Category Archives: Lifestyle Changes

Meditation – Mind, Body, Health And Mindfulness

By Dr. Scott Alpert
Clinical Director at The Clearing Residential Treatment Center

Do you categorize meditation as one of those tasks you really should get around to, but never actually do? Do you see it as something that only “ultra-spiritual” people pursue? If so, you’re not alone.Mindfulness meditation is a western, non-sectarian, research-based form of meditation derived from a 2500-year-old Buddhist practice called Vipassana or Insight Meditation. It is a form of meditation designed to develop the skill of paying attention to our inner and outer experiences with acceptance, patience, and compassion.
Many people have heard about the tremendous mind,body, health and wellness benefits of meditation, but they don’t take the plunge and practice. Why? Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation.
For some, it’s simply difficult to slow down. Our hurry-up culture trains us to be more and more “productive,” and thus, some feel that things like rest and meditation are wasting time.
Additionally, many people give up before realizing the benefits of meditation, which build with time and practice. For others, the silence requires getting deep with their thoughts and feelings… and that can feel threatening.
When you give yourself the opportunity to meditate, internal struggles can give way to a profound peace. However, when you first slow down and tune in to yourself, you may experience a lot of chaotic chatter. That’s completely normal; so don’t let it deter you.
With time and practice, you can learn to calm your mind and emotions. In fact, getting into the rhythm of your breathing can bring you back to Source. If you return to meditation and silence often enough, you will learn some profound truths about your own life. Mindfulness
In meditation, you often come face-to-face with yourself, and what happens next is telling. Do you like yourself? Do you know who you really are? Do you have a sense of purpose?
Are you able to simply be and appreciate the life you were given? Do your thoughts wander to projects left undone? Are you focused on the past or future? As thoughts emerge, you receive valuable information about yourself.
If you haven’t worked through your day-to-day issues, partially processed thoughts will bubble up from your subconscious. This is an invitation to clear up your own “unfinished business” and free your mind from clutter.
You may have difficulty making the decision to “do nothing” and meditate in the first place. Cultural conditioning tells you that hard work is the only way to succeed, and as such, you resist the idea of sitting still.
Even devoting 15 minutes or 5 minutes to start} a day to meditation may seem overwhelming for you.
If it helps, you can reframe meditation as a personal development challenge.Mindfulness meditation is a western, non-sectarian, research-based form of meditation derived from a 2500-year-old Buddhist practice called Vipassana or Insight Meditation. It is a form of meditation designed to develop the skill of paying attention to our inner and outer experiences with acceptance, patience, and compassion
Silence is a powerful healing tool. When you meditate, material from your past will present itself and give you an opportunity to heal.
Whether the thoughts are based on regrets, people who have harmed you, or people whom you’ve harmed, working through the turmoil take commitment.
Fortunately, in the silence we are safe. Mindfulness

There is no past and no future; it is simply a slice of the present. The past is history, the future a mystery, but now is the gift and that is why it is called ‘the present.’

Try This: Mindfulness 
• For the next few minutes, take an opportunity to sit in silence and focus on everything that brings you joy.
• To start, turn off any electronics, sit in a comfortable seat, and simply focus on your breath.
• Once you have calmed yourself, bring to mind people, experiences, or things that make you happy one by one. You might think about a child, a pet, a flower, or hiking in the woods.
• Surround yourself with feelings of joy and allow them to build within.
• If you continually face turmoil while sitting in the silence, free-form writing can help. Free-form writing is simply putting pen to paper and writing whatever comes to mind.
• When you do this, stay with the flow. Don’t judge what is coming out. Just write whatever you want and purge it out.
• When you’re done, shred and / or burn what you’ve written.
• Do not re-read or evaluate your words.
• Instead, appreciate the way that writing helps you to release that which is just beneath the level of your conscious awareness.
• In silence, time seems to slow down.

With no distractions, you can hear your breath, your heartbeat, and even guidance. When you allow yourself to slow down, you connect with who you are; you return home.
If you have a hectic schedule and juggle the demands of work and family, silence can be a key to sanity and a balm for relationships. After all, how you are with yourself is how you are with others too!
You are at peace, your body is healthier, and you find happiness. And as you share that energy with others, you give them permission to do the same. Mindfulness

Overcoming Addiction

Alcohol Dependency & Detox

Reprinted from: http://www.lunaliving.org/

Alcohol is the drug of choice for most Americans. It can be the beginning of addiction.

Besides being legal, alcohol is relatively inexpensive and considered by most to be socially acceptable. Alcohol has been “sold” to us for thousands of years as a feature of good living. Our society celebrates special moments with champagne and drowns sorrows with drink.

From childhood we learn to hide or lie about liquor when we drink too much, or are underage. But apart from feeble resistance from a few religious groups, and a state’s legal restrictions, there is no barrier. Americans consume over $212 billion worth of alcohol per year.

If alcohol use is so widely accepted then what’s wrong with drinking? For most people alcohol isn’t a dangerous drug. But for the person with the chronic brain disease called Addiction, alcohol is pure poison and can be life-threatening.

Although the medical community acknowledges certain health benefits of moderate alcohol use (1 drink for women and 2 for men), they post a clear WARNING: More than three drinks a day for women, or four for men, puts you at high risk of irreparable brain damage.

An Alcohol Damaged Brain

Chronic alcohol abuse severely compromises your mental ability. In the short-term it can cause you to drink and drive. And, in the long-term it can irreversibly affect memory formation, abstract thinking, problem solving, attention, concentration, and emotions.

Alcoholics who abstain from drinking can recover from some alcohol-induced brain damage. But no one knows how much alcohol it takes to cause irreversible brain damage? Drinking can be like playing Russian roulette.

Alcohol immediately passes through the blood brain barrier, which is why people often say, “The drink went straight to my head”. Alcohol’s rapid absorption, in high concentrations (i.e., multiple drinks ingested quickly), can suppress the centers in the brain that control breathing causing you to pass out or even die.

Additionally, alcohol causes the release of a neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine, labeled by neuroscientists, as the “addiction molecule” is responsible for the rewarding effect that keeps you drinking. For many this reward can be limited to a single cocktail but for an alcoholic this “pleasurable moment” can quickly turn into a life-threatening physical disease.

HOW MUCH CAN ONE DRINK depends on many factors – the rate of consumption, the quantity, how much fat and muscle mass you have, and whether or not you eat while drinking.

The kind of alcohol we drink is called ethanol. Once ethanol hits your bloodstream it travels to every organ in the body, which is why
heavy drinking is so physically, mentally, and spiritually debilitating.

HOW YOU DRINK ALCOHOL ALSO AFFECTS YOUR RISK. “Binge drinking” is particularly dangerous. When young people drink too much, too fast, they risk passing out and dying. Never leave someone who has passed out from alcohol alone. Too much alcohol suppresses normal breathing and is extremely dangerous. If in question, call 911.

Combining alcohol with drugs is a huge NO-NO! All sedatives can become deadly when combined with alcohol. Mixing alcohol with narcotics can result in overdose.

Alcohol should not be mixed with any drug that makes you sleepy – opiates (heroin, oxycodone, and morphine), Valium-like drugs (benzodiazepines, sleep medications (Ambien) and antihistamines found in cold medications.

• Mixing alcohol with antibiotics can cause convulsions (seizures), nausea, and vomiting.

• Mixing alcohol with antihistamines can enhance sedation and excessive dizziness, which is particularly dangerous for older adults.

• Mixing alcohol with Tylenol (acetaminophen) creates a chemical that causes liver damage.

• And, the list goes on.

Alcohol Dependence vs. Alcohol Abuse

In general, alcohol abuse refers to patterns of drinking that cause health problems or social problems, or both.

Alcohol dependence, more commonly known as alcoholism, refers to the brain disease we know as Addiction.

Addiction leads to lack of control over drinking and life. Signs of physical dependence (withdrawal) appear within hours of stopping to drink and may manifest as anxiety, hallucinations, seizures and tremors.

Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) is characterized by cravings. A person, who suddenly stops, without the proper medical care, can experience severe and sometimes deadly withdrawal symptoms. If you are an alcoholic do not try detox on your own. Seek medical help immediately! Don’t drink if you are pregnant

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is the full range of neurological, cognitive, behavioral, and learning disabilities associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. Alcohol passes the blood brain barrier and immediately, and negatively, affects an unborn fetus. There is absolutely no safe level of drinking during pregnancy. Children born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) suffer learning impairments for life.

Addiction

Addiction is a primary, chronic brain disease that affects brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Without treatment and engagement in recovery activities, it often results in disability or premature death.

HOW DO I KNOW I AM ADDICTED? Addiction is characterized by your inability to consistently abstain; cravings; a dysfunctional emotional response and a diminished recognition of significant problems with your behavior and interpersonal relationships. Like other chronic diseases, Addiction can involve cycles of relapse and remission and premature death if left untreated.

A widely used screening test is CAGE. If you have two or more positive responses it is likely you have a problem with alcohol.

• Have you ever felt the need to cut down on your drinking?

• Have you ever felt Annoyed by someone criticizing your drinking?

• Have you ever felt Guilty about your drinking?

• Have you ever felt the need for an Eye-opener? (a drink at the beginning of the day)?

NO ONE IN MY FAMILY IS AN ALCOHOLIC. AM I AT RISK? Overexposure to alcohol can lead to alcohol dependence. Alcohol changes the brain of everyone! Anyone that chronically abuses alcohol will eventually become dependent. If you drink to self-medicate for co-existing conditions it is likely you will become addicted, if you aren’t already.

ALCOHOL WITHDRAWAL

Alcohol sedates your brain. Your brain works 24/7 to protect you, to do its job the brain offsets the sedative effects of alcohol consumption by producing larger and larger quantities of norepinephrine, a chemical similar to adrenaline. Although you abruptly stop drinking, your brain needs time to respond. It may take a few days to rebalance your brain chemistry, which is why the excess norepinephrine in your bloodstream causes withdrawal symptoms.

Only about 5% of alcoholics experience a dangerous withdrawal, known as delirium tremens, or DTs. Because your brain is unable to adjust to the quickly changing chemistry, you can experience confusion, hallucinations, and you are at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. There is no way of knowing in advance if you are one of the 5%, which is why you should seek medical care to detox your body.

Finding The Right Sober Living House

Author Unknown

Sober living facilities are needed to provide a supporting and pro-active healthy transition, allowing you to leave the safety of rehab and enter a less-restrictive living environment while maintaining a focus on recovery. Residents enjoy a less structured atmosphere while developing the tools and skills to sustain sobriety in the “real world.”

While there are many sober living facilities in Florida, you need to make sure the home you choose offers the highest level of care, qualities, and features that support recovery. You should never commit to living at a sober living home without visiting and talking with the owners and residents.

Here are the top five qualities you’ll want to look for in a sober living house:

#1 FARR Certified Residence

Picking a FARR certified residence guarantees that you are in the best possible environment that is regulated with the highest standards. This is a critical decision that affects your recovery. You are faced with an overwhelming amount of decisions each day; many affect your sobriety. You need to know the sober living has a proven structure to assist and support recovery. That’s why it’s so important to find a sober living home that implements a higher level of care…it should also implement rules and regulations, such as mandated curfews and a zero-tolerance drug-free environment.

#2 Safety

Being in a safe environment is an absolute necessity. Look for things like; 24/7 staff, if the entire staff is trained in CPR, do they have an emergency kit in case of an overdose, and a protocol for emergencies. What steps and measures do they have to absolutely make sure there are no drugs or alcohol on the premises? Is there a zero tolerance for possession and use of alcohol and drugs? Check out and speak to the people currently living in a sober living facility. Ask them about the technology and safety measures used by the facility.

#3 Connecting Atmosphere

The camaraderie, atmosphere, mood, energy, and vibe at the sober living house with its current residents are very important. During your tour ask to speak with the current residents, they will be valuable in your decision to pick the right place for you. What types of activities are there to help you develop new skills; assistance with job search, better eating habits, health and fitness. Make sure you feel a positive vibe; your gut will tell you if it is the right place for you.

#4 Supports and Assists Recovery

A solid support system is crucial for anyone in recovery. 12 step recovery is not for everyone, however the sober living should have other actions on and off the property in place like; relapse prevention, AA, NA, and counseling to assist you in recovery. When evaluating a sober living support team, it’s important to find a staff that truly cares about you and your success…but you also want a staff that’s unafraid to enforce necessary rules and regulations.

Everyone’s recovery path is different and proceeds at different paces, however individualized recovery plans are essential for staying sober. The employees should be professional, and be there to keep you on the road to recovery. They should be encouraging 12 step, AA, NA meetings or a support system that fosters sobriety. There should also be some sort of drug testing policy in effect.

#5 Take Responsibility; Own It

Remember, you must own your sobriety. That means that you may not always like following rules and regulations like a curfew, structured events, meetings, etc. You must be willing to do the difficult things to maintain sobriety. The sober living home should challenge you to be able to make that step to be fully functional on your own.

 

Living With A Recovery Companion Coach

Anonymous Author

I am not going to share my name because my name is not as important as my experience working with my companion coach. The truth is I was fearful to leave treatment where I received continuous staff support and monitoring 24/7. I needed a recovery companion coach.

My story begins with my addiction and condition before checking into rehab. I will spare you the details of my addiction because we all have a story. But of course, my addiction affected everything and everyone around me. So when I decided to get help and enter a treatment center, my program pulled me outside of my normal environment (home, family, work, and friends). My daily environment where I normally escaped reality and life.

I thought for sure everything was under control when I finished treatment- until it clearly wasn’t.
Ok, I needed help and deep down inside I don’t trust myself to be left alone or continue back home without support in fear of relapse. Sure, like many of you reading this story, I was fine before my addiction started controlling my next move and taking me to places of regret time after time. Now that I had agreed and committed to live a sober life and finished my treatment program, I realized I needed help with an outpatient program from home, office or both.

I needed a recovery companion coach.

How could I get the most from my recovery companion coach while ensuring I did not become codependent?

Well first of all, I looked for a companion coach who was professionally trained and certified with a plan to help me move forward building on my sobriety. I learned successful coaches have a short term process that will gradually release me and reduce the time I spend conversing with my coach.
I was willing to invest in a private companion coach to pick me up on the day my treatment facility released me to go home. My recovery companion coach would support me in making the transition from 24/7 monitored to moving back home. My house needed to be prepared for my newly committed addiction free lifestyle. My coach moved in and lived with me 24/7 to monitor my sobriety and help me get in a routine.

During the first couple of days:
We purged the house of any unclean or unwanted triggers.
We picked up the mail, payed bills and set up a budget plan.
We created a weekly meal plan and went to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients.
We put the groceries away and started my weekly food preparation for easy homemade ready to eat meals- Heat-N-Eat style.
We talked every day about my life in the moment right now and moving forward highlighting things I can do to fill the void.
We carefully navigated my patterns, interests and strengths to draw out my solutions.
We applied the information I learned in rehab / treatment center into my daily routines.
We visited a couple support groups in my area until I found a group that I liked.
We walked and talked every day as I learned how to filter and process and decompress from the daily stress while getting exercise.

During the second week:
I had to go back to work, yes my coach went with me to make the transition smoother.
We were together 24/7, so I introduced my coach as a friend from out of town observing my business and work ethics.
We discussed market penetration, production, sales, and managing staff everything related to my job description and stress to identify hidden triggers.
Fortunately, my position with the company allow me to have an out of town friend join me at work without any confusion or additional questions.
After work we continued to repeat a lot of what I learned during the first week and tracking my progress.

By the third week:
I was feeling more confident with my own ability to function alone. I know how all the moving pieces work together at home and work without my addiction driving me to relapse.
I am so grateful to have my coach bridge the gap during the transition. My coach helped me stay focused and repeat what I learned during treatment in my real life setting. I am ready to release my coach to another client in need.

Drunken Sluts R Us

New article published today. Some wreckage of my past.

Drunken Sluts R Us – by Marc J Dunn


The 75-year-old woman at the speaker’s table was introduced to the group as having 30+ years of addiction recovery and as a “tells it like it is” kind of storyteller. Her opening was, “I knew I was a drunken slut, but I had no idea I was an alcoholic. That was so much worse.”

The group listening burst into laughter shooting each other knowing glances as only others in recovery could. It wasn’t shameful what our friend had said, it was something we could all relate to or identify with. We have a bond of commonality in recovery, although we have different specific circumstances, we share recklessness and selfishness, and stealing the serenity of others we claim to love.

A quick search of my memory brought forward dozens if not hundreds of episodes that could be classified as “slut like” behavior.

Let me draw a line here, because I don’t want to imply that I am judging anyone’s sexual choices. My preferences and opinions about sex are not important, other than the firm belief that it is a natural biological happening and is to be enjoyed not judged. What I prefer is not anyone’s business, just as others’ preferences are not my business. My use of the term “slut” refers to a person who is harmful or reckless to self or others physically and/or mentally.

The term “drunken slut” is used disparagingly to describe women who are sexually active. Rarely is it used to describe men. Society has a tendency to judge women negatively if they are sexually active. Men are not held to the same standard. Men are encouraged to have as much sex as possible. It is a badge of honor. Women are scorned or ostracized if their behavior is judged to be “too loose”. One of the points of addiction recovery is, for both women and men, to seek to fill a hole in our soul with something other than sex or whatever our addiction is. The addict who becomes aware of this shortcoming and seeks to find a better way of life will fill it with a spirit of love and giving.

We use sex as a crutch to mask our feelings. Drugs, alcohol and sex, as well as other addictions, are only symptoms of the mental health issue all addicts must confront. It is our thinking, fear, anger and guilt; we must come to terms with. These emotions are normal for human beings. Once we embrace them, rather than ignore or mask them, our entire life improves. We are no longer ashamed of our sexual activities.

Many times my sexual affairs were purely driven by my need for approval or power. It was not uncommon for me to view sex as a conquest or triumph in which winning meant having sex. The encounter and sexual interplay was without feeling for the other person; I lacked tenderness and giving I was totally absorbed with what I was getting. It was strictly about my sexual pleasure – LUST!

Under most circumstances the more under the influence I was the less it mattered who I was having sex with or what the other person’s needs were. Selfishness reigned supreme. On one occasion, my roommate and I deliberately set out to see who could drink the most shots of Tequila at our neighborhood bar. Somewhere around shot 4 or 6, a young woman joined us as an observer and occasional participant. I started flirting with her, within a short period of time abandoned the drinking contest to take her back to the apartment and have sex. About an hour later, she is lying on top of me and my roommate quietly opens the door not knowing what he might encounter. He stumbled into his bed and I continued having intercourse. I never got her name. She left before morning. Later the conversation with my roommate was about “who won?” I maintained I did because I got laid, and wasn’t that the real contest whenever you go drinking in bars.

Another time I invited my girlfriend to accompany me to see the Ali Foreman Championship Boxing Match, and to bring her roommate. Both women were gorgeous. I suggested they dress in the sexiest attire they had, cling all over me, and flirt with guys in the crowd and just to make sure they were not inhibited. I offered them both Quaaludes which they liked because it was a drug that loosened their sexual inhibitions. It also relaxed my jealous instincts making it easy for me to enjoy them working the crowd, knowing they were both going home with me. My objective was power over everyone; it was more manipulation to make me look good using sex as a status symbol. The night’s event went perfectly; the other guys wanted to be me, I was grandiose and delusional; the attention was stolen from the main event and put onto me. It was my self-centered selfishness without regard for others that culminated in anger by my friends, and sexual conduct that was more lust than love.

Needless to say, such activities are self-centered. They are disrespectful to your partner, selfish in motive, purely self-seeking lust. “We remembered always that our sex powers were God-given and therefore good neither to be used lightly or selfishly nor to be despised and loathed,” (Alcoholics Anonymous). Sex is harmful if it is used to mask feelings not express them. My lustful activities displayed a total lack of awareness of others’ feelings; it was proof positive that I cared primarily for my needs lacking empathy for others.

Sex is beautiful when it is consensual and approached with giving pleasure as well as receiving. It then becomes a wonderful experience with results that are enjoyed. Sex isn’t always about being in love, but it can be about giving as well as receiving. “Drunken sluts” know nothing of giving; we are only about receiving, usually to cover our emotions. If a “slut” is covering emotions, why does the label rarely apply to men? I was as much a “drunken slut” as any woman I knew. But I almost never hear men discuss this in recovery. It’s almost always women. Why?

The discovery of giving in a sexual relationship opened me to exceptional love experiences. The change occurred when I began living in recovery, becoming a productive, caring individual. Practicing spiritual principles in my affairs, learning to be gentle, giving, loving instead of stealing peace of mind.

Being an alcoholic turned out to be a blessing, because now my deepest best love is a friendship that has caught on fire. Most importantly, I want it to be quiet understanding, sharing and forgiving. For me, it is loyalty through good times and bad. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.

The stories we share in recovery are meant to help others identify with us, and find a path to a new way of living. Taking inventory of our sexual harms is a keystone of this path for women and men. It is not discussed as much as it should be considering the impact it has had on our behavior. In the realm of fear, anger and guilt, sex was a driving force; we sought approval fearing others would not like us, we were angry because of perceived rejection and we felt remorse of not being good enough. Now we jokingly refer to ourselves as “drunken sluts” to ease the pain. There isn’t shame in our past sexual behavior, we just need not forget the path that led us to those encounters. Regret leads to relapse, honestly sharing about our new found sexual journey keeps us in recovery.

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Unholy Trinity – Fear, Anger & Guilt

By Marc Dunn
Fear, anger and guilt, the unholy trinity of emotions, are feelings that every addict seeks to alter. They dominated my life from the time of my earliest memories. It was those feelings that lead me on a path of reckless, selfish and dishonest seeking of substances to mask myself. It was the thoughts that I wasn’t good enough and needed to be better that blocked me from being.

Young boys grow up with a father or role model they seek approval from or they seek to emulate in order to become a “man” with all the characteristics that are deemed admirable and manly by society. The lack of this approval, the feeling of being less than, set me on a course that lead to addiction before I picked up my first drink.

Christianity and Judaism introduced the concept of God to me at an early age. It was natural for me to identify the first father figure in my life as being God like because of the teachings in our places of worship; all powerful, all knowing, supreme judge and benevolent or punishing. My first hand experience was that of an abusive stepfather. Consequently I felt early on in my life that there must be something wrong with me. How could the God-like figure in my life be wrong? It had to be that something was wrong with me.

The lack of self-esteem for me was enhanced by changing school districts every year and constantly being the new kid having to prove himself on the schoolyard and not equipped with the tools to succeed. I wanted to escape but didn’t find a route until my early teens when I was introduced to alcohol. In the interim my stepfather and boys my age constantly picked on me, beat me up and tortured me.

Years later when my stepfather was on his deathbed I confronted him about why he treated me this way. His answer was, “you were a willful child and somebody had to beat it out of you.” My answer was, “Really? That’s the way to correct a child? Fuck you!” That was the last interaction I had with him. It also gave me a good reason to get drunk.

The fear lead to anger with God because I would constantly pray for relief from the treatment I received and my prayers did not lessen the pain, Naturally the last of the emotions, guilt, grew because of my low self esteem and conviction that something was wrong with me.

My alcoholism progressed, as I grew older and resulted in suspension from the university, failed relationships with women, marriage and divorce, arrest, theft, near death escapes, many automobile accidents and escapades from reckless behavior.

My constant companion was fear of not having your approval or being found out, mainly that I wasn’t who I was pretending to be. As a young man it was important to me to appear to be fearless and full of bravado. I accumulated things that made me look good; attractive women, nice cars, expensive home and cash. It was all a grand delusion fueled by alcohol and drugs.

Drugs and alcohol were now my master and I found nothing wrong with the person I had become, totally unaware of the destruction I was causing along the way.

In the 70’s I had my own business in a small college town. Although I stayed way from the selling of substances, it was common for me to be close to those who did and insure my accessibility by brokering deals for others. It wasn’t only substances, my addictions crossed over to gambling and sex.

I owned a small business that catered to college students and the resident hippie population. One afternoon three guys came into the store who I had never seen before. It was strange that they were all very tall and after a few minutes of conversation the explanation was easy. They played basketball and were in town for a game that night. Basketball was big in the town, although our team was pretty average. A big turnout was expected for the game because the opponent was a rival and was favored to beat our home.

We were joking about the game, and then it happened. They asked if I could get them high. “Of course! No problem, “ I said. “Come back in an hour and we’ll go outside behind the store and smoke a joint”.

Friends of mine had connections with a bookmaker and we placed bets regularly on all sporting events. My addiction to gambling enhanced my “macho man” image.

As soon as the players left, I rolled a joint and went to one of my betting buddies to share the good news. We had a sure thing. One of the players was a starter. Once I got high with them, there was no way they could play a decent game that night. We bet 5 times our normal wager.

The guys returned about an hour later and I let them smoke most of the joint. They went back to join the team, completely stoned. They were carrying on about how good the shit was and they’d never been so high. I was on the phone as soon as the Bookmaker’s Office opened, made my bet and went to the game. It was insane; they couldn’t make a shot, missed passes and looked awful. We won.

Several factors were at play in my behavior: drug and gambling addiction as well the thrill of living on the edge and attention seeking. Self-centered attention seeking only rivaled my dishonesty. This was more than the youthful arrogance of immortality, there was an attitude of, “I don’t care about anyone but me and I’ll do whatever to get what I want.” It wasn’t really evil, but it was reckless and harmful to others and it made me feel like a real man. More delusional grandiosity.

Incidences such as this continued during my young adult life: arrests by the FBI (later dismissed by the courts), a divorce because of my infidelity and gambling, running a night club frequented by drug dealers and bookmakers, drunken misdeeds such as out running the police in a car chase and being thrown out of numerous bars for being too drunk. These were not accomplishments; they were the result of a total lack of self-awareness, and disregard for the safety or feelings of others.

Finally in my mid 30’s I felt the need to make a change, a combination of events: custody of my son, meeting a woman I wanted to spend my life with but probably more than anything I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. It wasn’t an epiphany or revelation as much as was my fear driving me. I married, bought a home and started a family. Only I hadn’t changed my behavior, I only masked it behind what looked like the ideal family. I began a horrendous chapter of stealing from those who loved me the most, my family. I stole their peace of mind.

The selfish, careless & dishonest behavior continued, sometimes sneakily in alleys or outside bars, other times under the guise of legitimacy in the driveway of my home. It wasn’t like I was always absent or didn’t properly interact with family and friends, but it was always on my terms with an eye toward the exit.

For the next twenty years alcohol became more important and lead to many misdeeds that jeopardized the family’s financial security and our physical safety as well. My need to be in charge and the man of the house was far more important than the needs of anyone else.

There was the verbal abuse I used to prove my superior manliness, and dangerous actions as displays of bravado. One episode involved me taking the family on a boating trip into the gulf that required us traversing a channel I had never done before with a lack of the required skills. The result was having to be rescued in the middle of a lightning storm after I luckily spotted a marina I managed to steer the boat to. My wife and kids were frightened, while I maintained everything was under control. More delusional grandiosity.

Finally I stopped drinking about 15 years ago, not because I wanted to, but the pressure from my wife and others was getting more intense. I had a couple of car accidents that were not exactly the direct result of being under the influence, but my decision making was based on appearances more than sound judgment. Looking good still dominated my thoughts.

I went to AA meetings for about 30 months. Most of the time I would burglarize the conversations of old-timers, repeating what I had hears them say as if it was what I had learned in recovery. Chairing and speaking at meetings like I was a big shot, never getting a sponsor, never reading the Big Book or doing the steps. I drank again, and went on a 6 months bender that finally brought me to my knees.

It was crashing my car in a blackout on the interstate in the middle of the afternoon that did it. The car was totaled, no one was hurt, no other cars were involved and somehow I walked away without being arrested for DUI. It was the last time I had a drink and it was the last time I stole peace of mind from my wife and children.

The next day I started my recovery from alcoholism searching for a healing of the mind, body and spirit; although I didn’t know it I was about to begin an internal search of my heart and spirit.

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Some handle it by resolving their issues and allowing their feelings to pass. I had trouble moving past those feelings and seemed to linger there, where the danger of addiction came into play. The temporary and seemingly soothing nature of drugs and alcohol provided me some with the quick relief but they we never the answer to stress, depression, or anxiety.

I knew that I had never felt at home. I had never felt at home in my home. I had never felt at home in my religion. And for many months, I did not feel at home even in Alcoholics Anonymous. I had to learn that home is where the heart finds rest and renewal. That’s where coming home is.

I am far enough along in the journey now to be able to see that there is only one ultimate coming home, and that is the final, total, complete, surrender of self to a Power greater than myself. I’m also brave enough today to believe that there will come a day, there will be a place sometime, somewhere, someday, that I will probably in all likelihood completely be able to open my heart and express my feelings without fear. It comes now at times when I share at meetings, even when I engage with people outside the rooms, because I am comfortable and I don’t feel the fear of being found out. I have nothing to hide.
I am reminded of this exchange between two friends on a cattle drive from the book Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty;
“You’re so sure you’re right it doesn’t matter to you whether people talk to you at all. I’m glad I’ve been wrong enough to keep in practice.”
“Why would you want to keep in practice being wrong?”
Call asked. “I’d think it would be something you’d try to avoid.”
“You can’t avoid it, you’ve got to learn to handle it,” Augustus said. “If you come face to face with your own mis¬takes once or twice in your life it’s bound to be extra painful. I face mine every day-that way they ain’t usually much worse than a dry shave.”

The shortcomings and defects of character I confronted in my 4th and 5th Step allowed me an awareness of what is in my heart and in doing so helped me to understand that I am a human being, with feelings the same as all human beings and its okay. I had to let myself feel fear, anger and guilt, but not act out in such a way that would hurt others or myself. I learned to trust and love the Sunlight of the Spirit and make better choices and most importantly I didn’t have to be perfect. That perfection was not the measure of a man; honest admiration, love and respect of others and self are what make us men. We are all loved by our families and friends we just have to let them love us and love them in return.

My recovery is a narrow bridge, I am not afraid because I am not alone.

Finding Peace

Recovery is difficult at times, but with difficulty comes blessings: I am a human being again. I am finding peace.
My body, my mind and spirit have a new strength. The world looks good. I have respect for my family and friends. My work and co-workers are treated positively and productively.
I avoid places I shouldn’t be and people I shouldn’t be with.
If I am tempted towards relapse, my Higher Power is there to lift me up and carry me if need be.
The fellowship has become a home for me where I can always find peace, if I look for it and am willing to accept it.
This is what I always wanted; this is the life I love to live.

The Present

Recovery requires getting honest with yourself, your sponsor and your Higher Power. It is the cornerstone of the trilogy: willingness, honesty and openness.

There are reasons honesty, openness and willingness are often cited, as three must dos to be in recovery.

All three require letting go of the past, not projecting into the future and staying in the moment.

Openness is sharing about yourself, what you are feeling and how it is affecting your decision-making, relationships and overall mental health, probably physical health as well. We come to recovery out of desperation without any idea of how to do it, not even sure what we are doing here. We don’ know how to listen because we are so busy thinking. Openness is learning to listen and getting comfortable with what is uncomfortable, sharing our feelings.

Willingness is the action of wanting to do this, making a commitment. Often we are reluctant because just the thought of doing the uncomfortable makes us ambivalent. Once we realized that our willingness didn’t mean we had to jump in with both feet, it just meant that we are trying a new “design for living” and following the directions of others who have been down this path before us.

Honesty presents our most difficult hurdle, because we have not been honest about much. It has been said, ” for most addicts if our lips are moving we’re lying.” Unfortunately, it is mostly a true assessment. It has to start with our self and our relationship with our Higher Power and doing the first four steps gets us there. It is the total turning our life and will over to our Higher Power that from the beginning and continually keeps us being as completely honest as we can be.

There isn’t a principle of recovery that is one hundred percent at any time in our life, because just being human and living a spiritual life accepts that we will be imperfect.

Being in the present allows us to avoid the resentments of anger resulting from past actions, fear over what might take place and the guilt of what we may be doing or thinking now. We just have to “be”.

The Source of Evil – Ego

Parshat Bo – Exodus

“And God said to Moses, ‘Come to Pharaoh’…”—Exodus 10:1

When God summoned Moses to confront Pharaoh, God did not say to him, “Go to Pharaoh,” but rather, “Come to Pharaoh,” as if to say that Power was already there and by approaching Pharaoh, Moses was actually approaching the Power of the Universe.

It was then revealed to Moses the secret of Pharaoh’s power and the power of all evil—that, in essence, it is truly nothing more than the audacious misappropriation of the Power. In other words, the source of evil is the independent ego and the ultimate independence of ego is not the rejection of a Power of the Universe but the belief that the Power is one’s own.

After all, who was Pharaoh—tyrant, dictator, and killer of children and oppressor of slaves? All of these were but manifestations of Pharaoh—particular character defects. But the essence of Pharaoh – that which made all of these other behaviors possible – was nothing more or less than the worship of self.
Thus, when God summons Moses, it is to see the essence of evil and confront it at its source.

So it is with us. Our inner Pharaoh is the ego that claims powers, as if we are God. It may be called by various names such as self¬-control, will-power or intelligence, but the message is always the same. We insist that our life is under control. By the time we realize that this Ego’s claims are untrue, it’s domination over us is already complete. We stand face to face with evil, and it seems that there is nothing that we can do.

But then a Spirit of the Universe beckons us, our spiritual renewal has begun, we ready ourselves to face our shortcomings as they really are. We become aware of feelings that are natural to all human beings but are not acted upon negatively when we accept a Higher Power.

The ego is not as powerful as it claims, but to the contrary, completely powerless. When you can see this – that the power of ego is nothing but a complete and total lie – it is then, and only then, that you will see true power, the power of God. We only need to be willing to accept the Power of the Universe in our lives.

An Open Letter To Families Where Addiction Is Present

by Alicia Cook

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/Alicia-cook/an-open-letter-to-families-where-addiction-is-present_b_8691970.html?utm_source=digg

Last night someone said to me, “For someone who writes about addiction, you are being judgmental!” Now, without going into specifics, I can tell you I was a lot of things last night: Mad. Hurt. Sad. Confused. Frustrated. At a loss — but judgmental? No. No way.

I wish it wasn’t me who was writing this blog. I really wish it wasn’t. I wish I wasn’t “qualified” to speak on the heroin epidemic from the perspective of the loved ones. I wish I wasn’t gaining notoriety for having one of the “best handles” on this subject. I wish I wasn’t a member of a community no one really wants to be a part of. No one ever says to themselves while reading articles like mine, “I wish I could relate to this.”

But I am. I am the non-addict who knows all too well what it’s like to love a person who suffers from addiction.

I know what it’s like to worry yourself sick. To cry yourself to sleep.

I know to watch out for pinhole pupils and subtle changes in behavior. To listen to them talk and make excuses and pile on lie after lie. I know what it’s like to pretend to believe them because you are just too mentally exhausted for an argument.

I know what it’s like to be confused all of the damn time; to see their potential, to know what they are throwing away. I know what it’s like to want their recovery more than they do. To be the one doing research on rehabs and other outlets for recovery.

I know what it’s like to miss someone who is still standing right in front of you.

I know what it’s like to wonder if each unexpected phone call is “the” phone call. I know what it’s like to be hurt so bad and be made so sick a part of you wishes you would just get “the” phone call if nothing is going to change. You want that finality. You need the cycle to end. I know what it’s like to hate yourself for even allowing yourself to find relief in that horrible thought.

I know what it’s like to get the worst news of your life, and still walk into the grocery store and run your errands and smile at the cashier.

I know what it’s like to become a part-time detective. You know you are going to find something, and you look until you do just so you feel less crazy. So you can say to yourself, “I am not paranoid. This is happening again.”

I know what it’s like to have your mind clouded; to turn into a functioning zombie. I know what it’s like to be physically present at board meetings and dinner dates, but mentally gone.

I know what it’s like to be really mad. Like, REALLY pissed off. Between the sadness there is a lot of anger. I know what it’s like to feel guilty for being so mad, even knowing all you know about addiction. You are allowed to be angry. This is not the life you signed up for.

I know what it’s like to scour a bookshelf and not find what you are looking for because this illness is still so hard to talk about, let alone write about.

I know what it’s like to hear someone argue that addiction is not an illness, but a choice or social disorder. I know all too well that feeling of heat rising in your face as they go on and on about something they know nothing about.

I know what it’s like to stop being angry with these people. They do not understand. They are lucky to not understand. I know what it is like to catch yourself wishing that you didn’t understand either.

I know the difference between enabling and empowering. I know there is a fine line between the two and the difference can mean life or death. I know what it’s like to the feel the weight of each day on your shoulders trying to balance the two.

I know what it’s like to have “good days” and “bad days” but never “normal days.” I have been through enough to know that things don’t just change for the worse overnight; they can change in a millisecond. In a blink of an eye. As quick as it takes two people to make a $4 exchange.

I know what it’s like to feel stigmatized. To be the “cousin of a drug addict,” a “friend of a drug addict,” a “sibling of a drug addict,” “a parent of a drug addict,” “a neighbor of a drug addict.” I know what it feels like to be handled with kid-gloves because no one outside of your toxic bubble knows what to say to help.

I don’t know what the future holds for anyone who loves a substance abuser today. One thing I know for sure is I am not alone. I write often on addiction from the family’s perspective. My last article, Lessons I Learned from Loving a Drug Addict, was picked up by numerous news outlets. My new essay series, The Other Side of Addiction, aims to help non-addicts and addicts alike share their story in a place free of, you guessed it…judgement. They often feel voiceless, so I wanted to give them a voice.

I write on addiction for a lot of reasons. I want to let you know you are not alone. I write on addiction because for far too long many have felt isolated, hopeless and stigmatized by this illness.

Today I am writing on addiction to let loved ones know you are allowed to feel angry without feeling guilty. You are allowed to feel sad, mad, or frustrated without feeling guilty. You are allowed to take a step back if you need a breather without feeling guilty.

With so many variables being out of your power, the one thing you are in control of is your well-being. Feeling any of this at any point does not mean you are suddenly a judgmental person who does not understand addiction. All of this does not mean you do not love this person unconditionally.