Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One Route to Alcoholism

Sheryl, 55, a court reporter in the north suburbs, seemed to have the American dream: "a decent life -- two healthy kids, a nice husband, a two-car garage, what you're supposed to have," she said. "Only something was wrong. I was in my late 30s and miserable."

She began to drink -- not daily but three or four times a week. And once she had the first drink, "that was the end of it. I'd continue to drink for the rest of the day or evening," she said. "[After] you take that first drink, you want to replicate that rush, but it doesn't come. ... I wanted to get to that point [again], where it first goes into your blood and you have that calm, relaxed feeling."

Sheryl said she continued to function, cooking dinner for her family and fulfilling social obligations, though her friends could tell she'd been imbibing because she became unusually chatty. She typically drank vodka and wine; toward "the end," whiskey and beer, although she hated both. She would feel hung over and shaky the next morning -- and full of remorse. "You're so ashamed of yourself. This is not like your life's dream."

"The end" came on the eve of Rosh Hashana, one of the holiest days in the Jewish tradition, after about 12 years of using alcohol. Her husband came home from work that Friday for a holiday dinner, and she had been drinking. "Fear is what made me call a therapist Monday morning; I was afraid that my husband would take my kids away."

Sheryl suffers from alcohol dependence, or alcoholism, a disease affecting almost 4 percent of the U.S. population and more than 9 percent of those ages 18 through 29, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Alcoholism is a "brain disease," according to Dr. Seth Eisenberg, who specializes in addiction psychiatry at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. It's a chronic disease seen as a "complex biological, medical, behavioral and psychological array." For some, it has genetic underpinnings; for others, it results from social and environmental dynamics. Scientists have yet to tease apart the relationships among those factors.

Characterized by a craving to drink, losing control once drinking starts, withdrawal symptoms and tolerance (meaning you need to drink more and more to feel the same effect), the disease cannot be cured. But it can be treated.

Abstinence generally is the best medicine, and "there are many pathways to recovery," Eisenberg said. They include professional treatment in a hospital or non-hospital facility, outpatient treatment and/or mutual aid, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Prescription medication to curb cravings or discourage drinking by making one feel sick when the drug is mixed with alcohol can help too.

Often patients need to be treated for other co-occurring mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, anxiety or depression. True recovery takes a long-term, holistic approach that addresses issues with work, family, health and spirituality, in addition to drinking, Eisenberg said.

Sheryl's therapist suggested she contact Alcoholics Anonymous. She has been attending meetings for 12 years and, she said, hasn't had a drink in all that time. The group has taught her coping skills; she has her self-respect and self-esteem back, and her marriage, going on 34 years, is "better than ever."

People can indeed change their lives, Eisenberg said. "The notion that you go into treatment for 28 days and you're cured is naive, and it sets people up for failure. ... The more flexible you are in trying to address needs, the more likely you're going to find something that will help."

Source: Chicago Tribune

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Moms sells sons car after finding alcohol

An Iowa woman who found alcohol in her son's car placed a classified ad explaining the situation and sold the car, Fox News reported Jan. 9.

Jane Hambilton said she only had two rules when she gave the 1999 Oldsmobile Intrigue to her 19-year-old son: no alcohol and keep the doors locked. When she found liquor in the car -- which her son said was left there by someone else -- she placed the following ad:

"OLDS 1999 Intrigue. Totally uncool parents who obviously don't love teenage son, selling his car. Only driven for three weeks before snoopy mom who needs to get a life found booze under front seat. $3,700/offer. Call meanest mom on the planet."

The car was quickly sold, and Hambilton got dozens of calls from emergency-room technicals, school counselors, and others. "It's overwhelming the number of calls I've gotten from people saying 'Thank you, it's nice to see a responsible parent,'" she said. "So far there are no calls from anyone saying, 'You're really strict. You're real overboard, lady.'"

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Seeing Ourselves More Clearly

by Juanita Ryan

I remember looking in the mirror as a teenager and asking myself, Who am I? Who is that person staring back at me? At the time I didn't realize that I had already been answering that question for many years.

As I look back now on those years it is clear to me that my answer to the question Who am I? was, I am a good person. That was who I was; I was good. I had a variety of ways of demonstrating that goodness. I worked very hard. I didn't ask for anything. I didn't cause anybody any trouble. I did what was expected of me. I did everything I could to take care of the needs of others.
Just as I was not aware that I was working hard to be a good person, I was also unaware that I lived with a deep fear that I was a bad person.

Of course, I was not aware at the time that I was answering the question Who am I? in that way. It was not a conscious part of my life. Nor was I aware that my determination to be good was rooted in fear. I was working hard to be good, because maybe if I was good enough I would be protected from deeply buried fears that I was bad. Just as I was not aware that I was working hard to be a good person, I was also unaware that I lived with a deep fear that I was a bad person. I had no understanding of any of this. I just worked harder and harder to be good.

This deep internal conflict, of believing myself to be bad and trying instead to be good, began to surface as I grew into young adulthood. It surfaced indirectly at first. What came to my attention first was that I had difficulty believing, as a young newlywed, that my husband loved me. I could see the evidence of his love: he said he loved me, and he consistently acted like he loved me. But I could not take in his love. I could not believe it or trust it. That disturbed me. I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn't know what it was.

I also began to realize that I was experiencing a similar problem in my relationship with God. I believed that God was loving, but I did not believe that God loved me. I was somehow the one exception. I could see how this created problems for me—how difficult it was to trust or to hope or to simply relax. My inability to believe that God loved me distressed me as deeply as my inability to believe that my husband loved me. Something was wrong. But as hard as I tried, I could not figure it out or change it.

Eventually my distress became great enough that I sought help. When I did, I slowly became aware, first of all, of my ongoing attempts to define myself as a good person. I began to see the many things I was doing to create that sense of myself. I also became aware of my deep fear that I was bad. And I began to understand how that fear about myself had its roots in the early years of my life.

As I saw these dynamics of my self-concept more clearly, I began to realize that the self that I was presenting to the world was actually a defensive structure, a wall I was hiding behind. The answer that I had given to the question Who am I? was really not an answer at all. It was an elaborate attempt to protect myself from fears that I found intolerable.

I also began to see, although with more difficulty, that my sense of myself as bad was a distortion. The belief that I was a terrible person was a conclusion I had come to as a child when I was trying to make sense out of a series of difficult circumstances. Children take responsibility for things they cannot possibly be responsible for. Sometimes children are blamed for things they are not responsible for. And sometimes children are treated in ways that leave them believing they are bad. With a great deal of struggle I came to see that my fear that I was bad was not a truth but a distortion about myself that had grown out of early wounds. Bad was not who I was after all.

As I discovered that much of the hard work to define myself as a good person was a defense, I became more confused about how to answer the question Who am I? And I became further perplexed as I discovered that my underlying fear that I was a bad person was a distortion and was not my true self either. These realizations left me profoundly disoriented. Who was I really?

What I slowly began to discover was that underneath my attempts to define myself as good and underneath my fears of being bad, there deep within was my true self. Under all the pretense and all the distorted ideas about myself was the self that God had created me to be, the self made in God's image. There, waiting to be seen and embraced by me, was a much loved child of God.

Thomas Merton has described the process I was going through quite clearly:

We must cast off our false, exterior self like the cheap and showy garment that it is. We must find our real self. . .in its very great and very simple dignity: created to be a child of God, and capable of loving with something of God's own sincerity.1

Out of these discoveries a simple model emerged for understanding our common struggle to discover who we are. The purpose of this article is to outline this model. It is my hope that its bare-bones simplicity will help you to see yourself more clearly.

Who We Are

What I discovered to be true about who I am was so simple that I had been stumbling over it all my life. Who I really am—my true self—is a person created in God's image. What we know most fundamentally about God is that God is love. We come from God. God's essence is love. Our true essence is also love. We long to love, and we long to be loved. That is who we are under all the fears and distortions about ourselves, under all our ego and pride and defenses. We are spiritual creatures created in the image of the God of love, created to love and to be loved.

I remember as a teenager, when I read the Bible for the first time from beginning to end, how amazed I was that it read like one long love letter from God. "I love you! I love you! I love you!" God says in a thousand different ways from one text to the next. Over and over God says, "I am Love. That is who I am. I am Love."

That is who God is. And it is who we are as creatures made by God in God's image. When people asked Jesus what was the most important thing in all of life he told them, "Love God with every fiber of your being. And love your neighbor as yourself." These are the two great commandments, the two keys to understanding who we are. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. That's what our lives are about, that is what we are about, that is who we are. We are people created for love. Our sense of meaning and joy come as we express our true selves in the giving and receiving of love.

Yet this wonderful loving self God made us to be often seems beyond our reach. We find ourselves competing with each other rather than cooperating in love. We feel insecure and are forever trying to prove ourselves, instead of knowing we are loved. We work hard to appear superior to each other rather than giving ourselves in love and joy to each other. What has happened to our awareness of our true selves? How did this pearl of great price get buried in a field and become forgotten?

Fears and Distortions

What happens to our true selves, basically, is that they get lost in fear. From the beginning of life, we experience events that seem to threaten our well-being, events that are frightening to us for one reason or another.

As young children we may be left to cry too long when we are hungry. We may hear angry voices and see angry faces and feel ourselves being handled roughly. We may unsuccessfully seek eye contact with a distracted or depressed caretaker. We may feel the anxiety and tension of the adult who holds us. Alarm bells begin to sound inside. What is wrong? we wonder. What do these things mean? We are likely to assume that such events may mean that something is wrong with us—that maybe something is very wrong with us.

It is as if our adult caretakers are holding up a mirror for us all the time. We look into their faces and believe we are seeing either ourselves or the effects of our presence. If what we see in that mirror is mostly a calm, loving and nurturing picture, we will believe that we are loved and that we are known to be loving. But if we look into that mirror and see primarily anger, depression or anxiety we will believe that something is wrong with us. As children we have no way of knowing that the distress we are seeing and sensing is not a reflection of ourselves. We will see ourselves in the distressed faces of our caretakers and develop fears about ourselves—fears that we are not loved or that we are not loving.

If in addition to these distressing mirrors we experience distressing words and actions, our worst fears will be confirmed. If we are told that it is our fault that our caretaker is distressed, we will believe that that is true. If our physical or emotional needs are neglected we will believe we have little value. If an adult we are supposed to be able to trust abuses us emotionally or physically or sexually, we will believe we are at fault. If a parent dies or leaves, we will believe we were the cause.

The most fundamental fears that develop from our beliefs about ourselves are fears that we are not loving and that we are not loved. We question the core of our true selves. The fears that we are not loved and that we are not capable of loving take on specific nuances for each of us, depending on our experiences. The fears that we are not loved or that we are not capable of loving may translate into fears that we are not good enough. Or that we don't matter. Or that we are dangerous. Or that we are insignificant. Or that we are failures.

The difficulty is that all of these fears about ourselves become beliefs. We begin to experience these fears about ourselves not as distortions but as truth. This process is further complicated by the fact that we look at life events through the grid of these distortions and fears and see events in a way that seems to confirm our negative beliefs. If I believe that I don't matter, and someone close to me is distracted by something in his or her own life and neglects me periodically, I will experience this neglect as a confirmation of my worst fear about myself. If I believe that I am dangerous, and a person I want to be close to is anxious about being close to anyone, I will see this anxiety as evidence of what I believe to be true about myself.

A further complication of this dynamic is that for every distortion we have about ourselves there is a matching distortion about others, including God. If I fear that I am bad and that I deserve to be punished, I will see God and others as judgmental and harsh. If I believe that I don't matter, I will see God and others as neglectful and dismissing. If I see myself as not good enough, I will see God and others as impossible to please. We believe that our worst fears about ourselves are the truth, and without realizing it we project those fears onto others, looking for evidence to support our case against ourselves and against them.

Fortunately, God calls us out of our fears and back to the truth. God reminds us, "You are loved. You are created to love." We read in Scripture, "Be imitators of God. . . as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us" (Ephesians 5:1). We are addressed as dearly loved children. We are not bad or insignificant, but dearly loved. And we are invited to live a life of love just as Christ loved and to be imitators of God by loving like God loves. God knows who we are. God knows we are capable of loving like Jesus loved, like God loves. It is a radical truth that God calls us to. We are not what our worst fears and distortions say we are. We are dearly loved children of God. We are capable of loving as God loves.


Our fears and distortions about ourselves generate painful feelings. Feelings of shame, anxiety and despair. These feelings are too painful to tolerate on an ongoing basis. So during the same days and years that our distortions about ourselves are being born, we also develop a strategy for protecting ourselves from the pain of these distortions. We do this instinctively, with little or no awareness of what we are doing. In the same years that I was coming to believe that I was a bad person, I was developing the strategy to prove to myself and to others that I was a good person. I would protect myself from the fear of being bad by trying to be both good enough to be loved and good enough to be seen as loving.

Over time our protective strategies become more and more set in place, forming what we might call a defensive structure. This defensive structure takes on a life of its own. It becomes the way we define ourselves—the way we present ourselves to others and to ourselves. We begin to think that our defensive structure is our true self. But in reality it is a false self. It is a false self in which we invest a great deal of energy, because we believe that any hope for ever feeling any kind of worth is tied to it.

Our defensive structures consist of a variety of patterned responses and choices we make from day to day. We might try to please everybody. Or we might try to prove that we know a lot. Or we might be passive and withdrawn. We might push ourselves to constantly overachieve. Or we might not ever try to achieve much at all. We might clown and chatter about nothing. We might become addicts, or compulsive caregivers or highly religious people.

We become very attached to these ways of being in the world, even when we realize all the trouble that these defensive structures create in our lives. We are attached to them because they protect us from feeling the shame that comes out of our fears and distortions about ourselves.

We each have a unique life story. So the fears we develop about ourselves and the protective strategies we develop to quiet our fears are unique to each of us. Identifying our specific fears about ourselves and the specific defensive strategies we have developed can be valuable. And it can be helpful to see how our fears and our defenses fit together.

Part of my defensive structure was to focus on other people and to be silent about myself. Underneath that defense were the fears that I don't matter and that I'm bad. The unconscious reasoning was, I don't matter. I am bad. I don't want anyone to discover this about me. So I'll keep the focus on the other person. Doing that allowed me to hide and to not bother anyone.

Others may live with the fear I'm dangerous. They may have lived with a parent who was depressed, and they may have feared that they were the cause of their parent's distress. Their strategy for protecting themselves against the fear of being dangerous or hurtful may be to become a person who is forever working hard to cheer others up.

Those who experienced constant criticism may believe they are stupid and incompetent. They may protect themselves by being passive and by underachieving. Others who have a similar history and fear about themselves might defend themselves in the opposite way, by overachieving.

Those who were abandoned by a parent physically or emotionally may fear that they are not wanted. They may try to defend themselves by working hard to please others while remaining emotionally distant.

It is important to acknowledge how ingenious it was of us as children to come up with ways to cope with life's difficulties and the fears that these difficulties generated. For some of us our defensive strategies may have saved our lives as children. They may have helped us to withdraw from danger into places of safety. They may have protected us from fears that we did not have the skills or resources to manage in any other way. But the defensive structures that helped us to survive in childhood may not work well for us as adults. Our defensive strategies turn out to be costly if we come to believe that our defenses are who we are. Those who drink every evening until they pass out on the couch are coping in a way that creates huge problems—the most significant being that they are unavailable to themselves and to others. Not all protective strategies are as visible as this. But all of them have the same effect. All of them leave us unavailable to ourselves and to others. Our defenses create a fortress around our vulnerable, loving hearts, so that our true selves are walled off, locked away, lost to us and to others.

Fortunately, God never forgets who we are. God lovingly calls us back to ourselves. God calls us back to love and to vulnerability. God said to the prophet Ezekiel, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26). God promises that our hearts of stone, the defensive structures we have constructed to keep ourselves from being vulnerable, will be replaced with new hearts—with tender, undefended hearts of love.

Healing Distorted Images of OurSelves

By the time we are adults, our fears and defenses are so well established that the promise that we will receive hearts of flesh to replace our hearts of stone may seem too much to hope for. How do we let go of our defensive structures and our deeply seated fears about ourselves? How can we become free to be who we really are? How can we recover our true selves?

The answer to these questions often begins with a crisis of unhappiness in our lives. Our relationships may begin to fall apart. Or we may realize that we are anxious and depressed all the time. Or we may find ourselves feeling restless and unfulfilled. Crises such as these are alarms going off, telling us that something is wrong. That is why we often say that crises are opportunities. Crises such as these are wake-up calls that invite us to turn around and find our way back home to our true selves.

As we heed these wake-up calls there are three basic tools, or processes, that will assist us on our journey back home. One of these processes is telling the truth about ourselves with compassion. A second process is grieving with comfort and support from others. And a third is seeking conscious contact with God.

Telling the Truth about Ourselves with Compassion

Jesus taught us that the truth is so powerful it can set us free. The truth can free us from our defensive structures and from our fears and distortions about ourselves. It can free us to be our true selves.

In order to heal we need to tell the truth about our defenses. About our fears. About the wounds that generated those fears. And about our deep longing to love and to be loved.

I needed to tell the truth about all those realities in my life. I needed to tell the truth that I was driven to try harder and harder to be good. I needed to tell the truth that those behaviors were strategies to prove to myself and others that I wasn't bad. I needed to tell the truth about early events in my life that had generated these fears in me. And I needed to tell the truth that my deepest longing was to love and be loved.

Telling the truth about ourselves can be a painful process. Acknowledging that my attempts to take care of others was a defensive strategy and was often not respectful or honest led to deep grief for me. Acknowledging my fear that I was bad meant experiencing that fear directly. Acknowledging the events that had generated my fears and distortions meant revisiting those events and all the distress that was a part of them. Acknowledging my deep longing to love and be loved meant feeling those longings as a great ache in my soul.

The process of telling the truth about our lives is full of danger—danger that we will get lost in shame and despair. It is crucial, if this process is to bring true healing, that we bring as much compassion and understanding to ourselves as possible as we tell the truth about our lives. We read in Scripture that we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Truth must be spoken in love and compassion, so that humility and grace can replace shame and despair. With each step of telling the truth about ourselves it is important to extend to ourselves as much love as we can find in our hearts. It is also important that we draw on the love of others and the love of God. As we do this our true selves become more and more available to us, because we are opening up that part of ourselves. The more deeply we learn and practice this way of compassion toward ourselves, the more the truth will set us free. And the more we extend compassion and grace toward ourselves, the more we will be free to extend it to others. In other words, the more we will be free to be our true selves.

Grieving with Comfort and Support

As we tell the truth about our lives with compassion, we will grieve. That is, we will grieve if we have loving support. Without loving support, we won't grieve fully or in a way that leads to healing. That is the reason many of us do not grieve early losses and traumas until adulthood; we did not have the support we needed for grieving when we were younger.

We read in Scripture that God is "the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). In the same text we read that we can comfort each other with the same comfort and compassion that we receive from God. It is the embrace of love from God and from others that allows us to do the difficult work of grieving.

Jesus promised the blessing of comfort for all who grieve. "Blessed are those who mourn," Jesus said, "for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). Comfort is the experience of being held in the arms of someone who loves us. It is when we are held by Love that we come to know deep down that we are loved. That is how grieving, with comfort, heals us and sets us free.

Some of the healing grief that we experience involves a process of letting go. We grieve and let go of our defensive strategies and of our fears and distortions about ourselves. Some of the grieving is a process of experiencing deep sorrow over our losses and traumas, and over the ways our fears and defenses have robbed us and others of our true selves. And finally, some of this grieving is the process of opening our hearts to our deep longings to love and to know that we are loved.

Letting go of our protective strategies is an enormous challenge because our defenses have become like good friends. Our addiction to work, our compulsion to help others, our perfectionism, our emotional numbness, our attempts to look successful in some way—these defenses are a way of life. They have come to define who we are. Letting them go will feel like a terrible loss. As we face the loss of our defenses, we will find ourselves wondering what we will do and who we will be without them.

Perhaps even more difficult than letting go of our defenses is the challenge to let go of our fears and distortions about ourselves. These fears and distortions seem like the truth about us. Letting them go can cause us to feel as if we are telling a lie or letting ourselves off the hook. But slowly we will need to see that our fears are fears, not truths. We will need to acknowledge that we drew the wrong conclusions about ourselves early on in life. We will need to become willing to let the truth that we are God's dearly loved children begin to replace our fears that we are not loved and that we are not capable of loving.

In addition to the ongoing processes of letting go, healing grief includes experiencing deep sorrow. Perhaps the greatest sorrow I experienced was that I had been emotionally unavailable to my children. I had no idea how numb I was or how walled off I was. I wanted more than anything to be emotionally accessible to them. I tried hard to do this, but being present to another does not come from trying hard. It comes from being free of our defensive structures and our fears. It comes from being ourselves, our true selves.

Finally, a crucial part of this grief is a willingness to feel, and stay with, our longing to love and be loved. When we stay open to this deep ache in our souls, we are feeling the birth pangs of our true selves being freed. We may be tempted to run from these longings and the vulnerabilities they represent. But it can be helpful to remember that our tender longings to love and be loved are the essence of our true selves. As we make room for these deep longings, painful though they may be, we are opening our hearts to know the joy of these longings being fulfilled.

Seeking Conscious Contact with God

A third process that helps us recover our true selves is the process of seeking and knowing God. We read, "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). God, who is Love, made us for love. As we invite God, God joins the love of all heaven and earth to our true selves, to our hearts of love. In this way we live in God and God lives in us. And in this way our deepest longings to love and be loved are met.

There are many ways we might seek conscious contact with God, but I will suggest three that have been helpful to me.

Inviting God

One way we can seek God and know God is to invite God into our lives every day. God is always with us. And God respectfully awaits our invitation. There are many ways we can invite God into our lives. The psalmist invited God in by asking God to know him. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

This is an invitation to God to know us intimately. It is also a request of God to help us know ourselves intimately. The psalmist starts at the center; he asks God to know his heart. When we pray this with the psalmist we are asking God to know our true selves and to make our true selves known to us. We are inviting God to know us deeply.

The psalmist then talks to God about his fears. He asks God to reveal his anxious thoughts. When we pray this with the psalmist we are asking God to show us the fears and distortions that we live with so that they can be healed and we can be free to know ourselves and to be ourselves more fully.

The psalmist continues by asking God to show him if there are any offensive ways in him. When we pray this we are asking God to reveal to us the ways we are protecting and defending ourselves. Our defensive ways of living are what rob us of ourselves and hurt other people. We can ask God to continue to reveal what we are doing that is defensive, so that we can make different choices and learn to live more vulnerably.

We can invite God to know us and to help us know ourselves. Daily, in one way or another, we can invite God to live with us and we can seek God's will—the way of love—in our lives. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth—in me—as it is in heaven.

Thanking God

Another way we can open our hearts to God each day is by expressing gratitude. Saying thank you to God is not something we do because it is polite or because God requires it of us. Expressing gratitude is something we do because it opens our eyes and our hearts to see and receive the good gifts that God gives us every day.

Gratitude begins when we pay attention—when we open our eyes to see all that we are being given. As we do this, we become like an artist who takes the time to focus with care on life's details. The slice of toast and cup of tea at breakfast become what they are—a gift. The hug from a friend is seen for what it is—a gift. As we open our eyes and look again we begin to see that God, the Maker of all things, is a passionate Lover who is forever showering us with gifts, calling out, "I love you, I love you, I love you! Can you see it? Can you see it in the beauty of the clouds? Can you hear it in that music? Can you feel it in your friend's phone call? Can you see how much I love you?"

As we move from seeing the gifts we are being given each day, to saying thank you, we open our hearts to receive from God. Expressing our gratitude is a way of saying yes to God's good gifts and to God's never-ending love for us. Expressing gratitude each day, throughout the day, opens our hearts to be nourished by Love.

Listening to God

A third way to know God is to listen to God. Much of my life I thought of prayer as something I was supposed to do. I was supposed to talk to God about all the people who needed help, and remind God to take care of them. Later, prayer became more of a conversation, but still a one-way conversation. I talked to God about anything and everything.

Eventually I began to understand that prayer could be a two-way conversation. I realized that I could actively listen to God. I had had a sense of God speaking to me directly from time to time throughout my life, but I hadn't thought of a two-way conversation with God as something I could seek every day. There is nothing difficult about this. For me, it is a matter of asking God to quiet me enough so that I can listen and asking God to speak to me. And then waiting. I try to find a quiet time and place to do this each day. But I often ask God to talk to me not just in times of quiet but also in the middle of the noise of life.

It has taken me some time to trust God's voice. But the more I listen and hear God's voice of love and wisdom and grace, the more I trust God's voice. Sometimes when I listen to God, I experience surprises. I want to share one of those surprises with you because of the impact it has had on my distorted image of myself.

As I was waiting quietly in prayer one day, listening to anything God might want to say to me or show me, I had an image of myself sitting at the beach as an adult. In that image I was holding myself as a child. The distressing part of the image was that the child sitting in my lap was not recognizable as human. The child was a monster child. The picture of myself as a monster child captured vividly my fears about who I was. Fortunately, in that image, Jesus was standing next to me as I held the child version of myself. Jesus looked at me with a twinkle in his eye as he reached out with one hand to touch me. I thought he was going to touch the monster child in my lap and heal her. But he did not touch the child. Instead, Jesus reached out and touched my adult eyes. He healed my eyes so that I could see myself clearly. Jesus touched my eyes so that I could see that what I thought was a monster child was not a monster at all, but a precious child, a child who was infinitely lovable and tenderly loving.

We do not see ourselves clearly. We see ourselves through the distorted lenses of fear. We see ourselves in the mirrors of our caretakers' distressed or angry or absent faces. We see ourselves in the ways we have been mistreated, as if we had little or no value. We cannot live with the pain of these distortions about ourselves, so we make up false selves and invest our energies in these exterior selves.

God, who is Love, invites us to see and be our true selves. God reaches out to heal our vision, which is blurred by fear. God holds up the mirror of his delight in us for us to look into, to see ourselves as God sees us. God wraps us in love and tells us we are infinitely valuable. God invites us to know who we are—dearly loved children, created to live lives of love.

1. Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., 1955

Juanita Ryan is a therapist in private practice at Brea Family Counseling Center in Brea, California.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Big Picture on Genetic Influence

new genetic drug addiction study was published last week in PLoS Computational Biology. According to the report, researchers from the Center for Bioinformatics at Peking University in Beijing have put together the gene atlas that underlies drug addiction and identified five molecular pathways that are commonly found in people who are addicted to four different drugs.

Though environmental influences play a big part in drug addiction, the study of genetic influences are extremely important. It’s an area of science that is really growing right now. The biological process and development of genes that affect whether or not a person becomes addicted to a drug can help determine better ways to treat drug addiction in those who develop it and prevent it in those who may be predisposed to the disease.

There are no comprehensive studies just yet that provide a complete picture of what the genetic influences of drug addiction looks like. Each study is slightly biased and flawed but each brings to the table a portion of the big picture so that when they are viewed together, the truth about the genetics that underlies drug addiction becomes more clear.

While we’re waiting for the researchers to figure out the drug addiction genes and create a corresponding vaccine (wouldn’t that be great?!) or treatment specific to each type of drug, we have a detox for opioid-based drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin and morphine, to name just a few. Suboxone is a treatment that was developed based on what we know about how opiates work in the brain, binding to opiate receptors and triggering the pleasure pathway. With a binding effect that is half as strong as prescription painkillers, Suboxone can significantly decrease withdrawal symptoms that usually occur when you stop taking an opiate medication and allow you to detox off of your prescription drug slowly and safely.

Check out the gene atlas that the researchers from the Center for Bioinformatics at Peking University in Beijing have posted for free at KARG, the first online molecular database for addiction, or check out the study and others like it the Public Library of Science.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Need Help Now?

IF YOU NEED HELP AND SUPPORT NOW PLEASE VISIT US AT The Sober Village or Sober Musicians where we care, understand and have been there!!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Be the Butterfly

It is folly to die for fear of dying ~
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (the elder)

At first glance, this quote may seem confusing. Is it literal, or metaphorical? When we apply it to our addiction, both meanings are true. When we are drinking, (which Seneca described as "voluntary insanity"), we often do so out of fear of our everyday life and the requirements it places upon us. In this way, we allow the best parts of ourselves to wither. Not to die completely, but to be cut back like a rose bush and then covered to prevent the sun from allowing us to grow again.

From this perspective, our drinking is voluntary insanity. We may be addicted, but we make the choice to continue to feed that addiction when we continue to drink. We voluntarily abandon our responsibilities, as well as our rights, in order to protect ourselves from pain or failure. We don’t recognize that our “protection” is merely another vessel for what we are so afraid of.

In the literal, drinking will lead to death. If we choose to continue along that path, we allow ourselves to be killed by the one thing that we think is saving us. When we are actively drinking, we can't see the folly, the paradox, of what we're doing to ourselves. We are so afraid of dying, whether literally or in some personal sense (such as failing at a relationship) that we allow ourselves to poison our bodies and bring on our own literal demise.

This is indeed folly: to kill ourselves out of fear of failing is the extreme in avoidance. In the most literal sense we are afraid of our own death. We use alcohol to mask that fear, not allowing ourselves to realize that we're merely hastening the inevitable. We're going to die. We're going to fail sometimes and we're not going to be perfect. Those are the facts. Why compound that certainty by allowing it to control our thoughts and actions?

It is part of the cure to wish to be cured. When we take that step, admit the folly of what we're doing, and determine deep within to ourselves that we do not wish to and will not die at our own hand, we begin to heal ourselves.

We see things often for the first time without the haze of our alcohol induced cocoon, and with the wonder of an infant becoming aware of her world. At first we crawl, reaching that moment when we can say we are ready to start over. Then we begin to walk, often hesitant, tiny steps - sometimes falling but having the courage to stand up and walk again - and find as we practice that our steps become surer, more powerful.
As Seneca also says, "begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life." The past is gone forever. In admitting our addiction, we take charge of our lives and refuse to allow the negative thoughts that once held us captive to alcohol. We learn to be at peace with the world and ourselves, changing what we can and accepting what we can't.

Finally, I will paraphrase another of Seneca's quotes...
The most powerful is she who has herself in her own power.
copyright © 2007 by M. Broughton Boone.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Wisdom in the Mirror

While in Saint Louis, Missouri, for some training in the summer of 1999, I found something that has had a major impact on my thinking and perspective. I found it in a cubbyhole in my assigned workstation. I don’t know where it came from, or who left it there, but I knew it needed a new owner, and I was only too happy to fill that position.

It was a specialty item, about the size of a business card; flat, magnetic on the back, and had a mirror finish on the front-you could see yourself in it. Printed on the mirror surface were the words:

“I am Looking at the Person Responsible for My Future.”

Those words have reverberated through my mind many times since that day. And the interesting thing about it is not so much the words themselves-after all, they reflect a concept I am well aware of—but the profound way in which they were presented. The whole idea of looking at yourself in the mirror (as we do several times each day) and being reminded that it is we individually who bear responsibility for our own lives is intensely thought provoking.

I found these words and the manner in which they were presented so moving that I printed them out on paper and taped them to the bathroom mirrors in my house. That way my family and I are reminded of their power and truth everyday-even if it is only subconsciously.

Try it for yourself: Stand in front of a mirror, look yourself square in the eye, and say five or ten times out loud, “I am looking at the person responsible for my future.” Powerful!

These words reflect a principle truth in our universe. But how unfortunate that many people never truly learn this precious truth. So often, we see someone blaming everything from God to their childhood for the problems they have. And while there may be a measure of truth in what they say, the "real truth" remains: each one of us is responsible for ourselves—no one else.

Only we control us. Try as we may, we can never control or take responsibility for someone else. The sooner we understand this concept—no, the sooner we comprehend the complete meaning of those words down to our very soul—the more meaningful and productive our lives will become.

What Else Can We Learn?

Is there anything else we can learn from these beautiful words of personal responsibility? Suppose we modify those words slightly. Think about this:

“I Am Looking at the Person Responsible for Where I am TODAY.”

If you are like me, you may object when you first read these words. In my own experience, my most difficult adversities came as a result of someone else’s drinking. How could I be responsible for where I am today if it was due to another’s alcoholism-something I had no control over?

As I learned the lessons of the adversity and came to terms with my own codependency, I realized I was both right and wrong in my thinking. I was correct in the part about not being able to control another person or their addiction. However, it took me a long time to realize that I had played the roles of the Enabler, the Codependent, and the Victim-and I played these roles for years, and I was very, very good at it. Furthermore, my playing these roles (something I could control) contributed in no small measure to the pain and adversity I went through.

So the point is this: We alone play a much bigger role for where we are right now than we may like to think. In other words, life is much fairer than we give it credit for, because life returns to us exactly what we put into it. Just like the mirror—it gives us back exactly what it sees.

These are strong words, and it can be difficult to accept them. But don’t take my word for it-explore this concept for yourself and see if it doesn't ring true.

Let me also qualify this entire concept of personal responsibility. There certainly are times and events in which we have no control, such as freak accidents, or acts of nature. I am not addressing those times or events. I am addressing the 99% or the rest of our lives that we can control.

About Our Past

How about another modification of those words?

“I Am Looking at the Person Responsible for My past.”

If we are responsible for our present and future, then it follows that we are also responsible for our past. But this is an area where we must be very careful, we must understand it in perspective. Why? Because we were not always adults. As children, we were not always responsible for our actions due to age and inexperience. There is also the deeply painful issue of childhood physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Many children emerge into adulthood carrying heavy burdens of guilt and shame because of events they truly could not control. So we must be balanced in our assessment of our past, especially when it comes to our childhood.

But here is the critical truth about our past: We have all made mistakes! Sure it would be nice to go back and change a thing or two, even many things, but we simply cannot. And would we really want to? Our mistakes, missteps, and blunders are the things that have made us who we are. My father always told me, "He who makes no mistakes doesn't do anything." As we go out and happen to life, mistakes are unavoidable, and this is perfectly acceptable, for it can be no other way.

We can't go back and change the past, but we can learn the lessons contained in our mistakes and then move forward. By learning the lessons contained in our mistakes and moving forward, we take responsibility for our past! In fact, this is the primary way we take responsibility for our past, because the past is the past and we cannot change it.

We must also accept responsibility for our past by accepting and learning from the consequences of our past mistakes. This could include making restitution, fulfilling an obligation, or providing care, to name a few.

A while back, I happened to be listening to talk show host Bruce Williams as I was driving one night. He was talking to a fellow who had gotten himself into debt by about $10,000. The caller had a great attitude toward his debt—he wanted to get himself out of it because he had gotten himself into it. Bruce applauded the fellow and made an interesting comment, "When we stand in front of the mirror, we either see a little boy or a man." Bruce was calling attention to taking personal responsibility in our own life. If we want our lives to change, then we must stand tall in the mirror, that is, in our own internal opinion of ourselves, and make those changes. In this way, we see an adult—not a child—when we look in the mirror. By seeing ourselves as such, we act as adults—not children—in taking and accepting personal responsibility for our lives.

When we combine powerful words with powerful presentation, we are left with a life-changing concept: We alone are responsible for our future, our past (in perspective), and where we are today.

So the next time you are looking at the person in the mirror, repeat the words, "I am looking at the person responsible for my past, present and future." Accept responsibility for who you are; for where you are. Learn from the Wisdom in the Mirror.

Source: http://www.enhancedhealing.com/

Friday, January 11, 2008

Who Me?

By: Colin Allen

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1. Scents and Sensibility
2. Dreams: Night School
3. Quirky Minds: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
4. In Your Dreams
5. It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's a Girl?

1. Dreams: Night School
2. Scents and Sensibility
3. Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature
4. It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's a Girl?
5. Quirky Minds: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

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I'm fine, how about you? Millions of Americans are in denial about their drug use and should seek treatment, according to a 2001 survey. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that 4.6 million drug abusers do not believe they have a problem. The number of people in denial has grown significantly from previous years.

"That's not uncommon," says Sherry Knapp, Ph.D., of the Ohio Hamilton County Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board. "There are probably more people who are in denial than that. It's a difficult thing for people to accept that they have a problem."

An estimated 16.6 million Americans (7.3 percent of the population) abuse drugs and alcohol. Also, 11 million people abuse alcohol only, while 5.6 million people abuse illicit drugs.

"It takes some glimmer of acknowledgment before they can seek treatment," says Knapp. More people received treatment for their drug problems in 2001, but the number of people needing treatment outpaced those being remedied. Five million people failed to receive treatment for their drug abuse.

The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse compiles an annual survey on drug trends in America. The survey was conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Psychology Today Online

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Is your child at risk to use drugs?

Is your kid the one who is always climbing trees, putting his or her life at risk? If so, your child may be a "high sensation-seeking" child. Parents of teenagers are well aware that most adolescents take risks, assert their independence, and begin to pull away from parents and other authority figures. But experts say that there are some teens who crave an especially great degree of stimulation and excitement-and that these teens have a much greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse.

Dr. Phillip Palmgreen, a professor in the Department of Communications at the University of Kentucky, explains that certain adolescents exhibit the personality trait known as "sensation-seeking," which is associated with "craving lots of stimulation and novelty, rapidly shifting attention from one thing to another, and becoming easily bored."

"Parents should know that sensation-seeking behavior is strongly associated with drug use," warns Dr. Palmgreen. "Teens who exhibit the common traits-needing lots of stimulation, a lot of novelty, a tendency to shift from one thing to another, get bored easily, or hang out with unconventional friends-have much higher levels of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and inhalant use."

Fortunately, sensation seeking can be channeled into healthy outlets. Dr. Palmgreen suggests that parents of sensation-seeking kids take special care to provide them positive activities that are novel and exciting, like sports, hiking, fishing, music, and dance.

Parents of sensation-seeking children can take heart, for not all of the behaviors associated with them are negative. "Sensation seekers are natural leaders, and history shows many revered presidents and captains of industry are among them," explains Dr. Palmgreen, "because leaders take risks and try new things. In order to become leaders, however, these teens need help focusing their energy on constructive activities that will help them to grow."

Monday, January 7, 2008



ScienceDaily (Feb. 20, 2005) — Alcohol interferes with how brain cells communicate with one another, coordination, grogginess, impaired memory and loss of inhibitions associated with drunkenness. Yet researchers have been unable to pinpoint how alcohol causes this disruption in the brain.

Now scientists at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA have deciphered how a naturally occurring gene mutation in rats' brains lowers the animals' tolerance to alcohol, leading to rapid and acute intoxication after the equivalent of one drink. The UCLA study is the first to identify how the gene variation alters GABA receptors -- specific sites targeted by chemicals from the brain cells -- making them more responsive to very low levels of alcohol. Alcohol enhances the GABA receptors' influence on brain cells, slowing the cells' activity and ability to communicate.

The fact that the gene mutation arises naturally suggests that tolerance levels to alcohol may be genetically wired in people, too. If so, the findings could eventually help identify children and adults at higher risk of developing alcohol dependency, so these individuals can make an informed decision about whether to drink. The study results may also speed the development of new drugs that target alcohol-sensitive GABA receptors, leading to better treatments for alcohol poisoning and addiction.

Authors of the study include UCLA Brain Research Institute members Richard Olsen, Ph.D., professor of molecular and medical pharmacology; Thomas Otis, Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology; and Martin Wallner, Ph.D., pharmacology researcher.

The Feb. 6 online edition of Nature Neuroscience reports the findings.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Addiction supported the research.

Adapted from materials provided by University Of California - Los Angeles.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The Twelve Steps are:

* Admit powerlessness over the addiction.
* Believe that a Power greater than oneself could restore sanity.
* Make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God, as you understand him.
* Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of self.
* Admit to God, yourself, and another human being the exact nature of your wrongs.
* Become willing to have God remove all these defects from your character.
* Humbly ask God to remove shortcomings.
* Make a list of all persons harmed by your wrongs and become willing to make amends to them all.
* Make direct amends to such people, whenever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.
* Continue to take personal inventory and promptly admit any future wrongdoings.
* Seek to improve contact with a God of the individual's understanding through meditation and prayer.
* Carry the message of spiritual awakening to others and practice these principles in all your affairs.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Minorities less likely to get narcotics for pain

CHICAGO (AP) — Emergency-room doctors are prescribing strong narcotics more often to patients who complain of pain, but minorities are less likely to get them than whites, a study finds.

Even for the severe pain of kidney stones, minorities were prescribed narcotics such as oxycodone and morphine less frequently than whites.

The analysis of more than 150,000 emergency-room visits over 13 years found differences in prescribing by race in both urban and rural hospitals, in all U.S. regions and for every type of pain.

"The gaps between whites and nonwhites have not appeared to close at all," said study co-author Dr. Mark Pletcher of the University of California at San Francisco.

The study appears in today"s Journal of the American Medical Association. Prescribing narcotics for pain in emergency rooms rose during the study, from 23 percent of those complaining of pain in 1993 to 37 percent in 2005.

The increase coincided with changing attitudes among doctors who now regard pain management as a key to healing. Doctors in accredited hospitals must ask patients about pain, just as they monitor vital signs such as temperature and pulse.

Even with the increase, the racial gap endured. Linda Simoni-Wastila of the University of Maryland at Baltimore's School of Pharmacy said the race-gap finding may reveal some doctors' suspicions that minority patients could be drug abusers lying about pain to get narcotics.

The irony, she said, is that blacks are the least likely group to abuse prescription drugs. Hispanics are becoming as likely as whites to abuse prescription opioids and stimulants, according to her research. She was not involved in the current study.

In the study, opioid narcotics were prescribed in 31 percent of the pain-related visits involving whites, 28 percent for Asians, 24 percent for Hispanics and 23 percent for blacks.

Minorities were slightly more likely than whites to get aspirin, ibuprofen and similar drugs for pain.

The study's authors said doctors may be less likely to see signs of painkiller abuse in white patients, or they may be undertreating pain in minority patients.

Patient behavior may play a role, Dr. Pletcher said. Minority patients "may be less likely to keep complaining about their pain or feel they deserve good pain control," he said.

Stricter protocols for prescribing narcotics may help close the gap.

A New York hospital recently studied its emergency patients and found no racial disparity in narcotics prescribed for broken bones. Montefiore Medical Center aggressively treats pain and is developing protocols for painkillers that dictate initial dosages and times to check with patients to determine whether they need more pain medicine, said Dr. David Esses, emergency department associate director at Montefiore.

Such standards may eliminate racial disparities, Dr. Esses said.

source: The Washington Times