Friday, March 16, 2018

Forgive, Live and Love


When you feel you need it and cannot get it the pain can be so great.

But when you owe it and don't want to give it away, the struggle can be even more damaging

Forgiveness is a topic that will never go away, not in this world. In substance use treatment the topic of forgiveness is guaranteed to come up sooner or later. This is especially true after you start digging deeper into the hurt, trauma, resentment and pain that often can help start or sustain an addiction in many lives.
Forgiveness by itself is not the answer but it certainly can be a huge part of the equation. Resentment, which is the polar opposite of forgiveness, is one of the ugliest human emotions that serves no positive purpose. To let go of and release resentment out of the proverbial heart can be likened cutting out the cancer from one’s afflicted flesh. All of this can be easier said, than done as forgiveness does not always come easy. Forgiveness can be challenging especially when the pain that was experienced cuts very deep, but forgiveness is certainly worth it. Resentment is pain, whereas forgiveness is healing.

In order to start too open up personally about this important topic please discuss the following statements which are presented in a “True or False” format. (Give your best answers based on your personal thoughts, insight, feelings and experiences)

Make your best estimate of yourself by answering the following statements: True or False – Then explain why:
Forgiveness comes easy to me most of the time…
I can think of someone or something that I resent in my life right now…
Overall, for the most part I am a pretty loving person…
There are some good people in my life who have forgiven me…
I can be vengeful or vindictive…
I want people to suffer for what they’ve done to me…
I would rather just let it go when I feel myself holding on to anger for too long…
I am proud to say that I do have any enemies…
I sometimes obsess over my feelings when someone disappoints me…
I am willing to make personal sacrifices to keep peace with others…
I often cannot let it slide when someone insults me even if it was an accident…
I find it hard to resist arguing with others who say things I find offensive or ignorant…
I find that overall I am pretty tolerant and accepting of others…
I can readily accept it and move on when someone apologizes…
It is easy for me to apologize when I am wrong…
I need to work on resentment…
I need to work on forgiveness…

Friday, March 2, 2018

Opening the Door

OPENING THE DOOR - “What a shame, you’re not living up to your potential!”” – Have you ever heard those harrowing words spoken in your direction before? It can be annoying when things are going well yet it can be even more frustrating when you know that those words may be true. For just about anyone alive it is so important to remain open to the idea of continuous self-improvement. It is so critical for everyone to recognize and believe in their true potential. Otherwise, to ignore the possibilities in front of you and to give up on your dreams can lead to a state of standing still, stagnation and eventual misery. Even worse, if we don’t make a continuous effort to move forward in life then it can lead to an endless cycle of going in circles, repeating the same old mistakes over and over and at times adding in some new ones. Instead, change is good, provided that we are pointed in a positive direction toward valuable long term goals.

Realizing Potential

When it comes to falling short of living up to our potential, there can be a tendency to make excuses and rationalizations. Life can surely be very hard and there are often multiple unfair situations and challenges many of us are facing. Moving forward and getting out of a rut can seem like an impossible task. Nevertheless, with the right mindset we can make things better. It happens all the time and there are so many real life examples of people who overcame the stumbling blocks that life may have placed along their path. If you are struggling, why not strive to be one of those examples of people who beat the odds to be the best you can be in spite of whatever may seem like it is in the way.  

Living up to your potential – Group exercise:

Directions: Read and discuss the following brief thoughts and inspirational sayings about unlocking your potential. There are two ways that a group can do this exercise.

1      Read through the entire list as a group one quote at a time and pause after each one to discuss each quote as an entire group. Or:

2    Cut out all the quotes into paper strips and randomly hand each group member a strip of paper with one of the quotes. Going around the group one by one, discuss and give your viewpoint on the motivational thought that you were given.

Whichever way the group discusses the list below, as it is being discussed each person should take note of what may have that stood out as personally relevant or meaningful.

Simple Thoughts & Quotes about Realizing Potential –
“Do not let the memories of your past limit the potential of your future. There are no limits to what you can achieve on your journey through life, except in your mind.” ― Roy T. Bennett

“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential” – Liane Cordes

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” ― William Faulkner

“You learn something valuable from all of the significant events and people, but you never touch your true potential until you challenge yourself to go beyond imposed limitations.” ― Roy T. Bennett

“The choices you make now, the people you surround yourself with, they all have the potential to affect your life, even who you are, forever.” ― Sarah Dessen

“Potential has a shelf life.” ― Margaret Atwood

“You can dance in the storm. Don't wait for the rain to be over before because it might take too long. You can do it now. Wherever you are, right now, you can start, right now; this very moment.” ― Israelmore Ayivor

“Who you are tomorrow begins with what you do today.” ― Tim Fargo

“Ineffective people live day after day with unused potential.” ― Stephen R. Covey

“It isn't where you came from; it's where you're going that counts.” ― Ella Fitzgerald

“You must decide if you are going to rob the world or bless it with the rich, valuable, potent, untapped resources locked away within you.” ― Myles Munroe

“People who repeatedly attack your confidence and self-esteem are quite aware of your potential, even if you are not.” ― Wayne Gerard Trotman

“Everybody's got the potential for great good and great wrong in them, but it's the
choices we make that define who we really are.” ― 
Charles de Lint

“Give time, give space to sprout your potential. Awaken the beauty of your heart – the beauty of your spirit. There are infinite possibilities.” ― Amit Ray

“Stop lying to yourself. When we deny our own truth, we deny our own potential.” ― Steve Maraboli

“Believe in yourself, your abilities and your own potential. Never let self-doubt hold you captive. You are worthy of all that you dream of and hope for.” ― Roy Bennett

“You‘ve been given the innate power to shape your life.” ― Steve Maraboli

“The possibility of the dream gives strength.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita

“It takes drive and focus to move from potential to reality.” ― Amy Leigh Mercree

“Most of us are capable of more than we believe.” ― Nathaniel Branden

“Your life is important. Honor it. Fight for your highest possibilities.” ― Nathaniel Branden

“Refuse to become a victim of your circumstances and give a lift to your potentials each and every day against the wish of any obstacle you encounter!” ― Israelmore Ayivor

“We are treasure chests with more jewels inside than we can imagine.” ― Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

“With a decision and a defined purpose, you can begin work.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita

“Anxiety does not make a future situation turn out better if anything it stops you from reaching your highest potential. Relax and live in the present, not the future.” ― Avina Celeste

Which thoughts and quotes 
stood out to you personally and why?

For a printable version of this with extended group activities:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Alligator Fever

When reading the following story you may find yourself thinking “What does this have to do with substance use?” Or, perhaps if you have been around the treatment community for a while, you may find this updated old story strangely familiar. Either way, once you have completed reading the story below, follow the simple directions and then process its meaning as a group. Afterwards find out what the real meaning of the story is how it applies to the process of positive change.

Abby and Greg first met 3 years ago and a strong loving bond bloomed almost immediately. After 2 years of dating they became engaged and had set a date for marriage. Abby and Greg’s relationship was loving, faithful and true and as a result they were the envy of all of their friends because of how close and inseparable they appeared to be. They were in love and the future looked bright.

Then one day tragedy suddenly struck. Greg worked as an importer/exporter which on occasion required travel to some exotic places. While visiting an obscure country far, far away Greg contracted Alligator fever, an extremely rare disease that put its victims in to a deep coma-like sleep. Greg was quickly flown back to the US to meet with the best doctors but none could awaken Greg from his viral- induced state of comatose. Abby was desperate and refused to give up on Greg so she did extensive research and found a retired old doctor living overseas who was the only person in the world to have successfully ever brought anyone out of the slumber caused by Alligator fever by performing a simple but controversial surgical procedure. His name was Dr. Sinbad. Abby right away had Dr. Sinbad flown in to do a medical consultation about Greg’s desperate condition.

When Dr. Sinbad saw Abby he was immediately taken aback by her appearance. Abby was extremely beautiful and miraculously she was the spitting image Dr. Sinbad’s long lost love who had died over 30 years ago. Dr. Sinbad was very blunt with Abby. He told her that the controversial surgery was not covered by insurance and it cost over $250,000 to perform, however if she spent one night alone in a hotel with him, he would perform the procedure on Greg at no financial cost.

Abby was disgusted at Dr. Sinbad’s indecent proposal so she went off to find the money herself. Dr. Sinbad said she had 24 hours to think about it before he flew back to his home country leaving Greg in his current state of unconsciousness. Due to the time shortage, Abby went to the only person she could think of who could come up with that kind of money right away, and that was Greg’s brother Ivan. There was one catch however, Greg and Ivan hadn’t talked in years. It turned out that Abby had dated Ivan briefly prior to meeting Greg and when she met Greg it was love at first sight so she left Ivan for Greg three years ago. Ivan hadn’t spoken to either one of them since. Still, Abby turned to Ivan in desperation and she apologized for how things had turned out and for hurting him in the past. She begged Ivan for help. She pleaded with Ivan reminding him that Greg is family. Ivan, who was wealthy, had the money and at one time loved his brother Greg dearly, however he refused to help out Abby and Greg in spite of the seriousness of the situation with Greg his only brother. He couldn’t get beyond the past betrayal and rejection and left Abby to fend for herself.

Abby then felt like she had no choice. She reluctantly consented to Dr. Sinbad’s proposition so that Dr. Sinbad could save Greg’s life. Dr Sinbad kept his end of the bargain and the next day he successfully performed his controversial but effective surgery on Greg to cure him of the coma induced by Alligator fever. Greg woke up and Dr Sinbad then left and went back from where he came from.

When Greg awoke fully and came to his senses he was ecstatic and he and Abby were full of joy to be back together. They were again looking forward to their bright future together. However, not too long after, Greg started asking some questions and he soon discovered that his lifesaving medical procedure was very expensive and not covered by insurance. He pressed Abby to find out how she paid for everything with no money. Abby eventually admitted to Greg what had transpired with Dr. Sinbad as part of their “deal” to cover the cost of his treatment. Abby swore that everything she did was only motivated by her deep love for Greg. Immediately Greg was shocked, infuriated and outraged. He called Abby every hurtful name that he could think of and then he cancelled the engagement. Abby pleaded with Greg to try to get him to understand but he cast her aside with anger and disdain, insisting that she never speak with him ever again.

Abby fell into a deep depression. Abby turned to an old friend Gus for comfort. Gus had been Greg’s best friend for years which is why Abby went to him, thinking he would understand and perhaps he would be able to talk some sense to Greg. When Gus heard the story, he was sickened and he insisted that he and Abby go have a talk with Greg together which they then did. As soon as Gus saw Greg and witnessed his callous attitude he was overcome with anger and he attacked Greg with a baseball bat and beat him brutally, sending Greg back bruised, broken and unconscious to the hospital. Abby tried unsuccessfully to stop the attack but couldn’t. Afterward, however, inside herself she actually felt a little satisfied that Greg got his due for mercilessly rejecting her after all that she did and she even cracked a little smile as Greg was taken away in the ambulance.

Your assignment now is to rank all five characters in order from who you thought was the worst, to the one you though did the least wrong. The character you rate with a 1 is the worst in your opinion, 2- the second worst, 3 the third, and so on up to 5:

Abby              _____
Greg               _____
Dr. Sinbad      _____
Ivan                _____
Gus                 _____

Discuss your answers as a group and include your rationale for your choices

“If you are going to keep your mouth open,
make sure that you are thick-skinned” - Al Ligator


So the question remains: What’s the point of the story? The answer is that the story itself is not all that meaningful. There are really no right or wrong answers to the follow up discussion on who people thought the worst characters were. The goal of this story is to get people thinking about and then discussing VALUES

Values is a crucial topic that should never get old. What we think about, how we feel, and what we choose to do all starts with our own personal set of values – What is most important to us

Consider some of the commonly esteemed values that the Alligator Fever story touched upon:
             Family -
       Friendship -
       Faithfulness -
       Trust -
       Money -
       Health -
       Loyalty  -
       Respect –
       Love -
       Life -
       Other? -

So in essence, as you discussed the characters in the Alligator Fever story whom you barely even know, you were not judging them as individuals, but rather you were prioritizing which values stood out the most to you based on your own priorities.

Closing Exercise & Discussion

Go back through the list of values above and starting at the top with Family, go through each value one by one and complete the following sentence:

 “When it comes to (Value from the list – starting with Family) the kind of person I used to be when I was getting high was ______ (Describe). But today as I am changing for the better, my goal in this area is ______.”

Do this for each of the values above: Family, Friendship, Faithfulness, Trust, Money, Health, and so on – discussing your answers as a group

“Values are the definition of our actions in life” 
― Armin Houman

Additional Links for Counselors 
in Relation to this Topic (Values) - Click below to view:

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Group Glue: Cohesion, Motivation and Insight

Cohesion – n.; the action or fact of forming a united whole;
Synonyms: unity, togetherness, solidarity, bond, coherence

The concept of “the power of the group” is well known and well documented. Just about everyone is familiar with many of the wise sayings about the effectiveness of working together in groups such as:

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself”
-Henry Ford

“Nothing truly valuable can be achieved except by the unselfish cooperation of many individuals”  
 - Albert Einstein

Specifically when it comes to substance use issues, the power of the group is quite evident as research has repeatedly shown that group support can be extremely valuable when dealing with an addiction.

In addition, by now you likely have discussed the power of insight and motivation as the key factors that inspire positive change. Insight involves being aware that a change is needed, and motivation obviously is the drive to make that change happen in a successful manner. When insight and motivation are working together, inspiration and positive progress are sure to follow.

How does being part of a cohesive group help with the critical process of developing insight and motivation?

One simple answer is based on just doing the math by comparing one person alone to a group of people together:
Consider the difference between just one person recommending that you change something when compared to a trusted group of people suggesting the same thing all together? – A group can help with insight building when there is a sense of trust and cohesion

Also consider the difference between one single person supporting and encouraging you in a positive manner when compared with a much larger group of people whom you trust doing the same – A group can be a force for motivation when there is cohesion and unity

Therefore a group can be very effective and powerful for building insight and motivation needed for positive change, provided there is a degree of group cohesion.

On the topic of cohesion, consider the following questions for group discussion:

What are some qualities (such as trust, honesty, etc.) that are important for there to be group cohesion?

What are some strengths and other positive attributes of this group when it comes to building group cohesion?

What are some things that this group may need to work on in order to be even better?

ALSO - For five new group activities - Go to:
(Scroll down to "Icebreakers and Group Cohesion Building" about 3/4 of the way down the page)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Breakfast You Can Tolerate

This is a story about a factory. It’s not the best job in the world, but it’s not the worst job either. After several years, the factory starts to have some success and increases its profits. The owner of the factory decides to enhance worker morale by providing free plain bagels in the morning for breakfast. The factory workers are immediately pleased with the free bagels and it becomes a treat to look forward to every morning. The workers happily praise the factory owner for his kindness providing the delightful free bagel breakfast every work day.

After a few weeks since the bagel breakfast experiment is going so well, the factory begins to provide a variety of types of bagels for the factory workers including various flavored cream cheeses. The factory also provides coffee and juice for the factory workers free breakfast. The workers are even happier. Not much later, again since the breakfast program is working so well, the owner hires a part time breakfast cook to make eggs and bacon for deluxe bagel sandwiches. Soon, a variety of flavored gourmet coffee choices are offered as well. As expected, with each added improvement, the factory workers are more and more pleased with the free breakfast program and all of the positive changes.
After a while, the factory gets another huge contract which increases profits even more. Since the free breakfast program is going so well, the owner decides to provide a full breakfast buffet every morning with a full omelet station, as well as added choices of waffles, pancakes, sausage, bacon, fresh fruit, fried potatoes, hash browns, with many choices of drinks, flavored syrups and toppings. The factory workers are ecstatic with this amazing breakfast program which increases morale, attendance and gets workers to work early every day.

After several months at the factory however, things start to change. For one thing, the factory workers attitude declines. The free breakfast buffet was once viewed as a special luxury and treat but soon is viewed as a necessity and some less grateful workers begin to complain about various aspects of the buffet. Other factory workers start treating the breakfast buffet with less appreciation by wasting food and leaving a huge mess behind in the morning.
Around the same time, the factory’s profits start to dwindle due to problems in the economy and the breakfast buffet becomes too much too for the factory owner to afford. As a way to trim the budget the owner goes back to just providing basic bagels and coffee for the workers in the morning. The workers respond with the “Great Bagel Riot” in which several employees end up getting fired for throwing bagels in anger and protest. Some workers even quit in anger and they could be heard grumbling about the owners “cheap, lousy breakfast” as they walked off the job. The owner thinks to himself about how just a few months ago, everyone was so happy with the free bagels and coffee and how things had really changed for the worse rather quickly.
What is the moral of the story? It has nothing to do with breakfast. This story is an illustration of a common substance use related phenomenon of tolerance. Most people are quite familiar with tolerance:

Tolerance, n. – the power of enduring or resisting the action of a drug (Usually occurring over time with regular use)

Questions for Discussion:
Can you explain how the breakfast story illustrated tolerance? (Think about how it took more and more to get the effect desired by the owner) – How can you compare this with substance use?

How has tolerance come into play in your life particularly with substance use? (If you had a high tolerance, please explain without bragging about it)

How does tolerance play a role in the process of substance use progressing to substance dependence and then even possibly addiction in some cases?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

To Control or Not to Control...Is that the Question?

For most people who have been around the topic of substance use, abuse and addiction, the topic of “control” surely is nothing new. Looking at some of the issues surrounding the topic of control is worthwhile. A lot of attention in the substance use and addiction world is focused on identifying those things in life that we cannot control. It is helpful to realize our limitations when it comes to control and it is also important to learn to take an objective look at evidence in our lives that suggests we are not in control of something (such as substance use, for example) This internal battle surrounding coming to a personal conclusion about control vs. loss of control and substance use is at the heart of any discussion on addiction. Each individual has to learn for themselves based on their own combination of experience, open-mindedness, and wisdom in this area. Someone else telling you that you are not in control of your substance use, for example, has far less of an impact than coming to that conclusion honestly on your own. That in part is one of the goals of substance use treatment programs: to assist individuals attending those programs to come to their own conclusion about substance use and control (or lack of control)
Nevertheless, to just blindly just look at life from the perspective that there is nothing at all that can be controlled can be misleading. To approach life as if we are a leaf floating aimlessly down a stream involves surrendering our power over the things in life that we can and should try to control. Even when it comes to things in life that we seemingly have absolutely no control of in life, it can be extremely helpful to shift our perspective to the aspect of that issue that we can choose to exert a positive influence over. This may sound confusing at first but consider some examples below for evaluation and discussion as a group:

We cannot control other people – Efforts to control others almost always end up in failed relationships and can feel much like banging your own head against the wall –

Still – How can we exert a positive influence over others today? Are there things we can do today to increase the likelihood that others will treat us with respect and trust? Can respect be earned? (Think about attitude for example) –

We cannot control the past -Yes it is true that the past is gone and there is nothing we can do to change it. What’s done is done, as the saying goes.

Still – How can we exert a positive influence over our lives today in spite of our past? Are there things we can do to leave the past in the past instead of dragging the past along with us each day in our present? How can time and positive behavior change help influence putting the past behind us? (Consider example a man who was violent for the first part of his whole life who one day changes and becomes peaceful. Is he making it easier to put his violent past farther behind him?)

We cannot control the fact that life often is not fair – Sadly bad things happen even to good people in this world in spite of our best efforts to prevent these types of things from happening. Accidents, injuries, misfortune, victimization, injustice, poor health, losses and many other unfortunate or even hurtful things can happen even when someone is doing the right thing and it just is not always fair.

Still – How can we exert a positive influence over our reaction to unfair life events? – For example, consider a horrifying accident causing a man to lose both of his legs. That man can spend the rest of his life bitter and angry over the struggles that came with the loss of his ability to walk, thus preventing that man from moving forward with his life until the day he dies. Or, that man can decide to become the best person he can be in spite of his unfair loss by learning to adapt and move on and look for opportunities he can find and goals he can achieve even still as a man without legs. In your situation, how can you move forward in a positive direction in spite of unfair or even hurtful life events that you have personally experienced?