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
September is designated as Recovery Month. Recovery Month promotes the societal benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery for mental and substance use disorders. It celebrates the millions of people as they live in the joy and reality of recovery. I have participated in Rallies and events primarily in Denver, Colorado since 2002. In 2018, Advocates for Recovery-Colorado, was the host to the national hub event. Country wide, these events provided the opportunity to announce the birth and carry the message of Faces and Voices of Recovery. Making history year by year, Recovery from Addiction is now a growing national and international recovery advocacy movement.
I now live in Orange County, California, I recently participated in an event named Recovery Happens originating in California’s capitol. Three well-known names were among sponsors. Faces and Voices of Recovery, Young People in Recovery, and The Phoenix. It is usually held on the Capitol steps, but as is today’s normal, It was virtual instead. I’m a fan of virtual technology. Unfortunately, it does not have the value of human togetherness and fellowship. We are involved in a Zoom Room Boom. It does allow an important factor. To achieve and maintain connections. I am participating in a Peer Coach Training with Peer Coach Academy in Colorado. SAMSHA’s theme banner says: Join the Voices of Recovery: Celebrate Connections. We are virtually connected in so many ways—apart but together. We are getting good at it. The definition of virtuosity is to have a skill and expertise as we see in virtual activities. I think it leads one to a new word --virtualocity.
I find it worth repeating what I wrote in a recent blog. In the real and virtual world, I make my bed, shower, and dress presentably for viewing and being viewed. No travel involved. Bed and board are at hand. check the “set”, settle in my comfortable chair, and put my best face forward.
The virtual world has merit through selective learning and social sensibility. If you are not earning, you should be learning. It will be of benefit to the establishment of health and well-being and even might allow being better than well.
Recovery Community Organizations are being formed at a growing rate with knowledge that the pandemic will put new burdens on the community from increased mental health and substance use disorders. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in use and misuse of the drug alcohol. Communities need resources, information, and leadership. I recently read this,
By repairing past and current harms in our communities, we bring new possibilities to the future
We have a role to play.
In a recent Bill White and Bill Stauffer paper, Nothing About Us Without Us, I noted the following: People with personal knowledge of the recovery process and the historical challenges faced by people seeking and in recovery free of conflicted interests are the best suited for recovery advocacy leadership. Guidelines: 1) Members of recovery communities are provided a voice in the selection of persons who represent their experience and needs. 2) Those representing the recovery experience at public and policy levels possess rich experiential knowledge of personal and/or family recovery from addiction. 3) Persons representing the experiences and needs of people seeking and/in recovery are free from ideology, political, or financial conflicts of interest that could unduly influence their advocacy efforts. This paper is important. Read this and another, Recovery Advocacy For a Country is Crisis.
We recently formed the first RCO in Orange County, The Purpose of Recovery. Our primary purpose is to promote and perpetuate connections, resources, and a collective purpose for providers of recovery support services in Orange County. It was established with support and guidance with connection to other RCOs in Northern California, Texas, Georgia, and Colorado. All members of Faces and Voices of Recovery’s ARCO, the Association of Recovery Community Organizations. ARCO links RCOs and their leaders with local and national allies and provides training and technical assistance to groups. ARCO helps build the unified voice of the organized recovery community and fulfill our commitment to supporting the development of new groups and strengthening existing ones. As the SAMSHA banner says, Celebrating Connections. A great purpose to be served during Recovery Month.
Together We Are Stronger.
Merlyn Karst, Recovery Ambassador