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Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

What Happens to My Friends When I Recover?

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

In a recent article, we’ve talked about how to support a friend in recovery—how to be there for a loved one struggling with addiction. But what happens if you are the recovering addict…how does this affect your friendships? Once you are on the road to recovery certain changes in your behavior need to happen. You choose sobriety and are dedicated to maintain it. Inevitably, this will affect your relationships.

Families are generally encouraging and pleased to see improved behavioral changes and healthier living in a loved one. A change from destructive behavior and a sense of commitment in staying clean can often heal relationships that suffered from the ravages of drug or alcohol abuse.

Friendships can vary. Some of your friends may continue to be strong networks, as they want to play a supportive part in you life. But sometimes the relationships that were forged around the old patterns of your addictive behavior will inevitably end. Your drinking buddies from the bowling alley or weekly golf game might not understand your sudden need to refrain, and therefore cannot offer you the support you need. Perhaps they are in denial about their own addictive tendencies. Lasting friends need to be aware of your new path and be willing to make changes in their behavior as well if needed. If this can happen, then certainly relationships can be reformed and strengthened, perhaps even becoming stronger than they were before.

Friendships are a living, organic entity, and they ebb and flow over time. If fed continuously with energy from both parties, they may be maintained throughout the course of an ever-changing life to flourish regardless of the obstacles they may face. If only one friend is participating in feeding the relationship, it will wither and die over time. And if the interests of both parties are going in separate directions, they will be hard-pressed to maintain a steady relationship for long. Friendships will come and go regardless of you being in recovery. Sometimes people just drift apart; sometimes people will drift closer, bonded by life’s occurrences. Essentially, a a wide network of friends is ideal, where different people can fulfill different needs, but all are supportive and understanding.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

How to Support a Friend in Recovery

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Friends make life worthwhile. Going down the path from addiction into recovery can be scary and lonely. What a person really needs is a good friend. While addiction becomes a more solitary path as it escalates, recovery requires support and a great deal of love and acceptance for the addict.

They may find this support in recovery support groups, from peers in treatment, from counselors and therapists, from family members and others. But most addicts want the support of friends, people who know them and love them and have established relationships to protect and grow, who will be there when they make mistakes in their recovery journey.

This can be difficult for the person who is not recovering. They may have experienced the end of the addicts’ using days and the debilitation that goes with the bottom the addict came to before recovery began. This is a painful and difficult transition to navigate. Being supportive may be stretching beyond the capabilities of the friend without help.

Understanding the addiction is a good place to begin. Remembering that most of the world has accepted addiction as a disease will allow the friend to place the addicts’ behaviors in a category that depersonalizes and removes judgment from the behaviors. While hurtful, they can begin to see the addict as a sick friend, rather than a willful or hurtful one; true friends gain compassion. They can grasp the recovery of their friend as a necessary life-sustaining tool, needed to maintain the dignity and good health of their friend. Many recovering addicts liken recovery to the process of chemotherapy for cancer patients; treatment for a deadly disease that must be radically intervened on if success is possible.

Friends can be supportive in so many ways. First, they can encourage and cheer the addict on and support what they need to do for recovery. They can allow the recovery process to work as slowly as it must for the continued abstinence of their friend. They can read and educate themselves about recovery and addiction. They can keep an active interest in their friend by asking questions and allowing space for new habits and behaviors that will need to replace the using behavior.

Most of all, they can learn what contributes to recovery and what factors contributes to relapse while maintaining a strong set of ethics and boundaries in the relationship so that addiction does not have to tear their bond apart, should the addict return to using. They can protect themselves with healthy boundaries in order to learn about how to support, but not enable, the addict in their disease.

Most of all, friends learn to give and receive unconditional love, without judgment, shame or blame in order to support the highest growth and development of each other, sometimes despite what they may feel or think. It is hard to suspend judgment when you see someone you love and care about making mistakes. Life is all about being (and having) the kind of friend who remains supportive and still in the face of upcoming disaster. As your friend learns about life, they will make mistakes. Let them learn what they need to learn without making judgments or comments unless asked. This is the test of a true friend, a loose yet binding tie that allows for each person to be fully human and walk their own path with dignity and respect.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

Taking It Easy in Recovery

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

A common slogan heard in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step venues is, “Easy does it,”  though this does not sound congruent with what a newly recovering addict is learning and hearing from the meetings. They are told to do so many things to maintain their abstinence from their substances and behaviors that none of it seems particularly “easy”! First off, there are the meetings themselves, which seem scary and very strange. These people laugh at the darnedest things! And they chant and sometimes clap and sometimes sing “Happy Birthday” to those who celebrate sober anniversary dates. And there are all these unknown behaviors to get acquainted with—when to talk and when to be quiet, praying, moments of silence, where to sit, sharing or not sharing in a meeting, what to say and what to NOT say, calling a sponsor and getting phone numbers from other sober members to begin with. People spouting all kinds of slogans that make no sense, going to any length (whatever that means!), working the steps, reading the book, working with a sponsor…

…and all of that without drinking, drugging, gambling or whatever addiction got us to the meeting…wow! So the slogan, “easy does it” seems quite ridiculous in the face of all that bombardment of information and instruction. What could it mean? Being overwhelmed by all the new input, many a newly recovering addict has turned and fled, deciding that there is just too much to do to remain abstinent. They will either decide not to do it at all or to do it totally on their own. These are both very poor choices to make. The reason for this particular slogan is just that. An overwhelmed addict is in trouble. They will begin to make very poor choices and usually this leads to self-destructive behaviors. Believing that they can never do ALL of what is required to maintain their abstinence, they will do none of it.

Therefore, easy does it becomes pertinent and appropriate advice from the other recovering members and a supportive sponsor. Finding a beginning point with the help of their support group, they make an inroad by continuing to attend meetings. This is where they will have the opportunity to strengthen their resolve to remain abstinent and to achieve hope that they are on the right path. While all of the components to maintaining their recovery are necessary, they will learn which ones to begin with and which ones will follow in due course. This is the same for everyone coming into early recovery. That is why the phrase is important and has been a part of the culture of recovery meetings for over 75 years.

Addicts, by nature, can be characterized as having “black and white thinking” or “all or nothing” ways of seeing things. When they are faced with more than can possibly be processed in a single moment, they tend to become panicked and destroy any chances for progress. Therefore, it is continually recommended that they take their recovery in small steps and progress from point A to point B. There is no race, and no winners in this arena…only those who recover and those who scare themselves right out the door and into the arms of their waiting and very patient addiction.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

Denial in Early Recovery

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Denial is a safety net for everyone. We deny our problems when we feel overwhelmed by what is required to resolve them; we deny that we are mortal when we fear the death that is the only certainty we all share. We deny that we are facing situations that do not allow us to continue to do what we want, no matter what that may be. Denial is a construct that is firmly embedded into our culture from birth through death. It is a construct created to protect us from harsh realities that we would rather not face. Denial can be seen as an ego defense that shelters the person from truth they feel inadequate to deal with.

As a concept used in treatment of addictive disorders, it was popularly coined in the early-to-mid 1980s when treatment became more widespread and the conversation about addiction became more open. It was used then to describe the denial of an addict and the severity of their drug/alcohol use and problems surrounding it.

The overuse of the word is apparent to all who hear it nearly 30 years later. We know all the slogans and catch phrases created to make it more widespread and socially acceptable to be “in denial.” However, as an ego defense, its use has only increased, not diminished over time.

Denial in the field of addictions’ treatment means that the addict is going to minimize and decentralize their addiction by looking at it as everyone else’s problem, as blaming those around him for his use and abuse of substances, as negotiating to lessen the impact of his abuse and use of substances, and to attempt to protect himself from the ultimate treachery of having to face life without the only measure of comfort he has known, that of using and abusing those same substances. While it is apparent to everyone around him that his addiction is spiraling out of control, he will continue to defend it with whatever weapons he may possess. The sharpest tool in his kit at this juncture may well be his denial of the problems his addiction are creating for him and the social environment he inhabits. Therefore, as trite as the word may be in today’s vernacular, it is important to remember the impact the addict finds in using this old weapon for his seeming survival.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

Managing Character Defects—We All Have Them

Friday, July 26th, 2013

In 12-step programs, steps six and seven deal with human failings, otherwise labeled character defects, or shortcomings. All three phrases mean the same thing. In some of the literature of recovery, they are also likened to the Seven Deadly Sins of greed, lust, envy, sloth, pride, anger and gluttony. Recognizing them in our own lives is difficult, while recognizing them in those around us is easy. For this purpose, many people in recovery groups will say that they act as a mirror to show others what behaviors they cannot see in themselves.

No One’s Perfect

For most, the substance abuse was to cover up feelings of fear, inadequacy, insecurity and social awkwardness. Nearly every newly recovering person can relate to these and admit feeling them before the onset of their using and again after stopping the substance use. How to deal with them?

Consider this idea, if you will: Perhaps everyone feels these things from time to time. How then, does the rest of the world deal with self-doubt? For most, it is a matter of looking around to see if they can spot someone else who looks like they feel that way and approach them for a short conversation. Or quickly say a prayer that you be given the courage you don’t really expect to receive, (but ask anyway), and go on as though you had received it. Strangely enough, many people report that they have done this and have successfully conquered a small but important social fear. This gave them enough courage to try it again on a bigger and more important level. Soon they felt confident that they could accomplish many things that seemed impossible a short time before.

Acting As If…

Find a way to walk into the things that frighten you. Find a partner to walk with you if possible. Many of life’s situations can be challenging when first encountered without the prop of drugs and alcohol. Walking into and through these experiences will give you enough confidence to continue. Remember the fear that went through your heart when you first considered not drinking/using drugs? And here you are now, free from those and looking at how to live life without character defects that can cripple relationships, jobs, school and other social environments where you long to feel a sense of belonging. A common phrase in recovery settings is to “act as if,” meaning to behave as if you felt confident and go right ahead with what you are afraid to do. This can be a job interview, speaking in a group, taking a class, going to the dentist, driving a car, an endless list of things that bring fear into many hearts and minds. For a large number of those in recovery, it is simply a matter of wanting to do something badly enough to dare to do it! So, say a prayer and jump right in.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

Acceptance in Early Recovery

Friday, June 21st, 2013

In twelve step group parlance, acceptance is the key concept to the first step of recognition of the problem with substance abuse and admission of the problem. As a principle of recovery, acceptance is the key to becoming comfortable with every aspect of what happens to a person during the course of their lifetime. No matter what may come up during the course of time, accepting the situation is always the precursor to making peace with what is.

Acceptance of anything allows us the grace to consider how best we will frame our response to the situation. It does little or no good to decide we will not accept something that happens. This is known as denial and does little to change or alter the situation or to help anyone involved. Many confuse the act of acceptance with agreement. While it is nearly impossible to agree with some parts of life, accepting them is the only way to create peace with the situation.

Let’s use the analogy of a car accident. Few of us would like to agree that we have been in a car accident, even a mild fender-bender can be irksome, expensive and ruin our day, not to mention the condition of our car and possible physical outcomes such as injuries. However, after an accident has occurred, it does little for any of the involved parties to be in denial of the accident. Therefore, accepting that an accident has occurred gives us the freedom to begin to respond to the situation with appropriate responses, such as calling the police and exchanging information with the other party(s) if necessary.

It is important that those in recovery begin to accept everything that happens in their lives, despite whatever feelings may come up about the situation. While we will seldom be pleased about the accident scenario above, accepting it is the first part of dealing effectively with it whether that means telling a loved one what is going on or finding an addiction treatment facility to check into . To continue to be in denial about the situation does more harm than anything else. Defenses begin to be built up that bar everyone from allowing the healing that needs to take place to begin.

To further the analogy of the auto accident further, denial about the accident would create the following problems: there would be no acknowledgment that the accident had occurred. This means not allowing for car damage, any personal trauma that may have taken place, no exchange with the other parties involved, and no possible repair of any part of the accident would begin. This may sound outrageous, but is a small example of what many addicts have done time after time in their past. Learning to admit that something is going on, then allowing it to exist, despite their fear of the situation or any other emotional response, is a great step toward overcoming the situation as comfortably as possible in as short a period as possible.

This may sound very simplistic, but acceptance is actually very key to recovery from addiction. Addicts have a personal history, many times, of living in a denial state that is like pulling the blankets over their heads and ignoring all situations that bring up any kind of uncomfortable emotional response for them. To learn to live in simple acceptance of the world around them is a very large step to take in overcoming a long pattern of not being able to cope with life on life’s terms. Recovery demands this kind of acceptance. Learning to practice it is a big key to mastering ongoing abstinence.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

 

Authenticity in Early Recovery

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Everyone wants to believe themselves to be authentic. We are like the Velveteen Rabbit, who only wanted to be real, which meant to be loved. It does not seem possible that anyone would cherish the idea of being false or unreal. But are we? It seems that many who are in recovery from addictions are self-deceived. Perhaps it goes beyond that, as is believed by a great number of people, to a social construct that creates mass deception on a large scale. In an election year, there are many who believe that politicians are marketers of the snake oil of social distortion and indiscriminant dishonesty. Are we capable of being authentic in such an environment?

While truth can be variable and changing, as is the Universe we inhabit, authenticity is a principle that goes beyond truth to the core of each one of us. We can be authentic from within ourselves by knowing who we are and what we will and will not stand for. Our authentic nature will then come from the stance we take in our personal lives. Do we know ourselves? This is a process that never seems to have an ending point, but do we “walk our talk” as the saying in 12-step groups goes? Are we willing to be unpopular for not going along with the crowd when it does not feel right for us? Do we have the moral fiber to be completely honest with ourselves, the inner circle of friends and family, and let the pieces fall where they may when it does not fit with the majority opinion?

Authenticity does not mean that we fly in the face of opposition or become defensive about our beliefs. More, it means that we honor them by NOT becoming boisterous or argumentative about them. We do not need to publish them in our personal blog or on Facebook to let the world know. Authenticity is quiet and understated, as a principle. It is a quality that does not need to be broadcast. It means that we walk through the world according to the moral and ethical values that lie in our hearts, not our heads. We live what we believe and let the world around us see and watch our behaviors and attitudes become actions that are directly in line with what we believe.

If we state that we are in favor of an idea or belief, we need to behave in ways that show the world what we believe. They do not hear our words when our actions are in direct conflict with them. The old saying, “Actions speak louder than words” is quite true. The world will judge us on what we do, not what we say. So we must align our actions and behaviors with our beliefs to develop true authenticity.

We also must learn to remain honest with others in our day to day interactions with them. If we are being less than forthcoming about something, others are sure to pick up on our dishonorable words and behaviors. If you are going to tell someone that they are important to you, be sure to show them in your behaviors and actions. It will not be authentic if they know you are saying things to placate or get something over on them. An authentic person is kind enough to be honest with others, even when it is difficult. A true friend will let someone know when they are unhappy with or disinterested in them. While it may not be the best news, it will always be the truth, and therefore, authentic.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

The Importance of Time Management in Recovery

Friday, June 7th, 2013

A great skill to develop for maintaining ongoing recovery and manifesting goals is knowing how to effectively manage one’s time. Early in recovery, it is enough to do what is suggested by a sponsor, the needs of recovery being placed in top priority. Once recovery has been comfortably established, recovering addicts often find time to rediscovered or develop goals and dreams that had lay dormant and unheeded during their addiction.

As dreams surface, it is important for addicts to learn how to balance their time effectively so they can achieve these goals. This is a good time to learn coping skills for dealing with stressors that are introduced as they advance toward these goals. If they desire career advancement, it may mean that they will undergo an educational process that will allow them to do so. If they are looking for relationships that can enhance their recovery experience, they may decide to date, to get married, to have children, or step into whatever new role desired. If a hobby is desired, one might enroll into an art class or music lessons.

Finding time to increase their social life or take on new responsibilities can upset the balance they had achieved during the early stages of their recovery. Whatever changes they desire to make in their lives, or whatever changes occur that they need to incorporate into their schedules, it is important that the recovery meetings, time with recovering friends, sponsorship and other recovering activities not be compromised.

A easy way to plan to incorporate changes in their schedules is to use a simple pie chart. Drawing a large circle, divide the circle into 24 even slices. These slices represent hours of any given day. Begin by selecting seven or eight slices for the necessary time required for sleep. This is a big key for everyone’s recovery, since lack of sleep can be a trigger for those old habits that remind the addict of their previous lifestyle. Then select the appropriate number of slices to represent their daily work activities, grooming time, and commuting time both to and from their normal activities. Allow slices to represent their recovery activities, such as meetings, sponsorship time, and phone calls made and received to support recovery. This will leave a few of those slices for time with family, children, parents, etc.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

Sex and Addiction Recovery

Friday, May 24th, 2013

When “under the influence,” many people’s judgment is impaired which can result in affairs and promiscuity. Once an addict begins his recovery process,  a lot of issues need to be sorted out regarding sex.

For those who are suffering the ravages of a marriage on the rocks from the destructive forces of active addiction, renewing a sexual relationship may seem like the obvious bridge that can make a couple closer. However, due to the physical and psychological changes that take place in early recovery, sex may not be possible or even comfortable for the recovering individual initially. Furthermore, the partner of the recovering individual may not be interested in romance to begin with either. To have a lasting relationship, a couple needs to work on strengthening and healing their emotional bonds first. Marriage counseling can help with these problems, and sex will occur when both parties have opened the lines of communication and healing has begun to take place.

Then there are the marriages where an unmendable break has happened. In light of such uncertainty and transition, sexual activity should  wait until feelings have been dealt with and the recovering addict is emotionally stable enough to engage in a healthy relationship. While it may have been that person’s pattern to engage in casual sexual before, new and present feelings need to be addressed. Prior to that, sex will tangle the individual’s emotions into knots and is very often the beginning of a relapse into active addiction. Many in the recovery community caution to not get involved in a relationship for at least one year after entering recovery.

For those who are single and sexually active prior to recovery, the same reasoning is going to apply. While it may seem that you have been able to have casual and offhand sex without emotional entanglements, it absolutely will be different without the effects of drugs and/or alcohol to blunt the emotions involved.

Other risks that need to be addressed are the status of the partner you choose for sexual encounters. Are they also recovering? Is their recovery stable enough for them to withstand the emotions that are sure to surface? Is yours? Worse, are they still using and have not sought addiction treatment help? Are you transferring your substance addiction tendencies into a sexual addiction?  Relationships are difficult, at best. Under normal circumstances, they are part of the drive for alcohol and drugs that many addicts were propelled by. In early recovery, they will often be part of the relapse process if one is not careful.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

One Day at a Time

Friday, May 10th, 2013

For those who are new to 12-step program lingo, this is a strange-sounding phrase. Its meaning will become clearer over time, but is confusing at first. Just what do they mean by “one day at a time”? Most newly recovering addicts will argue that they are here for long time recovery or to quit forever. As usual, this is a great idea, but a tough one to live out.

For most who have developed a lifestyle that is centered on their addiction, the specter of remaining abstinent looms dark and forbidding into a future that seems bleak without the companions of substances and behaviors that have been the only friends an addict sometimes has left. Take these away, and just what, pray tell, are they supposed to do? A savvy friend or sponsor will laugh then and tell them that they only need to remain abstinent for this one day. “Oh…so that is it,” thinks the newcomer…”but I still don’t understand.” And of course, they do not understand. Other than the loss of the horrendous consequences they have been paying for their addiction and its accompanying behaviors, there is little to recommend a life without the practice of active addiction. And, if there is a life without it, what kind of life could it possibly be?

Certain that there is no more fun to be had in their lives, that they will never laugh or enjoy themselves again, because they are so uncomfortable without the security blanket of their drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or whatever their addiction was, even one day seems to stretch out in front of them, dreary and bleak. They have become so used to the feelings of being in an altered state of mind that it is impossible to see how it could ever be any better without the only friend(s) they had left.

So, one day at a time can mean that they only have to figure out how to go through this 24-hour period of time without substances. To even contemplate staying abstinent for any longer is an overwhelming idea. So, it can be broken down into segments that are comfortable for the newly recovering addict…one day, which can be further broken down into hours, or even minutes if their anxiety about not using or drinking or participating in an addictive behavior is at stake. With the help of their newly-formed support group and a strong relationship with a sponsor, it can go that slowly…one minute, one hour, one day at a time. Somehow, they will wake up in the morning after a strenuous day and feel amazed that they remained abstinent for that day!

The true miracles of recovery are those first days. They are absolutely impossible to achieve, and yet, it does happen! With or without a treatment or recovery setting, there is hope! With the hope that they can do it for just one more minute, one more hour, or one more day coupled with the experience of actually having done it for a few minutes, hours and days, there is hope and a sense of certainty. A support group will provide this certainty as well. As the newcomer hears the stories of the recovery of those in the meetings, they become more assured that, “If they can do it, so can I!”

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.