Wednesday, April 27, 2011

                I did not like my high school.  SHOCK!  Ask most adults and they can tell you a horror story or three about their high school experience.   Zits, awkward dating, worries of the future, hormonal changes, physical growth, and emotional immaturity are just a few of the lovely things we get to experience during that awkward phase of life we call being a “teenager”!
                Among the many classes I did not enjoy in high school, English class was especially frustrating.  Why you might ask?  It’s very simple:  the teacher was a jerk.  He picked on kids.  He was ridiculously sarcastic and not very uplifting at all.  So, I chose to be the silent kid.  I only answered when he called on me secretly praying what I was about to say would not incur his verbal wrath and/or mockery. 
                It was my senior year when I took his class.  I was excited to be graduating high school but I had no clue what the world was about or what a career really meant.  I was not academically gifted and certainly didn’t apply myself.  Looking back, too much MTV, undiagnosed ADHD, and a love of playing with my rock band until 2 am on school nights probably circumvented my rightful academic glory!  However, this English class forever changed my life. 
                It was the last day of class.  We were instructed to stop by and pick up our final exam and project grades as well as our grade for the year.  Nervously, I walked into the teachers classroom, shoulders slumped, bracing for the worst.  He handed me my final exam and project grade which doesn’t stick out in my memory, which tells me that I must have passed and at least gotten a “C” or better.  What was life changing was what he said to me after he handed me my papers.  He said, “Well Newcomb (military school has a way of only acknowledging your last name), the world might just be a better place because you’re in it and can make a difference.”  
                I almost passed out.  I quietly thanked him and walked out of the room.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  He spoke to me with kindness and uplifting words.  I was floored.  It would take a while for the content of what he said to sink into my heart and mind and then pour out into my life.  Over time through college and graduate school, I would go back to those words as a positive refrain to get me through whatever test, real or academic, I faced at the time.  “The world might just be a better place because I am in it and I can make a difference.”  It became my personal mantra.  
                In retrospect, the words are not all that unique.  I’ve seen commercials using similar language.  The catch was I didn’t see that or believe it about myself.  He did.  He saw something.  He took the time and the chance to tell me.  I am forever grateful. 
                It reminds me of a lyric written by the band Foo Fighters.  The song is called “My Hero”.  The singer penned these words,

“There goes my hero
watch him as he goes
there goes my hero
he's ordinary”

                It’s an adequate description of this teacher in my life.  He was just an ordinary guy with bills, worries, concerns, goals, and dreams.  How extraordinary can those words be that come from a seemingly ordinary man?!? 
                Who is your hero(s)?  Are you a hero to someone else?  If not, can you become one?  You don’t have to be extraordinary to impact someone’s life in a positive direction.  You can be a “ordinary” English teacher whose words encouraged a despondent young man to embrace his uniqueness and make something of himself.  That’s pretty cool.  That’s my hero.  Thanks Coach Arnold! 

Chris Newcomb - Aftercare Coordinator/Recovery Coach


            When I ask people what it would take to make them happy, sometimes I hear things like: a new car, a bigger home, being thin, being drug-free, fabulous boy/girlfriend, extensive tattoos, the freedom to buy what they want, when they want it.  I suspect the truth lies somewhere deeper. When we ask ourselves how those various things would make us feel when we get them, we get to the root of it.

            Usually the answers are things like: feeling secure, appreciated, respected, confident, connected, loved, and content. In our minds (thanks to marketing and other whacky aspects of our culture) we’ve connected the thing with the feeling.  In fact, to get to the feeling state of what we want is simple.  Just feel it.  Close your eyes and imagine feeling the security, the respect, the appreciation, the peace.  Imagine how you would feel in a healthy body, in a new home, with a replica of the Garden of Eden tattooed on your thigh.  Allow yourself to dwell in this feeling state until it is oozing from your pores.

            Next ask yourself, “If this is how I want to feel, what thoughts will keep this feeling alive for me?”  Recall, whatever thoughts or stories you are carrying around in your head—the thoughts you are choosing to ‘buy’—will generate your feelings.

            Finally, recognize that your actions are driven by your feelings.  If you are dwelling in a feeling state of peace and contentment, how will your choices be different than if you were bathed in stress and angst?

            Finding your own truth is an incredible journey. You have every tool you need right now to begin!

Joan R. Shepherd, NP

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


                This year we have been looking at a new step of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous each month to glean important directions to living a sober life.  This month, April 2011, brings us to Step 4.  Step 4 is all about honest and reflection.  It is about taking an inventory of our past life up to the present.  On the face of it, this seems like an easy task.  However, as we begin to put things into their proper perspective we may find we got more than we bargained for!
                Every business that wishes to succeed must conduct timely inventories in order to stay on top in the market place.  For example, if you sell shoes, it is a good idea to know how many extra pairs of shoes you have in your inventory so you don’t run out when someone requests the last pair.  Inventories let a business know exactly where they stand with the products they have and what they need to order to keep the business moving forward.  Perhaps, the same can be said of a personal inventory in recovery from alcohol and drugs. 
                The founders of the recovery movement realized early on that without full, honest disclosure of our past mistakes, addicts/alcoholics can never move forward.  Thus, Step 4 was created to help addicts and alcoholics get free from the junky inventory they have been carrying around for too long.  The step is easy to do but challenging as well.  It can be painful to look at the things they’ve said and/or done that they would rather abandon to the sands of time.  However, most addicts/alcoholics realize that this way of dealing with life is what got them into trouble in the first place!
                Common wisdom suggests working Step 4 with a sponsor or trusted confidant like a counselor or spiritual advisor.  Participants are encouraged to write down information under the following headings:  Fears, Resentments, and Sex Conduct.  We also record the words and/or actions we used to hurt other people.  Finally, we also write out a list of our assets.  This teaches the addict/alcoholic that they are not the summation of their past wrong words or deeds.  It imparts a sense of value to them that they also have good qualities that should be recognized and celebrated. 
                It is important to note that the purpose of taking an inventory is not about judging the contents of the inventory.  It is fact-finding mission.  It is not a rush to judgment, shame, and guilt.  All that will do is keep you bogged down in a sea of regret, remorse, self-pity and even depression.  Just be diligent in getting the important information down on paper or as a famous television actor used to say, “Just the facts, ma’am!”
                A personal inventory is an adventure.  It is filled with surprises, challenges, and even rewards.  If you are working the steps and have arrived at Step 4, let me encourage you to plow ahead and take the plunge.  It is worth the work and the effort.  Be serious and take inventory of your life up to this point.  Taking this step will free your present mind from obsessing over the wrongs of the past.  Finally, the information will be extremely valuable as you look to the future! 

Chris Newcomb - Aftercare Coordinator/Recovery Coach

The Natural History of Alcoholism - Revisited

In 1983, Dr. George Vaillant published a book titled “The Natural History of Alcoholism”.  It was the result of a landmark study conducted in the Boston area.  There were a number of things that made the study so powerful and important.  The study involved a large group of men from different backgrounds.  Researchers began to interview the men when they were still teenagers and followed them for about 40 to 50 years.  The researchers were able to interview the subjects every few years to see if they became alcoholic or not.  Then they were able to look back at their data to see if there were any factors that determined if the subjects became alcoholic or not.  If the study subjects did become alcoholic, the researchers were able to see what happened to them.  The results were impressive.  The study powerfully supported the idea that alcoholism is a disease, a disease that commonly affects many people from all walks of life.  In 1995, Dr Vaillant published a follow up book with the original results and another 10 years of follow up data.

Some of the findings from Dr Vaillant’s study included:
  • Factors that predict alcoholism included: alcoholism in relatives, a personality that is extroverted or antisocial and the ethnic culture – it was more common in Irish descendants than in Italian descendants.
  • The presence of an alcoholic parent increased the likelihood of alcoholism by three times.  If there was a distant relative the rate of alcoholism was increased two times.
  •  An unhappy childhood did not predict future alcoholism ... unless the family problems were due to alcoholism.
  • Alcoholism was generally the cause of depression, anxiety and sociopathic (delinquent) problems.  The alcoholism was not the result of these problems.
  • The so-called “alcoholic personality” – self-centered, immature, dependent, resentful, and irresponsible – was not evident until after the subjects had started to abuse alcohol.
  •  Even though alcoholism is not solely a medical condition, it is helpful therapeutically to explain it to patients as a disease.  The disease concept helps patients take responsibility for their drinking without debilitating guilt.
  • “In this respect, Alcoholism resembles Coronary Heart Disease, which starts as voluntary, unhealthy behaviors such as poor diet and lack of exercise, but ends in a life threatening condition”.
  • For most alcoholics, attempts at controlled drinking, end in either abstinence or a return to alcoholism.
  • Older (active) alcoholics were relatively rare because they either got sober or they died.
  • As of this time (1995), there is no cure for alcoholism. Medical treatment only provides short-term crisis intervention.
  • Of the Core City samples, 72 alcoholic men were followed until age 70.  By this time 54% had died, 32% were abstinent.  Only 1% were controlled drinkers, and 12% were still abusing alcohol.
  • Of the university student sample, there were 19 alcoholics who were followed to age 70.  Of these 19 subjects: 11 had died, 4 were abstinent, 2 were still abusing alcohol and 2 were controlled drinking.
  • “Subjects who had a stable social environment or who frequently went to AA meetings had the highest rates of abstinence”.
  • Achieving long term sobriety usually involves new relationships, sources of inspiration and hope, experiencing the negative consequences of heavy drinking, and a less harmful substitute dependency. 
  • AA and other similar groups effectively harness the above 4 factors of healing, and many alcoholics achieve sobriety through AA attendance.

 This landmark study has indeed contributed greatly to our understanding of the “natural history” of alcoholism.

          What was most fun about hearing and seeing Dr. Vaillant was to feel his presence.  He appeared happy, calm, relaxed and confident and exuded serenity.  I don’t think it is any coincidence that he has spent a lot of his life around AA members, thinking about how people become happy and how to be fully present in this world! 

Dr. Peter R. Coleman