Jul122017

What do the 12-steps mean to addicts and their loved ones?

Letting GoGuest blogger David Greenspan is a writer and media specialist for Lighthouse Recovery Institute . He’s been sober since 2008 and finds no greater joy than in helping still struggling alcoholics.

The twelve-steps are an often misunderstood part of recovery from substance abuse. AA and NA in general seem to be portrayed differently every time they appear in the media and that’s just the meeting aspect. Never mind the meat and potatoes of step work and spiritual growth.With that in mind, I’d like to clear up some misconceptions about what the twelve-steps are, how they operate, and what to expect if you have a loved one who’s embarking on an “anonymous” journey.

Before we go on, though, it’s important to note that part of twelve-step fellowships is the practice of anonymity. I’m sharing my experience out of a desire to help and shed light on the often mysterious nature of these fellowships. That being said, I don’t identify as a member of any twelve-step group publically and never will. Rather, I’m simply a man who’s found a spiritual solution to the disease of addiction.

The 12-Steps & Addicts

What do the twelve-steps mean to addicts? That answer is both simple and incredibly complicated. At their most basic, the twelve-steps offer a way for addicts and alcoholics to stop abusing substance and begin to live “normal” lives. It’s important here to make the distinction between an addict/alcoholic and a heavy drinker/drugger. An addict is someone who suffers from the disease of addiction and an alcoholic is someone who suffers from the disease of alcoholism. These are three-part diseases – they affect their suffers on mental, physical, and spiritual levels.

There’s the mental obsession. This is a thought that becomes, as the name suggests, an overwhelming obsession. It crowds out all else in the addict’s mind until they succumb to it and pick up a drug.

At this point, the physical allergy kicks in. This is perhaps the least understood facet of the disease model of addiction. This allergy, also known in recovery as the physical craving, has something to do with how addicts’ bodies process drugs and alcohol. Instead of processing it normally, our bodies react differently.  The how and why aren’t important to me. What’s important are the results. Once taking a drug or drink, I am physically unable to stop. Once I start, I won’t stop until something blocks me from my “medicine.” This could be an arrest, a trip to rehab, or simply being broke and unable to obtain any drugs.

Finally, there’s the spiritual malady. This is comprised of all the crap that makes drugs and alcohol attractive in the first place. Things like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, worry, ego, anger, self-pity, and various other “character defects” (as they’re called in twelve-step fellowships).

So, someone who suffers from the disease of addiction isn’t merely a heavy partier or out of control. They’re suffering from a deadly combination of physical, mental, and spiritual symptoms. The result is around the clock drug or alcohol abuse and all the heartbreak that comes with it.

What do the twelve-steps mean? They mean freedom from this cocktail of suffering. They mean freedom from the tyranny of drugs and booze. They mean the ability to be a free man.

This is accomplished through doing the steps in order and with a sponsor who has a sponsor. It requires admitting we’re powerless over chemicals and that our lives, with our without drugs, are unmanageable. It means saying that maybe something greater than ourselves can help us. It means taking a look at our resentments, fears, sexual conduct, and people we’ve harmed.

It means sharing all the above with another human being. It means recognizing and coming to terms with our character defects. It means making amends to those people we’ve hurt (and making amends isn’t merely a mumbled apology – it’s correcting a past wrong through changed actions).

It means taking inventory of ourselves on a continual basis. It means correcting the new mistakes that are sure to pop up. It means praying, meditating, and seeking a greater and more personal spiritual connection. It means helping other addicts and alcoholics.

Most importantly, it means replacing old ideas, behaviors, and principles with new ones. It means changing everything about ourselves in order to live a life of serenity and (mostly) happiness.

Sounds hard, right? It is, but it’s 100 times better than the alternative – drinking and drugging ourselves to death and hurting everyone we come into contact with.

The 12-Steps & the Family

I don’t have as much experience on what the twelve-steps mean to the family of addicts and alcoholics. In fact, I have no experience with that part of recovery. I’ve had family members abuse drugs and alcohol, but never close enough family to warrant going to Al-Anon or another “family fellowship” and seeking their help. Call me hardheaded, but I simply haven’t found it necessary.

You know what? I pray that I never find it necessary. My heart goes out to the parents, siblings, significant others, and loved ones of addicts. I can’t imagine what we put you through. Probably the best way I can attempt to explain, and this is just that – an attempt, what the twelve-steps mean to the family is through relating an experience I had with my own mom.

After being sober for a few years, I’d regained the trust of my family. Although I lived many states away, we’d talk regularly and I was invited to all major family functions. This restored trust and communication was sacred to me. It was something I never thought would return.

Still, not everything was rosy. I noticed that whenever I was home, my mom would keep her purse close to her. When she went upstairs to go to sleep, she’d take it with her. Old habits die hard, I suppose. So, on a particular visit, I was taken aback when I wandered into the living room at night and saw her purse sitting on the floor by the table. This was the spot she kept it in when I was growing up. This was the spot I hadn’t seen it in in years.

I almost broke down and cried right there. It was a watershed moment for me. I finally knew my parents had forgiven me completely. I finally knew I was their son again. I’ve had some amazing experiences in sobriety. I’ve graduated college with honors. I’ve received awards. I’ve gotten (and kept!) good jobs. Still, none of them compare to seeing my mom’s purse that night.

What do the twelve-steps do for the family? They give them their children back. It’s as simple as that.

 

 

 

 

Jul102017

The Accidental Addict/The Accidental Enabler

Photo of a woman.Real Simple magazine featured an article, “The Accidental Addict,” about a young woman who inadvertently became addicted to prescription medications.  Aren’t all addicts accidental?  Who would intentionally choose the life of destruction called addiction or alcoholism?  No addicted child that I know said, “Gee, I want to open a Pandora’s box of destruction and quite possibly put my life on the line.”  Instead, I imagine he or she thought, “ I’d like to  fit in/ hang loose/ have fun/ not be the oddball/be popular/feel comfortable in my own skin” or something of that nature.

By the same token, enablers come by their craft quite honestly.  Love First, A Family’s Guide to Intervention highlights the genesis of two distinct types of enablers.  One type is the  “innocent enabler” who can’t even imagine that drugs or alcohol underpin a loved one’s inexplicable behavior.  The other variety is the desperate enabler who cannot bear the thought of the decimation of substance abuse.  My own enabling started innocently and then became desperate as I worked tirelessly to prevent the family boat from capsizing while keeping my child out of harm’s way.  That balancing act made me crazy, made me sick and didn’t solve the problem.  In fact, it made it worse.

The distance I’ve put between me and my child helps me take a clear look and how we got to where we are.  That’s been a very good thing: understanding the accidental origins of addiction and  co-dependency  helps me find forgiveness for myself and for the beloved addicts in my life.

Jul092017

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

With a different perspective can you figure a way out?

Jul072017

If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again, and again and again

Making progress with recoveryHow many times did my daughter relapse before she committed to living a clean and sober life?   I don’t know the answer to that question and I bet if I asked my daughter, she would be hard pressed to know the accurate answer – I’m guessing her answer would be ‘a lot!’  I remember early in the journey when I was very naïve about addiction and thought when she went into a 28 day rehab, ‘finally she will be okay!’  Little did I know that was just the beginning of a long journey of trials and tribulations.  Not only for my daughter to overcome her addiction but also for myself to overcome my addiction to my daughter!  That’s how my codependency manifested itself, like an addiction to my daughter and her every move.  What is she doing?  Is she safe?  Where is she?  Will she call?  The questions and worry in my mind played over and over again like the obsession that it had become.  I distinctly remember one of her counselors telling me, ‘she’ll start getting better when you stop enabling her.’  Huh?  Excuse me…I’m not giving her the drugs!

But when I finally internalized what she was telling me, it became clear that I did not the power to control what my daughter did, I did play a key part in making it easy for her to continue in her addiction.  When I started taking away the comforts and started holding her accountable for her actions instead of bailing her out, she started making progress.  Not because of me but because she had to make difficult choices.  One of the biggest turning points was when I made an agreement with her that I would pay for her sober living rent but nothing else.  She had a job so she would have to budget her money for food and other necessities.  She didn’t like it at first, but over time her self-esteem soared as she took responsibility for her life.  It was so gratifying to watch.  Having a job and responsibilities is very healing for those in recovery.

Jul052017

Teen addiction and treatment; what’s that look like?

teenage boy contemplatingThis is a guest post by Jeremy Stanton, owner and CEO of Haven House Addiction Treatment in West Los Angeles

Alcoholism and drug addiction can look wildly different when comparing a teenager with an adult. The differences between these two groups of addicts necessitate treatment plans that focus on characteristics particular to each group. A serious point of emphasis in the recovery of one addict may not always be applicable to another. While the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and its accompanying shift in action and thinking are relevant to everyone regardless of age, teenagers struggling with substance abuse have a specific set of issues that need to be addressed and resolved.

The consequences of drug abuse that teens face are very different from adults. There are no homes to lose, marriages to dissolve or careers to implode. Simply put, teen addicts have less responsibilities to forego and fewer achievements to tarnish. Addicts and alcoholics can be notoriously shortsighted, and in the case of teenagers, parents’ primary concerns involve their child’s future. This raises serious concerns about how to address drug abuse with younger addicts. Focusing on immediate consequences can be a more fruitful approach than stressing the potential for their decisions to affect them in the future. Poor performance in school, loss of interest in hobbies and dangerous risk-taking behavior are all relevant and important aspects of addiction that will be immediately noticeable. For teens, there is no baseline with which to compare their current behavior. The adult addict is able to reflect upon the progressive nature of his or her illness and acknowledge its increasing severity. Parents should instead focus on how their child’s addiction has affected their priorities and interests and has had some form of immediate consequence. Remember that treating addiction is only effective when an addict self-diagnoses and admits to their illness; always show rather than tell how drugs and alcohol have impacted their life.

Sobriety can be a frightening experience for anyone, regardless of their age, for plenty of reasons. Younger addicts may associate abstinence from drugs and alcohol with a lack of social life or an inability to have fun. At such a young age, fears of being shut out by their peers can also prevent teenagers from expressing the willingness to seek sobriety. Much of a teenager’s identity revolves around their social and groups and friends. While experimentation is common for this age group, there is a difference between recreational and dangerous abuse of drugs and alcohol. This distinction can be difficult to notice, especially for those who have had little to no history using illegal substances. As teenagers continue to use drugs, they may not be able to see addictive patterns. Fortunately for younger individuals requiring help in overcoming addiction, there are many AA and NA groups across the country that focus on recovery in teenage populations. Having someone who is a similar age recount their own struggles with drugs and alcohol is a big deal for an individual who is conflicted about their own desire to get sober. No amount of parental concern, school suspensions, trips to jail or other consequences will have the impact of one addict speaking with another.

There are several other issues involved in helping teens in recovery that should also be acknowledged. Teenagers will often have a sense of invincibility about some of their behaviors and decisions, and substance use is no exception. Denial is especially powerful in younger populations. Even when they have a sense of self-awareness about their substance abuse, procrastination can also make it difficult to seek recovery. Younger people often feel that there will be plenty of time in the future to address things, even issues as serious as addiction. A large part of treatment involves education and scientific evidence. Misconceptions and misinformation, usually related by friends, contribute a lot to someone using drugs for the first time. Without using traditional scare-tactics, parents or other people in the addict’s support system can have an open and honest conversation about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse as well as the progression of addictive behaviors. Teens may fear punishment or blame from parents which can prevent them from admitting to their problems with drugs and alcohol.

Teenagers need a caring and supportive environment in order to recover from addiction. Sobriety is a difficult journey to walk, as anyone with the experience will tell you, and may seem even more frightening to a teenager. Anyone who can be honest with themselves is capable of recovery, and countless teenagers across the world can tell you that addiction is a strong, but defeatable opponent.

Jeremy Stanton is the owner and CEO of Haven House Addiction Treatment, a recovery community offering Detox, Outpatient, Inpatient and Continuing Care services for all ages located in West Los Angeles. For more information visit http://www.havenhouseaddictiontreatment.com or call (424) 293-2259.

Jul022017

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

How do you get the courage to reach for your dreams?

Jun302017

Knowledge is Power – Educating Parents and Teens about addiction

pills in a cup rxWe all know that being armed with knowledge is very powerful. In the case of teenage addiction we are failing our kids and their parents by not arming them with critical information about the effects of drugs and alcohol on the developing teen. I’m guessing if you’re reading this that you are like me and that you have had an experience with your child, or know of someone, who has become dangerously involved in substance abuse. I know so much more now that I wish I had known when my kids were growing up. We are not educating teens or their parents in a way that helps them understand what they are up against. It is always easier to look back and realize this, I understand that. But I also think that knowing what I know now comes with a certain responsibility. I will talk to anyone who will listen and have become an activist in the area of teen drug and alcohol abuse.
I am compelled to write about this because I have recently experienced understanding how some very basic information like ‘prescription drugs are very addictive and dangerous to take’ is not understood by teens and their parents. What may seem obvious to some of us, who have walked this journey with our loved ones, is not at all obvious to others. More information about the effects of substance abuse needs to go out to our communities at the early teenage years and every year thereafter. Awareness does drive prevention, studies and actions in other communities have unequivocal proof. Pathway to Prevention has created the documentary Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic which is aimed at educating parents and teens through stories of young people who have gone through addiction and parents who have traveled the journey with them. I am very hopeful that this documentary will become main stream to educate throughout every community near and far. The heart ache caused by teen addiction is devastating and it is 100% preventable, we just have to convince kids to never take that first drink, pill or smoke.

Jun262017

What really happens in rehab for addiction or alcoholism?

Photo of woman speaking to a counselor. This is a guest post from David Greenspan, a writer and media specialist for Lighthouse Recovery Institute . He’s been sober since 2008 and finds no greater joy than in helping still struggling alcoholics.

I’ve been to more than my fair share of rehabs. While, in the past, you’d have been hard pressed to get me to admit that, I say it today with ease. Why? Why do I take pride in the fact that I’m a man in long-term recovery? Simple – it gives me the opportunity to help others. Helping others takes the form of, more often than not, working with men who want to get sober. I share my experience, strength, and hope with in the hopes that, in the future, they’ll do the same for someone else.

Today, though, I’d like to share some of my experience with the parents of addicts and alcoholics out there. I know my parents were at their wit’s end for years. I managed to find every possible way to manipulate and hurt them.Thankfully, I’ve been able to make up for that behavior over the past seven years. Our relationship is wonderful today. I count my mother and father as two of my best friends. So, with helping parents in mind, I figured I’d give you all a breakdown of what a day in rehab looks like. Remember, though, there are many different types of rehab. I’ve only experienced the “Florida Model” ones. So, your child’s experience may be different. It’s a scary to think about sending your kid off to a treatment center. Hopefully this will make things just a little bit more manageable!

Morning Meditation

The BHTs would wake us up around 6:30 each morning. Immediately, before eating or brushing our teeth, the community would have a morning meditation. We were usually segmented by gender. Males would meet in one apartment and females in another. One patient would read from a twelve-step focused meditation book. Something like “Daily Reflections” or “As Bill Sees It.” After the reading, we’d go around and say our goal for the day. We’d then end with a prayer. This was a great way to affect a positive start to an otherwise challenging day!

The Clinical Day

We’d arrive at the clinical offices around 8am and immediately have our “caseload” group. This is a group led by your primary therapist. It’s made up of their entire caseload, usually between five and ten patients. After caseload, there’d be a smoke break. Speaking for myself, these smoke breaks were invaluable! They gave me a way to decompress after an hour or longer of intense therapy. We’d then have two more groups for the day. The topics and make up of each group varied. There were large groups where the entire community attended. There were small groups made up of only two or three patients at a time.Regardless of the size, these groups would cover recovery oriented topics like relapse prevention, gender-specific issues, co-occurring disorders, family therapy, life skills training, and the like. After these groups, we’d usually be taken to the gym or a park. Much like those smoke breaks, these outings were crucial. They let me feel “normal” again, if only for an hour at a time.

Twelve-Step Meetings at Night

At night, we’d attend in-house or off property twelve-step meetings. These ranged from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to groups like Overeaters Anonymous and Codependency Anonymous. I loved the twelve-step meetings. They gave me a view of what sobriety and recovery looked like after treatment. They gave me a view of what long-term, sustained sobriety looked like. You were usually required to get a sponsor and sober supports at these meetings. While it’s a bit strange to me that a rehab would require twelve-step participation, reaching out to other alcoholics and addicts was incredibly vital to my recovery. In fact, I credit my recovery more to the work I did on myself in a twelve-step fellowship than to rehab and therapy. Don’t get me wrong, the clinical groups were lifesaving and gave me great insight in why I drank and drugged in the first place. Still, treatment only lasts for so long. Afterwards, it’s the connections I made in the rooms of recovery that kept me sober.

After the meetings, we’d return back to “campus” and have some downtime. Around 11pm, we’d have to return to our apartments and call it a night. During this time, shooting the breeze with my roommates, I made some amazing friendships.

Bonus: Unbreakable Friendships

While these friendships aren’t part of any schedule in treatment, they’re important. The men and women I met while in rehab understood me in a way no one else ever had. There was always someone to talk to. If you couldn’t sleep, you could wake up your roommate and talk about the struggles of early-recovery. If a particular group was too intense, you could go outside and find a peer to talk to. It’s amazing what a friendly face and word or two of understanding can do for your mood. It’s funny, I went to my last treatment center over seven years ago. We had a small community, probably around thirty men and women. Of those thirty, I’m still in contact with around twenty of them. Not all of them are sober. Some are able to manage controlled drinking. Some are back in the depths of addiction. We stay in contact though. We help each other when no one else is available. We survived treatment together and that engenders a lifelong bond.  I went to the wedding of one of my treatment peers last year. It was a surreal experience. Years ago, I watched as he crumbled and cried in front of the rehab community. That day, I watched as he stood in front of his family, friends, and God and took his marriage vows.

It’s amazing what recovery does for a person!

 

 

 

Jun252017

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Can you change your outlook?

Jun212017

My obsession with (fill in the blanks) affects all my children

There was a time I used the siblings to debrief my anguish and worry about the other “one” – the child whose absence or drama was taking center stage and getting my full attention. Unaware of how damaging this would be to the remaining family members, I did this for a long time.   The realization that my actions might have contributed to a form of suffering on them was a hard nut to swallow.  I had to learn it the hard way; it seems to be a recurring theme for me. I first pondered the notion when listening to Alateens share their hurt, abandonment and other issues they kept to themselves while watching mom or dad get progressively worse in their futile attempts to straighten up the “affected” one’s life. I’d hear how some would become overly protective and sometimes take the role of caretaker, worried about the troubled sibling. Some would get resentful about all the attention given to the other.  The entanglement of the family disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. To the “normal” sibling, the desire for mom and dad to get happy again would become their focus.  So, in a sense, young co-dependents were forming as the family disease reached epidemic proportions.  I wondered which role my children fell into.

Becoming aware didn’t actually help me with how to do better…the Al-Anon Family Group and 12 step recovery program was my road map for change. I had to start over with training wheels, in a sense, beginning with me and my contributions to the family disease.   It began with accepting I had problems of my own to work on. The hope for me was that I could mend broken relations with all those who mattered in my life.

Today, with guarded mouth and awareness of the family disease, I try to keep the focus and be present with those who stand before me. I no longer ask prying questions about the “other” one whose lifestyle is concerning. I consciously choose to seize those opportunities with gratitude to be allowed the accompaniment of their presence. Most critically, I get to be PRESENT with no conditions and that is my GIFT to them.