Saturday, May 31, 2014

An Addiction to Scaring Myself

I’ve been much more aware of my thinking recently. The slogan, “I came for the drinking but stayed for my thinking” is very true. Even with all—or most—substances removed it’s my thinking that causes me trouble. I find that I just slide into telling myself scary stories: He will leave me, I will get fired, they won’t like me, this or that bad thing will happen. The end of the story is always the same though: I am abandoned and I am defective. We all have some of these patterns or habits of faulty thinking that keep us form being happy. In cognitive therapy these would be my “schemas”.

But today walking around the track at the gym I was aware that my mind really wanted to scare me and upset me. I kept trying to shake the thoughts and redirect and distract myself but it was harder than ever. And then I got this idea: These persistent thoughts that seem to want to derail me are like cravings. I understand cravings and this is what they feel like, the tempting or insistent voice that says, “Come here” and “just one more” and now, “think about this.”

If I view these thought patterns as an addiction and I approach the change as if I am dealing with cravings then I can apply AA principles here too: When cravings strike what do we do?

We can: “Move a muscle change a thought”, pick up the phone and tell someone, and just decide to not “pick up” the thought for one day, one hour, one minute at a time. And Pray for this “craving” to be removed.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Addiction is Addiction is Addiction

You have heard the jokes. Shopping addiction, chocolate addiction, TV and shoes too. They are jokes, until they are not.

In the new book, “Out of the Woods” I write about our tendency to transfer addictions—moving back and forth between drugs, food, alcohol and also about the “soft addictions” and “process addictions”, things like too much TV, binge TV, Internet, shopping and even work and worry.

We come to understand that addiction is really in the person and not in the substance. We also learn that while it’s true that shopping may not kill us and we can joke about being addicted to the games on our phone, we also know that avoiding our feelings is an early sign that we are sliding to the place that means trouble.  

This is why I know that I need ongoing discernment with other people in recovery: the process addictions are often things that have very good qualities. Exercise is a good example: We get in shape, we get a good habit of running or going to the gym, but what happens when we miss a day or can’t work out? Are we in a bad mood? Are we afraid? I’ve been there with exercise.

Similarly with shopping: Who doesn’t want to look nice? But do we obsess? Spend money we don’t have? Wander the mall in a trance? I’ve done that too.

That old joke from early recovery turns out to be true: “The only thing you have to change is everything.”  Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst and teacher said, “The natural gradient in us is toward growth. Whatever we use repeatedly and compulsively to stop that growth is our particular addiction.”

In “Out of the Woods” I included a chapter on “Facing Other Addictions” –it’s all part of what we’ll encounter as recovery progresses. It’s a lot of fun and it’s deadly serious. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

My Ten Commandments at Work

Here they are. These are the things I tell myself when I am at work or I’m thinking about work, or I’m struggling with me at work. Of course I struggle with other people at work too—but really, most of the time, I’m actually struggling with myself.

My Ten  Commandments at Work:

1. No Ego.

2.  It Doesn’t Matter.

3.  Be of Service.

4. It’s Not About Me.

5. Do the Tasks and Detach.

6. I Don’t Need to Be Important (Or in the know).

7. Get Along with Everyone (Be that employee).

8. Be an employee who doesn’t have “issues” and who doesn’t need to be treated with kid gloves.

9. Feel whatever I feel—but don’t talk about it at work.

10. Do My Work.

I would love to hear yours—what do you say to yourself. What’s your mantra? Commandment? Inner wisdom? What gets you through—or almost through --a bad day in the workplace?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Numbers and Dollars and Costs of Addiction

Today I participated in a “Lunch & Learn” at The Addictions Care Center of Albany. ACCA has provided forty-seven years of intervention, treatment and advocacy. Today they are all about prevention and treatment, and their prevention programs begin in kindergarten and reach into upper grades. Their treatment programs include residential options and outpatient treatment and programs specifically for men, women, and moms with kids.

Here is what I learned at today’s presentation:

22.5 Million Americans used an illicit substance –in the last month. In a month! And 1.9 million of those folks are in New York State. Now, a use doesn’t make you an addict, but it might get you there. So it’s also significant that only 1 in ten people who need treatment are receiving it. Big problem.

And the other number that made me sit up was this: The cost of addictions is $67 Billion last year in the United States. That cost includes costs to the healthcare system, criminal justice system and lost work, lost wages, family impact. For example, 22% of all police cases involve addition/addicts in some way. And 13% of all employee sick days are addiction related. (Yeah, look around the office, and think again.)

Now here’s another striking number: Every $1 in prevention saves seven dollars in taxpayer costs. That means that our lives and our recoveries are an important social issue.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Colors of Your Recovery will Change

Stages of Recovery Quilt by Miriam J.

         When I celebrated my fifth year of recovery my friend Miriam made a quilted wall hanging for me to mark that significant anniversary. Miriam was ahead of me in recovery and she had then celebrated her 10th anniversary. Quilting was one of the passions that she’d reclaimed thanks to recovery and she was –much to her own surprise—very good.
         The quilt panel that she made for me she called “Stages of Recovery.” It is a vertical panel that links four quilted squares on a deep burgundy background. The panels represent four stages of recovery and they begin at the top with a distinct checkerboard of black and white panels. This top square, Miriam told me, represents the very start of recovery and the black and white necessity of not using your addictive substance. The stark contrast is about following the rules and doing what you are told. The black and white color scheme is clearly, “On/Off” and “Good/Bad”.
         The panel just below that is another square with a strong black base with side columns of pure white but with a deep pink band across the top that dips down to touch the back squares. “This is your pink cloud phase,” Miriam said. “This is where you are so happy to be in recovery; things are starting to get better; you see the gifts of the program and you just want more.”
         I do remember that time of my recovery well. I talked about recovery to everyone. I carried recovery books and Alanon pamphlets home to Pittsburgh with me for the holidays.  Yeah, now I know this is not a table topic for Thanksgiving. But then...  This is the time when some of us begin to proselytize. We are so proud of ourselves  and we can’t understand why everyone isn’t following our lead and joining a Twelve-Step program. Life is going to be great from now on, right? Alas.
         The next square down on my “stages” quilt is a square that includes neat rectangles made of black and white and pink prints. It’s pretty but not regimented like the stark black and white square at the top. This third square has something new: Now there are also deep gray squares scattered among the printed ones and a solid charcoal gray square at the very center.
Yes, this represents the gray of recovery and how the gray of life arrives.
But the bottom –and last quilt square-- is the shocker. The bottom piece is made up of many small squares seemingly tossed at random. Some are the now familiar black and white and pink ones and there’s even some gray, but mixed in are more squares of candy red, bright blue, acid green, deep purple, tangerine orange and a dull mustard yellow. There is no order in this “stage”. This square is totally messy but it is deeply and happily colorful.
For years I disliked that last square. The other sections with their deliberate and limited palates were graphic and sharp—and orderly-- but this last square with its messy mix of too many colors always bothered me. But that bottom square—the “messy but colorful” part of recovery --is what “Out of the Woods” is all about. Messy progress. Happiness. No perfection.
What we know now is that as women in recovery we need each of these stages and we need them in that order. When we are new we need to submit to and embrace strict rule following. “Don’t use-no matter what.” “If your ass falls off pick it up and take it to a meeting.”
 Then, as recovery starts to “take” we are embraced in and humored through our “pink clouds” but they too run their course. The gray enters our recovery and we find that it’s a time when the right sponsor and good recovery friends matter a lot. Discernment is a skill we have to develop in these gray years. Our recovery becomes our own; we make choices based on recovery principles but our choices may not look like someone else’s.
Then, if we keep coming and we keep growing, our lives become more colorful and yes, even messy. This is when we have to figure out what our recovery will be like for the long haul. This may also be the time when newcomers or people in the “black and white” stages will question or challenge our commitment.  They might say things like, “If you don’t go to three meetings a week you are going to slip.”
Those in their own “pink cloud” stage will wonder at our suffering or our struggles. “She must not be working a good program if she is sad.” Or,  “She just needs to practice the Third Step and everything will turn out fine.” They will want to believe that if they get their recovery “just right”—kind of like Goldilocks—then they will be spared the realities of human life that everyone experiences as we age.
Finally, in that colorful and messy stage, we will have fewer “shoulds.” We might have a sponsor or just a couple of great recovering women friends. We might leave the marriage that in early recovery we worked so hard to save. Or we might have a baby --with or without a partner. We might leave our law practice to be an artist while our best friend gives up her successful pottery business to go to nursing school. There are no right answers, plenty of confusion and lots of new problems for sure but all of that is built on a strong base of deep recovery.