Addiction Management Blog

Archive for February, 2011

A long walk to Tucson

Monday, February 28th, 2011

As I laid in bed thinking about the next day, about my turn, fear flooded my entire body. I was like a pressure cooker with no relief valve, and I knew I had to do something fast. I dressed quickly and left my room, walking outside into the cold Arizona night. The black sky was speckled with a million shining stars lighting up the desert floor, casting shadows on giant, prickly cactuses. I walked quickly along the side of the road, exhaling fear with every breath. I began to feel better, more grounded and intent on making it into town. Every few minutes I would squint as a car’s oncoming headlights blinded me, but I never missed a step. After some time, I felt a sharp pain in my side. Then my left calf began to tense up and I wondered how far I had walked. I wondered even more about how far I had left to go, whether walking alone in the middle of the night on a dark road was such a good idea, and whether I would survive confronting my fears in an experiential therapy group the next morning.

My week-long experience in Tucson was only one of a number of therapeutic journeys I have taken during the past two decades. At the time I took my long walk in the Tucson desert I understood very little about how professional therapy ultimately translates into a better life. I was there because that is what I thought I was supposed to do to get better. It was a challenging experience, like many of the therapeutic journeys I have been on, because the essence of the therapeutic work was emotional. Since I had lived much of my life in my head, learning to connect with my body and feelings was not natural, particularly when I felt I had so little control over these things. Although I can honestly say it was not the most enjoyable week, after it was over I felt more complete, more integrated, more able to be in the world in a broader context. Some of the emotional pressure had been released safely, and I felt more alive. Such outcomes have always been the reason I keep going back for more, even to this day.

What I now realize after years of personal therapeutic work, counseling patients, and studying the research on treatment outcomes, is that good therapy advances developmental capacities that make healthy relationships possible. In addition, by expanding developmental skills, it becomes possible to optimize overall mental and emotional functioning, leading to an expansion of life opportunities, a better alignment between innate talents and employment, and a more meaningful life. What I have also realized is that advancing developmental capacities does not necessarily require professional treatment, but can result from a number of life experiences.

Although medications and various cognitive-behavioral therapies so often used in addiction treatment play an important role in solving the problem of addiction, they fall short of a permanent solution because they are not intended to progress emotional development. When I reflect back on the many therapists I have worked with, self-help groups I have attended, experiential programs I have endured, and the wide range of therapeutic approaches I have subjected myself to, it is clear now that the most important ingredient in all of them was people, not specific therapies, medications, or programs. Treatment works best when in the context of relationships, the skills necessary to initiate, develop, and maintain healthy relationships – skills underdeveloped because of time spent with objects – are nurtured.

The good news is that anyone, at any stage of life, no matter how badly addicted to objects, can evolve their developmental capacities and engage in life in a deeper and more meaningful way.


Interview with Dr. Bruce Alexander

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Last year I dedicated a post to the work of Dr. Bruce Alexander, a psychologist from Canada who wrote a great book about the globalization of addiction. I am now extremely excited that my good friend Jari Chevalier, from Living Hero, recently completed an interview with him that you can access here. There are so many wonderful things in this podcast that I encourage you to take the time to hear what Dr. Alexander has to say about addiction and our society. Just to wet your appetite, here are a few things I found most insightful:

  • Addiction is a problem on the rise all over the world, and the factors perpetuating this problem are similar
  • Addiction is a window into our lives, culture, and the many problems we face day-to-day, and thus can teach us a lot about ourselves
  • Addiction is an adaptive response to the increasing breakdown in community (dislocation) and intimate social ties necessary for a good life
  • There is no formula or recipe for how best to intervene at the societal/community level and reverse the trend of addiction, but we should look to other countries that are further along in their efforts to curb addiction problems (Scandinavia, parts of South America)

Our government is currently very invested in promoting addiction as a brain disease, and the development of medications and psychosocial interventions that can treat the addicted brain. Unfortunately, however successful these interventions may be, they do not move our society in the direction of what addicts so badly need: human bonds, intimacy, and community. What I really get out of listening to Dr. Alexander is a message of Hope that we can change our ways. We can return to a way of life that is more grounded in relationships and not so consumed with materialism.

Also, check out Dr. Alexander’s website and  let me know what you think of the interview!