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.
Do you remember the first time you held your son or daughter? Becoming a parent is a great joy, but it’s also a great responsibility. You probably felt a weight of responsibility in that moment, not only to provide for your child, but also to guide him to make choices for himself.
Guiding a young child to do the right thing is certainly difficult, but it can be much harder to parent an adult or older teenager, especially when that adult is addicted to drugs or alcohol. As the mom or dad of someone who abuses substances, you may feel many emotions at once: fear, resentment, sympathy, and a feeling of complete loss as to how you might convince an adult to change his or her behavior.
First of all, remember that you are not alone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as much as 6 percent of Americans have an alcohol dependency problem. For every person who abuses drugs and alcohol, there is a network of loved ones and friends who are just as affected by that addiction. Feeling isolated and powerless will not help you assist your son or daughter, and it will not help you find peace in your own life.
Instead, here are some ways that you can take a proactive approach when interacting with a loved one who abuses drugs and alcohol.
For you and your family members:
- Don’t blame yourself: Many parents of addicts feel a profound sense of guilt, going over every second of the past to find the one moment they could have done something differently. The truth is that every parent makes mistakes. Whatever your faults, you must accept that your son or daughter has free will. Working through difficulties in family relationships can be an important part of rehabilitation, but don’t allow your son or daughter to use your mistakes to avoid taking responsibility for her behavior.
- Learn as much as you can about addiction: Every year, researchers conduct scientific studies about the causes and effects of addiction. We’re learning more about how drugs and alcohol interact with the body and how addiction is caused by chemical changes in the brain. Knowing that addiction is a physical problem can help you better understand your son or daughter’s actions, and give you hope that recovery is possible. The National Institute on Drug Abuse and National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence are useful resources for learning more about the way addiction affects the body.
- Seek support: You do not have to go through this alone. There are many other parents and families who are experiencing or have experienced the same struggle. Joining a support group can help you meet friends who can relate to your experiences and offer advice about how to support your child. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous family groups are a great option. You can also use Mental Health America’s online tools to find groups in your area.
For your son or daughter:
- Love your son or daughter without enabling: No parent wants to see their son or daughter suffer. You may prefer giving her money, regardless of what it might be used for, instead of worrying if she has enough food or a safe place to sleep. But helping without caution only contributes to the problem. Hold yourself accountable to loving your child without enabling: buy groceries instead of offering money, tell her that you love her without letting her make excuses.
- Find your son or daughter professional rehabilitation services: Addiction is a disease. You wouldn’t try to cure yourself or your loved one from cancer, and you can’t fight the physical and emotional causes of addiction without the expertise of professionals either. St. Joseph Institute offers residential services for people ages 18 and up, which includes a family program that helps family members work through the emotional issues surrounding addiction together.
Dealing with a son or daughter who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is extremely difficult, but it does not have to be impossible. Make use of existing networks and resources to help you support your son or daughter through a successful recovery.
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.
I spend a lot of time talking to families determined to find help for a loved one who is addicted to drugs. Inevitably the conversation includes the questions: “Aren’t there some medications that will make them stop?” “I’ve heard about Suboxone, is that the answer?” “Will Vivitrol cure my son’s addiction?”
How wonderful it would be if there was a medication that would stop all cravings, or change the brain in ways that reversed the patterns of addiction. However, these “silver bullet” ideas are largely based on a false understanding of the disease of addiction, what triggers the use of drugs, and what is necessary to achieve lasting recovery.
The two most common medications for opioid addiction are the “agonist” treatments: Methadone and Buprenorphine (brand name is Suboxone). These oral medications contain an opioid that suppresses withdrawal symptoms, weakens cravings, and blocks the effects of heroin, Oxycontin and other drugs that are generally referred to as Opiates. The theory is that if you take these drugs you will lose the desire to use illegal drugs.
A newer, different, non-addictive medication is gaining popularity. Naltrexone (brand name Vivitrol) is an “antagonist” treatment because it blocks the opioid receptors in the brain and prevents an individual from feeling the effects of drugs such as heroin or Vicodin. Available as a pill or a monthly injection, this medication is designed to remove the incentive to use. In time, it is argued, with counseling and other forms of treatment and recovery support, the addicted person will learn how to avoid drugs in the future.
Suboxone, Methadone, Naltrexone are intended to keep someone from using drugs and enable them to establish recovery. However, this is not what happens in far too many cases.
Overcoming addiction, and establishing a strong recovery, requires learning how to live life differently. The addicted person has continually turned to their drug of choice to manage their emotions and control their response to life’s events. The addict’s actions are predictable: when you are stressed you use; when you are sad or angry you use; when you want to feel better and celebrate you use. Rather than dealing with life as it comes, drugs are used to manage and change feelings.
Lasting recovery requires a combination of two actions: first, creating a life where it is easier not to use (e.g. less stress, less conflict) and secondly, effectively managing the emotions (e.g. anger, sadness, low self-esteem) that motivate the desire to use. Change has to happen inside and outside. One of the popular slogans for recovery is that “nothing changes if nothing changes.”
The greatest problem with Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) using Methadone, Suboxone, and Naltrexone, is that they become substitutes for the work of recovery. While an individual is taking the medication they may not be abusing other drugs, but their commitment to the actions necessary for recovery is seldom more than luke-warm. Intensive counseling, attending meetings, getting a sponsor, building a support network – any of the steps that may be necessary to change one’s life and live it better – can be set aside.
All of the major organizations that advocate for drug and alcohol addiction (ASAM, SAMHSA, NIDA) emphasize the importance of counseling and other support services for lasting recovery. In fact, when the FDA first approved Suboxone in 2002, it was suggested that it should be used for only a short time to reduce cravings while the individual participated in intensive outpatient activities. What we see today, however, is people being on Suboxone and Methadone for years, with minimal or no recovery treatment.
Research does not provide encouraging results for people who seek lasting recovery through the use of medications. Studies show that a large majority (70% – 90%) of the people using Suboxone and Methadone relapse very quickly after discontinuing the medication1. While the FDA has always advocated psychosocial treatment for those using these medications, most programs are weak, and fall far short of the intensive treatment that has proven successful in addiction recovery2.
Several government sponsored studies suggest that the use of medications to treat addiction should be seen as resignation that recovery is not possible, and the medications should be taken for the remainder of a person’s life3. This judgment implies that recovery is too hard, too much work, or the individual too damaged – and the effort to learn how to live life differently should be abandoned. I concede that there are chronic relapsers, with little motivation, who may find a lifetime of medication as the only way to stay alive. But surely this approach to treatment must be the last resort for the addicted person, when all other efforts have failed.
Every day I hear from graduates of our program who are living clean, happy lives, free from the bondage of addiction. I believe they show us the preferred path forward. We need to help people break free of dependence on drugs and discover all that life has to offer. There are no medications that provide an effective substitute.
1.Weiss, R.D., Potter, J.S., Fiellin, D.A., Byrne, M., Connery, H.S., Dickinson, W., Gardin, J., Griffin, M.L., Gourevitch, M.N., Haller, D.L., Hasson, A.L., Huang, Z., Jacobs, P., Kosinski, A.S., Lindblad, R., McCance-Katz, E.F., Provost, S.E., Selzer, .J, Somoza, E.C., Sonne, S.C., Ling, W. (2011). Adjunctive counseling during brief and extended buprenorphine-naloxone treatment for prescription opioid dependence: a 2-phase randomized controlled trial. Arch Gen Psychiatry, Dec;68(12):1238-46.
2. The use of Naltrexone and Vivitrol in addiction treatment is relatively new and the available research is limited. Vivitrol was approved for use in opiate treatment in 2012 and the high cost — $800 – $1200 per injection – has restricted trial.
3 – a. Calsyn, D.A., Malcy, J.A., & Saxon, A.J. (2006). Slow tapering from methadone maintenance in a program encouraging indefinite maintenance [Electronic Version]. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 30 (2), 159-163.
3-b. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction in Opioid Treatment Programs. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2005. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 43.) Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64164