddenly (weeks later), instead of a tiny unexpected thought creeping into my head creating a chorus that would scream, “DO IT (‘it’ being whatever desire was hitting me at the moment), I heard the initial voice and could stop other voices from joining it. Instead of crying on the way to get drugs, hating myself because I couldn’t stop, I could now see my thought process. Where before I had no control over where those thoughts went, now my thinking was under my own reigns. My obsession wasn’t in control That is a big difference in the mind of a depressed, self-destructive addict.
I write this because I cannot emphasis enough how important it is to seek professional help, to question the baggage of all those non-professionals offering help, and to make sure you cover all your bases. If you were recovering from a car crash, you wouldn’t just have your bones reset; your medical team (TEAM) would cover all the basis. Putting all our eggs in one basket only makes for a big helping of raw, scrabbled eggs.
From iheartintelligence.com, an amazing list which I shared with my loved one this morning. We’ll celebrate 10 years together next week, and this….even after all the struggles, therapies, meds, ups and downs of those years….has possibly given us a foundation of understanding we’ve been missing. There is a huge difference is how we process things. I kept saying to him this morning, “I get that you know our differences, but you will never understand what it’s like to have gone through….blah, blah, blah.” He was getting frustrated by that language. Of course he understands, he kept offering. Eventually it came down to making the distinction between understanding my history versus understand how my mind processes life. THAT, he will never understand, but this list given to him after our talk this morning, shed light in a whole new way. Powerful stuff.
We all have our stuff, our baggage, our beliefs, our insights, our history, our hopes and…..drum roll….our path. I’ve always known about my path, have always sought to find my secure footing on it, and have often strayed, lost faith my path ever existed, and subsequently succumbed to filling my life with distractions, often negative and dangerous ones, in the hope they would fool me into thinking I was happy and living a meaningful, purposeful life. Those distractions were, and continue to be, a part of my path, part of who I am. In those distractions, I have built identity, forged meaning. Both of those verbs, ‘build’ and ‘forge’ are creative actions.
Just like various treatments, medications, therapies, books, people, experiences that helped me bushwack a path to individuation, a path I am making very public, this is MY path. So when I write things with which you have issues, please understand that those issues are what make you and I different. I am not better or worse for those differences. You are not better or worse for those issues. If you feel a need to defend your beliefs because you think I am attacking those beliefs, I apologize. My path as a teacher, counselor and coach and through my recent creative online writing is to offer as many opportunities and perspectives around recovery (all recovery, not just addiction) as possible–these are the things that have built my identity. Forged my meaning. A creative process.
I have a graduate degree in teaching English, my partner is one of the most educated (Harvard/Oxford) people I know who has dedicated his life to teaching English, language. My first partner, a brilliant award winning poet, has dedicated his life to using language and to forging meaning. I understand the power of language, and it is something I will always hone in on. Language is life. Andrew Solomon, one of the most respected writers of our time, winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction for this 2001 book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, in the following TED Talk says everything I will spend the rest of my life trying to say and does so in 20 minutes. It is one of the most profoundly moving talks I have ever experienced. Language is life. It is wrought with personal, group, cultural, spiritual, positive and negative meanings. If we do not challenge language, challenge and then forge meaning, we will have no personal identity outside the realm of group consciousness and group identity. And that sometimes means challenging the lexicon of our belief systems.
Solomon ends with the concept I wrote on the back of my business card and stuck in my wallet after I watched the video the first time: “Forge Meaning, Build Identity.”
That’s all I am trying to do. If I can help someone out along their path via what I write or post, then that is great. But what I am offering is creative: some based on fact (as scientific as the fact that mixing blue and red will make purple), some based on creative preference (as in, singing more so than painting soothes my soul), some based on what works better for me (as in, I am a much better watercolorist than I am an oil painter.) I have chosen the word “creative” to use across my websites because while you may come across things that do not resonate with you (I don’t like that song, that painting, that poem, that rendering), I’m not looking for you to try to challenge my creative process or my recovery/re(DIS)covery process.
Facebook used to be a place of forging meaning and building identity for me. I realized recently that unless I learn to make Facebook work for me once again, FACEBOOK will be forging my meaning and building my identity. I must make the necessary changes to make sure I retain control, power of choice, and positivity. Thus I will only be posting my encompassart.com and inrediscovery.com posts on my Facebook page, ENCOMPASS ART, not my personal page. My personal page will be that, personal expression for my own joy. Yy other page will be for expressing myself creatively in the process I call Re(dis)covery. If you want to follow the stuff I’ve been posting, “like” my Encompass Art page. Otherwise, on this journey our paths might not cross as often has they have been recently.
Family and friends, do not get wrapped up in your own emotions regarding my websites. Just as if you were watching a movie or reading a book that is too disturbing, too close to home, too anything which makes you uncomfortable, change the channel or put the book down. Do not try to tell me my setting in this story should be here instead of there, my watercolors are over-worked and muddy, the song is too high for my vocal range, I’d sound better if I found someone to accompany me while singing, that shirt makes me look fat. You wouldn’t do that would you? Then use that same filter when it comes to making comments. I am not looking for sympathy, disagreement, judgement, constructive criticism, and on and on. This is a creative offering, not a discussion. If I want that, I’ll ask for it. Until then, respect my creative journey.
I don’t ever remember feeling like I belonged. To my family, to the 7am AA meeting, to the agency staff, to this theatrical production, to that group of friends. To the porn world. To the teaching profession. To my disease. To my addictions. To my trauma. After working through several therapists I finally sought out a specialist, a Harvard psychiatric nurse, who helped me onto the path of recognizing the hand I had been dealt was wrought with trauma. Yet I continued to talk about my story as though it were just that, a story. I never felt like I even belonged to my own story. In my detachment from my life, from my story, came that uncanny ability to compartmentalize, to act like I belonged when necessary, to prove a point or for survival, but to also quickly tear away one mask in exchange for another when a situation, relationship, scenario required it. How I could strut and fret my hours on the stage, the stage being every waking minute of my life. The first proscenium my bedroom where I was likely sent when in trouble but to which I ultimately sought refuge from a bully of a father and life I could not longer control with childish charm. When the adventure of living in South Africa ended and Buffalo and parental marriage problems fell on us in blizzard proportions, I started living other lives because I could no longer bear to live my own.
Why does this matter all these decades later? Because even after an additional psychiatrist and various treatments and psych-meds were added to my entourage of therapies, I still feel the same as that little kid. I don’t want to live the life I am living. Sometimes the only life I want to live is the one I am reading about in a book. That’s where I have gotten to closest to belonging. In books. The Hardy Boys created an adventure out of 3 years in South Africa. At 6 I started and didn’t stop reading until we returned to the States; somehow the brothers lost their appeal when I was no longer exploring caves with my mother, finding scorpions under rocks or hunting pregnant Pit Vipers whose babies ended up in a jar offering to my 3rd grade science teacher (unappreciated). Then came the grocery store horror books, Stephen King, The Amityville Horror, anything that proved there was a way of living and dying more gruesome than the one I felt I was experiencing. Then came classics, Richard Bach, the Joseph Campbell collection, Jung, and eventually a game I played when going into book stores: the next book I needed to read was already calling my name. I just needed to find it. My life became bearable because of books. Those of you who know me might question how this could be: I’m a happy sorta guy; give good energy, care deeply about people, am a go-getter, dream-maker, goal setter, etc. etc. I learned how to become those things in the books I read, and not being willing to come to terms with my true self, I’ve worn these masks all my life.
So I have minor propensity towards being depressed. See? I’m already rewriting a story I am hoping will be closer to truth than it’s been. I’m an addict and I’ve got some serious depression going on. But luckily I have begun to find a balance somewhere between hanging from the nearest tree limb and knowing I can conquer the world, fulfill my destiny, and forever be happy. It’s a daily struggle to belong to my life. There are so many patterns of behavior ingrained in my head that I am often at a loss as to how I end up where I end up at the end of the day. When these patterns start to emerge, I typically try to pick up a book and just forget who I am. It works for a little while. Sometimes longer than a little while. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line I have connected reading books to wanting to write books, wanting to give others the peace I find within pages, to offer an escape from their own lives into the comfort of a life not their own. And wanting to do something desperately which one cannot find the strength, perseverance or determination to do, pretty much sums up this torturous life journey towards grandiosity that inevitably spills me onto the macadam scrapped, bruised, and bleeding. A cycle of depression, balance, optimism, grandiosity, back to hopelessness.
I need to learn how to live my life. When I turned the page of a seemingly innocuous novel I am reading, Amherst by William Nichloson, about the love affair between Emily Dickinson’s married brother and another married woman and about the 21 century writer desirous of capturing the story in a screenplay, I stumbled upon a minor character who, in her suicidal depressive state, is talked into walking through her death by an older mentor. He tells her to describe it, to walk through it, and then to talk about all the issues and traumas of her life and what has happened to them now that she is dead. A simple exercise. With simple intention. To prove that we can die anytime we want to, symbolically, and in doing so, we can eliminate all those haunting issues. If they can disappear with one’s last breathe, why can’t they disappear with a breath that far precedes the last?
Before anyone gets up in arms, let me reassure you there have been years of therapists, professional medical doctors, medications, programs and therapies in my process. I have worked through, starting at a very early age of introspection, why I am the way I am. And I have been stuck in this life the entire time. Haunted by my patterns, by issues, my every cell of memory. This isn’t a “born-again” experience, an attempt to recreate myself in the image of someone else. I want all the pieces of me, I want to BE ME and all the wonderful/fucked up things that means. I want to live this life. Somehow on p. 131 of the book I am reading I have been given a gift, a tool, a suggestion I’ve never heard before. There are plenty of people who have suicidal ideations. I am not the only one. I happen to find a deep spiritual meaning in death, and don’t suggest anyone with thoughts of suicide to “play through” an act of self-destruction. But what I am going to do is try this myself: I might set aside some time to do a meditation (because that is what this is) using creative imagery (creative recovery, right?) to help me eliminate that which I no longer want to carry. I have been defined by those moments, but I know longer want those moments to rule my life and prevent me from living my life. I want to belong to my life; there is no longer room both that which is killing me and that which is begging for life. Will it work? I don’t know. I’m going to give it a try. And in the meantime, I’ll continue to live, heal, grow, and perhaps hide, in these pages before me.
There are triggers and then there are roadblocks. I personally don’t know which are more damaging to me seeing that my triggers often become paralyzing moments indecision. Or worse. Naturally a trigger is something that sparks another action. Obviously in the world of addiction recovery, the word, ‘trigger,’ almost always has a negative connotation; a trigger often leads an addict down the wrong path.
A roadblock–an impenetrable thing standing in the way. In the world of coaching, self-help, and life-affirmation, a roadblock is often something negative that is then turned on it’s axis into something to be surmounted, something that can be overcome. Watch any Tony Robbins video of him helping someone with a life-altering roadblock in the way, and within minutes, whether you believe it contrived or not, the person has not only identified the roadblock, they’ve blown it to smithereens and are continuing on their journey.
What happens when your triggers are the roadblocks themselves? If you are someone like me with a well-developed sense of self-righteousness, my “I’ll show you” super-hero-powers can blow away almost all roadblocks in my way. My “I’ll show you” tied to my grandiosity tied to a sometimes over-zealous belief in a synchronistic, “The Secret” way of life can perform miracles or at least feats often seen by others as mind boggling. I’m not saying this is healthy. It’s not. It’s what can get me into trouble.
I may see a roadblock, feel that drive and power squeezing up from my solar plexis which finds its way into a stubbornly clenched jaw, and then I trip over a trigger. A familiar place. A person. A smell that triggers a memory. I can quickly crash into a heap of self-destructive behaviors, the road block long ago surmounted, opportunity sitting there in front of me waiting to be taken, but I am suddenly too focused on hurting myself to take another step.
My triggers are dangerous. My triggers are many. My triggers spark actions that involve blood, cuts, deprivation, purging, and on and on. It’s an old traditional exercise, but today I again write out my triggers so that I can honor their power and learn that the power I have to overcome roadblocks is the same power than can successfully deal with a trigger. Easier said than done, but like anything worth doing, it’s worth practicing and doing again and again.
Johann Hari has been getting a lot of attention recently, a lot of traction out of a premise he hopes will help the world understand addiction a little better, namely:
This attention long overdue, desperately needed, and essential to the world of recovery. It makes sense, is founded on a bit of research, and is likely welcome to so many who have struggled with conventional treatment programs. He’s also a journalist, so he knows how to write, how to offer evidence, to logically explain his premise. Whether he’s hit a bull’s eye or not isn’t really the issue; if he’s hit on THE truth or a partial truth, the continued discourse and need to look beyond what we currently have in place to help those suffering is the only way we can hope to help that one person who hasn’t been served by that current, somewhat sparse, menu of treatments.
Personally, I believe what he is saying makes sense in a very over simplified way. The evidence and research he offers regarding rats and Vietnam have been used to support his point, but it wouldn’t take much to throw a wrench in his argument. If it was all so simple, AA and other 12-step programs would have a 100% success rate because they are founded on community and connection. Problem is, current data shows the success rate is about 10%. Of course just writing that could spark the ire of 12-step supporters (and I again have to say I consider myself ‘in the program’ precisely because I get that connection from the rooms.)
I think the most important thing in watching and keeping an open mind here is that he’s onto something. Something, not everything. It just happens to be a small piece of the puzzle. I am still more convinced that addiction is multifaceted, having different pieces which if you are unfortunate enough to have all of them makes treatment very difficult. If I went back to Pleasure Unwoven, that documentary on addiction which points out 5 different levels of addiction
I could easily go through the various forms of treatment program and explain how each level either ‘fits’ into a specific treatment or not.
For example: someone who has suffered trauma as a child is not going to be saved by the 12-step program. Period. Those who think that are doing severe damage to those people who have trauma and who come into the program as their sole treatment plan. Without professional therapeutic help, trauma simply gets locked away to emerge later.
Another example: there are some people who don’t believe in psycho-pharmacology as a legitimate form of treatment. Perhaps psych-meds are over prescribed by too many general practitioners who don’t hold an expertise in the field. I personally have spent decades fighting an issue with my brain chemistry which until recently wasn’t successfully dealt with until I saw a professional psychiatrist. Because I self-medicated heavily on an over-the-counter cold medicine (DXM) for 15 years, monthly for a week at a time, nearly 1/4 of those 15 years I spent tripping….yeah, like LSD tripping. I learned how to curb my behavior to mask being high, and successful taught my brain that it no longer needed to create happy chemicals. Just like in the researched effects of long-term ecstasy use, there can be irreparable damage. ‘Connection’ isn’t going to cut it for me. Considering the early age at which kids are starting to use heavy drugs, there will be significant damage done to brain chemistry. All the connection in the world, all the meetings in the world are not going to fix that sort of neurological damage.
I happen to have all 5 levels listed above making me a quintuple threat. Treating all five of these levels is the best form of treatment so a one-size-fit-all philosophy, approach, program, belief is likely to fall short.
Again, the more information out there the better. What I am so happy about is that these sorts of articles are being offered via social media—making that connection which tells us we are not alone and it’s actually okay to step away from the pack and to create our own program of recovery. That’s what I am calling, “Re(DIS)covery!”
I was born in 1967. I am currently 47 years old. At least that’s what my birth certificate claims.
Clearly I can turn anything into an addiction or an unhealthy pattern of behavior. Ask my family who, after I left a second stint at rehab, asked if my need to ‘go all out’ when biking was yet another form of taking a healthy behavior and intensifying it to a point of compulsion. My tendency toward perfectionism adds to the mix and creates a behavioral formula often leaving me on an exercise endorphin rush one day and a flat-out exhaustion the next. During long periods of sobriety, I have always sought out the comfort of exercise, tapping into a primal need to expend energy, to sweat, to feel my heart pumping to levels of rush intensity. Beside the natural endorphins exercise releases, when I am engaged in cardiovascular activity (I am making the distinction here between weight training/interval training and a steady period of cardio that consistently challenges the heart over an extended period of time) my synapses make new connections, my lymph clears out the crap, my mind goes into a meditative state, and, apparently, I get younger.
If you are not a fitness freak, I get how hard it is to start exercising. If you don’t have all the underlying reasons (often called ‘baggage’) to exercise, starting to do so can be as daunting and difficult as starting a program of recovery. I might even go so far as to say it is actually harder. In a recovery program, we take action because on one hand we have no choice (we try to recover or stay forever stuck in the same place) and on the other hand our desire to exorcise the pain of our life forces us into action. Then there are the people telling us we need to change or else, that loving ultimatum offered to rescue us from the fight between ‘good and evil.’ Somehow with exercise, even though we know the benefits, we watch how healthy and happy other people are, we covet their bodies, their sexual energy, their high spirits, we don’t have the same need to engage in that healthy behavioral way. There isn’t a meeting which encourages daily exercise (as in a daily reprieve), there is no public counting days to a healthier life, there is no family member whose innocent question (How are you doing?) is actually loaded with specific need to know (are you still sober, or rather, did you get your cardio today?) There is very little accountability. The person next to you, unless you’re at the gym, is just as likely as you to have skipped any form of exercise the day before.
Sweeping generalization, I know, but if I went to my regular meeting and gave out a survey of the 60+ people who attend with questions regarding their cardiovascular activity for the week including knowing what their maximum heart rate is, for how long did they raise their resting heart beat when engaged in physical activity, or simply, how many days did they get their heart beat above it’s resting state, I am confident 75% wouldn’t even fill out the survey. They would avoid the survey like they avoid exercise because somehow adding something to one’s life is even harder than taking something away. And the benefits could actually be as great if not greater. (I’m hearing some groans.)
In a recent New York Times article about Fitness Age describing the researched benefits of being an older competitive athlete, the outcome was clear: you can change your age, your fitness age. I dare say that while recovery from an addiction is the act of saving one’s life, being in recovery does not decrease your fitness age. It conceivably stops the damage already done, perhaps helps the body to heal, and saves one from the hell into which they have descended. But this isn’t always the case. Removing the drug to which one is addicted may save a life; but too many stop right there. That’s it. Life is based on counting how many days the drug has remained out of one’s life. And yet, if the research is true, we could be doing so much more. And most of us don’t.
I am a man who has lived with HIV for ten years now. 5 years ago I received an AIDS diagnosis because I was doing all sorts of things to hurt myself in my addiction. I’ve injected the worst forms of drugs, bath-salts, the purest forms of research chemicals you can find on the planet, used dirty syringes in the hopes of contracting something deadly (little did I know that when I contracted HIV it was no longer a death sentence). When I stopped, my body restored it’s order; I am a relatively healthy person when I allow my body to be in a natural state. I’m 47 years old. But I exercise.
My fitness age: 26.
How is that possible? The calculator measures resting heart beat against maximum heart beat with amount of cardio to body fat index. And that’s that. It’s really quite simple and is nothing new. The reality of exercise is that it not only keeps you healthy, it can reduce your fitness age. Personally, I’m not in recovery to live a life based solely on my not doing an unhealthy behavior. Living a life trying to hold something at bay is exhausting. Just look at the faces of those around you in recovery. But living a life holding something at bay while adding something that actually changes your age, your spirit, your energy, your cellular make up, you outlook, your looks is something I want to do. I see so much potential in people, so much more than they likely see in themselves. That could be the chronic human condition. We have to try to rediscovery our potential which includes adding behaviors which can alter our physical, mental, and emotional being. Nothing, not even abstinence from your drug of choice, can do that as dramatically as cardiovascular exercise.
This summer I promised I wouldn’t commit to any theater projects. I need a chance at a summer without the additional stress of line-learning and production development. I live in a season town, so while every year our enclave goes from its charming 3000 off-season population to upwards of 40, 50 , to 80K visitors in a 3 mile long, 1/4 mile wide stretch, I’m never quite prepared for the transition from low to high, slow to busy, quiet to crowded. The past two summers I had the opportunity to do two amazing productions. The Normal Heart and Venus in Fur. Intense emotional and demanding roles. All the time I spent during those two summers getting reading for the productions is now my own. I am not filling it. I am leaving it to simply exist.
Just like any dis-ease, the disease of being busy can be chronic. This society breeds multitasking and places value in the competition for “Who is the Busiest” Award. While I believe it’s probably harder for families with children, I think we’re all under an unfair pressure to fill every waking second with activity. Gone are the days of porch sitting, watching clouds roll by while we lay on our backs in the tall grass, visiting neighbors simply because we enjoy their company and not because we need something from them. So my project this summer was to see if I could manage not to start showing the symptoms of the disease of business. Don’t get me wrong, I can pack a lot into a day. Being woken by the cats at 5am and having a whole stretch of day until I start working at 2pm means I have a lot of my time on my hands. There are the regular things which fill the time: eating, exercising, cleaning. I read about a book a week. But there are a lot of minutes where I feel myself falling into the need to be busy. I always have project or two going; my websites are definitely taking a lot more time than I thought.
There are all these little signs, those symptoms of discomfort which come not from being too busy but from having time on my hands. Old voices pop into my head, “DO SOMETHING!” “Don’t be Lazy,” “You don’t deserve this much free time.” Those are the voices which will take me right back to my old patterns, right back into the disease of busyness. Before I know it, I’ll start a few paintings thinking I could sell them over the summer, I’ll sit at the piano and make plans for that musical I have in my head, there’s the collection of short stories in draft form just sitting here, there’s my play that I haven’t sent out, there’s a bookcase to be built (when all else fails, I build bookcases.) All these things become tasks to accomplish rather than being acts of creation inspired by authenticity. Too often they are inspired by the fact I haven’t gotten enough attention recently on Facebook.
I’m not really saying anything very profound here other to say that I am experimenting this summer. Can I get through it, work my regular job, doing my regular activities without getting infected by the busyness bug? So far so good, but I did check to see if I have any pine boards laying around in my basement yesterday.
SCIENCE and 12-Step NEED NOT BE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. There. I said it.
I often end up separated from the pack, “the pack” being any group of people who share a recovery experience, or in this case a program, who readily throw out the, “hey, whatever works for you, man,” quip when someone suggests alternatives to their chosen path of recovery but who also tends to be blatantly one-sided in their own convictions as to what is actually ‘THE WAY” (I picture Saturday Night Live, Dana Carvey doing The Church Lady, saying….’Well, isn’t that special…..” to anyone not sharing her dogma )
I believe a holistic approach is the only approach. Some 12-step here, some CBT there, therapy, exercise, medication if necessary, diet, and on and on. Just like most people I can be easily swayed by a well-founded argument or by a touching, emotional story. I can go from a blog post sharing an article which says addiction isn’t a disease to this blog post sharing a video which states convincingly the opposite. And that’s the point. Unless you are willing to open up to other possibilities, you will be limited in life. That’s a simple concept that has reaches far beyond the recovery community.
We must, as people trying to heal, stop closing the door to science when science steps forward with empirical evidence. And we also can’t let hope and faith (I am quickly taken to the anti-vaccination movement) say that we can heal without science. At least look at the data. Look at the research. Listen to the people who have spent their lives trying to find answers instead of blindly holding faith that your journey to recovery rests in 12 simple, albeit painful and exhausting, steps written in the 30’s, to the exclusion of everything else.
Got you mad yet?
It’s a beautifully produced piece using the new science of addiction (by a doctor who did the research.) It was a life changing experience for me because it helped validate what I have always known–there is not just one answer to this problem. It says there are 5 levels to addiction:
You’ll need to explore yourself what these levels actually mean via the DVD, but even with a quick glance you might understand how each level works in you. At the end, he talks about the benefit of 12-step programs. Watching was life changing because I could assimilate the content of the DVD with what I was experiencing at that time for the first time: intense 12-step. But the 12-step also had me in creative therapy, individual mental health therapy, group therapy, exercise, etc. etc.
Do you ever wonder why we feel so good upon leaving a treatment center? It’s because, no matter what the treatment is, it’s likely surrounded by a holistic mandatory menu of alternative treatments. When we leave treatment and get back to life, we’re often left alone and isolated within one channel of recovery. And it’s not enough. Or maybe it is. If so, there’s no real reason you’d be reading this. Otherwise, if you are reading it, you may be questioning and asking yourself if there isn’t actually more you can do.
Watch the clips, buy the video (if you are the person I loaned my copy to, please return it!). Here’s a review by Cold Creek Behavioral Health—a NON-12 Step program based on CBT. If the DVD gets both 12-step and Non-12 step treatment center approval, it might be good enough for you.
A psychologist and former addict insists that the illness model for addiction is wrong, and dangerously so……
As I’ve already written in my disclaimer and in previous posts, I wanted to create a site that publicly explored a variety of treatments for various addictive disorders but that wasn’t exclusively about addiction. Why? Well, because clearly addiction, based on the most recent science, isn’t such a black and white issue. It’s not about doing this program over that program. It’s about taking back your life by examining your whole life, everything about you, clearing out the clutter, exploring the wounds, figuring out ways to stay healthy, etc. The addiction world does not own the term, “Recovery.” Addiction recovery is such a small piece (albeit an enormous one for those suffering) of the realm of recovery.
I have watched people focusing so exclusively on staying ‘clean’ that they are incapable of living. Oh, they go to meetings, they eat, they sleep. They stay clean. They believe in something greater than themselves, but don’t ask them to get any exercise. Don’t ask them to see a therapist to finally deal with a childhood of trauma. Don’t ask them to explore their hopes, dreams, and potential for the future. Just stay in the day and get through it. That is great, it works for many people. It worked for me.
But I’ve never been someone who just wanted to get through the day. I am driven by something deeper, and while I can only hope to try to explain this on the journey of rediscovery I am taking so publicly through this journal, and while many ‘friends’ may scoff and say, “EGO, EGO, EGO…bad, bad, bad,” I can’t live a life simply being an addict in recovery. The creative piece in me needs to evolve, needs to rediscover what it is like to have the wonder of the child, needs to focus this internal drive, narrow that purpose and bungee jump off that bridge knowing there’s a chance the rope will snap. If I don’t do those things, I’m not living. I’m just pretending. I’m just getting by. I’m a cracked humpy dumpy shell spilling potential on the curb and letting it wash away in the gutter.
The first experience I had in truly examining who I was at a level where some fundamental changes were allowed to occur was in my first stint in rehab 8 years ago. 90 days north of Montreal in a converted monastery in the middle of the woods….in winter. You’ll hear more about that later, but right now I just want to introduce the concept of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). For me, recovery must include some form of therapy. My family, my friends, my colleagues were not therapists. I wasn’t a therapist. I couldn’t expect to deal with my addiction without understanding it’s roots. And while I know now the science of addiction distinguishes at least 5 roots of addiction, genetics being just one, it is so often assumed that addiction is this lone feature, this isolated condition that can be dealt with by itself.
Not everyone will see a therapist. For some reason there is still an incredibly debilitating stigma associated with seeing professional help. But that doesn’t mean you can’t explore therapeutic concepts by yourself without jokingly maligning that process as being “New Age Self Help.” It’s self-help alright, and it is necessary and an integral part of the healing process.
CBT is based on this concept of untwisting your thinking. Let’s face it: our thinking is messed up. Our emotions are based on our thinking and if our thinking is messed up, the basis for our emotions isn’t necessarily real. Our emotions may not actually be real. Huh? I’m not going to go too far here except to direct you to look up CBT. To go to the website of David D. Burns, M.D. We used The Feeling Good Handbook at that Canadian rehab, and while it’s not perfect, it was the start of a more healthy form of introspection.
I’ll explore more of this later, but for now, if you have’t started exploring, go ahead and try. Can’t rediscover if you don’t explore.
(photo is from Dr. Burn’s website–gotta love a Dr. who likes cats.)
My senior year after discovering I was gay, I was taken to a psychiatrist by my upset parents. The psychiatrist spent 10 minutes with me while my divorced parents waited outside. Then he brought them in and said, “Your son is completely well-adjusted. There is no problem here.”
I was already a really good actor at that point although my attempts at acting on stage were often stiff and not-yet developed. Off-stage I could convince anyone of anything. My first survival mechanism came into play very early on when I had to pretend I was not hurt, not crying, not pouting, not being a baby, not playing with my sister’s toys, that I didn’t have to go to the bathroom…again. Unfortunately, I learned well how to separate from what I was feeling, and eventually, when that became harder and harder, I started to use drugs, alcohol, and self-harm to help me in that journey of compartmentalization.
I love this video. But I also know I could have used some help after my first suicide attempt at 12. Perhaps childhood is not a mental disorder, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t hard as hell sometimes, and worthy of professional intervention.
What would happen if you stopped counting days of sobriety?
As you get used to my blog, you’ll come to accept that I’m not pushing one program of recovery over another. I want to provide insights on as many opportunities out there to help you rediscover yourself. Sometimes that help can come from sources outside the realm of “Recovery,” capital “R” intentional.
In a recent article in Entrepreneur, “Forget Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead,” the author offers up to us non-entrepreneurs a pretty helpful way of thinking. Systems versus Goals. Or rather Systems over Goals.
JAMES CLEAR, Writer, Entrepreneur and Behavior Science Expert
What’s the difference between goals and systems?
- If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
- If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
- If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
- If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.
Now for the really interesting question:
If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get results?
Give the article a read. Think about it. The author concludes the following:
1. Goals reduce your current happiness.
When you’re working toward a goal, you are essentially saying, “I’m not good enough yet, but I will be when I reach my goal.”
The problem with this mindset is that you’re teaching yourself to always put happiness and success off until the next milestone is achieved. “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy. Once I achieve my goal, then I’ll be successful.”
2. Goals are strangely at odds with long-term progress.
You might think your goal will keep you motivated over the long-term, but that’s not always true.
Consider someone training for a half-marathon. Many people will work hard for months, but as soon as they finish the race, they stop training. Their goal was to finish the half-marathon and now that they have completed it, that goal is no longer there to motivate them. When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what is left to push you forward after you achieve it?…….
3. Goals suggest that you can control things that you have no control over.
You can’t predict the future. (I know, shocking.)
But every time we set a goal, we try to do it. We try to plan out where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way……..
Again, just food for thought. Counting days in a recovery program can be a lot of things to a lot of people. For some people it is the very reason they never come back after a relapse. For some, counting days and years is THE thing in life to work toward. How do you feel?
Yet another survivor who is stepping away from the shame and into her intentional and rightful voice that is insisting on change. If you asked yourself, “Am I part of the problem or the solution,” what would your honest answer be? It’s quite easy to be part of the problem. The jokes, the stigma, that twitter feed that gets you all excited. But being part of the change? Don’t scoff because of her name. This is one hell of a powerful message.