The Role of Spirituality in Addiction Recovery
As the Jewish community celebrates another Rosh Hashanah, it’s worth discussing the potential positive impact that spirituality can have on our recovery and lasting wellness. The concept of spirituality is firmly ingrained in the classical and modern tenets of addiction treatment. Despite the continuing evolution of substance abuse treatment, the link to faith and the belief in a higher power endure as one of the clinical bedrocks of care. This is because it allows to conceive of a force greater than ourselves an what we’ve been through, an idea that can be incredibly comforting when we feel as though we have lost control.
Embracing spirituality is not entirely about putting our faith in any kind of organized religion. Although there may be a religious component to spiritual therapy, it is not fundamental to reaping its benefits and internal rewards. For one person, spirituality can mean fervent recitation of scripture and uncompromising attendance of religious services; for others, it can simply mean recognizing the beauty of nature and contemplating a plan or a cycle of life that has nothing to do with us. For many of us, it’s quite liberating to think that we can be so important to the people who care about us, but that our problems may be a drop in the bucket compared to what others are going through.
Spirituality allows us a base of support and understanding during the more vulnerable points of our recovery. Regardless of whether or not we even believe in a higher power, the healing catharsis of spirituality can help us gain emotional strength, empathy and confidence. It is not something that’s closed off to us simply because we aren’t overtly devout to any kind of faith. Simply put, there’s a clear distinction between religion and spirituality, and this is something that all of us can embrace in our continued recovery.
SI MADD Walk Tragic Reminder of What Drunk Driving Does to Families
It’s a pain that no person should ever have to endure. It’s a tragedy that is entirely preventable and completely unnatural. It’s a senseless, heartbreaking and violent end to a life: it’s drunk-driving fatality and it’s something that is all too common in Long Island and surrounding areas. When our friends, neighbors and loved ones are killed in a drunk-driving accident, whether they were driving or not, we fell as though a piece of us ripped out and are left looking for ways to honor their memories and take action to prevent anyone else from experiencing this excruciating pain. Last weeks Walk Like MADD event in Staten Island illustrated just how effective these efforts can be.
One of 80 if its kind across the United States, the Staten Island Walk Like MADD event was held on September 25, and featured over 180 participants. The event far eclipsed its fundraising goal of $25,000, raising a respectable and promising $31,931. New Yorkers from all across the state who have been impacted by drunk driving gathered with supporters and MADD volunteers to raise money and awareness of this pervasive and deadly problem. Last year there were 364 drunk-driving deaths in the empire state and 6,019 alcohol-related crashes. As the state continues to battle growing heroin and opioid dependency, alcohol abuse remains a consistent public health issue as well.
Now in its third year and originating in Long Island, this year’s New York MADD Walk is an opportunity for residents to mobilize to end drunk driving in their communities. What was perhaps most promising about this year’s walk was the presence of real-life change agents like Chief Assistant District Attorney Paul Capofar whose message prior to the event was to hold the DA’s Office accountable for drunk-driving in their communities and engage with their local leaders to combat the problem. Many participants wore photos of their deceased loved ones on their t-shirts to further reinforce the importance and critical nature of the event and subsequent anti-DUI efforts.
When “Choice” Becomes a Loaded Word
For many it’s just easier and more comfortable to view addiction as a choice. If they’re convinced that someone chooses to derail their lives and plunge deeper and deeper into drug and alcohol dependency on a daily basis, it’s easier to cut them off without having to contemplate the excruciating and complex pain they’re experiencing. If they tell themselves that “it’s their choice” to spend all their money on their addiction, isolate themselves from their friends and family and gradually destroy their quality of life, it’s easier to write them off without having to think about what brought them there.
Despite piles of medical and scientific evidence to the contrary, many still believe that chemical dependency extends only as far as the “choices” of the user. This perception has allowed the stigma of addiction to infiltrate society further and significantly impact patient access to treatment. There is evidence of this phenomenon in the insurance industry as well as the clinical landscape. The recovery community is full of stories about patients that had to “fail first” in a program that was clearly inadequate to address their care needs before their insurance providers allowed them to enter another, more targeted program. While these decisions are clearly motivated by cost, they are also part and parcel of a culture that still seems to downplay the serious medical nature of addiction.
As hard as it is to face addiction-related discrimination in lifestyle areas like housing, employment and others, it’s even harder to thrive in recovery and survive on a daily basis with this strong, albeit dwindling stigma. While the addiction treatment community has made significant strides in representing chemical dependency as the medical condition that it is, it may be a while before actual substantive policy reflects this shifting perception. In the meantime, we can learn to overcome stigma by being living examples of recovery each day. We don’t have to, nor should we be, held hostage by the opinions of others.
Overcoming the Odds: Relapse Rates in Addiction Recovery
Although they’re getting lower, relapse rates in addiction recovery are historically high. As much as we struggle not to let these numbers affect us, it’s easy to feel like a statistic even when we haven’t shown the slightest signs of vulnerability during our recovery. The cloud of relapse is always looming over our heads, for some of us a motivator and for others an albatross. Like anything else, it’s far too easy to let our vulnerability to relapse become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we become obsessed and consumed with the possibility of a setback, we’re much more likely to gravitate toward it.
We have to realize that there’s a difference between mindfulness and fixation. There’s a healthy level of reality in admitting the strong possibility of relapse based on others that came before us, but there’s also a healthy level of strength and optimism when we acknowledge that we can beat the odds and transcend statistics. When we rely on the integrity of our treatment programs and aftercare plans and continue our therapy and attendance at meetings, we further ensure that our story can be, and is different from others. As we get more and more comfortable in our routines, the prospect of relapse becomes more and more distant, although it never fully leaves us.
As much as people like to throw predictive numbers out there, the reality is that none of us are abstractions. We are living, breathing individuals with our strengths and vulnerabilities. When we recognize our uniqueness and our special ability to overcome drugs or alcohol, we further empower ourselves against the numbers that scare us so much. While it’s important to always be mindful of the possibility of relapse, we can’t let the specter of fear interfere with our recovery. We’re at our best when we have a healthy and realistic respect for our vulnerability while putting our strengths front and center.
Last Night’s Debate Losers: Opioid Addicts and their Families
As pundits and surrogates fall over themselves and each other to put their own spin on last night’s debate, they’ve taken to discussing everything from Donald Trump’s breathing to Hillary Clinton’s wardrobe. Broken up into several 15-minute segments, last night’s debate was a prime opportunity to hear where candidates stand definitively on combatting opioid addiction, an issue that is high in the running for the title of America’s most urgent public health crisis. Although the debate was held at Hofstra University in Long Island (the Northeast cradle of opioid abuse), not one word was uttered about this pervasive and deadly epidemic.
In an election cycle that has seen countless bizarre twists and turns, from the discussion of the legitimacy our president’s citizenship to unprecedented conversations about the candidates’ health, key issues continue to be overlooked, such as the leading cause of death among the totality of our population. It seems as though the worst fears of those impacted by opioid abuse, including addicts and their families has been realized: selective memory. Outside of a shocking viral image or the death of a prominent celebrity or artist, it’s almost as though opioid addiction has no place in the American conversation, even when a debate between two candidates looking to lead said conversation takes place in a region in which it is most prevalent.
Whether it’s because they can’t comprehend the sheer enormity of the problem or they’re simply at a loss regarding how to deal with its proliferation, lawmakers have been dragging their feet on this issue for years. Critical components of Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act continue to go without funding and face resistance from both sides of the political aisle. The reality is that it’s largely up to communities and private citizens to empower themselves to combat addiction in their corners of the world. This means reaching out to loved ones who are vulnerable, gaining a fundamental understanding of the behavioral pathology of addiction, and engaging with their community leaders to organize prevention-focused events.
Although we have admittedly made some legislative strides against addiction in America, the lack of conversation in last night’s debate is the latest glaring example of how much more work there is to be done. In a climate where moderators and candidates alike seem more apt to talk about anything else besides the leading killer of Americans, it’s safe to say that we can all do more.
Carfentanil Invades Long Island
In the latest battle of Long Island’s ongoing war with heroin and opioid addition, suppliers are mixing their batches with a new and dangers animal tranquilizer called carfentanil. An analogue of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, carfentanil has been co-opted and utilized by heroin distributors across the county, and has most recently made its way to Long Island. There have already been overdoses in a number of states, including Ohio, Florida and Indiana. It’s affecting more and more Long Island residents, most of whom don’t even know they’re taking the drug. Experts have reported that most fentanyl-derivative drugs are manufactured in China and brought in through Mexico.
Carfentanil is meant to sedate the largest of mammals, including elephants. Just two milligrams of the drug can put a 2,000-pound elephant to sleep. Since last month, about 300 people across four states have overdosed on heroin that had been with laced with the drug. In July, there were 35 carfentanil-related overdoses in Ohio, prompting the state to issue a public health advisory. Here on Long Island, law enforcement and prevention advocates have described the reports of carfentanil-laced heroin as “dire”, citing a continuous progression of that began with prescription painkillers and has led to heroin laced with animal sedatives.
Officials on Long Island and throughout the rest of the state have candidly disclosed that they feel they’re losing ground in this fight. While Governor Cuomo has enacted new reforms in hopes of more effectively combatting the problem (including increased access to treatment, expansion of Narcan deployment, heightened accountability of physicians and more), Long Island residents continue to overdose en masse. The arrival of carfentanil in locally distributed heroin adds another layer of complication, and frankly urgency, to the problem. Without action, it’s only a matter of time before more and more our friends, neighbors and loved ones fall prey to this new addiction threat.
Four Helpful Everyday Recovery Tips
Recovery consistently causes us to focus on the “long term” and the “big picture”. It helps us envision a future in which are free from the trappings of active substance abuse and every bit the vibrant, healthy and loving people we were prior to falling victim to drugs or alcohol. Like anything else in life, the “long term” is only accomplished through the everyday progress we make in various areas of our lives. The achievement of macro goals is accomplished through sound everyday habits. Think of these everyday things that we do as building blocks for a great structure. In the context of addiction recovery, there are numerous everyday techniques we can adopt to make sure we stay on track.
Get Moving – Daily exercise is perhaps the best and most direct means of maintaining sound physical fitness. In addition to the outward benefits of working out each day, exercise releases endorphins and has been proven to increase relaxation, improve sleep patterns, strengthen immune system and more. Combined with smart and sound eating habits, exercise can considerably extend life and increase quality of life.
Embrace Recovery – When we have to drag ourselves kicking and screaming to therapy and meetings, we are creating the opportunity for resentment and relapse. While many of us may find the everyday recovery routine to be difficult at times, we have to remember the progress we’ve made and that the rewards far outweigh the logistics of the process. We should feel empowered to share at meetings and fully disclose our thoughts to our therapists because that’s the only way we’re going to get the most out of the process. At the end of the day, these resources are a gift, and they’re there for a reason.
Practice Realism – We have to know that we can’t take on everything at once. Many of us feel compelled to accelerate our lives after treatment because we feel we’ve missed so much during our days of active substance abuse. If we take too much on (careers, families, relationships, etc.), we run the risk of getting overwhelmed and judging ourselves harshly when we fail to live up to our often impossible self-imposed standards. This is very often an express route to relapse.
Forgive – So many people have forgiven us for our indiscretions, and we should be willing to do the same. To begin with, holding grudges and harboring resentment has demonstrated physical implications like increased blood pressure and heart rate. Additionally, it’s just not something that we need in our lives. Part of practicing forgiveness is understanding that not everyone is ready to forgive us for what we did, and may never be able to. We can’t dictate or govern what’s in people’s heads. All we can do is live our recovery every day and be the best possible versions of ourselves.
The war against relapse is waged every day. By practicing the above techniques, as well as others, we further insulate ourselves from the possibility of set-backs.
Three Common Lifestyle Issues in Recovery
Addiction and substance abuse create turmoil in every area of our lives. When it’s all said and done, and we’re finally able to seek help for drugs or alcohol, the residual damage caused by our active substance abuse is still very much a reality with which we have to contend. Part of the recovery process is rebuilding our lives and endeavoring to get back what we lost while in the throes of substance abuse. The extent to which our lifestyles suffer is contingent upon our history of drug or alcohol use. However, there are a few common areas that tend to take the most direct hits.
Our colleagues are often the first to bear witness to our unraveling. Once our professional performance begins declining due to our substance abuse, it’s often only a matter of time before our substance abuse derails everything we’ve worked for. To make matters worse, getting our jobs back after we leave treatment is rarely an option. We can start to get our careers back on track when we feel we’re emotionally ready to resume our professional obligations and workload.
Our Relationships with Our Families
Families are often hit hardest by addiction. They have to sit by and bare witness to the people they love destroy themselves with drugs and alcohol. It’s important that we begin repairing our relationships right after we get clean, even it’s during our rehab programs. They will, in all likelihood, be our chief means of support as endeavor to move past the initial stages of recovery and we can afford to alienate those closest to us. This is why so many quality treatment programs offer family programs.
Addiction is expensive, any way you slice it. There are many who spend thousands of dollars over the course decades feeding their habit. When they leave treatment, they discover they have very little or no money left. This problem is reparable over time, as we transition back into our careers. In the mean time, it’s important to stick with our recovery plans and everything else will fall into place.
Lifestyle damage is an unavoidable part of addiction. We can’t hope to simply engage in problematic drug and alcohol use with no consequences to our everyday lives. The trick is to gather all of the strength and focus what we can during recovery so we can begin to rebuild and reclaim our lives.
Doing the Best We Can (and No More) in Recovery
Obligations: they’re everywhere. From the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we close our eyes at night, it seems as though there is always something to do. Those of us who are in recovery often that sense of obligation compounded by the logistics of our recovery plans. When we first leave our treatment programs and being our independent recovery journeys, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with keeping our routine. As time goes on, we may feel more and more comfortable maintaining our sobriety and feel compelled to start volunteering our time and energy to others. This can include anything from rearranging our schedules to accommodate our loved ones to deliberately putting ourselves in harm’s way.
There’s no shame or weakness in simply doing the best we can. When we take a macro look at the situation, we will quickly see that the only people who have a problem with the fact that we can’t help are the people that actually need the favor. There’s also no danger in doing everything we can within the scope of our power to help those that need it. Recovery teaches us to be charitable with our time and insight, but it also teaches us to put ourselves first when our sobriety is potentially on the line. While this may seem easy enough, a surprising number of us have a problem simply doing the best we can.
Why, then, do we constantly feel the need to put ourselves out? For many of us, it’s because we feel guilty about the behavior we exhibited when we were actively using. For others, it’s because we want to prove to ourselves that we really are better. For others, it’s just a matter of getting to actively engage with a “normal” world in which we very much feel like outsiders. We feel like if we do favors that we’re really in no position to do; it will display a sense of emotional maturity and make us more “acceptable” to the outside world. It’s important to remember that the only thing we need to do, until we’re ready to do more, is focus on our recovery. The rest will fall into place.
Suffolk County Files Lawsuit against Big Pharma
In response to a fierce and pervasive opioid painkiller epidemic claiming dozens of its residents each year, Long Island’s Suffolk County is accusing several major pharmaceutical companies of using dishonest marketing practices to downplay the risk of their prescription painkillers. The accusations materialized into a lawsuit late last month, which targets big drug makers like Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Endo International. The lawsuit is the latest in a series of filed by other major cities and could wind up being a referendum on the hones that exists on drug manufacturers to fully disclose the dangers of their products.
Other regional plaintiffs entangled in an ongoing battle against these drug manufacturers include Chicago; Orange and Santa Clara counties in California; and the state of Mississippi. At the heart of each suit are accusations that drug manufacturers are illegally expanding markets for their opioid painkillers and subsequently forcing taxpayers of each region to subsidize medications that are often needlessly prescribed. The suit plainly states that the defendants “sought to create a false perception of the safety and efficacy of opioids in the minds of medical professionals and members of the public that would encourage the use of opioids for longer periods of time and to treat a wider range of problems, including such common aches and pains as lower back pain, arthritis, and headaches.”
Proving culpability in these matters can prove to be extremely difficult. In addition to the enormous legal resources with which these companies to protect themselves, they can point to a number of historical policy initiatives that created a widespread need for their services, including landmark recommendations from leading physicians that downplayed the risk of addiction opioid painkillers pose. In a letter in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1980, Dr. Jane Porter reported that out of nearly 12,000 patients who had received a narcotic painkiller, only four became addicted. In a 1986 study published in the journal Pain, Dr. Russell Portenoy — at the time, a prominent proponent of narcotic painkillers whose work was backed by drug manufacturers — reported that only two of 24 patients treated with them for years had exhibited problems managing the medication. Other physicians expressed concern that by withholding opioid drugs, physicians could be under-treating pain.
The reality is that it can be very easy for these companies to turn around and place the blame on the medical community and even the United States Government for a continued pathology of efforts that’s created the supposed need for these drugs. In the meantime, more and more Long Island residents, and Americans in general, continue to have their lives destroyed as a result of the potency of these medications.