Monthly Archives: March 2014

Sunday Inspiration

celebrate victory happy“Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand new hours to live.  What a precious gift!”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Relapse: A View from the Therapist’s Chair

seeing the situation clearly with addictionThis “View from a Therapist’s Chair,” is from Terri Busch, LCSW, who has worked in the mental health field for over 20 years. She has a private practice, supervises other therapists in treatment centers and presently blogs for New Roads Treatment Center

When someone stops caring, do we?  What is the sane choice?  Many of you as parents have been through this part of the experience of addiction. I thought it might be of interest to know what it looks like from a therapist’s eyes.

I’ve been working with a client, recently out of drug and alcohol rehab. I have also had the fortune to work with this client’s mother, other family members and the group leaders.  Teamwork is crucial in the recovery process.  Last week I received one of those ‘heart-drop’ calls:  the voice of the client’s mom when she called to cancel her appointment due to the relapse of her young adult.

It is a heartbreaking sound.

As this young adult’s therapist, I asked myself what I might have done a little differently to notice when the doubts began to creep in for this client.

How would I have known what to watch for?

I had provided my client with a checklist for daily or weekly use to watch for warning signs of relapse. The plan was to check in on the day of the client’s no-show regarding the areas on the checklist, with both of us noting where more focus was needed. As I reviewed the list, the following concerns came up for me:

  • Minor Depression:  Several missed appointments and late shows explained as “overslept.”
  • Plans Begin To Fail:  One area of the client’s life was starting to look up, they had followed through as required and then it all fell apart.
  • Feeling That Nothing Can Be Solved: When someone is slipping into old thinking patterns i.e. “I owe so much, I have messed up big time, it doesn’t make sense to continue this way”, challenging these thoughts is imperative.
  • Irregular Attendance at Treatment Meetings:  Attempts to verify participation, with permission by client, had been difficult.
  • Open Rejection of Help: Problem solving, brainstorming had begun to be met with little or no response, so if it wasn’t open rejection, it was not embraced as a possibility.
  • Feelings of Powerlessness and Helplessness: Demonstrated through tone of voice, questioning judgment.
  •  Conscious Lying: This is just such a strong coping behavior for many wrestling with addiction that I can’t guarantee that was the case but intuitively wondered (missed or late appointments).
  •  Complete Loss of Self-Confidence: Language that was describing a trapped feeling and being overwhelmed in ability to initiate action.
  • Discontinue All Treatment:  No show at therapy and possible group meetings.

I have reached out to both the client and their family and as of yet, have not had a response.  I continue, however, to have hope that I will be able to post a comeback for them in the future.

Relapse brings out our greatest fears; at the same time, we need to nourish and nurture ourselves.  So join me in an easy exercise to help keep us sane.   Dr. Robert Cooper, Ph.D.,  the San Francisco coauthor of The Power of 5 , says,  “Smiling transmits nerve impulses from the facial muscles to the limbic system, a key emotional center in the brain, tilting the neurochemical balance toward calm.”  Go ahead and grin!

For further information about New Roads Treatment Center,, contact

Mirror, mirror on the wall…I’m the problem, after all

mirror on the wallWhen you look in the mirror, who do you see? If you spot an enabler peering back at you, maybe it’s time to look more closely to see how your behavior makes it possible for your child to keep drinking or drugging.  But first of all, what does an enabler look like, anyway?

Enablers may look physically exhausted because they are running themselves ragged trying to keep their child from failing or getting hurt. Enablers often want to protect their loved ones from the hard truths of life by wrapping them in a protective cocoon that protects them from the consequences of their poor choices. So we pay their bills, shore up their failing grades in school, run interference with the law and otherwise clean up their messes.

This enabler acts out of fear that  his or her child will be hurt.  Of course, we all want to protect our addicted or alcoholic children from themselves.  But we can’t. We can only get in the way of the natural consequences that might motivate them to change.

An enabler may look perfect, with everything in place, at least on the surface. This type of enabler is often trying to escape the stigma and shame associated with parenting a chemically dependent child.  Or they may be trying to deny to themselves that there is a problem by maintaining a veneer of calm and perfection.  “If we look normal, then we are normal!” is part of this façade.

We are human, and it’s only natural to want to fit in, to be respected. The need to be accepted may drive this type of enabling. The need to look in the mirror and be able to say, ” My kid is OK, so I AM a good mother (or father)” may also underpin this type of enabling.  But maintaining the façade only masks the truth that the family is hurting and needs to change course.

Parents don’t set out to injure their children by unintentionally making it easy for them to drink or use drugs.  So a good look in the mirror can help parents understand what motivates their enabling.

That look in the mirror can be both an epiphany and a relief.  I get to stop doing all the heavy lifting in my child’s life!  And then parents can change. They can learn—baby step by baby step– to let their children experience the consequences of their choices. When we change, we give birth to the  possibility that our children can change, as well.

Changing from hopeless to hopeful

coming out of the darkness into the lightThis is an “encore” post from My3Sunz

When my son was younger and I was ignorant about addiction, I was in disbelief he’d be stealing and shocked at the lies. Then I was terrified he’d be arrested or worse. I truly felt I had the power to rescue, if he’d just listen and do what I told him to do. I could not understand why he would not! He’d say he was, he’d say all the right things, but I learned that this was a ploy to get me off his back. His addiction was in charge. Sometimes he meant what he said, but an addict is untrustworthy and he’d end up doing something different.

The reality for me about the seriousness of the situation was when I finally understood addiction is a disease and it’s progressive in nature. This explained why no matter what I did, things got worse. There was no way I could keep subsidizing his addiction, he was pouring through money – mine and then others. Each time I thought I’d solve a problem of his, 10 more appeared. The madness seemed never ending. There are no words to describe feeling helpless and desperate.

Eventually I found my own 12 Step Recovery program; first through my medical insurance, then Nar-Anon and Al-Anon.  This helped me get over the fear, guilt and agony of involvement. This is where I learned how to make reasonable decisions and let go of worry – where I found hope and to discover - it begins with me.

You can find support and wisdom at a local Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meeting 

Sunday Inspiration

how to care for yourself Dr. Jantz“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

What Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death means to parents of addicts and alcoholics

Greiving Garden AngelPhilip Seymour Hoffman’s death was a terrible loss on so many fronts.  Ripped apart are his are his family, his friends and colleagues, his craft, and even – or especially – the idea that long-term recovery grants people a safe harbor from the siren song of addiction.  If 23 years of sobriety can’t resist addiction’s wily persuasions, what can?

Equally distressing are the comments I’ve heard or read, things along the lines of, “Well, what does he expect if he shoots heroin?” or “He clearly didn’t want to be sober.”  Who in their right mind wants to have the life of an addict, replete with destroyed families, lost jobs, illness, scorn and pain??  Ay, there’s the rub:  no one in their right mind would choose to be an addict.  But the mind of an addict isn’t working correctly; it’s like having a demented conductor at the wheel of a speeding train.

“Renegade Mama” describes this phenomena best in her blog post, “We don’t start with a needle in our arm.”  One of her most profound epiphanies is, “When I realized I couldn’t stop, I COULDN’T STOP.” I imagine that would ring true to anyone who becomes chemically dependent. Soon-to-be-addicted teens who snitched a beer at the bar-b-que or tried their first Oxy to fit into the crowd never imagined the Pandora’s Box they were opening.

I hope that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing heralds the loss of untruths about chemical dependency. Perhaps there will be an awakening about the brain disease of addiction, maybe even a little compassion with those who struggle.  “There by the grace of God go I” is an expression that all “Normies” should embrace.

Most of all, I hope that people recognize that relapse is not inevitable. Ask the 23 million Americans in long term recovery.  One day at a time, I hope my child stakes his claim to that healthy clan.



Sunday Inspiration

teenager contemplating future“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face… Do the thing you thing you cannot do.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Ask the Expert: When do I know it is time for an intervention, and how do I find an interventionist?

Difficulty saying yes or noYOUR QUESTION:  When do I know it is time for an intervention, and how do I find an interventionist?”

Photo of Ricki TownsendANSWER FROM EXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND:  An intervention comes about when a family has tried everything and is at the end of their rope.  It sounds simple, but they have exhausted every approach:  crying, screaming, watching like a hawk, grounding teens or even leaving their spouse for a while. They may have also had their fill of visits to the emergency room and perhaps witnessed a close call from an overdose.  They are exhausted, and they are becoming depleted – physically, mentally and emotionally — much like their beloved addict.  Finally, they call out for help, most likely because another crisis is on the doorstep or just around the corner. When that time comes, the healthiest and most successful approach would be to work with a board certified interventionist.

As much as families want to “save” their loved ones, it is important to work with a professional who is not acquainted with the “addicted loved one” because the therapeutic relationship needs to be objective in order to be successful.  There needs to be detachment from the persons and personalities.  It is also critical to use a board certified interventionist who has been trained in many elements of the intervention process.  A board certified interventionist should possess the range of expertise and experience to keep the calm in the room and be able to handle any situation that arises.

An interventionist will work with the family before and after the actual intervention, including selecting a treatment center based on the loved one’s needs.  Some families need a rehab nearby; others need one far, far away.  Some teen need intense, long-term treatment in a wilderness camp setting.  Some parents need to go to a treatment center to disengage from their own destructive co-dependency and enabling. How do you know what your family needs to get healthy?  That is why you call in a professional, rather than take matters into your own hands.

The professional interventionist will help get your loved one into the right treatment center and will also work with the treatment center while they are a resident there. A qualified professional will continue to work with the family up to a year after the actual intervention.

Remember, addiction is a disease and should be treated with the same comprehensive approach as cancer or a broken leg.  A family, no matter how well intentioned, is not trained to manage these and should entrust their loved one’s health to an expert.

Please feel free to contact me if you need help finding a qualified interventionist wherever you live.


Ricki Townsend,  A Path to Recovery, 916 539-4535

Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, NCAC1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1


Ask the Expert: What do we do about our daughter’s chronic pain and reliance on pain pills?

pills in a cup rxQUESTION:  Our 34 year old daughter has suffered from chronic pain over the past 5 years. She has been on various pain medications (opiates) and has become dependent on them. Her pain subsided a year ago and she was off the pain medications. She was exercising and feeling great about herself. She was smiling!!!!!!! Unfortunately, the pain has returned and after a couple of doctor visits she is on morphine. We are monitoring her intake daily as we cannot trust her to maintain the pills herself, as she ends up taking too many and then goes through withdrawal before she can get another prescription. Her mother and I are stressed. She is not contributing financially to the household. I recently retired and my wife was laid off a couple months ago. Our daughter is not trustworthy and we find that it’s a strain on all our lives. As parents, where do we go from here?

Photo of Ricki TownsendANSWER FROM EXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND:  Thank you for your question. I know it seems unique to you, but many families are going through the same struggles and challenges as you.

I suggest that, instead of a regular MD, your daughter should be assessed by an MD who specializes in addiction medicine.  Then the doctor could develop a plan and prescribe something that would manage her pain, allowing her to live a more normal life. At that point, it would be reasonable to establish a timeline for her moving out and becoming independent.  See what the doctor feels would be reasonable, and then move towards that goal.

And yes, I believe your daughter is not trustworthy, Her behavior is driven entirely by her need for drugs, so please don’t feel guilty about your natural response to her behavior.

We parents are sometimes in a situation that is so foreign to us.  This is why someone who can see the bigger picture can be tremendously helpful. One of the things you could consider is enlisting a family coach who you trust and who will hold you all accountable.  You can work with family coaches over the phone; they don’t have to be sitting in the same room with you. I am certainly available to discuss this with you, should be interested.

I wish you the best and encourage you to never give up hope.  Your daughter has done well before, and people have a tremendous capacity to change – and to sustain that change with the right tools and guidance.


Ricki Townsend, Interventionist and Family Counselor, A Path to Recovery                                                                                                                   916-539-4535

Sunday Inspiration

making the right decisions in recovery from substance abuse“F-E-A-R has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Rise.’ The choice is yours.”

Zig Ziglar