Intervene

A blog for parents concerned about their teens alcohol and drug use




The Best Way to Say “I Love You” to Your Kids This Valentine’s Day? Have a Conversation.

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Although Valentine’s Day is typically considered a time for expressions of “romantic love,”  it’s also a great opportunity to connect with your kids to let them know how important they are to you and how much you love them.

In my work on the Parent Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE, I often help parents figure out better ways to communicate with their teens and young adults. Having a meaningful conversation with your teen can be difficult, to say the least. Here are four tips to help get your child to open up so you can develop a better connection:

1. Ask “Open-Ended” Questions.

If you ask your child, for instance, “What have you been up to lately?” The typical response may be, “Nothing.” However, by asking the question in a way that compels your child to respond with more than a one word answer, you are inviting him to interact with you in a more productive way. Example: “When you went out with your friends last night, who did you hang out with?” Avoid asking questions that only have yes or no answers.

2. Use Reflective Listening.

Mirror back what your child is saying to you. It allows her to clarify what she is saying and creates an opportunity for you to get clarification, too. For instance, your teen says, “Ugh, every time I go out with Jenny I have to watch what I say. I hate when she asks me to go out with her!”  You, as the parent, may respond, “It sounds like going out with Jenny makes you frustrated.” This also helps your child feel heard.

3. Use Affirmations. 

It means a lot to teens to know that they have done something right in their parents’ eyes. Identify the positive things your child does and point out the times you respected his decision. It is important to recognize all the efforts your teen makes – big or small – on a daily basis. Acknowledging that it isn’t so easy to be a teen today lets him know you may not understand everything that he goes through, but that you do understand his struggles.

4. Summarize. 

This is helpful when your child needs to change a behavior. It also helps parents learn more about their children’s mixed feelings about a given situation and the reasons why they continue doing what they do. When summarizing, parents help their children notice their ambivalence, affirm it and encourage them to decide what is important to them. It is essential that you allow your child to create his own values and not instill your own.

By calmly summarizing the situation at hand (e.g. the need to stop smoking pot or to enter rehab) and accepting that your child’s initial reaction may be one of resistance, you are allowing him to take more control over his life. As a parent, you can affirm your child’s ambivalence by saying, “You’re right, Trevor, going to rehab will mean you can’t hang out with your friends this summer, but what will happen if you continue to drink and smoke pot in your senior year?”  Or, “I hear you say that you don’t want to sleep all day anymore and that you want to get back into bike riding. How do you think smoking weed has affected your energy level this past year?”

All in all, engaging with your child in a meaningful conversation is more likely to be productive than simply telling her what she should do for her future. The latter approach will, more than likely, not only elicit but also intensify your child’s resistance.

So, celebrate this holiday of love by taking time to talk to your kids about what’s really important. For more tips on what to do once you get the conversation going, please:

Wishing you and your family a very happy (and talkative) Valentine’s Day.

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Filed under Confronting Teens, Family members, parenting, Patience, Uncategorized




Be Cautious of Boot Camps and Wilderness Programs for Your Addicted Teen

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Earlier this month a few of us attended a Lunch ‘n’ Learn event at CASAColumbia with Maia Szalavitz, a neuroscience journalist who covers health, science and public policy. She discussed the theme of her book, Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006), an exposé of the “tough love” business.

The talk prompted us to revisit and share what we at The Partnership at Drugfree.org know about boot camps and wilderness programs for troubled and/or addicted teens.

First, it is important to note that boot camps and wilderness programs are not included among the levels of care defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Although you may have heard success stories or read about the benefits of boot camps, we strongly suggest you look very carefully into any boot camp or wilderness program before sending your teen for substance abuse treatment.

According to a government report, these programs are not subjected to federal oversight, and there have been thousands of reports of neglect and abuse at privately owned and operated boot camps and wilderness programs for troubled youth.

Ms. Szalavitz explained that a person with the disease of addiction is already in a lot of pain. To get better, that person doesn’t need more pain and abuse, but rather a kind and supportive approach to treatment. One that’s comprehensive, respectfully addressing the individual’s physical, emotional and social issues. One that makes the person feel better.

We suggest that if you are seriously considering a boot camp or wilderness program, you check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against the program. You should also call the program and ask a lot of questions, including:

1) What specific substance abuse and mental health licensing and accreditation does the program have? (If the providers are not licensed, do NOT send your child to the program.)
2) Has a child in the care of the program ever died, and if so, why?
3) What specific training (particularly survival skills training for outdoor programs) do the counselors have?
4) Have there have been any complaints of abuse or neglect at the camp?
5) Can you put me in touch with a few families that have a child who have completed the program so that I can hear about their experience?
6) Who is responsible for medical care? (It should be a licensed medical doctor.)

Remember, addiction is a serious health issue and requires appropriate treatment by licensed professionals so that addicted persons can learn how to manage drug and alcohol problems, how to handle relapse and how to live a life free of drugs and alcohol.

For more questions to ask programs when looking for treatment for your child, here are some helpful resources:

To find the best assistance option for your child with an alcohol or drug problem, see our Treatment e-book.

To connect with other parents about your child’s drug and alcohol problem, join our online support community at TimeToGetHelp.drugfree.org.

To speak to a trained specialist, call our toll-free helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373).

Have you sent or considered sending your child to a boot camp or wilderness program? Comment below to share your thoughts or experiences.

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Filed under Addiction, Books about addiction, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Finding Treatment, parenting, Scare tactics, tough love, Treatment, Uncategorized




From Party Girl to Plugged In: My Journey Through Addiction to Recovery

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

As a little girl, Mom and Dad promised I could be anything I wanted — police officer, teacher, journalist — and that no matter what, my life would be a good one if I followed my heart. Hard work, dedication, honest effort and the Golden Rule were required but, according to my folks, a small price to pay for happiness.

Their words, spoken in earnest to their oldest child, fell across my ears and under my radar as the years passed. Conceptually, I referenced the ideas from time to time, but my world was much too complex to be reduced to old-world, Horatio Alger charm.

I did work hard. I did get the coveted college degree from the prestigious undergrad program. I did land the first job in my field two weeks before the commencement ceremony. I did return to my hometown in triumphant victory as the first of my mother’s kin to brandish the sheepskin of higher education.

Beth Wilson, 22 years old

I landed back in my suburban city, however, anything but free. I was a 23-year-old, full-blown alcoholic with a lot to show for my school career but little recollection of how I got it.

Mom and Dad never warned me about following the family lineage into alcoholism. Maybe they didn’t know that because addiction coursed through both sides of my family, my reckless party-girl college life might lead me across a line into alcoholism.

After all, they didn’t know about the college “accidents” that sent me to the hospital emergency room with severe ankle sprains (from falling while drunk) or the night that friends thought I was having a heart attack after a bad combination of alcohol and over-the-counter Sudafed (I was trying to stay awake to study).

They certainly didn’t know about the countless occasions of school parties with booze and sex, times I can’t remember, times I’m lucky to have survived with no pregnancies or STDs.

Now a college grad, I was a “responsible” adult with a job and rent due each month. But my drinking was escalating to the point where nearly every morning I swore to any and all gods that I would not drink “like that” again. I would try harder not to drink so much and I would make sure I ate something that would coat my stomach, something besides beer nuts and pretzels, so I wouldn’t be so sick and hungover the next day.

If I could only control my drinking! I convinced myself that if I concentrated more on things like being more aware of my surroundings and paying more attention to the descriptions of the cars I got into and watched where we drove, then I wouldn’t find myself in the unhealthy situations that seemed to happen with increasing regularity.

If I were more responsible, I would stop waking up in strange places with strange people, or so I told myself.

However, I was a young alcoholic woman with a career and a bucket full of insecurities. I was desperately trying to fit in while setting myself apart from the crowd. I thought myself intellectually superior to the people with whom I interacted, yet I seldom felt worthy of anyone’s attention. In my mind, I was a big shot traveling the country on an expense account, yet on the inside I felt like I deserved none of it. I worked hard at not letting people really see who I was because I was deathly afraid that if they did, they would wouldn’t like me, and I really needed for them to like me. I desperately needed their approval. Years later, I would realize that my insecurities were covering a thick layer of fear, most likely a fear of rejection that stemmed way back into my childhood.

So I continued to cover my intense loneliness with a party-girl persona. I felt a vague sense of irritation, sort of like when you’re walking on the beach and a small pebble gets lodged in your shoe. You try to continue walking but ultimately end up with a big blister and a hurting foot.

I kept drinking, but a growing restlessness gnawed at me. Instinctively, I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what until a God-moment on a spring day in 1991. I was driving to a conference for work, through a small town where an old friend lived.

She had been like a surrogate mother to me when I was growing up, but after she and her family moved away from my hometown, we dropped contact for many years. Something made me stop my car on that day and call her.

She was delighted to hear from me, and we had lunch. As we caught up, I listened to her describe her son’s battle with an addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Her son had just been released from a treatment center. I knew him well and wasn’t at all surprised to hear that he was messed up with drugs and alcohol. Because I had partied with him, I figured he would eventually end up with a problem. I had seen him in really bad shape.

My friend — my surrogate mom — planted two seeds in me that day. When she spoke about her son’s behavior and the resulting consequences, I realized with a sudden force that every time I got into trouble, alcohol was involved. That was the mustard seed she planted.

The bigger seed, one more like that inside a peach, was what she said about his spiritual awakening, about how he came to understand that he was powerless over his addiction and that by admitting powerlessness, he was able to embrace a new way of life that included the awareness that God was guiding him to become a better person.

My friend’s son admitted he couldn’t control his life, and with that admission, he gained a new way of living.

I’ll be forever grateful that my old partying buddy connected with a higher power, because his connection led me to mine.

My spiritual connection — what I call being “plugged in” — is my lifeline in this day-to-day crazy world.

Grace led me to sobriety; I haven’t had a drink of alcohol since May 20, 1991.

I’m learning at a turtle’s pace that while I am powerless over my addiction, I can control the thoughts, feelings and attitudes that lead to the decisions I make. And so long as I don’t drink alcohol, I have a much better chance of recognizing the difference between what I can control and what I can’t. Remember all the things I mentioned that my parents failed to warn me about? Turns out I had quite a build-up of resentment toward them. Thankfully, long-term sobriety and an ongoing spiritual connection healed that resentment.

I believe that staying plugged-in to a God current that flows freely and readily whenever I express the willingness to connect has made all the difference to me; it allowed me to heal strained relations with my parents before my mom died in 2010.

Until that time, I think the little girl in me still blamed them for not fully preparing me for adult life. Now I know they did the best they could; family talks about alcoholism and addiction were taboo in the 1970s.

Today’s family culture offers so much more hope for teenagers. While parents still urge their kids to shoot for their dreams, they also season their conversations with realism about the future.

One thing hasn’t changed: Parents still want the best for their children, and kids still want their parents’ approval. Add a good amount of honest conversation about drugs and alcohol, and you have a solid basis for a successful, drug-free future.

To read more stories of recovery or to share your own, please visit the The Hope Share.

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Filed under Acceptance, Addiction, Alcohol, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Family History, Family members, Forgiveness, parenting, Recovery, Self-reflection, Taking Care of Yourself, Uncategorized, Warning Signs




Detaching With Love: How I Learned to Separate My Son and His Addiction

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

My son Alex shoplifted to support his addiction. Needless to say he got caught several times. The first few times, when he was a minor, we’d get a call to come pick him up, and he’d get a ticket, and we’d pay a big fine and take him to court services for his probation and take him to a psychologist. This went on for a couple years.

When he turned 18, he was no longer a minor, and with his record they’d take him to jail. He’d make that phone call from jail, “Please come and bail me out. I’m never going to do this again.” Off we’d go. After a while, this was getting expensive. And my wife Darlene and I were not learning our lesson—and, by the way, neither was our son. We were doing the same thing over and over, and our son was doing the same thing over and over. Nothing was changing. He’d make the same promises, we’d take the same action, and we couldn’t understand why he kept using!

This is where the idea of “detaching” and setting boundaries started with us. We decided we weren’t going to pay bail next time.

But it wasn’t easy. As a mom and dad it is very hard to think of your child sitting in jail. In Jackson County, MO, jail he witnessed a person getting stabbed. The food is universally bad at jails, and without money on your books, you can’t even get a toothbrush to brush your teeth. He had food stolen from him and at times had to fight to keep it. He spent two days in solitary confinement for defending himself against an inmate who attacked him. Some jails put the mentally ill in with criminals such as rapists and murderers, and then put them all in together with the drug addicts. It makes no sense to me.

It’s hard to think of yourself as a loving parent when you know that for just a few hundred dollars you could get your child out of those situations. You wonder: if I don’t pay the bail, am I really a loving parent? But eventually, the day comes when you don’t pay. We once let our son sit in the “Johnson County, KS, Resort” for 11 days because we wouldn’t post a $50 bond. Sounds mean doesn’t it?

This is about detaching with love and not enabling. Your boundaries must match your values. It works for us this way. Overriding all is the value that we love our son. When you sit down to think about and discuss boundaries, this goes at the top of the page. Every single boundary is tested against that value.

Another value we hold close and taught our kids is that stealing is wrong. Stealing carries consequences, and it should. Bailing him out removes or minimizes the consequences. Contrary to our values, we were bailing him out. We hated what he was exposed to in jail; however, we had established a pattern: he got caught, he called, we jumped with cash in hand.

Darlene and I sat down and determined where we would go and where we would no longer go. This began to help us establish our boundaries. You can’t cover all of the possible situations; you just cover what you can and know that once you learn how to judge behaviors and fight the instinct to enable by rescuing, the exercise becomes easier and more natural.

Once boundaries are determined, you must sit down with your child, an addict that may or may not be high at the time, and explain where you will no longer go with him. In fact you can even start each sentence with, “Because we love you…” and then, for instance, “we can no longer bail you out of jail. All of your life we taught you that stealing was wrong and you know that in your heart, so we cannot support your actions by bailing you out of jail when you do something you have been taught all your life is wrong. I hope you understand this and can accept our decision.”

For each boundary we had discussed, the conversation went like that. Our son hated it when we turned off the TV and asked him to sit down at the table to talk. This satisfied our need to tell him of our expectations, and it told him what to expect from us. Yes, he still called, begged, pleaded and cried from jail, but what we had been doing in the past didn’t work and was bad for us and him. We had to change the rules, but that didn’t mean we loved him less. It meant we loved him more because it hurt us terribly to let him sit in jail.

Even with his begging and pleading we were still able to sleep at night and have a moment of down time. He was in jail and we knew jail was safer than being on the street scoring and shooting more heroin. We then began to see jail as “protective custody.”

We detached from Alex’s crimes and actions; we did not detach from him. We still loved him, took some of the $10-for-10-minute collect calls from jail. On those calls we always ended by saying that we loved him and asking him to please help himself. We were doing all we could and all we knew to do. Detach from the actions, crimes, drug use, lying and every other terrible thing a drug addict does to himself and others. Love and support the person inside, not the addiction controlling the life.

Today, Alex is two-and-a-half years sober.

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Filed under Acceptance, Addiction, Codependency, Confronting Teens, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Enabling, Family members, parenting, Patience, Substance Abuse, tough love, Uncategorized




8 Personal Conclusions I’ve Reached as the Parent of an Addict in Recovery

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

My son stopped using over two years ago. For seven years he was addicted to drugs and, by the end, was a heroin addict. Today he is drug-free and working to put his life back together.

There are countless books and websites about addiction, rehab and recovery. Most of them are filled with valuable information that helps both the addict and the parent. I won’t discredit anything on these sites or in these books, but I want to share what I have learned about being the parent of an addict in recovery, not from reading but from experience — no long-drawn processes or lengthy explanations. These are just some realizations that seem to help me.
father and son talking outside1. Recovery is hard. Sometimes your child needs a hand. Make sure your hand is out for them to grasp when needed. But don’t hold on too long.

2. Addicts dig deep holes for themselves. Contrary to what you may think, filling the hole is faster when only one person has a shovel. If you help to shovel, it will take longer to fill the hole.

3. Forgiveness is for me. The sooner I understand, the faster I heal.

4. “Believe” or “doubt?” I choose to believe. Have you ever had someone tell you that they believe in you?

5. Normal is right. “Fragile. Handle with Care” is not stamped in big red letters on a child in recovery. To stop using drugs or alcohol means he or she wants a normal life again.

6. Nagging, suspicious looks and reminders of past mistakes really irritate me. Addicts in recovery probably don’t need them either.

7. His recovery is his to manage. I know that for the last seven years, he hasn’t been able to manage ANYTHING. But we all have to learn and begin someplace.

8. I love you. That is a reassurance we ALL need.

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Filed under Acceptance, Addiction, Dealing with an Addicted Child, Family members, Forgiveness, Hope, parenting, Patience, Recovery, Self-reflection, Substance Abuse, Writing About Addiction




5 Tips for Keeping Your Teen Safe This Holiday Season and into the New Year

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

The festive lights that started twinkling along 5th Ave – despite it seeming as if we had only just gotten to this side of Halloween – weren’t enough of a sign for me. It wasn’t until after my family’s own Thanksgiving dinner, when I loosened my belt a notch, that it hit me. The holiday season is upon us, in full swing – with all of its candles and lights, connecting with family and friends, eating and drinking, gift-giving, celebrating, and of course partying.

It is also a time when your teenagers will be out of school and facing much less structure and supervision. School breaks typically mean lots of freedom and time spent socializing with friends, not to mention the increased access to alcohol that comes with the parties. Many work hard to find positive activities for their teens during the holiday break from school. But even so, a lot of teens are left seeking something to do with the idle time in between. And because boredom is a major reason teens give for substance abuse, even the most trustworthy can be at risk.

Additionally, The Brookline Parents Education Network reports that New Year’s Eve, in particular, can be a difficult night for parents to set guidelines for their teens. More than any other event, this night is associated with drinking. Many kids have internalized a dangerous and false message: “Unless you are at a large gathering of friends drinking, you are a loser.” They put pressure on their parents to let them attend unsupervised parties and sleepovers.  Parents may be out with their own friends and less vigilant about supervision. And children may be less forthcoming about where they will be, and with whom.

Teens drinking alcohol at a New Year's party

Here are 5 tips parents can use to keep their teenagers safe during the holiday season and into the New Year:

•    Be sure your teen understands that drinking under the age of 21 is illegal and unacceptable.

•    Know where your teen is going, and ask lots of questions. Who will be there? Will alcohol or other drugs be present? Will adults be home? Do those adults tolerate drinking in their home?

•    Discuss with your teen situations in which he or she might be offered drugs or alcohol, and plan ways for how they can respond. Be sure your teen knows to call 911 immediately if a partygoer needs medical attention. For tips on how to talk to your teen and for strategies he or she can use to decline drugs or alcohol, see our Parent Talk Kit.

•    Make a plan with your teen for how he or she will get home. Remind him or her never to get in a car with a driver who has been using drugs or drinking. Provide money for a taxi or public transportation if it is available and safe in your area. Make an agreement with your teen that if he or she calls to ask for a ride, you will come immediately (no matter where or what time), with no questions asked until later. Here is a contract you and your teen can use to establish a clear understanding of acceptable actions.

•    Be a role model, and know that your behavior is a major influence on your child. Drink responsibly, and don’t abuse alcohol or drugs. Never drive under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating substance. Never get in a car with a driver who is under the influence. Safeguard your prescription medicine and only use it as directed by a doctor.

What challenges or concerns are you facing this holiday season? Please use the comments section below to share any ideas or questions you have about keeping your teens safe through the New Year.

On behalf of the Partnership at Drugfree.org, I wish you and your family a safe holiday season and a happy, healthy New Year.

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Filed under Alcohol, Confronting Teens, Family members, parenting, Substance Abuse, Taking Care of Yourself




Wonder and Worry: Can I Save My Daughters From Drug Addiction?

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

As a parent in recovery, I look at my children’s faces every day and I wonder and worry.

I wonder, with everything I know and everything I’ve learned, will I be able to save them from the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse? I wonder about the “gene” and the fact that I know there are many in both my family and my husbands’ that have it.

I worry about my children’s environment: the drug pushers, the “cool” friends and doctor’s writing careless prescriptions—all out there potentially giving my beautiful, innocent daughters something that could threaten their lives.

I worry about the things I say, the things that happen on the playground at school. I worry about the things that could happen to them emotionally that could somehow predispose them to being receptive to actually trying a prescription drug to get high, and that that one time could be all it takes.

I guess I could wonder and worry about so many other things happening to them, but because I am in recovery myself, this is the one thing that is closest to my mind.

If I tried all of it, why wouldn’t they?

All I can do is hope and pray that if they do try it and they do get hooked, they get help. Maybe it would be the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) just like I did.

AA has changed my life so profoundly and on so many levels. It has put the tools for living and happiness right into the core of my being.Because of it, the black hole exists no longer, and my need to fill it with substances is gone. I have been given the ability to walk through life with faith and hope and trust.

I just hope that I can transmit some of these values and the inner peace I feel to my children and that I do whatever I can to prevent them from using drugs and alcohol. But if they go down the path of addiction, I hope they too will find sobriety and serenity just as I did.

I hope that by teaching them to allow themselves to feel their feelings and to always speak up when something is going on and to try not to hold the emotions in, they will be aided in keeping away from drugs. Maybe teaching them that negative emotions are not bad and should not be discarded or ignored or seen as something to distract ourselves from will be useful. I hope that by saying to them that negative feelings are as important as positive feelings and that in our life’s journey we have to learn to deal with both sides of the coin.

I wonder if any of this will help.

And I wonder, are there other parents in recovery out there that are thinking about the same things? If so, please share.

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12-Step Programs: Working Toward Freedom from Addiction

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Our libraries and book stores are filled with books on addiction and treatment centers have materialized in cities across the globe; addiction has touched the lives of most people.

Therapists’ phones are ringing off the hook because addiction is causing incredible pain in many families across the nation.  Books, treatment centers and doctors all have a role to play in the process of recovery. The disheartening truth is that all the education in the world will not eliminate the obsession of the user. Self knowledge alone will not keep us clean nor will it help the family member to find solace in their quest for healing.

However, most these avenues of treatment will introduce the client to the 12-Step programs. In my first blog I talked about the programs of Alanon and Naranon. These programs are essential for family members and friends of the addict. I want to emphasize to parents the importance of embracing the 12-Steps into your own lives.

Intervention and rehab centers are important components in the treatment of addiction and can be important stepping stones in the pursuit of finding freedom from addiction, but they do not equal recovery. They are external support systems; the steps will be the channel to internalize this important information. There is a saying in the 12-Step arena that the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel.

Today, there are hundreds of 12-Step programs based on the original 12-Step concept launched by Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. The steps are basically the same for each of these programs, except for the first step, which begins with, “We are powerless over….”

You can fill in the blank with “drugs,” “alcohol,” “food,” “gambling,” etc. I use the word “addiction” when referring to this step, because it encompasses all unhealthy obsessions.

The experience of working and living the steps can be as varied as those seeking recovery, and belief in a theistic god or God Itself is not a requirement. Spiritual principles work for the agnostic as well as atheist. The process simply asks us to believe in something, some Higher Power that we will be willing to let guide us on this journey of healing.

Sponsorship is highly suggested in all 12-Step programs. When asking someone to be your sponsor, you look for someone who reflects in life what you are seeking. This person will guide you through the step process—someone you can call in a time of confusion, someone who you trust spiritually.

Each of the steps contains certain spiritual principles. Some 12-Step literature emphasizes the HOW of the program. This acronym refers to three basic principles: Honesty, Open-mindedness, and Willingness. There is a deliberate order and harmony in the way that each principle is placed, practiced, and ultimately lived within the 12-Step process. As we work these steps, our lives begin to change. We are transformed by these principles from the “inside out,” and as our spirits heal and grow our material lives are positively changed.

The serenity that is spoken of so highly in 12-Step fellowships flows outward, attracting others who seek it out. We write out each step, identifying what the step means to us and how it applies to our lives today. This process is like when a Zen master gives his student a Koan to figure out, and solve in their life. The most famous example of these playful, mystical riddles would surely be, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” The student then meditates on this phrase (or step) to come up with what this means personally and spiritually in their present life.

Since our spiritual journey involves constant change, we continue to grow by working the steps over and over again, each time on a different issue and at a deeper level. The journey of the steps mirrors our lives, and their meanings change with us over time. The principles that occur as we work and live the steps are quite simply directions. Like points on a compass, they tell us where to go, directing our lives into a place of wholeness and fulfillment. I believe this profound personality change has to be ongoing. To assure our transformation continues, I suggest to the people I sponsor to keep their practice of the steps ongoing. The steps save our lives, and then they change our lives. We, in turn, show the next person how we did it. Ideally, this process of spiritual growth never ends.

When addiction enters our lives, either through our own use or that of a family member, it can cause enormous confusion and pain and turn life as we know it upside down. The spiritual path of the 12-Steps is not always easy, but the willingness to practice the steps will begin to soften our attitude toward addiction.  Compassion and understanding will begin to fill the void that anger and resentment used to occupy.

As we begin to witness our lives and those around us change, we come to see that our greatest challenges are often the introduction to a deeper compassion, engendering our view of life with a new sense of vision.

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Filed under Acceptance, Addiction, Finding Treatment, Hope, Recovery, Self-reflection, Taking Care of Yourself, Treatment




Addiction as a Gift: Our Call to a Deep Spiritual Practice

Monday, March 26th, 2012

“I’m Tom, a grateful recovering addict.”

I have identified myself in this way in meetings and conventions for over 40 years. My intention is to put a new interpretation on the insidious disease of addiction. We all know the nightmares that accompany addiction. I invite you to move beyond the traditional ways addiction is looked upon, revealing the seemingly hopeless disease of addiction as an enlightening dilemma. I hope to introduce you to the revolutionary belief that for some individuals a life fraught with sickening addiction can quite possibly become a misunderstood gift and a blessing in disguise.

Currently there are countless studies and books written on the field of addiction and the vast and growing research on what is now termed “addictionology.” Though it is a fascinating area of contemporary and compassion-based health care, it is also encompassed within the realm of clinical rehabilitation centers, some of which are rife with discouraging statistics and sterile data. I speak from my heart and own experience.  I was once a hopeless addict whose life has been interrupted by a Higher Power.  My life was transformed by surrendering to the principles of The 12-Steps, which has led to a life that is devoted to the practice of meditation and service to others.

Addiction touches everyone. When an individual, his or her family member, or a close friend struggles with the malady, it eventually affects the lives of every member of society. In every country around the world, people have found a way out of their addiction. On a daily basis there are millions of people attending 12-Step meetings in almost every country on this planet. Be assured you are not alone.

The idea that the disease of addiction can only be treated by a spiritual transformation has been the motivating idea from the beginning. In the early 1930s, a hopeless alcoholic sought help from Carl Jung, a well known psychiatrist. The patient had resigned himself to the tormented reality that he suffered from the chronic inability to stop drinking. In those days, such people often ended up in jail or a mental institution and many lost everything that had been dear to them, including family, friends, careers and ultimately life itself. Addiction was viewed as a lapse in morality and had not yet been recognized as a medical disease.

This man came to Dr. Jung and asked for help. The psychiatrist frankly told him that although he was unable to help him, he had—on a few rare occasions—seen someone in the grips of alcoholism go through a profound personality change brought on by an intense spiritual experience. This visit to Dr. Jung set the foundation for other drunks to stay sober by helping each other and in turn practicing the spiritually-driven 12-Steps of recovery. The steps were designed to achieve the ongoing spiritual experiences that brought on the deep personality changes in our lives. One could argue that the steps were “given” to addicts by a higher spiritual realm, and Jung was as much a conduit as a cornerstone for the recovery movement. In his later years, Jung would be asked if he believed in God. Without hesitation Jung answered, “I know there is a God.” Yet the experience of working and living the steps can be as varied as those seeking recovery, and belief in a theistic god or God Itself is not a requirement. Spiritual principles work for the agnostic as well as atheist. The process simply asks us to believe in something, some Higher Power that we will be willing to let guide us on this journey of healing.

I would not dismiss anyone’s pain caused by the disease of addiction.  If you are a family member or a close friend, let the experience be a calling card for your own spiritual practice. The programs of Alanon and Naranon can be your refuge, a sanctuary where you find understanding.  You may suddenly realize you’re not alone in this pain. This can be the beginning of a great adventure within, bringing to your attention that addiction is just one of many countless challenges we are called upon to face in life.

Kahil Gibran put it so eloquently in his book, “The Prophet”:  “Your Children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Gibran was speaking the language of Alanon and Naranon long before their inception.  We must learn to detach and to love unconditionally. Once we start practicing spiritual principles we learn we can’t manipulate life to fit the conditions we believe will ensure our happiness. Instead we tend to each moment without judgment or criticism; acceptance of what is becomes our offering.

The 12-Step programs have been proclaimed as one of the most powerful spiritual movements of the twentieth century.  These programs provide support and guidance to offer hope where all hope was lost.  May loving kindness fill your hearts.

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Filed under Acceptance, Addiction, Finding Treatment, Forgiveness, Recovery, Self-reflection, Taking Care of Yourself, Treatment




The Mindful Addict: Tom Catton’s Spiritual Road to Long-Term Drug Recovery

Friday, March 9th, 2012

The Partnership is excited to introduce our new blogger, Tom Catton. Tom has been in long-term recovery since October 20, 1971 is the author of The Mindful Addict: A Memoir of the Awakening of a Spirit, which highlights Tom’s relationship with meditation in combating his addictions. Tom is on the advisory board at the Buddhist Recovery Network and is trained in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.

The following excerpt from my book “The Mindful Addict” gives a hint of the adventures that occurred during forty years of placing recovery above all else and learning to follow my heart through the practice of meditation each morning. If “The Mindful Addict” were summed up in a few words, I would say it is a miraculous adventure story about what can occur when meditation is coupled with service to others.

I used alcohol and drugs from 1959 until October 20,1971. I always say that I’m a blessed addict because I did all my using in the 60’s.

Growing up in Southern California and traveling to Hawaii as a teenager in 1962 to further my surfing endeavors seemed like that natural movement of the times. I lived the lifestyle that invited the use of drugs and alcohol. We were summoned by Tim Leary to turn on, tune in and drop out.

I went from drinking alcohol to sniffing glue, experimenting with LSD and other mind expanding drugs. Soon I was using needles to inject any substance for a quicker response. If a drug could be dissolved in a spoon, I used it.  

I went to my first 12- Step recovery programs meeting on the North Shore of Oahu in 1968.   I proceeded to bounce in and out of recovery for three years until I was sick of being “sick and tired.” The gift of recovery often waits for this opportune time to enter our lives when we see our own best thinking brought us to a veritable skid row in our mind, body and soul.

Excerpt from The Mindful Addict:
3:45 a.m., February 10, 1968, Kaneohe, Hawaii. A tall, thin woman looking much older than her fifty-two years sits up in bed meditating. A cup of coffee rests on her nightstand, and a cigarette glows in the dark. She listens, in silence, to the small voice within, her shadow standing guard as she sits in the stillness, becoming one with the calm. Flobird meditates for several hours every morning, a habit she picked up in 1960 while getting into recovery in twelve-step programs.

She lives each day by the spiritual guidance she receives during meditation and diligently records the messages in her journal. Writing becomes automatic, a prayer in ink, and the spirit guiding her pen to identify her next assignment. At times her dialogue with God is intense, and at times she questions the assignment; but, she always steps into the unknown and does exactly as spirit guides her.

On this particular early morning, Flobird’s meditation leads her to the North Shore of Oahu, about 40 miles from Kaneohe. She hops into “Redbird,” her Fiat, and drives to the Sunset Beach area, just as she has been directed in meditation. Here, she finds a four-bedroom, completely furnished; wood-framed home nestled under the trees right on the oceanfront. Guided by an inner direction, she reaches above the doorjamb, locates the key, unlocks the door, and enters. Coincidentally, I lived next door to this house.

During the winter months, the waves on the North Shore are huge. This is the only time they break with gigantic force and must be at least twenty feet high before they are considered surfable by the locals. The energy from just one such a large wave, as it comes crashing down, is breathtaking, and the salt spray can be seen in the air for miles.

At night, the roaring waves sound like thunder, or an enormous gong echoing across the oceans from some unknown temple. Often they become so enormous they wash over the highway. Sometimes these monster waves can even level houses in their wake.
The North Shore community is relatively small, and everyone knows one another. Back in the 1960s, Haleiwa, the main village, had only two grocery stores and a bank. Today, it is a bustling town sought out by tourists from all over the world to watch or surf the killer waves.

This time and place was magical for those of us fortunate enough to live there. The community was dominated by surfers from around the world who competed in riding the giant waves at the world’s most famous surf spots dotting this five-mile stretch of coastline. There were also many so-called hippies searching for enlightenment through the use of drugs, including LSD and hashish, which were believed to lead to spiritual illumination. Some of these drug-using hippies were in both categories: they surfed, took a lot of drugs, but were ultimately looking for something greater. That was me.

In the early morning hours of this day, I was startled awake by the sound of a car on our street. With a new clarity entirely unfamiliar to me in the breaking dawn, I gazed out the window and saw a tiny red Fiat pull up to the vacant house next door. I watched curiously as a strange woman got out and walked calmly up to the house as if she indisputably belonged, as if placed there by mystical entitlement. I had no idea that this event would change my life forever.

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Filed under Acceptance, Addiction, Alcohol, Books about addiction, getting help, Recovery, Self-reflection, Substance Abuse, Uncategorized, Writing About Addiction







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