My dog has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is my day job and I have watched literally hundreds of human clients who have struggled with GAD so I feel qualified to diagnose my dog. Human persons with mental health issues are diagnosed primarily on symptomatology; you tell the doctor what is wrong with you and he sends you to a psychiatrist who will, after talking with you for a part of an hour or two, tell you what is wrong with your head. Don’t get me started on misdiagnosis. Continue reading “My Dog Has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And He’s A Racist.”
Stupid Little Pill
In a recent conversation with a friend I accidentally referred to anxiety medication as “aspirin for the brain”. I meant it in a good way. Why is taking something for anxiety any different than taking the exact same thing for insomnia?
There is much stigma around medications and it is tempting to believe any number of ridiculous cognitive distortions we all battle, from time to time. As simple as it sounds, people generally push back when a professional prescribes a stupid little pill to cope with the uncopeable. We have been told that people with depression are emotionally weak and need to “snap out of it”. Anxious people seem skittish by nature and those panic attacks might just be a personality flaw. Taking medication for depression or anxiety or (insert name of mental health issue here) means that I have somehow failed or given in or given up. I shouldn’t need to see a counsellor to take an SSRI or go on disability. People who take meds because they cry allot are weaklings. Continue reading “Stupid Little Pill”
Waiting for Change
I remember hearing the song, “Waiting On The World To Change” and thinking, that’s not going to happen anytime soon! Things tend to get worse before they get better, or so the maxim goes. What I have found is that things get ridiculously old before they change. Most of us spend day after day, month after month, even year after year desperately praying for change, until things slowly move. And we’re talking slowly. I don’t have any recollection of when I got out of my all-pervading, soul-stealing, life-draining, ‘who gives a crap about anyone or anything’ depression. There was no “ah ha!” moment, no prayer meeting that turned the corner, no epiphany, no medication, no counselling appointment that finally turned the tide. No conversation seemed to help at the time, though later it was obvious looking back that small change was beginning.
I remember, when I was grieving, going to see a really terrible religious counsellor. I went religious because I could get it cheaper. Mistake. Some religious counsellors are undoubtedly fabulous, but they never met this guy. I should have saved the money and bought a milkshake. NOTHING he said helped. But then again, nothing anyone could say at that point made much of a difference. He was extra pathetic inasmuch as he couldn’t keep confidences and literally ratted me out, exacerbating the situation exponentially. Long story short… he sucked. Sadly, many counsellors do. They go into this occupation to save the world and somehow fix their own dysfunction. They are rarely successful. By way of example, hundreds of addicts I have worked with, and we’re talking hundreds, are convinced six weeks into sobriety that they want to be a drug and alcohol counsellor, or work with youth. People love love love theoretically working with youth… until they work with one and realize that adults actually listen, most youth in counselling have no longer than five minutes of attention span (thank you every adolescent male for the stimulating conversation), and adults won’t attempt to give you a wedgie during your coffee time or fart out loud and blame you at Starbucks. These are, of course, only theoretical examples and I’m not really upset with that little puke who blamed me at the coffee shop I frequent almost daily by yelling and holding his nose, pointing and gagging. Completely theoretical.
Anyway… what were we talking about? Oh right, depression. Happy times.
Coming out the other side of depression seems to take forever. By the time someone lands in my office to actually deal with such things they usually are so far gone it can take months just to talk them into getting up in the morning. I never start by asking a depressed person to do much of anything. The key problem with depression, as I oft recite, is the lack of motivation. The number one thing you need to get out of depression is… motivation. So how do you get motivated to get motivated? Certainly not by going to a doctor who prescribes an hour or walking, journaling, or going out socially on dates. Such goals are laughable, in the beginning. Unfortunately doctors are left to diagnose and prescribe such maladies on a daily basis, while having little understanding of psychology or mental health in general. It simply isn’t really covered all that much in medical school. But again I digress.
I cannot point to a day when I felt better because there wasn’t one. Coming back from the living dead took years of reading and crying and praying and talking and talking and talking… and not a little bit of drinking, much to my chagrin. I don’t recommend taking a depressant for depression. It’s similar to smoking pot for your anxiety – short-term gain, long-term pain. Doctors recommend that too!
It is the same with trauma, anxiety, and much of the mental health spectrum. There is no fad diet or cleansing that really can make you whole again; no magic pill or medication that will solve your problems. Some of us desperately need to be medicated, but with an understanding that medication alone is rarely sufficient. What really needs to happen is time. Time to move beyond the raw beginning. Time to let all that good stuff you are learning congeal and begin to take effect. Healing takes time. Real healing always does.
I tell this to patients all the time. Even with the best counsellor change rarely happens overnight. I find, and this is not even remotely scientific, that my clients usually take about three months of intense therapy before stuff starts to vibrate. Six months to a couple of years to deal with trauma, or anxiety, or serious depression. Sorry to say but a combination of co-morbidities could require longer than that. Some of us know this, though it’s counselling suicide to speak of it out loud. “Short term interventions” that we were all teethed on in college are only relatively short, when compared with how long it takes to not get better. Consider then, if you will, that most extended health plans cover 5 or 6 counselling sessions. So why aren’t you better yet?
Depression is not necessarily a terminal illness. Neither is anxiety or trauma. What is true, is that they are not easy to overcome. It took me years, and I still bear the scars even today.
Advice From A Divorced Man
great advice from Gerald Rogers via Huffington Post:
Obviously, I’m not a relationship expert. But there’s something about my divorce being finalized this week that gives me perspective of things I wish I would have done different… After losing a woman that I loved, and a marriage of almost 16 years, here’s the advice I wish I would have had…
1) Never stop courting. Never stop dating. NEVER EVER take that woman for granted. When you asked her to marry you, you promised to be that man that would OWN HER HEART and to fiercely protect it. This is the most important and sacred treasure you will ever be entrusted with. SHE CHOSE YOU. Never forget that, and NEVER GET LAZY in your love.
2) PROTECT YOUR OWN HEART. Just as you committed to being the protector of her heart, you must guard your own with the same vigilance. Love yourself fully, love the world openly, but there is a special place in your heart where no one must enter except for your wife. Keep that space always ready to receive her and invite her in, and refuse to let anyone or anything else enter there.
3) FALL IN LOVE OVER and OVER and OVER again. You will constantly change. You’re not the same people you were when you got married, and in five years you will not be the same person you are today. Change will come, and in that you have to re-choose each other everyday. SHE DOESN’T HAVE TO STAY WITH YOU, and if you don’t take care of her heart, she may give that heart to someone else or seal you out completely, and you may never be able to get it back. Always fight to win her love just as you did when you were courting her.
4) ALWAYS SEE THE BEST in her. Focus only on what you love. What you focus on will expand. If you focus on what bugs you, all you will see is reasons to be bugged. If you focus on what you love, you can’t help but be consumed by love. Focus to the point where you can no longer see anything but love, and you know without a doubt that you are the luckiest man on earth to be have this woman as your wife.
5) IT’S NOT YOUR JOB TO CHANGE OR FIX HER… your job is to love her as she is with no expectation of her ever changing. And if she changes, love what she becomes, whether it’s what you wanted or not.
6) TAKE FULL ACCOUNTABILITY for your own emotions: It’s not your wife’s job to make you happy, and she CAN’T make you sad. You are responsible for finding your own happiness, and through that your joy will spill over into your relationship and your love.
7) NEVER BLAME your wife If YOU get frustrated or angry at her, it is only because it is triggering something inside of YOU. They are YOUR emotions, and your responsibility. When you feel those feelings take time to get present and to look within and understand what it is inside of YOU that is asking to be healed. You were attracted to this woman because she was the person best suited to trigger all of your childhood wounds in the most painful way so that you could heal them… when you heal yourself, you will no longer be triggered by her, and you will wonder why you ever were.
Allow your woman to JUST BE. When she’s sad or upset, it’s not your job to fix it, it’s your job to HOLD HER and let her know it’s ok. Let her know that you hear her, and that she’s important and that you are that pillar on which she can always lean. The feminine spirit is about change and emotion and like a storm her emotions will roll in and out, and as you remain strong and unjudging she will trust you and open her soul to you… DON’T RUN-AWAY WHEN SHE’S UPSET. Stand present and strong and let her know you aren’t going anywhere. Listen to what she is really saying behind the words and emotion.
9) BE SILLY… don’t take yourself so damn seriously. Laugh. And make her laugh. Laughter makes everything else easier.
10) FILL HER SOUL EVERYDAY… learn her love languages and the specific ways that she feels important and validated and CHERISHED. Ask her to create a list of 10 THINGS that make her feel loved and memorize those things and make it a priority everyday to make her feel like a queen.
11) BE PRESENT. Give her not only your time, but your focus, your attention and your soul. Do whatever it takes to clear your head so that when you are with her you are fully WITH HER. Treat her as you would your most valuable client. She is.
12) BE WILLING TO TAKE HER SEXUALLY, to carry her away in the power of your masculine presence, to consume her and devour her with your strength, and to penetrate her to the deepest levels of her soul. Let her melt into her feminine softness as she knows she can trust you fully.
13) DON’T BE AN IDIOT…. And don’t be afraid of being one either. You will make mistakes and so will she. Try not to make too big of mistakes, and learn from the ones you do make. You’re not supposed to be perfect, just try to not be too stupid.
14) GIVE HER SPACE… The woman is so good at giving and giving, and sometimes she will need to be reminded to take time to nurture herself. Sometimes she will need to fly from your branches to go and find what feeds her soul, and if you give her that space she will come back with new songs to sing…. (okay, getting a little too poetic here, but you get the point. Tell her to take time for herself, ESPECIALLY after you have kids. She needs that space to renew and get re-centered, and to find herself after she gets lost in serving you, the kids and the world.)
15) BE VULNERABLE… you don’t have to have it all together. Be willing to share your fears and feelings, and quick to acknowledge your mistakes.
16) BE FULLY TRANSPARENT. If you want to have trust you must be willing to share EVERYTHING… Especially those things you don’t want to share. It takes courage to fully love, to fully open your heart and let her in when you don’t know i she will like what she finds… Part of that courage is allowing her to love you completely, your darkness as well as your light. DROP THE MASK… If you feel like you need to wear a mask around her, and show up perfect all the time, you will never experience the full dimension of what love can be.
17) NEVER STOP GROWING TOGETHER… The stagnant pond breeds malaria, the flowing stream is always fresh and cool. Atrophy is the natural process when you stop working a muscle, just as it is if you stop working on your relationship. Find common goals, dreams and visions to work towards.
18) DON’T WORRY ABOUT MONEY. Money is a game, find ways to work together as a team to win it. It never helps when teammates fight. Figure out ways to leverage both persons strength to win.
19) FORGIVE IMMEDIATELY and focus on the future rather than carrying weight from the past. Don’t let your history hold you hostage. Holding onto past mistakes that either you or she makes, is like a heavy anchor to your marriage and will hold you back. FORGIVENESS IS FREEDOM. Cut the anchor loose and always choose love.
20) ALWAYS CHOOSE LOVE. ALWAYS CHOOSE LOVE. ALWAYS CHOOSE LOVE. In the end, this is the only advice you need. If this is the guiding principle through which all your choices is governed, there is nothing that will threaten the happiness of your marriage. Love will always endure.
In the end MARRIAGE isn’t about Happily ever after. It’s about work. And a commitment to grow together and a willingness to continually invest in creating something that can endure eternity. Through that work, the happiness will come.
Marriage is life, and it will bring ups and downs. Embracing all of the cycles and learning to learn from and love each experience will bring the strength and perspective to keep building, one brick at a time.
These are lessons I learned the hard way. These are lessons I learned too late.
But these are lessons I am learning and committed in carrying forward. Truth is, I LOVED being married, and in time, I will get married again, and when I do, I will build it with a foundation that will endure any storm and any amount of time.
If you are reading this and find wisdom in my pain, share it those those young husbands whose hearts are still full of hope, and with those couples you may know who may have forgotten how to love. One of those men may be like I was, and in these hard earned lessons perhaps something will awaken in him and he will learn to be the man his lady has been waiting for.
The woman that told him ‘I do’, and trusted her life with him, has been waiting for this man to step up.
If you are reading this and your marriage isn’t what you want it to be, take 100% responsibility for YOUR PART in marriage, regardless of where your spouse is at, and commit to applying these lessons while there is time.
MEN- THIS IS YOUR CHARGE : Commit to being an EPIC LOVER. There is no greater challenge, and no greater prize. Your woman deserves that from you.
Be the type of husband your wife can’t help but brag about.
Making It Work After Someone Cheats
Not everyone can do it. I’m not sure I could, to be honest. Many couples choose to stay together after infidelity and I salute them. Remaining together is one thing, trusting ever again is another. So if you are in this situation, what can you do?
Earning trust back is a monumental task requiring an incredible amount of humility from both partners. It takes way longer than people want to admit. I have, however, seen couples who are committed to making things better, in spite of the horror and the obsessive thoughts, jealousy, and pain. Sometimes.
Working as a counselor I have, as you can imagine, my share of marital issues to wade through with people. Nothing comes close to the difficulty of rebuilding trust and safety. Trust and safety – two words that constantly come up when I talk to clients, especially female ones.
People don’t generally understand how devastating infidelity can be. For the partner who has been rejected (yes I said that word) the process can take years, if ever. There are nights and days of obsessing about the “why” of it all, about how they have failed as a lover and a spouse. There are hours and hours of anger and more obsessing. Even being touched by the cheater becomes loaded, and potentially volatile. The spouse who has cheated is often subjected to months and years of the “short leash”. They are forced to phone more often, report in more often, talk to potential attractions much less often. Sometimes there is punishment and condescension, anger and vengeance. The one who is on the short leash usually grows tired of the lack of trust. Why can’t your partner ever seem to move on?
Spouses who cheat, especially men, are prone to verbalize how tired they are of not being trusted. Many will, after some months, flatly refuse to jump through any hoops or even talk about the infidelity… yet again. They are sick of the same tears, the same logic, the same belittling. A surprising number of relationships break up a year or more after the actual incident. Things just won’t seem to go away and both partners are not getting what they need.
If you have been betrayed in this way the first thing you need to understand is that there is no template for how to respond correctly to such a nightmare. It’s so easy for counselors to give out prescriptions for happiness but the sad truth is that most of us are permanently damaged. There can be forgiveness, even reconciliation, but the relationship will change. For some of us leaving is the only emotionally healthy option.
If you or someone you love is tortured by infidelity, either their own or someone else’s, encourage them to talk to a professional. The most important part of moving forward is personal healing, no matter what the outcome. Learning how to process what has happened is the key to healing. Time doesn’t hurt either.
No one really knows what you are going through although some of us can understand that pain. Whether it’s your parents or your partner you owe it to yourself to do everything necessary to be whole again. You’re worth it, in spite of how you may feel right now.
I have radically changed the way I think about addictions.
I work part-time in addictions and see it’s effects literally dozens of times each week. It’s easy to believe that the problem is the addiction – if we can just help people stop drinking than their life will work itself out. Unfortunately this is not even remotely true and people who understand people are realizing that the addiction is simply another symptom of something much deeper.
When I was young and drugs came calling they were just another solution to the problem called “My Life”. Chocolate made me happy right now. So did cocaine and boobies and volleyball. Basketball sorted me out, so did pot. My only crime was that I grabbed too hard at one of my solutions to stress. Why couldn’t I have developed an addiction to body-building instead? Chocolate is nice, why couldn’t it have been to chocolate?
Dealing with your maladjusted life by stopping only one of the symptoms does not make sense. Somewhere along the line in many lives drugs became medication, not recreation. Cocaine helped you not have to think about your crumbling life. Drinking and sex helped you believe you were important. Being high kept you from thinking about your struggle to hope that things could change.
In counseling I encourage clients to look beyond their need for medication and address the actual disease they have been medicating. We need to learn to put our lives in perspective and change dysfunctional thinking patterns. Taking responsibility for your own heart and happiness truly is the best thing you can do to improve your life.
- Does It Really Matter What You’re Addicted To? (scott-williams.ca)
- Catastophizing (scott-williams.ca)
- An Open Letter To The Men Who Date My Clients (scott-williams.ca)
Don’t Give ADHD Meds To Undiagnosed Kids
I have been preaching this for years, since reading a Reader’s Digest (of all things) survey of schools in Canada who were pushing for meds for kids who were disciplinary issues. Confirmation from WebMD.
Some people call it “brain doping” or “meducation.” Others label the problem “neuroenhancement.” Whatever the term, the American Academy of Neurology has published a position paper criticizing the practice of prescribing “study drugs” to boost memory and thinking abilities in healthy children and teens.
The authors said physicians are prescribing drugs that are typically used for children and teenagers diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for students solely to improve their ability to ace a critical exam — such as the college admission SAT — or to get better grades in school.
Dr. William Graf, lead author of the paper and a professor of pediatrics and neurology at Yale School of Medicine, emphasized that the statement doesn’t apply to the appropriate diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. Rather, he is concerned about what he calls “neuroenhancement in the classroom.”
The problem is similar to that caused by performance-boosting drugs that have been used in sports by such athletic luminaries as Lance Armstrong and Mark McGwire, he explained. “One is about [enhancing] muscles and the other is about enhancing brains,” Graf said.
In children and teens, the use of drugs to improve academic performance raises issues including the potential long-term effect of medications on the developing brain, the distinction between normal and abnormal intellectual development, the question of whether it is ethical for parents to force their children to take drugs just to improve their academic performance, and the risks of overmedication and chemical dependency, Graf noted.
The rapidly rising numbers of children and teens taking ADHD drugs calls attention to the problem, Graf said. “The number of physician office visits for ADHD management and the number of prescriptions for stimulants and psychotropic medications for children and adolescents has increased 10-fold in the U.S. over the last 20 years,” he pointed out.
Recent parent surveys show about a 22 percent increase in ADHD, a 42 percent rise in the disorder among older teens and a 53 percent increase among Hispanic children, according to the paper.
While Graf acknowledged that the data about rising numbers associated with ADHD includes a number of cases that have been appropriately diagnosed as ADHD, he said the increase — especially among older adolescents — suggests a problem of overdiagnosis and overmedication.
“We should be more cautious with healthy children in treating them with drugs they don’t need,” he said. “The ethical balance tips against overuse and toward caution because children are still growing and developing and there’s a lot we don’t know.”
The position paper, published online March 13 in the journal Neurology, was also approved by the Child Neurology Society and the American Neurological Association.
Dr. Mark Wolraich, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and chairman of the subcommittee that wrote ADHD guidelines for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that his group was not consulted in the development of the position paper Graf developed. Wolraich noted that the AAP also did not recommend the use of stimulant medications for performance enhancement or pleasure.
Orgasms – Finally An Anxiety Medication I Can Fully Endorse
Forget Clonazepam – when you’re in the mood, it just might help your health. How does a juicy sex life do a body good? Let’s count the ways. Here are 10 health benefits of sex — backed up by science.
1. Less Stress, Better Blood Pressure
Having sex could lower your stress, and your blood pressure. That finding comes from a Scottish study of 24 women and 22 men who kept records of their sexual activity. The researchers put them in stressful situations, such as speaking in public and doing math out loud, and checked their blood pressure.
People who had had intercourse responded better to stress than those who engaged in other sexual behaviors or abstained.
Another study published in the same journal found that diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number of your blood pressure) tends to be lower in people who live together and often have sex. And yet another study found that women who get lots of hugs from their partner tend to have better blood pressure.
2. Sex Boosts Immunity
Having sex once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A or IgA, which can protect you from getting colds and other infections.
So say scientists at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. They studied 112 college students who kept records of how often they had sex and also provided saliva samples for the study. Those who had sex once or twice a week had higher levels of IgA, an antibody that could help you avoid a cold or other infections, than other students.
3. Sex Burns Calories
Thirty minutes of sex burns 85 calories or more. It may not sound like much, but it adds up: 42 half-hour sessions will burn 3,570 calories, more than enough to lose a pound. Doubling up, you could drop that pound in 21 hour-long sessions.
“Sex is a great mode of exercise,” says Patti Britton, PhD, a Los Angeles sexologist. It takes work, from both a physical and psychological perspective, to do it well, she says.
4. Sex Improves Heart Health
Having sex may be good for your heart. A 20-year-long British study shows that men who had sex twice or more a week were half as likely to have a fatal heart attack than men who had sex less than once a month.
And although some older folks may worry that the sex could cause a stroke, that study found no link between how often men had sex and how likely they were to have a stroke.
5. Better Self-Esteem
Boosting self-esteem was one of 237 reasons people have sex, collected by University of Texas researchers and published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
That finding makes sense to Gina Ogden, PhD, a sex therapist and marriage and family therapist in Cambridge, Mass., although she finds that those who already have self-esteem say they sometimes have sex to feel even better.
“One of the reasons people say they have sex is to feel good about themselves,” she says. “Great sex begins with self-esteem. … If the sex is loving, connected, and what you want, it raises it.”
Of course, you don’t have to have lots of sex to feel good about yourself. Your self-esteem is all about you — not someone else. But if you’re already feeling good about yourself, a great sex life may help you feel even better.
6. Deeper Intimacy
Having sex and orgasms boosts levels of the hormone oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, which helps people bond and build trust.
In a study of 59 women, researchers checked their oxytocin levels before and after the women hugged their partners. The women had higher oxytocin levels if they had more of that physical contact with their partner.
Higher oxytocin levels have also been linked with a feeling of generosity. So snuggle up — it might help you feel more generous toward your partner.
7. Sex May Turn Down Pain
Here’s another thing the love hormone, oxytocin, does: It boosts your body’s painkillers, called endorphins. So if your headache, arthritis pain, or PMS symptoms seem to improve after sex, that may be why.
In one study, 48 people inhaled oxytocin vapor and then had their fingers pricked. The oxytocin cut their pain threshold by more than half.
8. More Ejaculations May Make Prostate Cancer Less Likely
Frequent ejaculations, especially in 20-something men, may lower the risk of getting prostate cancer later in life, some research shows.
For instance, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that men who had 21 or more ejaculations a month, were less likely to get prostate cancer than those who had four to seven ejaculations per month.
Of course, that study doesn’t prove that ejaculations were the only factor that mattered. Many things affect a person’s odds of developing cancer. The researchers did take that into consideration, and the findings still held.
9. Stronger Pelvic Floor Muscles
For women, doing pelvic floor muscle exercises called Kegels may mean will enjoy more pleasure — and, as a perk, less chance of incontinence later in life.
To do a basic Kegel exercise, tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor, as if you’re trying to stop the flow of urine. Count to three, then release.
10. Better Sleep
The oxytocin released during orgasm also promotes sleep, research shows.
Getting enough sleep has also been linked with a host of other health perks, such as a healthy weight and better blood pressure. Something to think about, especially if you’ve been wondering why your guy can be active one minute and snoring the next.
- 10 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex (webmd.com)
- The Best Reason to Have Sex (mensjournal.com)
Is ADHD Crap?
Interesting article from Psychology Today questioning whether or not ADHD is a scientifically verifiable diagnosis or simply a social constuct.
“The main point of my article was that there is no scientific evidence that ADHD is a real biological disorder. Medical scientists have not isolated a biological cause for ADHD, nor is there a laboratory test for it. ADHD is a social construction by a committee of psychiatrists who author the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Many of the authors of the DSM-4 (56% to be exact) have financial ties to pharmaceutical companies who stand to profit greatly from medicating children.” As I point out in another Psychology Today blog, ADHD: The Emperor’s New Diagnosis,”…the moniker ADHD merely describes a cluster of externally observed symptoms: the child often fidgets, makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, often loses his pencils, has difficulty waiting his turn, blurts out answers in class, and so forth. This is like defining diabetes as excessive urination, frequent thirst, lack of energy, and having sweet-smelling urine. Of course doctors do not define diabetes by these observable symptoms because diabetes has a well understood biological cause. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder of the pancreas being unable to produce sufficient insulin. But ADHD…[is] defined only by externally observable symptoms.”
- Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD – Part 2 (psychologytoday.com)
- Everybody Has ADHD. No, They Don’t. (psychologytoday.com)
- French Kids Do Have ADHD: An Interview (psychologytoday.com)
- Is ADHD an American Fad? (everydayhealth.com)
- Destroying Children with the Cloak of ADHD (2012thebigpicture.wordpress.com)
Dealing With Your Addiction: Why A 12 Step Program May Not Be Enough
Telling people who have been in recovery that the 12 Steps many not work is akin to making a racial slur. People who have been helped by the 12 Steps are very militant, they have the Big Book virtually memorized, and are dedicated to going to several meetings per week for the rest of their life.
I have no problem with that, if it works. But more times than we are willing to admit it’s just not enough.
According to AA, 33 percent of the 8,000 North American members it surveyed had remained sober for over 10 years. Twelve percent were sober for 5 to 10 years; 24 percent were sober 1 to 5 years; and 31 percent were sober for less than a year.
The study didn’t disclose how long each person interviewed had been working the rooms to achieve sobriety. It also revealed little about the percentage of people who attended AA, relapsed, and left the program. A 1990 summary of five different membership surveys (from 1977 through 1989) reported that 81 percent of alcoholics who engaged in the program stopped attending within a year. And only 5% of the AA attendees surveyed had been attending meetings for more than a year.
As a counselor who works part-time at an addictions centre I can testify that for many people just getting to a meeting, admitting you’re powerless, and becoming accountable, is a very good though not necessarily efficacious solution to your addiction issues.
What 12 Step groups do not do is as important to understand as what they do. 12 Step programs do not allege that they are good at counseling. They are, in point of fact, very up front about their “one alcoholic (addict) helping another alcohol (addict)” stance.
What is often missing for those who struggle is the ‘why’ question. Many substance abusers are self medicating their hurts, fears, boredom, mental issue, or past abuse. They felt they were unable to cope with the pain and drinking or drugging provided a way for things to feel better. Consequently some people also do that with online chatting, or pornography, or masturbation, or even World Of Warcraft. 12 Step Groups cannot help you come to understand your historic and ongoing love affair with serotonin, dopamine, or GABA.
In counseling many people come to realize that stopping substance abuse is only the first part of the solution. Once they remove the medicating effects of that crutch the lingering effects of trauma, hurt, or mental illness begins to thrust its way back to the surface. They may have dealt with the symptom of their problem (substance abuse) without realizing that the actual reason for self medicating has not been addressed. They don’t really have a drinking problem as much as they have a trauma issue, for example.
It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to realize that if I quit drinking but do not address the important questions behind the substance abuse I may be a ticking time bomb of pain, seeking other and potentially more destructive coping mechanisms.
If you have been dealing with an addiction issue perhaps it is time to ask yourself the ‘why’ question. You might find that underneath that need to use is an issue that you have been trying to ignore or medicate for years, that will not simply go away with time. If you know you need help, or are unsure but wonder if the problem is deeper than you thought, talk to someone who can help.
Talk to a counselor that doesn’t suck.
The Panic Attack
I met Kate (not her real name) one morning during my turn at Intake. She came to me after having a panic attack in the local mall. She was walking by a kiosk and the next thing Kate knew she was on the ground in the fetal position. She asked her doctor what she should do and he gave her an anxiety medication, a sleeping med, something for depression, and a benzodiazepine for her panic attacks. She was medicated and ready to go.
But she kept having panic attacks.
She went to her psychiatrist who adjusted her medications (perhaps a stronger dosage would do the trick) and sent her on the way.
She came to see me – frustrated, despondent, defeated and deflated. A couple of weeks later she dumped most of the meds and surprise, she wasn’t having panic attacks anymore. So what happened?
I know I’m not that good. I am constantly surprised that people have amazing turnarounds after a few months of counseling. Nothing on the outside may have changed much, so why the turnaround?
When people get depressed or are battling anxiety they are usually told to go out and do a bunch of things – go for walks, work out, cut out caffeine, take medications, socialize more, etc. While these are good ideas and may eventually help, have you ever tried to ask a depressed person to go for a regular walk? They came into that office feeling depressed and a few days later, after being unable to get out of bed and go for the magical exercise routine, they are still depressed and now can point to yet another failure.
The secret is – it’s not just about what you do. It’s about changing your mind, not just your routine. The bible says -“As a person thinks, so they are” (I take truth wherever I find it). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy says it this way, ‘change your mind and your ass will follow‘ (ok, maybe it’s just me that says it that way).
It’s not about going for a walk, as good an idea as that may be. It’s about changing the way you think, addressing your own cognitive distortions about life (calling your own bullshit), and learning how take control of your thoughts and emotions.
So we talked about her panic attack. We figured out the “window of opportunity” for dealing with her oncoming attack. She learned what panic attacks were, and how her subconscious was directing her. We talked about a few options that seemed incredibly simple to learn. She practiced… and practiced. She documented her attacks and we talked again.
And things changed.
Panic attacks are not incurable. Neither is depression or anxiety. They just may take a great deal of work to conquer.
I’ll be dealing with this issue in further posts and with specifics for my email subscribers. Watch for my upcoming post, “Anxiety is curable, but it’s probably more work than you are prepared to do.”
And oh ya, hire a counselor that doesn’t suck… (I can also tell you how to find that person).