Family Addiction Recovery: A Blog
It’s never too late to have a (brain that’s wired as if it had a) happy childhood
Therapists get this question a lot: “Okay, so now that I understand how my history made me a mess when it comes to relationships, what now? It’s not like I can go back in time and change my childhood.”
The “what now” is that there’s increasing evidence that the simple practice of mindfulness meditation can re-wire your brain. In key areas, you can literally change and grow neural connections which support finding and creating better relationships. And in nine different ways, your brain can become more like those who grew up knowing how to love and be loved in healthy, sustainable ways.
As a psychologist helping others find their way to greater emotional well-being, I find that the most compelling benefits of a regular mindfulness meditation practice are a set of nine documented results.2 (I mentioned them in my previous post, Mindfulness Meditation + Neuroscience = Healthier Relationships.) I’ve seen the results confirmed through my psychology practice, in myself, and in the lives of my friends and colleagues.
At least seven of these nine benefits bear a remarkable resemblance to the characteristics of people who grew up with healthy, attuned attachments. Childhood attachment experiences have a huge impact on how we are wired for relationships, throughout our lives.
So, if we can change our brain to work more like those people with healthy attachment histories, we too can have a brain that’s wired as if it had a happy childhood.
NINE WAYS THAT A MEDITATING BRAIN CREATES BETTER RELATIONSHIPS
When I first learned about these from Dan Siegel, MD, I was stunned that something as simple as mindfulness meditation could make such inroads with the challenges of finding and creating healthy relationships.2 Take a look at these benefits:
1. Better management of your body’s reactions.
Stress and anger lose their grip on your body more quickly and easily. When you get home from a hard day at work, you aren’t still carrying the pent-up tension and frustration in your body, and so you won’t be driven towards an angry reaction to your partner’s benign comment.
In a way, it’s like re-setting your body’s “alarm” button when it’s gotten stuck in the “ON” position. Vital to your relationships is your ability to (a) recognize that that’s what’s going on, (b) understand what is happening in your brain and body that is keeping you there, and (c) un-stick that alarm button.
2. Emotional resiliency.
Being able to correct or repair unpleasant moods more quickly, without just sweeping them under the rug of resentments, frees you up to be less stressed by emotional upset, and more available to the next good thing.
Regulating your emotions doesn’t mean ignoring them, denying them, or cramming them deep inside (they eventually erupt anyway, but in festered form). The trick is to be able to get yourself back to baseline with relative ease and efficiency.
3. Better, more “tuned in” communication.
Research on attachment and healthy brain development shows that having someone be attuned to you – they listen and “get” you without distortion, and respond in a way which is actually contingent upon you instead of just their own inner stuff — is one of the chief ways that your brain gets organized for well-being.
That’s true in childhood, and we’re now learning that it’s also true for adults. Mindfulness meditation helps you to be a more attuned communicator. Even better, new evidence suggests that the more you practice this kind of “attuned” communication, the more likely that your significant other will get better at it, as well. (More on that in another post.)
4. Response flexibility.
We often have a fairly limited repertoire of how we respond to those situations that just “set us off.” Some people always blame and yell when they feel ashamed; others cry whenever receiving criticism, even if it is constructive and positive.
The habits of our nervous system can seem like electrical surges, leaving us vulnerable to making a real mess when we don’t mean to. Having an emotional circuit breaker makes a real difference – creating the space for you to have a more mindful, conscious response. Mindfulness meditation, by beefing up areas which essentially buy us a tiny bit more time before we respond in a knee-jerk way, improves response flexibility.
5. Improved empathy.
There are some common misconceptions about empathy. Being empathic isn’t about being a doormat, or mind-reader. It’s also not about fear (I need to read this person really well so he doesn’t get angry and hit me).
Being able to “get” and understand another person’s state of mind is essential for healthy relationships, but being able to do so without losing your awareness of your own state of mind is vitally important. Getting your brain to let you perceive someone else, without your protective gear and lenses, and without getting lost in their “stuff,” is something that mindfulness meditation does extremely well.
6. Improved insight (self-knowing).
Getting to know yourself in a real way, and within a coherent framework (How did I get here?), results in being far less vulnerable to getting lost when it comes to being in relationship with others.
When we meditate regularly, we’re practicing our ability to notice what our brain is up to — what the thoughts are, what the feelings are.
We become increasingly able to tell the difference between those momentary and ever-changing events, and who we really are. Through meditation practice, the brain gets re-wired and “remembers,” more often and more easily, who you really are – not just your thoughts and feelings, so they don’t carry you away.
7. Better modulation of fear.
If you’re able to be more comfortable with things which once scared you (He’s going to leave me; I’m not enough for her), and not as reactive to emotional fear, you change your entire experience of being in an adult-to-adult relationship with others.
It’s important in relationships to have ready access to being able to soothe yourself when you’re afraid, so that your reactions and interactions aren’t overrun by your fight-flight-freeze response. There is compelling research on the brain mechanisms underlying the flexible control of fear, and those are remarkably similar to the brain areas which change in response to mindfulness meditation.
8. Enhanced intuition.
There’s actually increasing neurochemical and cellular evidence of a sort of second brain in our gut (okay, viscera). Most of us are familiar with having some kind of “gut feeling,” usually in response to something that has our attention. But what about all of those times when we’re an auto-pilot, or distracted? Is the information in our gut turned “off’?
Hardly. Our viscera, and the rest of our body – our muscles, eyes, ears, skin, and so on – are telling us something. Most of the time, we ignore these messages, but the mindfulness practice of being more aware of what your body is telling you enhances the ability to be attuned to yourself, and what you unconsciously know – what we can refer to as “intuition.”
Becoming emotionally “smarter” – by using the extra information from your non-brain parts – enhances your ability to be in mindfully aware, conscious relationships with yourself and with others.
9. Increased morality.
In addition to healthier, happier relationships with your partner and circle of friends, is there anything that comes from the first eight benefits?
The research on mindfulness shows that when people learn to meditate and practice regularly, their perceptions of their place in the world begins to shift – something corroborated by family members. They become more broadly compassionate, more likely to act on their highest principles, and demonstrate greater interest in the social good – what can very reasonably seen as living with higher morals. It’s like having a healthier relationship with your whole community, not just the people closest to you.
An impressive list! It does take practice – and the practice is simple, but not easy. The good news is that some of the research shows that you can see changes as little as twenty minutes of practice a day (and some experts say that you can benefit with even less than that – the trick is to be sure it is a regular, daily practice). I invite you to give it a try.
Marsha Lucas, PhD is a psychologist / neuropsychologist in Washington, DC. Learn more about rewiring your brain at ReWireYourBrainForLove.com, where she offers a free mindfulness meditation download and a monthly e-newsletter with meditation tips. You can also follow @DrMarsha on Twitter, and join her on her Facebook page.
1Gratefully adapted from Tom Robbins: Still Life With Woodpecker
2For those who want to learn more about the research behind these nine factors, Dan Siegel has a great book, The Mindful Brain, where he provides references to many of the research articles relevant to these nine benefits.
A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is ignored or denied. Underlying problems may include any of the following:
Attention and energy focus on the family member who is ill or addicted. The co-dependent person typically sacrifices his or her needs to take care of a person who is sick. When co-dependents place other people’s health, welfare and safety before their own, they can lose contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self.
How Do Co-dependent People Behave?
Co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to “be themselves.” Some try to feel better through alcohol, drugs or nicotine - and become addicted. Others may develop compulsive behaviors like workaholism, gambling, or indiscriminate sexual activity.
They have good intentions. They try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and defeating. Co-dependents often take on a martyr’s role and become “benefactors” to an individual in need. A wife may cover for her alcoholic husband; a mother may make excuses for a truant child; or a father may “pull some strings” to keep his child from suffering the consequences of delinquent behavior.
The problem is that these repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual to continue on a destructive course and to become even more dependent on the unhealthy caretaking of the “benefactor.” As this reliance increases, the co-dependent develops a sense of reward and satisfaction from “being needed.” When the caretaking becomes compulsive, the co-dependent feels choiceless and helpless in the relationship, but is unable to break away from the cycle of behavior that causes it. Co-dependents view themselves as victims and are attracted to that same weakness in the love and friendship relationships.
Characteristics of Co-dependent People Are:
Questionnaire To Identify Signs Of Co-dependency
This condition appears to run in different degrees, whereby the intensity of symptoms are on a spectrum of severity, as opposed to an all or nothing scale. Please note that only a qualified professional can make a diagnosis of co-dependency; not everyone experiencing these symptoms suffers from co-dependency.
1. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
2. Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you?
3. Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?
4. Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you?
5. Are the opinions of others more important than your own?
6. Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home?
7. Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends?
8. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?
9. Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?
10. Have you ever felt inadequate?
11. Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake?
12. Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts?
13. Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake?
14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?
15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?
16. Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss?
17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?
18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?
19. Do you have trouble asking for help?
20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?
If you identify with several of these symptoms; are dissatisfied with yourself or your relationships; you should consider seeking professional help. Arrange for a diagnostic evaluation with a licensed physician or psychologist experienced in treating co-dependency.
How is Co-dependency Treated?
Because co-dependency is usually rooted in a person’s childhood, treatment often involves exploration into early childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive behavior patterns. Treatment includes education, experiential groups, and individual and group therapy through which co-dependents rediscover themselves and identify self-defeating behavior patterns. Treatment also focuses on helping patients getting in touch with feelings that have been buried during childhood and on reconstructing family dynamics. The goal is to allow them to experience their full range of feelings again.
When Co-dependency Hits Home
The first step in changing unhealthy behavior is to understand it. It is important for co-dependents and their family members to educate themselves about the course and cycle of addiction and how it extends into their relationships. Libraries, drug and alcohol abuse treatment centers and mental health centers often offer educational materials and programs to the public.
A lot of change and growth is necessary for the co-dependent and his or her family. Any caretaking behavior that allows or enables abuse to continue in the family needs to be recognized and stopped. The co-dependent must identify and embrace his or her feelings and needs. This may include learning to say “no,” to be loving yet tough, and learning to be self-reliant. People find freedom, love, and serenity in their recovery.
Hope lies in learning more. The more you understand co-dependency the better you can cope with its effects. Reaching out for information and assistance can help someone live a healthier, more fulfilling life.
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Shame is so painful to the psyche that most people will do anything to avoid it, even though it’s a natural emotion that everyone has. It’s a physiologic response of the autonomic nervous system. You might blush, have a rapid heartbeat, break into a sweat, freeze, hang your head, slump your shoulders, avoid eye contact, withdraw, even get dizzy or nauseous.
Why Shame is so Painful?
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The transition from high school to college is a big shift – and parents provide essential guidance and information to keep their young adults safe and healthy. Although a student may be open to discussing class selection, living arrangements, and schedules, having a conversation about parties and drinking isn’t as easy. For that reason, SAMHSA has developed some tools for parents to have that conversation – including one that addresses the dangers of underage drinking in college and can help young adults make informed and smart choices.
SAMHSA’s “Talking With Your College-Bound Young Adult About Alcohol” parent guide and accompanying video called “The Sound of Your Voice” provide approaches and tips for starting that important dialogue.
The resources highlight five tips to having an open conversation about alcohol with young adults:
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For as long as she can remember, Jess has felt different. “I’ve just always felt kind of lost,” she says. “Like I never got the memo on how to live or be happy and ‘normal.’” Though she’s always felt painfully conscious of an invisible line dividing her from family, friends and colleagues, she says she feels “weirdly guilty talking about it, because I know overall I had a really good upbringing and amazing parents.” She continues, “What right do I have to complain about how alien I felt?”
The thing is, Jess actually IS an alien. OK, not literally. But as an adoptee, the 33-year-old New York native has always felt somewhat foreign from the family that raised her. “My parents were loving; I don’t remember ever not knowing I was adopted,” she recalls. “But I also don’t remember ever not feeling ashamed of it. It felt like something that made me inferior to everyone around me.” Why? “My real mother didn’t want me,” she explains.
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What I am noticing more and more these days is that people who are in the business of treating mental health and addiction issues struggle to know how to do it. They don’t notice it in this way, rather their experience is that they are frustrated or disappointed in their clients. In situations where the client is unable to adjust or function in a way the therapist or professional deems acceptable, the therapist describes the client as “borderline” or “a problem.” The therapist describes this resistance as the client’s inability or unwillingness to improve or engage in therapy.
Tap here to cont. to article by Brad Reedy
A teen’s family structure influences whether allowing them to drink at home leads to alcohol problems later on, a new study suggests.
Teens living with both biological parents who were allowed to drink at home had the lowest levels of alcohol use and problems later on. Those living with either a single parent or in a blended family (such as a biological parent and a stepparent) who were allowed to drink at home had the highest levels of alcohol use and problems, according to The Boston Globe.
The study appears in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. It included 772 children ages 12 to 17, along with their parents. They were first interviewed in 1989, and were re-interviewed up to four times over the next 15 years. The researchers found being allowed to drink at home did not in itself predict later alcohol use, but family structure played a large role in moderating the relationship.
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Students who are emotionally unprepared for college have lower grades, are more likely to use drugs and alcohol and are more likely to consider transferring to a different school, compared with their peers who are more emotionally prepared, a new poll finds.
The results indicate that college readiness requires much more than a solid academic foundation, according to John MacPhee, Executive Director of the JED Foundation, one of the organizations that released the results of the National Harris Poll. “These findings are a call to action about the college readiness process,” he said. “We need to consider students’ emotional preparedness when we help prepare students for their transition from high school into college.”
The poll of 1,502 first-year college students was also sponsored by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and The Jordan Porco Foundation.
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An effort to assist parents who had not been able to get a child into treatment for substance use issues was one of the reasons that led to the creation of an online/over the phone training course designed to teach, among other things, parents skills for effective interactions with their substance-using children.
The availability of The B.A.L.M. to the general public and treatment centers was been made possible by Beverly Buncher, the founder and creator.
We believe treatment professionals currently working with adolescent or young-adult patients should steer their clients' parents to the course in order to help them improve family communication skills and in turn improve treatment outcomes.
“Probably the most important component of The B.A.L.M. is communication training,” says Timothy Harrington, Chief Empowerment Officer, director & founder of Family Recovery of Colorado. “In families affected by a young person's substance use, relationships become strained, and there is often a lot of tension or confrontation in interactions. In The B.A.L.M. there is a focus on the way the parent communicates with the child, offering a way that is less confrontational.”
The professionally facilitated training, available to up to four people at a cost of $1,800 for one year of access, uses live coaching calls, recorded industry experts and role-playing exercises to help parents understand their child's drug-using behaviors, improve communication skills, develop methods for behavior management, and learn mini-intervention strategies for suggesting that their child enter treatment. The B.A.L.M. approach has shown that as the family recovers so does the addicted loved one.
Tim says The B.A.L.M. teaches parents how to lend support, while at the same time avoiding unintentionally reinforcing negative behaviors. He says parents often mistakenly conclude that they can never do anything to help their substance-using child. They learn that through proper communication training and learning to self-care they actually become their addicted loved one's best chance at recovery.
“You do want your kid to develop some independence,” he says, “but to help them achieve autonomy you have to stop obsessing about everything they are doing wrong and reinforce their efforts, however insignificant they may seem. Recovery is a game of inches, not big giant gains.”
Tim adds that The B.A.L.M. is designed to teach parents to think more mindfully about their interactions with their child. “Parents come in with conceptions about how to control behaviors, and those just do not work most of the time,” he said. “But, if we can get a family member to take back their power and look at their own lives, and start to own that life then soon the relationship between the parent and the child shifts. Now they actually have something to talk about; things they have in common like feelings. Every conversation doesn't have to be coming off a clip board, like what are you doing today to take care of yourself, rather they can empathize with the common struggle of recovery and that helps shift the family. They start connecting at a deeper, more loving level.”
Some parents who experience The B.A.L.M. approach say they in turn apply it to communication with their other children, their spouses and others in their lives, Tim says.
If you're interested in how to connect to The B.A.L.M. please send me an email me or call.
All my details are on this website.
There is an implicit assumption within prevailing models of addiction treatment that family health improves spontaneously upon recovery initiation of the addicted family member. That assumption is evident in the paucity of family-oriented treatment models and the lack of post-treatment monitoring of family functioning and family member health. Stephanie Brown performed a great service when she referred to the impact of addiction recovery on the family system as the “trauma of recovery.” Her work underscores two critical truths: 1) recovery can be destabilizing to families whose roles, rules and rituals have become organized around active addiction, and 2) family members and family units need sustained support through the recovery process.
There are numerous obstacles that inhibit family recovery from addiction. One of the most critical is the cumulative effects of anticipatory grief (AG). AG is a process through which grieving begins in expectation of an imminent loss. It is the rehearsal–the progressive letting go–that unfolds as a loved one approaches death or as we experience the forthcoming relocation of a friend or the end of an intimate relationship. AG is particularly evident when families have experienced numerous near-death experiences of a family member with a terminal illness. AG helps prepare family members for the final loss event and may be experienced so intensely and completely that some family members feel little emotion in response when the anticipated death occurs. While such lack of emotion can spark guilt in oneself and condemnation from others, it often reflects not a lack of grief but that a prolonged process of grieving has been prematurely completed.
For families facing addiction of a family member, every unexpected absence, every late-night phone call and every knock on the door elicits images of injury and death. These feared tragedies are repeatedly visualized and experienced with each episode marking an increment of physical and emotional disengagement. When instead of dying, this person enters recovery and seeks our emotional re-engagement in their life, we are faced with a wrenching question: “Can I, and how do I, reopen my heart to someone whose past words have been so untrustworthy and who, for my own survival, I have had to emotionally bury?” Hope, trust and affection are difficult and sometimes impossible to rekindle under such circumstances.
To family members reading this, know that such a response is normal. Continue to protect yourself by testing this rebirth process. Bestow unconditional love to the extent you can and bestow your trust in conditional increments. This relational healing will take a long time, and in the meantime your anger over past insults and disappointments will need to find healthy outlet. That said, the recovery prognosis of your family member will be enhanced by your capacity for care and support, no matter how initially limited that may be. Know that every day people can and do begin a lifelong recovery process and that recovery often brings a progressive transformation in character and values. Re-engage the family member as a new person. Join them in this leap of faith into recovery for both of you.
For those members of the Lazarus Society (those entering recovery) reading this, be patient with your family and friends. Recall the harm you inflicted on these relationships. Recall how your words could not be trusted. Speak with your actions, not fresh promises. Restoring trust and affection will take time–in some cases, a very long time. You must enter these relationships as a new person. The person you were and became through your addiction is dead and buried in the minds and hearts of those you are now inviting back into your life. Be patient as they cast aside the baggage of your prior relationships and relearn to trust and love you.
Anticipatory grief grows and protects in active addiction but must be transcended in the process of recovery.
Source: The Blog of William White
Timothy Harrington is passionate about helping family members of the addicted loved one awaken to their own power and purpose.