Neglect This and Recovery is Just Temporary!

Neglect This and Recovery is Just Temporary!

Without assisting people with addictions to develop a high level of self-esteem all treatment for addictions are just temporary fixes. Eventually the same or another addiction will develop to cope with the pain of low or no self-esteem/love.

Addictions are merely maladaptive behaviors that are chosen to cope with the internal psychic pain associated with low or no self-esteem/love. Although they do provide varying degrees of relief, all they are really doing are masking and diverting attention from the pain. As with all behaviors, when they are done repeatedly will become firm habits. When those maladaptive habits involve the use of chemical choices to produce that relief, physical addictions can and do develop.

The problem with most current methods of treating addictions is the assumption that the addictive behavior and associated chemical dependence is the problem rather than viewing it as a symptom. The current emphasis on medically assisted treatment (MAT) certainly will block the use of specific drugs choices and will open a window where long-term solutions can be explored without contending with daily physical cravings. Unfortunately, without enhancing the client’s self-esteem, this is just a high stakes, expensive game of whack-a-mole. Block the opioid, that’s nice. What about all the stimulant choices, the psychedelic choices, and the non-chemical choices such as compulsive sex, over-eating, work, gambling, compulsive exercise, dieting, etc., etc.

The non-medical treatments and programs for recovery from addictions, including the 12-Step ones,  that are focusing on the chemical or behavior of choice without addressing the underlying need to blot out the pain of low/no self-esteem/love are to a lesser degree still doing an incomplete job. They are teaching more responsibility and better coping skills, but if they neglect assisting the development of a high level of self-esteem/love they are missing the point and their clients will eventually miss the mark.  Regarding 12 Step programs, they provide a very supportive, positive environment, and working the Steps very effectively prepares a solid foundation, unclouded by past emotional baggage for one to then work on developing one’s self-esteem. Unfortunately, developing self-esteem/love is not directly addressed in the Steps, nor anywhere else in those programs, so their members are still at risk for relapses and the switching of addictions.

©2018, rev. 2020, Jason Wittman, MPS, CATC-IV, ILAADC

[Permission to reproduce this article is granted as long as this notice and the "About the Author and the copyright information is included.]

*About The Author*

Jason Wittman received both his B.S. degree in business management and his Master of Professional Studies in Counseling Psychology from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He is a Certified, Level IV, Addictions Counselor ( CAADE #155970-IV ) a Licensed Advanced Alcohol & Drug Counselor (LR01700815) and an Internationally Certified Clinical Supervisor. He is also a Certified Hypnotherapist and a Certified Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Jason has had a private practice as a Counselor and Coach since the middle 1980s. Currently, his practice, http://Stage2Recovery.com focuses on coaching and advising business and professional clients, who are recovering from alcoholism and addictions to work and live at their exquisite best. He is a recognized expert in teaching and guiding his clients through the "getting-on-living" stuff including enhancing their self-esteem/love that only emerge as issues after the focus is no longer on figuring out how to stay clean and sober.  

He can be contacted at http://Stage2Recovery.com, jason@stage2recovery.com or 213-804-4408

Why labeling a decision to return to old behaviors as “Relapse” is counterproductive to the behavior change process.

Why labeling a decision to return to old behaviors as “Relapse” is counterproductive to the behavior change process.

The standard definition of “relapse” is a return to an active disease state after a period of remission, sometimes referred to as recovery. The problem with all these terms when they are used in the context of addictions is that they are being used to describe a condition that is primarily a very ingrained habit as if it was an incurable disease. For the sake of this discussion, I am defining an addiction (including an alcohol one) as a mal-adaptive behavior chosen by individuals to cope with emotional pain that, through both repeated usage and the initially pleasurable aspects of the behavior, becomes an ingrained habit. When those behaviors utilize substances that are physically addictive and painful to stop fit makes that habit even more ingrained.

The process of becoming addicted starts with personal choice. There was some sort of unfulfilled need within individuals that seemed to be satisfied by their initial experimentation with the behavior. At that point, there was a choice to continue that behavior because it was producing the desired relief from their internal pains. With any behavior, repeated use will eventually signal to the Inner Mind (subconscious) that the behavior is normal and natural so the Inner Mind will adopt it as the standard operating procedure and will produce that behavior on cue. At that point, the behavior is now a habit. The longer that habit is practiced, the more ingrained it will become. What started out as a choice has now become an automatic process and will stay that way until another choice to the contrary is made.

Because some of these habitual behaviors involve substances that are physically addictive with real withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping their usage, this whole process of behavior change has been labeled by the medical world as a disease and all the disease metaphors have been applied to it. There are actually two things going on here, a physical addiction and an ingrained habit that have been conflated into one disease concept.  Because of that the focus becomes treating a disease rather than of changing a habit. Also, by using disease metaphors, especially the “incurable” ones, it is a set up for returning to the old behavior. The meta-message for the term “relapse” is that going back to old behaviors is a normal and natural part of the cycles of recovery That might be true for cancer, but with the changing of ingrained habits, it is just a convenient excuse for choosing to return to a former behavior.

Because I believe that what is usually labeled as failure is really just feedback that something was missing in a previous attempt, so some new learning needs to be learned. By labeling a decision to pick up an old habit again as relapsing, instead of as a conscious decision to abandon a responsible course of action for an acknowledged poor one, is only useful to eliminate self-blame and shame of making a lousy decision. The problem is it is a set up for future repeats of those lousy decisions. There is no shame in owning having made a poor choice, learning how to do things better, and choosing to do those things, no matter what.

Looking at this entire process from a habit change point of view

  1. Through progressive, negative experiences that can be associated with what was here-to-fore pleasurable activities, a realization emerges that continued practice of the behavior is producing an unmanageable life and that something needs to change, though how to do that might be a mystery.
  2. They made a choice to stop the behavior and seek a better solution and as long as there is a hope that that will happen, they will stay stopped. This is actually a very powerful choice because normally the Outer Mind just carries out the automatic programming of the Inner Mind. When that programming is producing nothing but continued grief, the Outer Mind overrides that programming and stops the behavior.
  3. As they learn new and more effective ways of dealing with those inner hurts and as the time since the last practice of the old behavior increases, the Inner Mind starts to get the message that these new behaviors are the normal and natural thing to do and that becomes the new ingrained habit.
  4. So what explains the process of returning to the old behavior?
    1. They get a stray thought of “wouldn’t it be nice to do……….”
    2. They choose to ignore all their past history and their Inner Voice that knows and tells them that this is a foolish move. Part of this choice might be that they have not gotten enough good feelings out of this new behavior change process fast enough to satisfy their need for relief, so they give up prematurely.
    3. They choose to continue through all the precursor steps that eventually result in doing the old behavior again.
    4. They choose to use.  To excuse this choice by labeling it as a relapse, as if some evil disease grabbed them and caused them to do things they didn’t want to do, is a less than useful description of this process. It fails to recognize the ability to choose one’s behaviors. It totally ignores that God gave us the powerful ability to learn from past experiences and to choose to do things differently. That is the process of becoming a responsible adult
    5. The final prevention step would be to explore what added change in thinking or behaviors might be needed to ensure that any possible cause for reverting to old behaviors would be eliminated. With the root cause of all addictions being low or no self-esteem/love, the chances are that redoubling the efforts to build a great self-evaluation of one’s being, ie, self-esteem/love, would be the best solution.

A very important takeaway is that people will gravitate towards happiness and away from pain. Most behavioral choice is driven by that principle. When people make the choice to stop their destructive habits they are doing so in a quest for a new happiness. The “attraction” reference in the AA Traditions is all about selling new people on eventual happiness. The laughter and success stories in the meeting are the best demonstration of that happiness. The problem is that if newer people do not quickly experience those feelings in themselves, the pull to disregard the bad times and chase the temporary happiness of their former behavior can drive them to once again choose to relive their past. For all people new to this process, it is a race against time to ensure that they get to the point where their new great feelings will override any stray “wouldn’t it be nice…” thoughts. In early AA, there was a push to do all 12 Steps in the first couple of months. I think they had it right. Added to that, of course, the enhancing of their self-esteem/love will make this a totally winning process.

© 2019, rev. 2020, Jason Wittman, MPS, CATC-IV, LAADC

[Permission to reproduce this article is granted as long as this notice and the "About the Author and the copyright information is included.]

*About The Author*

Jason Wittman received both his B.S. degree in business management and his Master of Professional Studies in Counseling Psychology from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He is a Certified, Level IV, Addictions Counselor ( CAADE #155970-IV ) a Licensed Advanced Alcohol & Drug Counselor (LR01700815) and an Internationally Certified Clinical Supervisor. He is also a Certified Hypnotherapist and a Certified Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Jason has had a private practice as a Counselor and Coach since the middle 1980s. Currently, his practice, http://Stage2Recovery.com focuses on assisting business and professional clients, who are recovering from alcoholism and addictions to work and live at their exquisite best. He is a recognized expert in teaching and guiding his clients through the "getting-on-living" stuff including enhancing their self-esteem/love that only emerge as issues after the focus is no longer on figuring out how to stay clean and sober.  

He can be contacted at http://Stage2Recovery.com, jason@stage2recovery.com or 213-804-4408

Stop the World !!

Stop the World!!                                                                                                                              ~ Lessons from when the Universe hits the Pause button ~

Currently, I, you, and the world are in one of those Stop the World moments, literally!  The Universe has stopped the world dead in its tracks and put all our lives on pause.

It reminds me of a Broadway musical from a long time ago, “Stop the World: I Want to Get Off” that featured a somewhat pathetic character, Littlechap. It follows his life from birth to death in vignettes. Each of these segments ends with a significantly painful or traumatic event in his life and is punctuated with his yelling out, “Stop the World!” and then he walks to the front of the stage and talks to the audience about the event and introduces the next phase of his life that he is pivoting into.

It was a huge success due to its wonderfully poignantly funny script, great acting, and memorable lyrics, still sung today including, “What Kind of Fool Am I.” I believe, though, that it also struck a chord with most of its audience because it reminded them of the many segments of their lives and the times when they would have loved to shout out, “Stop the World!” and take a pause to reflect, regroup,  and figure out the next course of action. I know that is what I remember every time I hit a juncture in my life.

Sometimes those moments have come due to my doings or the doings of those around me, like a business that goes out of business. At other times it is caused by things totally unexpected, out of my control and unappealable, such as a near-catastrophic auto crash I sustained about a year ago that totaled my van, which after the van stopped spinning 180 degrees and doing a 360 degrees side roll, landing back on its wheels, I was able to shut off the ignition, undo the seatbelt and walk out of. Deprived of my means of transportation and somewhat disabled by hip and joint trauma, I had a Stop the World moment, which allowed me to reflect on my life, both personal and business, as it was just prior to the accident, evaluate the merits of continuing where I left off or choosing to pursue a new course. I chose the latter and returned to my passionate, first love. I restarted my private counseling practice from which I had digressed in favor of chasing what turned out to be a dead-end non-opportunity.

I have been noticing that there are three different ways people are dealing with this virus caused pause. The first two are very unproductive and potentially tragic. They either sit and do nothing, depress themselves and vegetate or more tragically, they become full of fear and panic over things they most likely could prevent by following the safety guidelines.

The third way of dealing with these current crises involves looking at it as a gift of a mandatory time out given by the Universe. It is a rare opportunity to take stock and review our lives as we were living them prior to this pause, and to evaluate the merits of continuing as is or making some mid-course corrections.  Then we have the rarer luxury of being able to, uninterruptedly plan and gear up for the next episode of life.

So here are your choices. You can sit there and grumble, moan, and groan about what a raw deal you have been dealt, not being able to work, to go to your meetings, having to semi-isolate, and the like OR you can engage in high drama and go into a panic about how you are going to die even after you have self-isolated for the 14 days OR you can become generatively proactive and use this time to gear up for your amazing future.

When faced with setbacks and what normally are perceived as doom and gloom events, I have trained myself to first, take a couple of nice deep breathes, slowly exhaling each of them to get in a relaxed, unstressed state, and then ask two critical questions that get me on and keep me on track:

The first one is, “OK, now what?”  The tone and delivery of this question is one of genuine curious inquiry. (The other way of asking this is the totally unproductive, self-victimizing, “OK, now fu*kin’ what!!!!) Asking this in a curious way puts me in creative planning mode with usually great results.

The second question once I have finished the above creative process is, “Now where was I?” which puts me back to the reality of the current footwork that I was engaged in, just before I digressed into future thinking. That one-two punch is my secret sauce for exquisitely walking thru all adversity, misdirection and temporary dead ends and then quickly getting back on track.

So what are you going to do to capitalize on this enforced study hall in which you find yourself?

©2020, Jason Wittman, MPS, CATC-IV, ILAADC

[Permission to reproduce this article is granted as long as this notice and the “About the Author” and the copyright information is included.]

*About The Author*

Jason Wittman received both his B.S. degree in business management and his Master of Professional Studies in Counseling Psychology from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He is a Certified, Level IV, Addictions Counselor), a Licensed Advanced Alcohol & Drug Counselor, and an Internationally Certified Clinical Supervisor. He is also a Certified Hypnotherapist and a Certified Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Jason is in private practice as a Counselor and Coach for over 35 years. He coaches and counsels business and professional clients, who are recovering from alcoholism and addictions to, work and live at their exquisite best.His specialties include enhancing self-esteem/love, increasing self-confidence, and building successful relationships.

He can be contacted at http://Stage2Recovery.com, jason@s4mm.com or 213-804-4408