Thursday, March 7, 2019

Braking the Cycle of Broken Promises

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a repeating rut of promising you will change, then working on it for a while, but then before you know it you are back to the beginning again? Almost everyone has had this experience when it comes to addiction or bad habits.

An individual might find him or herself stuck in this cycle for months, years or even for an entire lifetime. This is referred to as the “Cycle of Broken Promises” Consider five simple but powerful pieces of advice for overcoming what may be be perpetuating this negative cycle over and over again.

SIMPLE ADVICE: Stop Making Excuses! Today

SIMPLE ADVICE: Don’t forget the consequences –
 Keep your memory fresh

Promising “Just one more time “is a lie

SIMPLE ADVICE – You can work to build up your self-confidence instead of letting yourself down

SIMPLE ADVICE: After you make a plan to change, don’t stop there - Follow through: Stick with the plan

Friday, February 15, 2019

Inspect, Reflect, & Protect

Just about every reasonable person wants to improve their chances to succeed at their goals. Protective factors can be likened to the armor a soldier would wear in a battle. The stronger the protective factors, the better the chances of successfully getting through difficult struggles in life which would include being able to effectively cope with a substance use or mental health issue. Consider the following three stage process for identifying and enhancing protective factors which help us stay out of harm’s way and help us to keep up the good fight for self-improvement and positive change:
Inspect – verb: to look at something closely to assess its condition or to discover any shortcomings - It all starts with looking at or inspecting your own situation. If you can be honest with yourself about where you stand today, then that opens the doorway to self-improvement. Try to take an objective look at your situation with a view toward strengths and also potential weaknesses which will lead to an accurate inspection of what positive things you have to work with, and which areas you need to work on.
Reflect – verb: Think deeply and carefully about - This requires more honesty and insight. After you have done a self-inspection of your strengths and areas of need, then it is time to honestly reflect on what you are willing to do at this time. For example rather than just saying that you will work on all of your issues at once, it is better to reflect and think about just a few important areas that you are willing to get started with. Questions for self-reflection such as “What am I willing to work on now?” and “What am I not ready yet to change” can help you identify which areas to focus on. Start with what you are ready to work on
Protect – verb: to cover or shield from exposure, injury, damage or destruction - One you have identified a few areas that you are willing to work on then it is time to get a plan started to protect yourself in these areas. What can you do to increase these identified protective factors in your life? It’s worth the effort

Friday, February 1, 2019

Trauma Triggers

When someone has suffered from past emotional trauma, there can be certain events that can set off symptoms of re-traumatization. A simple example would be to think about a physical wound that isn’t fully healed. To reintroduce a new traumatic event to the injured area could easily bring about enhanced physical distress. To put this in even simpler terms, imagine having a wounded leg and then getting accidentally kicked in the shin again and how much that could bring back the pain from the previous injury.
However, a trauma trigger in itself does not have to be something traumatic, hurtful or frightening. Quite often, a trauma trigger can simply be a subtle or even subconscious reminder of a past trauma. It can be anything that stimulates a traumatic response such as a smell, or sight, situation or person that “awakens” a past traumatic memory or reactivates a present trauma response even if a specific traumatic memory is not fully realized.
When someone has unresolved trauma, there are environmental and emotional triggers that can quickly bring about emotional distress tied to the past trauma but experienced in the present. Most people are well aware that traumatic responses have varying degrees of discomfort and distress ranging from a mild anxious reaction to a full blown panic attack. Let us consider three categories for trauma triggers: Avoidable, Unavoidable and Unexpected

Ø Avoidable/Preventable – When a person knows ahead of time what can potentially set off a distressful emotional reaction then it is important to ascertain if these triggers can be circumvented simply by avoiding them when possible. For example, if an individual knows that he or she is sensitive to loud and aggressive people then that person could attempt to prevent re-traumatization by staying away from places where loud and aggressive people may be more likely to be present. A person in this scenario might, for example, avoid bars, contact sports, and other places where there may be crowds of loud people. Avoidable trauma triggers are obviously “best case scenarios” as there are many situations in life that are unexpected or unavoidable, which leads to the next two categories. Of course not all potentially traumatic places and people can be avoided but it can be helpful to know what kinds of places and people you could successfully avoid without compromising your overall life goals.

Ø Unavoidable – There are some trigger situations and people that are unavoidable. For example if a person is aware that a close family member can be a source of stress that can trigger a traumatic reaction then that person may often find themselves stuck in unavoidable family scenarios at times.  Also if someone works or goes to school or has any other required affiliation with an area or place that has known trauma triggers then they may not be able to avoid these places especially if they are part of one’s regular routine. There are other unavoidable triggers that can be connected with other essential life events such as going to the doctor, being stuck in traffic, stressful work scenarios, or any other situations that can be triggering and difficult to prevent, circumvent or avoid.

Ø Unexpected – Unexpected trauma triggers are those which may feel like they came out of nowhere. It is unfortunate that in spite of the best laid plans, sometimes someone who is suffering from trauma can be triggered by something that was impossible to anticipate ahead of time. As stated earlier a trauma trigger can be very simple and very subtle therefore at times completely unpredictable. Often the timing of unexpected triggers can be quite challenging due to the surprising nature of these incidents
Group Discussion – As a group try to come up with examples from each category, whether from your own personal experience or if you do not have experience, come up with some ideas from your imagination based on what you’ve read:
·       Avoidable -
·       Unavoidable -
·       Unexpected -

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Window of Self Awareness

It is critical to remember that insight is not a fixed state of consciousness. Actually, insight is a lot like a window that closes and opens with changing life experiences. Someone may have a full understanding of an issue one day but after only a few days or weeks later, excuses can creep in as to why what was once believed to be true no longer applies. The window of self-awareness can therefore open and close as our level of insight changes in differing circumstances

Things that OPEN the Window of Self Awareness:

Honest, self-reflection: Asking yourself the tough, soul searching questions can open up your window of self-awareness if you take the time to ask them, and more importantly display the courage to answer them honestly. Some examples:

Am I really doing all that I can do to improve?

Instead of blaming others, what can I actually do to make things better?

What role did I play in that situation? What could I have done differently?

Playing “Devil’s Advocate” – It is natural to think of all of the reasons why you may be right when it comes to certain issues. It can be much more challenging to really consider the possibility that you may be wrong. You can learn from being open minded in this way. Consider the following example

Thought – “Other people keep telling me I have an attitude problem. They don’t know what they are talking about, I’m a nice person - I am fine, they all just need to shut up and leave me alone”

Same Thought reframed for self-awareness- “With all of these people telling me I have an attitude problem, maybe I should think about how I am acting and what I am doing that gives people that idea. Maybe I need to adjust the way I speak to people”

Consequences – One of the positive things about consequences is that when something negative happens as a result of our choices and behavior, it can be a wakeup call and open the window of self-awareness. Consider these examples:

“I was late to work again after a night of drinking and now I am in trouble with my boss. I promised myself I wasn’t going to let that happen again but I did. Maybe it’s time to consider taking an honest look at my drinking”

“I told my significant other I would get help for being depressed but then I didn’t. I called out of work again to sleep all day because I was too depressed to get up. I think I may need help this time”

Things that CLOSE the Window of Awareness

Time – Sometimes just the passage of time can trigger a false sense of security. A person may feel motivated to change something one day but then if that motivation is not nurtured, with time it can fade

Excuses – Blaming, rationalizing etc. – Making excuses is usually just a way to deny or deflect reality. Excuse making is often rooted in an effort to avoid responsibility for one’s own role in a situation and therefore avoid responsibility for being part of the solution

Self-Deception- Similar to making excuses, people can close the window of insight by simply lying to themselves. Refusal to recognize the truth by burying your head in the sand just keeps the window of awareness closed thus preventing the “light” of self-awareness and reality from shining in

Discuss as a group:

Can you describe what it is like for you when your window of insight is open?

What about when the window closes? What is that like for you and what can be the cause?


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Is Addiction Just a Choice? Food for Thought

After all we know about addiction, there are still some people out there who view addiction strictly as a choice. This would be in the sense that people who are addicted could simply just choose to stop in order to get better and that’s all it takes. The following illustration can help some people understand things a little better because it makes a reference to food, which is something that almost everyone can clearly identify with.

There are some people out there who naturally have good self-control with food. These fortunate people can eat until they are full then simply stop eating any more than that, without effort. However, in the US and most developed countries, the vast majority of people understand the struggles associated with food. A large percentage of people in the world today get what it is like to wrestle with the feeling of knowing that you already ate enough, but still wanting to eat more and at times acting on those impulses and cravings by overeating. With that in mind, if addiction is a choice, how much more so should eating be dictated by choice? Based on the “addiction is a choice” mindset, no one in the world should ever be overweight because shouldn’t everyone just be able to choose not to overeat? Shouldn’t everyone have the self-control to just say “I’m done” when they reached the optimal calorie intake at a meal? Of course not! Millions of individuals struggle with their weight in this world because it is not easy to just make the choice and say “I’ve had enough” when it comes to being done eating, otherwise there would be no overweight people – everyone would be thin. Therefore, when you consider addiction one can understand how hard it is for someone to simply “choose” to stop using addicting substances because they have “had enough”. It’s just not that simple! .Losing control is at the heart of what addiction is all about. Anyone who thinks that addiction is purely based on choice alone is misguided.

“I know I am full, but I just want one more delicious slice!”
-Almost everyone in the world understands this struggle;
So why can’t everyone have more compassion and empathy to try to understand addiction?

Nevertheless, in the change process, when overcoming addiction, there are many important lifestyle choices to be made along the way. Choosing new ways to cope and actively choosing new positive support systems and associations are part of this process. Choosing to seek help or take medication can be another important choice for addiction and mental health. The change process involves making a series of many critical choices that often have to be learned over time and with ongoing effort and practice on a daily basis.

Getting back to the food illustration, when most people try to lose weight, they rarely make just one blanket choice and say “I am going to eat less and work out” and then the pounds just steadily start dropping off from that day forward. In reality, for most people, when losing weight, each individual meal and each individual snack involves choice with regard to what is consumed, how much is eaten and how often. On good days the person dieting may choose a salad and sparkling water for lunch but on an occasional tough day he or she may choose the double cheeseburger with fries and chocolate milkshake. Exercising each day requires a renewed choice to go to the gym or go for a run or choose another calorie burning endeavor. Some days that choice comes easily but on others it can be extremely difficult. Some days it may be a 45 minute workout and other days it may just end up to be a nap on the couch.

The same is true with addiction: In 99.99% of cases, a person rarely wakes up one day and makes the choice to stop using and then just proceeds to live happily ever after going forward. Rather, as each day passes there are choices to be made about using or not using, giving in to or resisting cravings, using new coping skills or going back to the old habit of self-medicating, avoiding negative places or taking risks and going back to high risk areas and associates. Instead, positive change with addiction is a process.  An eventual positive outcome is the culmination of many, many little daily choices made day by day, even hour by hour. This process often involves making some good choices but at times having setbacks and making some not so good choices, but all the while, still moving forward and learning from these mistakes in judgement.

So the conclusion is that most people can understand that physically getting into shape is not as simple as just choosing to eat less otherwise no one would have weight struggles. So why should we expect anything different with addiction which can be so much more difficult than losing a few pounds on a diet for the average person. Addiction itself is not defined by a single yes/no choice. 



Tuesday, December 18, 2018

We are What We Value

We become what we value. When we value something, that thing becomes a priority and our values shift. The following happens with something we value:

We think about it

We learn about it

We spend time on or with it

Addiction is about hijacked values. Thinking and fantasizing about getting high, learning new ways to get high and to get money for substances and spending increasing amounts of time using and obtaining substances can become an increasing priority on one’s personal values list when substance use starts to take over control of decision making.

Fortunately, although it can be very challenging, anyone can re-prioritize their values with time and consistent effort. It doesn’t happen overnight however changing for the better starts with examining our values.

As an exercise to focus on positive values consider the following questions for group discussion:

What is something or someone that I value that I need to increase my focus on today? (It can be anything or anyone positive such as an aspect of, education, family, relationships, career, spirituality, health, etc.)

How can I think about this value more often in my life?

What can I do to learn more about this value?

How can I specifically spend more time focusing on this area of value and importance?

Much more available on this critical topic of VALUES:

Click to view:


Saturday, December 1, 2018

How Do You Heal?

There are different therapies and theories focused on emotional healing, especially when it comes to trauma. Many of these approaches are effective when an individual in need of help puts the appropriate time and effort into the process of getting better in treatment. Seeking professional help can be extremely valuable in the pursuit of healing from past trauma.

Still, on a day to day basis, in addition to formal treatments, therapies and medications, some of the best forms of healing can also take place through the consistent and persistent use of basic coping strategies. These simple strategies used alone may not be the answer with more complex cases of emotional trauma. However, having a handful of basic yet effective coping tools to get through the short term can be a lifesaver when considering emotional survival on a day to day basis.

Taking it a step further, almost anyone with a history of trauma who has also had some success with overcoming a substance use issue can attest to the importance of having some basic skills to turn to instead of reaching for that drink or drug.  Taking a drink, toke, smoke, sniff, pop, shot, or spike of a substance to escape difficult emotions associated with trauma may feel good in the short term, but it usually isn’t a long term answer when it comes to healing. Instead, committing to a plan for basic healing-based safe care can have excellent long term benefits.

So keeping it simple- consider the question: How do you heal?

First, in order to conceptualize your plan of action, think of the following action words – things you can DO

Making (Creating)

Using the list of action words provided, what do you do in order to go to that place of peace where you can rest and heal emotionally? Be descriptive of what you do and what it does for you


“The half hour at the end of the day when I am playing my guitar, my mind is clear and I feel the positive energy that comes from the songs I am singing. For those 30 minutes I am not thinking about stress, worries, fears, or anything – It’s just me, my guitar and my songs”

“The other night I was tossing and turning due to stressful memories. Even though it was 1:00 am I lit a candle, dimmed the lights and took a long nice hot bath. Even though it took a few minutes to settle in at first, eventually a sense of peace came over me and for a little while I felt the escape I was looking for, without getting high.”

“After years of struggling with my emotions, I learned that an essential part of my healing was directly tied to nature. Nowadays I make sure that walking in nature is part of my day. Whether it is hot, cold, rainy or snowing, I do whatever I can to take my dog out for a walk on the beach at least for a few minutes. When my dog and I are out there walking on the beach, I am at peace and getting high is the furthest thing from my mind”

Take turns sharing your own basic methods for peace and healing

Closing Group Process Questions:

Now that everyone has shared, be honest:  Have you been doing what you need to do to heal as you described, or have you gotten away from it and you need to get back on track?

What other ideas did you hear from others in the group that you may want to try?

Finally:  Can you make a commitment to focus on healing? – If so complete the following:

Starting today, in order to increase the sense of peace in my life
and give myself time for emotional healing,
I will do the following _______________________________at least__________ (frequency)

For a printable version of this exercise click here


CLICK To view the Taking the Escalator