Aftercare


By: Aspen Stoddard/staff writer

After more than a decade of using substances to avoid my “self,” one of the hardest parts of transitioning into sobriety was learning new tactics for dealing with the cycle of anxious thoughts spinning constantly in my mind.

Sure, I understood the idea of living one day at a time, but the fear of having to sustain this thought-battle in my mind permanently taunted me. How would I ever get through? It was right around this time period that my therapist suggested meditation.

“Have you ever tried?” she asked. I had not. I started to get a little angry: I needed real help. Being inside my mind was part of the problem.

“It works for me,” she said. “I find I have more energy afterward.”

I tried not to laugh. I imagined myself sitting cross-legged on some maroon rug trying to keep my eyes shut. I wouldn’t last ten seconds. My thoughts churned inside my head like hurricanes. There was no way I would be able to quiet my mind. In fact, I believed trying to sit still would only make the thoughts worse. I also thought that meditation was a practice that one needed to grow up with in order to efficiently perform. I’m a small-town girl who has experience in self-destruction. What did I know about meditating?

So instead of taking my friend’s advice, I returned to the chaos of my mind and continued struggling within the way I had grown used to.

After a few weeks, and at a point where I was feeling worn out and on the verge of running back toward drugs to ease my mind, the idea of meditation returned to me. I decided to give it a shot. I began with guided meditations, which allowed me to listen to someone tell a story.

If you have ever listened to a guided meditation, then you can probably imagine the soothing voice suggesting: find a place to sit down. You can choose a soft pillow or a cushioned-chair. Just find a place to sit down and be comfortable and then close your eyes. Concentrate on the cool air streaming through your nose. Just stay right there. Breathe. Think only of the flow of oxygen moving in and out. Allow thoughts to enter and exit your mind without attempting to interpret them. In other words, relax. Allow yourself to be.

I sat with my eyes pinched closed, my body taut with tension, and a voice in my head telling me that it was time to relax (not telling—more on the verge of panicking). I could only think about how I didn’t know what I was doing.

But then slowly something strange happened. After about five minutes into the session, I was suddenly only aware of the muscles in my body and the woman’s voice who was guiding me. I felt the circuit of energy moving in waves through me. When I finally opened my eyes, tears streamed down my cheeks. Not so much because I had an out-of-this-world spiritual experience (though, that would come later after more practice) but because of the relief my brain felt. I had, if only for that short moment, escaped from my anxious thoughts.

I escaped without poisoning my body.

One of the common misconceptions about meditation is that you must force your mind to empty. The reality is quite the opposite. Rather than forcing the mind to be silent, meditation asks that you allow thoughts to freely flow without judging them. For the addict in recovery, I think this is one of the most essential terms-—judgement. As addicts in recovery, we are professionals at judging ourselves. We are not so expert at acceptance. Meditation allowed me to begin to forgive myself for hurting myself and others. Through a steady practice of meditation, I could allow those thoughts to enter my mind and let them pass.

It has been a few years now since I started practicing meditation. I find that I am more stable when I am practicing. When I get off track and start skipping sessions, I feel myself spiraling. Meditation forces me to sit with myself, to be aware of my awareness, to allow a maelstrom of thoughts to appear and disappear without trying to over-analyze them.

But don’t just take my word for it; in a recent study by Harvard in 2011, researchers found that an eight-week program of meditative practice changes the gray matter in the brain, the region that controls stress, memory, empathy, and our sense of self.

Again, keep in mind that meditation works best as a daily practice. It’s best to find a way to incorporate meditation as part of your lifestyle than to see it as time-absorbing exercise. You don’t need a lot of time. In fact, I started with just ten minutes a day.

Check out these websites for a variety of specified guided meditations:

 

To learn more about our programs or for a campus tour  of St. Joseph Institute, please visit our website. You can also call us directly at 877-727-4465. 

Staying active is an important element to good health. For people who are stuck in the cycle of drug or alcohol abuse, physical exercise is often one of the first parts of their routine that gets neglected.

Physical exercise is an important part of treatment for those who are in the early stages of recovery. In these early days, staying busy is important. The time that an addict used to fill with activities related to finding and using drugs or alcohol now needs to be filled with non-drug-related activities. Exercise is a good choice to help fill up this time, not only because it’s a common leisure activity, but also due to its effect on the brain.

Benefits of Personal Training on Addiction Recovery
Regular physical activity provides a number of benefits to those who are in recovery.

  • Regular Exercise Reduces Stress
    • As the physical dependency on drugs and alcohol gets broken, it’s important for addicts to repair their physical and psychological health. Part of addiction treatment involves learning new ways of dealing with emotions and tension. Exercise is a natural way to deal with stress and is healthier than using chemicals to relax or holding on to unnecessary stress.
  • Exercise Changes Brain Chemistry—for the Better
    • When someone exercises, their brain releases endorphins, which are the body’s “feel good” chemicals. The person experiences feelings of pleasure, which are a type of natural “high.” These are the same brain chemicals released when someone abuses substances. Substance abuse interferes with the normal release of brain chemicals to feel pleasure and happiness from anything other than using substances.
    • With time, regular exercise reintroduces natural levels of endorphins into the system. The addict’s body learns to feel better physically over time. They also relearn that they can experience pleasure from experiences that don’t involve using chemicals.
  • Exercise is a Way to Relieve Boredom
    • For a person in recovery, having large blocks of free time with nothing to do is something that should be avoided. Exercise is something that can be included in a daily routine to fill in part of the day. There are a number of activities that can be enjoyed with others, which makes exercising a way to meet new people who aren’t part of an addict’s former lifestyle. Taking an exercise class or playing a team sport is a way recovering addicts can get involved in sober activities and move away from their former circle of friends. This leads them to activities that don’t trigger the urge to drink or do drugs.
  • Regular Exercise Improves Mood
    • As a person in recovery begins to feel better physically, their outlook on life follows suit. People who exercise regularly have increased self-confidence and are less likely to feel anxious or depressed.
  • Participating in an Activity is Fun
    • Addicts who have spent years feeding their addiction may have lost the capacity to simply enjoy themselves by participating in some type of physical activity. Exercising doesn’t have to involve anything fancy or expensive. You can start by putting on a sturdy pair of shoes and going for a brisk walk. It won’t take long for someone in recovery to notice that once they feel better, they’ll start increasing their exercise as part of their new, sober lifestyle.

St. Joseph Institute offers a variety of exercise options, from hiking across our wooded campus, to exercising in the weight room, or swimming in our endless pool. If you or someone you love needs help with an addiction problem, please call us anytime at 888-352-3297.

Loving someone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction isn’t easy, but as a family member you’ll play a vital role in helping your loved one on the path to recovery. Multiple studies have shown that people with substance problems who have caring and supportive family members are less likely to relapse than those without strong social networks.

Make Time for Yourself
When you’re flying on an airplane, the flight attendant will instruct you to always put your own oxygen mask on before trying to help others in an emergency situation. This advice also applies to helping a loved one recovering from substance abuse. If you’re exhausted and stressed out, you won’t be able to provide the support your loved one needs.

Tending to your own needs isn’t selfish. It’s the best way to make sure you’re ready for the responsibility of being a supportive caregiver. Consider the following suggestions:

  • Find a support group and/or therapist for yourself so you have a safe place to discuss how addiction has impacted your life.
  • Make a conscious effort to eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep to give your body the energy you need to be a source of support for your loved one.
  • Take time to engage in stress relieving hobbies such as painting, writing in a journal, or listening to music.

Focus on the Positive
People suffering from addiction often do terrible things to the ones they love the most. They may steal to support their habit, become physically aggressive, or lash out at those who are urging them to seek help. Forgiving your family member for these bad behaviors will be a challenge, but it’s best to avoid bringing up past mistakes while your loved one is in recovery. He or she probably already feels intense guilt and shame.

It’s much better to focus on the progress your loved one is making towards a clean and sober life. Verbal praise and physical signs of affection can be an invaluable source of support for the addict who is working to master healthy behaviors.

Strive to be respectful and treat your loved one with dignity throughout the recovery process. Remember that addiction isn’t a simple lack of willpower. It’s a complex disease that requires time and comprehensive treatment to overcome.

Create a Supportive Environment
When your family member is ready to come home, try to create an environment that sets the stage for success. Here are some tips:

  • Purchase a large calendar to add reminders for doctors’ appointments and support group meetings. Ask other family members to help make sure your loved one sticks to the schedule and has the necessary transportation.
  • Consider attending worship services as a family. Prayer and an exploration of spirituality often play a key role in helping addicts manage their condition. You may also find that turning to God provides you with a source of strength during this challenging time.
  • Know the HALT symptoms. This acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. These conditions are well known to trigger the urge to use, so you can be supportive by creating a family schedule with regular times for meals, stress-relieving hobbies, socialization, and sleep.
  • Be a good listener. Although you can find lots of information about addiction online, it’s important to keep in mind that no two people in recovery are like. Sit down with your loved one for an open and honest conversation about what you can do to be supportive. Do your best to take this feedback to heart, even if some of the requests weren’t what you were expecting.

Don’t Lose Hope
Change is possible as long as you have hope. No matter what struggles your family has endured in the past, you can move forward on the path to a brighter future. The journey won’t be easy, but there are no limits to what a loving family can accomplish together.

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