Let’s face it – when endeavoring to distance ourselves from any substance addiction we simply do not want to go backwards. Yes, individuals do relapse while in recovery and such an event should never be viewed by anyone as a failure. However, it is a setback and can have painful consequences. I, for one, have never seen nor heard of an individual that had a happy or good relapse experience. How could it be so? The opposite occurs and the ramifications can be costly in so many ways. Usually, when a person starts using or drinking again, they quickly descend back to the level of drug or alcohol abuse they reached prior to attempting recovery. Moreover, one can easily plunge deeper into their addiction, prolonging this critical relapse period and making another attempt at recovery that much more trying than before.
There is excellent material offered by highly reputable recovery organizations such as AA and Kolmac addressing this critical concern of the ‘relapse.’ Kolmac offers quite an insightful diagram called the ‘Relapse Sequence.’ It begins with how one can set up a rationalization process for using again, followed by behavior that surreptitiously brings one closer, physically and mentally, towards their substance of choice. A simple example of this is picking up some coffee or cigarettes close to a liquor store you once frequented. This is what AA refers to as a “slippery slope” – repeating patterns of behavior through location-triggers. Then the triggers ensue and intensify the cravings. There is a real snowball effect during this phase.
Unfortunately, many succumb to the addiction’s siren-like calling, and exhibit a sudden inner decision, quite automatic and subconscious, that they must have a drink or use again. Usually, the rationalizing within kicks into high gear and offers many justifications. Familiar examples: I am just going to dabble this one time and then cut myself off immediately and get to that AA meeting. I cannot get through another day without using. Life is just not worth living without a drink or a fix. I know I can get off it again. I can have just a couple of drinks, no one will know. Hey, I just sobered-up this last month or two, didn’t I, that wasn’t so hard – I can do it again, right after I have a beer or two. I do not really have a problem. If I had not gotten that DWI I would be back at a bar this very evening drinking with my buddies. If my parents had not gotten back from dinner so early, I would not have been caught. If my co-worker had not reported me to my supervisor, I would still have a job and everything would be okay. We know the rap very well indeed, don’t we? The sad outcome is we nose-dive further and further into the relapse.
Let us right now call a spade a spade; we did this to ourselves. We chose to relapse. It is our responsibility, our decision. But, we know this and somehow this realization did not prevent us from returning to our unfortunate state of servitude. Like it or not our reciprocating inner dialogue now chastises us for our relapse. Examples of this: Are we that helpless in life even with assistance all around us? Do we not care at all about our life and others? Am I that stupid, that weak? Is it really possible to live clean and sober? Do we like waking up in the morning chained to a substance, fully knowing how that substance is destroying everything in our life? Do we enjoy the looks and responses we get from our loved ones or coworkers when we relapse and see the mistrust in their eyes?
People who have never experienced alcohol or drug abuse/addiction will most likely not understand what a person goes through during a relapse - the bleak consequences of a recovery gone awry. But we do. It is indeed a very harsh reality to face. Moreover, for what – a lousy moment with a drink or two or more consumed, or pills swallowed, toxic smoke inhaled, or an injurious and noxious substance shot into a vein. It just does not add up and it never will.
There is little disputing that the pressures of life can become intense. Stress, anxiety, and depression can overwhelm people with or without addiction issues. However, for someone trying to get free of their addiction, the strains and worries of life are more amplified and overwhelming beyond reason and control – so it seems. Challenges in life will appear insurmountable and perplexing. The relapse succession of events resulting in this inner upheaval is not to be underestimated. The unfortunate setback begins and we are using and drinking uncontrollably. Many of us will attest to falling prey to this multifaceted relapse sequence and this is why so much effort is offered by recovery organizations to assist at just such a crossroad.
Please explore the wonderful research that is available to us. Trained and caring professionals have devoted a lot of effort and time over the years to help us understand the very complex mental and physical components that occur before a relapse. One of the aspects I would like to address here in this blog concerns the thought process itself. For starters, each moment that a person has a thought, there is a correlative and complex inner response to that thought. Often, we do not even notice the reaction to a singular thought because so many thoughts pass through one’s mind at any given time. However, repeated thoughts tend to gather force and momentum forming subconscious units of orb-like energy. For instance, you are having anxious thoughts regarding a project at work – each time attention focuses upon this impending project, these thoughts converge inside and continue to activate the neurological and chemical responses described as anxiousness.
We know that attempting to dismiss such kinds of thoughts is not easy, sometimes ostensibly inconceivable. For example, when we try to ‘stop’ our thinking process about having a drink, we often end up thinking about that drink even moreso. Our desire to negate the thoughts regarding drinking or using can produce the opposite effect. We inadvertently energize that part of the brain that invokes our desire to imbibe our substance of choice. Moreover, usually we remember only the ‘good’ parts of past use.
A gentle and mindful approach to the thinking process has been proven more effective when trying to dissuade undesirable thoughts from having power over one’s mind. Conversely, this more congenial practice to how we think can more easily allow the entry of positive, healthy thoughts. When a thought runs through our mind urging us to have a drink, for instance, instead of giving it more power than it deserves, simply recognize the thought. Take a deep breath or two and allow the urging thought to have its moment of recognition. Then, with attentiveness, let the thought float away. Wait a moment, take another deep breath, and invite in other, healthy thoughts. Think of your gratefulness for being sober or clean. Consider the health and well-being you now have in your recovery. Feel how wonderful it is to wake up and remember last night and to have no remorse for giving in to your addiction. Take a walk or a jog and breathe in that nourishing air. Allow yourself to experience caring and loving thoughts about who you are. Read some inspirational material. Take in some passages from the Big Book. Think about the other people you have met in recovery and how they have given to you and how you wish to give back. Pick up the phone and call your sponsor. Get up and go to a meeting. You know what to do.
This is a simple beginning to mindful thinking. Another excellent way to understand this practice and not get caught into that pretentiousness that sometimes surrounds such exercises is to recall that wonderful quote from Diana Robinson. “Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you listen to God.” I truly love this quotation. When you allow yourself to ‘listen’ there are so many magnificent and loving thoughts one can draw into their inner being. Mindfulness takes practice. Allowing yourself to gently dismiss those undesired relapse thoughts, and with compassion, calm and patience invite in those healthy thoughts of sobriety and living clean, you will continue to avoid the treachery of the relapse sequence. It is another excellent tool for our Unconditional Recovery. Till next time . . .
We in the recovery community are quite familiar with the opiate and heroin epidemic in this country. Many societies around the world are also processing how to handle this alarming crisis while coping with the growing dilemma of addiction and overdose fatalities. For this particular blog posting, I would like to put aside the issue of alcoholism in order to focus on this comparable yet equally treacherous scourge facing our society. While there is no disputing that addiction to drugs and the condition we call alcoholism are so very similar, there are particular aspects of opiate and heroin use worth addressing in this discussion - specifically, the actual swiftness of the addiction process as it descends and seizes complete control of a person.
I have attended countless recovery meetings over the last few years when someone has revealed to the group the loss of a dear friend, loved-one, child, or spouse that has died from a drug overdose. This is in addition to hearing the painful experiences people share of their own addiction and near-death encounters with drugs. Thankfully, society is turning more needed attention and resources to this widespread issue assailing us. I am in full support of all law enforcement initiatives that are trying to bring the large distributors and manufacturers of these illegal, addictive substances to justice. It is not just the drug cartels that are to blame, although their responsibility for much of this continuing plague is enormous. The excessive amount of money acquired at the expense of human life and the boundless suffering imposed on others is repugnant to say the least. Moreover, there are too many unethical doctors distributing opiates such as OxyContin, oxycodone and other addictive drugs to patients that should not have these substances prescribed. Such doctors should be brought to justice and the pharmaceuticals that produce and distribute these medications must be held to some measure of accountability and responsibility.
In this blog, we are going to focus on the individuals, younger and older, that are suffering from drug addiction and those who desire to begin and continue their recovery program. Every person who has perished from an overdose has left behind friends and family shaken to the core with grief at their loss. To contemplate the life that could have been but is no longer because of an overdose is simply heartbreaking. I am deeply saddened when I hear of someone I did not even know that has perished this way – they were an extraordinary creation of God with thoughts, feelings, a soul, and so much potential. They unfortunately had simply lost their way in life and succumbed to the perils of addiction. A person that has OD’d is not just a statistic to be quickly overlooked as an element of another ‘problem’ in the world today. Their loss is agonizing and poignant and a casualty of another kind of war we are facing as a society.
We live in a world with so much unending violence and hatred exhibited every day that it isn't difficult to understand that one may want to just escape through any substance within reach. There are despicable acts of brutality we hear about in the news all too often. Whether it is another terrorist bombing or a shooting in a movie theatre, there is one hard-core fact behind all of these vile acts – the complete disregard of life. This contempt emerges from a complete lack of understanding of the magnificent and loving precepts behind our creation. It is also a result of a viciously cold, narcissistic, and hatefully born consciousness that is void of any empathy or caring dimension. Such people are empty within except for their insatiable appetites displayed as excessive greed and hatred. Are there too many people on this earth that fit this horrid description – yes, there are. However, this should not blunt our consciousness to the significance of each individual person and their worth. Every creature, large and small, every human being and animal is so very important. Our quality of life must be appreciated if we are to progress and survive as a civilization. Are there numerous individuals that have abundant love, empathy, and compassion for life, all around us? The answer is an emphatic ‘yes.’ They are everywhere!
Our society is filled with caring people who are devoting their lives to helping others who are in need. There are meetings, programs, counselors, therapists, doctors, members of the clergy, families, and friends that want to assist those in the midst of addiction and help pull them out of their hell and place them back on a healthy road of recovery. Now, what about some of you who are reading this blog who may already be in recovery from drug addiction? How can you be of service to others who may have just started using drugs or may be considering using and going deeper into repeated use?
Any person that has been in recovery for a period of time has gained the rich experience that can be of vital assistance to others. We all know how the scenario can go down. A seemingly innocent, inexperienced person attends a party with their peers. They are prompted into using, just that first time – “You’ll just love how it makes you feel, come on, try it. It is harmless. Everyone is doing it. It’s safe. Where have you been?” This person succumbs to the peer-pressure and the continued promptings from others and begins their drug use. Then you are of course accepted and now you have many ‘friends.' This may be a simplistic version of how it happens, but we get the idea.
So, what can you do to help? Be courageous and tell others about the perils of drug use, your addiction, how quickly you became dependent on drugs and sought out less expensive versions to obtain the same drug feeling. Warn your friends and acquaintances you know of the dreadful struggle you have gone through and the challenges of becoming a healthy person again. Describe to others what drug use did to your life and the people around you. Be real, be honest, be emphatic, be bold, and direct. Once we start helping others on the path of recovery we begin to find our true self again and start to reach outside of own personal battles and join ourselves with the world around us. Please inform others of the real treachery behind that drug-induced feeling, how short-lived and artificial that good feeling was in reality, not to mention the agonizing pain of not having the drug around you anymore, and the extent you went to acquire another dose or fix.
An important part of honest recovery is tearing off the false façade of drug use and exposing it for what it truly is. We are not meant to live in a drug-induced stupor. We are more than that, so much more. Our life is worth abundantly more than the millions of dollars acquired by the greedy drug-lords who thrive on our addiction or the potential of enlarging their market of addiction. The pharmaceutical opiate medications are for alleviating real physical pain and should serve that purpose alone. Drugs, illegal or legal, are not to be used to escape life while living in a state of drug-induced delusion. Eventually, our addiction becomes our prison and for some, tragically, becomes a coffin.
I have learned so much during the years of my alcohol recovery. It feels so wonderful to be free of alcohol and to realize that my drinking never gave me anything worthwhile, even in the earlier years of use to relax or quiet my nerves. In fact, alcoholism, just like drug addiction, will destroy a person and it is quite a painful journey on the way down to that complete obliteration of body, mind, and soul. That is why this blog is so passionately devoted to Unconditional Recovery. There are proven pathways for each of us to live a healthy, abundant, and loving life free from addiction, free from alcoholism. It is a personal decision, a critical decision, and it is a loving decision. Choose Unconditional Recovery. Make it your daily mantra: "there simply is no condition or reason that will allow me to use ever again." Set yourself free from the bonds of addiction. Keep on the path of your recovery – stay clean and sober. Remain strong . . . until next time.
As I have pointed out before, words are sometimes used ineffectively and the real meaning of what a person is trying to say can easily get ‘lost in translation,’ even when speaking the same language. This happens all the time especially when attempting to describe our feelings and emotions. When we are in group meetings it is often a good idea to slow down and allow ourselves to communicate to others by using several phrases or words until we feel we have truly conveyed our inner sentiments.
The word ‘structure’ can be just such a word and as you read further along in this posting I will try to describe exactly what I mean. There is no question that having a daily structure in someone’s life is vital when in recovery. Just checking the word ‘structure’ itself in a thesaurus opens up a number of other words that may be more useful. Here are some of those thesaurus words: construction, design, organization, framework, architecture. Immediately the word itself moves from a somewhat dull concept to one that is much more inviting and creative.
Another word I would like to bring up now in relation to forming a viable structure in one’s recovery life, is the word ‘chore.’ How many times have we heard ‘we need to do our chores,’ or ‘washing the dishes or doing our laundry is such a chore,’ or ‘you cannot go out until you finish your chores.’ Okay, I think we get the idea. Chores are part of that list of items in life that have to be completed and I have found when talking to many individuals in recovery that the word ‘structure’ is immediately interpreted synonymously with the word ‘chore.’ Therein lies a problem. Remember, words can be tricky and how we think and feel about something will often end up being how we will live with that interpretation.
We need structure in our daily life and part of that structure is doing our daily chores. Okay, we accept this. The people who are in recovery that develop a structure in their daily lives are inherently more successful at remaining sober and clean than those individuals that choose to lie in bed until noon, watch TV, occasionally attend a meeting, etc. Each of us needs activity, needs movement, and variety, but daily seemingly mundane tasks (structure, chores) are equally vital. Our minds daily need to be brought to a state of full awareness – what are we thinking, what would we like to accomplish this day. At the same time, we should get in touch with our feelings and emotions and relate to our inner being with care. Our bodies must have exercise and sound nourishment. All of us need to breath in fresh air and try to experience some time each day in the outdoors, regardless of the weather conditions. This is all practical, good common sense and we have all heard variations on this theme.
What I have learned in my journey in recovery is to fully embrace structure and the chores associated with that structure. What works for me, is to allow myself to have awareness of the moment and not rush through anything in order to dutifully mark it off as completed on my daily list of things to do. People are sometimes in too big a rush, constantly marking off their lists of things they must do and getting through the day mindlessly. The words structure and chore have been given a bad reputation. Getting in touch with the moment, allowing oneself to be aware of both body and mind when doing anything is key to fully integrated living – that’s what living in unconditional recovery is all about – living mindfully and integrated.
If we are constantly negating awareness of the moment, hoping to get to the end of the day at work and looking to that upcoming weekend, for instance, then we are missing out on each day. Life is meant to be lived in the present and our awareness needs to become unified with this moment. When our minds are racing with thoughts, and, often an inner dialogue filled with anxiety or negativity, we cannot be in the moment. Training our awareness to be in unity with our actions is probably one of the healthiest practices we can introduce to our daily structure. We have only this moment and I know one of the real challenges anyone faces is not being able to still the mind and be in the moment.
Life is not just something to get through. I know that I drank alcohol to try to numb and still my mind and we all know where that leads. Alcohol and drugs are not the answer to this dilemma of our racing thoughts. In fact, it is easy to say, without the proof of some major study or report, that human beings are seldom allowing themselves to be present in the now. I sometimes look at life and witness so many of us just pounding through the days with little peace in the moment. I know this, because it is what I did before my recovery began and what I hear from others countless times in many meetings. A person can be wealthy and on a three week vacation in Switzerland, and still not have peace of mind. They can suffer from the perplexing dis-easement of not being able to slow down, harness those perpetually running thoughts, and bring their minds into an awareness of one thought – this moment. Again, any person in this world can be suffering from a state of dis-easement and dis-connectedness.
Each of us has the choice to begin to enhance the meaning behind structure and chores. Make them a happy part of your life, not something that you ‘must’ do. Having structure in one’s life is vital to recovery but it should be a positive endeavor, not a negative task. I now embrace all the small chores I do every day – washing the dishes, taking a shower and shaving, taking out the trash, vacuuming my home, driving to work. It has taken much practice over the years but it all begins right now. Start with the simplest chore and try to focus on just what you are doing. If you have a thought in the moment, make it a positive thought. Tell yourself while you work that you are finding love for life, love for yourself and others and an appreciation of your body and the movements you are utilizing to accomplish your task-at-hand.
Practice slowing down your thinking while building the positive, daily structure in your life. Find the blessing of life itself and of your life – your important life of recovery. Allow recovery to be the most positive moment and period you have ever embraced in your entire existence. Know that happiness and peace can be found within this moment – the deep wisdom of One Day at a Time – let’s add One Moment at a Time. It is only during this state of awareness and harmony that a person can find and feel God and experience that wonderful unity of God’s universe within their own heart. This mindful state is worth more than gold and certainly is not to be found through alcohol or drugs. It is an attainable state of consciousness and can be practiced and developed during recovery and for a lifetime. Why? Because in recovery we are open to change and redefining our lives while creating a new structure of awareness. We have been granted a wonderful opportunity to enhance our lives through unconditional recovery and to embrace the richness and beauty that life can be.
The next blog will expound on these ideas and introduce the concept of ritual in our lives. Until next time . . . stay strong.
One of the most wonderful aspects of recovery is seeing a person express their gratefulness and thanks for the new life they have embarked upon. Any individuals in life that has found a sense of gratefulness have allowed themselves to open a most fundamental pathway to their heart. The heart physically is that most vital organ that pumps blood throughout our bodies – an involuntary action on our part but certainly an undisputed voluntary action on the part of Creation. The heart beats regardless of our conscious decision to cause it or will it to beat.
In ancient Sanskrit, the heart chakra is the fourth of seven centers in our body/being and is called Anahata, meaning unstruck or unhurt. This infers that within our heart is a deep spiritual place unscathed by hurt and pain. When the heart chakra is ‘open,’ then love, compassion, and understanding flow freely from and within a person. When this center is closed-off then you are blocked from the spiritual influence of the heart and can become filled with anger, jealousy, fear, and grief. It follows easily that when one feels a sense of gratefulness they are flowing with an open heart. During early recovery, it is so beautiful to witness this natural development within a person and what a contrast to the utter selfishness that had previously defined much of the addictive state.
One of the most meaningful contemplations I like to do, now that I am sober, is to take a few minutes each day and reflect upon the numerous, fortunate aspects of my life. It is so easy to rush this process during the course of our busy lives and not give enough meaningful time to such reflection. I am often amazed when I go to a grocery store, packed with all kinds of fresh food before a holiday like Christmas or New Years and seeing people in such a frantic, often angry state of impatience. Many of us have so much in life and it is easy to forget to be thankful for all we do in fact enjoy. Much of the world is not so fortunate and many go hungry every day. Clearly, when addicted and using or drinking, we easily erase from our minds an appreciation of the most basic things in our life.
In the spirit of the New Year I would like to share some of the things in life that I am now very grateful for. First, this day, January 1st, I am grateful for my unconditional sobriety and another day free from alcohol addiction. Every day I am so very thankful for my wife and our new relationship that has formed since I started my sobriety. I am grateful for her forgiveness and for the complete honesty we now share in our marriage and the wonderful trust she now has in me. Having her presence in my life is profound and I am a lucky man.
I am grateful for the beautiful animals in my life – our rescued felines. I am so very grateful for the new friends and new family my wife and I now have and look forward to sharing so much in the future with those loved ones. Every day I give thanks for the food and water I have to bring into my body and nourish it. I am thankful for having a roof over my head and warmth during the winter months. I am thankful for the clear mind I now possess and the ability of using my mind for good purposes. I am so very grateful for the wonderful, loving people I have met and shared my life with in recovery. I give thanks to the counselors and therapists, especially my own personal therapist, that have given so much to me and have helped me find who I really am and sort through the debris and clutter that had previously filled my life.
When I think of AA, the 12 Steps, the people I have met, the terrific speakers I have heard at meetings, I am beyond grateful. When I utter the Serenity Prayer I give thanks for the wisdom contained is such a few words. I give thanks to Kolmac and their staff for their amazing alcohol and addiction treatment – and, their kindness and warmth. I am grateful for the employment I have and the wonderful people I work with. I am grateful for loving so many different kinds of music. I am grateful for learning the importance of deep breathing and meditation and what a profound affect it has had facilitating my recovery. I am grateful for the continual healing of my body, my organs, and my brain since becoming sober. I am grateful for realizing that love is so much more powerful than hate and that I do not allow the violence in the world to hinder my expressions of love and understanding. Nor, do I allow the negativity of the world to ever alter me from standing firm with my own sobriety. I am very grateful to live in a state of peace and not fear. And, I am so very, very thankful that I live in a country that continues to maintain the hard-fought freedoms we all share. I am grateful for being able to write this blog freely without fear of reprisals from anyone – it is an expression of my right to free speech.
If you do not already practice this mindful reflection of gratefulness, then give it a try. As we begin this New Year 2016, let us celebrate the fortunate aspects of living a clean and sober life. Discovering all that is within us and around us that is truly wonderful and allowing our hearts to open to the profound realization of gratefulness for these things, will continue to set us free in our sobriety. Giving thanks for this day, this moment, this year is a tremendous personal step in our recovery journey. Being grateful and expressing thankfulness for our life, our freedom, the people and animals we share this earth with, is a momentous and rewarding stride towards becoming a loving and at-one human being.
Wishing each of you a very inspired year ahead, as you continue on your journey.