Addiction Management Blog

Posts Tagged ‘emotion’

Hitting Rock Bottom: New docu-drama about addiction needs your help!

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

I don’t think I have ever done this before on a post, but here goes. I need your help.

Not long ago I was contacted by some folks who have been working hard on a show called Hitting Rock Bottom. It tells the real stories of people who have struggled with addiction, hit rock bottom, and found a way out. Unlike reality television that often turns tragic stories about addiction into entertainment, this show has a far more noble and broader reaching aim. The creater and Director, Corey Snyder, who has been in recovery for the past five years and also happens to be a very talented film maker, wants to instill hope (and action) in those who still struggle. He portrays challenges with addiction through docu-drama storytelling that utilizes actors to dramatize real stories. He and his team have already completed the first four episodes of season one which you can watch right now for free on the Hitting Rock Bottom homepage. Each episode is a few minutes, so watching them all will not take you that long.

HRBThe first season tells the story of Daryl Brown, a very likable young man who sets out in life with no idea of what is ahead for him. The show is more than engaging, and realistically captures the underlying risk factors that contribute to going down a path of addiction. It is real, scary, and unfortunately a story that plays out far too often.

Fortunately, the story of Daryl has a positive ending, but that is where I need your help!

The show is need of funding to finish filming the first season and complete the story of how Daryl overcomes addiction. It’s the best part of the story and has the potential to motivate many struggling souls to seek help. To complete the season, the crew are presently running a fund-raising campaign on Indiegogo. The goal is $57,500 which will cover all costs to finalize filming the remaining episodes. Even with these funds, many involved in this project are giving their time and energy to see this project to its successful completion. By contributing whatever you can, be assured that your donation will go towards a project that has the potential to transform how we understand, treat, and address addiction in this country. Also, there are only 13 days left in the campaign, so please contribute now. And be sure to check out some of the cool perks at various donation levels.

Thank you.

Ah-hah moments to move beyond addiction

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

Not long after my wife and I were married, we decided to proactively increase our chances of staying together by enrolling in one of Dr. John Gottman’s weekend couples workshops in Seattle. At the time I was deeply immersed in my graduate studies in counseling and was excited to spend some time with the world-famous marriage guru. What I had not realized was that 1000 other people would be crammed into the Seattle Center taking the workshop as well, so my chances of a little one-on-one time were not so good. Fortunately, he circulated around while we all were doing exercises and I told my wife that if he ever came within 200 yards we should wave our hands wildly and grab his attention.

The moment came and sure enough my plan worked. He sat down and we began talking about some martial issue that escapes me now. During our conversation I began challenging him a bit about how people really change behavior, at which point he brought up focusing. Because I had told him I was nearing completion of my graduate program he assumed I would know all about focusing, but my deer-in-the-headlights response gave me away. I had to admit that never in any of my classes had the word focusing ever been mentioned. I was clueless and a bit embarrassed. He said it was the key to behavior change and I needed to know about it.

focusing_book_2007_medCoincidentally, the relative I mentioned a couple of blog posts ago who had given me a bunch of psychology books, had included the book  Focusing! Written in the 1970s by Eugene Gendlin, the book is based on about two decades of research analyzing what happens in therapy sessions that explain good outcomes. What Gendlin found is that it has little to do with the therapist or the specific type of therapy one gets, and far more to do with what happens inside the client. In essence, he discovered that positive outcomes occur when clients have “ah-hah” moments during sessions that awaken them to deeper truths about themselves and life. These moments occur when we (and clients) go inside and connect with what he calls a felt sense – a pre-verbal inner knowledge or awareness that comes from paying attention to an integrated and holistic aspect of our being that we can access at any time. If this sounds a little new-agey it really is not, it is just hard to describe something that cannot be easily put into words.

Have you ever lost your keys and banged your head against a wall trying to remember where you left them? No matter how hard you try nothing seems to work. So you go on to something else and then, in the middle of folding laundry, it hits you. You remember exactly where you left them! That moment of remembering is what Gendlin would call a felt-sense, an ah-hah moment that awakened you to an answer that previously was outside your awareness. While focusing can help you find your keys, it really has the power to change your life.

Focusing is the name Gendlin uses to describe the six-step process he developed for helping people – both and in out of therapy – have felt-sense experiences to solve a multitude of life problems, including addiction! If you have never heard about it, I really encourage you to check out the focusing website and read one of the many books written on the topic. What started as a little research project in Chicago in the 1950s has evolved into one of the greatest tools we have for overcoming addiction.

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.

 

Mark Girard, LCSW & Certified Jungian Analyst: Working with Altered States

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

For the past few years I have taught a foundations course on addiction treatment to graduate students. An important aspect of the course is helping students understand that longterm successful outcomes  necessitate resolving underlying drivers of addictive behavior, namely, adverse childhood experiences. In an effort to illustrate concretely how this may be done, I enlisted the help of a good friend and colleague, Mark Girard, who is a master at knowing how to help people heal from deep, traumatic wounds. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and certified Jungian Analyst with years of experience, he is incredibly skilled at working with a wide range of altered states, or emotional constrictions due to trauma. What impresses me most about Mark is how he uses himself as a tool in therapy. He walks his talk and maintains a presence with patients that is the essence of what a good therapeutic relationship is all about. During his recent visit to my class he agreed to have me videotape his lecture. The approximate 35 minute presentation is a gift to us all. I encourage you to take the time – quiet, focused time – to sit and hear what he has to say.

In the presentation, Mark mentions an article by Dr. Bruce Perry from the ChildTrauma Academy that was required reading in class. The article is titled Applying Principles of Neurodevelopment to Clinical Work with Maltreated and Traumatized children and is a nice adjunct to his lecture. He also makes reference to Babette Rothschild’s wonderful book on trauma, The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment, and the classic article on trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps Score – both among the very best reads on the topic of trauma.

“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.

Uncovering the pervasive roots of addiction: Part 1

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

“For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.”  – Thoreau

In my life there have been many times when I felt isolated, lonely, disconnected, and alone. These times have never  been pleasant, and in the absence of nurturing relationships, close friends to call on a dime, or a tribe of my own, I coped by engaging in substitute relationships with work, money, entertainment, food, hobbies, and exercise (just to name a few). For years I felt shame about many of my behaviors, and my inability to connect in deep ways with others. Now I understand that so much of my adaptive behaviors were a response to underlying root problems, problems that needed resolving and hampered in significant ways my ability to intiate, develop, and maintain intimate and nurturing relationships with people. I also believe that now, more than ever, those who struggle with addiction share similar root causes that need to be addressed if successful longterm outcomes are to materialize.

The roots of addiction go much deeper than the adaptive behaviors that so often are the focus of intervention efforts. This is because dealing with the symptoms (addictions) are easier than dealing with the root causes. I have long believed that addiction is a problem best managed over time like other chronic illnesses. But successful management necessitates addressing what drives the addictive behavior in the first place. It requires knowing how to turn down the flame, dig out the roots, and resolve problems that are solvable. These underlying roots come in many shapes and sizes, but there are two forms that I believe are the primary drivers of addiction today. This post will address the first form: adverse childhood experiences.

Adverse Childhood Experiences
In the mid 1980s, physicians from Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventative Medicine in San Diego made an interesting discovery. Those who were losing the most weight and succeeding in the weight loss program were the ones most likely to drop out and quit. Was it because they no longer needed the program? Nope. Further investigation revealed that the majority of dropouts did not maintain their weight loss and went back to struggling with problems of overeating and obesity. Why did they quit if they were succeeding in the program? A deeper look revealed that overeating and obesity were used as tools to cope with unresolved adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). In most cases, overeating was an unconscious behavior utilized as a protective solution to these unresolved childhood problems.

How was it unconsciously protective? In many cases, the ACEs involved sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Developing a relationship with food was safer than developing intimate or nurturing relationships with people who might abuse again. Being obese unconsciously deterred romantic interests and physically enhanced protection of the body. The finding that most of the participants in the weight loss program had prior ACEs led Kaiser to collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to explore the link between ACEs and general health outcomes.

The study involved over 17,000 middle-class Americans and has produced over 50 scholarly research journal articles. Among the most signficant findings in the study was that two-thirds of the participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. In addition, the higher a person’s ACE score, the more addictive behavior was utilized as a coping response. For example:

Here you can see that as the number of ACE scores increase, so too does the percent who meet criteria for alcoholism. This finding is detailed in an insightful paper titled The Origins of Addiction by the lead researcher of the study, Vincent Felitti. What the ACE study helps us to understand is that the roots of addiction are real, diverse, and if left unaddressed, will continue to fuel the behavior we are so badly trying to manage (or end).

Dr. Gabor Mate, continued…

Monday, July 5th, 2010

The following interview with Dr. Mate provides additional context for his work and beliefs about addiction. One surprising statement he makes is that less than five percent of his patients overcome their addictions - not the best of outcomes. Of course what “overcome” means and how to define outcomes are messy topics, but I am far more optimistic about  the tenacity of the human spirit to change. Addiction is most definitely a challenge, but one reason for poor outcomes has been the lack of understanding about the nature of addiction, and the need for a comprehensive solution like MRC. Watch the interview, and then let me know your thoughts about Dr. Mate’s conclusions.

Where the wild things are

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Last night my wife and I went to a lecture by Joseph LeDoux, the author of The Emotional Brain and the Synaptic Self. His research has primarily focused on understanding the emotions of fear and anxiety through animal models, and how these emotions impact memory. One of my favorite chapters in the Emotional Brain is titled “Where the wild things are”  which describes the link between what he has learned about the amygdala, hippocampus, and common emotional problems. There were many take home gems from his talk, but the ones that have stayed with me the most are:

  • There is evidence that early traumas, even those that occur right after birth, get seared into the amygdala (emotional memory) and stay with us for life. Even though our ability to remember a trauma requires some development of the hippocampus, and likely does not begin until around the age of three, we can still react emotionally to particular triggers that we were exposed to prior to the age of three even if we have no memory of what happened.
  • Trauma changes the physical brain and how it operates, and in so doing, influences the behavior of the person. People respond very differently to trauma, even when exposed to the same traumatic events.
  • We are hard-wired to respond to threatening situations behaviorally before our rational brain evaluates a situation and makes a determination of whether something is dangerous. This is why we jump back when we see someting squiggly on the ground. It is an evolutionary, survival response. And if the squiggly thing is a killer snake, then good thing we jumped before we thought about it.
  • Traditional anatomy and physiology texts teach that our emotions come from the limbic system. LeDoux’s work has shown that emotions like fear involve many parts of the brain that extend beyond how we understand the limbic system. So…he believes we should do away with the limbic system - it does’nt exist.
  • The work of psychotherapy is about our neocortex  learning to exercise control over the evolutionary old emotional systems – over the amygdala.

So, translation for those who struggle with addiction. Addictive behavior can be understood as an unhealthy coping strategy to an amygdala that likely has some emotional wounds. This is why so many relapse prevention programs focus on mindfulness and CBT strategies for behavioral self-regulation. I continue to believe that all who struggle with addiction can benefit from trauma resolution work.