Recovery Matters - January 2015
I come from a background of severe drug addiction (alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, freebase, and heroin) and now have over 23 years of continuous recovery. My entry point for the profound shift in thinking that has taken place within me was Hazelden in Minnesota, where I spent 40 days or so back in 1989.
I tell people that my story is really a story of recovery within recovery. I first got sober and began a "one day at a time" approach to abstinence from drugs and alcohol. I worked with a sponsor to go through the Twelve Steps, and my life got significantly better. Yet, I would spend the next 10 years of my recovery still mired in addictive thinking and addictive behaviors such as gambling, smoking cigarettes and forming codependent relationships. So much was improved, but there was a long way to go before I was truly out of the woods.
It came in stages. In the first stage, I knew I needed to get sober but had no idea how to, nor did I necessarily want to. In the second stage, I had developed some concept of how to go about being sober, but still was not sure that this life was for me. This was a very slippery phase, during which I was mostly thinking, "There has to be some other way." Then something rather amazing took place.
I had a series of nightmares in which I used drugs and felt tremendous remorse and shame. When these horrible dreams finally stopped after months, I realized that I actually wanted to be sober, that it had become important to me. This was stage three. I knew I wanted to be sober, but now I was concerned about whether I could sustain it long-term. There is fear in this stage, and many people get stuck here. All this time I had been kicking and screaming. Now, I finally had something that I wanted to hold onto. Day by day, I continued to do the work and show up. Eventually, I woke up one day to the realization that I could not remember the last time I actually thought about using drugs or alcohol. I no longer desired to use nor did I have any charge around it. You might say I had become disinterested in drugs and alcohol. I was free. In my opinion, this is the hopeful result that people refer to as the miracle of the Twelve Steps.
My 23-year relationship with yoga began the year I got sober for the final time in June of 1991. Yoga is a part of the reason that I was able to realize all that the Twelve Steps have to offer, and I believe strongly that yoga is indispensable in the treatment of addiction. Here are some ideas as to why.
Addiction Is Dis-Ease; Yoga Brings Ease
Addiction is a state of mind and body where we feel distant from ease. Ask anyone who struggles with addiction if they feel "at ease" when they are not using their drug or addictive behavior of choice and they will tell you, "no." It is precisely this lack of ease that compels a person to reach for something to try to feel better or to move them closer to ease.
It makes sense that any practice that can bring ease to the body-mind system, which is productive rather than destructive, will be a key ingredient on the path of recovery from addiction. The physical practice of yoga, along with breath practices, serves to detoxify the body and to calm the mind. Yoga improves circulation and lung capacity, it stretches and strengthens muscles, it helps to work out the organs and improves digestion, and it regulates the nervous and endocrine systems. I feel you will simply be more comfortable in your mind and body if you practice yoga. For this reason, I consider yoga to be a central and necessary component of recovery from addiction.
Addiction is fueled by a sense of Lack; Yoga Counters This
We know that people who struggle with addiction carry a deep sense of lack. Something seems to be missing. An itch needs to be scratched. With acute addiction, one's entire organism is caught up in a pursuit to fulfill needs that can never be met. This is true for active addicts as much as it is true for people in recovery until they have been able to work out the complex roots of trauma that drives their behavior.?In the body's hierarchy of needs, breath is #1. We can live without food for weeks. We can live without water for days. But without breath (in yoga we use the term Prana or life force) for even three minutes, we get into real trouble. ??
The way that we breathe directly affects our emotional state and vice versa. When we feel anxious, worried, angry or stressed, our breath becomes shallow. Interestingly, shallow breathing sends a signal to our nervous system that our core need is not being met. This reinforces a sense of lack, which creates tension and stress. For addicts in particular, this is dangerous because it keeps us stuck in a somatic pattern that reinforces the illusion that we are somehow incomplete. It keeps us stuck in the force field of addiction, if you will.
Many people do not breathe well; they have not developed the capacity to breathe deeply, to work their diaphragm and lungs. They also have not developed their core musculature, which is necessary for proper posture, to support the heart and to allow the rib cage to expand and contract when breathing deeply. In fact, some people have been breathing poorly for so long that their rib cage has become somewhat brittle. They live in what yogis refer to as ‘thoracic incarceration' and could not take a truly deep breath even if they wanted to. Fortunately, this is a condition that can be worked out with diligent practice.
Vinyasa yoga is the primary form of yoga practiced in the United States today. Vinyasa simply means movement coordinated with breath, but all yoga emphasizes a focus on breathing. Through dedicated and sometimes strenuous practice, we develop a relationship with our breath. We come to understand that by focusing on and controlling our breath, we can change how we think and feel. We can use the breath as a vehicle for entering states of meditation and also as a means of changing our emotional state and managing stress.?
By learning to do simple, long, deep breathing, which is accessible by almost anyone, we send a different message to our nervous system, namely that all is well and our core need is being met. This allows our body-mind system to relax and moves us toward healing, recovery and wholeness. Breathing well counters the sense of lack that plagues most addicts and is a precursor to a healthier life beyond addiction. I love the wonderful quote from Mary Oliver who asks, "Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?"
Addiction is a Disease of Disconnection, Yoga is Union
The word Yoga means "union". It refers to the union of mind, body and spirit. In a typical yoga class, a teacher might say, "Press down into your feet in such a way that you feel the earth press back up." So I bring my attention to my feet, press down, and begin to feel the rebound of energy up through my body. "Breathe more slowly and deeply." And I bring my attention to my breath. Wherever the teacher directs my attention, I learn to connect with that area of my body. In this way, yoga practice is the practice of connecting or re-connecting with my body. In active addiction, we have lost connection with our body. As we all are aware, addiction counters even our body's main directive to survive. System override! So, to engage in practice that directs our mind to bring us back into contact with our physical self will move us toward a sense of union and be uplifting to our spirit.
In more esoteric terms, yoga also refers to the union of individual consciousness with Universal consciousness. Here we are talking about spiritual matters, which become very relevant to people who are pursuing theistic recovery paths such as the Twelve Steps. Yoga and the Twelve Steps work very well together. All over the United States, we are seeing the advent of Yoga classes with a Twelve Step component to them. Of particular note is the work of Nikki Myers and her Yoga of Twelve Step Recovery, in which people attend a non-denominational or universal Twelve Step meeting followed by a yoga class. Experiences that bring together these two spiritual paths are proving very effective in helping people to achieve sustainable recovery.
Of course, from the yogi's perspective, all addiction comes from the misunderstanding that we are somehow separate from each other and from all of creation. The path of yoga is there simply to liberate us of this illusion. Thus, while helpful to any Human Being, yoga will be of particular use to addicts who live in abject confusion and disconnection most of the time.
The Issues Live In Our Tissues?
Addiction has its roots in trauma, which I define as any event that leaves undigested or unprocessed negative emotional energy stuck in the mind-body system. These stuck energies have to be processed out of the system or they fester. As the insightful saying reminds us, "our biography becomes our biology." We only need to look at a person who has endured a lot of trauma and carries its residue and we will see the evidence of it written into their bones, skin, posture and the way they breathe and move.
At 12 years sober, all the trauma of my life, much of it self-inflicted, caught up with me and manifested in severe, chronic back pain. After a year of trying every alternative healing therapy you can imagine, I visited the good folks at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, had an MRI and received their diagnosis and prognosis. I had severe degenerative disk disease and two herniated disks at L3-L4 and L4-L5. The radiologist and surgeon who reviewed the MRI told me they would have to manage my pain with drugs for the rest of my life, and eventually we would have to look to surgery.
While I had been sober all that time from drugs and alcohol, I was still stuck in the dis-ease of addiction. I had not yet learned that in order to truly free myself from my past, I was going to have to go deeper into the tissues of my body and release the energies that were stuck there. The Twelve Steps, along with cognitive and behavioral therapies, were very helpful, but I needed something more. Through a very strange set of events, I ended up at the office of a man named Guruprem who would become my life teacher. He was a Kundalini yoga teacher, and it was through these powerful teachings and practices that I found precisely what I was looking for.
Among its many other benefits, Kundalini yoga helps to detoxify and rebuild the systems of the body. It gets very deep and can move energy unlike any other thing I have experienced. Each week, I would meet and practice with Guruprem at his office, and he would teach me the techniques I needed to move out of the emotional and physical stuck-ness I had been feeling.
Within about 90 days after we started our sessions, my back pain went away, and I have never looked back. No drugs! No surgery! Something else would happen over the next few years of practice. I would come to know what it felt like to heal so deeply as to experience the feeling of being free of all addiction.
Addiction causes fluctuations of the mind
Yoga calms fluctuations of the mind. Anyone who has experienced addiction can relate to the idea that - when caught in its grasp - one feels preyed upon by one's own mind. Through every conceivable thought-form, addiction makes itself known. Often our minds are at us even before we get out of bed in the morning. We haven't yet opened our eyes, and the vulture is already right there on the headboard. Indeed, addiction causes a powerfully negative form of mind fluctuation or disturbance.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the classic text, which describes the path of yoga, there are 296 sutras or aphorisms that illuminate an individual's journey from suffering to liberation. In the second sutra, Yoga is defined as "the calming of the fluctuations of the mind." The rest of the document serves only to explain how this can be achieved. The path can be summed up as follows: Aspire to live a disciplined, ethical life. Bring the body into alignment and health. Learn the secrets of the breath. Meditate and be free.
To read this important text is to mine pure gold for people who struggle with addiction. There are so many parallels and mutually supportive perspectives between the Twelve Steps and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, not the least of which is that the goal of each spiritual path is to end the "mind fluctuations" and connect a person with a "Supreme Being" or "Higher Power." And for those people who are not pursuing a spiritual or theistic path of recovery, the physical practice of yoga as well as its ethical foundations will be of benefit to all.
Practicing Yoga Makes You Naturally High
I champion the idea that there is nothing wrong with wanting to "get high." The problem is that our methods are destructive. I encourage anyone in recovery to seek out natural highs often. And one doesn't have to look any further than one's yoga mat.
I'll never forget the first time I experienced a 90-minute Vinyasa yoga class. It was very challenging, but I loved it. At the end of class, the teacher directed us to lie down, relax completely, and let the full weight of our body rest upon the earth. This was savasana, or corpse pose. The feeling was electric -- energy humming through my body. I felt like blood was pouring into areas of my tissues that it had not been able to reach for some time. It was relieving and healing. It was subtler than the feeling from getting off on drugs, but it was detectable and lovely, and there would be no hangover, just a feeling of more ease than I could remember. I felt a warmth come over me similar to what I felt when I had done heroin, but far from the darkness of that insanity, this was pure light -- a way through.
I cannot stress what it meant to experience that in my early recovery and to realize I could feel that feeling without any negative side effects. It was a revelation, and it has served me ever since.
While I do not consider yoga to be a replacement for a program of recovery such as the Twelve Steps, I have found it to be a critical part in a person's overall approach to treating addiction. Over the years, I have worked with more than a thousand people in recovery, and things tend to go better with a comprehensive approach when yoga is one part of that approach. Therefore, I feel strongly that yoga should be a central component of recovery treatment. There is no downside to it. This is purely a short- and long-term gain proposition.
The path of yoga is complementary to the path of recovery from addiction. In my experience, it decreases the likelihood of relapse and increases one's enjoyment of life. And after all, the point is not to just survive addiction. The point is to thrive in recovery.
Tommy Rosen is an author, recovery coach, yoga instructor and the founder and host of the Recovery 2.0 free online conferences held twice annually and sponsored by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. The upcoming conference, featuring over 30 inspiring recovery experts, will be held Feb. 6-12, 2015.
06/04/2012 12:47 pm ET | Updated Aug 04, 2012
Maura Henninger, N.D. Naturopathic Physician
These days, we all know someone affected by addiction. If it’s not something we ourselves grapple with, then it’s a friend, sibling, or parent. If you’re lucky enough to not be personally affected by the disease of addiction, you need look no further than the tabloids to witness the latest celebrity entering rehab. How many people who try to get sober stay that way? In their latest census, Alcoholics Anonymous reports a whopping 80 percent dropout rate in the first year. This statistic is alarming in its illustration of how difficult it is to get and stay sober. The odds are stacked against an early recovering addict or alcoholic for a myriad of reasons that range from grappling with cravings, to picking up the pieces of broken relationships, to healing a broken body.
In early recovery, an addict/alcoholic will often begin attending 12-step meetings, therapy, and perhaps taking some pharmaceuticals to ease the physical and psychological burden of coming off drugs and alcohol. Natural medicine dovetails nicely with these interventions: proper nutrition, herbal medicine, homeopathy, amino acid therapy, mind-body approaches and exercise are all part of the programs that I prescribe to my patients in early recovery. My goal is always to decrease the probability of relapse and to get the addict/alcoholic on the road to healthy, fulfilling and functional life as soon as possible. In this first of a two-part series on natural approaches to early recovery from substance abuse, I discuss the first and foremost issues that most in the first days of sobriety struggle with: withdrawal and the accompanying insomnia.
The severity of withdrawal can vary greatly depending on how long the person has been actively in addiction, how much he or she drinks, the extent of the physical and metabolic damage, and the individual’s biochemistry. There is no real way to predict its course. If left untreated, withdrawal can progress through or stop at one of four stages.
Holistic medicine is most effective during the first stage, whereas higher levels of withdrawal require more conventional forms of intervention. Stage one starts two to six hours after the alcoholic’s last drink. It’s marked by mild agitation, anxiety, restlessness, tremors, loss of appetite, insomnia, racing heartbeat, and high blood pressure. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals the body makes to allow nerve cells to pass messages (of pain, touch, and thought) from cell to cell. Amino acids are the precursors of these neurotransmitters. When addicts/alcoholics are low in particular amino acids from burning through them during their substance abuse, symptoms of withdrawal increase — especially cravings for their substance of choice. The goal in this stage is to support the body as it begins to clear itself of alcohol and drugs and to decrease cravings as much as possible.
In double-blind research, alcoholics treated with DLPA (D, L-phenylalanine) combined with L-tyrosine, L-glutamine, prescription L-tryptophan, plus a multivitamin, had reduced withdrawal symptoms and decreased stress. One study suggests that kudzu, used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat alcohol abuse, might help reduce cravings and the patients that I’ve treated with it respond with fewer cravings.
Homeopathy is also incredibly effective for supporting patients in the early stages of recovery. By its nature non-toxic, homeopathy stimulates a person’s bodily systems to deal with stress and illness more efficiently. Research is currently being undertaken to understand how and why these remedies work on the mental and physical level. Specific homeopathic remedies may be helpful during the period of withdrawal from alcohol or drugs. Remedies are chosen on a highly-individualized basis. But there are a few main remedies that help the addict going through withdrawal, including Arsenicum album, Nux vomica and Lachesis.
At this stage of withdrawal, most alcoholics and addicts have some degree of adrenal burnout from chronically producing excess cortisol, which is the body’s stress hormone. Alcohol, carbohydrate and stimulant cravings are the body’s desperate calls for quick energy that result from adrenal fatigue. Therefore, supporting adrenal function is important both for long-term sobriety and to decrease feelings of withdrawal. For adrenal support, I recommend the herbs ashwagandha, rhodiola and ginseng as well as the amino acid tyrosine.
For the extreme fatigue of detoxification, I have patients take daily greens drinks, especially those containing chlorella, which contains high levels of chlorophyll that assists with oxygen uptake at the level of the red blood cells. It also contains magnesium that the body needs to produce energy and support the pathways of detoxification in the liver, especially important for the early recovering alcoholic. Lastly, electrolyte imbalance can occur in withdrawal. A lemon has about the same amount of potassium in a cup of standard sports drink, so I have patients squeeze the juice of a lemon with a teaspoon of salt, some Stevia and seltzer or water.
A full recovery will not happen without consistent and good quality sleep. Traditional Chinese Medicine tells us that the liver does most of its repair work between the hours of 1 a.m and 3 a.m. — adrenal repair also occurs during this time. The digestive system, too, prepares the body to eliminate toxins during sleep. And proper brain function does not occur without ample sleep. A recent study showed that sleep deprivation results in anxiety and depression, which puts the recovering addict closer to relapse.
For all of these reasons, I like to get my patients sleeping eight to nine hours a night. I recommend phosphatidyl serine for patients who have trouble falling asleep due to the elevated stress hormone cortisol. L-theanine, a calming amino acid found in green tea, increases dopamine, serotonin and the inhibitory neurotransmitter glycine. Melatonin, the primary hormone of the pineal gland, regulates the circadian sleep/wake cycle. Alcoholics and addicts, in particular, have dysregulated sleep/wake patterns and often their bodies don’t know the right time to sleep because their melatonin production is either inhibited or low. Short-term melatonin administration can correct that. Lastly, I often recommend herbal combinations such as valerian, lavender, passionflower, lemon balm and skullcap. The proper homeopathic can be extremely helpful for insomnia, as well.
For the alcoholic or addict who’s just put down their drink or drug of choice, it seems like life is about to end. What they will eventually realize, if they stay sober, is that life is just beginning. In the second half of this two-part series, I’ll talk about how diet and proper vitamin supplementation can increase the likelihood of getting and staying sober.
By John Lavitt 06/15/16
"Addicts in recovery can use yoga and meditation to get off of the mental hamster wheels in their heads and eventually master any negative self-talk blaring within."
Further making the comparison between healthy and unhealthy practices, Israel said, “For me, the applicable quote is 'One Mountain, Many Paths.' With drugs, people are trying to take the helicopter route up the mountain and unfortunately their helicopters often crash. Yoga and meditation are longer, but more scenic and satisfying routes. Such practices produce a more profound and visceral sense of the inner serenity that is mentioned in AA’s Serenity Prayer.”
Israel has made five best-selling DVDs on how to employ mindfulness and yoga to overcome depression and anxiety, thus fostering happiness and serenity. He now applies the techniques that have been so successful in helping clients overcome those mental health issues, to the challenge of addiction. As rehabs and recovery centers embrace a more holistic approach, Israel believes mindfulness and yoga practices are essential tools in helping clients attain paths of sustainable sobriety.
“In the end, we all have to overcome the way our minds have assimilated the negative language of our childhoods and have created resentments—woulda-shoulda-coulda-didn’ts. Our resentments transmute into defense mechanisms to try to stave off future traumas. Every child creates a particular ‘way of being in the world’ to try to get his or her emotional and psychological needs met. The problem is that whatever defense mechanisms you created to survive your childhood are now probably hindering you from showing up authentically. Addicts in recovery can use yoga and meditation to get off of the mental hamster wheels in their heads and eventually master any negative self-talk blaring within.”
Through a practice that Israel describes as "At Onement," Israel supports clients in the process of cleaning up and letting go of the wreckage of the past so they can show up, as he says with a smile, “authentically for their presents (pun intended).” Given the 21st century shift toward holistic practice in the recovery community, the professionals at the event were very receptive to learning about the time-tested tools that Israel had to offer.
By Jamison Monroe 06/23/16
By complementing clinical approaches with holistic therapies, one can be healed and truly transformed in recovery.
Bessel A. van der Kolk, a clinical psychiatrist and author of The Body Keeps the Score, has done extensive research on how trauma affects the brain and body. In a study with women with complex trauma who were experiencing symptoms even after therapy, he had half the women attend a yoga class and the other half participate in a health education group. After 10 weeks, those who had participated in the yoga program experienced a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms compared to the control group; more than half of them no longer met the criteria for PTSD, compared to 21% of the control group.
“Body awareness is a necessary aspect of effective emotion regulation,” Kolk and his team concluded. “Learning to notice, tolerate, and manage somatic experience may substantially promote emotion regulation.”
Like trauma, “addiction has both psychological and physical characteristics, and so yoga as a mind-body practice is well suited as an intervention,” says prominent yoga researcher Sat Bir S. Khalsa. Mindful contemplative practices like yoga, breathing exercises and meditation calm the sympathetic nervous system (the primal “fight, flight or freeze” system, which catalyzes risk-taking behaviors) and buffer the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in making decisions and regulating emotions. A review study at Johns Hopkins found that meditation was equally effective in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression as antidepressants.
Michel Mennesson, MD, a psychiatrist with Newport Academy, practices meditation daily and finds it to be a powerful intervention for his clients. He says it shifts the focus from analyzing to observing, keeping the mind and body grounded in the present moment. “Doing concentration exercises like meditation decreases overthinking, which is what we see in both depression and anxiety,” Mennesson says.
But yoga and meditation are only two of the body-based modalities that can shift stuck patterns of thinking and remembering, along with the emotional reactions that accompany them. Martial arts, music, dance, expressive arts, outdoor adventure therapy, equine therapy—even gardening or cooking when done with mindful attention and presence—effect change by requiring participants’ physical engagement with their environment. Within a safe, therapeutic setting, old habits and behaviors come to light and are gradually resolved, and new, healthy pathways are formed. The body takes the lead, coming into harmony through focused action, and the mind follows.
Jamison Monroe, Jr., Founder and CEO of Newport Academy, is a prominent voice in the field of adolescent mental health and addiction treatment. He is an active participant in the movement to reduce social stigma around substance abuse and mental health challenges. Monroe is a writer, spokesperson, yoga teacher, and fierce advocate of holistic learning and compassionate care for struggling teens.
Journaling as a Tool towards Recovery
Journaling is an excellent tool for anyone, but most especially for those in the recovery process from any kind of addiction. Journaling helps to give you insight, show you your progress, gives you a tool to tap into your subconscious thoughts and emotions, and helps to identify negative patterns and habits that bring conflict in your life.
Journaling is also a great tool to record your daily experiences and thoughts and gives you a tangible measuring stick that shows your growth and progress throughout your recovery process.
As well as being a platform for outlining structure and goals, journaling helps to give you a better understanding of yourself. By putting pen to paper your thought process flows onto the page releasing other thoughts and emotions that you may have had no idea were lying dormant.
In my personal journaling experience I have found a release from my shackled thoughts and overactive thinking. Putting my constant worries and fears on paper helps put them in perspective. Journaling is a great tool for asking yourself questions and getting the answer that is true to you and your core beliefs. During the journaling process you may also discover that your core beliefs and judgements about yourself are not as what you may have consciously thought, giving you a platform to relate information to your therapist and work through your findings.
Now I know what you might be thinking … What if I cant get my thoughts out quick enough? I don't even know where to begin when journaling! Its easier to get my thoughts out by talking about them, not writing them. I can help you with some of these questions.
One way to being journaling is to write about your day and how you felt about it - take a daily inventory and see your part in the day and how decisions you made effected how the day went.
Another way to start is to as yourself questions like, how are you doing [your name]? Why did you react like this in a certain situation? What was the best part of your day and why? There are many ways to get the pen process flowing, once it starts you may find that it just keeps going ….
Now to answer your concern about not getting your thoughts out quick enough, our minds are thinking a million miles a minute. No matter how much we would like, we are never going to get every piece of information we are thinking about out, be it through talking or writing. The idea is that writing does trigger other thought processes and get us thinking about things that we ordinarily wouldn’t. Also, when we write its a more intimate experience with self. allowing you to be more honest with your thoughts and feelings. More honest than you would be if you were talking about them to another human being. We all fear judgement, its a natural part of human nature. When you are writing you are able to release your thoughts and feelings without judgement, therefore you are better able to process them.
A quick recap on the benefits of journaling:
Great tool for self reflection that gives you the ability to reflect on issues
Charts your progress and offers insights as to why you use negative coping
Records your daily experiences and personal thoughts
Use it as a platform for achieving your goals
Identifies the negative patterns and habits that are bringing conflicts into your life
Helps you to confront your issues
Gives you a better understanding of yourself
People also report that journaling provides a record of gratitude, goals, intentions, and the ups and the downs of life as they walk the road of recovery.
It reminded them that they have the ability to take actions. Their actions led to personal growth. Growth led them ultimately to clarify their dreams and desires for living well.
May you be blessed by taking action in journaling your journey of recovery.
Acupuncture is a traditional method of healthcare that has been practiced in Asia for over 2,000 years and has proved to enhance healing in recovering addicts, as well as enhance overall functioning.
How acupuncture helps addiction recovery
an acupuncture session, helping recovering addicts overcome the depression, anxiety and
sleeplessness that occur during the withdrawal period.
I am the Program Coordinator I oversee activities related to holistic health at Hillside Laguna.
Yoga - Fitness