Addiction

Surrender to Recover; UNITE to Face Addiction

5057210527_b5d69ae811_zHave you ever wondered why some people “get” recovery and other people–actually, most people– don’t?

I’ve asked myself that question for years. Come to find out, so has my dear friend and recovery mentor, John.

Don’t you love honest and transparent conversations with people you love?

Miracles and a servant’s attitude

I’ve known John for more than 20 years. I’ve always appreciated his direct, often matter-of-fact way of looking at recovery from alcoholism and other addictions.

He’s the one who taught me about the ickiness of self-pity (“Sometimes we sit in our own s*&t because it feels warm.”).

I’ve admired his compassionate nature and his dedication to the active growth of his spiritual life.

Last week, I learned something new about John, and it’s a biggee. I learned that as a man in long-term recovery, he never gives up on people who are so very sick with addiction, even when their lives are at risk. He never lets go of hope.

“How can I?” he asked me. “I don’t know when God is done with them.”

John believes in miracles and in being a servant of God.

The gnawing, haunting question

So, why do some people stay in recovery while a majority of people don’t?

John and I drilled deeply into the why behind never drinking or using drugs again. Or maybe a better question is why do some people surrender completely and some never do?

For me–and for John–the willingness to surrender our lives every day is a beacon that guides our travels. Oh, we continue living as willful, bull-headed people, but we make sure that the Power that guides us is bigger than our wills.

People who surrender are willing to change, to accept new ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions. They stay open to learn new things. Perhaps above all else, they are honest with themselves.

Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness–those are the essential elements that drive my life in recovery. Millions of people never reach the H.O.W. of recovery though. I believe the layers of fear, shame and self-loathing are wrapped too tightly, making it hard to break free.

Society doesn’t help–doesn’t do a very good job of ripping those layers away from the outside. If it did, maybe my brothers and sisters who struggle with addiction would find the inside work easier.

We’re working on it, though. There’s a nationwide campaign underway to help people understand why it’s necessary to treat everyone with addiction with the same love and hope that John shows his friends.

UNITE to Face Addiction

Lapel StickerUNITE to Face Addiction is a grassroots advocacy initiative that is demanding solutions to a national health crisis that impacts more than 45 million people directly.

On October 4th, the group will mobilize on the National Mall in Washington, DC to let the nation know that addiction is preventable and treatable, that far too many of those affected have been incarcerated and that people can recover.

We can eliminate the shame and stigma that can keep people with addiction trapped in a cycle of self-destruction. It’s not their fault . . . finding fault is not the point. Finding solutions is the point.

We have to make recovery mainstream so that more people and their loved ones have a welcome and broad entry point. It’s about time, don’t you think?

I’ll be on the National Mall the first weekend in October. I’d love to see you there too.

We are–and will–UNITE to Face Addiction.

Photo courtesy of Portland Prevention

What Do Josh Hamilton and I Have in Common?

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The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is human connection. ~ Johann Hari, Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs

Baseball lovers hold mighty big dreams as they follow their teams through the valleys and peaks of a 162-game season–and then maybe score seats to a World Series game.

My year was 1985–an eternity ago–when my Kansas City Royals came from behind to beat their Missouri nemesis the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Seven of the I-70 Series.

I caught the World Series long ball again in 2010 and 2011 as a newly minted Texas Rangers fan living in Dallas. My sweetie and I were able to attend several games courtesy of Major League Baseball (and their work with our former employer, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids).

That’s how I first connected with Josh Hamilton.

Josh’s dramatic rise and fall . . . and rise

One of the detriments to a public figure’s life is that everything is revealed and nothing is sacred. When I entered recovery, I worried about my employer and friends learning my deep, dark secret of addiction (Thank God we’re making HUGE strides to eliminate that stigma; more about that in next week’s post.).

But Josh had the media, including so-called “citizen journalists” circling him constantly as he trudged through his early recovery days. I tip my hat to anyone who deals with public sobriety with grace and dignity. Josh certainly did.

And his fans rallied behind him. Who cares whether they selfishly rooted for his bat or for his personal life. I’d like to think it was more of the latter than the former.

[bctt tweet=”I’d like to think that everyone in recovery from addiction is surrounded with love that is kind, gentle and unconditional.”]

Before the 2010 Series, one of my former Partnership colleagues wrote in an online journal, “I will be rooting for Josh Hamilton because he is living proof that drug addiction is not hopeless and those suffering from this disease are not helpless. Recovery is possible with the support of family, friends, professionals and in Josh’s case, caring, thoughtful teammates (who celebrated their ALCS Championship without alcohol out of respect to Josh’s recovery).”

The recovery path of Josh Hamilton hasn’t been an easy one, as is the case for so many. Maybe he distanced himself from unconditional love or maybe he succumbed to temptation.

There’s no point in picking apart why his disease came out of remission. The only person well-served by that exercise is Josh himself. But once again, the media–God bless them–scoured through his life.

A few of them found and wrote about what I know to be true about Josh–and I’ve never even met the man. Addiction is a disease that fries the brain’s circuitry and causes people to make bad decisions that put their wellbeing and those they love in grave jeopardy.

The truth about addiction

Only someone who lives with MS or cancer or heart disease can truly relate to someone else living with MS or cancer or heart disease. They don’t need to know the specifics; they just know what it’s like. The rest of us can only sympathize, love and offer support.

The same is true with addiction. Only someone with addiction can really get what it’s like to live with addiction.

That’s the bond that Josh Hamilton and I have. I may never meet him, but he is my  brother in recovery.

The very best thing anyone else can do for us is sympathize, offer support and surround us with love. That’s the key to addiction recovery.

Fortunately, after a disastrous move to Anaheim to play for the California Angels, Josh is back with the Rangers. He debuted with the team earlier this month . . . to a standing ovation of support.

He responded with several days of consecutive hits, including a pinch-hit, walk-off double to beat the Red Sox.

Coincidence? Not if you have faith in the power of human connection.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison

Observations From a Month Underwater

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Water, water everywhere. Most of the country knows about the intense flooding in Texas where I live.

There was enough rain in May to submerge the entire state–all 262,000 square miles–in eight inches of water. At this writing on the last day of May in North Central Texas, we’re experiencing a sunny day, one of only a handful this month. In the past week alone, we swam through double-digit inches of falling water.

Just as I’m grateful for the sun today, I’m also grateful for a refreshed commitment to recovery.

Celebrating sobriety?

May is also the month that I entered recovery 24 years ago. Although I picked up my chip and participated in my group’s recovery celebration, I spent the better part of the month wondering whether I deserved the recognition. I guess you could say that my recovery, like much of Texas, was underwater.

Recovery for me had become as cloudy and overcast as the Texas skies. Turbulent and unstable patterns threatened both my mental condition and weather conditions. To be fair, there were several factors that contributed to the perfect storm formation, but like an amateur storm chaser, I refused to believe the conditions were beyond my control.

My ego pushed me forward in repeated attempts to right-size when I should have leaned into the wall cloud of change. [bctt tweet=”The bruises and battering could have been avoided, but then, I may have missed the lesson in how to best weather a magnificent storm.”]

Now I know that I needed to flounder in the murky undercurrent so that I could once again appreciate the quality of clear-water living.

Getting into the solution

We know a little bit about being sick and tired of living sick and tired, don’t we? As years accumulate within this fabulous adventure of recovery, we get to watch the tides of high- and low-water moments.

I don’t know about you, but even at this junction of life and sobriety, I can still slip deeply into low- thinking. May found me swimming with the twin sharks of low self-worth and self-esteem. It seemed that the harder I swam, the more those damned sharks bit at me.

Finally, on Memorial Day, a thought popped into my mind, a GUS-inspired thought (God-Universe-Spirit):

Stop swimming.

The thought swelled enough that I did stop long enough to hear the second thought:

Drop the rock.

What rock? I didn’t realize I was swimming with a gigantic rock around my neck; it had been there long enough that I stopped noticing.

As quickly as GUS pointed it out, I saw it. The Rock was all the accumulated debris of a mind flooded with sludge thoughts.

What makes you think you’re worth that 24-year chip? What do you have to offer? Careful . . . if you screw up they won’t want you anymore. Oh please, do you really think they’ll want to keep you around when the project is finished? Watch out . . . any minute they’ll figure out you’re a fraud.

Please, God, help me drop the rock.

Help me let go of everything that builds a dam of unworthiness in my soul. Show me how to let the clean waters of good attitude flow again. Teach me how to once again sparkle and shine with your sunlit solutions.

Together, let’s begin the cleanup process. Yes, it’s been a wild and unpredictable May, but it’s June now and it’s time to come out from underwater.

Photo courtesy of kconnors

Unite To Face Addiction is Recovery’s Moment

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Here’s a startling image: Every four minutes, someone (usually a young person) dies as a result of addiction–the equivalent of a jumbo jet falling from the sky every day with no survivors.

Tragically, as we’re all too aware from scenes of the crash of Lufthansa Airbus A320, airplane passengers have no control in situations like what happened in the Alps.

But addiction deaths are preventable. That’s right. No one has to die from addiction.

Yet, the leading cause of death among young people is accidental overdose, surpassing car fatalities and homicides.

Everyone knows the war on drugs failed.

America tried everything. We passed tougher laws. We built new prisons for drug offenders. We repeated the mantra, Just say no.

Fortunately, there is a solution. When it comes to preventing and intervening in addiction and in supporting treatment and recovery, lots and lots of good things are happening.

Here are three:

1) After nearly a decade of battling for a sober high school in New York City, actress and activist Kristen Johnston’s SLAM organization (Sobriety, Learning, and Motivation) finally gets its wish. SLAM recently announced a new collaboration with a public school in Staten Island “to take the extraordinary step of implementing an intensive recovery program specific to the many teens in NYC seeking recovery from drugs or alcohol.”

2)  Mainstream media is calling out alcohol advertisers, saying they should self-regulate advertising just as the tobacco industry does. A report in JAMA Pediatrics concluded that seeing or watching alcohol ads helps move kids toward their first experiences with alcohol. Can you just say, NO!

3) More bloggers and online journalists are telling incredible stories of recovery, like my friend Cathy Taughinbaugh. Cathy recently published a guest post by Elizabeth Garrison who lived through teenage addiction, faced prison time and now has a doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

There are hundreds of thousands more stories of grand accomplishment. Unfortunately, most of these stories are minimized rather than celebrated, but then addiction is often minimized even as our kids and young people are dying in droves.

Unite To Face Addiction

We need an alternative. We need a sweeping, new approach of EPIC proportions. 

Praise God, there is one on the horizon.

With a little luck and a whole lot of elbow grease, you’ll hear about Unite To Face Addiction in the coming months. Here are the Cliff Notes:

A new collaborative group called Facing Addiction has developed a pretty incredible strategic plan, comprehensive in scope, to address the nation’s addiction crisis. Facing Addiction consists of members from the worlds of business, science, public policy, medical and community leaders.

Their kick-off event is Unite To Face Addiction–a major musical celebration and rally that will happen on The National Mall in Washington, D.C. during the weekend of October 3-4. They’re expecting more than 100,000 people and, knowing some of the principle partners of Facing Addiction, I have no doubt  those numbers will swell.

I know I’ll be there. You won’t be able to keep me away. Why?

Because I’ve never felt such hope that we’re teetering on the tipping point of solving our nation’s Number One health crisis of addiction.

Remember the AIDS Quilt and what it did for changing the perception around HIV/AIDS?

The AIDS Quilt was displayed on The National Mall in 1987. Since then, billions of dollars have changed the course of the movement and people today live much differently with the disease than they did in the 1980s.

This is the recovery movement’s Quilt Moment. Won’t you join us? Receive updates by signing up here and check out Facing Addiction on Facebook and Twitter. And please, share with your friends!

Serenity Prayer as a Mindfulness Tool

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I figure there are only two kinds of events in life–the kind you accept and the kind you change (or attempt to change).

While the concept is simple, the spectrum of emotions attached to the two kinds of events is wider than the upper Mississippi River during a spring thaw.

Let’s say you’ve waited for months on a decision that will impact your financial stability for the entire year. You make your initial choice to accept the waiting period because your other choice–changing the event by walking away–is a no-go.

My question to you is this: What do you do with your emotions while you wait?

Waiting is seldom easy, unless . . .

Rare is the person in recovery who finds it easy to wait. Heck, rare is the PERSON who finds waiting easy or even tolerable.

How do we wait and accept the waiting? How do we wait and change? How do we respond?

I read an article from PsychologyToday.com:

“But, how do we go about accepting the things we can’t change and changing how we respond to what we can’t change? Both of these involve adjusting our thinking, how we deal with our emotions, and the actions we take—and in both, the practice of mindfulness can be a great asset. (The underline is mine.)

“Mindfulness helps create the conscious awareness to notice our thoughts, observe them, question &/or dispute their accuracy, and detach from them. Since thoughts often provide such potent fuel for emotions, this shifts much of the wind away from sails of our emotions.”

“The practice of mindfulness can be a great asset.”

Here’s me being honest: I am not a good waiter. I pace, hands on hips or in jeans pockets, and mumble under my breath.

I watch the clock. I eat chocolate. I roam the house then eat more chocolate. And, I avoid mindfulness because in my gut I know it works.

My ingrained reaction to a life event is two-fold: eerie quiet followed by frantic activity. I could blame my so-called addictive personality, but at some point that excuse wears thin as onion-skin.

Mindfulness–“the conscious awareness to notice our thoughts, observe them, question &/or dispute their accuracy and detach from them”–IS the easier, softer way I avoid.

Okay, so that cat is out of the bag.

A perfect mindfulness tool

Dan Mager, author of the above-referenced article, writes that the Serenity Prayer is “the ultimate coping device.”

“If we take the time and make the space to consider it consciously, all of our experiences, both internal and external, fit into one of these two basic categories” (what we can change and what we can’t), Mager writes.

Here’s the part I love:

“Mindfulness practices build a space within which we can witness our emotions and give them room to breathe. When we can allow our feelings to simply be, accepting them without reflexively buying into or attaching any particular value to them, their intensity lowers and we experience less pressure to act on them.”

Mager’s advice lets me learn how to roll with my emotions and when the time is right, respond appropriately rather than react inappropriately.

Say it with me: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.” 

Mindfulness allows the wisdom to know the difference.

Photo courtesy of placardmoncoeur