Noah Levine’s Refuge Recovery provides another approach to recovery–one seeped in Buddhist practice. We were inspired by his talk at this year’s Innovations in Recovery conference. Since 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous has been a foundational component of recovery for millions of alcoholics and addicts. It is free, it is available for all ages, it is simple in the way it’s shared and processed, and it also hasn’t really changed. When I take sponsees through the steps, they often comment on my old, tattered copies of the Twelve and Twelve and Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Over the years, however, my perception …
Hope is fleeting or nonexistent for someone locked in the downward spiral of mental illness and substance abuse. In many ways, the transient quality of hope in the mind of the sufferer creates a sense of dissonance; it always seems to be out of reach. Recovery makes space for a more tangible kind of hope to develop and take root. The hope we do have when we are in our diseases is hope for an escape. However, the hope we have in recovery is revised to resemble its true meaning: a desire for something good to happen and the capability to …
We are really honored to be able to share another alumni post, this one talking about Alcoholics Anonymous through the lens of a young person. Having come to recovery as a young adult myself, her words resonate with me. It’s not easy walking in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous as a young person, but the beauty of young peoples’ meetings is the camaraderie and unspoken understanding amidst the community. No one wants to hang out in a smokey room, drinking bad coffee on a Saturday night…unless you have to be there. And these young people get that. They get that they have to be there and they show up, week after week, day after day, learning ways in which to show up for themselves and their recovery:
Walking into a room of Alcoholics Anonymous may be the most defining moment in an alcoholic’s life. I know it was pretty life changing for me. Not necessarily in the sense that my life was being threatened by my drug use (although my behavior was), but in the sense that if I hadn’t made it to rehab and to these rooms, I would not be where I am or who I am today.
I sat in the pre-meeting the other night, waiting for it to begin, when it struck me. “Where would I be if I hadn’t gone to rehab and been introduced to these rooms? What would my life look like?” Many people in the Young People’s rooms go through Treatment, many don’t. What matters is that whoever they are, if they are alcoholic, they make it to the rooms of AA.
My beliefs vary when it comes down to an alcoholic’s diagnosis. Sometimes I believe that an alcoholic is born an alcoholic, sometimes I believe they become one. When it comes to myself, I don’t exactly know. I still struggle with identifying, even at meetings, and especially when a speaker has a gnarly story.
I believe this is a common thread in the rooms of AA. Comparing ourselves to others is pretty standard among alcoholics, particularly in the rooms with young people. I used to think that the young people’s meetings were fake and ridiculous. I thought it was like a talent show. Everyone gets all dressed up just to call attention to themselves. That’s not what the principles state and its not what the program is about.
I know now that I was just uncomfortable and insecure, and I was projecting my feelings of dislike for myself into the room. One of my favorite counselors in rehab, who was a young person in the program and who I was very close to and respected very much, challenged my dislike and asked “Where else are we going to get all dressed up to go on a Saturday night?”
When you walk into the rooms of a young peoples’ meeting, a thick smog of E-cig vapor coats the room. It’s so clouded that if the lighting is right and you are sitting far back enough, sometimes you can’t even see the speaker clearly. Everyone is uncomfortable and many people are new to the program. There are a handful of people that are “chronic relapsers,” but they keep coming back. That’s what’s so special about this program.
Altogether, there are many years of sobriety in the room. These meetings are popular; even a few from the older crowd shuffle in. We are all for having a good time, yet most people take the meeting very seriously; it’s life and death for many people. That’s what’s so special about these meetings.
Some of us are very judgmental, its honestly because we are insecure about ourselves. Many of us have been through the wringer, and we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. We are the only people who truly get one another. That’s what’s so special about people in recovery.
We recently had the opportunity to hear David Sheff, author of “Beautiful Boy” and “Clean“, speak about addiction and mental health at UCLA’s Friends of the Semel Institute’s Open Mind series. Sheff is a journalist, and New York Times best-selling author who writes and speaks about addiction and recovery though the lens of a parent and as a well-researched journalist. Our family program is dedicated to approaching recovery from the eyes of the addict and those within the family system. David Sheff reminded me of the parental side of addiction and mental health that we don’t always hear.
Our kids are our babies: we see them as our innocent, silly, curious, innocent offspring. When it comes to addiction and mental health issues, parents often hang on to this ideology, telling themselves, “Not OUR kids. Addiction and mental health issues happen to other families.” There is a natural contradiction that occurs, marking the innocence parents seek to hold on to and the utter despair and devastation that is actually taking place. Addiction and mental health could care less about your financial status, race, religion, or gender, or age. What David Sheff does is talk about it. He names the elephant in the room. He invites parents to face the shadow side of addiction and mental health and bring it into the fore. He challenges us as a culture to unabashedly squash the stigma associated with addiction and mental health.
This stigma I’m talking about increases the suffering families experience around addiction and mental health. It inhibits one’s ability to move through the processes required to heal. If worry and concern about what people migt say hangs over the head of a family, how willing will they be to do the work? How frequently will they suffer in silence? How long will they go before asking for help? Shame is the muzzle of addiction.
Sheff pointed out some staggering facts:
- 80% of children will try drugs or alcohol before age 18.
- Addiction is the #3 killer
- The #1 reason teens use drugs: Stress
- 90% of addictions begin before 21
- Only 6% of pediatricians are able to recognize drug use
- There are 3000 addiction informed physicians and over 3 million addicts
But he also reminds us of this: these kids who are suffering from addiction and mental health issues aren’t bad kids; they are our kids. The focus needs to be on what is causing the use of drugs and alcohol, not the drugs and alcohol themselves. Kids are using because of stress, anxiety, social situations, trauma, et cetera. Our kids live in an environment that resembles a pressure cooker. I teach yoga to teens and tweens and I can tell you from my experiences with my students, the main reason they are there is because of stress and anxiety. And part of my work with them is teaching them tools for self-regulation.
These kids, our kids, need a reprieve from their overwhelm. Sure, drugs might offer a quick fix, but they don’t offer a solution. The solution has to come in the form of recovery, stress management and developing healthier means of self-regulation that allow for a better approach to being overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed out. If there are addiction or issues of mental health, it becomes imperative to give them a voice. Shame keeps us silent. Shame keeps us sick. Shame increases our suffering.
Dr. Tim Fong, an addiction psychiatrist at UCLA also had some salient things to say that evening, but one that really strikes home is this. Families need the following 4 things for recovery:
1. A healthy home
2. Mental and physical health
3. Sense of purpose
4. To have and build a sense of community
I encourage parents to seek help if they recognize that their child is in trouble. You are not alone in your fear, your suffering, or your need to be heard. Your child needs to be seen and heard as well, and the sooner you can get them the help they need, the sooner the recovery process can begin. Remember this: if your child has some hiccups in their recovery, YOUR recovery doesn’t have to hiccup as well.
I will leave you with this, a quote from Anne Lamott: “Never compare your insides to other people’s outsides.”
I’m pleased to share a guest post from one of our Alumni, bravely sharing about her experience as a bipolar teen in recovery. She is not only inspiring and courageous, her post is a testament to the clarity and hope willingness and recovery brings.
“I’m 17, Bipolar and in Recovery”
How old are you when you are in the 5th grade? Ten, maybe 11 years old? I was probably closer to 11 given that I was held back in preschool. Now, who exactly gets held back in preschool? I didn’t really pay it any mind when I was in preschool, yet I still struggle with the shame of having repeated a grade so early on in my education. I remember feeling extremely uncomfortable in the 3rd grade for having to be pulled out of class to learn to read in a private room with Mrs. A, the learning specialist teacher. Learning to read had come so easily to my older sister, C; it was not the same case for me.
So back to my original question: I was 11, and I had already been diagnosed with ADHD. By the time I was in the 8th grade, I was prescribed 100 mg of Adderall per day. Well, it turns out that I did have a mild case of ADHD, yet it also turns out that ADHD is commonly misdiagnosed and mistaken for bipolar Disorder. No one found out that I had a mood disorder until I came to Visions.
It is not uncommon for a person who is bipolar to not want to take their medication. The first time I went through Visions treatment I was diagnosed as having mood instability and not full-blown bipolar Disorder. This mood disorder accounts for a lot of the feelings I was having before and even after I came through Visions. Before I reached the point of needing inpatient care for the first time, which far preceded the time in which it took for me to ask for it, I had experienced quite a bit of depression. I have also dealt with my fair share of manic episodes.
For someone with a mood instability disorder, drugs of any kind will make for a much more painful and deep depression, a much more insane manic high, and will far from help the situation. This is not to say that abusing any kind of drugs or medication, illicit or otherwise, will help anyone. Yet, when your brain chemistry is already messed up and you continue to pile any kind of chemically enhanced drugs on top of that, it makes for a manic-depressive individual.
It is not uncommon for a person who is bipolar to not want to take their medication. The first time I left treatment, I wasn’t taking my medication as prescribed. I missed many days in a row, I took it at different times throughout the day, and I even flushed a whole handful of my pills down the toilet. This definitely didn’t help my condition. The combination of illicit drug use, consistently missing my meds, and a variety of other unpleasant behaviors can only lead to a few options. Those of us in recovery know what those options are.
Given that I had already been locked up in a psych ward at the age of 14, had not yet been to Juvi, and was still breathing, the last option would be recovery.
I haven’t discussed my recovery much because it is not only something I deal with on a daily basis, but it is also something that I am quite insecure about. As I have already shared, I have been through Visions Adolescent Treatment twice. I once had almost a year and a half of sobriety. I had gotten sober at 15, yet I prided myself on the time I had sober, and not the work I was doing. How could I? I wasn’t actually working a program.
I had struggled with the idea of sobriety the moment I found out what the other residents were using in my inpatient program. I had only been smoking weed, while the other residents were in treatment for much harder drugs. I knew that I deserved to be there; my story was pretty intense, yet I still felt insecure about my drug use.
That statement alone is what reminds me on a daily basis that I need to be sober. Only an addict-alcoholic would feel the need to go further and to use harder. I guess that wasn’t enough for me, because after about a year and four months of sobriety, I relapsed. This time, it did not take long for me to realize how utterly unmanageable my life was.
I did not need to prove to anyone else that it was a good idea for me to be sober, especially not my mother. That’s another good point: Only someone who is extremely sick and in their illness would put someone they love in that much pain. I guess I still had to prove it to myself.
Today, when I have a moment where I think of using, I think of my family. I say to myself, “Even if I’m not an addict, I couldn’t put them through what I used to.” I believe that the “issues” I deal with are not only related to one another, but they are also a gift: Not only is my recovery a gift, but I see my bipolar disorder as a gift as well. I feel lucky to have the ability to feel things as intensely as I do. I hope that this will be that last time I am getting sober. I will take one day at a time in keeping it that way.
Prescription drugs are one of the easiest drugs to obtain.
Often times, it’s as simple as going into the medicine cabinet at home, at a neighbor’s house, a friend’s house or a family member’s home. This ease of accessibility coupled with the curiosity and natural rebelliousness of teenagers is a recipe for experimentation, sneakiness, and even mimicry of parental actions.
Some kids start using prescription drugs because they are trying to inappropriately cope with their stress or anxiety; some use it to try to get an “in” with a certain crowd. There are those, too, who have been prescribed a medication for one thing, notice a “benefit” for something else (like more focus on a test), and begin misusing it or sharing it with their friends.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, more than 71, 000 children ages 18 and under are seen in the ER for unintentional overdoses of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
- Two-thirds (66%) of teens who report abuse of prescription medications get them from friends, family, and acquaintances.
- Among young people ages 12-17, prescription drugs are the second most abused drug (behind marijuana)
- Teens ages 12-17 have the second-highest annual rates of prescription drug abuse; young adults 18-25 have the highest rate.
- Every day, 2700 teens try prescription drugs for the first time with the intent of getting high.
- Nearly one in four teens have taken a prescription medication that was not prescribed to them.
- One in three teens report being offered a prescription drug or OTC medication for the purpose of getting high.
- One in three teens report having a close friend who abuses prescription pain medications.
- One in four teens report having a close friend who abuses cough medicine to get high.
- One in 10 teens report abusing cough medicine to get high.
Parents need to take preventative actions with all of their medications. Do you safely dispose of unused medications? Or do they reside in the dark corners of your medicine cabinet, collecting dust on their exhausted expiration dates? Are they loosely out on a counter or tabletop which is easily accessible? Now is the time to batten down the hatches, so to speak, and take some preventative measures. Our kids watch us all the time; they learn from our actions and reactions, and they often mimic us so it behooves us to behave in a way that we would like to see our children behave. Trust me, seeing my son say something sarcastic and realizing he’s just mimicking me is mortifying, and that’s just sarcasm! Kids will try anything on, and if taking a lot of medications is part of your habitual behavior, they will try that on too.
- Communicate with your kids and educate them about the risks of prescription drug abuse. Be honest and age appropriate.
- Don’t take medications that aren’t prescribed to you. (A recent study by The Partnership at Drugfree.org showed that 27 percent of parents have taken a prescription medicine without having a prescription for it themselves.)
- Store your medications in a secure place.
- Count and monitor the amount of pills you have before you lock them up.
Prescription drugs are being hailed as the new gateway drug.
More often than not, one begins with prescription opiates and ends up using and abusing street drugs. The reality is, once the medicine cabinets are depleted and the sheer cost of Oxycontin, Vicodin, etc., becomes prohibitive, the path inevitably darkens.
Stay aware. Tap into the multitude of resources like SAMHSA, Partnership for a DrugFree America, and the Medicine Abuse Project for more information and free pamphlets. If you suspect your child is abusing prescription drugs or any drugs, seek help.
Resources for this blog:
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