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Friday
Jan102014

Thoughts About "Ism's"

There is an old saying in recovery that goes, “If you take the alcohol out of alcoholism, your left with the ism’s.”

Ism’s in recovery circles is a well-worn concept and the kind of word that you do not need to elaborate upon. It refers to the aftereffects of active addiction that linger long and, if not recognized and worked upon, will remain and trickle down into future generations.

An individual who becomes immersed in addictive behaviors of any kind has the tendency to stop growing. As human beings are multifaceted, this stunted growth takes many forms; mental, emotional, social and spiritual. Think about it, active addiction takes over a person’s life in one way or another and gets in the way of natural development. If you are a heavy drinker from age 20, all life experiences from that point forward are dealt with through the lenses of alcohol. Alcohol both removes you (in a small or large way) from “real” life and it becomes the method by which you cope. In addition, addictive behaviors tend to bring out negative or unhealthy aspects of ourselves (often called “character defects”) and keeps us from fully being present in our lives. As we go along, these ways of thinking, acting and dealing become our “norm.” These are the ism’s.

The removal of the addictive behavior or substance is the first and most important part of recovery, for sure. However, transformation, personality change, growth or maturity does not come automatically and takes great effort and diligence. Those who stop addictive behaviors but do not do the work of change are often called “dry drunks.” This brings us the the quote at the beginning and gives me an opportunity to give examples.

Here is a list of some ism’s; does this sound like anyone you know? Having this cluster of traits is often referred to as King or Queen Baby Syndrome:

 

Immature

Grandiose

Obsessive

Impulsive

Rigid

Demanding

Self-seeking

Resentful

Over-sensitive

Defiant

Controlling

 

I agree, all human beings possess these qualities in varying degrees and they manifest themselves at different times. The difference is that addicts tend to live with these qualities up front and center. If you are a “dry drunk” this  tends to be your personality. You can imagine how this could affect future generations; if you’re raised by this kind of person, you tend to take on these characteristics whether or not you use substances yourself.

I’m sorry, King/Queen Baby?

This is a term referring to people who are on the outside a full grown adult but have the emotional maturity of a teenager.

So if you or someone you love had struggles with addictive behaviors and stopped the behavior, but really didn’t do much more, you may want to consider therapy, talking with a spiritual advisor or participating in recovery. The change may benefit not only you, but future generations to come.

 

 

 

 

Friday
Oct252013

Core Beliefs

Conscious, unconscious, sub-conscious. These are terms we toss around almost on a daily basis, and in a way this is a wonderful thing. That means that some of the concepts that are the underpinnings of modern psychology are so widely accepted and understood that they have become terms in common parlance.

The terms and concepts are the stuff of the forefather of psychology and psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud (and later his followers including daughter Anna).  Loosely defined:

Conscious is our state of awareness.

Unconscious is out of the realm of awareness but is based upon our childhood experiences the beliefs that are formed as a result.

Pre-conscious (later termed sub-conscious) is the information from the unconscious that is partially accessible.

Think of it as above the water, under the water and accessible by reaching into the water (some of the time).  Ok let’s dive into the deep end, and go under the water line into the unconscious. Of the many items that reside there are your beliefs which are based mostly upon your childhood experiences. Beliefs generally fall into three categories, beliefs about self, belief about others and beliefs about the world. As children we strive to make sense of the world and tend to make up rules which make sense to us based upon what we are experiences. Unfortunately since our brains are not fully developed and we have no yardstick of life experience to base them on, these beliefs are often distorted and overly simplistic.

Suppose that you are plopped on Mars and are struggling to figure things out, make sense of things, figure out the “rules.” You may for example observe large black craters with smoke coming out followed a few feet later by a burnt landscape. After this is experienced a few times you may suppose the rule “craters are bad, they hurt the land.”  However this is only a small fraction of this huge plant and your little human brain with no Mars experience must make sense of this based upon experiences on earth. In fact parts of Mars may have craters that have cool streams flowing out of them with surrounding areas of green landscape, but you wouldn’t be able to fathom that because you haven’t experienced it and you have no other basis of figuring things out besides what’s in front of you. Children on earth are not unlike if we were on mars.

Imagine a young child is abused by a caregiver or loved one and they attempt to make sense of this. One of the beliefs that the child may develop that makes sense of this situation is “people aren’t trustworthy” or “to care for someone you must hurt them” or ‘there’s something about me that makes grownups do bad things.” These beliefs are now stored in the child’s unconscious and are the basis for how they move forward for the rest of their lives. This is an extreme example, but all of us have developed belief systems based upon our childhood experiences and these “Core Beliefs,” held in the unconscious, are a driving force for us in life.

Much of the work of psychotherapy is uncovering these beliefs for they have the effect of wearing dirty glasses and not knowing it; you don’t know that your glasses are dirty until you take them off and your vision brightens and clears. How to recognize our Core Beliefs and what to do once you do, well that’s the fun part. Stay tuned…

 

Friday
Aug302013

Pornography-A Big Deal?

 

I wonder if you are one of the millions of Americans who take this stance. If so you are likely a male (statistics show men are over 500% more likely than women to view porn).

This is not a soap box and I am not making a moral stand. In fact I am not even making an “anti-porn” stand.  I am, however, referring to chronic porn viewing, often referred to as “prolonged exposure.” As an addictions specialist with a special focus on sexual addiction, I am quite aware of the negative consequences that prolonged exposure to pornography brings.

First, a little biology; as a layman, I think of it this way. Viewing sexually explicit images causes a biochemical change within a person’s brain, a rush of endorphins and neurotransmitters, not unlike the use of drugs such as cocaine.  Engaging in this behavior frequently and over a long duration blazes new pathways in the brain in response to the changes.

Do you remember the story of Pavlov’s dogs? Ivan Pavlov was a scientist who figured that if he rang a bell every time he fed his dogs, they would eventually associate the sound of the bell with the food. When the dogs thought they were getting food they would salivate. The bell was associated with the food. After a while, the dogs began to salivate to the sound of the bell, whether or not the food came. I’m sorry to say, but we are much like Pavlov’s dogs.

Now, it’s is not a huge leap from dogs and food to people and porn, so far as the internal workings of the brain go. We now live in a time of unlimited instant access to explicit sexual images, and they are as close as our keyboard or smartphone.  In the past, viewing sexually explicit images involved buying a magazine, renting a video or traveling to a theatre. Today there is no delay and an endless supply.

For more than the casual infrequent viewer of porn, this a great problem. People are constantly surrounded by the items their brains are now wired to associate with a flood of endorphins. It is quite the task to purposefully avoid this biologically based drive and can lead to feelings of psychical and emotional withdrawal when it is attempted.

Here are some of the findings researchers have found in regard to prolonged exposure to porn and its effects. People who have prolonged exposure to porn have an exaggerated perception of sexual activity in society. They tend to look at everyone as a potential sexual partner and tend to (falsely) believe that most people are hyper-sexual and ready to engage in sex at any moment. Prolonged exposure leads to difficulty in maintaining trust in relationships, the (false) belief in the impossibility of monogamy, and an overall cynicism towards the importance of love and affection between sexual partners.  For those people who are in relationships, the statistics bear the sad fact that prolonged exposure porn viewers are more likely to report relationship distress and have higher rates of separation, divorce and infidelity.

My advice is to approach pornography as if it had the following label attached:

“View at your own risk.”

 

Friday
Jun282013

Summertime Demons

I am once again in the enviable position of collaborating with a respected colleague! Mark Banschick MD is the author of The Intelligent Divorce and I had the great pleasure to guest on his blog on psychologytoday.com. Mark is a dynamic speaker and writer focusing on children and parenting and we thought our interests would compliment each other with the following piece:

 

Teens, Drugs & Healthy Parenting

With summer upon us, many parents are preoccupied with how their children are going to spend their time off. For parents of the high school and college aged this can be especially scary because, as the saying goes, “Idle time is the devils workplace.” If your child has been struggling with addictive or unhealthy behaviors you may even dread summer.

We all struggle with self-doubt and being a parent can magnify this, especially if our children have difficulties. Setting limits and developing boundaries are absolutely necessary and it does not have to be a miserable experience.

Here are some suggestions:

-          As much as possible, come from a place of calm. Take some slow deep breaths and center yourself before setting or enforcing a limit. Do your best to remain calm.  Even if your child begins to become agitated, make an effort to lower your voice in response. Your strength comes from your consistency and certainty, not from how loudly or passionately you present yourself.

 

-          Empathize with their feelings. Expressing genuine empathy for how your child feels will help them feel validated. We set limits because we care for our children, and therefore it is ok to understand and validate them while maintaining our stance in a loving way.

 

-          Stick to the topic and follow through. Young people use diversion and testing, and this is to be expected. Stay focused on the issue at hand without being sidetracked by other complaints, or questions about your character and judgment. Your child is not “bad” if they test your limits, this is quite normal. Be prepared to say what you mean and mean what you say and follow through. You risk losing credibility any time you do not.

 

-          Watch your body language. Be aware of what your body language is conveying. Giving your teen his or her personal space and keeping hands at your side (or on your lap if sitting) is much less threatening than chest puffed, veins popping and fists clenched.

You may not be able to control what your child does outside of your presence but you can verbalize what your values are and your expectation for the way people conduct themselves in your home.

Some people make the mistake of allowing kids to hang out and “party” in their home, the rationale being that the parent will be more aware of what they are up to and it is safer in the home then out in the street. Please remember that you are legally responsible for those in your home and what they do after they leave (particularly as it pertains to driving).

You may also be sending a mixed message about your values regarding drug use and inadvertently be enabling the behavior. It is akin to keeping a lion in your house so as to keep the neighbors safe. Trust me, eventually that lion will eat you and then go roam the neighborhood.

It is also extremely important to take care of ourselves.

Self-care is not selfish. Many parents put themselves way at the bottom of the list particularly if they have kids that are struggling. Unfortunately, some parents were raised in an unhealthy environment where their needs were not met or where they couldn’t speak or talk about feelings or didn’t feel safe. Therefore they came into adulthood with no real way to take care of themselves.

Make self-care part of your routine. Though it may seem selfish to do things for ourselves, children benefit when parents are physically and emotionally fit.  Remember how it works on an airplane, in case of pressure change you put the mask on yourself before putting it on your child, this is an apt metaphor for life.  I suggest that self-care be healthy, nurturing opportunities for growth. Examples include exercising, meditating, meeting with others who share similar interests,  going to therapy, becoming involved with your religious affiliation (if you’re so inclined) and participating in mutual support meetings or parenting groups.

I couldn’t end without a reminder that there is hope.

Parenting involves both skill and creativity. Fear not if your interventions didn’t go perfectly, there will always be more chances to practice. Remember the expression “progress not perfection.” There are no perfect parents or perfect kids.

There are so many contributing factors to how our children will be as adults; DNA, parenting, peers, personality traits, learning styles and myriad unforeseen situations and experiences. It’s impossible to control for all things.  One of the privileges of being in practice for 20 years is that I have had many occasions to meet or hear about people whom I have worked with as teens or young adults, now in adulthood and middle age. For the most part, even the “bad kids,” turn out to be healthy productive successful members of society.

Enjoy the summer 

 

 

Thursday
May232013

A Wonderful Opportunity Based Upon a Great Loss

I had the great fortune of working with a near and dear friend of mine, though the occasion was sad. William Irwin, PhD is professor of Philosophy at Kings College in Pennsylvania and, among other distinctions, is the series editor of Philosophy and Pop Culture.  The occasion was the death of musician Jeff Hanneman of the group Slayer, allegedly related to alcohol induced cirrhosis of the liver. Bill and I have been friends since we were teenaged metal-heads and so we thought it fitting to write a piece about this untimely passing. We chose the venue of his blog on psychologytoday.com. I have included it here in its completed form below:

 

How to Celebrate the life of Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman

I have co-authored this blog post with Eugene J.R. Lombardo, a licensed social worker who specializes in addictions counseling. We’re both big Slayer fans, and we were both aware that since 2011 Jeff Hanneman of Slayer had been battling a kind of flesh-eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis. So we assumed that disease is what killed him when the news broke on May 2. Sad though it was, it seemed an appropriately “metal” way to go, especially when you consider that a spider bite supposedly caused the disease.

But, to seemingly everyone’s surprise, it was revealed that the actual cause of death was alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver. As Joel McIver documents in his book The Bloody Reign of Slayer, Hanneman had quit pills and cocaine over twenty years ago, but he continued to drink. Still, considered among rock stars, Hanneman’s drinking didn’t make him stand out.

The revelation that Hanneman’s band mates (the members of Slayer have been recording together since 1983) were unaware of his liver problems related to alcohol drives home the point that the disease of alcoholism is cunning, baffling, and powerful. It festers in the shadows of secrecy.

For clarification, not everyone who drinks heavily is an alcoholic, and not every heavy drinker or alcoholic develops cirrhosis. The liver is the organ that is most directly affected by the consumption of alcohol, and so, as a general rule, alcohol taxes a person’s liver. The greater the amount and the more frequently you drink, the harder your liver has to work and the less “time off” it has from this process.

Scientists and philosophers may debate the definition and application of “disease,” but the American Medical Association unequivocally recognizes alcoholism as a disease. The disease concept of addiction is a paradigm for viewing the hallmarks or “symptoms” and a resulting response or “treatment.” It lies contrary to the belief that those who are addicts are fundamentally flawed individuals, weak willed, bereft of moral fortitude, and generally “less than” non-addicts. The disease concept helps formulate an approach to helping individuals who struggle with addiction, and it also does much to relieve the addict him/herself from the aforementioned erroneous beliefs about why they are the way they are. This disease approach does away with the false belief that an addict can stop or change using pure willpower. An alcoholic or addict can no more “cure” himself through self-knowledge and willpower than can a person with diabetes of cancer.

What are some of the hallmarks of this disease? To start there is a level of powerlessness and unmanageability both of the use of the addictive substance and within the addict’s life. Typically, the addict experiences progressively negative consequences in their physical, interpersonal, financial, and spiritual life. There is also usually an increased tolerance for the desired effect. Addicts spend increasing amounts of time in their behaviors characterized by a pattern of having a desire for use, searching for the drug of choice, anticipatory excitement and euphoria prior to use, the actual use, the feeling of intoxication or high, the come down or withdrawal, and the then subsequent desire for use.

We do not know the details concerning the last couple of years of Hanneman’s life, and so we will not speculate about what he may have done to bring on the cirrhosis. We humans are complicated, delicate creatures, and complex issues are infrequently solved by simple answers. We simply wish Hanneman would have stopped drinking, or stopped sooner.

Today Thursday May 23 a memorial for Hanneman will be held at the Hollywood Palladium. Living on the east coast, we will be unable to attend. But we will not be drinking to celebrate the life of Jeff Hanneman. We know lots of people will, and we don’t wish to moralize on this occasion. But even if it’s not on May 23, it would be a fitting tribute to our fallen brother to not have a drink in his memory some time. You can even blast “Angel of Death” while you do it.

 

Copyright 2013 Eugene J.R. Lombardo and William Irwin