Dec 21

Addiction Recovery: Three Timely Books

Although substance abuse issues are always relevant, the holidays tend to bring out a heightened need for support and encouragement among those who are struggling. Following are three addiction recovery books to consider.

I. Stanton Peele and Ilse Thompson, Recover!: Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with The PERFECT Program (2014)

In Recover! Dr. Peele’s PERFECT Program takes you through the key concepts of mindfulness–that is, your ability to detach from your addictive experience and to see that it is not who you are–combined with the Buddhist idea of loving kindness, or self-acceptance…

What does PERFECT stand for? I couldn’t find the whole breakdown, but “P” is for  “Pause” (vs. powerlessness), “E” for “Embrace” (of self and others), “R” for “Rediscover.”

Peele notes (Reason) that he and Thompson believe “sobriety is best built on having a purpose in life. Recovery means that you embrace a life of engagement and meaning; that you overcome your addiction in the service of your values, plans, and life goals. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you never take a sip of alcohol or any consciousness-altering substance again, ever.”

In Peele and Thompson’s world, addiction is not a disease, and 12-step programs don’t necessarily help toward addiction recovery. From a Psychology Today post by Peele, “AA can provide good support for people, or it can undermine them. You’ll have to be the judge of that for yourself. But these steps don’t represent a Buddhist path. They are rather a Western religious tradition of guilt, self-blame, and shame that we feel is a prod to addiction, and not a remedy.”

On identity: “You are not your addiction; you are a valuable human being whose qualities endure and exceed your addiction…It’s impossible to expect a person to achieve wellness by focusing on his or her faults and mistakes. Perhaps this is why conventional recovery asserts that people must remain ‘in recovery’ forever and continue to identify themselves as addicts, no matter how long they are sober.”

II. Erica Spiegelman, Rewired: A Bold New Approach To Addiction and Recovery (2015)

As stated on therapist Spiegelman‘s website:

With this plan, you won’t need any special knowledge or time in therapy to complete the process. There is no discussion of willpower or ‘my way or the highway’ directives.

Centered around the concept of self-actualization, Rewired presents a simple and common-sense recovery plan that is designed, tailored, and fitted to the uniqueness of every individual, regardless of his or her beliefs, background, or specific addiction.

Spiegelman describes (MariaShriver.com) the addiction recovery process as “a whole-soul makeover” involving six “brain-training principles”: authenticity, honesty, time management, self-care, healthy relationships, and gratitude. Practicing these will lead to “your brain [beginning] to create healthy pathways.”

III. Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader, Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion To Recovery (2016)

Just what it says it is, this book presents quotes about addiction recovery from such writers as Ernest Hemingway, Patti Smith, Raymond Carver, Jack London, Anais Nin, Stephen King, and Walt Whitman. Sources include fiction, letters, diaries and journals, notebooks, speeches, Twitter, and more.

Co-author Steinberg himself has read the book “50 times,” he told Mark Konkol, DNAInfo.com. “I know I wrote it, but I find comfort in it all the time.”

Meg Nola, Foreword Reviews: “For Steinberg, crawling from the wreckage is personal. His recovery from alcoholism began over a decade ago. Such experience with and true knowledge of the lure of spirits lend depth to each chapter. Excuses, denials, relapses, and fear of an emotional and chemical dependency that can’t be overcome—these are classic patterns of addiction, just as seeking help and finding inner strength are patterns of recovery.”

“The advice,” states Nola, “is not sugar-coated—rehab is tough, and life after rehab can be tougher–but beyond the battle, promises the work, is a reclaimed world.”

May 20

“Lady Dynamite” Starring Maria Bamford

Coming to Netflix today is Lady Dynamite, a comedy about Stephen Colbert’s favorite comedian, Maria Bamford. In addition to its star, the cast includes Ana Gasteyer, Bridget Everett, and Lennon Parham, as well as Ed Begley Jr. and Mary Kay Place as Bamford’s parents.

Jesse David Fox, Vulture, succinctly describes Lady Dynamite: “The occasionally surreal, often silly show knowingly winks at, subverts, and outright makes fun of the now-common semiautobiographical stand-up TV-show genre.”

Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times: “Created by Mitchell Hurwitz and Pam Brady, it is cheerful, dark, surreal, profane, aspirational, meta-fictional and packed with people playing versions of themselves or other people entirely (or playing versions of themselves playing other people entirely); it plays with visual and verbal puns, with moods and acting styles and moves around in time and dimension.”

James Poniewozik, New York Times: “…a journey to the center of Ms. Bamford’s mind that dives through fantasy after loopy fantasy and emerges with something real.”

The part of her life Bamford’s showcasing? The aftermath of a mental breakdown. Several years ago she was hospitalized a few times for psychiatric reasons—which is not news, as Bamford has been open about her struggles, which have included anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, binge eating, a form of OCD called “unwanted thoughts syndrome” (for which she named a comedy CD) and her more recent diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder.

Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly:

The tone is as manic as Bamford herself…Characters talk fast and walk fast…Like in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, tension radiates behind that relentlessly upbeat energy. She’s forcing you to get inside her brain. Flashbacks show her getting treatment as a child in Duluth, where her therapist encourages her to get angry. ‘Isn’t there anyone here who chaps your crapper?’ the therapist asks. When Bamford says no, the therapist frowns. ‘Donna,’ she says, pointing to a sad-looking patient, ‘is a straight-up B.’ Our heroine hangs her head in shame.

From Daniel Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter: “I think a Louie or a Curb tries to filter Louis C.K. or Larry David’s sensibility, but Lady Dynamite feels like it’s delivering Bamford’s wounded psyche in whole chunks, sometimes eager to please, sometimes awkwardly confrontational and generally compassionate.”

Phil Harrison, The Guardian: “This peculiar but queasily hilarious sitcom could well end up being the TV buzz show of the summer. It’s certainly hard to think of anything else quite like it.”

You can watch the season trailer below:

In real life, Bamford believes in and seeks therapy in various forms. Sara Corbett, New York Times, two years ago:

She is, if anything, a dutiful seeker of help. One night in 1990, when she was a sophomore at Bates College in Maine, experiencing a period of despair, she wolfed down a huge amount of food and then called a suicide help line. Ever since, she has maintained faith in support networks. She has participated in 12-step programs for eating disorders, money problems, sex and intimacy struggles and addiction, though substance abuse has not been an issue for her. She just appreciates the company, and also the honesty. ‘I think 12-step programs are genuinely cognitive behavioral programs,’ she told me. ‘You are out of isolation, and that helps you think differently about things.’ When traveling, Bamford looks for local support-group meetings to visit. Otherwise, she attends them by phone. She has found a sense of community in online chat rooms and is a vocal fan of Crazymeds.us, a website that gives advice about psychiatric medications.

Apr 18

“Unbroken Brain”: Addiction Is Learned

…(A)ddiction is a developmental disorder—a problem involving timing and learning, more similar to autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia than it is to mumps or cancer. Maia Svalavitz, Unbroken Brain

According to journalist Maia Svalavitz‘s new book Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, the ages-old wisdom about addiction recovery is often off base.

Some of the ideas Svalavitz sees as myths:

  • The addict has a “broken brain.”
  • An individual becomes addicted because of his or her “addictive personality.”
  • One type of addiction treatment fits all individuals.

Or as Dana Goldstein, Slate, eloquently points out on behalf of Svalavitz, the entire following scenario is suspect:

The narrative of addiction is familiar. A pleasure-seeking ‘addictive personality’ spirals out of control, ‘enabled’ by friends and family, and eventually hits ‘rock bottom’ in the form of arrest, divorce, or homelessness. She may then succeed in a 12-step program, where she’ll embrace a ‘higher power,’ receive ‘tough love,’ and accept total ‘abstinence’ from substances including antidepressants and drugs that ease withdrawal symptoms. Even if she gets clean, she’ll be an addict forever, and is more likely than not to relapse.

In long-term recovery herself (cocaine and heroin), Szalavitz “offers an alternate way of thinking about what addiction is: neither an illness nor a sign of an immoral personality, but a learning disorder.”

How does she define addiction? “Compulsive behavior despite negative consequences.” Why/how does this happen? The addict learns “that the problematic substance can help soothe some other problem in [one’s] life, such as depression, social anxiety, physical pain, or, in Szalavitz’s case, what she believes was an undiagnosed childhood autism-spectrum disorder.”

What This Means For Addiction Treatment

A few basic principles addressed in Unbroken Brain:

  • Individuals can benefit significantly before hitting rock bottom.
  • Not all substance abusers have to forego all substances. The harm reduction model can work well for many.
  • Imprisonment usually doesn’t benefit the addict and often makes things worse.

Moreover, 12-step programs are only useful for some. Carla K. Johnson, ABC News: Sheobjects to its elevated status in medical and criminal justice systems. In what other disease, she asks, would medical professionals recommend submission to a Higher Power as an essential part of treatment? A chapter on programs employing the learning disorder insight offers another way.”

Selected Reviews

Marc Lewis, author of The Biology of Desire“Szalavitz catalogs the latest scientific knowledge of the biological, environmental and social causes of addiction and explains precisely how they interact over development. The theory is articulate and tight, yet made accessible and compelling through the author’s harrowing autobiography. Unbroken Brain provides the most comprehensive and readable explanation of addiction I’ve yet to see.”

Kirkus Reviews: “A dense blending of self-exposure, surprising statistics, and solid science reporting that presents addiction as a misunderstood coping mechanism, a problem whose true nature is not yet recognized by policymakers or the public.”

Publishers Weekly: “Szalavitz may alienate otherwise sympathetic readers with her critiques of popular treatment methodologies such as 12-step programs. This study may not be for people who have recovered using such treatments, but it can help promote the importance of understanding—and working toward fixing—a persistent problem.”

Mar 13

12-Step Programs and Addiction: Myths Busted By David Sack

David Sack, MD, is an addictions specialist with a blog on Psychology Today called “Where Science Meets the Steps.” A couple of his posts as well as a recent article by him in the current print edition of PT are useful toward understanding some common myths regarding both 12-step programs and addictions recovery.

Whereas the 12-step myths in bold letters below are taken verbatim from the PT article, the quotes come from a previous post by Sack.

  1. You Must Believe in God True, Christianity figured into the development of the steps initially. And whereas choosing a “higher power” can still involve “a religious deity or entity…it can also be the power of a group working toward a common goal, nature or some other outside force. If you feel uncomfortable with the spirituality of a particular group, keep searching until you find a closer match.”
  2. You Are Powerless and Not Responsible “Powerlessness occurs because prolonged drug abuse changes the structure and function of the brain, and it takes time in sobriety to repair the damage. Powerlessness does not mean that the addict is inherently flawed, exempt from thinking for themselves or incapable of recovery, or that they can rely on their higher power to fix everything without taking steps to improve their own lives.”
  3. 12-Step=Dependency “In the early stages, people may benefit from frequent attendance, which often diminishes over time as they develop other support systems and become more firmly grounded in their recovery…If recovering addicts find that support in 12-Step meetings, they should continue to go. This type of ongoing participation in a program that improves members’ lives is very different from a destructive drug or alcohol dependency.”
  4. 12-Step Is a Cult “People are free to participate or not, and to take what works for them and leave the rest. There is hope that participants will embrace the wisdom of some of the 12-Step principles but they are also encouraged to think critically and to find their own way.”
  5. Too Many Rules Guiding principles and suggestions may abound, but not rules. The principles  “address specific deficits in learning, memory, empathy and other areas impacted by drug abuse.  Sharing stories, along with routinely scheduled meetings and oft-repeated mantras, for example,    help addicts remember the next right thing to do even when their thinking is still clouded by drugs.”
  6. 12-Step is For the Weak “The opposite of weak, it takes tremendous strength and courage to reach out for help. Some people may be able to recover on their own, but most cannot – and there is no shame in that. People with other chronic diseases do not expect to heal themselves, nor should addicts.”
  7. 12-Step Doesn’t Work The scientific and recovery communities disagree on this point. “Science has long dismissed 12-Step recovery, leaving a dearth of data where 75 years of history should provide much more, and 12-Step recovery has long rejected the need for and validity of scientific inquiry. But the necessary conclusion is not that 12-Step recovery doesn’t work; rather, the research, to date, has been inadequate.”

The following myths about addiction that Sacks believes can undermine recovery are from another PT blog post:

  1. Addicts are bad people who deserve to be punished. Rather, bad things often happen when addiction is involved. “Driven by changes in the brain brought on by prolonged drug use, they lie, cheat and steal to maintain their habit. But good people do bad things, and sick people need treatment – not punishment – to get better.”
  2. Addiction is a choice. “People do not choose to become addicted any more than they choose to have cancer. Genetics makes up about half the risk of addiction; environmental factors such as family life, upbringing and peer influences make up the other half.”
  3. People usually get addicted to one type of substance. Polysubstance abuse is actually now the norm, whether to create a better high or to use one drug to counteract another’s effects or to take advantage of what’s more available at the time. “People who abuse multiple substances are more likely to struggle with mental illness, which when complicated by drug interactions and side effects, makes polysubstance abuse riskier and more difficult to treat than other types of drug abuse.”
  4. People who get addicted to prescription drugs are different from people who get addicted to illegal drugs. Less stigma is attached to licit drugs, but they’re not safer. “When a person takes a prescription medication in a larger dose or more often than intended or for a condition they do not have, it affects the same areas of the brain as illicit drugs and poses the same risk of addiction.”
  5. Treatment should put addicts in their place. Shame is worse than ineffective, but unfortunately is still used in some addiction recovery centers.
Jun 24

“The Anonymous People” and the Public Recovery Movement

Many in recovery from substance abuse and other addictions choose anonymity, often participating in 12-step “Anonymous”-type programs. But a new documentary called The Anonymous People focuses on something called The New Recovery Advocacy Movement, an alternative to this more traditional approach.

From its website:

THE ANONYMOUS PEOPLE IS A FEATURE documentary film about the over 23 million Americans living in long-term recovery from alcohol and other drug addiction. Deeply entrenched social stigma have kept recovery voices silent and faces hidden for decades. The vacuum has been filled with sensational mass media depictions of people with addiction that perpetuate a lurid fascination with the dysfunctional side of what is a preventable and treatable health condition. Just like women with breast cancer, or people with HIV/AIDS, a grass roots social justice movement is emerging. Courageous addiction recovery advocates have come out of the shadows and are organizing to end discrimination and move toward recovery-based solutions.

The moving story of The Anonymous People is told through the faces and voices of citizens, leaders, volunteers, corporate executives, public figures, and celebrities who are laying it all on the line to save the lives of others just like them. This passionate new public recovery movement aims to transform public opinion, engage communities and elected officials, and finally shift problematic policy toward lasting solutions.

Watch the trailer below:

Greg Williams, age 28, is the creator of The Anonymous People and is reportedly himself at least 11 years sober from multiple substances. No longer “Greg W.”, he’s now fully out. Why? He’s on a mission to reduce the stigma attached to addiction and recovery.

As Williams tells BHere Today, “The bottom line is that addicts and alcoholics can speak publicly about their recovery without breaking the traditions of their 12-step groups. In my mind, they–we–have to. If we want to eliminate the stigma and shame around addiction, if we want addiction to be taken seriously by every medical professional in this country, if we want to change the nature of our disease, we have an obligation.”

Want to find the documentary? So far it’s been scarce. But click on the film’s website and sign up for email updates.

For further info about resources for recovery, check out Faces and Voices of Recovery online.