The Lifelong Quest for Sobriety… The Ultimate Hero’s Journey – Part 64

Guest blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 64 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

In the 1999 movie, The Matrix, a group of rebels are fighting a desperate war against a machine that has enslaved humanity in a sophisticated virtual reality system.  Laurence Fishburne is Morpheus, the leader of the rebels, and he has recruited Neo, played by Keanu Reeves and Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss as his archetypal warriors.  The operatives of The Matrix have been unbeatable, led by Agent Smith, played by Hugo Weaving, such that most rebel warriors have little chance in head-to-head battles with the machine.

But Neo and Trinity have developed and honed their skills. A series of confrontations toward the end of the movie have Neo and Trinity performing incredible athletic feats to avoiding being hit by a barrage of bullets and simultaneously firing back in explosive bursts.  In one scene, Neo contorts his body to impossible extremes as the bullets fly by in slow motion.

A friend of mine, in a meeting one day, commented on this scene as reminiscent, to him, of how, in our continuing growth in recovery, we learn such adroitness, we develop evasive moves to avoid letting the pitfalls of life destroy us as they once had.  What a spectacular vision it created for me.  How often in our diseased states and even in early sobriety did we let everyday mishaps and normal challenges penetrate our fragile exterior and drive us to difficult ends.

Some of us, like me, may have reacted to minor mishaps with near explosive rage.  Maybe family members pushed long-set psychic buttons with idle remarks; maybe a friend or acquaintance made a snide comment that stirred some long forgotten pain; or maybe some external unrelated event had a similar effect. 

Our recovery demands that we learn to deal with these events.  As we work the program with sponsors and with fellow recovering heroes we learn to let these events, these triggers, to slide off or around us much as Neo dodged the Matrix’s bullets.  The image is powerful…we just need to learn the intricate evasive moves for ourselves, using the tools we hear over and over again from all our Fellows.

Why is The Council Addressing Vaping?

This post is a contribution by Mel Taylor, President and CEO of The Council on Recovery.

If you follow The Council’s work, you’ve probably seen us discuss vaping quite a bit lately. But aside from the alarming news headlines, you may be wondering, “Why does The Council care about vaping?” Vaping is legal in Texas, after all, for people over the age of 21. And advocates of e-cigarettes argue that in comparison to traditional cigarettes, vaping is the better option. But as alcohol has proven, when used to excess, many things can be harmful even if they are legal. Vaping is no different. The Council believes unequivocally that vaping is dangerous and deserves our community’s attention.

Unfortunately, a lack of reliable information on the matter combined with sensational nightly news stories can tempt us into dismissing this phenomenon as just another overhyped story. Here at The Council, our goal is not to scare you – rather, we want to empower you with information you can trust to make your own choice.

So, why does The Council care about vaping?

The nicotine and other chemicals in vape liquid produce a pleasure response that changes the brain and can lead to addiction.

Nicotine produces a dopamine response in the brain, which then primes the brain’s sensitivity to rewarding stimuli. Anytime a substance alters the way the brain functions, there is potential for abuse and addiction. This is particularly true for young people whose brains are not yet fully developed, and are highly susceptible to changes in the way their brains respond to pleasure. Research consistently demonstrates that adolescents who vape are 3 times more likely to subsequently smoke traditional cigarettes.

But vaping isn’t safe for adults, either.

Many adults have seen first-hand the destruction wreaked by a lifetime of smoking cigarettes, so vaping may seem safe in comparison. Indeed, the e-cigarette industry originally marketed their products as a quit-aid, which has helped to perpetuate this myth. Vaping does not burn tobacco – the source of carcinogenic tar in traditional cigarette smoke – however, it does expose the respiratory system to nicotine and a cocktail of other harmful chemicals, and there is mounting evidence that it causes similar long-term lung damage as traditional cigarettes. What’s more, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation device. So, what does it all mean?

The long-term impact of vaping remains to be fully seen, but we know enough to say vaping is an urgent problem and immediate action is needed. As this problem develops, our learning will continue to grow. Just last week the Centers for Disease Control announced a breakthrough finding, naming vitamin E acetate as the potential culprit behind recent vaping related lung injuries and deaths, and helping to advance our understanding of this challenge. For now, The Council is busy doing what we have done for the last 75 years: supporting our community. The Council has weathered many such epidemics in our lifetime – from crack cocaine, to methamphetamine, to opioids, and now vaping. As ever, we remain committed to serving families who are impacted by addiction with information they can trust and best-in-class treatment.

Click here for more information on how The Council is tackling the vaping epidemic, and save the date for our Vaping Summit on February 21, 2020.

Where to start?

A road map to recovery options for those struggling with addiction

By Lori Fiester, Clinical Director for the Center for Recovering Families at The Council on Recovery

While the Council on Recovery is a known place to start when looking for help with alcohol or drug abuse, the average person who struggles with substance use issues does not know what is involved in treatment, much less recovery. It does not simply begin with the desire to do things differently…

Many people begin with decreasing their use of the identified substance, or stop completely.  While some can be successful with either measure, most who have abused substances for a long period of time have withdrawal symptoms. Those who have heavily used or have a genetic predisposition need more assistance. Millions of people have a crossed the doorway to 12-step meetings, have a sponsor and have worked the steps and been successful. And then there are those who need more support. 

When thinking about treatment, it’s important that the client be served in the least restrictive environment, but safety has to be the priority. The least restrictive measure involves individual therapy/counseling.  This modality can work but it needs to be supplemented with regular 12-step group attendance, utilizing sponsorship and working the steps.

Fiester (left) is the head of The Council’s Center for Recovering Families, Houston’s premier outpatient provider of treatment for alcoholism, substance abuse, and mental health disorders.

The next level of care is Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). This type of program offers approximately 10 hours of treatment to the individual that includes individual and group therapy, psychoeducation, and skills group, spread out between three to four days a week. This allows the person to work and sleep at home, but a good portion of their time is dedicated to therapy. Most IOP’s last six to eight weeks.

Partial Hospitalization (PHP) is the next level in care.  This option consists of being treated for up to five hours a day for five days, and then going home early evening. This service includes much of what IOP does, but is even more intense, adding five to ten hours per week, and can last several weeks.

Residential care is when the person enters a hospital-type setting in which they have about 20 hours of dedicated treatment services. They can stay there anywhere from 28 to 90 days. Many people who enter this type of care often need detoxification, which includes medical stabilization and a doctor to oversee the person’s withdrawal from the substance.

There are many avenues to consider when thinking about getting sober.  The Council can help with an assessment that can diagnose and give recommendations of what to do next. The continuum of care has many opportunities for someone to stay sober. Research indicates that the longer a person is in treatment services, the less risk they have for relapse.  If you or anyone you know is in need to start their journey to recovery today, start here – (713) 914-0556.

‘Sesame Street’ Addresses Impact of Addiction on Children

This guest post is written by Kierstin Collins, Clinical Manager of Children and Adolescent Services at The Council

Earlier this month, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, broadcast an initiative to support children and families affected by parental addiction. The newest Muppet to join the Sesame Street group, Karli, is featured in the initiative, whose mom is dealing with addiction. In the new content released, long time characters like Elmo and Abby Cadabby learn what Karli is experiencing and help support her. Resources released through the Sesame Street in Communities program, including videos, articles, and activities, broadcast the words children need to hear most: “You are not alone. You will be taken care of. Addiction is a sickness and, as with any sickness, people need help to get better.” And most importantly: “It’s not your fault.”

Ten-year-old Salia Woodbury, whose parents are in recovery, poses with “Sesame Street” character Karli. The show recently explained that the puppet is in foster care because her mother is battling addiction. (Flynn Larsen/Sesame Workshop/AP)

In a press release this month Sesame Workshop, shared the motivation behind their efforts saying, “In the United States, there are 5.7 million children under age 11, or one in eight children, living in households with a parent who has a substance abuse disorder—a number that doesn’t include the countless children not living with a parent due to separation or divorce, incarceration, or death as a result of their addiction. One in three of these children will enter foster care due to parental addiction, a number that has grown by more than 50% in the past decade. The trauma of parental addiction can have lasting impacts on a child’s health and wellbeing, but children can be incredibly resilient; the effects of traumatic experiences can be mitigated with the right support from caring adults like the parents, caregivers, and providers this initiative targets.”

The Council on Recovery recognizes that Houston is not immune to these jarring statistics and aims to meet the needs of this special population. The Council has a long history of educating the community about the disease of addiction to break down the stigma and misunderstanding around this complicated family problem.

With the understanding that addiction is a family disease, The Council addresses all those who are touched by addiction, including youth who are at high risk of developing a substance use problem. Children from families of addiction are more likely to use and use problematically at a young age due to both genetic and environmental factors. To address this cycle of addiction, The Council provides services tailored to the developmental needs of youth. In the Kids Camp at The Council program, kids age 7 to 12 participate in three days of games, activities, and group work to gain education, prevention, and support. Kids in the program learn through their experience that addiction is not their fault, they are not alone, their job is to be a kid, and how to take care of themselves. Parents work alongside children to learn age-appropriate language around addiction and how to communicate about hard feelings, problems, and secrets.

As the rate of substance abuse grows in our community, the population of children who are impacted grows alongside it. You know a child who needs us. To interrupt the cycle of addiction and provide hope in the face of addiction, call 713-914-0556 or visit us online at councilonrecovery.org where you can learn more about Kids Camp and other youth services offered at The Council.

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey – Part 63

Guest blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 63 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

The 2001 HBO series, Band of Brothers, is about a company of paratroopers, “E” or Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, who parachuted behind the lines in Normandy on “D” Day, the 6th of June, 1944.  A total of 10 episodes, it takes this group of men from their training in the U.S., through the invasion, into Germany, and to the conclusion of World War II in mid-1945. The exploits of this unit were quite intense and unique in what they faced in a number of events of the War.  But the story is really about the men and the bonds that they forged as they encountered horrific events together.  It provides a powerful image of what can develop among people in a long term, high stressed series of events.

I am reminded of the leaders of the Greeks who fought together in the long term siege of Troy, as portrayed in Homer’s Iliad.  Odysseus, Achilles, Nestor, Menelaus, Ajax, and even Agamemnon were side-by-side in many battles for 10 years.  Similarly, the 2017 movie, Wonder Woman, the story involving the Amazons, presents the leaders of this colony of women warriors as a very similar band. Diana, her Mother, Queen Hippolyta, Antiope, Menalippe, Artemis, Venelia and Euboea have bonded together in a lifetime of strife in much the same way.  As I see it, the idea of the “band of brothers” (or sisters), formed in this manner, carries a deep soulful mythos.

It also has a very powerful resonance for all us; it mirrors precisely the Fellowships that are a part of our own Journeys to Sobriety.  Think of the bonds we have formed, still continue to form, with the sisters and brothers around us in all our activities.  Could the energies that it all produces be more mythic?  Could it seem more soulful and spiritually bound?

The term “band of brothers” comes from Scene III, Act IV of Shakespeare’s Henry V, wherein the King is exhorting his army facing a looming, badly-outmanned battle with the French. How fitting it is for all of us….

It will be remembered with advantages

What feats we do this day….*

For, from this day to the ending of the world,

We, those of us in them, shall be remember’d;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

*My apologies to the Bard, Will S., for a wee-bit of editing

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey – Part 62

Guest blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 62 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

The experience of living in the Community and Fellowship of AA and its sister 12 Step programs leads us to see the miracle of Love in its purest form.  We come to care for each other in an absolute sense, unconditionally, eschewing any form of quid pro quo.  It is a spectacular experience, one of which many of us struggle to realize the full potential.

The human species, homo sapiens, craves community and companionship.  We formed tribes from the earliest periods. There was/is a dark side to this; our tribal nature could also develop an us vs. them tendency when opinions or beliefs diverged.  Hate so spawned became the antithesis of Love, but it seems to me that Love has always overcome hate even after the most ugly, longest running of human clashes.  Over time, Love always prevails and, for many of us, the idea of a Higher Power is that of pure unconditional love.  It seems to me to be the one Absolute.

I would endeavor to define Love as the deep, soulful, unconditional caring for another.  Our Higher Power exhibits this kind of Love for us in getting us to this point in our lives and in endeavoring to help others join us.

Many of the mythic stories we have discussed have Love prevailing over crisis and chaos to return a hero to her or his natural state within her or his community. Odysseus is able to finally get home after the love of Athena, Calypso and Circe help him to overcome the scourge of the Trojan War.  Dante is finally able to embrace the vision of God when Beatrice guides him through Paradiso.  Even Don Quixote’s love for his fanciful Desdemona sustained him in his quest.

In our own experiences in our Fellowship, we come to realize that the love of the men and women in our own meeting structures transcend all other elements of who and what we are.  We embrace everyone, even those with whom, in another setting, we might have had significant difficulty and differences of opinion on a host of matters.  None of that counts for anything when it comes to our mutual commitment to each other’s spiritual health and well being.

It is so clear to me today, as I reflect on the majesty of this Fellowship, that we need to bring our own best capacity to love to each of our daily lives in order to become, and to remain, psychically and spiritually whole.