The Meadows Blog

As part of its ongoing video series, The Meadows presents an 11-part interview with John Bradshaw, world-renowned educator, counselor, motivational speaker, author, and leading figure in the field of mental health.

In the seventh video of his series, Mr. Bradshaw, senior fellow at The Meadows, discusses addiction recovery in personal terms. During his own journey through Alcoholics Anonymous, psychotherapy, family-of-origin healing work, cognitive work, and skill building, he learned to set boundaries, say 'no,' and express anger.

"Most importantly, I had to get back to my values," he explains."Because when you're an alcoholic or an addict or emotionally disturbed, you're morally and spiritually bankrupt. You've lost your sense of values.” He adds that full healing in recovery comes only when one begins to lead a truly virtuous life.

Over the years, Mr. Bradshaw has enjoyed a close association with The Meadows, giving insights to staff and patients, speaking at alumni retreats, lecturing to mental health professionals at workshops and seminars, and helping to shape its cutting-edge treatment programs. He also has authored several New York Times best-selling books, including Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, Creating Love, and Healing the Shame That Binds You.

Other videos in The Meadows' series feature discussions with leading experts in the fields of addiction and trauma, including Dr. Jerry Boriskin and Maureen Canning. To view all the videos in the series, visit www.youtube.com/themeadowswickenburg.

For more about The Meadows' innovative treatment program for addictions and trauma, see www.themeadows.org or call The Meadows at 800-244-4949.

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Adrianna Irvine will be speaking at The Meadows Free Lecture on March 29, 2011 at 7:00 pm at The Cadogan Hotel, Knightsbridge in London. Ms. Irvine will discuss A Cross Cultural View on Cross Addiction. The presentation will cover the difference between substance addictions and process addictions, including the more recent findings of the likelihood of cross addiction between both categories. It will also briefly cover dual diagnosis with an in-depth look at some the different fellowships within the 12 step programs. Contact Jenna Pastore at 001 815 6412185 or jpastore@themeadows.com for more information. No registration required. We look forward to seeing you.

Published in Blog

The holiday season can be a time of joyous celebration with our loved ones, a time when we begrudgingly drag ourselves to dreaded events, or a time when feelings of loneliness can be overwhelming. For many of us, some combination of all three is present this time of year. In many cases, the holidays are a time when stressors, triggers for relapse, and old wounds are more abundant.

This season also brings the opportunity to continue or start off the new year in recovery mode. We at The Meadows would like to offer you a 12 Step plan for doing just that. We honor the work that many of you have done to re-engage in your life, leaving old habits behind. We also honor those who continue to struggle with addiction. Below is a 12 Step guide for surviving the holidays in sobriety - "the 12 Steps of Holidays Anonymous," if you will. (Disclaimer: The steps below are loosely based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and are not a replacement for them.)

The 12 Steps of Holidays Anonymous

1. Make sobriety your first priority. Acknowledge the vast amount over which you are powerless (your family situation, the location of events, etc.). Be aware that you are, however, empowered to choose to maintain what you have lovingly worked so hard to achieve. Assess what you want and need for your sobriety and relational engagements with others.

2. Believe that you can be restored to sanity. Plan ahead and have realistic expectations. If your family looks more like The Family Stone than Ozzie and Harriett, ground in reality and be open to the flaws and imperfections of your family system. Detach from expectations and practice acceptance and forgiveness.

3. Turn your care over to a higher power, or at least someone with more experience staying sober during the holiday season. Have a safety plan. Speak with your support network prior to the holidays and share any concerns and plans. Remember that, in previous years, many of your peers in the program have survived and thrived during the holiday season. Some common techniques used in the recovery community include driving yourself to events so you can leave whenever necessary, taking the number to a taxi service if driving yourself is not an option, asking a sober friend to accompany you, or hiring a sober escort. Keep in mind: The impact of bringing someone with you or leaving an event early is small compared to the impact of a relapse on your relationships with your loved ones and self.

4. Make a searching and fearless inventory of yourself, and practice boundaries and grounding. Setting limits is a loving and respectful thing to do for yourself and others. If you have awareness that you are willing and able to participate in a holiday activity for one hour rather than five, set a limit with yourself and share this limit with your loved ones or holiday celebration peers.

5. Admit to God, self, and one other person any concerns and potential triggers you may have going into the holiday season. Remember: Those around you cannot support you unless you are willing to be rigorously honest with yourself and your sober support system, i.e., your sponsor, home group, and therapist.

6. Be entirely ready to remove all defects of character. Remember this is for you only; your willingness to assist family members in identifying and removing their defects of character before they are ready avails no one and is NOT relational.

7. Humbly ask the higher power of your understanding to remove your shortcomings, recognizing that your shortcomings do not subtract from your value. Be respectful of others. If one of your tendencies is to judge others, make a resolution to contain your comments on Uncle Marvin's lovely twinkle-light reindeer sweater (not that there's anything wrong with battery-operated clothing).

8. Make a list. Chaotic, last-minute trips to the mall can be destabilizing and stressful. Honor yourself by not overextending to make others happy. Take a personal inventory of yourself and your finances. This is a self-care technique that can help you turn inward and avoid future resentments. Also, don't forget to include yourself on your gift list. Gifting oneself, in a moderate way, is an act of self-care and acknowledgment.

9. Make direct amends, except when doing so would injure others. Remember that one of the ways to make amends is with living amends. You can do this by maintaining your sobriety, acting within your value system, and being respectful of others. You may believe this is a good time to speak with those you have harmed, but do so with conscious thought. Grandma may prefer to spend her holidays watching the grandchildren unwrap gifts rather than discussing a way you can pay her back for totaling her car.

10. Continue to take personal inventory and, when you are wrong, promptly admit it. Remember HALT (the basics of self-care: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). In times of stress, we become more susceptible to allowing some of our defects of character to leak out. If you act outside of your recovery and value system, make prompt amends to avoid allowing unnecessary feelings of guilt to overtake the celebrations.

11. Seek through prayer and meditation; the holiday season can be busy and, in some cases, stressful. This is not an excuse to skip your morning meditation, meetings, or time with your sponsor. This is a time to hold these commitments even more strongly, or to kick it up a notch. Prearrange your meeting schedule and ensure that connection, sobriety, and self-care remain top priorities. It may come in handy to repeat the Serenity Prayer in your head as Uncle Jack attempts to dominate the season with his thoughts on the current political climate. This allows you to remain connected with your higher power and accomplish relational objectives, all while nodding your head during his share.

12. If you have had a spiritual awakening, try to carry this message: Acts of service can help us to reground, stay connected to our program, and just feel darn good! The holidays can be an important time to practice gratitude and giving. If your holiday plans this year are not what you had hoped for (or even if they are), volunteer to be a sober escort, speak at a meeting, or volunteer to clean up after one. Remember: Whatever your season looks like this year, it’s still a lot better than holidays spent living in addiction.

We at The Meadows wish you a sober, safe, and successful holiday season.

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 19:00

The Triggering Effect

Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2009 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.

The Triggering Effect
By Claudia Black, PhD, MSW

Article excerpted from newly released CD Triggers and DVD The Triggering Effect.

Triggers are specific memories, behaviors, thoughts and situations that jeopardize recovery - signals you are entering a stage that brings you closer to a relapse. The process is much like riding a roller coaster that loops over itself. Once the roller coaster car gets to a certain spot in the track, a threshold is met, there is no turning back, and it starts the downward loop.

It is very likely you have heard your husband, wife, partner, mother, father, boss, a friend, attorney or even a judge say, "What were you thinking?" The answer is: you weren't thinking.

The inability to recognize the impact of your behavior, the willingness to risk what is significant in your life, and in this case, the quick lapse into old behaviors in spite of good intentions appear to be connected to brain chemistry. Addiction hijacks the brain. The reward/pleasure center holds captive the thinking center.

The good news is that the brain has plasticity. That means, in treatment and recovery practices, you can learn skills to calm the brain's emotional responses and reactivity area. You can learn to avoid triggers that activate the emotional area, and you can learn to enhance the decision-making area so you can rationally think through decisions, rather than respond impulsively and from such a strong emotional basis. But it takes time for the brain to be rewired, and it gets rewired with the repetition of new skills and new ways of thinking; hence, we strongly urge ongoing involvement in aftercare and other support systems.

Willpower alone is not a defense against relapse. Recovery is achieved, maintained and enjoyed through a series of actions. Learn to identify your triggers and, with each, identify a plan that anticipates and de-escalates the power of the trigger. With that, your reward is another day of sobriety with endless possibilities.

Five common triggers are:

1. Romanticizing the Behaviors
Romanticizing involves a tunnel focus on the positive feelings you associate with the behavior; it involves glamorizing using behaviors and, in the moment, totally forgetting about the negative consequences.

Getting overwhelmed at times is to be expected, but it's very easy to slip into romanticizing without any insight as to how you got there. At that moment, you enter a slippery zone, touching the trigger. While romanticizing is itself a trigger, it often occurs in tandem with an external trigger such as noises, sights, sounds or even tastes. You could be watching a movie and the next thing you know it is depicting the power of alcohol, drugs and sex in a positive way, and you are romanticizing. Or you're listening to the radio and an advertisement for a drug comes on, and you think about your pain pills as the commercial goes on to tell you how much better you'll feel, and off you go. Or you're watching a ball game on TV and can almost smell the popcorn and peanuts, and you see the spectators drinking large cups of beer and everyone is smiling like it's only a good time.

Take a few moments to think about how you romanticize your addictive behavior. What do you find yourself thinking about? What is the romanticizing covering up? What are you forgetting to take into account?

2. Feelings
Addicts have used their behaviors and substances for years to separate from their emotional states. And there is so much to feel - guilt for how your behavior has hurt others, sadness for your losses, anger with yourself, fear of what is in front of you, shame for thinking you are inadequate, not worthy. You can act out in response to every feeling imaginable.

You lessen or get rid of feelings when you own them, talk about them or, in some cases, engage in problem solving. It is when you try to divert, ignore, and numb that you get into trouble. Feelings are a part of the human condition and you can't escape them. Recovery is the ability to tolerate your feelings without the need to medicate or engage in self-destructive or self-defeating behaviors and thoughts.

Recognize the gifts that come with feelings. Feelings are cues and indicators telling you what you need. Loneliness tells you, in your humanness, you need connection; fear can offer you protection, sadness offers growth, guilt is your conscience, offering direction for amends. It is critical for you to have this insight and, more importantly, to start to take ownership of the feelings when you have them.

3. Loss
Coupled with the trigger of feelings is the fact that those feelings are often associated with loss. By the time you get to recovery, you have had multiple losses in your life, often related to childhood, many times due to being raised with abuse, addiction, mental illness, etc. While you may have experienced trauma within your original family, pain of loss may be from a specific situation.

You may have experienced the loss of relationship with your parents or children, the death of friends or family, abortions, or career or work opportunities missed. As an addict, you are likely to have experienced losses related to health issues. Perhaps you have Hepatitis C, HIV, or injuries due to accidents.

It is not that you are suddenly thinking about these losses, but there may be a trigger. Perhaps you are in treatment and you see other people's children come to visit, and you have three kids and you don't even know where they live. Your daughter tells you that your ex-husband has just moved in with someone else. The goal is not to dwell on your losses, to not live in the pain and anguish. This is what happens when you don't acknowledge them and what they mean, triggering you back to your using behavior. With some losses, you can only grieve and ultimately come to find some meaning from your experience; with others, in time, you can attempt to repair damaged relationships.

4. Resentments
Resentment is also a feeling, but I think it warrants its own place as a significant trigger. Resentments are like burrs in a saddle blanket; if you do not get rid of them, they fester into an infection. Resentments are often built on assumptions, i.e., "When you don't look at me, I assume you think you are better than me." "When you don't include me in a social gathering, I am assuming you think I am not good enough to be with you and your friends." Resentments are also built on entitlement, which is a form of unrealistic expectations and impatience.

Unrealistic expectations + impatience = resentments.

Move from resentments. When assuming, check it out. Put yourself in someone else's shoes (it may allow expectations to be more realistic). Identify and own the feelings the resentment is covering (often it's a cover for feelings of inadequacy and/or fear). Be willing to live and let live.

5. Slippery people, places or situations
You need to identify specific triggers - the people, places, and situations that are high-risk. Slippery people could be your ex-lover, certain family members, or past using/party buddies. A slippery place might be a bar you used to frequent, a casino, or an area in your community where you cruised - in essence, any place that triggers a positive association about the use of your drug of choice. Slippery situations could be an emotionally charged social gathering, such as a wedding, family event, or vacation.

Medication may be a trigger for which you need to be accountable. While there are situations when medication is needed, you are at high risk to abuse. You need to be proactive in how you are going to cope with this situation, because it is likely that your brain is going to remember a good feeling, saying more is better. Again, there are situations when medications are necessary, but self-diagnosis and/or self-prescribing only create a recipe for disaster.

What are the people, places or situations that are potential triggers? What provides safety for you to not be triggered? What triggers can you avoid? While some decisions around triggers are absolute, others are not necessarily in place for the rest of your life. Know your triggers and plan accordingly. In the face of a trigger, what do you need to do? What do you need to tell yourself? To whom can you reach out for support and/or problem solving?

Today in recovery:

1. Practice staying in the present; don't sit in the past or project into the future.
2. Validate the gifts of recovery for the day - practice gratitude daily.
3. Identify, build and use a support system - you need to stay connected. History and experience have proven time and time again that recovery is not a solitary process and cannot be sustained in isolation.
4. Trust that your Higher Power is on your side.

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 14 January 2009 19:00

Denial is Not a River in Egypt

Note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2004 edition of Cutting Edge, the online newsletter of The Meadows.

Denial is not a River in Egypt
By Robert Fulton, MA, LISAC, Administrator, The Meadows

One of the wittiest adages we hear in 12-Step recovery is “Denial is not a river in Egypt.” It is so witty, in fact, that many recovering people repeat it without asking themselves the absolutely important question, “If denial isn’t a river in Egypt, what is it?”

The answer seems too obvious for further inspection. Denial is about denying that I had a psychological problem. Most often, I denied that I was an alcoholic or an anorexic or that I was a sex addict. But now that I have admitted to myself and to another person that I am any one of those things, I am no longer in denial. I am back in control.

Sadly, intellectual admission often leaves the deeper denial in place – intact and poisonous. The alcoholic awakens every morning swearing not to have another drink and, by 5 p.m., heads to the bar. The anorexic, who has planned three healthy meals, looks at herself in the mirror, sees a fat woman, and decides not to eat. The sex addict at the SA 12-Step program shares the agony of his addiction and, after the meeting, hits on the attractive newcomer.

In recovery, behavior cannot be the driving force. Intellect and affect are the driving forces that determine my behavior. As an addict, I behaviorally shut off my affect and distort my intellect, so that I maintain the behavior that protects me from the awful confrontation with my childhood shame.

Denial of affect involves disassociating from those feelings that our primary caregivers taught us to regard as shameful. Our caregivers taught us to dishonor our feelings, because to honor them and to communicate was to be punished and to be shamed. We learned to separate self from the emotions generated by the truth of what we witnessed. In order to avoid the worth destroying poison of carried shame, we were forced to deny the feelings we had when we witnessed an emotional event in the family.

In order to medicate the pain of having abandoned our authentic self, we find ways to medicate the dissonance – we deny the truth of what we think; we submerge and camouflage the truth of what we feel. The self that emerges from the pain of denial becomes, in most adults, the only kind of “maturity” to which they have access.

We deny on an intellectual level, and we deny on an affective level. We deny intellectually by telling ourselves that two plus two is five. We were empowered to do that, or conditioned to do that, when we were growing up – and two plus two never added up to four in Mommy and Daddy’s household. Our father was a falling-down alcoholic. We said to Mommy, “Daddy’s drunk out on the lawn. He’s passed out. He looks like he’s dead. I’m scared.” And she said to us, “Don’t worry about it; he’s fine.”

The kid knows that the fear of his father’s drunken abandonment is real, but to have that truth, that reality, denied by his mother is to have his reality denied. The child then wonders what’s wrong with himself. Mind you, he doesn’t ask what’s wrong with his father or his mother. They are the ones acting shamefully, yet it is he who feels ashamed – he is carrying their shame. Because the kid’s real fear of the father’s death is being made illegitimate by the lies of the mother, the child himself is now experiencing a death of self – of his own emotional reality and his access to it. He is not allowed to feel the fear of losing his father.

This is the most damaging kind of shame-based denial, because it attacks the child’s very authenticity. He has learned that to have the terrifying emotions attendant upon Daddy’s drunkenness is not all right. Disassociation from self becomes habitual. Denial of self is honored in the dysfunctional family system.

When the child is older and he witnesses a shameful act, the kind of disassociation he experiences will be covered up with a more sophisticated form of social camouflage than when he was 5. For example, he may think that his father’s shameful drunkenness will disgrace the family in the eyes of the neighbors. The primary lie that Daddy is not drunk is justified by the need to remain socially acceptable. The young adult now needs a defense system that not only deflects his father’s shame, but protects his own social self as well. Such denial is often called loyalty and is praised as being politic. He is often told that his cover-up makes him a good citizen.

The child who has viewed his father’s shameful drunkenness may fear that his father will stop loving him should the father became aware that his son sees him as a failed father. In Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco The Drunkenness of Noah, Noah’s two sons come into the tent and see him drunk, and they experience intense shame. They identify with their father’s unexpressed shame at having abandoned his children and given up power in regard to his sons. The intended Biblical lesson is that to see someone in his nakedness is to obtain power over them. Rarely has the Bible been so psychologically deluded. It is not the children who have power over the parent; it is the shameless parent who holds power over the children through the mechanism of carried shame, setting off a career of adapted wounded-child codependence.

So denial, better than alcohol, is the best dysfunctional medication for shame. However, denial cannot salve one against that sense of hopelessness and despair that is engendered when one loses connection to self. It is then that we feel the need to buddy up to an addictive process that will give a false sense of power, that will eliminate the fear in a moment, that yields that one-up posturing of denial and grandiosity.

When dealing with these disconnects, one is driven back not only to the newborn-to-age 5 feelings of shame but to the adapted state of ages 5 to 17 as well. The early shame sets the stage for the acting out, through which each individual learns to dramatize brilliantly his dysfunctional avoidance of emotional truth. It is an artistic way of keeping from connecting to oneself and avoiding the agony of re-experiencing the death of our truth.

There is a Catch-22 in this artistic denial, no matter what relief it seems to give us. Even when we manage to get in touch with our honest feelings, if we do not have the tools to survive the encounter, we cycle right back into the wound of abandonment or of shame.

Feelings then seem to us a trigger to an unhealable vulnerability. They become something that we need to stay away from, which is why one of the first things a good clinician does (once a patient is reasonably stable) is to urge the patient to drop into his honest feelings, and to let him know that it is okay, that he is okay. He needs the security to feel that accessing his affect will not kill him.

This is actually what happens in the Survivors Workshop. People begin to express their affective authenticity, and they are not shamed – they are honored. And they begin to honor themselves. I often remember what I always said in group: that we have to learn to honor our feelings, which is to hold them – and ourselves – in high regard. Our feelings are our windows of insight into the depth of who we are. But all of that is for naught under the guise of affective denial when, in a defended posture, we compulsively seek to offset the initial wound of being defective, of being unworthy.

In reactivity to the carried shame of abusive childhoods, there are those who acquiesced and expressed their shame, pain, fear and anger in neurotic, seditious ways. Then there are those who rebelliously fought for some kind of voice, but who lacked the tools for connection. In either case, the trauma disconnects one from oneself.

The aim of treatment is to allow me to reconnect to me for the first time as the beneficent parent, the loving parent who needs to be nurtured for who and what I am. At the same time, I learn to present my authenticity and accept the vulnerability that my truth may meet within the world, even if the world shuns me. You may be sad, but you will have the joy and power and value of not disconnecting from the self. You do not rise above and go one-up; acceptance of one’s imperfect perfection is a soaring disengagement from that which is destructive.

People taking the first steps to deal with the trauma of carried shame will choose submission rather than surrender. This submission is often an intellectual admission that there is a problem. But unless the submission is also a surrender to the will, this apparent surrender of dignity will leave a bad taste; it will feel dissonant. It will be sensed as a false admission, one made to keep the depth of the real problem at a distance. The feeling of true surrender is internal peace. Only I will know. But I know I have surrendered when I feel that peace.

The concept of denial and surrender being in that same crucible is vitally important, because denial is a form of false security through control. If, by admitting we are addicted, we seek clarity for the sake of control, it is only to give ourselves the illusion of safety. We remain terrified of letting go of control, because if we let go of this charade, we are going to be left in the abysmal pit of carried shame. So our whole life has been to orchestrate this nonsense. We know it to be nonsense, but we don’t know anything other, so we medicate the nonsense.

In recovery, however, I am now invited to go to a place of powerlessness, and that is a miraculous paradox, because it is only there that I can be empowered. The first thing that has to happen is for you to acknowledge that change is impossible without help. When I surrender, I learn to trust another to give me that help, to help me get on the path to recovery. The recovering individual, once the path becomes a reality, takes the path and continues to go forward.

When somebody gets into recovery, and they begin to date again, it is like being back at 14 or 15, even though she is 40 or 50, because it is a whole new experience. There is the similar excitement and fear and passion – it is a whole new way of relating. It is not a state of authenticity and acceptance of self within memory. Because it is new, it is innocent. In recovery, we experience “innocence.”

And so the healthy lineage allows for the delight, the life, the joy, the possibility and the joy-pain – ever new, ever going forward. Healthy, functional shame, not the sickness of carried shame, is what fuels the joy and the richness, because it reminds me of my authentic self; it puts me back on the path, back on line. As you move in a new venture, it is all new and, therefore, a delight.

And you may find that you have overstepped and then feel ashamed of a behavior because it was all new, but it is now functional shame that allows you to become more intimate, to feel more deeply. I am imperfect, and I make mistakes. My mistakes may cause me pain, and they will. But they don’t make me bad. They only make me human. And that, I don’t have to deny.

Published in Blog
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