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Archive for the ‘Personal Stories’ Category

The Anonymous People Documentary: Breaking the Silence

Friday, August 30th, 2013

How many people are living in long-term alcohol or drug addiction recovery? Probably more than you thought—approximately 23 million Americans, in fact. The Anonymous People is a feature-length documentary that includes interviews with more than 30 prominent people—including award winning actress Kristen Johnston, former NBA star Chris Herren, Miss USA 2006 Tara Conner, and former congressman Patrick Kennedy—who courageously speak out about what it means to live in recovery.

Filmmaker Greg Williams’ intent is to break the stigma and silence around what being a recovering addict is, and he raises questions about how addiction treatment is viewed and covered by healthcare. Watch the trailer and find a screening in your local area.

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.

Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

We’ve all heard the saying,  “laughter is the best medicine.” This is especially true in certain settings, where we see that a sense of humor may get one through uncertain and even terrifying circumstances. Remember Norman Cousins, who laughed himself well when diagnosed with terminal cancer? Today there are clinics where laughter, induced by comedic routines, joke tellers, clowns and other laughter inciting therapies are a regular part of the treatment provided. Benefits are seen by cancer survivors and many others who are suffering and need to reframe their experience to gain insight and benefits otherwise not used in conventional hospital, therapeutic, and treatment settings.

Addicts, too, can benefit from developing a sense of humor. Prone to being overly dramatic and self-important, it is seen that several popular myths in Alcoholics Anonymous are beneficial to reminding addicts to remain “right-sized” in working through their recovery issues and those that come up often during the course of their ongoing abstinence. One of the most surprising phenomena in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step program meetings is that of the laughter that is present during the telling of their tragic episodes while participating in their active addiction. This is a common statement by those who first walk into the rooms and are able to stay abstinent. The way that they feel when walking into the meetings for the first few times is incongruent to their subsequent experience when they hear other addicts sharing their stories with the group, and hearing the laughter that is evoked by their identification with the stories.

A story that is told in Alcoholics Anonymous is that there is a book called “Rule 62.” Many times, members will say to one another, “Remember Rule 62,” especially when a sponsor hears a recovering addict predict gloom and doom in situations that will probably work out just fine. The story states that the book “Rule 62” is full of blank pages, with a single page in the middle of the book that says: “Do not take yourself so seriously.” This then, is Rule 62. The negative mindset of the addict can be a definite detriment to recovery for the addict. They tend to remember the horrors of their past and believe that they are doomed to continue to repeat those behaviors. It is important to constantly remind them that they are in recovery to change those parts of their behaviors and lifestyles that contributed to that horror. Therefore, unbeknownst to them, but commonly seen in the meetings of recovering addicts, the outcomes of their behaviors will bring about new and different results, usually in seemingly (and unquestionably) miraculous ways!

Being able to laugh at oneself is an important feature. When they learn to not believe what they think is happening, and to laugh at the heavy dramatic frame they place life in, they are well on their way to recovering a new attitude and belief about themselves, their true place in the world, and how to fit into that place. They remember to remain in expectation of different outcomes due to different behaviors, and maybe just a little less stressed out about what is coming for them next.

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.

Making Amends

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Steps 8 and 9 in the 12-step programs talk about “…making a list of all persons we had harmed…” in step 8, and “…making direct amends, wherever possible…” in step 9. This is confusing for many addicts in their early recovery. Sponsors who have worked through these steps and have maintained abstinence for many years are just as puzzled and confused about what constitutes an “amends.”

Because they frequently apologized for their words, behaviors, attitudes, and addictions in the past, many are prone to look at amends as another round of apologies they need to make to those they have harmed. This is not in the nature of these steps, nor is it what the founders of the 12-step movement intended to pass along to those who were to follow. If apologies meant anything to those who have been burned by the selfishness and inconsideration of active addiction, it would have worked when first performed by the chronic addict. Of course they never did anything about the behaviors that were being apologized for. They continued to lie, cheat, steal, and forget about everyone and everything in their path, except the procuring and using and behaviors necessary to maintain their addiction.

Since apologies are not what is meant by these steps, just what is an “amends” anyway? According to Dictionary.com, amend can mean a) to alter, modify, rephrase, or add to or subtract from (a motion, bill, constitution, etc.) by formal procedure; b) to change for the better; improve; c) to remove or correct faults. So it is seen that nowhere in these definitions is the word apology listed. So it is important to understand the language of recovery and make sure that what is being taught is what is truly being learned. By changing for the better, as listed in b), it is thought that this is the best definition for purposes of amending ones’ addicted behaviors. Therefore, if an addict is guilty of lying to his wife and children, boss, parents, friends and other family members, perhaps his best way of amending that behavior is to practice telling the truth to them under any and all circumstances. Other amends will involve paying back stolen money and taking time to spend with neglected family members and friends who are hurt by the neglect of selfish addicts.

Many addicts will defend themselves by saying they only hurt themselves in active addiction. This is just not the case. Even living on a deserted island, there is universal ramification for every behavior. If they drove while under the influence, they owe amends for that by not doing that particular behavior any longer. If they worked anywhere, for anyone, they impacted their bosses, their coworkers, their subordinates, and everyone who did business with that agency by virtue of the fact that they were illegally involved in some form of behavior that was injurious to themselves and potentially those around them. If they had parents, spouses, children, or any familial relationships whatsoever, their relationships were damaged by the residual effects of addiction. Therefore, it is almost impossible to find an addict whose behavior harmed no one.

Making amends is difficult to think about for all addicts. They create imagined monsters which seldom materialize while making amends. Making the effort to rectify old behaviors is much less difficult than it is in the mind of an addict. Few who have performed these steps are heard to share that what was necessary to clean up their messes is too outrageous. Most feel that they have walked away from the process clean and free.

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.

Dating in Early Recovery

Friday, February 8th, 2013

As Valentine’s Day is upon us, we celebrate romantic relationships with cards and candy. However, relationships with a recovering addict takes a little bit more  consideration. While many people will come into their recovery experience within the parameters of a relationship, others will not. Many have divorced or separated from spouses due to their active participation in the addiction that brings them into recovery. Others will come into recovery single. Whatever stage of relationship you may be in, it will behoove you to learn the methods for dating at this time in your recovery. Even married addicts will find that they need to begin many aspects of their partnership or marriage on a new footing when they stop practicing an active addiction.

Regaining Your Emotional Balance

Emotional balance is difficult for the first several months, and begins to stabilize in time. However, the first months can be very uncertain for those who are feeling their emotions and learning to express them for the first time in many years. Active addiction robs each person the ability to participate in an emotional relationship with themselves, therefore with others as well. Addicts become so estranged from their own feelings that expression of them is impossible. Add drugs or alcohol to the mix, and there is little emotional experience for either partner. If they both drink or drug, they will both need to stabilize in their early recovery before they are available for emotional responses to their significant relationships.

Enter the single addict, who believes that they are ready for dating. Many treatment professionals will counsel that they remain outside a romantic involvement for the first year of recovery. This is a good idea, but few addicts will heed this admonition. Therefore, practicality suggests that there be guidelines set for them to follow in that vulnerable time. Although no recovering addict will admit their vulnerability, it exists just the same. Most consider themselves to be well on their way to lifelong abstinence. This is a scary time, because they are the last ones to recognize their own relapse indicators. One of the most powerful is becoming romantically entangled too soon into their recovery.

Things to Consider before Getting Back “Out There”

Since it will, most likely, take place, despite the counsel of wiser minds, here are a few pointers to follow when contemplating the romantic realm of dating:

If dating another recovering addict, be sure that you are clear on the idea of drinking and drugging. Being new to the recovery world is a drawback, because it is difficult to find activities within a safe range to participate in when abstinent. Be sure that your date does not include going to parties or bars where alcohol and/or drugs are going to be circulating. The discomfort of being with a new person and uncertain about the feelings brought up in this situation can easily lead one to drink or drug to “fit in” with the crowd. Be sure the other party understands that you are serious about this recovery.

Too often, it is the emotional imbalances present when beginning a new relationship that set off newly recovering addicts. Be sure to communicate your feelings of insecurity, longing, loneliness, and others to your sponsor and a supportive friend with whom you do not have a romantic involvement. Sharing these feelings with your new romantic partner or date might lead to them trying to take care of your feelings and/or validating them. This is an unhealthy situation, because that is not the role they need to play.

Allow yourself to enjoy the emotions of a new romance; they can be quite heady. Just also be sure to give yourself a great deal of support so that they do not take you into dangerous places.

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

Finding Emotional Balance in Early Recovery

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Feelings are rampant in early recovery. Fear is a big and powerful part of emotional imbalance. So are sorrow, anger, remorse, guilt, and general feelings of free-floating anxiety about what will come, what has gone happened during active addiction, and what is going to happen as a result of these situations.

It may seem that all of your emotions are present at once, making their presence known in different ways. It is possible that sleeplessness and tension will manifest because the calming influence of medication is eliminated in recovery. It feels like it will never end, but it usually does and it usually will. How does one get through the initial discomfort of emotional disregulation that is part and parcel of early recovery?

Learning to identify and talk about these feelings is the first step toward living with them. Historically, it was necessary to drown them in alcohol or shove them aside with drugs. It does not work, and now they have become overwhelming in their demands for attention. Talk therapy, even with an understanding and compassionate friend, is the beginning of welcoming feelings back into our experience. There is tremendous freedom in admitting that feelings are new to us and uncomfortable, even pleasurable ones. Learning to identify what is being felt can be an empowering and exciting new way of beginning as well.

Sayings in recovery settings, such as “Feelings are not facts” indicate the need for allowing feelings to come up and through our experience. They don’t need to dictate how we behave or respond, certainly reaction is not a necessary way to deal with emotions. They come and they go, if we allow them to. When we ignore or deny them, they have a tendency to build up inside until we are forced to acknowledge that we are feeling something. Rather than allow emotions to drive our lives to the brink of exploding or imploding back into old behaviors of active addiction, it is simpler and less dangerous to feel, identify, express and release emotions. This sounds daunting to those who have spent vast amounts of time and money keeping them at bay. With practice and patience, however, it becomes more comfortable and easier to do.

Begin with the most prevalent of your feelings. Identify one or two, such as anger and fear. You could say to yourself, “I am feeling anger right now. I am not sure what to do about it, but I am going to allow it to be my feeling right now. I am also feeling afraid or fear. I am going to talk to someone about this feeling, because I do not know what else to do about my fear and my anger. Perhaps they can help me get through those feelings.”

This is the tiniest of beginnings, but will make a large difference in your life, as you learn to look at your feelings and hold them as not being a part of you. You are not your angry feelings, nor are you those feelings of fear. They are just feelings, not a piece of your identity. Chances are good that they will pass after some time of acknowledging and feeling them, talking to someone about them, and perhaps exploring what is bringing those feelings to you at this time. Checking out from feelings is not necessary any longer; you are now in the process of recovery.

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.

Can I Quit Drinking Without Alcohol Treatment?

Friday, December 14th, 2012

There are numerous reasons why I quit drinking. Even though I was told I would always be an alcoholic, I successfully overcame my addiction to alcohol. Although I hate the word “addiction” many people thrive on it; it’s their excuse for the life they have been living. I was told I was sick and I had no choice, no voice, no self-control; alcoholism made me feel like a stone, thrown out to sea. I couldn’t control my own destiny or my life and I would eventually wash up wherever the alcohol had wanted me to. I know many others are out there, feeling just like I had—like a stone with no thought, drive, power or motivation. That is why I want to share my story of how I overcame alcohol.

My story began when I left a 12-step program which shall remain nameless, I needed to get away from the damaging mentality they gave me. It was so negative and never made me feel good. So you may be wondering, why did I leave? It wasn’t easy, but I figured after five years of being in and out of recovery, that I had had enough. I work up one day and realized I didn’t want this life anymore; it’s not the legacy I wanted to leave behind. So I kept things simple and created a plan with realistic goals in a journal. I knew since I was drinking for hours a day I couldn’t go cold turkey so I slowly dropped down my drinking each week, tracking when I drank and how much. This slow process didn’t leave me feeling extremely shaky or with extreme withdrawal. It took me a few months to eventually fully stop but I had never felt so liberated.

I started being proactive about my choices and tried to keep busy on making plans for my future. Once I had my goals in order, drinking didn’t seem like it had to be such a huge part of my life. I always kept my goals small so I could achieve them easier. It felt so amazing to check things off in my journal, such as get out of bed before 10 a.m. or work on my resume. The entire process brought such positive energy to my life. By doing these small steps I learned from my past mistakes. I also tried not to look back on my former life in the 12 step program. I knew if I truly wanted a fresh start I couldn’t focus on the past and what I could have done differently. I was living in the present and planning for the future.

This process of self-awareness worked incredibly for me but only when I realized I did have control of my own life. It’s been three years since I stopped drinking and I couldn’t be happier. My life is now consumed with my job, family, friends and fun, no longer alcohol. If you’re struggling with alcohol or drugs, my advice to you would be to stay strong, surround yourself with the right people, focus on yourself and start off slow. Most of all never give up on yourself— anyone can do this. You just have to be strong enough to endure the process.

Melissa Kluska is the Saint Jude Retreats Online Public Relations Manager and specializes in non-12-step drug and alcohol programs and alternatives to addiction treatment. She currently is researching non-12-step and non treatment programs as the only effective way to stop a substance abuse programs. 

Romance in Recovery

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Early recovery is a time of great confusion and uncertainty for everyone. While many won’t admit their uneasiness with the idea of a new lifestyle, ongoing for forever, without the comfort and security of their most sought after companion-drugs and alcohol-it is certainly going to be an uneasy time. A great number will look around for substitute behaviors to cushion the discomfort. Not a big surprise, this is a group of people known to need something to take the edge off. Now that the most abused something is no longer an option, new (or perhaps well-familiar old) ideas will turn to possible alternatives.

You might think that marriage would be a deterrent to romance in early recovery…it isn’t. Nor is a vow of chastity, promises of fidelity, nor any other common brake for other people. Addicts are a determined lot, and will power is not their issue. However, finding a healthy outlet for newly felt emotional dis-regulation is a common issue in early recovery. Why? Life without drugs and alcohol is a new concept and certainly a new feeling for this group. Replacing the drinking and using behaviors is a tough job when those behaviors have become an entire lifestyle. Most will begin attending 12-step groups and meeting new sober friends. This is a common meeting ground for new romances to begin. It’s a classic; boy sees girl (or whatever mix works!) across a crowded meeting room…their eyes lock…their palms get sweaty, their breathing becomes labored, and they have butterflies in their stomachs. They walk toward one-another and one of them speaks…the rest is all a bad take-off from a well-worn romantic comedy.

The problem begins for the recovering addict when they have pleasant sensations that strike and trigger a pleasure response in their brain, whether it be caused during a sexual encounter or in the first feeling of their heart beating pitter-patter. They have activated the part of their brain that houses their addiction. And now they believe it is love, although chances are good that it isn’t. But newly recovering, they do not yet identify the feeling as a type of high, just like those that they were fond of while using and drinking. That this part of the brain will become addicted (again!) to the sensations being produced in this encounter, whether it stays in the meeting room where they first gazed, or taken to the bedroom, and all stages in-between. What their brain is telling them, is Hey! This is great! More, please!

Remember that? People without addictive tendencies outgrow this type of emotional/physical attraction to a possible sexual partner at the age of 13 or so. It is a part of development everyone goes through. However, an addict, whose development stopped at the onset of their addictive behaviors, probably did not pass through this phase and does not understand the transitory nature of pleasure. And never discovered that it isn’t love at first sight, something we all wanted to believe in when we were young. Most people outgrow this idea and find that love is something that takes hard work to develop and that it is best tackled by emotionally healthy and available adults. Probably not appropriate at this time, but you cannot say that to a recovering addict. They will bend heaven and hell to prove their right to have love at first sight. And who are we to tell them they can’t? It is always an option that they may be right.

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 Courage to Change

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

This word regularly creates the same response in recovery settings: “Ugh! I hate change!” This is an interesting comment, since all around us, the universe spins faster than we can perceive, with change being the only thing going on at all times, without end.

It sounds like work to recovering addicts. After all, isn’t their life now upside down, in seeming chaos, because of a change they made, from active addiction to recovery? And that does not look so great in the beginning. There is a lot of wreckage to clean up and a lot of work that they see necessary to maintain their abstinence. And now, talk of change as well?

Visions of many things may come to mind when this word is introduced: That they must somehow become “good” instead of such bad, bad people. This is a change they do not begin to know how to make. Thankfully, it is not a necessary change. Mostly, they want to change the way they are seen by those who have despaired most during their addiction. This is the family and friends who watched them go from beloved son, daughter, wife, husband, mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, employee, friend and become an untrustworthy, manipulative, dishonest, selfish and inconsiderate addict. This change resonates with them. But how does one do this? What must change first?

Old ideas are one thing to start with. It will take many years to rebuild broken relationships. The idea that it will happen quickly just because the substance abuse has stopped is not going to work. First of all, there may be a relapse in substance abuse. This will destroy the work if those in relationships believe it was only the substance that created the problem. Smash that idea immediately!

Practicing becoming honest, trustworthy, respectful and emotionally available to these relationships takes a long time to learn, even longer to practice, and longer than that to trust for those who have been involved with anyone’s substance abuse. Learning to let go of doubt and anger and to believe in their loved one again takes as long as it takes. Dispel the notion that it will happen NOW or even Soon. It will happen slowly, over time, as they begin to see and believe that the changes you are making are real and viable. That you are becoming the person they could always see inside you that was being destroyed by the addiction.

Other changes that will be necessary, over time are those more subtle that are part and parcel of the addict’s arsenal of survival skills such as blaming others, being the victim, being emotionally unavailable and taking without giving back. These are frequently behaviors that addicts adopt to keep others at arm’s length, especially if it threatens their addiction. Now that the addiction is gone, they need to uncover behaviors that supported their addiction and distanced others in relationships and change them. This is different with each person, and sponsors, mentors and therapists can help with these behavior modifications.

Recovery is all about change. From beginning recovery to the many years that may be in store for an addict, it is the adventure of becoming the person they only dreamed of being. One change at a time, they blossom and thrive. It is, as is said in 12-step meetings “an inside job.” While not as difficult as feared, it is the reason for the second part of the Serenity Prayer, which asks for “the courage to change the things I can.”

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.

Healing Patterns

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Recovery from addiction can seem like a never-ending process, and so it is, from a standpoint of healing. Life is a never-ending learning and growing process, so it is with healing. Because recovery embraces all of the addicts’ life, both before and after they enter recovery, it will be never ending. That does not need to be as daunting as it may sound. Healing is a circular and spiral process at the same time, not a linear one. As recovery deepens over time, the recovering person will come to the same issues and hit the same brick walls they came into the recovery process with.

While these issues will certainly heal, the process will bring them back into focus again and again, for deeper and more significant healing. As recovery goes on, the same person will address their important emotional growth on deeper and more significant levels each time they work through the same troubles that were present for them in their addiction.

As an example, if Henry has had trouble with intimacy before his recovery, he will become more and more involved in intimate relationships with others as his recovery progresses. If he is stable in maintaining his growth and development in recovery, he will address the need to develop deeper intimacy in these same relationships, as well as any others that may come along. Long term relationships develop deeper intimacy as they go along, so will Henry’s need to learn to go deeper into the intimacy of relationships. This is something that he could not come to terms with in his addiction. The longer he remains in recovery, the greater his ability to go deeper into intimacy with others will become. Therefore, the never-ending process has rewards that are a part of, but separate from, his recovery. Due to his recovery, Henry will be able to address his issues with intimacy in ways that he would never have dreamed possible. This is true for all who are in recovery, no matter what their issues may be.

Healing in a circular pattern means that we will come back to the point of the issue with certain things in our lives over and over, not necessarily on a predictable basis or pattern, but repeatedly as we deepen our strengths in other areas as well. The spiral pattern means that we will come closer and closer to the core of who we dream of being and closer and nearer to our heart centers as we grow. The energetic patterns of all matter are circular and spiral, such as the movement of the Earth around the Sun and other orbits, such as the helix of an atom. If energy is circular and spiral, then it is fitting and appropriate to visualize healing as such. As we grow closer and closer to our heart centers, over time, we will become freer and freer of the old patterns of behavior and belief that were part and parcel of addictions.

Recovery will then become a journey, not the destination some believe it to be. The journey takes us into the realm of our heart centers, which is the center of the circular pattern as well. As we grow deeper and deeper into our hearts, we become more and more healed from the ideas and behaviors that we practiced in our addiction and more and more available to participate, not only in healing and recovery, but in a beautiful life.

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.