The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): An Evidence-Based Recovery Story Pt. 2

The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): An Evidence-Based Recovery Story Pt. 2

By Anne Giles 03/31/17

A personal recovery story in the context of the latest data on what addiction is and what effectively treats it.

Image: 
A cat hiding behind a vase of flowers.
photo via Anne Giles

A note from the author:

The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully) begins with its end, "3 Handouts I Wish I Had Been Given My First 3 Days in Recovery from Addiction."Then I'm sharing excerpts from my addictions recovery story with readers of The Fix each Friday, and the full memoir on my blog, annegiles.com

3 Handouts I Wish I Had Been Given on My First 3 Days of Recovery from Addiction - Handout 2

(Read Handout 1 here.)

"Addictive disorders are a major public health concern, associated with high relapse rates, significant disability and substantial mortality. Unfortunately, current interventions are only modestly effective." - Spagnolo and Goldman, 2017

"People may not have caused all of their own problems, but they have to solve them anyway." - Marsha Linehan, 2012 

1. Expect to feel shock, grief, rage and other strong emotions over the before-and-after states addiction brings to your life. Practice self-kindness and self-compassion and find others who can support you when you experience these.

2. Seek stability. Become aware of how you define stability, what individually helps you achieve and maintain stability (emotionally, mentally, physically, occupationally, relationally, situationally), and try to make these happen for yourself. Suppression, repression, avoidance and obfuscation can backfire and destabilize. Turn towards reality and truth, not away from them. (If you have concerns about whether or not what you're thinking is real or true, see #5 below.)

3. Get counseling. At this time, it is not known if counseling directly treats the brain in an efficient, targeted way for addiction. (For opioid use disorder, for example, multiple studies fail to prove that counseling with medication increases abstinence rates over medication alone.) But counseling can help people maintain abstinence, often by assisting with awareness. The main precursors to a return to use are stress, distress, and environmental cues. Environmental cues include being around substances, in situations, and with people associated with use. Make sure the counselor offers an evidence-based therapeutic approach. The Surgeon General's report, Facing Addiction in America, lists cognitive behavior therapy, CBT, as the top evidence-based counseling approach for assisting people struggling with addiction to maintain abstinence or harm reduction. Dialectical behavior therapy, DBT, also included in the report, is increasingly proving effective as well.

4. The more you can 1) learn to become aware of, and regulate, your inner experience of feelings, thoughts and physical sensations - optimally for you individually, not by someone else's methods or criteria, 2) discover what needs you personally have and what uniquely and healthily meets them, and 3) help yourself avoid environmental cues or manage exposure to them, the more likely you are to be stable and, therefore, the less likely you will be to use.

5. Run even your simplest ideas by others before taking action. Your thinking may not be as clear as it will be in the future. Consulting others will help protect you from error.

6. Seek contact with people who help you clarify your feelings and thoughts, who are non-judgmental, and with whom you feel safe and supported. Become aware of how you feel about yourself when you're talking with anyone and everyone. If you don't feel good, however you might define "good," this can be stressful and potentially destabilizing. Find a way to have limited or no contact with those with whom you feel unsafe and unsupported, at least in the short-term.

7. Listen for fact vs. opinion when people talk with you about addiction. Are they sharing the latest science and research reports on addiction or are they sharing opinions based on beliefs, personal experiences or outdated information? If they're sharing an opinion, do they acknowledge it as such and explain how they derived it? Or are they stating opinions as facts? Practice caution and care with what you let into your tender, vulnerable mind and heart.

8. Practice engaging, disengaging, and shifting your attention. Discover and focus your attention on what is preferable to you, rather than attempting to force your mind to think what you believe will please or protect, or letting it grind in patterns that have simply become habitual rather than helpful. This power over your attention can give you enormous power to enjoy your life, to assist yourself with enjoying the company of others, and to increase others' pleasure in your company. Impossible as it sounds, exercising your power to focus your attention may exercise brain functions atrophied from substance use. Many people with substance use disorders have experienced trauma and find using the mind for meditation distressing. Meditation, therefore, may not be advised. Marsha Linehan, inventor of dialectical behavior therapy, DBT, recommends what she terms "mindfulness" instead. A simple, DBT-based mindfulness practice involves using your attention to observe what's going on within and without and to describe those to yourself. (Here's a brief YouTube video of Marsha Linehan explaining mindfulness, part of a series of videos on the core principles of DBT.)

9. Become aware of what helps you feel better. Whether it's just for a few moments or for longer, become aware of what uniquely helps you via your senses - sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste - to ease, reassure, and comfort yourself. Google the term "self-soothing" and you'll find lots of ideas to try.

10. Believe that you, yourself, can do this. In addictions recovery circles, you may hear about admitting powerlessness, surrendering, relinquishing control, and the dangers of "self-will." The opposite is true. The more self-aware you are and the more self-power you see yourself as having - the more "self-efficacy" you possess - the more likely you are to stay abstinent. You be you.

11. Practice "love love" not "tough love" with yourself and others. "Tough love" is a euphemism for smiling while wielding a two-by-four of hostile methods to exert psychological control. Practice self-kindness and other-kindness. And distance yourself from those who profess to be treating you with the "tough love" they think you "need" or "deserve." In fact, with the whole concept of "tough love," practice hostility. But briefly. Then compassionately self-regulate and return yourself to recovery-enhancing stability.

Check back next Friday for the handout #3.

The opinions expressed here are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the positions of my employers, co-workers, family members or friends. This content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional advice. Consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical and professional advice.

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. She writes about addictions treatment, recovery and policy at annegiles.com. As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder.

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Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder. You can find Anne on Linkedin and Twitter.

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