Shelley Uram, M.D.
January 4, 2011
The Meadow's Overview of the Core Issues and how they relate to our psychological and behavioral symptoms is the most encompassing model I have worked with. This model accurately captures our nature at birth, and how the chronic psychological "bumps and bruises" through our formative years can distort our underlying nature. Ultimately, many of us develop psychological and behavioral symptoms that are directly rooted in these early psychological traumas. These symptoms can include inflexible or inadequate coping mechanisms, addictions, mood and anxiety disorders, personality disorders, etc.
Depressive conditions very commonly develop from these earlier childhood psychological traumas.
There are currently over 21 million American adults diagnosed with a depressive disorder, or almost 10% of all American adults. These numbers do not include the many, many more who have not sought professional help. This is a staggering number of people!
When someone feels the pain of depression, they want relief; the state of depression feels very uncomfortable and negative. In our country, the vast majority of people who go to a doctor for depressive symptoms are treated with antidepressant medication.
Many people feel significant relief within a few to several weeks after starting the medication. Later on, if the depression recurs, they will likely, once again receive a prescription for antidepressant medication. Eventually, many patients are instructed to remain on this medication for years to come in order to prevent a recurrence of their depression.
One of the current popular recommendations from our national and local psychiatric associations is that psychiatrists should treat patients with medication, striving towards a goal of 100% relief of symptoms. Most patients are happy with feeling so much better; however, they have not addressed the underlying issues that initially lead to the depressive state.
Why does this matter? Why should we address the underlying issues behind the depressive state if medication takes away the symptoms?
In my opinion, we are all ultimately trying to master the challenges that show up in our lives. There is a subtle "push" in all species to keep on evolving their mastery skills and ability to cope. We develop better mastery skills with our relationships, health, life stressors, etc. We all stumble and fail at times; sometimes we are flat out stymied by life circumstances. Ultimately, we want to come to some kind of terms with the challenges that show up in our lives, and feel more at peace with them.
In my opinion, many people who suffer from depression are in a "stymied" state of dealing with life challenges. Very often, it is their coping skills that are not adequately flexible or mature enough to successfully deal with the challenge. They are left feeling overwhelmed or "shutdown". In this condition, they are simply not able to master the circumstances at hand.
In my opinion, if a patient is overwhelmed by their symptoms, antidepressant medication may be helpful to alleviate some of the symptoms. The patient can then enter into a "working zone" of being able to actively participate in psychotherapy, and eventually reach a new level of mastery in dealing with their life-stressors.
I think it is wise to utilize antidepressant medication if it is an adjunct to the patient MASTERING the underlying issues.Unfortunately, the trend in our country is to replace the psychotherapy with only symptom relief through medication.
If a person's coping skills are not maturing, they are just as vulnerable to another bout of depression as they were the first time. Research has actually shown that a person is even more vulnerable to further depression episodes with each new episode of depression.
In my opinion, we psychiatrists should tailor our medication prescribing to meet their ideal needs in psychotherapy. For example, if a patient ideally needs to experience some sadness or anxiety in order to be motivated to master the underlying issue in therapy, I think it is appropriate to let them have some of their symptoms, but to a tolerable degree.
I view some depressive or anxiety symptoms as a "barometer"that tells us how we are doing inside. Instead of automatically silencing these depressive or anxiety "signals" with medication, these symptoms can frequently be utilized to motivate us to dig deeper in psychotherapy.
The Meadow's Overview of the Core Issues, is an excellent diagnostic and treatment model upon which to base psychotherapy. It is from this model that mental health professionals can analyze where a patient is psychologically "stuck", and in what therapeutic directions to move. In patients that medication would serve the purpose of alleviating certain symptoms that would stand in the patient's way of utilizing this psychotherapy, then the two treatment modalities could become a unified and useful treatment approach.
Exceptions to the above would include patients who are not interested in mastering the underlying issues and improving their coping skills. If a patient clearly wants to just have the symptoms removed, I do not see a problem utilizing only a medication approach. Other possible exceptions include patients who suffer from other disorders, such as psychosis, Bipolar I disorders, Schizoaffective disorders, etc. When patients have reached an extremely distressed state and have thoughts of harming themselves or others, then the medication route is often helpful in bringing some relief, after which the psychotherapy can play an increasingly important role.
©2011 Shelley Uram
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.
The Meadows is pleased to announce the launch of our new blog, addictionrecoveryreality.com, featuring articles by some of the most well-respected and innovative experts in the treatment and recovery fields of drug addiction, alcohol addiction, gambling addiction, depression and anxiety, relationships and childhood trauma.
Contributors to the blog include leaders in the treatment of addiction and trauma: Pia Mellody; John Bradshaw, MA; Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD; Peter Levine, PhD; Maureen Canning, MA, LMFT; Jerry Boriskin, PhD; and Shelley Uram, MD. These experts write about a wide range of addiction-related topics.
If you are interested in writing for addictionrecoveryreality.com, please send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently John Bradshaw, Clinical Consultant for The Meadows, and author of three New York Times bestselling books including Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child; Creating Love; and Healing the Shame That Binds You, was quoted in an article on NBC's Ivillage with his thoughts about alcohol addiction. See http://www.ivillage.com/once-addict-always-train-wreck/4-a-296860
Published in last Sunday's New York Times (May 4th) is as an excellent article titled High Functioning, But Still Alcoholics.
Chronicled by Times writer Jane Brody, the piece reviews a new book from author Sarah Allen Benton, "Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic" (Praeger Publishers), and describes a familiar scenario:
"high-functioning alcoholics are able to maintain respectable, even high-profile lives, usually with a home, family, job and friends. That balancing act continues until something dreadful happens that reveals the truth - to themselves or to others - and forces the person to enter a treatment program or lose everything that means anything."
An excellent article noted by many here at The Meadows.