Articles

Practical Coping Skills

Addictions

So what then, are some of the practical coping skills an ex-addict can utilise in their recovery and ongoing sobriety as they reintegrate and adapt to a dramatic life change?

Meditation – as mentioned previously – is now a hugely popular form of self-help therapy in mentally unwell people, and that goes for ex-addicts in recovery too. It is irrelevant or not whether you are religious or not, because anyone from any religious (or atheist) background can use the thousands of meditation techniques out there to help them change negative behaviours and reactions into positive ones. In addition, it can give great insights into what triggers ex-addict’s cravings, by making them more mindful of the thoughts and feelings that generate cravings and temptations to fall back into old negative habits and possible relapses.

Meditation groups are virtually everywhere these days – from prisons, to rehabilitation clinics, to ordinary groups in the smallest of towns in most western countries. It works extremely well for many people, which is why it is now offered and taught as one of the first line treatment options for those with mental health problems or for those in recovery from drug addiction.

As for friendships – the reality is that it is likely an ex-addict will have to cut out at least some of their former friends from their lives entirely if their friends are still using drugs. For many ex-addicts this can seem incredibly daunting as they fear they will be alone and a void will appear where they are alone. But in reality, if they do try and spend time with these friends, more often than not they come to realise that many of them were not actually their friends in the first place; it was simply that their relationship was formed almost entirely around drugs or alcohol.

This realisation can be hard to take at first, but ultimately should be encouraging to ex-addicts, because now they can focus on developing new friendships with much deeper levels of meaning and love between each other, that are infinitely more rewarding. This could be through their continued attendance at groups that have ex-addicts that have shared they trials and tribulations, or through a new job, through going back to school, or simply by going to hobby groups (such as art classes, playing sports and so forth).

This is also a great time to work on fixing any damaged relationships now – such as with family or spouses – since ex-addicts by this stage are probably in a position where they have learnt to become forgiving of themselves and to love themselves again. So, spending quality time with a wife/husband/partner and having a new appreciation for them and showing it through date nights, and treating them to special treats, like a day at a spa can really help develop newfound appreciation and camaraderie between each other. Even just watching a movie every week, or going hiking and spending time in nature together at weekends can really help create a new sense of security and trust. Activities and expressions of love and commitment such as these will quickly repair any damaged relationships and even make them stronger than ever in many cases.

Even if an ex-addict doesn’t have a partner, spending time with family and helping them with chores (such as painting the house, doing the gardening) go a long way to expressing your commitment to change. If they feel like they want to pursue a relationship now that they are focused on sobriety and staying healthy, they can always look for a partner online through the numerous dating websites out there today.

Cravings will probably still pop up, and at times even years later the temptation to use again will be strong through hard times in life, but the longer an ex-addict commits to change with these activities and coping skills the less they will appear over time, with ultimately a new sense of freedom coming to the forefront.

Love & Compassion
Oliver G.

Reintegration

Addictions

Reintegration back into society can be one of the toughest challenges for ex-addicts due to the amount of problems they have yet to face. These problems are not just isolated to the former drug use and problems discussed previously such as PAWS and mental health problems.

Other major problems can be finding a job if an ex-addict has a criminal record related to his drug addiction, and the social stigma attached to being labelled as an ex-addict, such as lack of trust from potential employers. They may find that relationships with loved ones also need to be repaired, and trust and respect regained.

Again, case and support workers as well as counsellors should be there to help with this and offer support and advice on what to do if an ex-addict is having trouble finding employment – especially something they enjoy.

One good bit of advice is to take up voluntary work if they cannot find employment. This will not only look impressive in a CV/resume and make potential employers trust them more, leading to an increased chance of them finding employment, but it will also keep them occupied with satisfying work that gives something back to the community. This sense of satisfaction will also boost their confidence and keep them occupied, so that they will have less chance of relapsing or falling back into old habits.

It is, however, important for ex-addicts to be patient, as easy as that sounds on paper. The transformation and life changes they are making now are often incredibly daunting, especially if they keep getting rejected for jobs, or they find that loved ones that they may have hurt are not so quick to forgive them, or perhaps they have managed to maintain their previous job but are now finding themselves stigmatised at work by fellow co-workers.

The stigma is often totally unjustified, as many ex-addicts go on to live very productive lives, many even becoming drug councillors themselves, or going back to school to study. Time really is the greatest healer when dealing with stigma, as the more time they show they are trustworthy and devoted to change and consistent in their behaviour, the more people will trust them.

But sometimes, no matter how much time has passed, and no matter how many positive changes an ex-addict has made, they may still find they experience stigma and discrimination. In these cases, it really is best to ignore those people and concentrate on themselves and their own happiness, and not let these judgemental people get them down or depressed. The fact is, most often these people who are judging are probably unsatisfied by their own lives anyway! That is their problem, and them projecting their own feelings of dissatisfaction onto you.

What is ultimately important is that an ex-addict has come to accept and love themselves again. Meditation, volunteer work, finding new hobbies, going back to school to better themselves in something they are passionate about are just a few of the ways to develop this sense of new confidence and make reintegration into life easier.

Love & Compassion
Oliver G.

Recovery

Addictions

The recovery phase is arguably the most important phase of the whole rehabilitation process. At this phase, addicts should be over the acute withdrawal phase and physical and psychological symptoms associated with the problem drug leaving the body.

However, many drugs – such as opiates and benzodiazepines – have what is known as PAWS: Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. This does not occur in all addicts, but when it does, some of the acute withdrawal symptoms can persist, albeit not as intensely as the acute stage, but can last weeks, months or rarely, even years in the case of benzodiazepine users who have been using very high doses or have been using for years.

In addition, drugs such as Methamphetamine can cause permanent changes to the brain in heavy and long-term users due to neurotoxicity, which can lead to depression and other mental health problems that can persist for a long time afterwards. But whether ex-addicts experience these prolonged symptoms or not, it’s absolutely essential that they continue to get a solid support structure in the phases immediately after successfully getting through acute withdrawals.

This is both because most relapses happen in the first few weeks of recovery, and because mental health issues can persist that can cause continued suffering and damage to ex-addicts whether they relapse or not. Therefore, it is essential that ex-addicts continue to keep in mind their motivation for quitting, as well as continuing the healthy self-help techniques they used during their acute withdrawals, such as mindfulness meditation, a healthy diet, exercise and other holistic approaches.

This should ideally also include continued support from therapists such as counsellors, case workers and doctors, so that any PAWS or mental health problems can be managed or overcome completely.

It can also be extremely helpful for them to also continue to go to peer group sessions where they can express their feelings in an understanding, non-judgemental environment and develop friendships where they can look out for each other and help each other through difficult times where they may be tempted to use again. This also helps deal with any feelings of isolation and loneliness that may be experienced due to a loss of former friendships which were based around drug use, since a lack of social connectivity and feelings of loneliness can be major triggers for relapsing and mental health problems such as depression.

Love & Compassion
Oliver G.

Action

Addictions

Taking the next step to recovery is to start putting your action plan for developing your health and wellness into place, either on your own or with the help of a caseworker, doctor, therapist or friends and family.

This is where all that motivation, planning and the willingness to change is put to the test.

Whatever drug is being withdrawn, it’s going to be one of the hardest things the individual has ever done. There can be no mistake about that, but it’s vitally important to remember when cravings occur or when all sorts of terrible psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms appear, it’s the brain and body’s way of telling us it is in fact healing and rebalancing chemicals and receptors that have been out of sync for the duration of the addiction, and that these symptoms are only temporary, as terrible as they seem.

Mindfulness meditation (and numerous other forms of meditation) really is a fantastic weapon to use against cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Watching thoughts, feelings and sensations in the body without becoming attached to them, and merely observing them, lets us see for ourselves that it is indeed true these feelings are all temporary. We can actually see it for ourselves rather than seeing it theoretically, which brings a direct realisation that everything will be okay if we simply ride it out and persevere. It gives hope, boosts confidence, and even if things are really bad, simply breathing in – freedom, and breathing out – anxiety, fear, hopelessness is something anyone can do virtually anywhere, at any time.

But of course, sometimes things can be so bad in terms of physical and psychological symptoms that it can even be impossible to meditate. During panic attacks – for example, or when having extreme physical withdrawals, or suicidal thoughts. It’s at these times when all one can really do is breathe, give oneself positive affirmations “I WILL get through this”, “This WILL pass”, “I CANNOT die from this”, and focus as much as possible on just getting through the present moment until these physical or psychological symptoms pass.

Of course, not being afraid to express this with your case worker, councillor, trusted family or friend, a doctor etc. is vital too. If you feel suicidal, just talking about it honestly with someone eventually brings relief. It takes the power away from those menacing thoughts and the mind clears the more you talk, openly and honestly. Being suicidal does not mean you are going ‘crazy’ – it is actually quite a common reaction. It just means the pain at that moment is too much to bear and needs to be released and gotten through. Being as humble and honest with yourself during these incredibly intense moments is absolutely vital: If you feel like you can’t cope, talk to someone, if you feel like you want to die, pick up the phone or talk face to face with someone you trust or can relate too, if you feel intense cravings, talk about it.

Exercising – even if it’s just walking around your home or building – will make you feel better and at the very least distract you from cravings. Indeed, it gives many addicts a sense they are at least doing something productive, moving in some sort of direction. Walking outside somewhere peaceful is even better – because you are being stimulated by pleasant colours, sounds and other external stimuli. This is getting your attention away from how bad you feel, getting you away from the familiar 4 walls of a room that has bought on negative thoughts and an unpleasant atmosphere. It also releases your brains natural “feel good” chemicals and endorphins, and will likely give you a sense of satisfaction when you get back indoors, and will help with symptoms such as insomnia.

Love & Compassion
Oliver G.

Motivation and Determination

Addictions

Now a plan has been put in place, it is almost the time now to put it into action. But before this happens, many rehabilitation facilities rightfully focus on exploring the motivation and determination of the addict.

Having the right motivation and reasons for wanting to change is absolutely critical. Many addicts fail because the truth is the number one reason they should be changing is primarily for themselves. You need to need the desire to change to fix yourself first, then you can work on repairing any damage done to family, friends, society etc. You’ll often hear addicts cite the number one reason is for “my kids”, “my partner” – and these are all absolutely valid responses and reasons, but it really does have to start with the self.

This is not selfish. It is in fact sensible and logical.

Addicts sometimes have done things they feel incredibly guilty about, and they can experience real self-loathing, lack of self-confidence and generally feel very negative towards themselves.

Needless to say, these intense negative feelings towards the self is going to be extremely detrimental to their recovery, increase their chance of relapsing and they are not going to be in any position to help their family and fix the damage caused.

The truth is, the core of determination and motivation comes from within, not from the external. Addicts – like everyone in this world – need to learn to forgive themselves, to realise they are imperfect like everyone else, and to realise the only thing they have power over is the present moment, and perhaps most importantly, they need to see themselves as equals to everyone else and love themselves.

One fantastic technique for achieving this is through “loving-kindness meditation” practice (also known as “metta meditation”) where the practitioner learns to develop love towards him or herself and learns to develop feelings of love towards even the most difficult people in their life. If done correctly and with determination and commitment, it really does alter our behaviours towards difficult people and situations, increases our gratefulness to the ones in life we hold dearest to our hearts, and most importantly makes us see, through direct contemplation and observation, that we are no worse or better than any of these people and so deserve to be loved as much as anyone else. Everyone deserves redemption, everyone deserves a second chance.

Working through these feelings in group therapy can also be incredibly helpful. You’ll gradually realise almost everyone in the room feels the same way about themselves. And one to one counselling can also be tremendously helpful if someone is too anxious to express this in group therapy. Being honest about how negative towards yourself and talking about negative things you did as an addict to someone who will not judge you for it is incredibly liberating.

This isn’t to say other factors, such as financial security, getting a job you are happy with, family, friends and so on are not valid sources of strength and determination because all of these are really important too. It simply means it should start with you first.

Love & Compassion
Oliver G.

Preparation

Addictions

The next phase once an addict has realised the problem and has sought help is typically preparing and planning a way to stop the drug use and address the root causes surrounding the addiction such as mental health issues.

Some addicts – such as opiate addicts – can explore options such as substitute medicines such as methadone or Subutex, which helps some addicts taper their use rather than deal with “cold turkey” withdrawals, or benzodiazepines, which mask some of the effects of alcohol withdrawals, and prevent some life-threatening symptoms such as seizures.

However, these medications are extremely addictive (especially benzodiazepines) and so their use in withdrawals needs to closely monitor if used at all, otherwise one addiction can easily just be swapped with another.

The truth is, there is no “magic bullet” cure for withdrawal symptoms and recovery in general. Addiction is very much a disease, with multiple causes that be extremely complex, and it’s vitally important to remind ourselves of this. While it’s true that poor choices lead to an individual to become an addict, the fact is it is still a disease. It’s vitally important for addicts to remain patient and not try and rush through their recovery once they get past the fear stage and yearn for the freedom of having control of their lives back.

“Cold Turkey” is a perfectly valid way of coming off from drugs that do not cause life threatening withdrawal symptoms. For those that do, such as Diazepam, Xanax and alcohol need to be treated differently and a proper tapering plan needs to be implemented with medical professionals who specialise in this field. Patience needs to be exercised here because of the risk of tapering too quickly and it is causing a relapse or damaging or even fatal withdrawal symptoms.

Whatever method of coming off the addict’s problem drug is chosen, they must be comfortable with it and told what the process will be like. No one should be forced to come off a drug in a way they are not comfortable with, and every individual is different, so there is no one way to come off of something that works for everyone.

Individuals should also plan for the psychological and emotional support structures required: Counselling, psychiatric support, and self-help measures such as mindfulness meditation, peer therapy, and advice on diet, exercise are absolutely essential – arguably even more essential – than the medications and withdrawal schedules selected by addicts.

So, while coming off your drug of choice may seem like a daunting and impossible task at times, know that there are numerous ways this can be done and you just need to find the perfect way for you. It can be an issue of trial and error, but once you have found your way, there will be no stopping you on your road to sobriety!

Love & Compassion
Oliver G.

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Seeking Help

Addictions

You will often hear the old cliché “Seeking help is half the battle” and in many ways for addicts this is true. It’s very hard for most of us to expose ourselves and all our vulnerabilities in front of our loved ones – let alone strangers.

Once an addict is ready to accept help it’s often a traumatic experience. Walking through the doors of a rehab clinic or doctor’s surgery and telling a stranger you have a drug problem and need help is probably the most humbling and daunting thing at this stage of recovery.

But once an addict does this, most the time you will hear them say they feel like a huge weight has been lifted off their shoulders. This is because leading the life of an addict is a very hard life, despite what the media says or how others stereotype addicts as having easy lives being on drugs all day and not having to worry about work or other stresses of life.

In fact, being an addict is extraordinarily difficult. Many individuals are having to lie, cheat and steal to fund their habit, and often they are stealing from people they love, not just strangers. The feelings of guilt and shame – as well as the fear of being stigmatised as “an addict”, and the deep-rooted fear and making a huge life change into a different person – is very hard for addicts to deal with initially.

Even if they were having to commit crimes daily, hide their use through a web of lies from loved ones, and generally living high-stress lives to feed their addictions, it is still a major life change to get on the road to sobriety. Non-users often struggle to understand this, but it could be described as akin to soldiers who have been on long tours of duty in faraway warzones struggling to return to a ‘normal’ life back home. Their situation and environment was horrible, stressful and traumatic on a daily basis, and could’ve even caused PTSD, but yet many struggle so much that they sometimes wish they were back out fighting in horrific conditions rather than living back in civilian life.

Well, it’s the same for many addicts.

Luckily, virtually all recovery workers understand this very well, and one of the first things they address in rehabilitation are what obstacles addicts personally feel are holding them back from recovery and working to help them address them. Fear of change is one of the main ones, as well as fear of losing friends, fear of being stigmatised forever as an ex-addict, or fear of being bored.

But after a short while of going through these fears and anxieties, most addicts actually see a life of sobriety is a wonderful opportunity to reinvent themselves, rediscover what really makes them fulfilled, and quickly find they make new (non-using) friends who are much more loyal, loving and rewarding to be around then their old friends.

Ultimately, many addicts initially fear they have so much to lose from giving up their drug of choice, but many ultimately see they have an almost infinite amount to gain and look forward to instead.

Love & Compassion
Oliver G.

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Realisation

Addictions

This is the first – and often one of the hardest parts – of coming to terms with addiction.

Every addict will deny they have a problem with drug or alcohol use, and this is often because they actually do not realise the harm they are causing because the drug they are taking is clouding their judgement or because the mind is extremely good at self-deception. No one likes admitting they are desperate and need help. We all like to believe we are strong, but the reality is that addiction has nothing to do with being strong or weak.

The reality is that addicts come from all sorts of socio-economic backgrounds, they all have their reasons for using drugs to the point it becomes a problem. This can range from mental health problems to childhood abuse, to simply having an addictive personality.

The other reality is that it’s the addict who has to realise he/she has a problem. This realisation can come from having an overdose, facing the choice of jail time or rehab on a court order, the breakdown of relationships (especially with a spouse or partner) or sometimes interventions staged by loved ones. In fact, though it usually takes a combination of these factors for an addict to realise he/she has hit “rock-bottom”, where they suddenly realise all the harm they have been causing themselves and others in perfect clarity and they need help.

Even when an addict has had this breakthrough realisation though, the next step of seeking and asking for help can still be out of reach. Despair can settle in and actually make an addict use even more in an attempt to “tune out” or “block” these emotions and then denial can set in again. It’s a complete myth once an addict realises they are addicts they automatically curb their using and seek help immediately. The despair caused by the realisation that they are addicts and the realisation that they have hurt themselves, others and may have even done some negative things such as committing crimes such as robberies to fund their habits can be utterly overwhelming. This can cause them to attempt to self-medicate, or to attempt to quit by themselves, which can lead to dangerous and even life threatening withdrawal symptoms and a tendency to them relapse.

Unfortunately relapsing after trying self-tapering or cold turkey attempt at quitting drugs can easily lead to overdose, as during the days the addict was drug free their tolerance levels for that drug also go down. Many addicts don’t account for this drop-in tolerance and so use the dose of their drug of choice when they still had a high tolerance. This can lead to fatal overdoses and accounts for many of the fatal heroin overdoses seen throughout the Western world.

So, despite the realisation addicts have that they are indeed addicts and powerless over using their drug of choice, it can still take time for them to seek help from professionals where they will build a strong support network that deals with mental health. Counselling, peer/group therapy, a case worker – and if necessary – a doctor to prescribe substitute drugs such as Subutex, methadone or diazepam can be useful next steps in seeking assistance with a serious substance abuse issue.

However, help is out there and many people aren’t aware just how many charities and good people who are who care and devote their lives to helping people struggling with the disease of addiction, and most communities have this at their disposal. Online there are numerous groups and websites as well, such as this one, which help addicts overcome their struggles, so it’s important to remember that you aren’t alone.

Love & Compassion

Oliver G.

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Relationship [with yourself]

Addictions

It is a matter of fact that each of us love to be loved. We as recovering addictive persons have been informed and many have suggested to me that I cannot love someone till I love myself. I kept hearing this all the time and wondered how to love myself. It sounded corny and how can I love myself as I felt throughout my life up to now I was unlovable by others and myself. I looked for others to make me happy by giving me money, presents or in relationships. I have learned over time that this kind of happiness is fleeting as relationships break down when one is looking to the other person to make me happy. I had to learn that this type of happiness is unhealthy and I needed to get rid of the fear of been unhappy.

What I began to see and understand was that I was in a relationship with myself and it was up to me to make it a healthy one. I realized how other people’s opinion of me, effected how I felt and they had the power over me. My sponsor made the request of me to purchase a small sticker note pad. This I done to please the sponsor and then he said now write “I LOVE OLIVER”. God I felt like a fool and then he said stick them up all over the kitchen, dining room, bathroom and finally the bedroom. I complied and when others saw these, they peed themselves with laughter.  I bit the bullet and began to explain why I had these up and amazingly they began to see the point in what I was doing. I still have the first “I love you Oliver” sticker note I put up. So, began my journey to loving myself and fully understanding the meaning of loving oneself before you can love others.

This journey in love made me realize that I operated as two people, one who lived and the other who judged me. I was always too harsh and very judgemental. I began to work on becoming a truly humble person who was kind, productive, disciplined and respectable. I commenced to look after myself with eating, dressing with nice clothes [from charity shops] and in my learning I was taught to hold my tongue and to be thoughtful in my conversations and that no one was out to destroy me, only myself. I got rid of gossiping, people pleasing, anger, jealousy, ego, pride, stubbornness and lust. Now after 33 years I am still working on this and I am on a deeper level listening to the voice within myself. What others opinions are today of me does not have anything to do with me. I am respectful of me and so I am in a loving relationship with me.

Do not forget the Higher Power in all this transformation. Without the spiritual guide, understanding may not have come to clear away my opinion of me and to begin to help me to change my character. Today I care for my needs, I have great joy in my heart, I meditate and especially a gift is peace of mind. I love myself now and fully understand been comfortable in my own skin.

Love & Compassion

Oliver G.

Relationship [3]

Addictions

This article of mine is about children and so the relationship is family orientated. When couples have children, it is so important that the mother breast feeds the child for a minimum 6 weeks or longer to 6 months, if possible, as this gives the child antibodies which help fight viruses and bacteria. It also forms a bond between mother and child and there is no need for the father to be left out of this as he too must create a bond between him and the child. It is said that daughters form a stronger bond with her dad and the son with his mother. So, Mum and Dad must work together to developing the child’s personality and it is worthwhile also starting to commence praising your kids as much as possible so they begin to build confidence and learn as early as possible reading, writing, music instruments, painting and so on. The children are never too young to begin to learn and please remember from the moment of birth a child is learning.

Avoid where possible not to raise your voice with anger or jealousy as the child is not immune to feeling the change in sound and can become frightened and cry a lot. Be mature and realize this is a learning curve for your son or daughter. Teach them what you know about addictions and pray they do not inherit any addictive behaviours. Try to remember that these children will have learned things that are good for them but likewise they will have learned about things that are bad for themselves. As to educating your children about life. They will learn from what the parent’s views are on Religion, Race, Gossip, Bad Language, and Love. Children learn from your behaviour more then what you teach them let your home be the school. Be positive and stop moaning and lead by example. Show how to appreciate what they have however small or big it is. Gratitude is a learned emotion. Educate manners, integrity, honesty and respect. The greatest of all is LOVE. Teach them to love unconditionally do not be part of the crowd but stand out with virtue. Inform them to Make friends but keep their dignity. Laugh as much as possible and enjoy their company at sports event or camping. Teach them sports swimming and how and what to eat. Stay away from fast food outlets. I have only scratched the surface here but it is a beginning.

Love & Compassion

Oliver G.

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