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We Are Family: Loving a Person with Substance Use Disorder

October 22, 2018

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

Trauma Drama – How to Handle the Next Crisis

September 24, 2018

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.

9 Ways Yoga Helped Me Recover From Addiction

September 5, 2018

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.



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.

“If you look for artificial heights, then you will also have to face artificial depths.”

— Sri Swami Satchidananda

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 systemKundalini 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


Celebrating Sobriety During Recovery Month

August 23, 2018

Celebrating Recovery Month

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.

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Russell Brand: My Life Without Drugs

August 13, 2018

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.

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The Opiate Crisis from my front row seat…

July 25, 2018

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.

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Why You Should Start A Recovery Journal

July 5, 2018

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.

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Why You Should Exercise During Addiction Recovery

June 20, 2018

Exercise plays a critical role in the health of both body and mind. As a society, we’re exercising less and the effects can be clearly seen in our collective physical state. However less noticed and understood is how exercise affects the brain. Exercising does not have to be an incredibly difficult nor does it need to be monotonous, but its effects are profound, especially in those recovering from substance abuse or addiction. So, let’s drive into why exercise is so important for the recovering addict:

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6 Strategies to Avoid Relapse Triggers

May 31, 2018

Protecting your recovery at all costs must be emphasized at every stage of recovery.  Because relapse starts well before a person picks up a drink or a drug, it is essential to understand what your relapse triggers are. You may ask, “What the heck is a trigger?”  A trigger can be described as a person, place, thing, feeling, or situation that leads to a thought that taking a drink or using a drug would be a good idea.

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Families Need Recovery Too: 8 steps to get your life back

May 9, 2018

Addiction to alcohol and drugs affects one’s body, mind, and soul.  But the damage doesn’t end there. Families and friends also suffer as their loved one’s dependency progresses, stress builds, and communication starts to break down. Families need to recover from addiction, too.

Family members and loved ones find ways to cope and adapt to the evolving lifestyle that addiction is shaping.  It’s not uncommon for family members to feel imprisoned by this disease. As destructive, self-defeating behaviors increase, family members and addicts alike shift into survival mode, just trying to make it through another day of ever-worsening problems.

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