Jan 02

New Year’s Resolutions? Or Just Set New Goals?

New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken, goes the saying. Or was that rules are made to be broken? Well, whatever. The thing is, those things—things like that—usually do get broken. I’d quote some grim statistics on this, but I don’t really believe in those either.

Some of the most popular yearly New Year’s resolutions include drinking less or not at all, eating better and/or losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, improving one’s job options, managing stress, making more money, and having more fun.

Issues regarding drinking, eating and exercise, weight loss, stress, smoking, etc….all familiar stuff to therapists and clients.

But if more thought doesn’t go into a resolution than just saying it, it’s just a wish, isn’t it—versus a real outcome that’s likely to happen. For example, you want to cut down your drinking? That’s a resolution. And…so…? Well, good luck with that.

Some things to actually consider: How much will you cut down? By when? Have you done this before? If so, how’d you do? Do you have people you can tell your resolution to and/or report to? Will they be supportive? How can you make the journey an enjoyable choice versus a self-assigned punishment?

Goal-setting can help change that too-broad-based resolution thingie into something more attainable. How to do this? As coined in the early 1980’s, make it SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Jen A. Miller‘s New York Times article offers details about how to do this. Excerpts follow:

  • Specific. “Your resolution should be absolutely clear…”
  • Measurable. And, “Logging progress into a journal or making notes on your phone or in an app designed to help you track behaviors can reinforce the progress, no matter what your resolution may be.”
  • Achievable. “This doesn’t mean that you can’t have big stretch goals. But trying to take too big a step too fast can leave you frustrated, or affect other areas of your life to the point that your resolution takes over your life — and both you and your friends and family flail…”
  • Relevant. “Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons?”
  • Time-bound. “Like ‘achievable,’ the timeline toward reaching your goal should be realistic, too.”
Dec 07

Chronic Illness: Writings About Coping

Chronic illness is the topic of three important works of writing by three different women.

I. Esmé Weijun Wang’s article “Chronic Uncertainty: Lessons for a global pandemic, from a permanently sick person” (The Cut).

Wang has suffered with chronic illness since 2013. “I half-joke,” says the writer, “that I’ve been preparing for a moment like this for years — remaining at home, in bed, for days or weeks at a time was my way of being. Often, I wouldn’t see my friends for months.”

Selected quote: “In the worst times, we can try to find stability in the smallest things. My therapist once advised me to search my body, when I was experiencing chronic pain, from head to toe. I was to look for one inch that was not hurting and focus on that.”

II. Porochista Khakpour‘s Sick: A Memoir (2018)

Sick is largely about the author’s many years of struggle to get appropriate diagnosis and treatment for chronic Lyme disease, otherwise known as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS).

But there’s also so much more than chronic Lyme. “I have been sick my whole life. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t in some sort of physical or mental pain, but usually both” (Nicole Clark, Vice).

Lidija Haas, New Yorker:

When doctors disbelieve her, or when her relapses reliably ‘coincide with global turmoil,’ she wonders whether her symptoms might indeed be psychosomatic, some form of P.T.S.D.; after she becomes addicted to the pills prescribed to treat her insomnia, she seems open to the suggestion that maybe her addiction is the main source of her problems. She cheerfully lists the ways in which she damages her own health, including by smoking cigarettes every day during the writing of her book.

A widely applauded memoir without a particularly uplifting ending, “…Sick is a bruising reminder and subtle revelation,” states Kiese Laymon, “that the lines between a sick human being and a sick nation are often not lines at all. The book boldly asserts that a nation wholly disinterested in what really constitutes ‘health’ will never tend the bodily and emotional needs of its sick and vulnerable.”

To read an excerpt, titled “Does My Disease Need a Name?,” click on this HuffPost link.

III. Sarah Ramey‘s The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness: A Memoir (2020)

From her publisher: “The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness is a memoir with a mission: to help the millions of (mostly) women who suffer from unnamed or misunderstood conditions–autoimmune illnesses, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic Lyme disease, chronic pain, and many more.” She calls her community WOMIs, standing for women with mysterious illnesses.

The eventual diagnosis of her own chronic illness: complex regional pain syndrome.

Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon, states in her interview with Ramey, “There’s a phrase you use — ‘the marginalization of mystery illness.’ It becomes, ‘We can’t figure it out, so you’re wrong. The disappointment is not on us, it’s on you.’

Sep 21

Food Addiction: Includes Chocolate, Sugar, Carbs

Is there such a thing as food addiction?

Dr. Nora Volkow, psychiatrist, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, believes there is. She’s made it clear that it’s still a controversial notion, however.

Additionally, Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., an addiction researcher, notes the following (Psychology Today):

When you think about it, the notion isn’t far-fetched: Drug addicts continue to take drugs, in increasing amounts, even though they’d often like to stop (at some point) and in the face of negative consequences and the common loss of other important life functions (like family, work, etc.). Obese individuals are quite the same, eating more and more food regardless of their desire to adopt a healthier diet and in-spite of ridicule, low self-esteem, and decreased functioning that often accompanies extreme weight gain.

Well-known nutritional specialist Dr. Joel Fuhrman also believes that food shares with drugs the ability to get us hooked. Whether it’s “chocoholism” or sugar addiction or carb addiction or the umbrella term encompassing all of the above, food addiction, Fuhrman explains in “‘Just One Bite” of Junk Food Fuels Food Addiction and Obesity” how our brains can succumb:

The science on food addiction has now established that highly palatable foods (low-nutrient, high-calorie, intensely sweet, salty, and/or fatty foods – those that make up the majority of the Standard American Diet) produces the exact biochemical effects in the brain that are characteristic of substance abuse.

Junk food is ubiquitously available, legal, cheap, and socially accepted; therefore, it becomes the drug of choice for many of us.

These concepts go way back. Dr. Andrew Weil co-authored From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs (1983; updated in 2004) with Winifred Rosen. The title says it all. Another book that addresses chocolate’s strong appeal is Dr. Neal D. Barnard‘s Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings—And 7 Steps to End Them Naturally (2004). The Amazon.com Review capsulizes Barnard’s take: “…(C)hocolate triggers the release of natural opiates in the brain. It’s a drug ‘strong enough to keep us coming back for more’.”

Relatedly, the 2014 documentary Fed Updirected by Stephanie Soechtig, found the culprit of obesity-related illness to be sugar. Adds Michael O’SullivanWashington Post: “…(T)he real problem isn’t sugar, but sugar education. If consumers only knew that the stuff is not just addictive, but poisonous — one of the film’s experts calls it a ‘chronic, dose-dependent’ liver toxin — they might make better choices at the checkout counter.”

Do you have issues with food addiction? Psychologist and nutritional expert Sherry PagotoPh.D., outlines six possible signs to look for when considering whether or not you are addicted to food and then eight steps toward overcoming the addiction. Click on her Psychology Today article to assess your own eating tendencies.

Apr 27

“The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober”

The consumer reviews of Catherine Gray‘s The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober (2018) have shown that her book is highly relatable among avid “quit lit” readers. Thus, the publisher seems to get it right: “Whether you’re a hopelessly devoted drinker, merely sober-curious, or you’ve already ditched the drink, you will love this book.”

Below are selected quotes from The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, many of which are Gray aptly quoting others.

As Annie Grace says, ‘We protect alcohol by blaming addiction on a person’s personality rather than on the addictive nature of alcohol…The concept of addictive personality lets us close our minds to the fact that alcohol is addictive, period. (Also see this Minding Therapy link.)

Nothing good ever happens in a blackout. I’ve never woken up and been like, “What is this Pilates mat doing out?” AMY SCHUMER

I didn’t have a drinking problem as such. I was great at drinking! It was the stopping. I had a stopping problem.

If I quit eating cake, would people make jokes about me ‘not being able to handle cake’? No. I don’t think so. If I quit imbibing cheese because I wanted to commit suicide after eating cheese, would people ask, ‘Can’t you just have a little bit of cheese? Just one piece of cheese?’ *Pleadingly offers up the cheese* HAVESOMECHEESE.

As much as we try to separate alcohol from other drugs by saying ‘alcohol and drugs’ (which makes no actual sense: it’s like saying ‘foxgloves and flowers’ or ‘BMWs and cars’), alcohol is a drug.

My top sober reads are: Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety by Sacha Z Scoblic, Blackout by Sarah Hepola, This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol by Annie Grace, Dry by Augusten Burroughs and Kick the Drink…Easily by Jason Vale. [See previous blog posts on Blackout and This Naked Mind.]

Everything is interconnected. Gratitude improves sleep. Sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves your mood. Improved mood reduces anxiety. It’s a daisy-chain of benefits.

The eternally epic Anne Lamott says, ‘There is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way, unless you’re waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve or date serenity and peace of mind. This is the most horrible truth, and I so resent it. But it’s an inside job.’ (Watch Anne’s TED talk on the 12 truths she’s learned, it’s glorious.)

Addiction is now often regarded as a spectrum. ‘It isn’t an issue of “sensible drinker” and “dependent drinker”,’ says Dr. Julia Lewis. ‘People often don’t realize that everyone has their own “tipping point” along that spectrum, whereby the dependence will suddenly start running away with them.’

Mar 09

Harm Reduction Model and Movement

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use…(A)lso a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs. Harmreduction.org

As Stacy Mosel points out in her Harm Reduction Guide (American Addiction Centers) that such programs “exist for several types of drugs, including opioids, alcohol, stimulants, Ecstasy, and marijuana. They range from needle exchange sites to managed alcohol programs to drug-testing kits at music festivals. Studies have found many of these methods to be effective. But critics see the programs as encouraging drug use and keeping people addicted to drugs.”

Go to the above link for specific tips and resources about this controversial method for addressing substance abuse and addiction.

Below are three books found by readers to be helpful: 1) a thorough guide for those concerned about their substance use, 2) a workbook for the same population, and 3) a history of harm reduction practices.

I. Over the Influence: The Harm Reduction Guide to Controlling Your Drug and Alcohol Use, Second Edition by Patt Denning, Jeannie Little (2017)

Anne M. Fletcher, MS, RDN, author of Inside Rehab and Sober for Good“…[They] cover all the important bases with this updated edition. This book provides meaningful information and choices instead of one-size-fits-all advice.”

II.  Power Over Addiction: A Harm Reduction Workbook for Changing Your Relationship with Drugs by Jennifer Fernandez, PhD (2018) 

From the publisher: “uses evidence-based interventions from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and mindfulness practices to help you understand the issues underlying addiction and stop problematic drug use.”

III. Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction by Maia Svalavitz (2021)  

Travis Lupick, Talking Drugs, quotes Svalavitz: “Harm reduction is the idea in drug policy that we should stop people from getting hurt, rather than stop them from getting high.”

Per the publisher: “In a spellbinding narrative rooted in an urgent call to action, Undoing Drugs tells the untold tale of a quirky political movement that has unexpectedly shaken the foundations of world drug policy. It illustrates how hard it can be to take on widely accepted conventional thinking—and what is necessary to overcome this resistance.”

Johann Hari, author of Chasing The Scream: “One of the most inspiring and remarkable stories you will ever read. Small groups of stigmatized people all over the world pioneered a totally new approach to drugs and addiction—and they saved millions of lives. Their incredible story has not been told—until now . If everyone in the US read this book, the drug war and so many drug myths would end tomorrow.”