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
In my previous blog, I wrote about the wonder of words. I will expand that to language. William C. Moyers, long-time friend and author, is vice president of public affairs and community relations for Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. He conducted a podcast interview with Dr. Stephen Delisi, Medical Director of Professional Education Solutions. The theme was, Person First Language Reduces Stigma. I am providing some of Dr Delisi’s remarks. He says,
It’s not something that people have always heard about. It is just as it sounds. It is language that is intentionally putting the person as a human being first as their identity before any deficit or illness that they might have. We still often will refer to people as an addict, an alcoholic, or a substance abuser. If you listen, that is not person-first. That is defining the identity of the individual by the disease that they have. It makes a big difference because non-person first blames the individual for their behaviors and implies that they are willfully choosing those behaviors rather than see them as a person first and the behaviors as a symptom of an illness with which they are suffering. Support meetings have other considerations. That is the individual choosing to use the language that is socially normed to that subculture. In those meetings, the use of that language does not have the same connotations and bias and stigmatization.
He speaks of research,
We can draw upon to understand how important this is that the most cited reason why an individual suffering from a substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health is the number one reason they cite for not seeking treatment or leaving treatment is the experience of bias, stigma, and the internalized stigma of shame. The very people we wanna treat—they’re not gonna come into treatment because of the language that we used. It isn’t just words, William. Language has the power to either hurt or to promote hope and healing, and we need to be in the business of educating towards the use of words that promote hope and healing for those who are suffering from these illnesses.
I am a supporter of medically assisted recovery. Dr Delisi points out,
People with opioid use disorder and the recovery community often see that people on methadone or buprenorphine have simply substituted one drug for another. We can change that by referring to these medications as what they are. They are medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder.
We need to educate about the purpose and benefits of these medications that assist in the process of recovery by placing the person first.
Particularly during the pandemic, I have traveled a lot and never left my recliner. Rick Steves Travels in Europe have taken me to many places. I have seen peaks, valleys, streets, and alleys. I’ve been in more cathedrals than I can count. And through it all, Steves always talks about the people, families, and relationships. The language may be different but there is understanding. In the context of this writing, he puts persons first.
Huell Howser is a California legend and is now gone. Under the banner of California’s Gold, his archives provide visits to wonders of California that I never knew existed. During his visits, he points out saying, “Look at this!” The amazing discoveries of the moment are always shared by and with the people involved, engaging the random visitors that include children. He closes with pictures taken with the people he has met and talks about what they have contributed with their stories of history and their own lived experience.
Both Steves and Howser used and recommended tour guides when on their journeys to places they had not visited. Different languages, different cultures, different food. It is all very personal and amazing when it puts persons first.
Incidentally, I also watch cooking shows and they originate from different places. Wonderful, appetizing, though sometimes strange, and prepared by chefs with recipes and knowledge. I haven’t gained a pound. Seems little difference between a Chief and a Chef. Both have skills and recipes for success.
Persons early in their recovery journey may feel they are visiting foreign territory. The Purpose of Recovery recently conducted a workshop on Peer Coaching Overview. In simple terms, coaching is unlocking a person’s potential for personal growth. A Peer Recovery Coach is active and has a year or more of sustained recovery. The coach works collaboratively with peers to help them achieve goals, solve problems, learn, and develop a full life in recovery. One of the features of the presentation was an assessment of one’s recovery capital. I look at this as capitalism with a social focus. They responded to a series of 50 statements. Response to this exercise had two results. Many attendees were pleased and surprised at how much recovery capital they had and two, recognized the opportunity and benefit of accumulating more. More can be learned by visiting TPOR.org.
The recovery journey is difficult and rewarding and is best served through guidance. I call it G.P.S.—Guided Peer Support that puts the person first. Did you know the Three Wise Men used GPS to lead them to their destination—God Provided Star. As Rick Steves says,
Keep on Traveling.
Merlyn Karst – Recovery Ambassador