Tag Archive for: Addiction

Normalizing Therapy (Or How To Ungoop Your Noggin)

In the autumn of 2013, I found myself walking into a new season, a season of sobriety. If you’ve followed my work for any amount of time, you know the story, how my inebriation grew from a great pain. (You can read this story in Coming Clean.) You know, too, that I was able to untangle my mental morass of pain and alcohol dependency only by way of a good therapist. That good therapist–he helped me find the road to recovery. For that, I’m grateful.

In these years of different life, I’ve continued to share my story of sobriety and have praised the virtues of therapists. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it ad infinitum: if there are experts in the human psyche, in mental health, pain, or recovery shouldn’t we use them? On so many occasions after I’ve shared my story, I’ve heard from others who’ve failed in their own attempts to unwind their tangled black brain threads, who only found clarity by way of their own therapist.

Last week, fortune smiled, and I was invited to share my story at a local clinic. I gathered in a group room with some of the best therapists and counselors in Northwest Arkansas, and I shared my story of pain, shared how it gooped up my noggin for a murky few years. I encouraged them in their work, told them how a member of their profession helped me live into a new reality. He helped me find the path to true sobriety, a sobriety characterized less by the to-drink-or-not-to-drink questions and more by the to-live-whole-or-not-to-live-whole questions. I could not be more grateful for their profession, I told them, and I meant every word.

These therapists were gracious, and they fielded my honest, rootsy, real confession. Maybe I cried once or twice while I shared my story (sometimes the pain still comes calling). Maybe one or two of them did, too. Maybe I cussed once or twice (pain pulls tears and curses from even the best humans), and not one of them blushed. Maybe I found empathy in the faces of these very human therapists, and in that empathy, I saw the beauty of people who cared about my story, who care about the stories of their clients. I saw folks who carry the hope of stability to folks who’ve gone awonk.

These therapists–they have a calling.

There are those who believe they don’t need therapy, the John Wayne types who six-shooter their way through any issue and come out smelling like gunpowder and Old Spice. Likewise, there are those in the Christian faith (perhaps pastors, priests, and deacons) who believe therapy is little more than applied humanism, that it supplies thin excuses for sin. “Repent and quit,” they say, as if it’s that easy.

Dear Mr. Wayne, Mr. Pastor, Sister Christian, let me be clear: your bootstrapping hornswoggle ain’t worth the bluster that blows it.

Weeks ago, I spoke with a pastor about my sobriety, how it was born from more than a handful of visits to a therapist who didn’t beat me over the head with scriptures on repentance. To his credit, he wasn’t dubious, wasn’t critical of my process. In fact, he showed great deference and support. At the tail end of the conversation, he asked how the church could normalize therapy for its parishioners. I choked down my immediate answer–does the church really think there’s something abnormal about therapy? I muddled out some answer about vulnerability in leadership, about pastors and leaders needing to lead the way to the therapists’ office, which is true. To be frank, though, I failed to give him a clear answer.

I’ve mulled the pastor’s question over, and I think I found my answer in the clinic visit last week. Normalization of therapy (in or outside of the church) happens when we admit that sometimes we can’t sort out our own noggin-goop, our own tangled black brain threads. Normalization of therapy happens when we watch therapists exercise their gifts, flex their empathy, when we participate with them in that process as patients. Normalization of therapy happens when leaders (read: pastors and priests) use their platforms to speak of their own therapeutic experiences, when they admit that they’re no John Wayne.

There’s no magic to normalizing therapy, whether in or outside the Christian faith. There is this, though: go, and you’ll see how normal it is, how magical it is, too.

If you’d like to read more about recovery from any addiction, habit, or dependency, please check out my Recovery Room series. No matter the vice, I think you’ll find something there for you.

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Addict #1 (Rose’s Baptism)

Today’s poem was inspired by a reader email. Enjoy.

***

Rose emailed,
a street-walking
shelter-dweller,
sixty-two years
in the making,
thirty-eight of which
were stitched together
by heroin needles.

Daughter of the Pope,
sister of the molested,
aunt of the overdosed,
twin of poppies,
welfare patient
with tracks between
her toes, fingers,
elbow folds,

what’s to say
of Rose’s life,
except that
rock-bottom
pushed her
up in the water,
a stone rising
into new
concentric
circles.

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Pray Yourself Sober

What is sobriety? Doesn’t it mean more than keeping free of the bottle, the needle, the prescription pill, the credit card bill? This has been the drum I’ve banged for nearly three years, now. Sobriety, it seems to me, is that quality of connection that keeps us clear-headed. And in this modern world of noise, and news, and endless screaming over each other, don’t we need that kind of connection more than ever?

I’ve tried my best over the last few months to cultivate personal practices of sobriety, and in that, I’ve turned to the writings of George Buttrick, the twentieth-century Presbyterian pastor who wrote about prayer. Buttrick’s practices and insights lead me to quieter places, places of thanksgiving, confession, and rest. I’ve enjoyed these practices, and I’m inviting you to join me in them.

An invitation begs attendance. Doesn’t it?

I’ve created two daily email plans based on Buttrick’s work. The first, The Practice of Prayer: Thanksgivingis a five-day email plan stretching into the recognition of the good gifts of God in our everyday lives. The next, The Practice of Prayer: Confession, is a five-day email plan of examination and recognition. Confession–it’s hard, maybe, but aren’t most things worth doing?

If you sign up for the Thanksgiving plan, you’ll receive the Confession plan immediately following the completion of your gratitude practice. And if you complete the Confession plan, you’ll receive an email notification when new prayer plans are available (I’ll release another one in the next month or two).

Would you consider signing up? And as you’re working through the plans, feel free to invite a conversation partner or two (perhaps a small group) along. You can invite your friends to sign up by way of Twitter or  Facebook.

So, pull a group together, and let’s go. I’ll be working my way through these plans, too (you can’t practice thanksgiving and confession too much). Let’s cultivate practices of sobriety. Shall we?

 

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Quitting Heroin or Not?

There are facts that are quantifiable and facts that are intuited. These are the quantifiable facts:

As of the first quarter of 2016, U.S. adults spent 10 hours, 39 minutes a day consuming media, which represents a year-over-year increase of one hour.

The increase in media consumption is due largely to smartphone and tablet use. Smartphone use rose an average of 37 minutes, while tablet use saw an increase of 12 minutes.

Half of all “U.S. TV households” (whatever that means) now have access to at least one subscription video service.

72 percent of homes have either DVR or a subscription video service, which represents an increase of 67 percent from the previous year. (Source)

Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, cable television—we are consuming more and more media. The Food Network describes the flavors of escargot, or Kobe beef, or the putrid durian fruit. The Travel Channel shares the breathtaking beauty of the Amalfi Coast, the way it sparkles in the setting sun. AMC gives us the rotting undead, the smell of fear stalking. ESPN gives us an endless supply of heart-pumping action, clip after clip after clip. We touch the keys, the remote, the tablet, and cycle through it all. This is the world made virtual, made pocket-sized, made ownable.

And what is the world if not experienced through digital media? Does it exist? (If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to record it and post it to YouTube, did it leave a mark?)

Here is the truth experienced: in my own consumption of media, I have become lazy to my senses. What does it mean to taste, touch, hear, smell, or see without the interpretive lens of media? What does it mean to live an organic experience, to see and recognize the shape of our own shadows? And how hard would it be to return to that kind of existence?

Yesterday, I tapped the keys on my smartphone, sent a text message to my friends John and Winn. We were discussing the growing disillusionment with social media (as opposed to media in general), and I texted this:

I think people have this sense that what’s happening [across media] is bad for the soul. They want to quit. But [media] is like heroin. It gets in your veins. And then, how do you get it out?

How do you detox? How do you break from the virtual to experience the real? How do you reimagine what it means to be human instead of half-man-half-media cyborg? And if you manage to pull the plug on your machine side, will you experience the seizures of withdrawal? Will the shakes set in? Is detox even possible?

This isn’t a piece about solutions, about blazing paths forward or making promises none of us can keep. This is simply a recognition of the truth of our present intoxication. This is a piece meant to ask a simple question: how do we awaken to the possibility of more organic, sensorial expression of living?

*Speaking of detox, my book, Coming Clean, is only $1.99 on Kindle and Nook this week. Grab a copy and let me know. I’ll send you a link to a 30 day Coming Clean email journal leading you through the book and into your own experience of coming clean.

 

***The Practice of Prayer: Thanksgiving***

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To The Depressed, Drunk, and Suicidal–There is No Shame

Last week, I sat across the table from a soul-eyed woman who shared her story of faith. She told me of her walk into, through, and back into depression. She painted the most vivid pictures of the dark days that roll, the days that threaten to bend her back to ash. On those days, the voices come calling her home, home, home.

Where is home?

“Let’s find out,” she’d like to say on those days, razor blade in hand. Except she never has. The darkness hasn’t yet won. And so long as she’s honest enough to tell her story, it never will. Sixty years of living has taught her this.

***

Last night, I read a friend’s story of her own bout (bouts?) with depression, how the soul’s moon waxes and wanes. The waxing, though, it’s a hell of a thing.

From her piece, I suspect she’s been dry–so to speak–for a few months. She’s found relief from depression through the help of some good medicine, a good doctor, perhaps a few good friends. But more than that, she’s outed her would-be killer by naming it. She writes:

“Shame is the killer weapon of depression, the thing that keeps us from telling anyone all the crazy things we’re feeling, for fear they won’t want to be our friends anymore.” –Janna Young

All the crazy things–don’t they make us all feel so ashamed? All the crazy shame–doesn’t it make us feel so alone? I suspect, though, that as she keeps telling her truth, she’ll find this twin truth–every-slap-one of us is just as crazy alone. My crazy might look different from yours, but if there’s one thing the spin-cycle of this earth has assured us, it’s that we all lose our equilibrium from time to time. We all spin into crazy. We all spin into isolation. At least, that’s been my experience. And if it ain’t yours–good on you. But if it is, believe the gospel according to Janna–there’s no reason to be ashamed of losing your footing.

***

Over the last week, I’ve considered my own bout with “lots of big feelings…” (as Janna writes). I’ve considered the alcohol abuse I hoped might quell those feelings. I’ve considered my own misplaced dependency. (Didn’t the bottle taste so much better than the blood of the Christ for so long? And what was the blood of Christ, even? What was Christ? What was?). I’ve considered the season of sickness that was, and perhaps that season of sickness that might return. (Aren’t I human? Aren’t you?) I’ve asked whether I’d be bold enough to bring the darkness of my own relapse into the light of conversation with friends, or into the written form (thanks, Janna). I’ve boiled these quandaries down to the dregs and read the leaves. The tea leaves tell me that shame hunts, sure. The leaves tell me that love hunts harder, that it’s the shame killer. And so, what’s to fear in the confession of the darkness of my own heart?

What’s to fear?

What’s to fear?

What’s to fear?

***

Finding Light.

If you struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, or substance abuse, consider dragging it into the light. How? Consider these suggested steps:

1. Tell a trusted and safe friend, a spouse, a confidante, maybe even your dog or cat. Speaking it aloud makes it real. And supposing you tell a human (which I recommend), said human can help you work the process of coming clean.

2. Find a licensed therapist. They’ve been equipped to understand your “great big feelings,” your darkness. They deal with the stuff every day.

3. Surround yourself with a community of support. Perhaps this means joining a twelve-step group, a local support group, or group of like-minded church folks. Find a group of folks to whom you can confess without fear of judgment. Find a group that’s content to support without trying to “fix” you.

4. Rage against shame. Feel the love and support of your community. They love you as you are. No shame. No shame. No shame.

***TINY LETTER***

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