Monday, April 16, 2018

Strategy List for Families Dealing with a Loved One’s Substance Use Issue

There are no easy answers. If anyone tells you they have a simple solution don’t listen to them.  Change is challenging. (Consider yourself, for example – is change easy for you?)

Ø Positive change is derived from a combination of insight, internal motivation and external motivation. These factors often change with time so you may need to adapt your approach

Ø Every human has free will (whether we like it or not, acceptance of this is important)

Ø There is HOPE – Part of your mission should be to hold on to hope and remain a source of hope (often in combination with a lot of patience) – Believe in the capacity for change in your loved one

Keeping a positive focus is better than relying primarily on negatively focused strategies – (Often easier said than done because of all of the emotions involved)

Ø Nagging is ineffective. Nagging is often a dysfunctional outlet for the frustrated family member but does little for the individual who is struggling with addiction

Ø “Tough Love” has a time and place – It is often not a first line tactic but to be used more as a last resort. (The “nuclear” option)

Ø “FBI tactics” alone are not enough – Staying alert is fine but focusing entirely on staying “one step ahead” is often a losing proposition when dealing with addiction. No matter how hard you try, you will be fooled on occasion and valuable energy can be wasted on surveillance and spying

Ø Honesty is essential and means a lot more than using deception or trickery. If you expect honesty, then model it yourself for your family member. You lose credibility and trust when you lie

Ø “Use your brain and not your pain” – As difficult as it can be, do your best to remain reasonable, rational, using sound judgement, rather than lashing out emotionally. Help one another with this

Ø Try to be proactive rather than reactive – Clear concise warnings of expectations ahead of time can make difficult decisions much easier later. Avoid overly repetitious warnings which can mirror nagging. Follow through on warnings when needed

Ø The saying is true: “Trust has to be earned – Trust is a lot like managing a bank account with “deposits” and “withdrawals” – Allow trust to be earned with time even when it can be scary to let go

Ø Behavior and attitude are the best measures of progress – Stay alert to subtle changes either way (but avoid nagging about them). Notice, recognize and praise the positive that you see

Ø Do not undervalue the power of encouragement – Sow sincere “seeds” of encouragement which may sprout with time. Emphasize the positive even when it seems small – Praise is powerful

Sometimes there is more – If someone is “holding on” to their substance use, often they may not let go until they see something else better to reach out for. *But they have to want it

Ø Coexisting issues often play a role – Mental health, trauma, and other issues can be a huge part of the puzzle – Or not – Sometimes addiction is just addiction

Family should be as united as possible – Communicate, work together, and avoid undermining each other. Be there to provide checks and balances for each other as it is easy to get caught up in emotions and pain. Remember self-care and caring for one another. Don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself

For a printable version of this on - CLICK HERE

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Garbages and Gardens - Attitude Made Simple

Attitude: “A predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation. Attitude influences an individual's choice of action, and responses to challenges, incentives, and rewards” (

The following is a simple, two-phase strategy toward developing and maintaining a positive attitude, (provided of course that you want to have a positive attitude – some people choose to like their negative attitude which is another problem unto itself)
If you want to have a positive attitude you should regularly “throw away” what isn’t good for you. Because we are human and imperfect, negative aspects of attitude can pop up at any time. People with a positive attitude have mastered the art of eliminating the thoughts that can transform a good attitude into a bad one. Everyone has negative thoughts at some point so it is critical to be able to know what thoughts are potentially dangerous to our outlook and attitude and then to quickly throw those negative thoughts in the garbage, like the trash that they are.
As one would expect, the next key component of maintaining a positive attitude is identifying and then nurturing the positive thoughts that sustain a positive mindset and viewpoint. The most important thing about positive thoughts is that they have to be meaningful to you. If thinking positive thoughts does not come naturally to you, then similar to growing a garden of flowers, you may need to plant, seed, fertilize, water and cultivate positive thoughts in order to help them “bloom” in your current state of mind.
The following questions will open discussion about attitude followed by further group activities afterward:

Attitude Self-Assessment
How would you rate your overall attitude in life?

When you are struggling with your attitude, what does it look like to yourself and to others?

What can trigger a negative shift in attitude for you?

What are some challenges when it comes to your overall outlook and attitude in life today?

What are some areas in which you have made improvement when it comes to your attitude?

How do you look, act and feel when you are able to keep a positive attitude?

Who or what can help you maintain and sustain a positive attitude?

What do you think that you may still need to work on in these areas?

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: