I attended The Catholic University of America. As a freshman on Halloween I was ecstatic to dress as a pregnant nun. There was something powerful about being so “out there” with something that could be viewed as so shameful. I wanted people to be uncomfortable with their own judgments. Now, years later I am deeply troubled by the constant shame I see working as recovery coach and interventionist. From the man mortified that his place of employment has uncovered his past history of abusing pain pills, to the mother who refuses to be seen at an Alanon Meeting for support with her daughters drug addiction, shame proliferates in the world of addictive behaviors. Guilt is different; it is feeling bad for wrong behaviors, and can actually keep us aligned with doing the right thing. But shame is part of how we ended up drinking, drugging, eating, or passing down unhealthy family legacies in the first place. In the words of Brene Brown, “ I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.” I was not embarrassed to ask for leave from my place of employment so I could go to treatment. I had a drinking problem. This was my truth. I was seeking help to fix the problem; there is NO shame in that. I want people to start recognizing shaming behavior in themselves and as they interact with others. If you have shaming tendencies, follow Brene Brown, and start to free yourself and the people around you!
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Regardless of how much information we have on understanding addiction, some people seem to feel safer remaining in a state of denial. This makes sense because not having to change is EASY! As a recovery coach working with both addicts and their loved ones, I like clients to be armed with as much scientific information as possible leaving less room for opinion. Loved ones are constantly haunted with the question of how to stop addiction. Although it does not fix the problem, we do have plenty of information today on addictive behaviors and why people can’t just STOP drinking, drugging, or even eating. This fascinating explanation of a chemical in our brain called THIQ and how it works in the mind of an addict vs. someone without addictive behaviors may just make you feel some sanity today about why you can’t FIX your loved one or why you can’t get well on your own!
Some people say the only thing they did was drink too much, too often, for too long. When I went into treatment the exact words I heard from numerous people in my life was, “the general consensus is that you overreacted”. My family knew I drank a lot but I don’t think they would have all classified me as an alcoholic. The only person who knew the real severity of the problem was my husband because he knew what happened behind closed doors. The Jellenick Curve is a great resource to understand the general progression of ones addiction. Be warned, the curve always reads left to right, it will never go right to left for more than a short period of time. What this means is once we drink enough to open those neuropathways that crave alcohol, it is very difficult (and many would say impossible) to ever completely shut them off. So many people have addictive tendencies and addictive behaviors but it takes a perfect storm to move into the final stages of alcoholism. We know enough today that many are fortunate to be able to stop well before they become the “homeless guy under the bridge with the brown bag”. Below are just a few of the initial signs that I was in trouble:
· Immediately wanting a drink in my hand at any function
· Frequently telling myself “Just one more”
· Thinking it was ok to drive after three glasses of wine-because its not
· Making excuses to drink, bars after work with coworkers, out to dinner, etc.
· Waking up the next morning with guilt about breaking promises to myself
· Always being one of the last ones to leave the party
· My husband starting to watch/comment about my drinking at gatherings
· Switching from hard alcohol to beer only, to wine only, then to hard alcohol only because it had less calories
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One of my favorite gurus, Robin Sharma, has talked about his Forced Optimization Strategy (FOS), forcing ourselves into doing the things we need to do in the beginning of forming a new habit (when it is most difficult) instead of relying on willpower. As an example he suggests hiring a personal trainer 3 times a week to come knock on your door and get you working out. There is no way to fail here. I believe recovery coaching and sober companions are exactly the same. When you commit and invest in having someone who has battled and overcome addictive behaviors hold you accountable and help get you where you need to be, it is far more difficult to fail. I don’t care if you think you aren’t exhibiting the signs of alcoholism according to a survey you saw online. If there is something in your life that you feel is holding you back from reaching your highest potential, its time to get in recovery mode. I say it time and time again; everyone needs a therapist and a coach if they really want to live life to its fullest…one to deal with the past and the other to get you where you want to go. What are you waiting for!?!
You may recall the 1990’s campaign “D.A.R.E. to Keep Kids Off Drugs” and the program that accompanied it. Ironically in the 6th grade D.A.R.E. play, I played the bad chick who peer pressured everyone into drinking and using drugs. I don’t know if anything would have been different had I known the magnitude of the mental health issues amongst my ancestors. One side of the family had a history of alcoholism and the other untreated eating disorders, which I now understand are virtually one in the same. I do know that for someone with a rebellious addict mind, programs like D.A.R.E. only made me want to experiment more. Some things like stages of alcoholism or drug addiction statistics were perhaps a bit premature for what I was ready to listen to at 12. I also know that had I understood the neuroscience of why drug or alcohol abuse in someone under 25 affects the brain in a drastically different way than that of someone older, it would have caught my attention. Neuroscience tells us that if you take someone with possible addictive tendencies and introduce them to substances at a young age, their brain will essentially light up those neuropathways which can lead to craving, addictive behaviors, and substance abuse. There is no longer room for the, “it won’t happen to me” denial, because the proof is in the CT scans. The brain science that aids us in understanding addiction continues to catch my eye today. We need to start being more specific with kids so they understand HOW they are harming themselves from the first time they touch a substance. Read some fascinating information here on The Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on the Adolescent Brain.
about the master coach
Danielle, the Founder & Master Coach of RealYou Revolution, is a woman in long term recovery with a passion for helping others overcome their own personal demons – whatever they may be.