The Benefits of Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

“When I look back on the suffering in my life, this may sound really strange, but I see it now as a gift. I would have never asked for it for a second. I hated it while it was happening and I protested as loudly as I could, but suffering happened anyway. Now, in retrospect I see the way in which it deepened my being immeasurably.” ~Ram Dass

It’s that time of year. In addition to providing an opportunity to gather with family and friends to gorge ourselves on food and football, Thanksgiving is an annual culturally compelled celebration of our various blessings—a specific occasion to “give thanks.” As meaningful as this holiday can be and as helpful as it is to have structured encouragement to express gratitude, once a year is quite simply not enough. The bio-psycho-social-spiritual benefits of gratitude are myriad. Cultivating conscious contact with gratitude is a skill, and we can profit immensely by learning and practicing it.

Gratitude is about feeling and expressing appreciation: for all we’ve received, all that we have (however little it may be), and for all that has not befallen us. It functions as an antidote for attachment to what we want but don’t have and aversion to what we have but don’t want. Gratitude is the opposite of being discontented.

It’s valuable to be aware that nearly all experiences have both “positive” and “negative” aspects. Consistent with the above quote from Ram Dass, even circumstances that are brutally physically and/or emotionally painful, often contain considerable psycho-spiritual blessings in the forms of learning, growth, and healing. Sometimes we have to work harder to locate the positive and unearth its gifts (and sometimes these become manifest only in retrospect)—but if we make the time and invest the energy to look closely and search consciously, we will find them. There is always something to be grateful for, no matter how negative or desperate things may seem.

Gratitude changes perspective—it can sweep away most of the petty, day-to-day annoyances on which we focus so much of our attention—the “small stuff” situations that bring up feelings of impatience, intolerance, negative judgment, indignation, anger, or resentment. Gratitude is a vehicle to diffuse self-pity and self-centeredness, increase feelings of well-being, and prompt mindful awareness of that which is beyond oneself—of belonging to a greater whole, and of connection to others, as well as to the world.

Over the past decade, numerous scientific studies have documented a wide range of benefits that come with gratitude. These are available to anyone who practices being grateful, even in the midst of adversity, such as elderly people confronting death, those with cancer, people with chronic illness or chronic pain, and those in recovery from addiction. Research-based reasons for practicing gratitude include:

•    Gratitude facilitates contentment. Practicing gratitude is one of the most reliable methods for increasing contentment and life satisfaction. It also improves mood by enhancing feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions. Conversely, gratitude also reduces anxiety and depression.

•    Gratitude promotes physical health. Studies suggest gratitude helps to lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, reduce symptoms of illness, and make us less bothered by aches and pains.

•    Gratitude enhances sleep. Grateful people tend to get more sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more rested upon awakening. If you want to sleep more soundly, instead of counting sheep count your blessings.

•    Gratitude strengthens relationships. It makes us feel closer and more connected to friends and intimate partners. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship.

•    Gratitude encourages “paying it forward.” Grateful people are generally more helpful, generous of spirit, and compassionate. These qualities often spill over onto others.

Two specific ways you can practice the skill of being grateful are by writing gratitude letters and making gratitude lists. A gratitude letter is one you write to someone in your life to express appreciation for ways they have helped you and/or been there for you. Gratitude letters can be about events that have happened in the past or are happening in the present, and often help to strengthen or repair relationships. A gratitude list consists of writing down 3 – 5 things for which you’re grateful every day, each week, at other intervals, or under situation-specific circumstances.

You can test the effectiveness of these methods by tuning in to your current emotion(s), mood, and attitude. Once you’ve done that, take a few minutes and identify 3 things or people that you are grateful for and briefly describe to yourself or in writing the reason(s) for your gratitude. Then notice how the way you feel has shifted after doing this simple brief exercise.

For five years during the 1990s, I was the clinical director of a hospital-based addiction treatment program outside of New York City. I worked closely with the program’s medical director, a psychiatrist who was in recovery for many years through a twelve-step program.

At a conference on addiction he gave a talk that focused on his personal recovery experience. During a powerful and moving presentation, he described being grateful that he was an addict. He went on to say that, in contrast to most people who operate more or less on automatic pilot and effectively sleepwalk through life, embarking on a process of recovery had given him the awareness to live life much more intentionally. As a result, he took little for granted and appreciated much. Although his reasoning made sense, it was difficult for me to comprehend the idea of having such profound gratitude for an experience that involved so much suffering . . . until I found my way to my own recovery.

There are no guarantees of anything and we can take nothing for granted in this life. Every day is a gift; every breath is a gift. What we do with them is a choice.

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

This blog was written by Dan Mager, MSW, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

This blog was written by Dan Mager, MSW, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Addiction News, Author News, Chronic Pain, Family & Addiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Annual Holiday Party

We are entering the time of year that makes seasoned managers cringe and human resource directors want to leave town.  Despite fine words to the contrary, there is little Peace on Earth at the office around this time because we are getting ready for the office Christmas, oops, I mean “holiday” party.

Yes, we’ve learned to choke on the word Christmas and insist that the December party where we dress in sparkles, bring wrapped gifts, and drink eggnog standing next to a lighted evergreen tree is just a winter event. But language games are the least of it when we have to plan the annual—“no one will be happy no matter what we do”–office holiday party.

The annual holiday party is ground zero for what is known in Human Resources as the CLM, or Career Limiting Move. Career gurus give us the usual reminders: you must attend, you should not drink, don’t dress like a stripper and try to make small talk with many people.

The list of issues is long: Should we go out to a restaurant or stay in the building? Will there be dancing? Music? And biggest bugaboo: booze or no booze?  Even those of us in recovery a long time get split on this one.

Divisiveness is in the details. One of the words tossed around liberally in the weeks leading up to the party is “they” as in  they don’t have kids, they don’t like to drink, they drink too much, or they don’t have to pay a baby-sitter. Preferences will also break down by personality type: Extroverts love the parties; Introverts want to die.

And people in recovery? Newcomers will stay away; old timers will try to be of service.

So what’s at the heart of this holiday ritual? Well, for starters we have strong cultural memories and it’s dark this time of year and we are longing for light. Workplaces have their own kind of darkness so it’s human to want to brighten that up too.

Today, in our workplaces, we play out that feeling. In mature recovery we have the skills to create instead of criticize, to find the good instead of the gossip and despite all the tension it takes to get there, we’ll toast our teams at the party with hopes for prosperity and peace at work.

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Alcoholism, Author News, Blog, Family & Addiction, Personal Development, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Is Post-Thanksgiving Guilt Hurting Your Diet Psyche?

Okay… So Thanksgiving eating is now behind us. How are you feeling?

Happy and successful – in that you stuck to your commitment to enjoy just the Thanksgiving meal and not derail your healthy eating habits for the rest of the weekend?

Or are you feeling miserable because you missed the mark either partway or entirely and went on somewhat of a binge for the whole holiday weekend? Well, if that’s the case – and you’re feeling stuffed, sorrowful and depressed on this day after your binge… Get over it.

Despite what most of us think (and, therefore, act upon), feeling guilty does not aid the dieting or goal setting processes at all. Believe me when I tell you that I know all too well from experience that including the exercise of feeling guilty after a binge into our “cheating routines” actually works against us and becomes so familiar, that it can become cyclical and lead back to overeating in a very short amount of time.

Feeling guilty is something us dieters are overly familiar with. Liken it to atoning for our sins, if you will. We know we didn’t just stop eating too much. We know we’re feeling stuffed into our clothes (and even bodies) as a result – and now we feel like participating in a whole lot of “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” along with “I’m a weak and bad person” self talk is part of what we have to go through to make up for our shortcomings. But in actuality, nothing could be further than the truth.

The reason some of us “cheated” over the long weekend was less about a fall from grace than it was acting on old habits. In our pasts, holidays and special occasions were always a ‘good’ reason to break our dieting efforts. Add to that the eating holiday that Thanksgiving represents, followed by a very long weekend to boot? It’s a cheater’s holiday. But even if we ate our way from Thursday to Sunday, there’s really no purpose in feeling crappy today. In other words, it’s time to move on.

So what? You cheated. You ate too much. Blah-blah-blah.

Guess what? A lot of “normal sized” and “thin people” did the same thing. The holidays can be tempting eating experiences for many people (no matter if they’re eating for the taste of it or as a means to escape some holiday- and/or family-related anxieties).

Despite what some well meaning therapists might assert, I believe that thinking about the “why it happened” doesn’t serve us. Thinking about the “why I must never do it again” doesn’t serve us. And certainly the “I must make myself feel very bad and very guilty today and for the rest of the week” doesn’t serve us either.

In fact, whatever beats down our self esteem actually serves the “cheating monster” we all fear we have inside. When we feel negative about ourselves and our lives (not to mention our bodies and our health), why would we want to bother to eat right or exercise? We wouldn’t. Guilty consciences don’t lead to never doing it again. They lead to feeling miserable. And feeling miserable leads to choices that can make us even more miserable.

So again, I urge you to get over it.

Today is a new beginning. This is a new moment. And both are brilliant opportunities for you to remind yourself, “That was then, this is now.” And all we have is the now.

So let’s embrace this new day and focus on what’s good in our lives. We’re living. We’re breathing. And we’re in this together. Just your showing up here to read this blog post shows that you have what it takes to move beyond the binge and get healthy and get used to the success that you deserve.

Feeling guilty serves as a trap that we count on to lead us right back to binges, cheating and other behaviors that keep us from our goals.

Let’s stop being our own worst enemies, shall we?

So abandon the guilt and move forward – with a bright outlook that doesn’t chastise your shortcomings, but builds up your self esteem. I believe in you. So you cheated? So what. Been there, done that. On many Thanksgiving weekends in the past – and even sometimes in the present. But I still managed to take off over 250 pounds of excess body weight and keep it off for over a decade as detailed in my book Weightless: My Life As A Fat Man And How I Escaped. And trust me, my friends – if I can do it, you can do it. And I did it (and keep doing it) without guilt or self-hatred.

So out with the old (way of thinking) and in with the new (way of thinking). Together we can put the shame and misery that used to plague us behind us – forever. We are moving on… Starting… now!

This post was written  about the new book WEIGHTLESS. Click here to buy the book

This post was written about the new book WEIGHTLESS. Click here to buy the book

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Practicing Gratitude at Thanksgiving

When asked for topics at a meeting this week the odds are good that someone will suggest gratitude as a discussion topic. Just by virtue of being in recovery we have plenty to be grateful for, and now with Thanksgiving so near we have that extra reminder that gratitude makes everything we face so much easier. But how do we get Being grateful to stick?

The advice I have been told and that I tell others is to “practice gratitude.”

But did you ever stop to think about what that means. How –exactly—do we practice gratitude? I’ve been asking people how they actually practice gratitude, and I learned some great things.

First, and this seemed so obvious but gratitude is a habit. It’s a habit like exercising or smoking or not eating sugar or worrying.  Habits are repeated patterns of behavior or thought and they can be for good or ill. And we can learn or unlearn habits. I never thought of gratitude in quite that way. I just thought that gratitude was something that came over me occasionally, but wasn’t in my control.

Not the case.

So how do you get a gratitude habit? It’s like the man in New York City who asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer: “Practice. Practice. Practice”.

Psychologists tell us that new habits require 21 days to form or to “take”. So we can do some kind of gratitude practice for 21 days to make the mind learn gratitude. Twenty-one days is a kind of magic number for new habit formation.

When I teach new writers I use this “21 day rule” to help people become regular writers. They do a mini writing practice for 21 days, or write in their journals for 21 days. It’s the same with exercise or walking—commit to 21 days. One of my favorite stories comes from a fitness trainer who asks his clients to simply dress in their sneakers and exercise clothes every morning for 21 days. “Once they are dressed”, he admits, “they mostly will do some kind of exercise; we have created the habit of suiting up to exercise.”  I think that’s brilliant.

So to give yourself a lasting attitude of gratitude you have to create a ritual—a habit and actually do a practice —for at 21 days. Here are some things you could try:

  • A daily gratitude list—you know this one. But do it in writing so that the hand and eye are involved. This makes the brain imbed the new habit faster. Decide on a number: Three items each day? Or five? Or 10? And stick to that number—in writing.
  • Set the timer on your watch to the same time each day. An odd number is good like 12:34 pm or 10:10 am. When the alarm rings you stop and quickly name three things you are grateful for.
  • Expand that idea to your phone. Teach yourself to have one grateful thought on the first ring of your phone, later let that grow to the first ring of any phone you hear.
  • At home: when you are shaving or removing make-up—begin by naming out loud one specific gratitude from this day.
  • When you throw something in the trash tie that physical action to saying, “I am grateful for…” quietly to yourself.
  • What other simple habitual gestures can you link to naming a grateful thought? Taking out your keys? Starting the car? Taking your coffee mug from the cabinet?

The more simple, repetitive actions you can attach to specific things you are grateful for the stronger your habit of grateful thinking will become.

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

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I Have the Power

The power to change the way I react to the disease of addiction.

The power to stop its destructive spread.

For too many years I was consumed by the poison my son was consuming. I snarled and yelled and argued and begged and cried; I re-negotiated the non-negotiable; I rationally discussed the irrational; and, at night, I either paced the house―holding vigil for Joey’s life―or dreamed of growing octopus arms to squash down all his problems.

There was no room in my head for anyone but Joey; that’s just what happens once an addict starts wearing a beloved child’s face.

So, while Joey was the one consuming the poison, the poison seeping into our household was passing directly through me, sneaking in on the umbilical connection. I was a carrier―the Typhoid Mary of addiction―spreading misery and destruction through our family. Helping the disease to do what it does best.

You see, for too many years, I was trying to change something that wasn’t mine to change: Joey.

The truth is, the only thing I can change is me.

(And that has real power.)

Addiction is horrible enough without me making it worse, so I’m done with that. There will be no more ripping apart of hearts and lives―not by my actions (or my neglect). Not by my words, thrown around like poison darts. I will not blame or argue. I will not get sucked into dramas or force issues that don’t belong to me. I will protect my boundaries, making room in my head for all the people I love. I will be calm not crazed. I will be positive. I will have reasonable expectations. I will change the tune and change the dance; I will change my family’s chance. This doesn’t mean I don’t care. Or don’t hurt. Or won’t cry. It just means I will fill the hole in my life where Joey should be with goodness, not badness. Kindness, not madness.

I will honor my son with my words and my actions―not the addict.

The destructive spread of the disease of addiction stops with me.

This post was written by Sandra Swenson, author of THE JOEY SONG: A Mother's Story of Her Son's Addiction

This post was written by Sandra Swenson, author of THE JOEY SONG: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction

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Relationships in Recovery:  Six Pitfalls and Six Blessings

We thought this information, which is not in our book, might be useful for couples in recovery, especially those in the early stages.

First, by recovery, we mean from addiction to substances (such as alcohol or other drugs) compulsive behaviors (like overeating, gambling, or debting) or people (as in the case of as sex/love addiction, co-dependency).

Let’s talk first about the pitfalls or challenges:

  1. It’s particularly challenging if only one person gets into recovery, especially if the partner also practices an addiction.  Ideally, a non-addict spouse would get involved in a support program such as Alanon.  At the very least, the partner who may not need a recovery program must fully respect and support the other’s need to be actively involved in a recovery program on an ongoing basis. Note:  We would add that this can be a MAJOR change – not usually as simple as,“if only he or she would quit practicing the addictive behavior everything would be fine.”  They call addiction a “family disease” for a reason.

2.   Each person needs to work their own program.

3.   Each person must have his or her own sponsor or mentor, and not make the     other his or her Higher Power.

4.   Because recovery involves huge transformation and a vigorous program of action, two people could find disparity in the rate of progress, and there is always the danger that someone may stop working a program and regress or relapse.

As an aside, if you are dating someone in recovery, are they a “good prospect?”  Maybe – what you may want to look at, is not only longevity, but

a.  Are they grateful for their recovery?

b.  Are they committed to giving back?

c.  Are they actively engaged with their recovery program and giving service?

These are all good signs.

5.  It requires time apart from each other to work a recovery program.

6.  It requires balance to keep nurturing the relationship.

NOW, what are the potential rewards or blessings?

  1. Sharing a common experience of having survived some kind of addiction.
  2. Sharing a common identity
  3. Sharing a common purpose
  4. Sharing a common fellowship
  5. Speaking a common language
  6. Sharing common spiritual principles

We’ll end by saying that, when both people work a recovery program, those tools and spiritual principles can also be applied to achieving a peaceful and harmonious union– with multiple shared blessings!!

This blog post was written by Steve & Angie McCord, authors of A SPIRITUAL PATH TO A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP

This blog post was written by Steve & Angie McCord, authors of A SPIRITUAL PATH TO A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP

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Is There a Cancer-Prone Personality?

More than twenty years ago, the American Cancer Association asked the question, is there a cancer-prone personality? At the time, results were inconclusive and researchers needed much more information before they could put the debate to rest. Since then, studies have shown that there may indeed be a link between behavior and personality and the onset of and recovery from cancer.

We know that emotions such as depression, anger, and hostility make us more prone to illness and disease; and it’s been shown that positive attitudes such as hope, optimism, and happiness strengthens our immune system and protects us from disease. Recent studies point to two personality types that seem to make us either cancer-prone or cancer resistant.

Cancer-Prone Personality Types

• Represses both positive and negative emotions.

• Shows anger, resentment, or hostility towards others.

• Takes on extra duties and responsibilities, even when they cause stress.

• Reacts adversely to and does not cope well with life changes.

• Is negative or pessimistic.

• Becomes easily depressed or has feelings of hopelessness.

• Worries often and excessively about others.

• Feels the need for approval and to please others.

Cancer-Resistant Personality Type

• Expresses emotions in a positive and constructive way.

• Controls anger and resolves anger issues positively.

• Knows when to say no.

• Copes well with stress and feels in control of situations.

• Is optimistic and hopeful.

• Does not become easily depressed.

• Seeks out and maintains social support networks.

• Does not worry excessively.

• Likes to please, but does not seek approval as an emotional crutch.

As with everything else, there are always exceptions: some of the most optimistic and positive among us will get cancer, and some of the angriest and most hostile will live to be 100, cancer-free. But when a cancer patient is told that his or her disease is terminal, those who adopt cancer-resistant traits tend to live longer because their newly acquired behaviors will automatically boost immunity.

Mind-body techniques such a meditation and guided imagery can have a positive effect on cancer treatment. A patient’s coping style, behavior, and recovery strategy are critical factors in five-year survival rates. Furthermore, mortality is typically reduced for those who have a social support network compared with those who are socially isolated; and patients who establish a recovery program that includes stress management and relaxation techniques have fewer relapses. So there is, indeed, a link between mind and body when it comes to the effectiveness of cancer therapies.

If researchers have learned anything it’s that even a disease like cancer is much more easily overcome when we use the mind-body connection to help fight it. And that by strengthening and conditioning the mind part of the mind-body connection, we can extend life and optimize the chances of recovery. In future blogs, I’ll discuss using self-healing images and other specific techniques from my book Mind-Body Health & Healing that anyone can use to boost immunity and help reverse cancer growth.

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

This blog was written by Andrew Goliszk, PhD, author of Mind-Body Health and Healing

This blog was written by Andrew Goliszk, PhD, author of Mind-Body Health and Healing

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Moving Toward Emotional Balance

The best way out is always through. ~Robert Frost

Being out of balance emotionally usually involves either not allowing yourself to experience your feelings as they evolve by avoiding or suppressing them, or being so attached to and identified with them that your feelings are all-consuming. Emotional balance occurs when we allow ourselves to feel whatever comes up, without stifling or being overwhelmed by it, and learn to accept our feelings without judgment.

Most people try to avoid emotional as well as physical pain. After all, who wants to be in pain? Our wishful thinking tells us that if we can just avoid the pain, it won’t affect us. Ironically, efforts to keep painful thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations at bay may work temporarily, but in the long run only prolong those experiences and intensify the suffering connected to them. Suffering is a function of how people think and feel about the emotional and physical pain they experience, and the beliefs they attach to it. There is a direct correlation between the amount of effort expended to avoid pain and the degree of suffering experienced—the harder someone works to avoid pain, the greater his or her suffering tends to be.

Avoidance doesn’t work because pain is an inevitable part of life. It is an essential aspect of being human. It is in how we choose to respond to the emotional and physical pain we experience that determines whether we are able to get through that pain, or unwittingly extend and amplify it.

In the same way that lightning always finds a path to ground, feelings—including those that are uncomfortable and painful—always find a path to expression. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel them and, as necessary talk about them, if we avoid or suppress our feelings, then they invariably come out “sideways”—in indirect forms via our behavior. When feelings are expressed through behavior, they typically operate unconsciously, outside of our awareness and ability to steward. When this happens we’re on autopilot, often doing things we don’t want to do and that we know don’t work for us, and we have no idea why we keep doing them.

It’s similar to a pressure cooker. Pressure cookers are instruments of balance inasmuch as a lid is required to keep the contents from spilling all over the place, but a means to release the accumulating pressure is also necessary. If there is no release valve to provide a safe path to expression, what happens? The pressure builds up until the vessel can no longer contain it and it explodes, causing potentially serious damage. Similarly, if we don’t provide our emotions a safe (though at times uncomfortable) path to expression by allowing ourselves to feel them consciously, they will still find a way out—often through some sort of unhealthy, self-defeating and/or explosive behavior.

There are several levels of awareness involved in cultivating emotional balance (as straightforward as these may seem, for many people they do not come easily or naturally):

1) Become consciously aware that you are experiencing an emotion. Although you may not know specifically what the feeling is, it is important to simply notice and acknowledge that you have some feeling.

2) Identify the particular emotion. It may be helpful to close your eyes, turn your focus inward, and allow yourself to experience that emotion in your body. Different emotions are typically experienced in different parts of the body. For example, anger might manifest as tightness in your neck and shoulders, sadness as an aching in your chest, fear as a knot in your stomach, and joy as warmth in your heart.

3) Put the emotion into words. “I’m feeling anxious.” “I’m feeling angry.” “I’m feeling sad.” Putting the emotions you experience into words by making these simple self-statements can create the space you can use to respond intentionally rather than react automatically and unconsciously.

Emotional balance is facilitated by practicing emotional regulation and distress tolerance. Emotional regulation relates to identifying the emotions that are being felt in the moment, and observing them without being overwhelmed by them. Emotional regulation skills include self-soothing activities that help to reduce emotional intensity and provide a calming effect, such as: meditation, intentional breathing, yoga, listening to music you enjoy, progressive muscle relaxation, taking a walk or a hike, reading something pleasurable or spiritual, singing a favorite song, exercising, visualizing a comforting/relaxing image, journaling, etc.

Distress tolerance refers to enduring and accepting discomfort, and learning to bear pain skillfully. Distress tolerance enhances coping capacity by strengthening resiliency—the ability to adjust to change. Distress tolerance skills are an outgrowth of mindfulness practices, and involve the ability to nonjudgmentally accept both oneself and the current situation in spite of the emotional and/or physical pain it may bring.

It is important to clarify that acceptance does not equal approval. We can learn to accept and co-exist with uncomfortable, distressing emotions when we don’t like them at all, and even when we dislike them intensely.

Emotions, especially powerful, disturbing ones, can seem as though they will last forever. However, whether they are positive and bring smiles to our face and laughter to our lips, or painful and bring hurt to our hearts and tears to our eyes, feelings are always temporary. They come and go like guests who come to visit: some are welcome and we’re delighted to see them; others, not so much. Sometimes they leave sooner than we would like; other times they stay way past the point when we want them to leave—but eventually they all leave.

The status of one’s emotional balance is never static; it is almost always in motion. It may be helpful to think of it in terms of a see-saw or teeter-totter, a piece of play equipment once common to school yards and public playgrounds. Typically, two children would sit on opposite ends of a wooden plank supported in the middle by a metal fulcrum and ride up and down so that as one end goes up the other end goes down. The end that is up then goes down and the end that was down goes up in alternating fashion. Sometimes the movement of the see-saw is more extreme, rapidly fluctuating up and then down, and sometimes, it’s slower and more gradual.

Although there may be brief periods when the see-saw is perfectly balanced, this never lasts long. The vast majority of the time there is some movement, as the respective ends of the plank move up and down, sometimes very slightly and subtly. The same is true of emotional balance, even under the best of circumstances—rarely does anyone achieve perfect balance, and when they do, it doesn’t last. As the circumstances of your life change, so will your state of emotional balance. The key is to be consciously aware of it and utilize that awareness to take whatever actions will move you back toward balance.

This blog was written by Dan Mager, MSW, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

This blog was written by Dan Mager, MSW, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Author News, Blog, Chronic Pain, Pain Recovery, Personal Development | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Once upon a time I was just a mom.

A regular mom.

When I held my little miracle in my arms for the very first time, I rubbed my cheek on his fuzzy head and whispered, “Joey, my beautiful son, I will love and protect you for as long as I live.” I didn’t know then that my baby would become an addict before becoming an adult, or that the addict taking his place would shred the meaning of those words to smithereens.

When Joey tumbled into my world, he arrived without an instruction manual, but I was the best mom I could be as someone with good intentions and no experience. I stumbled through parenthood like everyone else — rocking my baby to sleep, kissing the scraped knees of my little boy, setting unwelcome limits for my sometimes testy teen, and hoping I was doing things kind of right.

Then, slowly at first, came the arrests and the overdoses, the needle marks and the dealers, interspersed with big fat lies. My loving child was turning into a monster, manipulating me and using me and twisting my love for him into knots, but I was befuddled by this scary new world I didn’t even know I was in and that I knew nothing about. You see, I thought I was still just a regular mom stumbling through regular parenthood like everyone else. (You see, a mothers trust and belief in her child’s inner goodness aren’t easily cast aside.)

Addiction is a disease, but not even the professionals have it all figured out yet — and they aren’t trying to figure it out while in a blind panic, running through the fires of hell with fears and dreams and maternal instincts tripping them up. So, I shouldn’t feel like a total failure for having missed so many clues and for not being able to love and protect my child as I promised… but still, sometimes I do.

Joey became an addict in his teens, lured to drugs and alcohol by a culture that glorifies substance abuse — the same culture that later, so ignorantly and harshly, passes judgment. I am judged for helping or fixing or pushing (or not helping or fixing or pushing enough) the sick child of mine who won’t be helped or fixed or pushed. I am judged for over-reacting and under-reacting, enabling and letting go, and, most hurtful of all, as a mother whose love must be somehow flawed.

Once upon a time I was just a regular mom, stumbling through parenthood like everyone else — and then I had to figure out how to be the mom of an addict. I had to figure out how to love my child without helping to hurt him, how to grieve the loss of my child who’s still alive without dying, and how to trade shame and blame for strength.

To be the mom of an addict is to be an ambassador of truth and understanding.

No more shame. No more silence.

This post was written by Sandra Swenson, author of THE JOEY SONG: A Mother's Story of Her Son's Addiction

This post was written by Sandra Swenson, author of THE JOEY SONG: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction


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Men, Relationships, and Trauma

The role of trauma in men’s relationships is interesting – to say the least. What is so difficult about it is how hidden it can be. I have learned a lot about trauma in the past decade. Before then, despite being over ten years in recovery, it simply was not on my radar. At least not as an issue that affected so many men as I now believe it does. And, perhaps most importantly, not an issue that had affected me so much!

Something you will hear from me over and over again is: “The best way for a man not to have trauma, is to simply say ‘I don’t have trauma.’” That, of course, does not make that statement true. I have no doubt that trauma is at the heart of a many a man’s failed relationships. The worst part: he just doesn’t know that. The thing you have to always remember is that men are not socialized to see their experiences as trauma or to have an accurate perception of what trauma even is.

Until you have quietly reflected on this issue and looked into it at some length with an open mind, you may not know whether or not you have experienced any trauma. What I can say is that I know far too many men who have lived with trauma for many years of their recovery with no awareness that trauma was at the root of their suffering and feelings of disconnection. Do not let contempt prior to investigation prevent you from exploring something that could offer you a degree of peace and freedom you never thought possible.

The challenge a lot of men have is that they do not necessarily see their experiences as traumatic because they compare them to other people’s traumas—what they might consider “real” or more serious trauma. Many men probably look at their traumatic experiences in hindsight with an adult’s understanding, saying to themselves something to the effect of “I see how this could be traumatic for a six-year-old, but I am forty years old now and it’s not a big deal. I am over it. That was a long time ago.” That is the danger. Our brain, particularly our brain’s limbic system, does not care about our age, then or now. And it maintains the emotional memories of those experiences, no matter how long ago they occurred. That is why people’s trauma reactions can be triggered so long after the original events took place. Our bodies also carry the memories of traumatic events, and we may have physiological reactions to external stimuli without realizing that this is a common trauma response.

The challenge for us men is that given how difficult it can be for us to be emotionally aware or engaged is that trauma can drive much of our behavior and we do not even realize it is happening. It eats away at our relationships, from the inside and we think it is everything and everyone else. Before we know it the relationship has fallen apart, the marriage is over, the man is in jail for abusing his partner, his addiction has gotten even more out of control, and/or he has even taken his life. He sits there scratching his head wondering why it is hard for him to connect. Why is it so hard for him to be able to keep a relationship together? Why, when his heart seems to want it more than anything, is it so hard to love and be loved?

This post was written by Dan Griffin, MA, author of A Man's Way Through Relationships

This post was written by Dan Griffin, MA, author of A Man’s Way Through Relationships

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Author News, Blog, Family & Addiction, Personal Development | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment