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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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Self Care & Our Own Habits

Hypocrisy is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another or the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. In moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one’s own expressed moral rules and principles.[1] According to British political philosopher David Runciman– according to Wikipedia,

This is the first quote in my book I’m writing.

Why am I saying this? Because we are SO good at telling our addicted loved ones to take care of their selves and do things to get their bodies healthy again, yet what are we going? Possibly getting more stressed, more sick & more depressed.

We become so focused on the “goal” or our particular destination happiness, that we fail to live in the present.

Matt Kahn stated:

“I think one of the hang-ups is that we reserve gratitude for when life becomes the way we want it to be. We’re not grateful for the chance to experience the things that ensure we confront our limiting ideas and painful feelings. We are often caught in a standoff with life that says: I’ll be the most grateful when everything changes to my desired specifications”. 

Matt Kahn

We rush around (maybe only in our scattered & frazzled mind) trying to make things happen so that WE can finally relax.

We might even enjoy and feel justified with a glass of wine to calm down.

Yes, although WE may not be the alcoholic and be immune to the allergy & obsession of addiction; it still may not be the best choice for our overall vibration.

How to facilitate a better vibrational state, so we are not ruminating on our problems, seems like a reasonable goal.

All of us must find our Place Of Peace. It’s a continual process, I believe. One that requires consistent daily habits, which I am quite inept at.

Today, its a rainy spring day, and after an emotional weekend of worry and indecisiveness, my goal for today was self care to find my place of peace. As I’m setting new goals, I find this live concert on You Tube on my apple TV.

What perfect background music to relax by than Jackson Browne? Why don’t I know this guy? Hope you enjoy this concert as I did. ( I guess I do know him- he’s the “Take it Easy” writer from the Eagles.

One of my challenges is setting goals with specifics such as time management & allocation. I’m working on it. Rituals such as described in Shelly Young’s article below will help.

I recently quoted her in my post the other day and she has some great self-care advice here, also.

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A Loving Kindness Ritual

Every morning. Every single morning for the past six years, I light a candle, settle onto a cushion, close my eyes and say the loving kindness meditation/prayer, Metta. I say it several times. 

Once for myself, in the spirit of giving a gift to myself, the gift of happiness, peace, kindness. In the spirit of generosity and love I say it outward, once for my children., once for my friends and family, once for anyone in particular in need of support, healing, blessing, my attention or affection or someone who has been a benevolent force in my life, shared time, energy, space, kindness support with me. Then once for all of us, the collective us, all of humanity, all beings in nature.

It is how I touch into that which is greater than myself, my place in the family of things, the collective of humanity, my role in the perpetuation of love and kindness. It grounds me in the now and sets the tone for the day. It is my work to be a force of love and extend that outward as well as inward. To be in service to the greater good. 

I offer this meditation, this ritual to you as a way of priming your body, your heart, your nervous system, your brain for peace, a way of connecting into a greater force of love and wellbeing, a wish for all to be well, happy and peaceful. A chant if you will, for healing.

Try it for a week, a month, a season. See what it feels like in your body to say the words out loud, to extend the blessing outward and inward, to lean into the ritual as a resource for wellbeing and connecting to the family of things. See how it feels. 

Start with yourself, be kind, generous and loving to yourself first then extend that love and kindness outward. Lay love over all that is. 

May I be well happy and peaceful. 

May no harm come to me. 

May no difficulties come to me. 

May I always meet with miraculous success. 

May I also have the courage, patience and understanding to meet and overcome inevitable problems and failures.

May I always remember you are connected to a Presence that is never absent.

May I be held, may you be healed, may you be transformed.

I’m saying it with you. We can say it together.

If you want to join others who say Metta every Thursday 12:00-12:30 in community with my friends Rose + Jen go here. 

Everyone is welcome. 

Image Credit: Jen Lemen. You can find her on Instagram!

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Start Where You Are

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Five years ago I moved back to my home state, found a new (to me) condo to buy, and started a brand new job. I was overwhelmed but curious to see if I could pull it all off.

Which by that time, I technically HAD pulled it off. I had driven all my belongings in a big box truck TWICE from out of state to my new home, visited dozens of houses for sale & navigated finding a new job despite suffering from excruciating ( new)- & changing- job anxiety. It was a lot of work by myself, financially & emotionally. I had recovered from a 24 yr marriage ending a few years earlier and had now navigated the ending of a three year relationship. I was still figuring out the inner independent woman in me.

As I sat in my new office, wondering where to even start- I pulled out some of the items from my previous office. I had previously went to a state activity certification for the elderly population. This box was full of sensory materials such as sound healing therapy and tactile exercises along with adult coloring books which were becoming all the rage at that time. I opened up to the coloring page “start where you are” that I had colored at that conference.

So that’s exactly what I did. I hung that amateur adult coloring page up on the cabinet in front of me and BEGAN.

New patients, new co-workers, new hospital. I went to compliance meetings where I didn’t have a clue what the culture or focus was. Was it low-key? Rigid? What did they expect from me? Well, there was no way to know all that without the gift of the process of TIME. What I did know was federal guidelines. So I started with those and worked backwards to see how the facility could meet those.

So imagine my surprise today when I opened up my email and saw Shelly Youngs beautiful post titled “Start Where you are!”

In it, she describes perfectly, my own experience with my son with substance use disorder, as she is telling her journey.

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During family weekend, seven months into treatment and recovery, I am seated across from my son. We are sitting “knees to knees,” face to face, eyes to eyes within a circle of four other families. 

The counselor says, “Holding eye contact, take turns sharing one resentment, one regret and one affirmation with each other.” 

Holding my gaze, my son nods my way as if to say, “you go first.”

With a trembling voice that breaks mid sentence with deep remorse, I express my greatest regret, “I regret not starting sooner, waiting, to get help and end your suffering.” 

My greatest regret still is not accessing proper care and treatment sooner. People were telling me not to try at all (there is nothing you can do, you can’t cure it) and to banish him from our family to force change (detach, tough love). Some said it was my fault (enabling) and then others said it wasn’t (you didn’t cause it). Some said you have to “wait until they want it” and others said you have to wait until rock bottom. No one said what exactly that meant or looked like so I’d know when it was and when and how to respond. 

There was so much confusion and ambiguity in how to respond when your loved one presents with the adverse effects of a neurotoxin on the brain that I felt torn. Stuck in the middle of an idealogical battle rather than a health condition. Add to that, I’d been raised in an alcoholic environment where I was conditioned not to respond at all. Intervening in someone’s substance use no matter how severe it seemed wasn’t modeled in my family. (until I intervened on my mother, when I was 40 years old) Add to the confusion, a medical system that defined addiction as a health condition but in practice treated it more like a moral issue or lack of willpower (nurses in the ER with my mother) while also contributing to addiction with overprescribing and fraudulent prescription writing (Local Dr. supplying young adults with a supply of opioids and xanax). An insurance system that refused payment for evidence based treatment protocols and mental healthcare with the code, “not medically necessary.” A religion that treated it as a sin or a lack of God or spiritual connection. A government that for years defined it as a crime and conditioned families to treat it as a crime or a moral issue with the failed, “war on drugs” and the “just say no” prevention campaign. A society that encouraged substance use, normalized it, marketed it, until you got sick, hurt yourself or someone else or violated the social contract of use or used the substances that were not approved by society and then treated it like a crime. Families were primed to either not respond (deny, cope, suffer) or to respond with harsh consequences (kick out, detach, abandon, banish) and to do so silently (stigma). All of which cause harm to the individual and the family system. 

In the confusion and disorientation we all suffered trauma. The manifestation of a slow, conditioned, harmful response to substance use disorder, a treatable health condition. It is that trauma which we are now in recovery from. The suffering that ensued by being told to wait for a potentially fatal health condition to get worse before getting proper care for it, the denial of our reality and gaslighting by the insurance company by refusing to pay for evidence based care. The shaming by some therapists, certain support groups members, family and friends for securing attachment and providing care. The pressure to reject my own maternal instincts and betray my intuition in the name of “tough love.” The exhaustion and terror of trying to keep someone alive without medical or community support. The anguish of isolation compounded by the shame of stigma where there never should have been any in the first place. 

As a mother, that is what I am in recovery from. A cultural system failure and the gross lack of continuity and consistency in the system of care.  

For more than 200 years addiction has been defined as a health condition that impacts the body and brain. Dr. Benjamin Rush, who happens to be my great, great, great, grandfather not by blood but by marriage, pioneered the therapeutic approach to addiction in the 1800’s. “Dr. Rush recognized that the person using the substance loses control over themselves and identified the properties of the substance, rather than the person’s choice, as the causal agent.” In other words, the toxin on the brain and in the body was the problem, never the person. Two hundred years ago and still families are suffering the impact of the confusion born of a flawed healthcare, criminal justice, education system and a lack of consistent coordinated response and disparate ideologies around substance use. Two hundred years and some people are still debating “choice.” Ridiculous.

My greatest regret is not following my instincts sooner, not trusting my inner knowing sooner to drive my response. In the end, my inner knowing and my instincts were correct and a clear, compassionate, therapuetic response made way for proper care and treatment, recovery and healing. What propelled me was taking a stand for healing and grounding in addiction as a health condition and treating it no different than any other health condition. Love, Science & Attachment Theory all the way. Then immersing myself in learning about recovery and what it takes to be a recovery ready family. 

The good news is there have been great strides in the understanding of addiction. Powerful research and evidence based treatment grounded in science has paved the way for a compassionate therapuetic response to addiction although access still lags for many communities and the barriers to care are many and differ from state to state.. The recovery community continues to grow, blossom and advocate for policy change that has a powerful effect on peoples lives. People are recovering out loud and sharing their stories and pathways to accessing care and supportive communities.

If you’re looking for specific support, education or resources, or just want to someone to witness where you are right now, reach out. 

I’m here, holding space for your healing and recovery. 

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Shelly Young