Love Me Some Lovato

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.

11 Inspirational Life Lessons From Demi Lovato

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.”

In Love with Lithium

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.

[‘I Don’t Believe in God, but I Believe in Lithium’]

 

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.

Let’s Get Something Straight…….

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.

Connection? The Opposite of Addiction?

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:

‘The Opposite Of Addiction Is Not Sobriety. The Opposite Of Addiction Is Connection.’

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

1. Genes
2. Reward
3. Memory
4. Stress
5. Choice

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!”

What’s Your Fitness Age?

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.

 

 

The Fireworks of a New Perspective: Reading and Recovery

A Facebook friend posted the following article yesterday, These Stereotypes Are A Far Greater Threat To Veterans Than Any Fireworks, regarding the use of fireworks as a celebratory practice and the effect those fireworks could actually have on our veterans, the very people we often attempt to celebrate on national holidays like the 4th of July.  The interesting thing is, I didn’t give it a very thorough read and walked away believing it said one thing when in fact it said the very opposite.  This read comes after having finished a book, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a recent finalist for the National Book Award, and having been dumbfounded by its intense portrayal of our country’s cluelessness when it comes to understanding our veterans.

You know that concept of a paradigm shift?  Of a sudden earthquake-size refocusing of your perspective which throws you off keel and then back onto a steady, more knowledgeable and sympathetic footing?  I’m using ‘sympathetic,’ not ’empathetic,’ here because it’s the precise difference between those two words and perhaps the over use of both which seem to be the issue in both the book above and in the article.  And perhaps in the whole realm of recovery.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about war.  I went directly from “Billy Lynn” to the recent winner of the Booker Man Prize, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan, at times an utterly disturbing journey into a Japanese POW camp with its accompany horrors, horrors we only got a small taste of in the movie version of Unbroken.  With a generation of veterans who fought in WWII getting smaller and smaller, the visualizations (the root of empathy and sympathy) we will make out of the actual events of World War II will become more and more stylized, Hollywood-ized, and we, as an audience will become further and further disconnected to the reality of the actual experience.  Through the news media coverage of live warfare and because of Hollywood movies and TV shows, many of us think we understand war.  We think we know what it was like or is like, and then presume to empathize with our fellow citizens who have actually fought in or are fighting in wars.  The problems is:  it’s a BIG PRESUMPTION.   We know nothing.  Nothing.  So what we think is empathy, often displayed in flag-waving, firework-shooting, support, is often just a masquerade that makes us feel good because we imagine what it must be like or have been like, to be in a war.

What we’re feeling, unless we’ve actually been there, is sympathy.  You likely know the difference between empathy and sympathy.  Here’s a great chart differentiation and description of the difference below:

Empathy is the ability to experience the feelings of another person. It goes beyond sympathy, which is caring and understanding for the suffering of others. Both words are used similarly and often interchangeably (incorrectly so) but differ subtly in their emotional meaning.

Ok, so what does reading about war, criticizing non-veteran’s desire to honor veterans, noting the difference between empathy and sympathy have to do with reading and recovery?  One of the biggest reasons I often find more recovery growth coming out of reading than I do out of meetings is because often, as is true with our obsession to “comment”on EVERYTHING we read from Facebook posts to blog posts to news articles, and to collect ‘comments’ and ‘likes’ as a gauge of our worth,  is that as soon as we comment, often we stop thinking.  We draw a line in the sand.  We agree or disagree.  We ‘relate’ or sympathize.  In the rooms we listen, hug people after they share, offer nuggets of program wisdom in an attempt to reassure the sharer or storyteller he or she is not alone, perhaps hand a suggestion or two over, welcome the newcomer, say, “we’re all just bozos on the bus,” “I’ve been there,” “I know what you’re feeling,” and on and on. In the rooms, a “conspiracy of experience” exists which is, if one is looking to feel better through a shared experience, exactly what you’ll get.

There is nothing wrong with any of that except the notion that a person’s personal experience, her personal journey, her life is a unique and utterly un-sharable experience that cannot create empathy in another person unless the other person truly has experienced exactly the same life.  It might create sympathy, and it is in that sympathy we wish to swim.  Sharing in a public realm with an expectation of timely reaction from others provide something:  a reaction.  We are a society of reactors.  We react.  We don’t process or allow ourselves time to process and instead jump into the sympathy pool hoping to splash around with the others swimming in that same pool.

Reading on the other hand is an utterly solitary moment of individuation, it is the basis for the creation of empathy for yourself. Yes, we react to a book, and then we live with that reaction.  We might write review or share a  reading experience with another, but we are not in this attempt to empathize with the actual writer.  We don’t attempt to disprove the writer’s experience by tracking down the writer through their publishing house (well, maybe you do), by logging onto a blog and blasting them for their perspective (well, maybe you do), or publicly reacting to a passage read from a book like we do in the rooms (planning the whole time before your share what you are going to share.)

Being forced to sit with ones reaction is the process of evolution. It’s a process of empathizing with yourself as you connect to who you are through the words of others. It’s a process of rediscovery.  Finding out who you are without allowing your automatic gut reaction to get the best of you, without severing the thought process with your emotional reaction, without drawing that line in the sand, without coating someone else’s experience with program platitudes, without arguing a point in a comment section because you’re uncomfortable with how an experience made you feel, is allowing growth and healing to occur at exponential levels.  It’s creating empathy for your own life experience.

I am having a hard time finishing “The Narrow Road….” because I am reading thoughts that are my own. I’m in shock over what the words are helping me rediscover about myself. About who I am. I’m looking in a mirror I never expected to find in a book about World War II.  And I sure as hell have not been to war.  I am not empathizing or even sympathizing with the POW experience–I am changing as I read because the words are forcing me to think, and think, and think some more about who I am. About the choices I have made, the lies I have told, the relationships I have had. I can’t stop the process by writing a comment, or writing this blog, or comforting the nearest veteran because my reaction will not receive it’s own reaction.  It’s why there is no comment section on this website.  I cannot react and subsequently in that process of reacting, comfort myself into a false sense of security and identity via other people’s reactions to my reactions.  My reaction just is.  I am creating identity in this process.  By not reacting externally with the expectation of a response, I am rediscovering myself internally.

I offer this not to further disparage programs or meetings, but to simply say that for me they cannot be the end all, be all of recovery.  They are beautiful, but they are, a conspiracy of experience.  The conspiracy is in sharing a language handed down by others;  words have meaning, intention, and can help or harm.  Each of us carry our lives into every word that exists in order to help us create identity.  Words like “rigorous honesty” and “character defect” are loaded with personal baggage and can do more harm than good if the language in this conspiracy of experience is touted as “The Word,” repeated as “The Word,” and offered as “The Word.”

Personally speaking, I must use my own language of experience to process my life, and in that process I will lead to discovery, to rediscovery.  It’s an individual process, just like the act of reading a book, that cannot be done solely relying on the help of others.  If I am not reading, I am not evolving.  If I am not reading, I am not recovering.  If I am not reading, I am not rediscovering.  Pow!  Fireworks.

Pleasure Unwoven: a must see DVD

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?

At my last rehab (the Pride Institute--a twelve step program), we watched a DVD called “Pleasure Unwoven.” (Abridged clips here)

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:

1. Genes
2. Reward
3. Memory
4. Stress
5. Choice

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.

Read Cold Creek Behavioral Health’s review of Pleasure Unwoven

What Would Happen if You Stopped Counting?

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

The Difference Between Goals and Systems

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?