The Meadows Blog

Wednesday, 01 September 2010 20:00

High Functioning Alcoholics

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."

  • Toward the end of the article, Ms. Benton reveals a list of characteristics that can help people recognize themselves as high-functioning alcoholics, notably:
  • They have trouble controlling their intake even after deciding that they will drink no more alcohol than a given amount.
  • They find themselves thinking obsessively about drinking - when and where and with whom they will drink next.
  • When they drink, they behave in ways that are uncharacteristic of their sober self.
  • They experience blackouts, unable to remember what took place during a drinking bout.

An excellent article noted by many here at The Meadows.

Note: This article was originally published in the Winter 2007 edition of MeadowLark, the Meadows' alumni magazine.

Spirituality is Something You Are: Forgiving, Loving, Finding Serenity

An excerpt from Changing Course: Healing from Loss, Abandonment and Fear

by Claudia Black, PhD, MSW

When you set out on a new course in your life, the course of recovery, you are on a spiritual path. It is a path that leads to forgiving, accepting, loving, and finding serenity within yourself and with others. This spiritual path promises to lead you from aloneness and emptiness to a sense of connection and meaning in your life.

On this new journey, we are often involved in a process of spiritual growth before we recognize the spirituality of it. Looking back, the turning point came when we allowed ourselves to begin letting go of our fears and defenses to hear the truth:

There is another reality than the one I live.

I want it. This insight led us to learn more about the "other reality" and to learn more of the truth. The truth is that we are all human, both unique and ordinary, filled with dark and light. The truth is that all of our life experiences, whether admitted or denied, form the ground we stand on now. And the truth is that - in spite of our imperfections, our past and present pain, and the roles we've adapted to survive - we now know that we are free to choose how we live our own lives. Realizing this, the victim's passive plea, "Why me?," becomes a new, proactive question instead: "What can I do now?" This shift brings us to another turning point and another awareness:

I am responsible for the choices I make in my life.

When we accept our humanness and exercise our responsibility for making our own choices - for example, choosing what we do when we are angry, lonely, or sad - we are involved in a spiritual process. Our spirituality must be based on a vision that attends to our whole self and honors our whole experience, while at the same time acknowledges that we are accountable in the present for our own feelings, beliefs, and behaviors.

In The Spirituality of Imperfection, Ernest Kurtz writes that we have suffered zerrissenheit, or "torn-to-pieces-hood." Spirituality, as he describes it, is the healing process of "making whole." Spirituality helps us first to see and then to understand, and eventually to accept the imperfection that lies at the core of our human be-ing.
Accepting our human limitation brings us inner peace. What a relief it is to put an end to the fight within ourselves. Also, as we find the permission to be the imperfect beings that we are, we become able to let others be who they are.

The experience of inner peace is foreign to those of us from shame-based families because there was so little peace and harmony in our lives. We didn't have the models that projected unconditional love, acceptance, or gratitude. As a result, we came to believe that if we were anything less than perfect we were inferior and of little value. So, we sought perfection, believing it was our only avenue to acceptance and love.

We were so hurt by the absence of the nurturing we needed to thrive that we have spent a great portion of our lives trying to make that unconditional love happen in the present, hoping somehow to make up for the past. Paradoxically, when we are willing to believe that we cannot change the past, then we become willing to let go of our pain.

Think about the family being a house with many rooms. Our growing up years were lived in our parents' room, which was connected to their parents' room, and their siblings' room, and so on. The present day is the room where we have lived our adult lives. A mixture of experiences has taken place in all of these rooms. Some experiences were good, some caused a lot of pain. We need to realize that all families are imperfect, as all of us are imperfect people. Those of us who don't understand or want to accept that truth remain actively in denial. As Thomas Moore writes in Care of the Soul, "The sentimental image of family that we present publicly is a defense for the pain of proclaiming the family for what it is - a sometimes comforting, sometimes devastating house of life and memory."

To deny or disown any part of our experience leaves us dangerously incomplete and especially vulnerable to our shame. The lifeblood of shame is secrecy, fed by the dark fear of being found out. To grow toward wholeness in the context of our family home, we have to open all the doors and windows to let in air and light. Then for us at last, healing will begin.

"You and I are children of mud, earthy and moist," Jane Smiley writes in A Thousand Acres. "We're not all fire and light - no matter how much we wish otherwise." Facing this truth, we reach another turning point:

It is in the acceptance of all that was and is that our spirits become whole.

Bill Moyers described acceptance as wholeness and health in an interview about his book, Healing and the Mind:

"Health is... a state of mind that recognizes the history of life, which includes moments of great delight and moments of deep sorrow. When we see all these parts of our being as connected, we come to terms with where we come from, who we are and where we're going. Health is a whole."

In the process of becoming whole, we may say we "have spirituality." But spirituality isn't an event or a possession. It's a way of living and being. Spirituality doesn't mean we never get hurt again, or that we are always smiling, always happy, never angry, and never scared. In part, spirituality means that when we are hurt or afraid we can respond without making matters worse. Also, as we change course and take steps on this spiritual road, we are able to enjoy the good feelings of being solidly balanced, open and unguarded, peaceful about the past and generally positive about how we are living in the present.

Note: This article was originally published in the Winter 2007 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for The Meadows alumni.

Techniques for Managing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
By Lara Rosenberg

This article is based on a workshop that Lara gave February 13 - 14, 2006, in Sri Lanka hosted by the INGO RedR. The workshop is focused on staff working with individuals, families, and communities that have experienced or continue to experience traumatic events. It was an introductory workshop of particular value for staff having community experience, but limited or no psychological training. It was assumed that participants had prior knowledge of stress.

Stress affects us in many ways: cognitively, affectively, physiologically, and behaviorally. "Stress" is a broad term. It's part of all of our lives; each individual has his own ideas of how to define it. There are many definitions given to stress, but the important underlying factor is that stress results from a change in one's environment and requires an adjustment. The environmental changes that require us to adapt and adjust are known as "stressors" they can include anything out of the ordinary. Many think of stress as only negative, but it can be positive and necessary to our healthy development. The ways in which we adapt to our environments leave some stimulated and others with feelings of fear, nervousness, and confusion, which lead us to either solve or avoid a problem. Change always brings extra pressure, as individuals have to adapt to new circumstances.

Humans and animals are born with the capacity to react to threatening situations in adaptive ways; the "fight or flight response" allows individuals to experience resilience in response to danger. Bessel van der Kolk (1994) describes the fight response as hyper-arousal or protest and the flight response as freezing or numbing sensations, which allow individuals to avoid consciously experiencing the event.

Trauma is caused by a stressful occurrence "that is outside the range of usual human experience, and that would be markedly distressing to almost anyone" (Peter Levine, 1997). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) causes one to experience a prolonged or delayed reaction to an intensely stressful event. According to The DSM-IV Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, PTSD occurs when an individual experiences a threat (actual or perceived) of death or serious injury to self or others with a response of "intense fear, helplessness, or horror." PTSD can occur in adults and children from all socio-economic backgrounds. Most people who are exposed to a traumatic, stressful event experience some symptoms of PTSD in the days and weeks following exposure. According to the National Center for PTSD, data suggest that approximately 8 percent of men and 20 percent of women exposed to trauma develop PTSD; of that group, 30 percent develop a chronic form that persists throughout their lifetimes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the prevalence of mild and moderate common mental disorders in the general population is 10% and can increase to 20% after a disaster. As stated by Dr. Daya Somasundaram from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka (WHO, 2005), "WHO estimated that 50% may have problems and 5-10% have serious problems needing treatment. One [non-WHO] survey found 40% post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children," referring to people in Sri Lanka. Other data suggest that the mental health burden in Sri Lanka is even higher. Dr. Roy Lubit (2006), as well as Pia Mellody, a pioneer on the effects of childhood trauma, stresses that the full impact of trauma may not be experienced until a child reaches adulthood, engages in adult relationships and responsibilities, and develops more sophisticated cognitive capabilities.

The National Center for PTSD states that one of every three disaster survivors experiences some or all of the severe stress symptoms that may lead to lasting PTSD, anxiety disorders, or depression. Severe stress symptoms are extreme attempts to avoid memories and feelings. In order to numb their emotional pain, individuals will stay unusually busy, withdraw, and exhibit addictive behaviors. Violent behaviors often become prevalent.

Individuals can experience severe depression as part of PTSD, suffering a complete loss of hope, self-worth, motivation, and purpose. Some might experience disassociation, feeling outside of oneself as if living in a dream, or may become vacant for periods of time. Intrusive re-experiencing can occur through terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks. For some, hyper-arousal manifests in panic attacks, rage, extreme irritability, or intense agitation. Other manifestations include severe anxiety, paralyzing worry, extreme helplessness, obsessive and compulsive behaviors, and feeling responsible for the event. Children often re-experience traumatic or stressful events through recurrent memories, nightmares, and play. Some children become very aroused, exhibiting nervousness, irritability, anger, disorganization, or agitation. Children also shun thoughts, feelings, or places that evoke memories of the event. Occasionally, they experience a loss of developmental patterns or skills, separation anxiety, bed-wetting, and learning difficulties. An 8-year old boy in Sri Lanka could not see for 10 weeks after enduring the terrifying experience of the tsunami, in which he lost his mother and home. This example of physical impairment demonstrates the freezing response described by Bessel van der Kolk (1996), as well as Peter Levine (1997) in his Somatic Experiencing® work.

Disaster stress may revive memories of prior trauma; pre-existing social, economic, spiritual, psychological, or medical problems can intensify. Individuals at higher risk for severe stress symptoms and lasting PTSD include those who have been exposed to other traumas, such as abuse, assault, or combat. Chronic poverty, homelessness, unemployment, or discrimination will often intensify the traumatic event, as can chronic illness and psychological disorders.
Most likely to develop PTSD are those who experience stress at a greater intensity, with unpredictability, uncontrollability, and real or perceived responsibility. Factors such as genetics, early-onset and longer-lasting childhood trauma, lack of functional social support, and concurrent stressful life events also contribute to the disorder. Those who report a greater perceived threat, suffering, terror, and fear are at risk for developing PTSD, and a social environment that produces shame, guilt, stigmatization, or self-hatred can affect sufferers as well.

Individuals experiencing PTSD face an increased likelihood of co-occurring disorders such as alcohol/drug abuse and dependence, major depressive episodes, conduct disorders, and social phobias. According to the National Center for PTSD, "In a large-scale study, it was found that 88% of men and 79% of women with PTSD met the criteria for another psychiatric disorder." Some experience difficulty in their psychosocial functioning, with profound problems in their daily lives. Concurrent prevalent physical problems include headaches, dizziness, chest pain, and other aches and pains. Often medical doctors treat only the symptoms, without considering PSTD development.

At the same time, stressful or traumatic experiences can facilitate personal growth. In treating sufferers, it is most important to restore safety in their lives, build coping strategies, and reduce pain. It is necessary to find out how they are coping with the situation and stress. Healthy coping mechanisms should be slowly introduced if behavior patterns reflect unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking, or staying unusually busy. When dealing with disclosure, it is important that a secure and confidential environment is maintained. Humanitarian aid workers should teach survivors of trauma that they are not alone in order to help reduce a sense of isolation and rebuild trust. The aid worker should acknowledge and validate the person's feelings and experiences by offering comfort and support.

Aid workers should assume people are doing their best to cope and should empower them to feel as in-control as possible. Victims should not be asked to reveal emotional information, but if they volunteer it, helpers should listen. Access to mental and physical health services should be provided. In addition to reducing anxiety and depression, valued and meaningful goals help individuals regain hope and purpose. Improved access to education and employment opportunities encourages achievement. It is important to restore individual dignity and value, create opportunities for pleasure, and foster connections by maintaining or re-establishing communication with family and the community. Expressing oneself through journaling, reading, or becoming aware of experiences helps to release stress. Eliminating self-blame for what is occurring allows people to grow. Relaxation methods such as walking, breathing, meditation, yoga, prayer, and listening to music also promote healing, as do self-care behaviors such as brushing teeth, showering, and taking care of one's living environment. Small goals should gradually lead to a focus on the big picture.

The majority of trauma survivors will prove resilient; their feelings of fear and anxiety, along with urges to avoid or relive the experience, will decrease over time. Everyone handles life experiences differently, and it is necessary to allow each individual to heal at his or her own pace. The experience will always be a part of this person's life; however, the possibility of growing from the experience becomes more attainable when anxiety is reduced.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010 20:00

A Miracle is Just a Shift in Perception

Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2007 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.

A Miracle is Just a Shift in Perception

By Colleen DeRango

In working with clients to help them heal their trauma, many of us in the Somatic Experiencing® community have come to recognize that one component preceding a shift in perception may not be a thought at all: It may be the body's "felt sense" of moving from a state of calm to anxiety and then to calm again, or what is called "pendulation."

Peter Levine's influence at Mellody House has generated a subtle shift in the way we work with clients; our focus is on supporting clients in establishing a sense of "internal resourcing," as opposed to concentrating on difficulties or problem areas. Somatic Experiencing reinforces this focus and gives us the necessary tools and language.

Consider an example: A cat attentively and expectantly watches a mole dig a tunnel under the lawn. The cat waits with positive expectancy for the mole to move. This visual image represents the idea of seizing or grabbing hold of the positive. As counselors, we do this by supporting the client in reconnecting with the felt sense of "I can."Sometimes this "I can" sensation is expressed in a bodily movement. Other times, the client experiences a bodily change, wherein he feels "less tight, less anxious, less painful, less stuck." Gently encouraging the client to experience his "felt sense" of this less painful state is often the beginning of the miracle of moving from "I can't" to "I can." Clients are adept at sensing their own states of non-calm; so we focus on beginning from a place of "safety, calm, centeredness - or when they last felt most like themselves." We reflect on how they experienced these states and, from this place of resource, we support them in "touching into" the edges of the more difficult sensations of "tightness, strain or constriction."

Therapists support clients in listening to what their bodies are sensing, and we challenge them to trust it. For example, in a guided meditation or group session, if a client begins to feel "closed-in" or "anxious," he's encouraged to do what he wants to do - and to experience it from a "felt sense." Oftentimes this includes leaving the room while sensing what it is like to be able to get up and leave. When we introduced this strategy, we thought perhaps clients wouldn't return. Yet they have always returned and quite often shared with the group their sensations of empowerment.

Additionally, we give clients choices; for example, in meditation sessions, they are welcome to follow the guided meditation or to make a choice about how they want to meditate and then do so. Choice, when given to trauma survivors, is powerful; clients often share that they experienced the act of choosing as a felt sense of power, as opposed to the powerlessness many experienced during past traumatic events.

Knowing that trauma is about disconnection and that healing is about reconnection, the client experiences the sensation of being able to move, versus the trauma of being forced to stay. We wondered if clients would use their ability to choose as an excuse to leave group. Interestingly, the clients who left once rarely left again; they shared that they experienced a "sensation of empowerment" as a "life force" versus "life depletion." In SE language, we would identify this as the "miracle" of self-regulation, i.e., activation and deactivation. In SE we also learn that the body has the ability to self-regulate and that "trauma disconnect" interrupts this capability.

Somatic Experiencing® meshes well with The Meadows' model, which is trauma-based. In the powerful Survivors' Workshop, an experiential exercise encourages the client to "identify with his functional adult caring for his inner child." He then shares his reality with the people in his life who have been "abusive, neglectful or abandoning." This involves resourcing prior to touching into the anxiety or pain. The workshop is completed within a community of five or six other clients. As in SE, healing work is meant to be processed with someone, versus by oneself.

At Mellody House, we reinforce the value of community in working toward trauma healing and recovering from addictions and self defeating, addictive behavior patterns. In essence, we encourage clients to support themselves and one another from a place of compassion. Following the SE approach of giving counselors permission to make mistakes while training, we encourage our clients to "experiment and make mistakes," encouraging the "try" without the limitation of the expectation of perfection. The successful part of the try is "pounced on positively," not only by counselors, but by other clients as well. As the client experiences the "felt sense" of "I can do this," energy becomes available to "touch into" more pain, anxiety, frustration or "stuckness." The "I can" part of self-regulation is restored, and the result is a client who senses new empowerment. "I cannot drink" becomes a "felt sense" experience of "I CAN not drink."

Clients who have achieved "self-empowerment" have an energy about them, a "coherence" that other clients seem to move toward. And somewhere along the way, the shift toward healing gains momentum, stronger than perhaps the "triggers to use." As a client discovers that "more of me is available to use my strategic thought" to manage the triggers, he develops resiliency.

I realized early on that I could talk at length with clients about their problems and still not know how to restore their resiliency. But if we can "pounce on the positive" and support clients in identifying their "felt senses" within, their human systems move into healing. The "I can" capacity of the human system is amazing.

In considering the recent Somatic Experiencing Conference, where many of us gathered to learn and to share our experiences, I think about the simple enjoyment of connecting with others in this community. My sensation of restored resiliency was reinforced by a wonderful "ventral vagal" connection with so many SE practitioners. What a strong reminder to balance work with fun, connection and growth.

In closing, instead of saying, "A miracle is just a shift in perception," one might say, "A miracle is the ability to shift and change perception." Either way, I believe in miracles.

When John Bradshaw joined Susan Armstrong on her VoiceAmerica show, Second Chances, yesterday, she said this:

"I get to interview one of my heroes - how cool is that?"

If you missed it, you canview it in iTunes from the Voice America site. (link no longer available)

The Meadows is proud to present its 2010 Annual Symposium from Wednesday, October 13 through Friday, October 15 at Hoffman Estate, Illinois. The Symposium will include presentations by Pia Mellody, Maureen Canning, MA, LMFT, John Bradshaw, MA, Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD, and Jerry A. Boriskin, PhD, CAS.

This dynamic event will feature the insights of the speakers as they share their philosophies, treatment techniques, and skills regarding such issues as trauma, addictions, relationships, healthy sexuality, codependence, spirituality, and family systems.

Interested persons can sign up for the entire event or may choose to attend the Wednesday evening lecture only. More information about the Symposium, including program session descriptions, a detailed schedule, and information about Continuing Education credits, is available at the Symposium page on The Meadows web site.

Be sure not to miss John Bradshaw's interview this coming Wednesday, July 14th on 11 AM (Pacific Time) on VoiceAmerica Variety Channel.

Second Chances host Susan Armstrong will interview John about his latest book, Reclaiming Virtue: How We Can Develop The Moral Intelligence To Do The Right Thing, At The Right Time, For The Right Reason.

You can also check back here on the AAR blog after. We'll be posting a link to the recorded program!

Forgiveness: Let's Just Call it "Letting Go"

By Kingsley Gallup, MA, LISAC

It tugs at the heart, boggles the mind and puts the spirit to the test. It’s called forgiveness. But what exactly is it? While the concept conjures up many decidedly unappealing connotations, could it be that forgiveness is simply letting go?

Forgiveness is at the heart of recovery, and mastering it the essence of renewal. And many of us can't put it off any longer. Our ill will has become chronic. We have been inviting resentment into our hearts through our unrealistic expectations. And resentment is nothing short of bondage. It drains our life force. Forgiveness can replenish it.

Today we have choices. We can cling to the past, to a childlike ego state and the security of an unforgiving spirit. Or we can let go. These are the choices of the functional adult. After all, are we victims or volunteers?

Perhaps we never felt powerful early in life, and we aren't about to relinquish that power now, however real or perceived it may be. Perhaps our resentments make us feel one-up and better-than. Perhaps we fear looking others in the eye, as this would mean coming face-to-face with the truth of who we are.

So why forgive? Why risk the pain of exposure? Why give away our perceived power? Because as good as the payoffs of not forgiving may have been, the perks of forgiving are far better! Forgiveness releases healing power. It frees us from the burden of hurt and anger. It calls us to confront humanity and fallibility and, in so doing, allows us to live in peace and change for the better. It liberates all that energy we previously expended on resentment. It opens the door to intimacy. Forgiveness is about remembering and letting go (Claudia Black).

Since we can't give away what we haven't experienced, forgiving oneself is step one. We learn to release sorrow and regret. We love ourselves through our misdeeds. We confront our past and work out resentment. We become open to the belief that we can change. The path of self-forgiveness is paved with trust in ourselves, our humanity, and our higher power. It is a spiritual self-healing of the heart that comes by calming self-rejection, quieting our sense of failure, and lightening the burden of guilt (Messina & Messina).

Some of us have bought into the myth that that self-forgiveness is selfish - just some socially acceptable way of letting ourselves off the hook by avoiding responsibility. If so, it's no wonder we hesitate to forgive others who have wronged us! Why would we ever want to let them off the hook? Truth is, self-forgiveness is an act of integrity. It is how we maintain character. It's how we live ethically and free from hypocrisy.

Without self-forgiveness, our wounds never heal. We risk unresolved hurt, pain and suffering. We fear making mistakes or having past ones revealed. Our lingering shame fuels self-pity, indifference, stuffed emotions, self-destructive behaviors, hostility, distance from others, and resistance to chance. Forgiving oneself is about letting go of shame - some carried, some our own.

What we believe about ourselves dictates how we interpret our world. Think about the concept of loving our neighbors as ourselves. What exactly are we offering our neighbors? Love and forgiveness? Or hostility and condemnation? Only from a place of authentic self-love can we love our neighbors as we truly wish to do.

Each of us yearns for the freedom of letting go. But we need to do the footwork. It's time to take a step. After all, "If you want something you've never had before, you've got to do something you've never done before" (Drina Reed). The time is now. Let go.

Monday, 28 June 2010 20:00

Featured Workshop: Sexual Recovery

Sexual Recovery is one of a series of cutting-edge workshops offered at The Meadows. These workshops are designed both to meet the needs of those who have not experienced our inpatient treatment and as a source of renewal for our alumni.

Sexual Recovery is a five-day workshop that examines sexual compulsive issues and behaviors. Often we do not talk about our sexual experiences because the subject carries too much shame. This workshop helps to lift the shame and resolve sexual dilemmas and self-destructive behaviors. Chief among these compulsive behaviors are:

Sexual obsession and intrigue
Compulsive masturbation with or without pornography
Compulsive use of cybersex
Use of prostitutes, strip clubs, peeping or sex bookstores
Exposing oneself
Multiple or serial relationships
The Sexual Recovery workshop is best for those who want to

Jumpstart their recovery process
Prevent relapse
Acquire tools to support continuing recovery
These workshops are scheduled as "men only" and "woman only" and are offered periodically throughout 2010. More detailed information about the Sexual Recovery workshop is available by visiting our website or by emailing our Intake Department.

And for commentary on the topic of Sexual Addiction, please visit Maureen Canning's blog on the subject.

The Meadows is pleased to announce several informative free lectures that will be presented throughout the coming summer weeks. These free lectures are open to the community and sponsored by The Meadows in various cities throughout the country. The lectures are targeted to graduates of The Meadows but are also open to the recovery community. Speakers include local therapists familiar with The Meadows' model.

In June there are three lectures to come. On June 23, Amanda Gray, MA, FGA will speak in London, U.K. about Trauma and Spirituality. On June 23, Dr. Janice Blair, PhD will deliver a lecture entitled Good Boundaries for Good Recovery Walking the Fine Line Between Caring and Caretaking in Scottsdale AZ. Finally, Dr. Judith Trenkamp, PhD, CSAT will present Co-Dependency: Roadblocks to Optimum Recovery in West Bloomfield, Michigan as the month ends on June 30.

Many more free lectures on other interesting and informative topics are scheduled throughout July and August also, to be presented in London and in various cities in Arizona, California, New York, Texas, and Washington. For more information about the above-noted or upcoming events, please see the Free Lectures Series schedule.

Contact The Meadows

Intensive Family Program • Innovative Experiential Therapy • Neurobehavioral Therapy

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