Words of Wisdom I Found New Meaning In While Recovering From Addiction

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When I finally gave up drinking, I found myself researching a lot about addiction. Many questions lingered in my foggy mind. Where did I go wrong? Why did such a horrible disease happen to me?

After all, before I hit rock bottom, I’d spent 15 years in corrections, transitioning chemically addicted offenders out of prison. I was paid to construct their path to substance-free living. And lock them up when they failed. A paradoxical reality of stripping the freedom from those who couldn’t stay clean, all the while enslaving myself to the prison of an addicted mind.

During the first year of abstinence, I struggled with the pain I caused my family as well as regret for what I couldn’t change. I was thankful I wasn’t drinking and striving to build a meaningful life but spent many days focused on the brokenness of my past.

Then on a whim, I submitted my addiction story to an online recovery site. And quite unexpectedly, a timely glimpse of awareness shifted the focus of my life. While my story was appreciated, I was told their site focused on recovery, not the problems of addiction. Inquiries about my motivation to change and how my life was different today helped me realize I had spent enough energy draining out the nightmares of my past.

So began a journey of commitment toward true recovery, which I’ve found to be so much more than abstinence. Here’s what I’ve discovered, words of wisdom I’d heard before but never rang so true as now.

“To love others, we must first love ourselves.” — Leo Buscaglia

When I stopped drinking, I united with a forgotten passion that made it possible to believe I could like myself again. I discovered old journals from the most pivotal time of my life that bridged a connection to my younger self, where innocence and pain were deeply rooted. I began to write again, and this powerful energy fueled a passion to heal from the inside out. Hoping one day to grow brave and reach the ones still suffering in silence. I may not like part of my past, but as I begin to understand and accept it, I can use what I’ve learned to help others with compassion because I’ve had to love myself through the same painful process.

“Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” — Indira Gandhi

According to psychiatrist Dr. Gabor Maté, the root of all addiction is pain. Hurtful life events that leave us wounded and bitter. Becoming aware of this pain, we allow ourselves to explore forgiveness, a challenging and necessary component for growth. It’s a gift to find the freedom to forgive ourselves and others for our misfortunes. We can’t change the past. But learning and letting go are elements of bravery necessary to overcome and heal.

“We are all creatures of habit.” — Earl Nightingale

Recovery is so much more than no longer consuming our poison. It’s a lifestyle change that requires ongoing practice. If we think about how long it took to become our own worst enemy, we should give at least that much time becoming a better version of ourselves. Early in recovery, I relapsed when I found myself in an unexpected painful situation. I had yet to develop coping skills that would reroute the worn path leading me straight to the bottle. I now engage in activities that promote relaxation to calm my restless mind. A morning meditation, walk in nature and yoga are tools I am purposefully working into my daily schedule.

“It’s in giving that we receive.” — St. Francis of Assisi

The most dangerous place to exist in recovery is isolation. It’s important to stay outside our deeply entrenched negative minds and focus instead on what good our experience can bring to this world. Sharing our story, serving meals at a shelter or smiling at the next person who crosses our path ignites hope in ways we may never know. Everyone else has a story too. It is through our own pain that we understand others who still struggle. And by being the voice for those unable to speak, we receive a blessing of strength from those who will eventually listen.

So how is my life different today? My answer has changed from when I was first asked this question.

I no longer look back for too long. I see my life with an awareness of goodness that brings hope, not shame. I spend my days in gratitude for how far I’ve come. Some days aren’t easy, but I keep moving forward. Keeping my sights on the horizon, where possibilities exists, far from the prison of which I am no longer bound.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Is There Such a Thing as a 'Functioning' Addict?

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My husband has been having a hard time sleeping the last month, and in desperation he went to the doctor for some help. He came home with a few different things over the course of the month to try and help; I didn’t approve of all of them.

You see, I’m a recovering addict, and there are certain substances I do not want in my house for the safety of my sobriety. I’m now 19 months sober, and I want to see that number continue growing.

So, although my husband absolutely needed these medications, we absolutely needed a game plan on how to keep me safe.

We chatted about it back and forth for a couple of hours, and besides the game plan to keeping me safe, one of the things that came up was that I had been a “functioning” addict when I used. Functioning. Should there even be a label, “functioning” addict?

What does one look like? How are they different than “typical” addicts? How do they act? What challenges do they face in regards to addiction? Are those challenges different than from someone “non-functioning?”

How would one define a “functioning” addict?

A functioning addict is most likely a person who’s drug or alcohol use hasn’t caught up to them yet. It’s a person who is able to hide the severity of their addiction to the people close to them, often at tragic cost.

Functioning addicts are often able to perform their tasks on a daily manner, but there can be tell-tale signs. Some of these signs include making excuses for their behaviors, trying to justify their drug use. Who they hang out with says a lot as well. If all their friends are using drugs or alcohol or they don’t want to attend events unless drugs or alcohol will be there, that’s also a sign of a bigger issue. And if they suddenly lose interest in their hobbies, the addiction could be starting to take over their life.

According to the National Institutes of Health, some distinguishing characteristics of a functioning addict include: a high level of education, a stable job, supportive family, commonly middle-aged, family history of addiction (about 30 percent of addicts), and history of major depression (about 20 percent of addicts).

One of the most challenging issue that faces functioning addicts and their loved ones comes from the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to convince them they’re actually addicts. They’ll often point out that nothing bad has ever happened from their use or that they’re able to keep a job and provide for themselves and “addicts can’t do that.”

I denied I had a problem with my medications for years. I hid it as best I could and justified it and explained away symptoms until my face was blue. Years before I was even close to admitting I was an addict, my religious leader suggested I look into rehab, and I was shocked and offended because I wasn’t an addict. He obviously knew something I still could not see. I honestly didn’t think I had a problem. I didn’t doctor shop, I didn’t try to get more meds than I was prescribed, I didn’t lie about my pain or anxiety to get higher dosages. I didn’t buy pills off the internet or from dealers off the street. I thought I was doing quite well, in fact. My kids were generally well taken care of, I worked and went to school. I participated in extracurriculars. Yet I was still an addict. I discovered it’s possible to be an addict and not do any of those negative things, which was an incredibly painful, humbling time in my life.

So the answer for me is yes, it is possible to be a “functioning” addict, but from my experience, it’s not worth it. You go just that much longer before getting treatment, you have just that much further to rock bottom, and you have just that much more to lose.

I hope sharing my story shows just how easy it is become addicted and how much possibility there is after recovery once you’ve admitted you need help. There’s no shame in having an addiction; it is a disease, not a character flaw.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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5 Tips for Supporting a Loved One With a 'Dual Diagnosis'

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Mental illness affects around 57.7 million American adults every single year. In addition, more than 23.5 million people are treated every year for drug or alcohol abuse. When addiction and another mental illness occurs in the same person, it is referred to as a “dual diagnosis.” This can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms of addiction and other mental illnesses often overlap. A dual diagnosis can be difficult to treat.

Here are some tips for helping a loved one deal with a dual diagnosis:

1. Forget everything you think you know.

Drug addiction and other mental illnesses are surrounded by a strong negative stigma, which is propagated by the media’s portrayal of individuals with mental illness. The most important thing you can do to help a friend or family member with a dual diagnosis is to forget everything you think you know about mental illness. Take the time to educate yourself about mental illness and drug addiction from accurate sources so you know how to recognize the symptoms of mental illness.

Also, don’t assume you know anything about the individual experience of your friend or loved one. Mental illness and addiction affect everyone differently.

2. Small gestures can mean the world.

You don’t have to spend all your time and energy helping your friends with their dual diagnosis, though you might want to. Small gestures — even something as simple as a greeting card or a text — can mean the world to someone who is dealing with a dual diagnosis. Little gestures can help such individuals remain grounded and centered in reality when the world stops making sense.

3. Be there but don’t judge.

It’s estimated up to 53 percent of drug abusers and 37 percent of alcohol abusers also have at least one other serious mental illness. That’s a lot for someone to cope with, but you can help. Sometimes all you can do for someone who’s making their way through a dual diagnosis is to be there and make sure they know you’re there for them. Be a shoulder to cry on or whatever they need. Whatever you do though, please leave your judgment at the door. People who live with a dual diagnosis may find it hard to do simple things like remember to eat and their diagnosis will affect their entire lifestyle. Judgment will probably come from plenty of sources around them, it doesn’t need to come from you as well.

4. Tough love doesn’t always work.

Interventions and the tough love approach might work in some cases, but for individuals with a dual diagnosis, it’s can drive them away or drive them to more destructive behavior. We’re tempted to try to fix things when there’s nothing we can do to change them. Don’t make it harder for your friends or loved ones to make their way through the world by trying to always treat them with tough love.

5. Don’t expect a cure.

While addiction and other mental illnesses can be improved by treatment, there probably won’t be a blanket cure. Recovery is usually a lifelong process. It’s tempting to look for a cure or offer up homeopathic remedies you read about on the internet, but treatment and lifelong recovery are the best ways to effectively manage a dual diagnosis. A dual diagnosis might seem like a hurdle impossible to jump, but if someone you love has received one, the best thing you can do for them is just be there. No matter what treatment plans they choose or steps they take, your support can mean the world to them.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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What No One Tells You about Loving Someone in Recovery From Addiction

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“You were gone for all these years. Now you’re back and still not here,” Nadine Horton shares about her husband’s return home from treatment for alcohol abuse.

This is a sentiment far too common and far too closeted, among romantic partners supporting a loved one in recovery. In fact, most individuals in this position report high feelings of anger, worry, distrust, anxiety and frustration in their relationships. Meanwhile, partners living in recovery most often report feelings of love, happiness, trust, desire and hope.

If these sort of emotional disconnects are common in relationships impacted by addiction, even after treatment, why isn’t it something that’s frequently discussed? Because of this, people like Nadine end up feeling isolated or guilt-ridden. The truth is if you are supporting a partner through recovery, you aren’t alone and your recovery matters too.

We caught up with Nadine, asking her to share her experience in hopes of illuminating the realities — for better or worse — of loving someone in recovery. She has worked through 15+ years of recovery alongside her husband and while it hasn’t always been easy, there’s hope for restoration.

Here’s what she had to share:

Q: What was your first conversation like when you spoke to your husband during his treatment?

Nadine: “My daughter and I went to visit him together and I just remember it being a really awkward experience for both of us. I could tell our daughter was happy to see him, but just didn’t know how to talk to him. For me, I felt like I had nothing to say. I battled very mixed emotions. I knew I loved him very much, but that man was gone and for that, I was angry. At the same time, I felt guilty because I knew I had a role to play in this awkwardness we felt. I hadn’t made an effort to speak with him during treatment.”

Q: How did you feel when your husband left treatment? Were you looking forward to his return home?

Nadine: “By no means was I ready for my husband to return home and I was extremely lucky we had another option. He was able to go live with his mother for a little while, which was relieving for me. It took away that pressure of going back to a family unit, because we didn’t feel like ‘one.’

It afforded us a neutral space where he and I could have time alone to talk and reestablish our friendship. I needed to learn to trust him again and find a level of comfort — that was really important for me emotionally. After a few months, I could feel myself relaxing around him. I started to see the person I fell in love with. Although I was still ‘on the fence’ emotionally, we made the decision for him to return home with my daughter and I.”

Q: Did anyone prepare you for how you would feel or what the recovery process might be like?

Nadine: “Not at all. No one had a conversation with me to explain what to expect emotionally or even just practically. No prep, no nothing. Even in light of that, I didn’t form any of my own expectations either. I just really hoped the person I fell in love with would come all the way back and that more than anything he would reconnect with our daughter. Looking back, I wish I did have that support or preparation. I felt very alone for a long time. Now I know I didn’t have to.”

Q: How did you and your husband work toward repairing your marriage?

Nadine: “Well, the first couple of years were rough. My husband was doing all the ‘right’ things: working two jobs to make money again, apologizing for being gone for so many years and attending AA meetings religiously. However, I still didn’t feel like I had him back. In fact, I even grew resentful of his overzealous commitment to AA. Recovery was number one in his life and he was so afraid if it wasn’t, he would relapse.

My husband was getting a lot of support, yet I felt very alone. I didn’t have an outlet in the same way he did and I would bury my feelings. I eventually broke down and shared my honest feelings with him. I told him I felt ignored for a long time and I think that was our breaking point. We started to rebuild our marriage when we started to openly communicate about the way we felt — the good, bad and ugly parts.”

Q: What would you say to others who are supporting a partner through recovery?

Nadine: “First and foremost, do not blame yourself for your loved one’s condition. Guilt can take over your life, so it’s important to remember, ‘I didn’t cause it. I can’t control it. I can’t cure it.’

Once your partner finds recovery and commits to it, education, patience and honest communication are key. Educate yourself on the recovery process and understand their recovery journey will and has to become, the most important thing in their life. Also understand this in no way diminishes their love for you. Be patient with your partner and yourself. The chaotic, drama-filled life you once led is now gone and will be replaced with meetings, meetings and more meetings. You need to give yourself and your partner time to settle into that routine and find the balance. Most importantly, speak openly and honestly with each other. There will be a lot of feelings on both sides and you need to be able to express those in a way that preserves the love that is there.

Ultimately, recovery is a lifelong commitment and it takes time. Being aware, having a support system for yourself and finding your own recovery is just as important as the recovery of your loved one with the addiction. If you do it with open, honest communication and love, you will find your relationship stronger than it has ever been and there is nothing the two of you can’t overcome!

If you find yourself in Nadine’s shoes, take heart in her story. There is hope for a restored relationship and you don’t have to do it alone. If you’re in need of a support community or insightful information, visit us at Recovery.org to explore some of your options.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can visit recovery.org and rehabs.com.

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7 Ways Exercise Helped Me Work Through My Addiction Recovery

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Growing in Fort Collins, Colorado, was as easy as one can possibly imagine. Rather a small city, I didn’t have many friends to spend time with and mostly everyone knew each other’s’ parents. I used to go on walks near the woods and kept myself busy staring into the lake or the mountains in the background, which are covered by snow for the better part of the year.

My first contact with alcohol was when I was 13. A couple friends and I were listening to some records after school and we had some beers that the oldest brother of one in our group bought for us. When I realized what drinking was doing to me I felt like I could leave behind all my anxiety, worries and everything being shy brought along with it. It was fine and it felt good. We didn’t think anything bad of it at that time. Maybe if I had been more careful I could’ve still have had some drinks every now and then. But I’m way beyond the point of telling myself, “I wish I did this or that.”

Years went by and I eventually developed an addiction to alcohol. I felt embarrassed because none of my other friends got addicted to it. I started to drink almost all the time. I couldn’t keep any job for longer than a month or two, not to mention all my relationships went into inevitable doom. Everything went totally out of control and I didn’t realize until my family made an intervention. My brother helped get me involved in addiction and rehabilitation programs in our own city so I could still be close to them. Of course, it took me a while to realize I was having a problem, but when I look back into my past I still wonder sometimes, why me?

My family was a great support during my recovery process. I was really happy they understood it was a disease because in lots of cases I’ve heard of, there have been different situations when I wish people knew more about the topic before blaming or leaving. They were always coming up with ideas to distract me or keep me busy so I wouldn’t have bad thoughts or feel the need to drink again. My brother had always been the kind of guy who was into all type of sports and while I was attending the rehab program he suggested I should join him occasionally for some training or mild workouts. I’ve never really been a gym person, but since it was my brother I saw it as an opportunity to spend time with him and somehow make up for the pain I had caused him by being an alcoholic. In the end, that was simply one of the greatest ideas he’s ever had, and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and here’s why.

1. It literally changed my life.

When we started going to the gym, my brother told me I might feel exhausted at the end of the session but in the long term, like everything that requires dedication, it would be worth it. As I went with him a couple days a week at the start, I began to spot some changes in my daily life. I was in a better mood. I felt less depressed and tired. I felt motivated to accomplish new things and my self-esteem improved a lot. It was like a new me. When I was working out I realized it was the first thing I put myself into with dedication and motivation. More than anything else I had ever done so far.

2. I slept a lot better.

Not only because I was exhausted after a good training session, but also because it relaxed my body and mind to the point that when I finally got the chance to rest, I fell on the bed like a rock. Addiction disrupted my sleeping pattern, so along with the treatment and the exercise, my body was trying to go back to normal and that meant having a balanced and healthy sleeping pattern.

3. I wasn’t stressed or anxious anymore.

One of the best things about exercise is that it gave me the peace I so desperately needed. I was releasing endorphins while working out which gave me a natural “high.” So on top of the fact that things were actually going well at that time, I also felt like they were. I could appreciate the progress a lot more because I was seeing how my body was changing due to our training sessions.

4. I felt healthy.

Abusing alcohol made changes on my body I really wanted to change back. When we started going to the gym I remember my brother telling me how I’d see changes not only in my muscles obviously, but also on my skin. After a couple months, I looked some years younger. It felt great. I could breath better and sleep better and I wasn’t even feeling the need to relapse that much because of how motivated and busy I was keeping myself with my brother.

5. My self-esteem went up.

I’ve never really considered myself an attractive person, it kind of runs in the family. But getting fit made me feel a lot better about myself. I wanted to grow my muscles and increase my strength. After months I was into the mirror and I could barely recognize myself. My brother wasn’t the only strong guy in the house anymore.

We even ended up doing some repairs in the house. My father had been asking my brother to do them for a long time but now that we had both of us, we took up the challenge. When we finished I reflected on how many great things are connected to each other and how I could see the physical results of my efforts, which also strengthened the relationships with my family. I’ve heard that when people exercise they feel more confident, optimistic and happy about themselves and their life. I was definitely feeling that way.

6. It made me meditate.

I had no idea about that at first, but an instructor at the gym told us that exercise has very similar effects on the body and the mind as meditation does. Concentrating on the effort, and focusing on the goals for the session can distract from any other issue that might be present in life. I remember just telling myself repeatedly one more minute, one more push-up, one more lift, etc. Nothing else mattered but what I wanted to achieve with my body at that moment.

7. It gave me a new outlook.

The chemical reactions going on inside my body have a lot to do with this, but overall seeing results made me feel more confident about my recovery process. We were setting small goals or benchmarks every time we went to the gym. And by achieving them I started to believe more in myself. The idea of overcoming my addiction didn’t look so unrealistic anymore because I was seeing that I could do anything I wanted if I put my motivation and dedication on it.

Going through recovery was hard regardless of how much support I got or whom I got it from. But it’s not impossible. I’ve learned many valuable lessons from this experience, and the best part of it is that most of them apply to every single human being. Dedication and motivation got me further than I ever thought I’d go. I’ve successfully completed my recovery program now. I have a wife and a baby coming soon and a wonderful nephew. It all is the result of a mixture of many things, but I know I owe a lot to exercise. I never felt this happy before, and I know that if I had never taken the chance my brother gave me, I probably wouldn’t have opened my mind and my life to all the wonderful things that came along.

If you’d like to ask a question or would like to suggest other benefits I might’ve forgotten to write, feel free to leave a comment below.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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What I've Learned From Being Sober in My 20s

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From the moment I took my first sip, smoked my first joint and snorted my first line, I was doomed. No matter what substance it was, it changed me. For me, there was no better feeling than getting intoxicated. Sure, I didn’t become a drug addict overnight, but it did happen gradually. I thought I was having the greatest time of my life in my teenage years, until it all came crashing down on me.

They say how spend your 20s will define you, but if you ask any 20-something, they will probably disagree. Your 20s are supposed to be the best time of your life. It is a time for maturing, having the time of your life and finding yourself. Everyone looks forward to turning 21. And no words can describe the ultimate freedom of ripping your first legal beer. But I managed to never take that first legal drink. I am halfway through my 20s and have spent the entire time sober.

Through all of high school, I mainly got high. I thought that was the point. I was always down for a wild time: whether it was a new drug, robbing someone, getting a fight or skipping school. I felt invincible. I basically was, at least for awhile. My parents would send me to outpatient rehab from time to time, but I would eventually end up getting high again. There was nothing they could do about it. I thought my drug habits were “not that bad.” All my friends got high just as much as me and in my eyes, I had no serious consequences. Yeah, nobody trusted me anymore and I didn’t make the cut for sports teams and my grades were plummeting, but none of that mattered to me, as long as I could get high.

The first time I got intoxicated, I was about 13-years-old. I really didn’t stop until I was 19. Getting high and partying had its ups and downs, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a blast at first. However, it finally all came crashing down on me and I was hit with the ultimate ultimatum. Go to rehab and stop using drugs for good or continue to use drugs and inevitably, have it kill me. I obviously chose rehab, because I otherwise wouldn’t be writing this article today.

On April 20, 2010, I got high for the last time. I honestly thought my life was over. I was only 19 and I knew if I wanted any success in life I would have to abstain from alcohol and drugs completely. But how could I? The drug addict lifestyle was the only lifestyle I knew. I had to make one change and that one change was everything. I decided to dedicate my life to AA and in turn, I received true happiness.

From an outsider’s point of view, I am no different than any other 25-year-old. I do the same thing everyone else is doing my age, except I do not drink or use drugs. Although this is a big difference, I have way more opportunities to have fun. For example, one summer I decided to travel around and go to various concerts, festivals and shows. Of course, the main attraction at these events is the drug scene. But I had the time of my life sober and I was able to enjoy every minute of each one. I used to spend every dollar I had on drugs but now that I’m sober, I can spend it on worthwhile things.

I managed to graduate college with a 3.0, lived in Israel for a year and do all of the hobbies I used to do as a kid. People who know me will tell you I have more fun than anyone they know. I live every day to the fullest because I know every single day I wake up sober is truly a blessing. When I was getting high, I pushed everyone out of my life. I only called my parents to ask for money, my siblings wanted nothing to do with me and my only friends were drug addicts like myself. Now, I have a great relationship with everyone in my family, friends who actually care about me and a normal nine-to-five job.

My obsession with using drugs has been lifted and if you ask anyone who struggles with addiction, it’s a dream come true. I have complete soundness of mind and with this, anything is possible. Thousands of people die each year from this horrible disease and I could have very easily been one of them. I was spared, for whatever reason. But now, my life’s mission is to figure it out. I have spent my 20s soul searching and committing to a better self. If your 20s are the age that define you, I am one lucky person, because I have been through the wire. And I’m now able to handle any adversity thrown my way. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you have options — be in a rehab center (where I work now) or another treatment option, make the leap of faith and choose a life of sobriety and serenity

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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