Gratitude in Addiction Recovery

Gratitude in addiction recoveryThanksgiving always reminds us of gratitude. Gratitude in addiction recovery is a topic we talk about on an ongoing basis as one of the main principles of recovery. The idea behind the principle of gratitude is that recognizing the things for which we should be grateful is more mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy than obsessing over the negatives. In recovery it’s easy to fall into the trap of self pity, poor me, oh why did this happen to me? In reality, recovery from addiction opens up a new world.

Back in the 80s when I started working in the treatment field it was common for people working in the field to be in recovery from addiction. Recovering addicts could relate to the addict coming into treatment and could reach them when others couldn’t. This is how I got into treatment, through my own recovery. I now realize that counselors who aren’t in recovery can be as effective as a recovering addict, but both have strength and weaknesses, all training being equal. I say all this just to write personally about gratitude.

Before I got into recovery, I was lost. I had reached a point where life was meaningless. I felt dead inside and even when I drank alcohol all I felt was some blah sense of “normal” — the “good times” had disappeared a long time before I sought treatment. I had known deep down  for a long time that I had a problem with alcohol, but thought I could handle it myself. I thought I could regulate my drinking if I tried hard enough. Nothing worked. I kept drinking more than I intended to on most occasions. The hangovers got worse. The relationships with my family and friends got worse. They tried to understand, but from their perspective drinking was more important to me than the relationships. I couldn’t argue with them. I couldn’t deny my alcoholism any longer and I sought help.

After being in recovery for a while, my mind cleared up and my emotions returned. Sometimes the emotions were confusing and chaotic, but I talked to people in my support group and made it through without drinking or using any other substitute drug. The desire to create a better life returned and my relationships improved a 1000%. Clarity of mind was the one of the things in the beginning for which I was grateful, but there were many things. I could have fun again with my wife and kids — I could be a friend — I could recreate again and enjoy the little things I had forgotten about in my alcohol fog. My job performance improved immensely and finances were no longer a daily worry. Spiritually, meaning and purpose returned and I started working with other alcoholics who were reaching out for help.

Thanksgiving has a special meaning for me. Gratitude in addiction recovery is very important. I hope I never forget all the things for which I should be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Joy of Recovery From Addiction

The Joy of recovery from addiction

Celebrating Recovery

I find that most people are uncomfortable talking about addiction, addiction treatment or addiction recovery. The word addiction is loaded with negatives and stigma still remains. Some people have an image of a skid row “wino”, while others envision a drug addict using a needle in a run down house, and still others might envision the crazed cocaine addict with a crack pipe. Addiction is often perceived by  as a moral failing, or an unfortunate condition caused by lack of will power, or a purposeful consequence of too much irresponsible partying.

I’ve heard many times when discussing addiction and addiction treatment with someone who’s not very familiar with the subject that treatment doesn’t work –usually based on someone they know who went through treatment and started drinking or using drugs again. Even when some acknowledge that addicts stay abstinent in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, they see them as pitiful characters huddled together trying to make it through the day without going back to their old lifestyle.

Although more and more people are learning about addiction and recovery from addiction, there’s still a long way to go. After working in the addiction treatment field for 16 years, I’m encouraged more now than ever before that addiction treatment and recovery will become widely understood as inspirational and life changing. I’ve had the opportunity to witness thousands of addicts receive treatment and transform their lives in recovery. Today I celebrate recovery. I never feel sorry for the addict who comes into treatment — addicts don’t need sympathy, they need empathy and understanding and encouragement and education and a helping hand. If someone just can’t get past their judgements regarding addiction, they can at least not do any harm. I’m a witness that treatment works and recovery is real.

Alcoholics Anonymous has what they call Open Meetings the general public can attend — it’s usually a speaker meeting where someone in recovery tells their story. If you want to witness recovery first hand, go to an open meeting and listen with an open mind. If it doesn’t change you, go to a few more — you’ll eventually understand.

Virtuous Cycle in Addiction Recovery

recovery management

Upward and onward

In his book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge wrote about a virtuous cycle. Senge was writing about learning organizations, but the same principles apply to individuals and a virtuous cycle in addiction recovery. We’ve all heard about the vicious cycle — addiction is a prime example of a vicious cycle. A person becomes addicted to a drug, things get bad, the person tries to quit, the withdrawals are painful and life is just too hard without the drug, so the person says just one to take the edge off, then the cycle begins, over and over, with no apparent escape. This type of cycle is a downward spiral that ends in institutionalization, jail or death.

So, what is a virtuous cycle? A virtuous cycle would be when the addict actually breaks out of the cycle to create a new cycle that generates personal growth. The virtuous cycle is upward — it’s a good, reinforcing loop. The virtuous cycle is when a person applies recovery principles, things improve, the person reaches a plateau, then the person finds a new challenge, a new opportunity for personal growth which creates another cycle, over and over, upward and upward.

The path to the virtuous cycle is not easy, but it’s infinitely rewarding. In treatment, we attempt to guide clients to this virtuous cycle, to identify the old ideas that keep them trapped in the vicious cycle, to inspire actions necessary to get out of the vicious cycle and to teach recovery management tools necessary to start a virtuous cycle. The online Macmillan Dictionary defines a virtuous cycle this way:

a process in which a good action or event produces a good result that also causes the process to continue so that more good results happen

When the addicted person first tries to quit drinking alcohol or doing some other drug, they’re spending a lot of energy just staying away from the drug – if this is all the person does, no treatment, no counseling, no support, just white-knuckling it, then this will wear a person down mentally and emotionally, so that the person will most likely return to drug use. The virtuous cycle creates positive results — these improvements in the person’s life are inspirational. After improvement happens, the person’s drawn toward recovery rather than just trying to stay away from the drug(s) of choice. This makes all the difference in recovery.

When a person is pulled toward recovery because they want more growth and improvement, then great things can happen.

Outpatient Addiction Treatment

Group therapy

Treatment works

So, what is outpatient addiction treatment? First of all, the lingo is changing in the addiction treatment field. Although most professionals in the field still refer to addiction as addiction, there are some organizations referring to addiction as Substance Use Disorder or Alcohol Use Disorder. These changes in terminology are for diagnostic reasons mostly, and I still prefer to distinguish between alcohol/substance abuse and alcohol or other drug addiction. With temporary alcohol/drug abuse, a person might be mishandling a divorce or a close death by drinking too much or using some other drug to deal with pain and lonliness. This is usually temporary, and the person might need short-term counseling to find better ways to cope — however, if signs and symptoms show that the person is in the early or middle stages of addiction, progressing toward late stage, full blown addiction, then this is a serious medical problem that requires some form of treatment.

When a potential client comes to NewDay Counseling for a free consultation, we gather enough information to determine if the person is temporarily abusing alcohol or some other drug, or whether the person appears to have a more serious problem and could be in the early or middle stages of alcoholism or some other drug addiction. We also determine if the person has insurance or the ability to pay for treatment. For some reason many people tend to think addiction treatment should be free, but we’re a private organization and receive no government funds. There are organizations that receive state and/or federal funds, and we refer to these treatment options if the person can not pay for treatment or doesn’t have insurance. When people receive other medical treatment, they expect to pay for it or have it covered by insurance — addiction treatment is no different. Addiction might be the most under-treated medical condition in the healthcare realm, costing society billions of dollars a year. Addiction also needlessly causes pre-mature death.

When the issue of money becomes a barrier to treatment, even for someone who can easily pay, we always do a calculation of how much the person is now spending/wasting on alcohol and other drugs and the consequences of drinking and doing drugs — like DUI costs or making bad financial decisions or days not working or loss of a job because of a drug screen or failure to get a promotion due to lack of motivation or trips to the emergency room because of an accident while drunk — and when the calculations are finished the cost of treatment looks like a very smart investment. For an amount equal to most payments for furniture, a big screen TV or a nice stereo, a person can make payments on something, treatment, that can turn the individual’s life around and enable the person to become prosperous and happy in the future — yes, it’s a good investment.

Once we’ve determined that a person has an alcohol or other drug problem that is serious enough to warrant treatment, we have to decide if the person needs to go inpatient or is appropriate for outpatient. Outpatient treatment is less expensive and, of course, less restrictive. In outpatient a person can continue to work and be with the family if there is a family. Our Medical Director makes the final decision between inpatient and outpatient. If a person is in danger of going into withdrawals, and it’s too risky to try detox medication on an outpatient basis, we’ll recommend the person go to an inpatient detox, then the inpatient facility will determine how long the person stays inpatient. It could be that the person stays inpatient for a week or so then is transferred back to us at NewDay Counseling to complete addiction treatment in outpatient.

If the person is going to receive addiction treatment with us in an outpatient program, we perform what’s called a Bio/Psycho/Social assessment which asks pertinent questions about the person’s drug use/drinking history, family history, medical history, emotional state, employment situation and history, etc. After gathering all this information, a treatment plan is developed. The treatment plan establishes treatment goals, objectives, and interventions to accomplish the objectives.

The person begins group therapy which is four evenings a week, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, from 5:30pm to 8:30p. One hour of group is educational, regarding some topic pertinent to addiction or recovery from addiction, then the other two hours are process group therapy. Very real, powerful and therapeutic relationships are developed in group therapy if the person opens up and allows others to know him/her. When a group of people are working together toward common goals it’s a much more effective than going it alone or simply talking to a therapist once a week for an hour, especially when what you’re dealing with is something as powerful as addiction. The client receives at least one individual session a week, more if necessary, then family involvement as indicated.

The person in addiction treatment and their counselor work on treatment plan goals, and the counselors meet once a week, at least, with the Clinical Director and Medical Director to discuss clients’ progress and what adjustments are necessary. Referral sources, such as physicians, attorneys, employers, EAPs, if they are on the signed release of information form, receive updates regarding the clients’ treatment — the client has to agree to this update information, otherwise, the client’s treatment is confidential. Unless a client gives us permission to tell someone he/she is in treatment, we can’t tell anyone unless there’s a court order signed by a judge legally requesting the information, but even then it has to be a court order signed by the judge, not just a subpoena.

Near the end of treatment, the counselor and the client begin developing a discharge plan. I prefer to call this a Recovery Management Plan. This plan is very important and should address the long term goals of treatment. Addiction is a chronic brain disease and it takes a long time to clear up, gain insight, stabilize and develop the coping skills necessary to make changes. Then treatment becomes maintenance. We recommend that the client find a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Rational Recovery, a recovery church group, or whatever, just support from others going through the same recovery from addiction and maintenance of recovery. After a period of time in a support group like AA, the person can begin helping newcomers coming into the group, and this is when recovery goes to a higher level.

Once an individual begins feeling good emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually, making positive changes, developing purpose and meaning in life, and then helping others do the same, recovery becomes not a “staying away” from alcohol or other drugs, but a moving forward to a better life that improves as time goes on. Recovery can seem like something is pulling the person forward — this is recovery, and it has to be managed and maintained.

Celebrating Addiction Recovery

Happy Joyous and Free

Celebrating Recovery

What people usually hear about addiction is depressing. The addiction horror stories circulate faster and wider than the recovery stories. I’ve often been asked how I work in the field of addiction. I’m asked if it’s depressing, seeing all the ruined lives and the failure. My response has been that I also see recovery. I learned long ago that addiction is a treatable and recovery is possible. I know clients now who I first met in 1980s that are still in recovery — they’ve been drug-free for decades.

Recovery is happening all over the world. I’ve made arrangements to go the International AA Convention in Atlanta in July. The International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous is held every 5 years. I went to the one held in Seattle in 1990. The Super Dome was filled with recovering alcoholics from all over the world. If I remember correctly, the flags of 65 nations were flying at the convention, each nation represented by members of AA at the convention. Not only were the seats filled, the playing field was full of recovering alcoholics.

Celebrating addiction recovery happens everywhere among recovering addicts — it’s just not advertised well. Stories of recovery aren’t circulated like the terrible acts that happen when someone is under the influence of a mood altering drug. Thankfully, the internet has given a voice to recovery — there are websites on which recovering addicts tell their stories, and it gives hope to millions of alcoholics or other drug addicts who are just beginning the road to recovery. Here is one such site. This is an excerpt from the recovery story:

I am grateful that I have embraced the fruits of what it means to be accountable.  I know what trust is now.  There is nothing greater in my mind than the feeling of being believed in.  This made a huge difference.  Structure and consequence offered me the chance to find out what being responsible really meant.  People told me the truth.  These were really good people who I could recognize as being good because I was drug free.  I found the friendships I made in treatment to be very special and so different from other relationships from my past.   I accepted these new friends because they accepted me.

Addiction Thinking, Recovery Thinking

recovery from addiction

Addiction thinking, Recovery thinking

Addiction thinking might seem insane to others, but to the alcoholic or drug addict it makes sense. The addicted person creates an alternate reality to make sense of his/her world, and to counter what’s perceived as an attack from others who’re pleading or demanding the person give up the alcohol or some other drug.

It’s what the addict continues telling herself that’s so damaging. Addiction thinking says I can’t live without alcohol or drugs — drinking makes me more sociable — I have to drink with work associates to advance my career — I drink because my spouse nags me — I can quit if I want to — Drinking helps me deal with anxiety — I drink because I’m depressed. It goes on and on. This is an excerpt from Finding a Purpose in the Pain – A Doctor’s Approach to Addiction Recovery and Healing – by James L. Fenley, Jr., MD; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP:

The natural inclination with addictive thinking is to repeat the same act over and over and over again. Also inherent in addictive thinking is the belief that the addict can manage his or her addictive behavior. For example, the alcoholic in denial believes over and over, “This time when I drink, it will feel just as good as it once did and won’t cause any problems.” The power of denial is amazing.

Another part of addictive thinking is a need for problems. As long as an addict has a problem, he or she has a reason to use. Of course, addicts are unaware of this need because of denial, but they always seem to be in conflict with something or somebody. Just because an addict enters some form of treatment and verbalizes that he or she is an addict does not mean it is an end to addictive thinking. In early recovery, even the most dedicated person will go in and out of addictive thinking on a daily basis. That is why it is so important for the addict in early recovery to attend daily recovery meetings, get a sponsor, and read recovery-approved literature. The more that a person hears, sees, and models recovery-oriented thinking and behavior, the less denial—and with that, addictive thinking—is likely to play a role in his or her life.

Recovery thinking is acceptance of reality. When a person thinks clearly in recovery, they aren’t trying to make reality better than it is or worse than it is — they’re accepting reality as it is. The person in recovery accepts where they are in life, then starts from that point putting things back together, making amends where possible and practicing principles of good living in all their affairs. Recovery thinking says that I am responsible, but I don’t have to do it alone — I reach out for help and learn from others in recovery — I might make mistakes but I can correct these mistakes as they happen so that nothing builds up into a blow-up — I understand that recovery is a long term process and I have to take it one day at a time — I understand that others might not trust me in the beginning and that I have to learn to trust myself. Recovery thinking is healthy — addiction thinking is destructive.

The Upward Spiral – Addiction Recovery

Upward spiral of recovery

Addiction Recovery

We hear more about the downward spiral of addiction than we do the upward spiral – addiction recovery. Substance abuse counselors focused on long term recovery management are fortunate that they witness the miracle of recovery over and over.

Fortunately, most people truly in recovery freely share how they did it in order to give hope to those who haven’t recovered. Recovery stories also give hope to family members struggling with a family member in the throes of addiction. Much work is needed to get the message out that people addicted to alcohol or other drugs can recover and do recover. We also need to change the language we use to describe “substance abuse” — this is from Faces and Voices of Recovery website:

White’s paper states that we must abandon some words while at the same time establish a ‘pro-recovery language.’

I’d like to focus on the negative aspects of the terms ‘abuse’ and ‘abuser,’ and suggest some actions that we at Rhode Island Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts (RICARES) have taken and are preparing to take to rid ourselves of a term that White calls ‘one of the most ‘ill-chosen.’

White notes that this was recognized as long ago as 1973 when the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse criticized the term and stated that “continued use of this term with its emotional overtones, will serve only to perpetuate confused public attitudes about drug using behavior.’

The statement was prophetic.

This term is ill-chosen because:

  • There are heinous crimes committed by horrible people such as domestic abuse, elder abuse, sexual abuse, animal abuse, and child abuse. At some level of consciousness, people associate substance abuse with that group. We don’t belong there.

  • If we believe that addiction and the range of substance use disorders are medical conditions, why do we use the term when it is not used for any other condition? People with diabetes are not treated for ‘sugar abuse.’

  • Our use of the term ‘substance abuse’ has contributed to the reluctance of many people to accept addiction as a biomedical condition, and continue to believe that the most appropriate and effective way to deal with the societal issue of addiction is as a criminal issue rather than as a public health issue.

  • The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-V) has discontinued the designations of ‘abuse’ and ‘dependency.’ The new term is ‘substance use disorder,’ (e.g., alcohol use disorder, cocaine use disorder, etc.). So, the term ‘abuse’ is even diagnostically outdated

I’ve never liked the term substance abuse myself, but it’s used so often and is so familiar with the public I use it because so many recognize the term. I have to use terms that people will search in order to attract readers. I might give this more thought and change the language on the site slightly to achieve both goals.

The reason language is important is because with a medical condition like addiction precise language is vital to understanding the problem and to finding solutions. If the public and even medical professionals perceive addiction and drug use disorders as comparable to domestic abuse, child abuse, animal abuse and such, then addiction and the unhealthy use of drugs and alcohol to cope with life’s pressures will not be treated with empathy and care.

I applaud anyone who goes through life free of all psychological, behavioral and emotional difficulties, but it doesn’t hurt to understand that most people have something they have to deal with at different times during their lives. We don’t excuse anyone with an addiction problem from taking responsibility to deal with the problem, but if the stigma isn’t there, and if more caring and understanding people are willing to help with the problem, then it’s easier for the person to seek help and to recover.

Most of us find ourselves dealing with some “disorder” at sometime during our lives. I’m always suspicious of the judgmental types who shame others who’re dealing with life problems — it makes me wonder if the judgmental person is hiding something. It’s time to drop the judgments and face the problems — addiction is a huge problem that’s amenable to treatment. Even if addiction is seen as a terrible condition that could have been avoided if the addicted person had never used alcohol or drugs to start with, it’s a little late to harp on what should have been. The point is that the person is addicted, or lost in a self-defeating pattern of using alcohol or other drugs to cope with problems, and needs help to recover and live a good, healthy, rich life.

Recovery is possible, and it’s more than likely if more people in society join the effort to eradicate the stigma attached to addiction and alcohol/drug use disorders.

What is recovery from addiction?

addiction recoveryWhat is recovery from addiction? Most people would say recovery is when someone who has a problem with alcohol or other drugs quits drinking or doing drugs, but this isn’t near all that constitutes recovery. In Alcoholics Anonymous there are those who say they are recovering alcoholics and those who say they are recovered alcoholics. Recover-ing suggests an ongoing process, while recover-ed speaks to a present altered state. I can see both perspectives. Recovery from addiction is a long-term, ongoing process that has to be managed, but at some point in recovery the recovering person no longer experiences what Bill Wilson called a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Wilson was referring to the first hundred members of AA who had “recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body”. Many people in recovery latched onto the word “recovered” and it created a debate. What Bill Wilson likely meant is that in recovery, if you are changing and practicing the principles of recovery in all your affairs, you will not feel like a hopeless drunkard. You will recover from that seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.

When a person is abstinent from all mood-altering drugs, they’re ready for recovery, but they haven’t recovered. And even when a recovering addict gets to the point they’ve recovered from the seemingly hopeless state of mind, they have to continue managing their recovery or they’ll likely slide back to old mental states, and start frequenting old play grounds, and associating with old drinking and drug using buddies that often lead to relapse.

In treatment, we don’t cure people of addiction — we prepare people who have a problem with alcohol or other drugs for recovery. We provide the necessary education and therapy for a person to apply what they’ve learned to their recovery over a long period of time, maybe the rest of their lives. This doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for outcomes, because what we as professionals provide in treatment and what we recommend for ongoing recovery are important.

It’s natural to think of lifetime recovery as a huge burden, but it’s not a burden. In fact, recovery should enhance a person’s life and lead to healthy and enjoyable living. Recovery should add quality years to a person’s life. Alcohol and other drugs are poisonous when used in large amounts over a long period of time, so when a person is not putting poison in their system on a regular basis, they feel better — when a person pays attention to their mental and emotional state, seeking balance and happiness, they should have higher self-esteem ad a positive outlook on life — when a person is seeking to develop healthy and honest relationships, then that person’s life is richer and fuller — when a person exercises and eats good food, their body feels stronger and more energetic, and they think more clearly. These are some of the actions that constitute recovery management, and they aren’t burdensome, they are life-saving and life-enhancing.