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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Mother to Mother – How my Al-Anon program lends a helping hand

I panicked at first when a mom who knew about my circumstance reached out to me. Would I be able to help her? How could I smooth things over when I know outcomes may not be great? Was it even my business to try? I have grown a great deal in my 12 step recovery program of Al-Anon Family Groups but I’m not perfect. I re-wound my history playbook recalling my own experience of the “son-in-prison powerlessness”.  He had fainted in the shower room and cut his head. Word was he’d been transferred to a hospital. No one “inside” knew his status or even what happened. That helpless and hopeless feeling of not knowing!  I have uncontrollable mother bear instincts!  Unlike when he was 8 years old at the lake and had fainted on a rock outcropping…the children yelling for help, his dad and I frantically swimming to his rescue…in desperation, I could not help this time.  My fear! My panic! The “must do something” response and immediate reaction to save him! Back to present State Corrections Department and my powerlessness, I later found on the website an inmate/family liaison contact and I emailed them. Days later someone responded! I wanted to know if he was alright and my Higher Power answered me – “he’s OK!”

Having shared with this mom, days later she thanked me for listening.  Realizing there were some options in the prison industry that worked for me, she found someone to assist her situation.  I learned that not being able to do something right away has merit for my life lessons in recovery from the family disease. I have learned in Al-Anon the three A’s: Awareness, Acceptance, and then Action. That “must do something” response is really unfiltered “reaction” and no longer serves me well. Today I have choices once I step back and get awareness of the situation. I had the same feelings to help this mom. I’m aware that my urge to immediately help is an unconscious response and I don’t need to act on it. I can accept that feelings are not facts. It is here that my action, if any, will be more appropriate and often results in positive outcomes.

Please share the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary to help stop teen addiction before it starts.


What Hope-Springs-Eternal Means to My Serenity

water flowingThere was a time I’d spend my waking moments hoping for a positive change in my sons. I would hope that the rehab people would do the trick and in 30 days. I’d hope that magic bullet would find the target and I’d hope that my sons would beat all odds to a full recovery and cure. Once I discovered the hope heard in the rooms of AA, I then changed my tactics. My focus was still on my sons, but this time I had answers! I wanted to make sure they were appropriately informed about AA, were going to AA meetings, essentially, were as excited and interested as I was about AA! I would cleverly leave pamphlets out or suggest a tape I had heard… I’d hope someday they would embrace the gift of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and become a spokesperson, speaker, and well respected sponsor. I just knew they’d get their life back on track with employment, relationships and financial stability, if only.

I constantly had these hopeful dreams for them. Without hope, how could I have gone on? I don’t know why I continued to move towards a spiritual journey of recovery in Al-Anon for myself, but I did know what, when and where to get it. Perhaps it was because nothing I seemed to be doing was helping them.  My focus was misdirected but I did not know that at the time. If nothing changes, nothing changes! I slowly realized if I keep the focus on me, my desire to achieve serenity is more likely to be obtained. I kept coming back hoping to hear more stories of hope!  And it was not the stories of how their kids were doing well, though helpful and encouraging, it was how well THEY WERE DOING!  Serenity was alluring and I was told, “obtainable.” For some reason, I believed them.

Here’s how we can eradicate the shame and stigma of addiction

Don Troutman is the founder of Clean & Sober Trhob-house-0011ansitional Living, and he is committed to helping eradicate the shame and stigma of addiction and alcoholism, which often keep people from seeking help. Here are Don’s eight fast facts about recovery from substance use disorder.

“I hope these facts help people leave their misconceptions behind as they approach chemical dependency as a preventable and treatable brain disease. There’s no room for shame and stigma in this evidence-based conversation:

1. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act clearly identifies addiction to alcohol or other drugs as a mental health issue and a substance use disorder (SUD).

2. Twenty-three million Americans are in long-term recovery from substance use disorder. This list includes a past United States President, professional athletes, Fortune 500 executives, actors, musicians, as well as our everyday neighbors.

3. Substance use disorder (the severest form of which is commonly referred to as “addiction”), is a chronic brain disorder from which people can and do recover.

4. In the past year, 8.4% of adults (or 20.2 million adults) in the United States had a substance use disorder. Percentages for the Sacramento region are likely quite similar.

5. What causes substance use disorder? Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, states that that 50 percent of a person’s vulnerability to drug addiction is genetic. And trauma (e.g., poverty, abuse, early death of a parent) changes the brain so that it becomes more vulnerable to more than 40 chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and substance use disorder

6. Despite an increase in the understanding of the science of substance use disorders, research shows that people with substance use disorders are viewed more negatively than others.
•    Negative attitudes have been found to adversely affect the quality of health care and treatment outcomes.
•    Stigma and shame may keep individuals and families from finding the help they need to get better.

7. Just as substance use disorder impacts individuals, families and communities, recovery improves individuals, families and communities.

8. Finding the right support network is vital to the recovery process. Sober housing, where people choose to live productive lives without alcohol or other drugs, can be an important part of sustained recovery.”

Don Troutman, Founder, CSTL, Fair Oaks, California

Reclaiming your serenity with “re-language”

Mental Illness and AddictionI am so fortunate to have XM radio, and sometimes catch Oprah Winfrey’s Lifeclass. One day I listened to her with her guest, Iyanla Vanzant.  (To learn more about Lifeclass, click here)

Iyanla Vanzant, an inspirational and new thought spiritual teacher, is such a kick and is always giving out little one-liners that provoke me to think! She’d discuss how Deceptive Intelligence keeps us from spiritual growth and screamed to the viewer: “RE-LANGUAGE!” Make no mistake, re-language was an aggressive verb, a call to action! I applied it to my own experience of codependency with young adult children in addiction:

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: I had to kick my kids out of my home. This is so dramatic and feeds the guilt I held for experiencing a scenario I wished did not have to happen. I took on responsibility, as if I could have done something else to minimize the impact. RE-LANGUAGE: My kids chose not to live by my boundaries, so they left.

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: If I let go, they might fail, get arrested, go to jail. There is a dangerous side effect when I think I know outcomes, especially if I believe I can orchestrate the future – Guilt, Disappointment, Denial, Shame. RE-LANGUAGE: I can’t control the choices my kids make, but they have a right to make them, even if I don’t agree with it.

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: His girlfriend introduced him to drugs, I blame her. RE-LANGUAGE: She is a child of God, cleverly disguised as a drug addict (another gem from Iyanla).

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: When I figure out recovery, I’ll be able to show them how to do it! I believed this to the core. So my early help seeking behavior had an end game! I’d pick up a speaker CD from an AA or recovered Drug Addict, and I’d strategize how my sons could listen to it. If they just listened, then …. I was still thinking what I was doing in Al-Anon would help me to the solution for me my kids. I was still trying to control it. Oh, yeah, definately Deceptive Thinking! RE-LANGUAGE: My children will get recovery when they are ready, on their own, in HIS time, and I’m not in charge. I’m just a child of God,  cleverly disguised as a know it all!

 

Where is the Hope for your addicted child in the face of despair?

When I follow the years of progression of the disease of addiction with my son, I sometimes see 10+ years having gone down the drain. Now, for a 50 odd year old, one year flies by at the speed of light and a whole lot can be accomplished! For a 20 year old, 10 years seems a lifetime. It’s a matter of perspective. However it feels, it’s still 10 years and sometimes I’m overtaken with despair.

I now realize that the 10+ years past is what it’s supposed to be; I don’t have any right to judge the usefulness of it. I sometimes question, when will he choose recovery? Will he ever? How can there be hope when over and over the same thing happens and it’s never good. This is the time I find myself going to a 12-Step Recovery Program, open to the public: AA or NA , where I can listen to others in recovery.  It’s a good way to get re-energized. I’ve even found recordings on the internet to download of recovered persons who share their story. There is so much hope in their stories. By listening to them, I learn about the disease and it gives me another perspective to understand that recovery happens for each person differently, and on different time lines. Rarely do I hear someone speak on the help they got from their mom or dad. Sometimes there is an honorable mention to Al-Anon, where friends and family learned to stop enabling. The true source of help is inevitably something bigger than me or someone else – the unknown source, a Power, Greater than I – something I’ve come to welcome. I observe that some find recovery early, some get it years and years later.  Sadly, some never get it. For the latter possibility, I’m reminded to be thankful each moment that I’m afforded an opportunity to see, hear or be in some sort of communication with my adult children. Years can fly by or the opposite. Sometimes days, and even hours can drag out for an eternity. Either way, if I stay in the presence of a Power, greater than myself, I can find serenity in the knowledge that when and if they ever decide, someone will be there to offer a new way to do life, with their own hope for the future. I can let go of my need to be overly involved and learn how to be a loving parent, unconditionally, when opportunities present themselves.

Should you step or talk your way to recovery (or do both)?

301883_8582 mother daughter walking on beachWorking the steps has offered powerful tools against addiction or alcoholism ever since they were invented by Bill Wilson more than 60 years ago. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also be a powerful ally in the quest for recovery. Turns out, “the 12 steps and cognitive behavioral therapy have a lot in common” according to an interesting article posted on The Fix. Guided by a therapist who works with the chemically dependent, this article points out where the two meet and where they diverge.

I found this article thought-provoking because, as a Blue Chip co-dependent, I have been addicted to my child’s addiction. We all know that drill: if they are sober, we can be happy; if they are using, our world falls apart. If they relapse, so do we. And sometimes we relapse even if they don’t. For those reasons alone, I need the twelve steps as much as my child.

At a minimum, this article was powerful because it reinforced the notion that Al-Anon and AA are not religious; they are spiritual.  The fear of getting cornered by a religious zealot has kept people away from 12-step program unnecessarily.

Take a look at the article and see if it makes sense to you. As parents of beloved addicts or alcoholics, can the twelve steps replace our therapy, or can our therapy replace the twelve steps? Or maybe they work best hand-in-hand.  Only you can tell.

What’s life look like for the family after rehab?

I was expecting, NO – anticipating life to resume to normal once my son “graduated” from rehab. In fact, when asked to do service at an Al-Anon meeting, I said “No” because I figured I would not need Al-Anon anymore, I be “graduating out.” After all, wasn’t the problem fixed soon to be fixed now? That was over 4 years and several more rehabs ago. Needless to say, I have since given service to my group many times over and along the way I have learned a great deal about addiction, the family disease, and my role in recovery. The family disease is like the “ism” – there is no cure, only recovery. Recovery includes acceptance, tolerance and boundaries for what is, versus what is not – how to live in peace, whether the addict/alcoholic is using or not. This disease afflicted my family and there is life after rehab, but recovery is ongoing.

An anonymous Ala-teen member summed it up succinctly:

“Some think that life gets better when the alcoholic recovers, but the bill collectors don’t go away – neither does the arguing. You don’t stop going to meetings because an alcoholic has recovered. That’s like stopping the repairs on our house after a tornado hits and the sun comes out. You might discover you need the meetings more because of the changes – there is also the danger of relapse – and (some) recovering alcoholics become dry drunks. So I do need the program even after the alcoholic stops drinking.”

Well put.