I write this as we celebrate another special holiday. Thanksgiving. It is indeed a grateful deed.
Though we should give thanks for many things each day, we single out this day to express gratitude. It is a time of family, fellowship, food, and fun—as it should be.
For those of us in active and sustained recovery it is a special day to give thanks. Family dynamics may differ, cultures play a role, but at the core is thankfulness and gratitude with family and friends. Those who experience the fellowship of AA recognize that the two most favored subjects for meeting discussion are gratitude and acceptance. My activity in mindfulness always includes both. At this point, I will add a bit of humor. Discussing politics at a family gathering can result in saving money on Christmas gifts. Considering inflation, it could benefit.
The pandemic changed this holiday event in so many ways. Gratitude was limited to thoughts of survival and “I don’t have it—yet”. However, we could come together virtually and maybe be more forthcoming and open with feelings. No masks to show frowns and hide smiles. We talk of turkey, gravy, dressing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Seldom is it said: “and alcohol”. Alcohol is legal, cheap, available, and acts as intended and more. We do know that alcohol causes more family turmoil, distress, and death than the other drugs. Alcohol kills slower, but Fentanyl has now entered the picture which is quickly deadly, and family gatherings need to share this information. Addicts must take risks to avoid “dope sickness.” There can be controversy but if balanced with care and concern for each other, there can be help, hope, and healing where needed. All were present as my brother, brother-in-law, and I accumulated over 100 years of sobriety.
I am grateful and accept the science of addiction. It explains the why of “why doesn’t he/she just quit.”
To know and understand the role of the brain in alcohol and other drug use is vital to living life with health and well-being. Naloxone (Narcan) is defined as an opioid antagonist and defies death from overdose. I am grateful and accept the knowledge of the many paths to, of, and in recovery from substance use disorders. I am grateful and accept the knowledge of the elements of harm reduction and medically assisted recovery. Both are a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Just as the many paths to and of recovery do, it broadens the spectrum of chance, choice, and change and serves persons and families. In early recovery, the first steps are investigation and contemplation. Now there is more to contemplate. Another word to contemplate is one I just learned--gradualism. The goal can be abstinence but a commitment to a process and toward progress should prevail.
William White has written countless papers over the years. A most recent one is titled On the Shoulders of Giants, which honors the addiction treatment and recovery advocacy pioneers and profiles 35 people upon whose shoulders the infrastructure of our field stands. Among names I recognize are Bill Wilson, Jimmy Kinnon, and Jean Kilpatrick, founders of AA, NA, and Women in Sobriety, respectively. There are the more recent prominent pioneers such as Lillian Roth, 1910-1980, and Jason Robards, 1922-2000, who Bill says,
Challenged prevailing stereotypes about addiction and addiction recovery through public disclosure of their own recovery stories.
Names I learned early on were the policy advocates who politically nurtured the birth and evolution of modern addiction understanding (e.g., Marty Mann, 1904-1980, Senator Harold Hughes, 1922-1996, Senator Paul Wellstone, 1944-2002). I met Senator Wellstone and Betty Ford. I have maintained connections and associations “Beyond Betty” over the years. They include the Betty Ford Center, Hazelden, and the Children’s program. Bill White, whose shoulders I have perched on, said with gratitude to the many of those,
Who stretched my mind, mentored my work, and showed me by their example how to conduct one’s life in this unique service ministry.
I am personally grateful and so should the millions in active and sustained recovery be what for may be termed the grateful deeds of the pioneers and present advocates in the recovery movement.
There is no vaccine for addiction. However, choosing a path to recovery and choosing to be vaccinated for COVID both lead to health, well-being, and peace of mind. Both serve the person, family, and community.
November is gratitude month and as it ends, we look forward to the next holidays. Though some don’t do deities, there is a Christ in Christmas. It is a time of caring and sharing. As I once read and wrote, before the sermon on the mount, Jesus was reported to have said;
If you don’t believe in me, believe in what I teach.
One of those teachings called for us to love one another. Happy Holidays, from The Purpose of Recovery Team.
Merlyn Karst — Recovery Ambassador
We celebrated September as Recovery Month. For me and others, October has been Discovery Month. In that regard, I am reminded of the quote from Albert Einstein,
Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance.
We have heard the expression mind over matter. The science of addiction tells us that the brain is very active in determining the best ways to handle pleasure and pain. For pain it wants less of it and for pleasure it wants more of it. The brain’s receptors are tuned to how the chemical dopamine is produced and the best neuron pathways from which to receive reward. As addiction progresses, it blocks other functioning pathways to the other parts of the brain. It guides reason and rationale in harmful ways. Cravings crowd out thoughts beyond the many ways to sourcing dopamine. Mind over matters seems not to matter.
The Purpose of Recovery, a recovery community organization (RCO) has presented monthly workshops, the most recent was titled, Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP). The workshop describes mindfulness as “not getting lost in our thoughts of the past, anxieties about the future and not ‘being happy’ all of the time but rather learning to be with the entire spectrum of our emotional experience.” A pretty good offset to mindlessness and a demand to avoid being on autopilot—stay tuned to the present moment. Breathing comes naturally but being aware of every breath is calming and reassuring. During mindfulness, there is an audience of one—you. I choose to seek a quiet mind, peaceful heart, and purpose.
I found the discussion about relapse gave me a new perspective. It breaks down relapse into the lapse and then the relapse. Lapse is what happened after the initial drink or substance use. It may be followed by shame, guilt, and remorse—if we let it. However, there is this, “well I’ve done it, I might as well….” Now, it’s “relapse.” So how do we prevent “lapse?”
Prevention ultimately talks about triggers. In my understanding, a trigger only has a function if there is something to trigger. A clouded mind with cravings, discomfort, and restlessness, may be considered loaded. Curiously, I found this statement useful;
We encourage curiosity about our experience and our reaction and encourage a curiosity about cravings.
In today’s world, science provides some answers in Medication Assisted Recovery (MAR). Be curious about this and disregard some unwarranted stigma. Another hard thing to realize is that thoughts are just thoughts. We are advised to stay present in triggering moments and recognize high risk situations. I believe the word relapse is shaming and prefer setback. One can get back— on track—and not look back. Use the word that suits you but practice mindfulness in either or other words. The workshop was recorded and can be accessed here.
Mindfulness sets us up to learn.
There is a term “old school.” I’m old but I have been schooled in the here and now. As a member of the founders of Faces and Voices of Recovery, I was pleased to attend their 20th anniversary in a virtual celebration and leadership conference. The 2001 Recovery Summit marked a clarion call to shift the center of the alcohol and other drug problems arena to a focus on the lived solution for individuals, families, and communities. It marked the passing of the recovery advocacy leadership torch from an earlier generation of advocacy organizations. Now there are many torches in many hands lighting the many paths to recovery out of darkness. Associations and collaborations emerge from the shadows.
CCAPP (California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals) held the California Addiction Conference in late October in Newport Beach. The Purpose of Recovery (TPOR.org) was a sponsor, contributor, and many TPOR team members attended. The speakers were prepared professionals and presented information, statistics, and future projections to inform and motivate. Phil Rutherford, CEO of Faces and Voices of Recovery and others gave considerable focus to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I took copious notes of discovery. A historical moment: “Too many notes, dear Mozart, too many notes’ is what Emperor Joseph II supposedly said after the first performance. Mozart’s reply, “Just as many as necessary, Your Majesty.”
Pete Neilson, CEO of CCAPP was animated, informative, and personal, and gave me insight to harm reduction, a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Just as the many paths to and of recovery do, it broadens the spectrum of chance, choice, and change. I learned a new word from Pete— gradualism. It expresses the realistic and practical side of harm reduction. It also adds credence to my support of medically assisted recovery to allow the return of rationale and reason.
I repeat, curiosity will lead to healthy, helpful, and hopeful learning.
I heard a statement, “What the people need is a good listening to.” John Steinbeck wrote about storytellers and their importance to some semblance of well-being in the California camps and the gatherings during the depression, drought, and dust bowls— the “dirty thirties.”
And it came about in the camps that the storyteller grew into being, so that the people gathered in the low firelight to hear the gifted ones and the people listened, and their faces were quiet with listening.
Oh, and there was music. So many western songs have sweet and sorrowful lyrics. My latest find was this lyric,
and once upon a time, You turned the water into wine, An’ now, on my knees, I’m turning to You, Father, Could You help me turn the wine back into water?
Wishes and worries don’t change the past. Be in the know and now.
I leave you with this thought. Being ashamed brings regret and remorse. Being shamed brings resentment and retribution. Words matter.
Merlyn Karst, Recovery Ambassador