Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Gratitude List

Chris Newcomb, M.Div. 

Gratitude is a subject that is most often discussed in November each year as people gather to 'eat the bird and share a word'.  You know the drill: eat the turkey and stuffing until you're stuffed and then watch football until you fall into a turkey-induced nap.  Ah, the holidays!  

How often, though, do we forget the reasons behind holidays?  I won't bore you with historical details about the origins of thanksgiving.  I'll just point out that being thankful was definitely a part of it!  I am also known as 'Captain Obvious'!

I thought for this blog article, I would share my personal gratitude list as Turkey Day looms in the very near future (less than 48 hours from the time of this writing).  Without further ado, here is my personal gratitude list…

1.  Eyes.  I take them for granted every day.  Besides seeing the beauty of the world, I get to wear glasses.  This is a fashion statement.

2.  Ears.  Besides having to clean them, I love my ears.  They allow me to hear the voices of those who care for me, the laughter of a child, the song of a bird in a tree, and the sound of the crowd when the Dallas Cowboys score a touchdown.  Life is good when you can hear.  

3.  Feet.  I quite like my feet  They get me around.  Pretty handy.  Or is that pretty feet-y?  

4.  Food.  It does a body good.  Skip a meal and you realize how quickly food is important of your body. 

5.  Connections. Yes, I like a good cellphone connection.  However, I prefer in-person connections.  I am blessed with many family and friends who support me and mean a lot to me.  

Why not take a few minutes this Thanksgiving week and make a gratitude list?  You'll be amazed at how much you can be grateful for even in the midst of stress and life complications.  Recovery is the greatest gift to be grateful for because it gives people a chance to start anew.  Happy Thanksgiving!  Be safe.  Be grateful.  Be sober.  

If you or someone you love is in need of detox off of opiates, alcohol, benzos, Methadone, or Suboxone, please do not hesitate to call Jennifer Pius or Amy Stewart at 1-877-773-3869.  We are here to help you!

Brain Studies Reveal How Addiction Works

Peter R. Coleman, M.D.

Recently, I was asked to talk to a professional group called Virginia Lawyers Helping Lawyers. It was a wonderful experience! Most of the lawyers were in recovery themselves and many had more than 20 years of recovery. They were a pretty happy bunch. 

The talk I gave was on some of the medical aspects of the addicted brain - a subject I find fascinating. Many of the lawyers came up to me after the talk and were very interested in hearing more about the research findings of brain scan studies. Researchers are now able to use very sophisticated brain scans to obtain fascinating images of the brain. They can use functional MRI Scans and PET Scans, to take pictures in a variety of situations – in this way they can actually “see” how the brain is working. 

Some of the key findings include:
  • All addictive drugs release large amounts of Dopamine in the Pleasure center (Nucleus Accumbens). When this extra Dopamine is released, people report a subjective feeling of being 'high'.
  • Addictive drugs release most of their Dopamine in these areas so that these regions quickly become depleted.
  • It takes a long time for the pleasure center to recover from  drug abuse – for the brain to restore its normal levels of Dopamine
  • Physical triggers (sights, sounds, memories, associated people, etc.)  release Dopamine just like the actual substance.  When triggers are present, people report an increase in cravings for their drug of choice.
  • A physical trigger, along with the opportunity to use drugs, causes a large release of Dopamine in the pleasure center but also decreased blood flow to the frontal lobes (the thinking part and decision making part of the brain). This causes an increase in cravings and an increase in the drive to use drugs, but a decrease in the brakes or ability to resist using drugs.
  • Volunteering and selfless service causes a small release of Dopamine and people report feeling satisfied.
There is more and more research being done every day. Over time, we will learn more and more about how our marvelous brain works. I hope this will help patients get clean and stay clean.

If you or someone you love is in need of detox off of alcohol, opiates, benzos, Methadone, or Suboxone, please do not hesitate to call Jennifer Pius or Amy Stewart at 1-877-773-3869.  We're here to help!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Chronic Pain Relief? Do a Body Scan!

Chris Newcomb, M.Div. 

We are creatures of pleasure.  We love to feel good!  Conversely, we don't like to feel pain.  It's very normal and very human.  We run from it.  We fight it.  We ignore it.  We medicate it.  We'll do just about anything to avoid having to feel pain.  

What if pain doesn't avoid us?  What if we have chronic pain that just won't leave us alone?  For many people, this is their day-to-day reality.  The pain is real.  The pain is strong.  The pain is relentless.   The pain is chronic.  Living with such pain can be depressing, demotivating, and can be an annoying experience, often on a daily basis.  

One potential modality for healing is something called a 'body scan'.  This is particularly useful because it allows the sufferer to become aware of their musculature and the emotions that can exacerbate chronic pain.  A body scan allows a person to identify anything wrong in their body, such as tight muscles, as well as the opportunity to try and add some pain relief through a systematic overview of one's emotional state because emotions can have an effect on the physical body.  

Performing a body scan is a very easy thing to do.  First, lie down on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your arms by your side resting comfortably.  Close your eyes and pay attention to the tip of the nose as you breathe in slowly and gently.  After you've spent a few moments relaxing and getting focused, it's time to begin the actual body scan.  

Starting with your right foot, begin to notice muscles that are tight.  Scan, that is imagine or visualize, your calf muscles and your thigh muscles for any tension or muscular tightness.  Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Continue scanning the right side of your body all the way up to the top of your head.  Once you've completed the scan of the right side, continue scanning from the top of your head to the bottom of your left foot.  For each muscle, pay attention to how tight it is and see if you can begin to loosen it up by relaxing the muscle while continuing your deep breathing.  

At first this may seem silly but with practice you will find that your body can relax to a whole new level.  For patients with chronic pain, this is good news.  Relaxing your body can relax the tension in 
the muscles as well as the emotional tension associated with chronic pain.  This can, in turn, lower the over all power and punch of the chronic pain.

Take a few days in the next week and do some body scanning first thing after you wake up or last thing before you go to bed.  You might even want to keep a body scan journal to record your reflections and discoveries throughout this process.  You can even keep a scoring system of 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst pain you've ever felt and 1 being no pain at all.   

The benefits of body scanning are numerous.  I highly suggest them particularly for patients with chronic pain.  A relaxed body leads to a relaxed mind which leads to relaxed emotions.  Relaxed emotions help keep the body loose and limber.  This, in turn, makes some, if not all, chronic pain a little more bearable.  This is a good thing!

At The Coleman Institute, we loving helping people get clean and stay clean from prescription pain pills.  Many of our patients suffer from chronic pain and can't get off the pills without assistance.  That 
is where we come in.  

If you or someone you love is in need of detox off of alcohol, opiates, benzos, Methadone, or Suboxone, please do not hesitate to call Jennifer Pius or Amy Stewart at 1-877-773-3869.  We are here for you!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

This Just In: Billy breathes, apparently.

Chris Newcomb, M.Div.

I remember hearing a song by the band Phish back in the 1990's called "Billy Breathes".  I found it an odd little song but I caught my toes tapping and hummed along to it.  The lyrics didn't make too much sense to me but apparently Billy breathed.  There you have it.  Pop lyrical goodness without stating the obvious.  Wait.  It's very obvious.  Of course, Billy breathed, otherwise, he'd be dead!  Silly pop star.  You can't fool me!

That was really a fairly meaningless opening to the real point of my article, which is,  you guessed it, about breathing!  Breathing is fundamental.  Without the breathe of life, we would cease to exist.  Just ask a person who suffers with asthma how important breathing is and I guarantee you they can wax philosophic for hours on the virtue of the natural, uninhibited breath for the body and the mind.  

If you'll allow it, I'd like to wax a little philosophic for a few moments on my experience with breathing and how it can help or hurt your life.  You see, when I was in grad school, I had problems breathing.  I won't bore you with details but suffice it to say that I had surgery to help fix the problem.  I can tell you unequivocally that lung surgery is no fun and is no joke.  So, take a moment right now and quiet your mind and focus on your breathing.  What do you notice?  Are you breathing fast or slow?  Deep or shallow?  Long or short breaths?  

All of these questions are important to answer particularly when you are learning about the importance of the breath.  The reality is that most people are 'chest-breathers', that is, they breathe very shallow and usually only through their mouths.  That is the incorrect way to deep breathe.  

The best way to achieve deep breathing is to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Try it now.  Go ahead.  No one is watching.  How did it feel?  Try it again and see how deep you can breathe down into your belly.  Now try the same exercise breathing in through your mouth.  Were they the same?  While you might be able to match the depth of breath, through practice, you will find that the best way to breathe is through your nose down deep into your belly without lifting your chest and exhaling through the mouth.

What does this have to do with substance abuse whether from chronic pain or recreational drug use?  I would posit it has everything to do with it.  The connection between our breath and our bodily stress and mental distraction is well-documented.  We all have thoughts racing across the theater of our mind on a daily basis.  In fact, scientists estimate the average person experiences 60,000 thoughts per day. That's a huge potential for distraction!!!

In recovery, paying attention to our bodies and our minds is of utmost importance to prevent relapse.  Where do you carry stress?  Your shoulders?  Your jaw?  Your buttocks (don't laugh, there is a reason people are referred to as 'tight ass' or 'tight wad').  You can use this simple exercise to identify places in your body where you need to relax and release stress.  You can also use it to quiet your mind.  Take 2 minutes and try the following exercise.

Set your alarm on your phone or an alert on your computer for 2 minutes.  Close your eyes.  Sit up straight.  Rest your hands on your knee caps and let you arms hang as far down as is comfortable.  Begin to focus on the tip of the end of your nose.  Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  No joke.  Seriously.  Repeat.  As you are repeating the exercise, you may notice your attention shifting from the tip of your nose to what you'll eat for dinner tonight or from fear that someone will open your office door and bust you doing some sort of weird 'esoteric bodily control exercise' instead of crunching numbers or answering email.  If distracting thoughts occurt, simply acknowledge that your attention has shifted and gently redirect your attention back to the tip of the end of your nose and continue breathing.

How did it feel?  Where you distracted in your thinking?  Was it awkward to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth?  Without judging your experience, take notice of the parts that were easy and the parts that were more difficult.  For example, if you were able to pay attention to the tip of the end of your nose relatively easily but found yourself struggling to breathe in a disciplined way, this may be an indication that you would benefit from more practice in deep breathing so that you can receive more of the benefits of the proper amount of oxygen in your blood stream.  As you may have discovered by now, deep breathing is very easy to do mechanically but not so easy to execute when you are used to being a mouth breather.

If, on the other hand, you noticed that your mind is flying a thousand miles a second thinking about your argument with your significant other this morning, the cup of coffee you need to make, the projects that are due, or anything else besides the tip of the end of your nose, you may benefit from doing this exercise more often as a way to temporarily release your mind from the overcrowding that is occurring in your thought life.  In any event, it is helpful and important to see your doctor on a regular basis to maintain optimum overall health for mind and body.  This exercise, while helpful, does not substitute the advice of a trained medical professional.  Be sure to contact your doctor if you have issues you've been putting off that need addressing today!

In order to stay clean, people must stay balanced.  Stress induces the desire to use, particularly in early recovery.  This exercise is a quick and easy way to get re-centered anytime anyplace.  If you keep it up, eventually, you will be able to re-center yourself in the middle of a conversation without anyone noticing.  I do it all the time.  Oops, I gave away my secret.  Ssssh.  Besides, you should be paying attention to your nose.  Get back to it.  ;)

At The Coleman Institute, we love helping people breathe a sigh of relief from the suffocating burden of addiction, whether from chronic pain or recreational use or both.  If you or someone you love needs to be detoxed as well as could use a breath of fresh air, please do not hesitate to contact Jennifer Pius or Amy Stewart at 1-877-773-3869.  We specialize in detoxing people off of alcohol, opiates, benzos, Methadone, and Suboxone.  Take a deep breath, pick up the phone and call.  You can breathe easy…we're here for you.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

FYI: "The Bitch is Back"

Chris Newcomb, M. Div.

"I'm a bitch, I'm a bitch, Oh, the bitch is back, stone cold sober as a matter of fact"
"The Bitch is Back" by Elton John/Bernie Taupin

Everyone likes surprises.  I am no exception to this rule however I love to give surprises even more.  A few months ago my mother and I went to see Paul McCartney in Washington, D.C.  Over the course of the evening, we talked about our favorite artists.  In passing, she mentioned that she loved Elton John and wished she could've seen him live.  I filed that comment away in my head until 2 months later when I was able to obtain 2 tickets to see Mr. John himself in Washington, D.C.!

Since I like surprises, I asked her to clear her calendar for that evening.  I found a book of Elton John pictures and I bought it and taped the ticket into the front cover.  I arrived at her house and casually showed her the book.  I went off to change clothes.  I expected at any second to hear a scream but it didn't come.  I walked back in and she was looking in the middle of the book.  She hadn't found the ticket.  I redirected her to the front.  She saw the ticket and read it.  She misunderstood what it was and thought it was a copy of an old Elton John concert ticket.  I put my finger by the date.  In about 10 seconds, her mood changed.  She screamed and ran over and hugged me.  Success!  

We thoroughly enjoyed watching Elton and his band play out the soundtrack to our lives last night.  The concert was amazing.  I saw him before in 1994 with Billy Joel.  Last night, it was like seeing him all over again for the first time.  And we were in the nosebleed section…literally.  Elton was a midget at the other end of the stadium (see below)!

At one point during the concert, Elton started singing his hit cheekily entitled "The Bitch is Back".  As I bobbed my head to the tune, I was struck by the words he was singing.  It's no secret that Elton abused cocaine and alcohol throughout the years of his career.  I found the one line very interesting as he sang, "stone cold sober as a matter of fact."  The reality is that Elton was stone cold sober and he's been celebrating that fact for the past 23 years.  He has been vocal about his intimate knowledge of his fate had he continued abusing substances: death.  

The song originated from a supposed interaction between Elton and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin's wife.  Elton was complaining during the conversation and supposedly Taupin's wife responded saying, "uh-oh, the bitch is back".  They decided to write a song about it.  It become a hit and the rest is history.  

I think it noteworthy to look at the secondary definition of the word 'bitch'.  It means, "a difficult or unpleasant situation or thing".  From a recovery perspective, isn't that how most addicts and alcoholics felt from day-to-day about life.  Every thing was difficult.  Every one was difficult.  Drama ensued.  Nothing was pleasant.  Eventually, not even using drugs and/or alcohol was pleasant.  It became a drag.  It became unpleasant.  For most addicts and alcoholics, doing drugs or alcohol is literally, as the definition states, a 'bitch', so to speak.  

That's why I enjoyed the song all the more.  Elton was singing this tongue-in-cheek song about his ability to whine and complain about life yet he was also belting out the truth that he was/is stone cold sober.  Life can throw things at Mr. John but the reality is the bitch is back.  I hope he stays around.  I love his music!

The concert was a gift in many ways.  Seeing my mom's face in excitement over the surprise was priceless.  Getting to see Elton John again was awesome.  And, now, as a substance abuse recovery coach, listening to his music with the experience and understanding of addiction work, I can sing along with Elton and agree…"yeah, the bitch is back and he's stone cold sober as a matter of fact!"  I hope you are too!

At The Coleman Institute, we care deeply about helping people get clean and stay clean from drugs and alcohol.  If you or someone you love is in need of detox off of alcohol, opiates, benzos, Methadone, or Suboxone, please do not hesitate to call Jennifer Pius or Amy Stewart at 1-877-773-3869.  We are here for you!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In Case You Run Out of Motivation...

Chris Newcomb, M.Div.

Without health, we have nothing.  The fact is I rely on my health more than I realize from day to day.  I rely on my eyes to help me brush my teeth, which I rely on to help me eat food, which I rely on to help my body stay strong and healthy, which I rely on to live my life successfully, which I rely on because I don't want to be a failure, which I rely on...you get the point!!!  But what do you do when your life is overtaken by chronic pain?  I'm talking about the occasional headache.  I'm talking about genuine, unrelenting, annoying, unsolvable chronic pain?  Many people give up.  They resign themselves to suffering and just 'grin and bear it' or 'take it like a man'.  Others may struggle with similar feelings but choose in spite of the feelings to push forward towards a more healthy life.  Neither path is easy but one pays better dividends than the other!

Motivation is somewhat of an enigma.  Some say it is all internal.  Others say it is all external.  I think it is both.  When we can, we generate it internally.  Sometimes, however, we all need a little help from time to time to stay motivated when we can't generate it ourselves.  Chronic pain makes motivation even more difficult.  

People with chronic pain often tire of being told to 'get over it' or 'stop complaining'.  They get their feelings hurt because their struggles are not always respected and taken seriously by others.  They often feel misunderstood, helpless, hopeless, angry, depressed, and resentful.  These emotions are all justified and important to feel in order to address the impact that chronic pain can have on someone's life.  

When we treat people with medication addiction for chronic pain, I usually refer them to a counselor in their area.  The reality with chronic pain is science either fixes it, in which case quality of life increases dramatically, or science tries to get the pain as close to fixed as possible.  The difference between a cure and the most tolerable level of chronic pain is the parameters which the patient will deal with going forward.  This is also an indication of potential stress that will be experienced as well.  

Staying motivated is crucial to dealing with chronic pain.  If a person does not choose to be motivated, they are in for a long ride.  If you can't generate any motivation from the inside, please enjoy today's blog as a gift.  The artwork posted above can be said out loud or read silently.  Either way, it is good stuff.  It will challenge your thinking about your pain and the place it has in your life.  And, it may provide some relief from the stress you're under in dealing with your chronic pain.  

At The Coleman Institute, we try to motivate people dealing with prescription drug addiction to get clean and stay clean.  If you or someone you love is in need of detox off of opiates, alcohol, benzos, Methadone, or Suboxone, please do not hesitate to call Jennifer Pius or Amy Stewart at 1-877-773-3869.  We're here for you!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

You are going to be great. Keep going.

Chris Newcomb, M.Div.

Recently, I've been doing a lot of reading on the power of the subconscious mind in altering our reality.  The basic premise is that thoughts drive emotions which drive actions.  Therefore, if I have a negative thought, it will lead to a negative emotion which can lead to a negative action.  If this is true, then thoughts are very important!  

Most people walk around on autopilot unaware of what they are thinking at any given moment.  This can be very dangerous if the contents of our thoughts work against us instead of for us.  That is why self-awareness is key to a successful life.  He who masters himself truly has a chance at mastering life.  

I love the picture above.  It reads, 'You are going to be great.  Keep going.'  How encouraging is that?!?  I read it on a website and it was as if someone was sitting on the other side of my computer screen sending me the warmest, most encouraging message tailored just for me.  Of course, I know that wasn't the case but my subconscious mind doesn't and it'll believe anything I feed it.  You can do the same. 

I would invite you to take the statement above and turn it into a more personalized version that reads, "I am going to be great!  Keep going!"  Notice the two parts to this statement.  First, there is the declaration that I am going to be great.  If I am going to be great than, by default, I have ruled out several other descriptors such as awful, a loser, a failure, a waste of time, waste of space, etc.  How freeing is that?!?  If we take it at face value and incorporate it in our lives, it should be very freeing!

The second part of the statement is a simple directive: keep going!  That is, don't stop!  Don't quit!  Don't give up!   We are all tempted to quit when the going gets tough.  We are all tempted to give into self-doubt when the chips are down and it seems like the game is over.  What we choose to do in those moments can define who we will become for the rest of our days.  Choose carefully.  

When we apply this statement to addiction recovery, we see that these are strong words indeed.  In addiction recovery, people undergo a two-part process to getting better.  The first is sobriety.  Sobriety is stopping using any kind of drug or alcohol.  The second part is recovery.  Recovery is starting a whole new way of life grounded in complete abstinence from all drugs and alcohol.  We can insert these concepts into the statement above and we get the following "You are going to be great (read: a brand new life, great adventures in sobriety).  Keep going (read: Don't quit.  Don't give up.")  This is correlates to the new life in recovery based on sobriety, the 12-steps, hobbies, and social connections based around staying sober.  All you have to do is apply it.  The choice is yours.  Be great!

At The Coleman Institute, we love to help people embrace their inner greatness by detoxing them off of alcohol, opiates, benzos, Methadone, and Suboxone.  If you or someone you love is in need of detox, please do not hesitate to call Jennifer Pius or Amy Stewart at 1-877-773-3869.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Who Influences You?

Chris Newcomb, M.Div.

If you want to know where your favorite band or songwriter got the musical goods then just listen to their influences.  I had an opportunity to do so this past week.  Alice Cooper, shock rocker from the 70's, came to town for an evening of bombastic, theatrical rock the likes of which I've never seen before.  Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical about seeing him perform and I almost didn't go see him.  What a HUGE mistake that would have been!

That afternoon, I was trying to decide whether I would go to the show that night.  I did a little bit of reading and found that most of the rock bands I grew up listening to got their inspiration and influence from Alice Cooper.  That sealed the deal.  I had to go.  I now realized he was the major influence on all the bands who got me started on music.  And, as promised, the show did not disappoint.  I've been listening to Mr. Cooper on my Spotify account ever since!

We all have influences in our lives.  Some are good and some are not so good.  Usually people name their parents, friends, teachers, and even co-workers as influential on their behaviors and goals.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this.  Being influenced in the right direction is a great thing but how often are we influenced in the wrong direction?

This is usually the case with alcohol and drug addiction.  I hear stories all the time from people who got started using drugs and/or alcohol because of a friend or family member's influence.  Believe it or not, peer pressure is very powerful and convincing for many people!

Who are your influences?  Who has the power to persuade you to make certain choices and not others?  Is it the media?  How about movies?  Music?  Friends?  Family?  Strangers at a party? 

Take some time this week to figure out who are your influences and whether or not they are helpful for you and for your life.  You may find that their influence has wreaked havoc in your life and it is time to change to a new source of influence.  Perhaps it's time to hang out with sober people.  Let them teach you how to live a different life from the party scene.  It'll feel awkward at first but so does the party scene when you first get there trying to fit in by doing and saying the right things.  My hope is that I've influenced you to consider making a new choice in your life. 

At The Coleman Institute, we want to be an influence of change helping people to get clean and stay clean from drugs and alcohol.  If you or someone you love is in need of detox from opiates, alcohol, benzos, Methadone, or Suboxone, please do not hesitate to call Jennifer Pius or Amy Stewart at 1-877-773-3869.  We're here for you!