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How to Plant a Seed for Recovery In Addicts and Alcoholics…

Re-post from Fit Recovery.

I love this post from fellow word press blogger, because these are things I constantly say to my son. Let’s hope seeds are being planted and silently being nourished in love…..

If you have an addict or alcoholic who desperately needs corrective action, but you don’t know what to do, allow me to offer you this: Plant seeds. Tiny, pernicious seeds. The inspiration for this post comes from an ear worm I’d suffered through lately from an Alice In Chains song. Here’s the worm: What’s your […]

How to Plant a Seed for Recovery In Addicts and Alcoholics…
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Seeing Addiction Through a Trauma Informed Lens

From Maryland Addiction Recovery Center

By Robyn Brickel, MA, LMFT

In the struggle with substance abuse, sometimes the goal of just getting free from the frightening dependence on drugs or alcohol can hijack all our attention.  So, as a therapist, I want to thank you for your June 10, 2016 article on “The Link Between Trauma and Addiction,” and allowing me to write a follow up article from a trauma-informed care perspective.  

I cannot stress enough how important it is to consider and treat trauma when we talk about addiction treatment and recovery.  There is always a reason someone is using. When a pattern of addiction behavior has taken hold, it is not because it’s fun or feels good. People use because they are trying to maintain a sense of feeling “normal,” to feel less badly, or to feel less of anything at all.

What kind of trauma are we talking about? You said it perfectly, “trauma can be different for everyone.”  Indeed, trauma is in the eye of the perceiver.

What is Trauma?

Trauma happens when something overwhelms and threatens a person’s sense of safety or ability to cope. One person’s forgettable incident may be another person’s haunting memory. For some, it could be their parents’ divorce. It could be getting lost in the grocery store. It could be having a childhood illness, or being in the hospital. It may be witnessing violence, or the suffering of a family member. It may happen with an abusive, absent or addicted parent, or silent emotional distance from a primary caregiver.

Trauma can actually be any event!  What matters is that the person perceived trauma in their life.  We need to recognize its impact on a person’s mental health and its certain role in addiction.

Often people who develop addiction don’t see themselves as trauma survivors.  I want to encourage more people — therapists and families and people struggling with addiction — to see addiction recovery through a trauma-informed lens.

What It Means to Be Trauma-Informed

Becoming trauma-informed means learning about the impact of overwhelming, toxic stress on every part of the trauma survivor’s life.  As a therapist, providing trauma-informed care means being aware that for people that are using addiction behavior, a history of trauma is nearly always part of their experience. We need to become skilled and adept at guiding the recovery process to include treatment for trauma. This way long-term recovery is more likely to be sustainable.

Therapists study many principles and treatment methods in trauma-informed care. But here I’d like to focus on three ways a trauma-informed approach helps with addiction recovery:

  • It takes a non-pathologizing view — respecting the person in recovery as a worthy human being; they are not bad people, just people in pain!
  • It builds awareness of stages of recovery — a “road map” for healing, not just the using behavior, but the pain that they were trying to address by using.
  • It enables the client, trauma survivors, to replace self-harming/addictive behavior with self-care, even with the same emotional triggers.

The Non-Pathologizing View in Trauma-Informed Care

Many who struggle with addiction have self-tormenting thoughts about how weak, flawed or somehow defective they are for having this problem. Being non-pathologizing means seeing the person recovering as a human being in pain facing great challenges, not a defective person.

Trauma-informed therapy creates a space to recognize and claim the innate worth of the person in recovery.  It does not mean turning a blind eye to substance abuse. Rather, we see people who tried to numb themselves to feel less badly, not because they are bad.

The non-pathologizing approach of trauma-informed care helps build the trust and safety needed for healing. But it’s also important because it offers survivors a valid self-caring way to see themselves.  They can see that they turned to self-harming addictions because there was nowhere else to turn to feel less, or to feel less badly. But now we can find a healthier path.  There is hope!

Understanding Stages of Recovery

Therapist and author Judith Herman describes three stages of recovery from trauma, including addiction:

  • Stage 1: Safety and Stabilization
  • Stage 2: Remembering and Mourning
  • Stage 3: Reconnecting and Integration

Stage 1: Safety and Stabilization, the Longest Stage

Stage 1 is all about getting a sense of being clean and sober, and learning coping skills to deal with emotions, painful thoughts and feelings, and urges to use. When emotions are no longer numb, many in recovery feel overwhelming anxiety or depression, and they don’t know what to do.

I believe Stage 1 is the most important stage, and it’s only the beginning of the journey.

The first goal is to develop coping skills so a person in recovery knows what to do to recognize and deal with emotions in healthier ways.

It’s also about learning skills to manage painful mental states such as flashbacks or self-criticism.  Helpful skills include mindfulness, self-care and finding trusted resources and supportive people and groups that might include 12-step programs. Therapists may want to incorporate Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) and many other modalities to help those in recovery develop strengths and stable relationships, and minimize unhelpful responses.  (Some therapists, myself included, use training in multiple modalities such as Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Ego State Psychotherapy, and EMDR, which are helpful in both Stage 1 and Stage 2 of treatment and recovery.)

It is so important for family members and people in recovery to understand this process.  It’s important to realize that completing a 28-day program doesn’t mean you’re done – you’ve only just begun. It takes time to build new coping skills. It takes time to develop connections with supportive people and 12-step or other support groups.  That’s why Stage 1 is the longest stage of trauma and addiction recovery.

About Stage 2: Remembering and Mourning

In Stage 2, stabilization to gain freedom from substance use allows people to stay present and grounded while they make sense of what happened in their lives. Trauma-informed therapy helps survivors to process unresolved trauma.  Mourning the loss of the happy childhood or peace of mind that you could not enjoy is part of this process.

As a trauma survivor, you learn that this is part of your experience, but it’s not who you are.   You do not have to recall every detail to heal, but you can remember it if you wish, and retell it without reliving it. Because of Stage 1, you are able to stay in the present moment as you review the past. You know healthy ways to cope with any triggers or cravings to use that may appear.

About Stage 3: Reconnection and Integration

In Stage 3, unresolved trauma no longer defines or organizes your life. You recognize the impact of trauma – but you can heal, grow and live with it. You experienced overwhelming difficulty, but now you are growing from that. Your goal is to pursue a happy, healthy, loving life.

Replacing Self-harming Behavior with Self-Care

Therapist and author Babette Rothschild reminds us “the first goal of trauma recovery must be to improve your quality of life on a daily basis.”

It’s about living your life in the present moment, so you’re not living in the body’s unhealed response to traumatic memories.  It really is a matter of improving your quality of life.

Even if progress in trauma treatment feels slow, that does not make it poor progress.  Maintaining sobriety and recovery while processing difficult feelings and emotions is the key – stabilization is always required to make progress.  In fact, slow progress is often good progress. That is because trauma-informed recovery allows us to honor the time it takes to cultivate new skills, strengths and abilities to maintain healthy behaviors and resilient healing.

For everyone, understanding trauma’s role in addiction helps us better support people in recovery.  Being trauma-informed helps those in recovery to understand themselves and why they began using, their need for emotional safety, the universal need for healthy coping skills and connections, and their right to feel calm and good about themselves. In treatment, it helps therapists guide a positive journey to greater self-understanding, self-care and powerful coping skills.  It is the most powerful approach I know to grow from addiction into a fulfilling, self-directed life that is not trauma driven.

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Connection is the Medicine for Addiction

-Guest blog by -Shelly Young

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Johann Hari is famous for his work in the field of addiction. His most famous quote is “Connection is the opposite of addiction.” His book Chasing the Scream and 2015 Ted Talk 

were revelational for many including myself and helped open up a bigger conversation, a bigger story around what the ideal conditions for wellness are and by creating the ideal conditions for wellness, substance use would decrease organically. 

I feel connection is the medicine for addiction rather than the opposite of addiction but either way, human beings require connection to survive. 

What are the ideal physiological conditions for connection? 

  1. A regulated nervous system
  2. A felt sense of safety

When our body’s nervous system is regulated, (relaxed, calm) our nervous system sends a message to the body’s around us that we are safe to connect with and that we are open to connecting. The bonding chemical oxytocin is released in the brain which moves your brain out of the primitive survival mode and into the social engagement mode.

When your body feels safe, safety is reflected outward through body language, the tone of your voice and in your eyes which signals ease to others. Sharing the sense of safety which creates a felt sense of ease is co-regulation. You can help others feels at ease in your presence by practicing regulating your own nervous system, the ideal conditions for connection. 

Your presence, your ability to connect and co-regulate is powerful healing medicine for your loved ones. 

What if you’re feeling dysregulated? Seek out people or animals who can breathe with you, hold your hand, provide comfort until you have the felt sense of safety in your body again. Keep practicing. It’s worth it. 

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False Accusations

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I had a neighbor lady who sold Avon & also worked at the post office. I used to babysit her kids once in a while.

One day on my usual route after school, I went to the post office to pick up the mail from Box 169. As soon as I pulled the heavy door open, I could feel a chill in the air. I opened my mailbox & found the familiar yellow card that meant there was a bigger package behind the counter. As I put the yellow card on the counter the lady said to me, “Samantha! I need to talk to you”. I could feel the icy-ness dripping from her words in an accusatory tone.
As I swallowed the scared lump rising into my throat; I said, timidly, “Okayyy”.

She then proceeded to tell me that she had a large bag of Avon makeup in her living room closet that was now gone and there had only been 3 people in her house that week and I was one of them.

I felt the blood drain from my body and my knees grew weak. I felt a dark tight tunnel closing in around me. I stood there completely aghast & speechless.

What I now know, is that I was experiencing the flight or fight syndrome, as I talked about in my previous post The Addicts Plea.

So here I am, an 11-year-old girl, alone with a significant adult in the community who had a certain power (to gossip) trying to defend myself with zero communication skills. And even less conflict resolution skills (I still lack).

So what did I do? I chose the only thing I knew – escape!

I ran! I ran the two blocks home in utter terror.

I got home, ran up to my room and fell into my bed in tears. I was caught completely off guard & thoroughly embarrassed that I was thought of as a thief and of course the whole town would know.

In her eyes of course, my fleeing meant guilt. I think I kind of remember a phone call after that but I don’t remember anyone ever talking to me about it. If there ever was a phone call, I’m sure my mother told her right where she could go & how to get there.

All I know Is that, of course, I never babysat again and I avoided the post office when she was in there.

This event was so traumatic to me that I found myself questioning if maybe I had taken it! Surely an adult as powerful as her wouldn’t accuse me if she didn’t have good reason. My un-experienced brain just couldn’t process that without some guidance, which I didn’t get.
But what my brain DID process was:

  • People can & will turn on you- no matter what (trust issues)
  • I must be over vigilant in proving that I’m doing nothing wrong (paranoia/ over compensate)
  • When someone does turn on you, there’s no going back. Sorry isn’t good enough because you will never be believed (avoidance/shame / unforgivable)
  • Not to trust myself

Call this unresolved issues, and baggage -40 year old white Avon baggage! It wouldn’t be the last time I flee-ed an uncomfortable situation. As a result, I have tread lightly with people and relationships. Of course every negative experience adds to this internal map we all have and the stories we tell ourselves about that map.

With me, the overwhelming fear of not knowing what I’ve done wrong mixed with the confusion of wondering if maybe I am a bad person and I just don’t realize it! Otherwise, why would this nice (or powerful or beautiful- insert any word you want) person be accusing ME of it?

The lasting residual of events such as this, with most relationships; is to gain control BEFORE they turn on me- lash out- even subconsciously- before they have a chance to. Going cold is another defense mechanism.

People wouldn’t really call my experience a trauma in the context of traumas, but it is to me.

So if I meet a woman in a position of power; and I am standoffish, or I feel unequal to her- so why even try- this may be a reason. And I absolutely despise getting in trouble. Even with strangers. Because I know my intent was never to do what they are accusing me of.

We just don’t know why people choose the things they do.

We don’t know why people act insecure or boastful or scared. I’m starting to see that what we see as poor choices or weird is maybe what kept them alive in the moment! Maybe it was self preservation!

In the case of choosing substances, of course, they never, ever anticipated the consequences to be so bad. But the choice at the time was what helped them through whatever they were dealing with.

My fav Instagram recovery & homeless advocate explains it wonderfully.


If you’ve known me for a while now, you’ll have heard me talk about how my drug use played a huge part in saving me from dying by suicide as a teen and a young woman. In a perfect world I would’ve had different tools, different support systems, and hell… I would’ve had a different life entirely. But we don’t live in a perfect world and so all responses, even imperfect ones are valid.⁣

Sometimes self destruction and self preservation can look almost identical from the outside. Chaotic drug use can also serve as the only inner calm that a person who’s consumed with trauma or existing in traumatic circumstances may be able to access at the time.⁣

Don’t assume that you know what internal battles a person is fighting.⁣
Sometimes what you see as “the problem” is actually “the solution” for that moment. Sometimes what you view as disordered is actually the very behavior that is helping them maintain order as they navigate pain that you know nothing about.⁣

I have come to believe that is why my son stays stuck. Avoidance is his trauma response. The trauma of losing his dream business, his family, his livelihood- everything that humans hold dear-has created an avoidance response. In order to protect himself, he has cut himself off from caring.

Once in a while it will peak out, like a child grounded to his room for throwing a fit; to see if its safe to come out. Is everyone still mad at me? If it doesn’t feel safe, back in he goes, like a turtle hiding under his shell. My sons shell is drugs. He’s isolated himself to that world and the people who do love him are stuck in their own trauma & pain of the situation.

This is why family recovery is so important. To place all the work on the person with the damaged brain & zero resources or coping skills seems ridiculous. But that’s what most families do. “Don’t contact me until your sober”, is the mantra.

My son is very ill. Yes, recovery has to be his choice, no one can make it for him. But the environment to recover in, can’t be overlooked either. Jail really isn’t ideal, & on the street in the chaos of trying to fill basic needs doesn’t seem to work either. I pray for all suffering that we can find our own safe place in which to heal.

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The Addicts Plea

Emotionally, the argument between choice versus disease exhausts me.

I heard it again this morning… From a nurse….

“They choose to stay in that situation”

I wonder if- as a nurse – she would say that to a domestic violence victim.

The last few days of intently listening to my son’s fears of prison and his charges- {He has court tomorrow}-for possession of feeding his cravings for a disease that he thought would exclude him; I am sitting here in complete desperation and fear myself. I’m exhausted from trying to explain to people that NO-ONE (*** in their right mind***) WOULD CHOOSE this. And it’s just not that easy to get out of.

I can see my son’s limited view. I can see where the years of drugs have damaged his rational thinking. His primal brain is in full throttle of fight or flight. He wants to run away. He can’t see a solution. He doesn’t think it’s fair to get 8 years for self-medicating just to feel ok and then to have it turned into this monster that sucked the life out of everything. He didn’t know he was selling his soul to the devil.

I understand his pain, his dilemma way back when…..Because right now, I WANT to just feel ok. If something was in front of me as a solution to get out of this pain I’m in, I would probably take it! I would! I want it to stop. This is what my son did years ago…..he felt uncomfortable, unsafe in his own skin, always seemingly “doing it wrong” because that’s what the world tells us.

That’s what I continually get told. I’m doing it wrong. I’m supporting him wrong, I need to live my life, let him figure it out, & my favorite: go do something you enjoy. They just don’t understand that no matter what you’re doing, the discomfort & pain is ALWaYS THERE.

In my post Rat Park, Pam Jones Lanhart states:

NO ONE and I mean NO ONE chooses addiction. Not one person who took a drink or a toke off of a bud expected to become addiction. That’s a ridiculous notion and not informed by any data or science. “When I used I was rewarded with a really good feeling. So I used again.” And eventually the neuropathways of the brain are reprogrammed and THEN in spite of all of the negative consequences and the fact that the using is no longer working for them, they can’t stop. That is the definition of addiction. Continued use in spite of negative consequences.”

I know that recovery is a choice Also, but trying to convince a damaged brain that it isn’t damaged is exhausting.

A fellow addict wrote this:

Let me say… Cause this may be the only way some people can understand.
This was not our plan… We didn't plan this daily struggle of depending on something to numb us, just to get through whatever pain we can't stand.
Our plan was to be a natural part of society, not dependent on whatever may be lying around to help us see another day.
It's no excuse… We're a mess, I will confess… But we're also blessed by the best.
If god can forgive us then u can to, because trust me he's better then you.
Your no better sitting on ur throne, with ur nose held high to the sky… We don't judge you cause we already know that he's in charge of that… And we may be addicts, but I know for a fact one day we will change and you'll still be well… well you'll still be That.
N. H.

Please pray for my son, my family, the judge, the court, everyone who can have a hand in relieving the pain of this nightmare, not just for me but for the turmoil and pain my son is feeling inside. The feeling of being trapped and hunted down & punished for a disease that took him way beneath his capability to handle or understand. Thank you🙏

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The Science of Kindness

One of my Childhood Idols Marie Osmond wrote this about the science of kindness:

I have always known kindness is a gospel principle, and that it heals our hearts emotionally and spiritually—but this story proves it can even heal us physically!

In the 1970’s, researchers set up an experiment to determine the effects of diet on heart health. They used a controlled group of rabbits and fed them a high fat diet and kept track of their blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol. All of the rabbits had a build up on the inside of their arteries, but one group surprised them by having 60 percent less build up than the others. Everything in their diet was the same, so they were confused as to why. The only thing they had not checked was the research staff. They found that every rabbit with fewer fatty deposits was being fed by one researcher. Although she fed them the same food, “she talked to them, cuddled and petted them… She couldn’t help it, it’s just how she was.”

She did more than feed the rabbits food, she fed them with love. Since it was so difficult for the research team to believe the rabbits we’re healthier because of kindness, they repeated the experiment. After the experiment was completed again, it showed the same thing, the loving researcher produced higher health outcomes in the rabbits she fed while being loving and kind. Years later, scientists still refer to this experiment. A book was written called The Rabbit Effect with this conclusion: “Take a rabbit with an unhealthy lifestyle. Talk to it. Hold it. Give it affection. That relationship made a difference.”

Ultimately, what affects our health in the most meaningful ways has as much to do with how we treat and live with one another, and how we think about what it means to be human. I love this because it isn’t often science will admit to the connection to gospel truths. 😉 After all, God created the science in the first place.😄

The results of this study are pretty easy to figure out… after all, the greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” followed by, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:36-40)

The results of lack of kindness shows in the world today and is proof positive the Savior was right by saying—love God, then each other! They really are the greatest commandments. I know we don’t have control over others, but we do have control over ourselves (and remember too that holding on to anger is proven to be a health risk). I believe we can make a difference when we all show kindness, one person at a time.

Last week Tyler Perry accepted the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars, and speech resulted in a standing ovation! He said, “My mother taught me to refuse hate, she taught me to refuse blanket judgement. It is my hope that all of us would teach our kids to just refuse hate. Don’t hate anybody. I refuse to hate someone because they are Mexican, or because they are black or white or LGBTQ. I refuse to hate someone because they are a police officer. I refuse to hate someone because they are Asian. I want to dedicate this award to whoever wants to stand in the middle. That’s where change happens.”

Science His words were a balm for every soul and spoke truth! And you know what? It takes as long to be mean as it does to be kind—it’s just a choice! And we have scientific proof it even helps rabbits! 🐰😉#KindnessHeals

If you bring Tyler and Marie’s words and apply them to addiction, you get this:

I’m listening to this book on Audible and it states:

“Families of addicts using collaboration and kindness rather than confrontation to support behavior change”.

This theory comes from the CRAFT approach which bases their “craft’ on this principle:

We envision a world where everyone who loves someone struggling with substances has access to information and tools based in science, grounded in compassion, and tailored to the needs of families and their community.

Studies show the CRAFT approach has a 67% success rate compared to Al-Anon/nar-anon. This is the the success rate for the person with addiction when their families participate in craft principles compared to those other support groups! So how we treat the addicted loved one matters!

So Instead of washing your hands of something ‘you can’t control’ (which is true – in theory) craft teaches these skills:

“Providers who are trained or certified in CRAFT teach parents communication skills, collaborative problem-solving, and how to talk with their children in a warm and loving way. Parents get coaching and individual therapy and are encouraged to do couples work.

“While other treatment approaches call for either confronting or detaching from a loved one who is a substance user, CRAFT shows how to change one’s interactions with the addicted person to reduce or stop his or her substance use and encourage the person to move toward getting help. CRAFT teaches family and friends skills such as how to:

  • Care for themselves and take back control of their lives.
  • Understand triggers that lead to a loved one’s substance use.
  • Reward a loved one when he or she does not use ­substances—and withdraw positive reinforcement when there is unhealthy behavior, such as alcohol intoxication.
  • Use positive communication to improve interactions and to maximize their impact.
  • Encourage a substance user to seek treatment.
  • Spot signs that things might escalate to domestic violence.-

While it is true you can’t MAKE someone stop using, or control the outcomes, you can surely “invite” them to care enough about themselves to want to get better. We do this by showing kindness to another human in the face of a devastating insidious disease that needs the balance of a LOVE & CONNECTION to overcome its demons.

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Looking for a surefire way to ruin your day, month, year, even all your golden years?

Try this… let’s judge yesterday’s actions with today’s information.

Take what you know today, with all your experience and knowledge; then look back over your life, make sure to focus directly on your parenting and sort through each detail. The next step is taking what you know now, with today’s information, and judge all your past decisions. Notice all your mistakes and say things to yourself like, I should have, I could have, and I would have.

See how that works! Instant misery. Now that you are good and depressed, let’s talk about judging yesterday’s actions with today’s information. As absurd as it may seem laid out in the above way, it is one of the primary ways that parents stay stuck, sick, and unhappy. Many parents of addicts do this to themselves for years, always with negative results. This mentality of judging past decisions with new information fosters low self-esteem, depression, guilt, poor relationships, and even poor health. The regret and guilt created by doing this can keep a parent engaged in a dynamic with their adult children that allows the child to avoid the natural consequences of their addiction.

Sometimes parents might judge others’ (spouse, schools, law enforcement, friends, etc.) past actions in relation to their child and blame them for their child’s problems and addiction. This mindset succeeds in keeping the addict in the victim role rather than allowing the addict to take ownership over what he/she must change in order to recover. This mindset is also often used by parents to avoid that persistent and scary (FALSE) belief that it is their fault that their child is faced with addiction.

If you can see the insanity in judging yesterday’s actions with today’s information, what can you do to change this mentality?

First and foremost, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This is where parent meetings are critical. Discussion with others who have walked this path will help tremendously; a burden shared is halved. There is a difference between knowing there are other parents out there who have dealt with addicted kids and actually spending time talking with them. There is enormous relief from shared experience and identification with others.

Educate yourself about addiction; anyone who understands addiction, knows it is almost never the parent’s fault and that the only way for addicts to recover is for them to take responsibility for their own lives. It is really challenging for them to do this and nearly impossible if the parents won’t let go, stop fixing everything, and begin to recover themselves.

Focus on today’s actions, dwelling on the past is never useful. Take todays new information you are learning from other parents and only apply it to today. When we apply a solution to the here and now it can really help effect change instead of keeping us stuck in the past. So, let’s try this again…. Looking for a great way to help you enjoy your day, month, year, or even the rest of your golden years? Try the above positive suggestions and remember that you are powerless over the choices of others but have the power to feel good about yourself as a parent right now!

With Love,
Josh Azevedo, LISAC

Josh Azeverdo is a guest blogger for PAL and is the Executive Director at The Pathway Program, https://thepathwayprogram.com

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The Prodigal Son

For the story visit: Journeys.dartmouth

I had a dream last night.

I was trapped inside my house with some scary people outside trying to get in. My family was there and I kept “trying to convince them” to not go out. My two eldest sons kept telling me, “It’s ok Mom, we can handle it”. (Both struggle with SUD, one is functioning well and happy- the other is what this entire blog is based on)

I tried to pull them away from the door, like a worried Mom of curious toddlers who are determined to toddle out into the street. My boys went out anyway. In my dreamlike state, I remember thinking, at least they are together; which sadly, hasn’t happened in a year.

As I woke up from this nightmare, the following story was playing on my phone:

As I listened to the story of the prodigal son, tears stung my eyes. I didn’t put it on there, I didn’t search for it. What I did do- is pray daily – several times a day, for my son to have a spiritual awakening OR for someone to come into his life that could reach him, since I can’t.

This experience is similar to This dream I had awhile ago.

Faith, patience, hope.

Was this God’s way of telling me to BE STILL?

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Myths of Addiction

The following is from Shatterproof: a national nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the addiction crisis in the United States.

Addiction Myths vs. Facts

Most of what the average American knows about addiction is rooted in discrimination and stereotypes. The shame and social disapproval associated with addiction are greater than for any other medical illness.

Stereotypes can show up anywhere: In movies and on the TV news, in our classrooms and workplaces, even in our homes. And these stereotypes aren’t just hurtful and untrue: They directly contribute to the stigma that prevents people in need from getting treatment.

Here are some common myths about addiction. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Myth: “Addiction only happens to certain kinds of people.”

Fact: Addiction can happen to anyone, no matter their race, upbringing, personality type, or grade point average. There are genetic, social, and psychological risk factors that can put some people at greater risk—but addiction has nothing to do with a person’s character.

Myth: “Addiction is a choice! Kids should just say no.”

Fact: No one, whether they’re a teen or an adult, chooses how their brain will react to substances. The majority of American teenagers report they’ve tried alcohol, and many experiment with other drugs, too. There are effective ways to prevent drug use and addiction—but “just saying no” doesn’t really do that.

Myth: “People with addiction are all criminals.”

Fact: Most of the time, the only person directly harmed by an addiction is the person who’s addicted. Yet millions of people are in jail or prison right now just because they struggle with substance use.

Myth: “People with addiction need tough love. Helping them just enables drug use.”

Fact: Showing love and support are never bad things. Boundaries and self-care are important, but lifesaving interventions should never be denied out of an impulse to teach someone a lesson. Not only is it cruel, but it’s ineffective. Addiction is an illness.

Myth: “Addiction medications are just replacing one addiction with another.”

Fact: Medications for addiction treatment (MAT), especially for opioid use disorder, have been proven to save lives and substantially improve recovery rates. For people in treatment for substance use disorders, medications ease withdrawal symptoms to give people the space they need to recover and prevent overdoses. Medications don’t create a high or cause impairment—they allow patients to work, drive, care for their families, and live full lives.

Myth: “People with addiction are hopeless.”

Fact: People can and do recover from addiction every single day. In fact, millions of Americans are thriving in recovery right now. We just don’t hear their stories as often. Once treatment begins, someone with a substance use disorder can move on to manage their illness, just as they would any other chronic illness. With the right treatment, recovery is possible for everyone.Science of AddictionAddiction is a treatable medical illness. Here’s what research shows about how drugs affect the brain and body.Addiction in America22 million people in America struggle with addiction and it’s the third largest cause of death, but many don’t get the help they need.Educating FamiliesWe provide resources to millions of families who are looking for information, tools, and support.