Monday, January 31, 2011

        I love that I can claim as part of my job description: Helping to Reveal Joy.  Unfortunately, the journey to joy is imperfect and often involves pain.  Much like the bright blue 'Joy" emblem at the top of this article, life can be tainted around the edges with the red, hot searing force of emotional pain.  We see it every day!

        The concept of clean pain and dirty pain comes up a lot when we work with clients at The Coleman Institute.  Since life involves inevitable suffering, it is appropriate to grieve and feel pain.  But, as Dr. Steven Hayes says, “Simple pain can become traumatic pain. And that is much harder to deal with.  Being willing to experience thoughts and emotions as they are (not as what they say they are) is what makes the difference between an experience that is painful and one that is traumatic,” says Hayes.  When we are willing to experience pure psychological pain without resistance, we learn that although it hurts, it won’t, in and of itself, do damage.  When we are unwilling to experience the pain, our unwillingness compounds it and creates traumatic pain.

        When people decide not to deal with the pain, patterns of avoidance emerge.  People choose to live in such a way as to avoid anything that might give any association with pain and consequently their world shrinks.  To make matters worse, their choices diminish to change their lives because of their adherence to the avoidance pattern.

        We recently completed an Accelerated Opiate Detox with a patient whose father had left the family after being married to his mom for 32 years.  Dad didn’t come to either of his sons’ weddings because he had ‘started a new life’.  He just left everyone and everything behind. 

        Our client is a delightful, smart, fun-loving guy.  Rather than process the anguish he felt at his father’s rejection he began to create avoidance systems.  He wasn’t conscious that he was doing this and, in fact, these actions protected him from feeling pain for a while.

        His strategies were rather simple, at first….dissing his dad, drinking beer, and losing himself in his work and play. Eventually, he had to have surgery and when he was prescribed opiate medications, he discovered how perfectly they fit in with the “Avoidance Plan”.  Opiates are great for numbing our most exquisite navigational tools: our emotions.
        I love what Dr. Martha Beck says about gratifying a false want, in this case, opiates. “If you gratify a false want over and over, ignoring the terrible feelings that accompany it, you’ll move far away from your destiny and into the worst kind of despair. But the false desire itself is not evil; it is simply the lost and wandering child of some true desire.”

        We are having lots of fun walking with and working with this guy as he taps back into his truth and reclaims his peace.  Learning to honor our true yearnings is an exciting process, albeit a little scary when one first begins to practice.

 Joan R. Shepherd, FNP

Friday, January 21, 2011

     Happy New Year!  I hope you are enjoying your sobriety journey in 2011!  This year is full of possibilities great and small and I hope to help you seize the moments of growth through the 12 Steps this year.  I will focus on one step per month. 
     January is a time of new beginnings.  It is a time to reassess the areas of your life that you long to see changed for good.  It is a time for resolution, re-commitment, and re-dedication of your life to sobriety and recovery.  Let’s take a look at the step for January: Step 1!
     Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous reads, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.”  To admit personal powerlessness is very difficult because you risk having to embrace the truth of your admission.  You risk ridicule.  You risk rejection.  You risk judgment.  However, risk it anyway!  The only way you will ever get better is a no, holds barred assessment, understanding, and admission of your powerlessness over alcohol and/or drugs. 
     About the word powerless…this is important to understand.  Powerless is not an excuse to stay drunk or high.  It is not a cop-out.  It is not a “woe-is-me” sentiment.  Rather, it is a declaration of the truth, namely, that you cannot beat this stuff by yourself.            
     For example, if someone pushes you in a pool and you can’t swim, a couple of things can happen.  First, you may by chance or luck find a way to keep your head about water and get out of the pool.  Second, you will learn very quickly how to tread water.  Third, you will drown.  Last, you can call for help and I, a once certified lifeguard, can dive in and rescue you.  However, any trained lifeguard knows to never approach someone who is kicking and thrashing and screaming in the water because they will drown you too!  However, if I ask you to remain calm and slowly act like you’re riding a bike, I can swim behind you and pull you to safety.  You must first relax, accept, and admit your powerlessness before you can be rescued.
     So, why not adopt a similar attitude in regards to your addiction.  Take this month of January and reflect on all the times you promised yourself (and others) that you were quitting for good this time.  Count the cost (financial, relational, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical) of the bill that substance abuse has sent you over the life of your use.  And decide that you need help.  Decide that you would be quit if you had the power by now.  Decide you need someone/something else to help you do for you what you could not do for yourself: stay clean.  There is power in powerlessness…give it a try! 

Chris Newcomb, Aftercare Coach/Coordinator

Life is a journey – a fantastic journey

     Spending time with my family is such a joy. My mother, who had been in recovery from her alcoholism for about 10 years, passed on about 6 years ago. My dad is still thriving at age 87. There are 5 kids in the family and every few years we make the effort to get together with our extended families. It is so fun to watch cousins play with each other and so fun to see nephews and nieces grow up to become such delightful people. This year we met up in Hobart, Australia. We had some lovely meals together, played games, and spent quite lot of time swimming and surfing at the local beaches.
     As I spent time with my family I was struck by the fact that we are all on our own journeys. Some of us in the older generation have struggled with addiction of one form or another. Some have had to deal with illnesses, or marital and relationship difficulties. Many of us went off the rails at one point or another, but thankfully everyone is now back on track and doing beautifully. Some of the younger members of the family are 20-somethings. They are dealing with a different part of the journey. They are having to deal with who they are as grownups, what careers they should have, what people they should date and how do they act in relationships. Then there are the children and teenagers going through their own growing up struggles. Am I smart enough? Am I pretty enough? Do people like me? Am I loved?
     As I think about these journeys we are each on, and the struggles we will all have, I am aware of the similarities to my patients who are working to overcome their addictions.  I love the quote from M Scott Peck’s book – The Road Less Travelled. He references the Buddha – “life is suffering” - but he points out that once we transcend this fact, it is no longer suffering. It is just life. 
     A friend gave me the best analogy for this.  She said, "think of recovery as a journey - like a hike up a mountain." When you start off, a hike is painful. Your legs hurt. Your back hurts. You have rocks to walk over and branches to get around. It feels difficult and often you may wonder why you are even doing it. But as you keep going, it starts to get a little easier. You are still walking and climbing over obstacles but they don’t seem so difficult. Your body and mind are warmed up and ready for the challenges. After a while you catch a glimpse of the view. It looks great. You keep going up. You can get into a rhythm. You are still doing the same amount of work, only it doesn’t seem like work any longer. It is just the journey. And every now and then you catch a glimpse of the view and it looks magnificent. You see how far you have come. You have memories of the journey. You have a warm internal feeling of joy and satisfaction. You can even appreciate the difficult parts because they have lead you to where you have come to.
     Recovery is very much like that journey. At the beginning it is difficult and painful and you wonder if the things you have to do are worth it. Meetings feel like a chore, something you have to do. But after a while, you feel better and you see the progress you are making.  You feel proud of the work you have done, the commitment, and the person you are becoming.  You feel happy. You enjoy the people you meet at meetings. It is no longer a chore. It is fun being on a journey with other people. You realize you can even help other people on their journey.  
     We are all on our journeys. We all have our own obstacles to work with and our own struggles to overcome. It was so nice to be with my family this New Year and it is so nice for us all to be a part of each others journeys. It is kind of like we are all hiking up a mountain together. It is a lot more fun that way.
 Dr. Peter Coleman

Monday, January 3, 2011


       Happy New Year!  Hopefully, this article finds you fully recovered (pardon the pun) from all the holiday festivities that came your way late last year and you're ready to start a brand new year.  As we begin 2011, I would like to talk about two words that are very powerful: decision and point.
                I was given several gifts this Christmas and one of them was the book Decision Points by George W. Bush.  Regardless of one’s political persuasions, I think much can be gleaned from the title of this book.   I like the pairing of these words because it really makes you think hard about the process of decision making.
                First, let’s look at the word decision.  My good friends at define it as, “the act of or need for making up one's mind.”  That is, decisions do not just happen.  They require participationThat is one of the gifts we have as human beings is the ability to make up our minds and decide a course of action (or non-action).
                Second, we have the word points.  Again, gives a clue to its’ meaning as, “a critical position in a course of affairs.”  That is, there comes a time, a point, wherein there is no other choice BUT to make a decision.  Perhaps you are facing that point today?
                When we put the two together we get something like this, “the act or need for making up one’s mind at a critical position in a course of affairs.”  This is what recovery is all about.  After the heartache, the suffering, the lies, the deceit, the lawsuits, the broken promises, you come to a decision point, so to speak.  This is the point where the cost of going forward is not worth the price you’ll pay if you continue using. 
                If you think back in your substance abuse history, you will most likely be able to pinpoint the exact time you decided to start using.  Remember, no one gets struck drunk or high!  You have to participate.  Just as you chose to participate in the game, you can choose to get out of it.  But, if you are waiting to be struck "recovered", you have a long wait my friend with no end, ever.  The reality is people only get sober and begin down the path of recovery through a purposeful, well planned, decision to change their life with the help of others who are doing the same thing.
                Let me be blunt: 2011 can be the year everything changes for you for the better.  Conversely, it can continue to absolutely suck.  The choice is yours.  Don’t you think it’s time you reached a “decision point”? 

Chris Newcomb, Aftercare Coach/Coordinator

A Child's Garden of Verses

     A very cool guy I knew died a couple years ago. He was a brilliant scientist who invented things that made people and their pets’ lives better. But he also loved so many things…photography, birds, good food, good wine, traveling by train, hiking, Pilates, his children, his wife…

     In the beautiful program his wife put together for his funeral, she quoted one of his favorite sayings. I don’t remember if this is exactly right, but it went something like this: “The world is so full of a number of things; I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings".  Upon researching this quote, I later found out it was written by Robert Louis Stevenson in his work entitled A Child's Garden of Verses and Underwoods.  

     I think about that sometimes when I am working with people who have made their lives so small with their addictions.  These people have narrowed their lives to dwell in a tight zone. The drugs effectively keep them from feeling, and indeed offer superb protection from dealing with whatever their reality is.  Of course, a world constructed in such a way that prevents being hurt also minimizes opportunities for finding joy and adventure.

     At The Coleman Institute, we love working with people who think this way!  It’s very cool to help people recognize that they are not their thoughts; that they are people who havethoughts.  When this statement has a moment to sink in, most people stop, get a faraway look on their face, then break into a slow, knowing grin, nodding and or uttering some facsimile of “wow…true that, dude…!”

     Dialing down the resistance, dialing up the willingness; allowing feelings to rise and examining the thoughts from whence they came can allow our world to expand…such a delicious, exquisite pleasure and privilege of being a human.  The first step of course, is taking the plunge to stop using. Give us a call if you are even considering releasing your grip on drugs, and drugs grip on you.  Because the truth is, the world is so full of a number of things, YOU should be as happy as a king (or Queen)!

Joan R. Shepherd, NP