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By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News
The number of people hospitalized because of amphetamine use is skyrocketing in the United States, but the resurgence of the drug largely has been overshadowed by the nation’s intense focus on opioids.
Amphetamine-related hospitalizations jumped by about 245 percent from 2008 to 2015, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That dwarfs the rise in hospitalizations from other drugs, such as opioids, which were up by about 46 percent. The most significant increases were in Western states.
The surge in hospitalizations and deaths due to amphetamines “is just totally off the radar,” said Jane Maxwell, an addiction researcher. “Nobody is paying attention.”
Doctors see evidence of the drug’s comeback in emergency departments, where patients arrive agitated, paranoid and aggressive. Paramedics and police officers see it on the streets, where suspects’ heart rates are so high that they need to be taken to the hospital for medical clearance before being booked into jail. And medical examiners see it in the morgue, where in a few states, such as Texas and Colorado, overdoses from meth have surpassed those from the opioid heroin.
Amphetamines are stimulant drugs, which are both legally prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and produced illegally into methamphetamine. Most of the hospitalizations in the study are believed to be due to methamphetamine use.
Commonly known as crystal meth, methamphetamine was popular in the 1990s before laws made it more difficult to access the pseudoephedrine, a common cold medicine, needed to produce it. In recent years, law enforcement officials said, there are fewer domestic meth labs and more meth is smuggled in from south of the border.
As opioids become harder to get, police said, more people have turned to meth, which is inexpensive and readily available.
Lupita Ruiz, 25, started using methamphetamine in her late teens but said she has been clean for about two years. When she was using, she said, her heart beat fast, she would stay up all night and she would forget to eat.
Ruiz, who lives in Spokane, Wash., said she was taken to the hospital twice after having mental breakdowns related to methamphetamine use, including a month long stay in the psychiatric ward in 2016. One time, Ruiz said, she yelled at and kicked police officers after they responded to a call to her apartment. Another time, she started walking on the freeway but doesn’t remember why.
“It just made me go crazy,” she said. “I was all messed up in my head.”
The federal government estimates that more than 10,000 people died of meth-related drug overdoses last year. Deaths from meth overdose generally result from multiple organ failure or heart attacks and strokes, caused by extraordinary pulse rates and skyrocketing blood pressure.
In California, the number of amphetamine-related overdose deaths rose by 127 percent from 456 in 2008 to 1,036 in 2013. At the same time, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths rose by 8.4 percent from 1,784 to 1,934, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Public Health.
“It taxes your first responders, your emergency rooms, your coroners,” said Robert Pennal, a retired supervisor with the California Department of Justice. “It’s an incredible burden on the health system.”
Costs also are rising. The JAMA study, based on hospital discharge data, found that the cost of amphetamine-related hospitalizations had jumped from $436 million in 2003 to nearly $2.2 billion by 2015. Medicaid was the primary payer.
“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t see someone acutely intoxicated on methamphetamine,” said Dr. Tarak Trivedi, an emergency room physician in Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties. “It’s a huge problem, and it is 100 percent spilling over into the emergency room.”
Trivedi said many psychiatric patients are also meth users. Some act so dangerously that they require sedation or restraints. He also sees people who have been using the drug for a long time and are dealing with the downstream consequences.
In the short term, the drug can cause a rapid heart rate and dangerously high blood pressure. In the long term, it can cause anxiety, dental problems and weight loss.
“You see people as young as their 30s with congestive heart failure as if they were in their 70s,” he said.
Jon Lopey, the sheriff-coroner of Siskiyou County in rural Northern California, said his officers frequently encounter meth users who are prone to violence and in the midst of what appear to be psychotic episodes. Many are emaciated and have missing teeth, dilated pupils and a tendency to pick at their skin because of a sensation of something beneath it.
“Meth is very, very destructive,” said Lopey, who also sits on the executive board of the California Peace Officers Association. “It is just so debilitating the way it ruins lives and health.”
Nationwide, amphetamine-related hospitalizations were primarily due to mental health or cardiovascular complications of the drug use, the JAMA study found. About half of the amphetamine hospitalizations also involved at least one other drug.
Because there has been so much attention on opioids, “we have not been properly keeping tabs on other substance use trends as robustly as we should,” said study author Dr. Tyler Winkelman, a physician at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis.
Sometimes doctors have trouble distinguishing symptoms of methamphetamine intoxication and underlying mental health conditions, said Dr. Erik Anderson, an emergency room physician at Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif. Patients also may be homeless and using other drugs alongside the methamphetamine.
Unlike opioid addiction, meth addiction cannot be treated with medication. Rather, people addicted to the drug rely on counseling through outpatient and residential treatment centers.
The opioid epidemic, which resulted in about 49,000 overdose deaths last year, recently prompted bipartisan federal legislation to improve access to recovery, expand coverage to treatment and combat drugs coming across the border.
There hasn’t been a similar recent legislative focus on methamphetamine or other drugs. And there simply aren’t enough resources devoted to amphetamine addiction to reduce the hospitalizations and deaths, said Maxwell, a researcher at the Addiction Research Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. The number of residential treatment facilities, for example, has continued to decline, she said.
“We have really undercut treatment for methamphetamine,” Maxwell said. “Meth has been completely overshadowed by opioids.”
KHN’s coverage in California is supported in part by Blue Shield of California Foundation.
Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” It’s no surprise, then, that many people around the world use art as a means to deal with stress, trauma and unhappiness – or to just find greater peace and meaning in their lives. If you’re curious about what art therapy has to offer, you can try out some of these great solo exercises at home to help nurse your mind, body and soul back to health. If you like the experience, you can also seek out professional art therapy treatment in your area.
Hello amazing creative people!
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Deal with emotions like anger and sadness through these helpful exercises.
- Draw or paint your emotions. In this exercise, you’ll focus entirely on painting what you’re feeling.
- Create an emotion wheel. Using color, this activity will have you thinking critically about your emotions.
- Make a stress painting. Choose colors that represent your stress and jab, scribble and paint your problems away.
- Put together a journal. Journals don’t have to just be based around words. You can make an art journal as well, that lets you visually express your emotions.
- Make sock puppets. Sock puppets aren’t just for kids. Make your own and have them act out scenes that make you upset.
- Use line art. Line is one of the simplest and most basic aspects of art, but it can also contain a lot of emotion. Use simple line art to demonstrate visually how you’re feeling.
- Design a postcard you will never send. Are you still angry or upset with someone in your life? Create a postcard that expresses this, though you don’t have to ever send it.
- Create a sculpture of your anger. For this activity, you’ll make a physical manifestation of the anger in your life.
- Paint a mountain and a valley. The mountain can represent a time where you were happy, the valley, when you were sad. Add elements that reflect specific events as well.
- Attach a drawing or message to a balloon. Send away negative emotions or spread positive ones by attaching a note or drawing to a balloon and setting it free.
- Paint inside a heart. Using a heart as a pattern, fill in different parts of the heart with the emotions you’re feeling right now.
Art therapy can be a great way to relax. Consider these exercises if you’re looking to feel a little more laid back. I have also created free audio’s and visualizations you can use for yourself and for clients. I recommend my clients go to mindaudio1.com. these audio’s are for people who want healing whither it is for addiction, chronic pain, sleep problems, health problems, racing thoughts, managing critical self and more. For free audio’s to help heal the mind, body and spirit go to mindaudio1.com I use the healing visualization regularly as well.
- Paint to music. Letting your creativity flow in response to music is a great way to let out feelings and just relax.
- Make a scribble drawing. With this activity, you’ll turn a simple scribble into something beautiful, using line, color and your creativity.
- Finger paint. Finger painting isn’t just fun for kids– adults can enjoy it as well. Get your hands messy and really have fun spreading paint around.
- Make a mandala. Whether you use the traditional sand or draw one on your own, this meditative symbol can easily help you to loosen up.
- Draw in the dark. Not being able to judge what you’re drawing or having to worry about whether or not it’s “right” can be very liberating.
- Draw something HUGE. Then something very small. Getting your body involved and moving around can help release stress as you’re drawing.
- Use color blocks. Colors often come with a lot of emotions attached. Choose several paint chips to work with and collage, paint and glue until you’ve created a colorful masterpiece.
- Let yourself be free. Don’t allow yourself to judge your work. After all, there’s no way to fail and no right way to make art. Just draw, paint or sculpt until your heart’s content.
- Only use colors that calm you. Create a drawing or a painting using only colors that you find calming.
- Draw in sand. Like a Zen garden, this activity will have you drawing shapes and scenes in the sand, which can be immensely relaxing and a great way to clear your mind.
- Make a zentangle. These fun little drawings are a great tool for letting go and helping reduce stress.
- Color in a design. Sometimes, the simple act of coloring can be a great way to relax. Find a coloring book or use this mandala for coloring.
- Draw outside. Working en plein air can be a fun way to relax and get in touch with nature while you’re working on art.
Art can not only help you deal with the bad stuff, but also help you appreciate and focus on the good. Check out these activities all about reflecting on your personal happiness.
- Draw your vision of a perfect day. Think about what constitutes a perfect day to you and draw or paint it. What about this drawing can you make happen today?
- Take photographs of things you think are beautiful. No one else has to like them but you. Print and frame them to have constant reminders of the beautiful things in life.
- Make a drawing related to a quote you like. Take the words of wisdom from someone else and turn them into something visually inspiring.
- Create a drawing that represents freedom. This activity has you think about the concept of freedom and what it means to you, creating a work of art that showcases just what it means to you as an individual.
- Document a spiritual experience. Have you ever had a spiritual experience in your life? Draw or paint what it felt like.
- Make a stuffed animal. Soft, cuddly objects can be very comforting. Use this project to create an animal that means something to you.
- Work on a softness project. Using only soft or comforting objects, create a work of art.
- Build a “home.” What does home mean to you? This activity will have you create a safe, warm place– it doesn’t have to be practical– that feels like home to you.
- Document an experience where you did something you didn’t think you could do. We all have to do things that we’re scared or unsure of sometimes. Use this activity as a chance to commemorate one instance in your life.
- Think up a wild invention. This invention should do something that can help make you happier– no matter what that is.
- Make a prayer flag. Send your prayers for yourself or those around you out into the universe with this project. find more helpful blog articles at
Often, a great way to get to know yourself and your relationships with others is through portraits.
- Create a future self-portrait. This drawing or painting should reflect where you see yourself in the future.
- Draw a bag self-portrait. On the outside of a paper bag, you’ll create a self-portrait. On the inside, you’ll fill it with things that represent who you are.
- Choose the people who matter most to you in life and create unique art for each. This is a great way to acknowledge what really matters to you and express your gratitude.
- Draw a portrait of someone who changed your life. If someone has ever helped change your path, for better or worse, draw this person.
- Create an image that represents how you think others see you. Then, have someone in the class draw a portrait of you. Compare the results.
- Draw yourself as a warrior. Start thinking about yourself as a strong, capable person by drawing yourself as a warrior in this activity.
- Create a transformational portrait series. This project will help you to see how you’ve changed over time and represent those changes visually.
- Imitate Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Using objects that have meaning to you, create a portrait of yourself.
- Create a body image sketch. If you have issues with your self-esteem and body image, this can be an interesting way to see how your perceptions match up with reality.
- Draw a mirror. This activity is based around a Piet Mondrian quote: “The purer the artist’s mirror is, the more true reality reflects in it.” You’ll need to figure out what is still cloudy in your own reflection of yourself, drawing a mirror and depicting those elements on paper.
- Draw yourself as a superhero. If you could have a superpower what would it be? This project asks you to depict your own image as a superhero with these powers.
Trauma and Unhappiness
These activities will ask you to face some unpleasant aspects of life, but with the goal of overcoming them.
- Draw a place where you feel safe. The world can be a scary place but in this project you’ll create a place, draw, painted or sculpted, that makes you feel safe.
- Create a mini-diorama. This diorama can showcase an important moment in your life or some trauma that you’ve experienced.
- Create a collage of your worries. What worries you in your life? Cut out pictures from magazines to represent these worries.
- Draw something that scares you. Everyone is frightened of something and in this project you’ll get a chance to bring that fear to light and hopefully work towards facing it.
- Turn your illness into art. Facing a potentially terminal illness? Turn your illness into something beautiful by creating art about it.
- Paint a loss in your life. If you’ve lost someone you love or something, paint it. This will help you to remember but also to recover.
- Make art that is ephemeral. Sometimes we have a hard time letting go, but this project will teach you that it’s ok if something doesn’t last. Use materials like sand, chalk, paper or water to create art that you will destroy when it’s done.
If you prefer to cut and paste rather than draw or paint, these projects are for you.
- Create a motivational collage. You can hang this collage somewhere you’ll see it everyday. Filled with images you find motivating, it’ll help you keep pushing on.
- Create a face collage on a mask. We all wear masks of some sort. This project lets you showcase what’s in your mask and the face you put on for the world.
- Create a clutter collage. Are there things cluttering up your life? In this project, use words and pictures to show the clutter in your way.
- Create a calming collage. Choose images that you find soothing, calming or even meditative and combine them to create an attractive collage that can help you to relax.
- Collage a painting. To complete this exercise, you’ll first need to create a simple, abstract painting on paper. Then, tear this painting up and create another. Think about how you felt when you had to tear up the first painting and which you like more.
Examine aspects if who you are and how you see the world through these amazing art projects.
- Draw images of your good traits. Creating drawings of your good traits will help you to become more positive and build a better self-image.
- Draw yourself as an animal. Is there an animal that you have a special interest in or feel like is a kindred spirit? Draw yourself as that animal.
- Create a timeline and draw the most significant moments in your life. This timeline will be the story of your life, with the most important moments highlighted visually.
- Put together a jungle animal collage. Choose jungle animals that you find the most interesting, draw them, and then reflect on why you’ve chosen these specific animals.
- Sculpt your ideal self. If you could make yourself into the perfect person, what would you look like?
- Paint the different sides of yourself. In this project, you’ll paint the different aspects of your personality, giving each a visual representation. You might only have one or two, or maybe even twelve.
- Make art around your fingerprints. Your fingerprints are as unique as you are. Use ink and paint to make art that uses your fingerprints.
- Draw yourself as a tree. Your roots will be loaded with descriptions of things that give you strength and your good qualities, while your leaves can be the things that you’re trying to change.
- Design a fragments box. In this project, you’ll put fragments of yourself into a box, helping construct a whole and happier you.
- Paint an important childhood memory. What was a pivotal memory in your childhood? This activity asks you to document it and try to understand why it was so important to you.
- Write and illustrate a fairy tale about yourself. If you could put yourself into a happily ever after situation, what role would you play and how would the story go? Create a book that tells the tale.
- Design a visual autobiography. This creative journaling project asks you to look back at your life and make a visual representation of it.
- Create your own coat of arms. Choose symbols that represent your strengths to build your own special coat of arms.
- Draw a comic strip about a funny moment in your life. Enjoy a moment of levity with this exercise that will focus in on a comical even that happened to you.
- Build your own website. Websites are very versatile ways to express yourself. Build your own to express what’s most important about you.
- Create a box of values. First, collage or paint a box the represents you. Then, place items inside the box that represent the things you value the most. has a blog to help you find your top ten values.
Here you’ll find a collection of projects that will help you be happy about what you have and express your gratitude for it.
- Document your gratitude visually. What things are you grateful for in your life? Paint or collage a work that represents these things.
- Create a family tree of strength. This exercise honors those around you who support you. Paint those close to you who offer you the strength you need.
- Make something for someone else. Making something for someone else can be a great way to feel good and help someone else do so as well.
- Make anchor art. Who are the anchors in your life? In this project, you’ll make an anchor and decorate it with the people and things that provide you stability and strength.
- Draw all the positive things in your life. Everyone has at least one good thing in life, so sit down and figure out what makes you happy– then draw it.
- Sculpt your hand in plaster. Once it’s dry, write all the good things you can do with it right onto the hand.
- Paint a rock. This project is meant to offer you strength. You can approach it in two ways. One option is to paint the rock with things that empower you. The other is to paint it with struggles you overcome.
- Write on leaves to create a gratitude tree. What are you grateful for? This project asks you to write those things on leaves to construct a tree or banner of gratitude.
- Map out the connections in your life. Draw yourself at the center of this project, then map out how you’re connected to everyone else in your life. It will help make you feel much less alone.
- Create a snowflake out of paper. Write ideas about how you are unique on the snowflake.
- Build a personal altar. This is a highly personal project that will help connect you with your spiritual side and honor your resilience.
Inside the Mind
Take a look inside your mind to see what’s going on with these projects.
- Create a blot art. Like a classic Rorschach test, fold paper in half with paint or ink in the middle and describe what you see.
- Map your brain. Make a visual representation of your thoughts to figure out how your mind works.
- Make a dreamcatcher. Having bad dreams? Create this age-old tool for catching your dreams with a few simple tools.
- Draw your dreams. You can learn a lot from what goes on in your dreams, so keep a dream journal and use it for inspiration to draw or paint.
If you’re still looking for something to empower, help or soothe you, these projects may fit the bill.
- Use natural materials. Leaves, sticks, dirt, clay and other natural materials can help you get in touch with the natural world and the more primal side of yourself.
- Build an archetype. Check out this series of projects to build a set of archetypes, or ideal examples, that can help you explore how you see the world.
- Use your body as a canvas. You don’t need paper when you have you body. Paint on your hands and feet or anywhere else to feel more in touch with yourself.
- Sculpt spirit figures. Connect with those that have passed on or your own spiritual essence using these sculpted figures.
- Make art out of recycled items. You can reuse old items that have meaning to you or just re-purpose something you have laying around. Either way, you’ll get insights into how you can reshape and reevaluate your own life.
- Collage or draw on top of old photographs. If you’re uncomfortable using old photos you can make copies, but with this project you’ll draw out one characteristic you see in the person in the photos.
- Create your own interpretation of a famous work of art. How would you have painted the Mona Lisa? Using a famous work as your inspiration, create your own work. It could help reveal more about your lens on the world.
- Work collaboratively. Art can be better when two work at it together, so find a partner and collaborate on just about anything.
- Use a found or made object as a paintbrush. Whether it’s something sharp or something soft, make your own artistic tool and use it to express what you’re feeling.
- Make crayon stained glass. Reflect upon your spiritual side with this project that lets you create your own stained glass window.
- Paint a window. Windows let you see in and see out. Paint yours with things you want to hide or show to the world. Enjoy more blog articles at
Article re-posted from
How we got here
Many of us know the feeling of anxiety that we get when we are concerned about a loved one’s substance use. That feeling of fear often leads us to try to manage, “help”, or control the person we care about and their situation. We may step in to pay a bill for them, throw their drug away, or make excuses like “they just aren’t feeling well”. We believe, as family members, that if we provide a way out, the person we love in active addiction will take it. Unfortunately, the disease of addiction doesn’t work that way. Our dear one’s brains have been hijacked by something telling them there is nothing more necessary to survival than the substance, and we end up enabling the drug or alcohol use to continue instead of making it stop.
Love, fear, and confusion are the greatest barriers to family and friends changing the way we interact with people we care about who are in active addiction. Eventually the addiction progresses and we begin to realize that what we have been doing hasn’t been working. Then we can start to look for another way. For family that means recognizing that the 1st step of AA applies to us as well, “Came to believe we were powerless over alcohol (drugs), and that ourlives had become unmanageable.” After all, we have tried everything we can think of, and still the addiction continues.
Where We Go From Here
As we accept that what we have been doing hasn’t worked, we become open to trying new approaches. 12-step support groups exist for us as well! AlAnon and NarAnon are places for friends and family of alcoholics or addicts to gain the serenity, courage, and wisdom we have been desperate for. These meetings allow us a space to hear other people share their experiences and offer strength and hope. Literature (books, pamphlets, and daily readers) from those groups are very helpful. We find comfort being in a room of people who understand what we are going through and are not judgmental.
Counselors specializing in co-dependency and/or substance use disorder are a great resource as well. Often we, as friends or family, have put our own needs on the back-burner and have neglected our mental, emotional, social and/or physical health. As we begin to reengage in activities which are life-giving, we start to gain some perspective and feel better. The situations may not change, but our ability to recognize what we can and can’t do changes drastically.
We Can ALL be in Recovery
We have been suffering though our loved one’s addiction with them but we can start to heal and have hope- whether they enter their own recovery or not. In time we learn and use new tools such as: setting boundaries, reaching out for help, and stepping back from cleaning up the mess addiction leaves in its wake. These things demonstrate that we are no longer going to be responsible for another person’s illness. If our loved ones find recovery
too then we get to embark in a whole new relationship with them. Eventually we see that our time with them can have the honesty, compassion and laughter we have missed. We can each find healing. The key is accepting that we can only find it for ourselves. Then, we allow others the time and space needed for them to find their own healing as well.
Contributed Family Counselor by Heather Bland, MAEd, NCC, LCAS-A
We all have to deal with trauma at certain times in our lives. However, many of us are more sensitive to traumatic moments in our lives or in the lives of those around us. For many that have experienced abuse or trauma, whether in childhood or adulthood, dramatic or traumatic events can cause serious psychological stresses that can push them back into the vicious cycle of substance abuse. Whether it is emotional, psychological or physical trauma, we have some tips to deal with one of the most common issues affecting recovering addicts…
- Build a support structure. Giving yourself the foundation upon which to build a crisis management mindset is critical. This means pulling together all of the support tools you have built over your time in and since recovery. This may include supportive family, your recovery facility, friends, your sponsor and support group peers. Having these people around you and being able to rely on them is an important part of long-term recovery.
- Have an action plan. It may be a call to your sponsor, speaking to friends or loved ones that understand your needs and can help, or a plan for coming back to rehab for inpatient or outpatient therapy. Developing your plan during times where you’re not under stress offers a better chance to implement the plan during tough times. Further, knowing that support and help is out there makes dealing with crises far less daunting.
- Have a safe place. While having a safe place to go to during a crisis event is particularly important for physical trauma, it’s helpful for psychological and emotional trauma as well. Having a “safe place” can offer refuge from the stresses and dangers of the situation you find yourself in.
- Accept that bad things happen. Many of us go through life hoping that bad things won’t happen to us and lamenting our situation when something doesn’t go our way. Rather than sticking our heads in the sand, we must be masters of our own destiny by accepting and appreciating that life has its ups and downs. With that being said, we must also recognize that certain things are out of our control and while it would be great for life to be perfect, we have to let go sometimes.
- Volunteer. Spend time volunteering at charities or organizations that deal with other people’s traumas. For example, shelters for victims of domestic abuse or programs addressing PTSD in military and non-military people often need volunteers to help. Understanding that there are people who worse off and appreciating what you have is a great byproduct of helping others get through the most difficult times of their lives.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the thought of a possible crisis or that you are not able to cope as well as you would like, there are specialized programs and therapeutic protocols to address these issues. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to take advantage of these programs as they can offer individualized target treatment that really works.
And of course, if you should relapse during a traumatic event, know that recovery is a fluid process and virtually everyone in recovery has lapsed or relapsed at some point in their lives. Seeking out the appropriate support system and having caring people around you to help you through it is the best way to manage your next crisis.
The first time I ever practiced yoga was 2000. I had just returned from a trip to Santa Cruz where a dude in flowing peach robes had handed me some literature on it, and it called to me like a long lost lover. I lived in Fresno and at the time, there was only one yoga class. It happened once a week, and it was taught in a church by an older white guy that reminded me of the leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult.
I walked out of those classes feeling new, grounded, balanced, alive, and more than anything, feeling like I was going to be okay. I loved it, LOVED it, but I wasn’t ready for it at the time, and after two months of that weekly practice, I lost touch with it for a few years. Then in 2003, in my last quarter of school at UC Santa Cruz, I started to have severe panic attacks, and returned to the mat, this time practicing Bikram Yoga. It turned around my anxiety entirely and within a few months not only was I was panic attack free, I was also some what of a new woman. I lost weight. I got the balls to end a seven year relationship. I found solace and escape and calm, became more alive, and overcame a severe depression. Because of these things, it stuck with me and over the next 10 years I practiced both Bikram and Vinyasa Flow regularly, though not religiously or with any real discipline or devotion. Mostly, it was a work out I did a few times a week that kept me off of meds.
This all changed for me in recovery.
My first attempt to quit drinking had mostly been sustained by my decision to not drink. But because I had failed to address any of the things that were driving the need to escape in the first place, that first go at ditching the booze crashed and burned, and in early 2013 I switched my plan of attack – instead of just going for sobriety, I began to go for healing. This approach led me down a lot of different paths – to healers, to spiritual teachers, to books, to extreme self care, to meditation, and notably, to a lot of yoga classes. It was during this time that yoga began to take on a whole new meaning for me, because I wasn’t using it to simply sustain my life as I had all those years, I was using it as something I needed to change my life.
As my practice deepened, I found myself having near religious experiences on the mat – moments of severe bliss and surrender, moments of connection to something beyond my small finite self, and many many moments spent processing grief and trauma, the years of abuse and neglect literally coming undone as I finally allowed them to become undone. I was evolving in these classes and I couldn’t get enough.
I had never considered practicing yoga at home, but after a girlfriend turned me on to YogaGlo, an internet service that streams yoga classes, I began practicing from home on an almost nightly basis and skipping the studio altogether. On YogaGlo there was an endless supply of classes from nearly every school of yoga, and like a kid in a candy store, I went nuts on them all. I tried every style, every teacher, every duration, every level. It wasn’t long before I took it a step further and transformed my apartment into a mini studio. I ran the bath and the oven to create a steamy heated environment, diffused essential oils to create that yoga studio smell, made new agey playlists on Spotify (here’s a link to my favorite), bought fancy new yoga clothes, and I lit candles. It was divine and I began rushing home to my apartment after work to do yoga the same way I had to uncork the wine.
It wasn’t long before this became the keystone of my recovery. On business trips and vacation, my yoga mat traveled with me as did my iPad so I could access my favorite YogaGlo classes. I did it in hotel rooms. I did it at friend’s houses, vinyasing and downward dogging as we caught up on our lives. I did it in my childhood home at Christmas as my family played board games. I did it in Fresno and Rome and Sicily and New York and Boston and Los Angeles and Hawaii and San Diego and Chicago and D.C. Everywhere I went, my practice came with me, and by the summer of 2013, I had signed up to train to become a teacher.
There are so many ways yoga supported me specific to recovery from addiction to alcohol, food, cigarettes, and drugs. it would require a book to contain them all, so I’m sharing just a few here. The point is that there isn’t an area of my life and existence it didn’t touch, and there is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.
THE TOP 9 WAYS YOGA HELPED ME RECOVER FROM FOOD, DRUG, AND ALCOHOL ADDICTION.
1. Replaced artificial highs for natural ones. I was the poster child of hedonism and I chased highs and escape. I ate too much, I drank too much, I gossiped too much, I bought too much, I smoked too much, I worked too much, etc. Because I felt so empty on the inside, I used an insane amount of external things to fill the holes on the inside – anything that fed my senses, I was hungry for. Yoga (specifically meditation, which falls under the yoga umbrella) teaches us to draw our awareness away from these external stimuli, detach from our senses, and direct our attention inward. We are thus able to build a connection to our inner world and our higher selves. Over time, this practice of “turning in” to our innate wisdom and awareness teaches us to become more reliant on the peace within, and thus less reliant on the stuff outside. In other words, we become less inclined to chase the longings of our senses outside of us – the longing for external pleasure – and more inclined to chase the pleasure that lies within. While I am still an “external pleasure chaser” and numb out with a chocolate and coffee, or other cheap thrills from time to time, I now crave the natural high I get from yoga and meditation more than anything else.
2. Eliminated reactiveness. My reactiveness was out of control when I first embarked on this path, especially with my closest relationships and at work – the two places I seemed to be able to get away with it. At the beginning of my recovery, I was convinced I had Borderline Personality Disorder. My mood was in constant flux, I went from love to hate in seconds flat, and when I was triggered or angry, like an angry pit bull I’d grab hold of whomever had triggered me and bite until they bled out. I had absolutely no control over my reactiveness and I felt almost a victim to myself at these times. The steady practice of yoga and meditation changed all that for me. It gave me space between my thoughts, centeredness in my response, and awareness of the other person’s position. It also taught me that my power lies in my ability to control my reaction, not in the power of my words or defense. It is pretty rare that an encounter can provoke me to a state beyond my control, and even on these occasions, I am able to find my center pretty quickly.
3. Provided community. Because I didn’t go the AA route, community has been a bit of a rough spot for me. I have more than enough friends and loved ones, but I’ve missed feeling like I’m part of a tribe. Yoga has provided this for me. Through classes, teacher trainings, and workshops, I have made some of the deepest connections of my life within a community where everyone seems to know everyone. Like minded individuals who are working on themselves in the same way I am, who have similar outlooks on health and life and spirit, who I can say things to like “I think my third chakra is out of balance” or “I have interference in my magnetic field” and still be seen as normal. I can’t express how extremely important this has been to me on my path. I NEED these people and many have become like family, people I feel I was always meant to meet and go through these things with.
4. Developed control of mind. Meditation (which IS yoga) is for the mind what a free weight is for the bicep – it is strength training. Specifically, it aids in the development of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for choice, and also, the area that is most compromised by alcohol and drug addiction. Having practiced meditation on a consistent basis for 30 months as of July 1st, I have experienced a total flip. I am no longer a victim to the whim of my mind, but rather, the captain of the ship. Yes, it escapes me at times. Yes I downward spiral. But I never feel out of control. Not in the way I used to, where I felt like a balloon tossed around in a wind current. I hold the string now, and I can reel the balloon back in. This control has been crucial in my recovery – I literally have created a strength of mind that I have never had before in my life, and further, repaired the parts of my brain that were directly compromised by my addiction.
5. Increased control over stress and anxiety levels, and reparation of the nervous system. Kundalini yoga is primarily responsible for this. Because it works with the nervous system and glandular system, there are many kriyas (sets of postures and mediations and breathing exercises that are designed to bring about a specific outcome) and meditations that go to work on the nervous system directly. These kriyas make us shake, make us sweat, trigger and test our nervous system. The result of these types of practices are magic – they literally reinforce our nerves and our stress response giving us nerves of steel. Not only have I repaired a severely depleted nervous system, I have been able to overcome panic attacks and cold-fear using specific meditations and over time, I’ve learned to manage my stress immediately and on the spot through specific breathing exercises and meditations (like this meditation to overcome anxiety and panic attacks.)
6. The ultimate healthy coping mechanism. In the early days without alcohol and later without pot, the biggest gap I had to fill were the evenings home after work. Where before I could take the edge off a day or escape from the world by smoking a joint or drinking, I began to turn to my yoga mat and meditation pillow instead and get the SAME effect of escape and de-stress without the consequence. And it didn’t stop there in its handiness. If I had an encounter that shook me, I had yoga as an antidote. If I felt unsafe or deep in self pity, I could pull myself out of it on the mat. If I had a big meeting or a presentation or knew I was going to be in a stressful situation, I alleviated the stress and prepared for these things in asana and meditation. Yoga became my pot, my alcohol, my food, my cigarette – without the downside.
7. Helped conquer insomnia. For the better part of my adult life, I’d used pot and alcohol to fall asleep at night. Because I was such a type A and because I would go go go up until my bedtime, the thought of turning it off naturally and without the aid of these substances completely freaked me out. To prepare for this transition, I began doing yoga sets that were meant to prepare for rest and induce sleep – specific vinyasa flows, guided meditations, kundalini practices such as left-nostril breathing, and a practice called Yoga Nidra that uses progressive muscle relaxation to take you into a “yogic sleep”. Getting familiar with these practices before ditching the pot and alcohol made me a lot more confident that I could fall asleep naturally, and when I was completely sober I relied on them entirely at first. I am now able to fall asleep naturally without any aid, but on the occasions where I do need a little something, I turn to yoga. It also is my number one tool if I wake up with the 4am cold sweats. It fixes everything. Seriously.
8. Fierce Determination. Whether it’s holding a terribly uncomfortable posture in Vinyasa, keeping my arms up over my head in a Kundalini posture for 20 minutes, or holding a meditation for longer than I wish to, yoga is constantly forcing me to my edge. And it’s at this edge where the real transformation happens – while we are riding the burn, when we resist giving up, when we resist giving in. Time and again yoga – specifically Kundalini – has transported me to the places where I would normally give up, and given me the opportunity to not. In doing this on the yoga mat – in holding my resolve to finish the posture or the meditation regardless of the discomfort and regardless of how much I want to quit – I’ve learned to do it off the mat. It’s translated into real life results, not just yoga results, and carried me through the times I have wanted to give up along this path. It’s made me strong.
9. Spiritual Teachers. Yoga has brought me in to contact with a number of spiritual teachers who have helped inspire and guide my path, helped me to make sense of the crazy that is this journey, taken me beyond my limited understandings, opened me up to texts and teachings and sacred practices, held me in my darkest hours, pushed me when I needed to be pushed, and have become my real life role models. My Kundalini teachers at the San Francisco Ashram including Awtar Kaur Khalsa, Seva Simran Khalsa, and Saram Singh Khalsa; my vinyasa teacher Stephanie Snyder; Kia Miller, my YogaGlo Kundalini teacher that was with me in my darkest hours (though she has no idea who I am); my first meditation teacher James Baraz who opened me up to this world in January 2012; Gabby Bernstein (who also has no idea who I am) and Gurmukh, who both introduced me to Kundalini; and Sat Siri who I met in March at a Mastin Kipp retreat, is now my forever Kundalini teacher (check her out here, she’s amazing). All of these individuals are powerhouses of knowledge and have shaped me in some form, but more importantly, almost all have come to where they are from some sort of traumatic beginning, and used yoga to transform their suffering into service to others.
Written by Holly Glenn Whitaker, Article taken from Hip Sobriety
September marks a special time in the recovery community. It’s National Recovery Month, and while we’re on the heels of International Overdose Awareness Day, Recovery Month gives us something to be grateful for. For years, people who struggle with addiction, as well as people who live in recovery, have spent their lives in the closet. They haven’t felt like they can share their pain or their triumph because of the stigma attached to it.
That’s where Recovery Month comes in. Recovery Month is a national observance that is now in its 27thyear. It aims to celebrate the accomplishments of people who have reclaimed their lives in long-term recovery and honors treatment and recovery service providers who help make recovery possible. Thanks to Recovery Month, many of us feel comfortable talking about what we’ve been through and where we’re going.
Here are 5 ways you can celebrate Recovery Month.
The last time I thought about taking heroin was yesterday. I had received “an inconvenient truth” from a beautiful woman. It wasn’t about climate change – I’m not that ecologically switched on – she told me she was pregnant and it wasn’t mine.
I had to take immediate action. I put Morrissey on in my car as an external conduit for the surging melancholy, and as I wound my way through the neurotic Hollywood hills, the narrow lanes and tight bends were a material echo of the synaptic tangle where my thoughts stalled and jammed.
Morrissey, as ever, conducted a symphony, within and without and the tidal misery burgeoned. I am becoming possessed. The part of me that experienced the negative data, the self, is becoming overwhelmed, I can no longer see where I end and the pain begins. So now I have a choice.
The statistics are staggering and the numbers continue to climb. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 64,000 people in the U.S. died from opiate use and abuse in 2016. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control, 1,956 of those deaths occurred in N.C. Last year in Guilford County, 142 lives were lost due to drug use and abuse; I knew 10 of them – and a few of them were close friends.
Reports, documentaries, articles, even photo essays have been done about the crisis, but some have done more harm than good by portraying stereotypes of what an opiate addiction looks like. Unfortunately, these horrifying images only stigmatize those who are suffering even further, bringing about feelings of hopelessness and despair. Our society too often is quick to make judgements with insufficient information. Yes, addiction is ugly – but hope lives because recovery is available.
Early recovery is often described as an emotional roller coaster ride. Elation and relief can quickly turn into anger or shame as feelings come flooding back after being masked by substances for so long. Starting a recovery journal is a helpful way to make sense of these conflicting emotions. As the pen hits the paper, there exists a space for vulnerability and honesty to live and thrive.
The goal of a recovery journal is not to dwell on the past or look to the future, but instead to explore feelings in the present. Putting our thoughts down on paper helps us better understand our actions and reactions in a way that is seldom revealed by talking or thinking. Writing gives us the answer to questions we never even knew we had.