Addiction Management Blog

Archive for the ‘Action 1: Motivate’ Category

Whose Will: A new book about addiction, courage, and hope

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

I had the recent pleasure of speaking with Willie Harris, the author of Whose Will: Ordinary Person, Extraordinary Life, a riveting account of his personal struggle with addiction and path back to a spiritual and connected life.

Like most, the roots of Willie’s problems with alcohol and drugs began early in life, in a family awash in addiction, violence and trauma. His alcoholic father abused his mother, nearly killing her twice, and perpetuated his own traumas on Willie by passing down  the unfinished business of the previous generation. But even amidst the hell of family life, Willie told me, I personally had a spiritual connection that I cannot explain.  At ten years old, he would lay on the top bunk of his bed and talk to God. His mother thought something was wrong with him, and would often ask, who are you talking to?

But the connection did not insulate him from experiencing an early life of pain, misery and self-destruction. By 18, his world was spiraling out of control. The inability to appropriately process emotions, including rage, hurt and fear, set the stage for the perfect storm. Drinking, drugs and partying eventually landed him on the streets, where the brutal reality of his life eventually became the source of his awakening.

Although treatment played a role in turning Willie’s life around, it was the 12-step program that allowed him to take an honesty inventory of his life and begin to take responsibility for the role he played in his own undoing. The program also helped him understand the answer to the question  – why do I do these things to myself? He had a mental obsession with substances that was different than other people. He said, it overrides normal thinking. Once he understood he could not put substances into his body without serious repercussions, the path out of hell became much clearer.

He credits the 4th step of AA – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves – as being a significant turning point in his life. By looking at me, I was able to forgive other people. I was able to go back and make amends, and every time I did I got better.

Today, Willie leads a simple, but spiritually grounded life. He is a successful businessman, happily married with two wonderful children, dedicated to his church, and to spreading the word that it is more than possible to overcome addiction. I was most impressed with his motivation and efforts to develop programs for teens, that can be taught in schools, to proactively help challenged kids better process and cope with painful emotions. I could not agree more that it is a tremendous need. It was an honor to speak with Willie and learn more about his story. I very much encourage you to get his book (www.whosewill.com) and be inspired.

All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

At a training not long ago on CRAFT, the presenter, Dr. Robert Meyers, told a story that I want to pass on to you. But first, if you have never heard of CRAFT, it stands for Community Reinforcement and Family Training which is an evidence-based approach that family members (or friends) can use to facilitate getting an unmotivated loved one struggling with addiction into treatment. I am most fond of this approach because, unlike traditional interventions that rely upon coercing a person into treatment through harsh group feedback, CRAFT relies upon using basic behavioral strategies to rearrange the world of the addict so he or she internally reaches the decision that treatment is necessary. We have known for a long time that external motivation gets the job done; interventions do often lead to treatment. But unfortunately, once there, the person we so badly care about does not engage in treatment, does not really want to be there, and often drops out. We are back to square one and saying that treatment does not work. It is a vicious cycle.

In these situations, treatment fails because of a lack of internal motivation. Those who need to change their behavior have to want to change their behavior, which is why CRAFT is so powerful. It works to increase internal motivation for change by eliminating the positive reinforcement for acting out in an addiction, and enhancing positive reinforcement for non-acting out behaviors. If you don’t understand basic behavioral approaches to change using reinforcement, then it is time for Dr. Meyers’ story.

A woman who had been admitted to a psychiatric ward was driving the staff crazy. From the time she woke up until the time she went to bed in the evening she would scream her head off. The staff tried everything they could think of to get her to stop screaming, but nothing worked. She had to be placed in a room alone, away from the other residents, and restrained at times. Although medications could have been used to sedate her (and probably were at times), they were not the answer. After many frustrating weeks of listening to her loud cries, a doctor was brought in to see if he could help. His name was Nathan Azrin.

Nate walked down the hall to the woman’s room as staff likely snickered about how he possibly could make a difference given all that had been tried. When he arrived, the woman was sitting on the edge of the bed rocking back and forth screaming like she did throughout the day. He stood at the doorway for quite some time. He may have thought about why she was screaming, but also knew that whatever the driving reason, she could not speak and exploring the why would likely be a long journey. Instead, being a behavioral psychologist, he considered her behavior and what he wanted her to do instead of screaming. Well, this was easy, he wanted her to stop screaming. Then, he considered the times when she was doing what he wanted her to do: eating, sleeping, and breathing. During these activities she did not scream. As he stood in the doorway, he began to focus more on the immediate moment to moment rhythm of her screaming and breathing. Then he got an idea…

Right at the moment when she stopped screaming to take a breath, he walked over to her and gently stroked her hair. After she inhaled and began screaming again, he slowly moved back to the door and waited until she had to take another breath. He then repeated the movements with every breath: move close to her, look her in the eyes, gently stroke her hair, and then move away as she screamed. Nate knew, that at our core, we all have one unifying need: love. And he believed that by reinforcing the moments when she was not screaming, even though they were just seconds, with loving touch, that just maybe…maybe, he could alter her behavior. While staff had isolated her, restrained her, and stayed clear of her, he moved closer to her. And his approach worked. By that evening, he was sitting next to her on the bed, gently stroking her hair, and the screaming had stopped. He told the staff that when she woke up the next morning and started to scream, someone was to sit next to her and gently comfort her. In fact, anytime she began to scream, the antidote was the same.

I love this story because so often when we are challenged in life we tend to overlook the obvious. We seek out expensive treatments, elaborate self-help strategies, or engage in complex change regiments only to become frustrated when change eludes us. Dr. Azrin is among the most cited psychologists of all time, and although he may go down in history for his popular read, Toilet Training in Less Than a Day, for me, he will go down as an individual who taught me about love.

“Calm Energy” as an antidote to addiction

Monday, October 18th, 2010

I have mentioned Dr. Robert Thayer before on this site, but have not dedicated a blog entry to his ideas until now. When I first read his book, Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood with Food and Exercise, I was immediately impressed by the implications of his  work for those struggling with addiction. In a nutshell, he provides a very strong case that many of our moods and unhealthy eating habits have in common two biopsychological dimensions that he calls energy and tension. In an earlier book (The Origin of Everyday Moods, 1996) he describes how the dimensions can be used to create the illustration below.

The above four states represent different expressions of our energy and level of stress. Calm Energy is the quadrant where we find our best moods. We have energy and no tension. It is similar to the states people call flow or being in the zone. It is a place we want to be, where our attention is focused, we are productive, and we feel good about life. It is not a place where addiction is found, and in fact, is really the antidote to cravings and addictive appetites. The opposite of Calm Energy is Tense Tiredness. This unfortunately is the place many of us find ourselves these days, in large part due to the speed of life, decreases in sleep, and increases in stress. It is a place of low energy, bad moods, anxiety and depression. It is also the state where addiction thrives. When we feel tense and tired there is a natural tendency to want move away from this state, and addictive behaviors are among the most powerful, reliable, quick, and easy ways to disconnect from Tense Tiredness. I say disconnect because engaging in addictions does not really provide an antidote to this state. Instead, it may in the short run give us more energy, and change our mood, but only temporarily. When the addictive behavior ceases, chances are good that what follows will be more tension and lack of energy, perpetuating the relapse cycle.

I like to think about Calm Tiredness as a lazy Sunday afternoon. In general, it is a pleasant state, but often not as productive or positive as Calm Energy. Nothing wrong with it, and in fact we need down time to recharge our batteries. The final state, Tense Energy, is a state where we are quite productive and busy, often due to deadlines and being rushed for time. Many Type A personalities fit this state, as well as those who like to live on the edge and seek out thrills.

In my own life I find the model incredibly useful in helping me understand my own eating, exercise, sleep, and mood patterns. One of the best things you can do for yourself is take a day (or two) and track your level of energy and tension by the hour. Rate each on a scale of 1 to 10 and then plot the results on a graph. It is revealing to see just how significantly these states change in the course of an average day. The graph also helps to identify intervention points for: (a) preventing relapse, (b) developing optimal times for exercise, and (c) determining whether we are getting enough sleep. In addition, the graph can help you understand how time of day subtly influences how we think about life problems.

In sum, addiction most often shows up when we are tense and tired, but can also occur in the other states as well. Among the most significant points Dr. Thayer makes in his book is that the single best way to cultivate a life of calm energy is by developing a regular habit of exercise. Perhaps that is why the National Institute of Drug Abuse has already invested over 4 million in research into the connections between addiction and exercise.