I knew that after twenty-plus years of drinking I was locked into a mindset that regular consumption of alcohol was a good thing. I deeply believed that alcohol was a vital ingredient in life. I had been introduced to that way of thinking by my society as a teenager and had reinforced those messages to myself through years and years of regular booze consumption.
Does having a cigarette make you feel more energized and focused? Does having a drink make you feel less depressed, less anxious or help wind down tension at the end of a long day? The reality is, people use substances because they have an effect that they appreciate. The problem for some, however, is that the effect of substances is inherently short term. Once the effect has passed, you may find that you want to feel those effects again because the underlying state of being is uncomfortable in some way.
Change or Continue Suffering: The Choice is up to You
by Hank Robb, PhD, ABPP
I think the title of this article is a good description of SMART Recovery®’s philosophy. Individuals can continue as they have been, or they can change, and they get to choose. Perhaps they can change their circumstances, perhaps not. They can always change the way they relate to their circumstances. Even if we cannot immediately change the frequency, intensity, and duration of urges, for example, we can choose not to act on them. As a practical matter of fact, when urges are not acted on, then over time they tend to reduce in frequency, intensity, and duration, such that they may not occur for months or years. So, urges can be changed eventually, if not immediately. Continue reading
Some feelings are hard to verbalize. Some thoughts we don’t want to say out loud. So what do we do with them? My thoughts and feelings used to drive me to get high. I had learned that drugs could change how I felt, whether it was dampening my anger or invigorating my boredom. But, that change was always only temporary.
Now that I’m living a life in recovery, I still deal with impulsive thoughts and overwhelming feelings, but I find a way to manage them by expressing them. Self-expression sounded like a lot of “Dear Diary” nonsense to me, but the creative arts are an amazing outlet for our recovery.
We can write our thoughts down privately into journals, stories and poems. But, we can go beyond words and express through paintings, drawings, doodles, and photographs. We can express through music, dance, and song. Self-expression involves any activity where we can transfer the energy from our thoughts and feelings into another form. And, usually, this makes us feel better.
When we express our feelings honestly, we are better equipped to deal with them because we actually know what we are feeling instead of denying it. A UCLA neuroscientist, Alex Korb, has even conducted experiments that show how the brain can benefit when we express ourselves. In an fMRI study, participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Then, their amygdala—the part of the brain that plays a primary role in our emotional reactions—activated to the emotions in the picture. Yet, when a participant named the emotion, it reduced the amygdala’s reactivity and lessened the impact of the emotion. The study even found that when we try to suppress our negative emotions, our inward stress and anxiety can get more intense!
By virtue of being human, we are full of thoughts and ideas that inhabit us with energy. And if the creative energy in our mind sits untouched, it can turn on itself and we feel all sorts of anxiety and restlessness. To maintain our emotional well-being, we need to exercise our creativity.
The therapeutic benefits of artistic activities come in many forms: hands-on tasks can soothe our minds, they offer a healthy form of escape, and such tasks can free up our unconscious minds. Coloring books geared towards adults have gained popularity recently, and they are marketed as therapeutic tools. When we get into a state of creative “flow,” our minds enter an optimal state of consciousness where we feel and perform our best. Our concentration is so focused that everything else falls away, and we lose our sense of time and self.
Normally, our brain is in a fast-moving state of beta waves. In flow, our brainwaves slow to an alpha state, the same as our day-dreaming and meditation mode, where we slip from thought to thought easily. Our prefrontal cortex is also temporarily deactivated, which allows us to simply create without self-consciousness or judgment. Making time to use your brain creatively can bring your brain and body the same kind of benefits as meditation: practicing mindfulness and decreasing anxiety.
Arts and Healing
Art and health have been a subject of human interest throughout our history as a species, using pictures, stories, dances, and chants as healing rituals. In a hospital setting, studies have found that clinical outcomes improve more in patients who participate in art therapy than in those who do not. Creative expression may be a catalyst in our emotional healing process.
Expressive writing has been particularly successful in long-term improvements of mood and health. Writing about our emotional states can bring us more self-awareness, but studies have also shown that it helps us manage those emotions and cope with them.
When the intent behind our art is self-expression, the value in the art becomes the emotional benefits. The process we go through to create our art, to transform a mental image into something physical, is a reflection of our thought processes. How many times in a day do you stop to consider what or how you are feeling? Much like paying attention to how we feel physically, the creative arts allow us to check in with our mental well-being and emotional state.
The Power of Creativity
Expressive arts bridge the gap between the conscious and unconscious mind. When we put our mental process into a physical form, we feel more in control of our thoughts and feelings, and we understand them more clearly. We can’t always explain an emotion using logic. Creative activities allow us to externalize our thought process and observe it from a distance, and then we don’t have to act on our feelings impulsively.
The creative and artistic processes allow us to merge our emotional and our logical parts into one identity. This is a key step in our healing—to learn that what we think logically may not match how we feel, and that’s okay. It is a part of our process. Having a creative outlet where we can express ourselves means we can better manage those thoughts and feelings.
Nadia Sheikh is a content writer and web developer for Sober Nation.
Have you tried creative expression, either as a way to manage thoughts or as a “Vital Absorbing Creative Interest?” If so, have you found it helpful?
Adjusting to a richer, fuller life experience
~Green-In-MI, SMART Recovery Volunteer
“Getting used to sober life can be a process of adjusting in a number of ways.”
One of the things the SMART community talks about is making changes in your life as part of the process for sustained abstinence from your drug of choice or problem behavior. People share experiences like creating new circles of friends or even moving to new places or cities.
SMART specifically talks about finding one or more VACIs (Vitally Absorbing Creative Interests). A number of us spent an awful lot of time planning on using, using, and recovering from using. For many of us, our drug of choice was the focus of day-to-day life. Without it, many find themselves clear-headed but with nothing planned for the evening and wondering what to do. As you continue to build a new life, you re-engage old friends and pick old hobbies back up. You also find new friends and new activities. These are all good signs of progress.
If you’re like me, you might find yourself very busy all of the sudden. At some point you threw yourself into your life, dominated by your drug of choice. Now you’ve thrown yourself into a new life, a life of addiction recovery. There’s family, work, friends, hobbies, and keeping up with the general demands of day-to-day life, Continue reading
Being a teenager is difficult enough, but when it when it comes to substance abuse, teens face their own set of challenges. Yet in many instances, the reasons for their addiction provide the focus for their rehabilitation. Most teens are:
Obviously, adolescents are smaller in stature. They weigh less. And most importantly, their brains are not fully developed. This means that the same amount of alcohol or drugs taken by an adult is going to have a greater impact on a smaller person with a less sophisticated cognitive system.
Therefore, the road to recovery includes help in understanding the future consequences of addiction for a growing body and brain. Teens believe they are immortal. They rarely focus on how addiction can damage their kidneys, increase their chances of contracting HIV or change the way their brain perceives pleasure.
Many teens have self-image problems. They are insecure, shy and not socially experienced—which makes them highly susceptible to peer pressure. They go along with the crowd, maybe not because they really want to drink or try drugs, but because they want to fit in.
For this reason, recovery starts with therapeutic counseling, in order to understand the issues that trigger the addiction. These vary with each teen, but often include negative body image, conflict at home, trouble with academics or sexual abuse. Finding the root of the problem is the key to solving it.
The majority of teenagers are forced into rehab by their parents, court or school. This is not the ideal situation, because an involuntary participant is frequently an unwilling participant.
For this reason, family involvement is crucial in treating teenagers. Rehab counseling stresses improved communication to smooth the relationship between parents and their children. Teens see their parents are willing to work alongside them in the recovery process.1)SMART Recovery’s program for Family & Friends includes tools from CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training). CRAFT is a 20+ year old an evidence-based approach, found to be significantly more successful than other frequently recommended approaches such as interventions. The goal of CRAFT is to improve communication, smooth the relationship and find ways to be truly supportive, in a healthy way.
Addicted teens do not have the mental acuity or physical coordination required to participate in sports, music or art. These teens are missing out on many extracurricular activities, and they don’t even realize their loss.
Social events and sports, creative outlets and outdoor adventures are just some of the options that rehab programs can offer. It is easier for teens to give up a bad habit if they can replace it with an appealing new interest.
Young people have their whole lives ahead of them. While this is the ideal time for them to embrace abstinence, it can also seem like an impossible goal to give up alcohol or drugs for the next 60, 70 or 80 years.
Therefore, recovery programs for teenagers don’t promise a quick fix. Instead, they provide after-care or post-treatment programs of continuing therapy. Support groups (e.g., SMART Recovery, LifeRing, Women for Sobriety, etc.) and 12-step programs also help teens stay focused after they have completed the initial recovery program.
The good news, of course, is that the sooner teenagers embrace recovery, the sooner they will be able to embrace their full potential. Rehabilitation provides them with a richer emotional and social life, while it allows them to become healthy, well-rounded adults.
About the author
Patricia L. Ryding, Psy.D is Executive Director of Beach House Center for Recovery, a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation center in Juno Beach, Florida. She is a licensed clinical psychologist who brings over 30 years of experience as both a clinician and an administrator in the behavioral healthcare field to her writing.
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|1.||↑||SMART Recovery’s program for Family & Friends includes tools from CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training). CRAFT is a 20+ year old an evidence-based approach, found to be significantly more successful than other frequently recommended approaches such as interventions. The goal of CRAFT is to improve communication, smooth the relationship and find ways to be truly supportive, in a healthy way.|