We’ve Been There: The Role of the Family

This September is Recovery Month, and to celebrate we are sharing inspiring stories from our incredible staff members in recovery. For decades, The Council on Recovery and its Center for Recovering Families have approached addiction as a family disease. Each family member of someone struggling with addiction faces pain, fear and uncertainty throughout their loved one’s recovery journey. That’s why we focus on treating not only the individual, but the entire family as well. In this entry, one staff member recounts how the support and participation of her family was key to her recovery…

I knew I needed help for many years. For the most part, it had been 16 years since I had gone without drinking to inebriation and/or blackout on a daily basis, with only a few exceptions. I tried many times to stop drinking on my own, but always failed. In the fall of 2013, I began to realize that people could smell the alcohol on me, even if I hadn’t had anything to drink that day. Basically, my body was not metabolizing alcohol like it once had. I was drinking a quarter to a half gallon of alcohol a day, easily. I was miserable and exhausted, physically and mentally. In efforts to avoid smelling like alcohol, I started running/walking five to 10 miles a day and drank gallons upon gallons of water each day. I was doing everything humanly possible in order to flush the alcohol out of my system before going to work each morning.

I had stopped sleeping because I was in a constant state of severe anxiety, and my muscles were just wracked with involuntarily spasms anytime the alcohol levels in my body got below a certain level. My body just would not let me sleep, anymore. I had just turned 40 and I was convinced I would not be alive to see 41. December rolled around and I was convinced that I needed to make a decision – I needed to either end my life or pick myself up. I decided to pick myself up and I entered treatment on December 27, 2013.

The night I told my husband, “I need to go to treatment tomorrow,” he poured every ounce of alcohol we had in our house down the sink.

My husband has been the most important person in my recovery. In substance use prevention, the family can serve as a risk factor or a protective factor for substance use. The role of the family in relapse prevention is very similar. Not only has my husband been my biggest cheerleader in my recovery, but he has participated in recovery right alongside me for almost seven years, now. I have been fortunate in that my husband put me and my recovery first, and by doing that, he was able to learn how to put himself first, too. The night I told my husband, “I need to go to treatment tomorrow,” he poured every ounce of alcohol we had in our house down the sink. He came to aftercare with me every single Saturday for that first year. He became a member of Al-Anon and attended his meetings once a week – they used to call him ‘Wise Wes’ in group. However, his commitment did not end there.

Here we are, almost seven years later, and he has not had a drop of alcohol since that night in December of 2013. I never expected him to abstain. After all, it was my problem, not his. But something changed in both of us and not just in me. We were both dedicated to being healthy and sane for ourselves and for each other. For me, that meant putting an end to my drinking. For him, that meant gaining control of his health by learning how to eat right and exercise, resulting in a 120 lb. weight loss for him. Every celebration, every vacation, every time we eat out with friends and family, there we are – present and together.

We’ve Been There: Facing the Fear of Change

This blog post is the third in a series especially for Recovery Month, highlighting our staff members and their journey to recovery. The Council knows the road to recovery is not an easy one – and that journey is made all the more difficult when shame, stigma, and judgment get in the way. At The Council, we’ve been there. That’s why our team is committed to providing compassionate care, free of judgment and full of support.

My recovery journey began when the woman who would later be my supervisor walked into Plane State Jail and gave me the hope and courage to face the fear of change. My recovery coach, Cynthia Branch worked with me for three months preparing me for re-entry into citizenship. Then upon my release, she connected me with stage appropriate resources to help me build my recovery capital so I could enjoy and sustain long term recovery.

After two years of recovery, Cynthia trained me to be a recovery coach and I worked side by side with her, going into the prison and the very dorm I had been incarcerated in. She role-modeled recovery first, then recovery coaching. Now I am uniquely qualified to help others initiate and sustain long term recovery.

How COVID-19 Is Affecting Teens’ Mental Health

This post is contributed by CHOICES counselor Joanna Robertson, M.MFT, LMFT, LPC

Like most of us, adolescents had their world turned upside down back in March by the Coronavirus pandemic. As teens prepare to return to school, I want to share a few of the ways COVID-19 has affected teens’ mental health, how this impacts them long-term, and how you can help.

The adolescent brain is still growing and developing. The prefrontal cortex, the section of the brain responsible for critical thinking and impulse control, is not fully developed until about 25 years old. Thus, adolescents may need additional support when it comes to regulation, which includes sleeping patterns, use of time and technology usage. Because of the pandemic, students lost the structure of school time, and when coupled with a lack of parental support, this left students to navigate on their own. This led to odd sleeping patterns and overall dysregulation, which can impact coursework, family relationships, and mental health.

Teens mental health

What are the challenges teens face in the pandemic?

Students lost consistent access to friends and adult supports. One study found that 80% of adolescent girls feel “more lonely and isolated than before” (The Rox Institute). While teachers, counselors, and mentors are doing their best to remain connected, it proves a challenging situation. Many teens are experiencing an increase in their sense of isolation, depression, and loneliness.

In addition to navigating schoolwork at home, many students have taken on new responsibilities, including childcare, housework, and part-time jobs. This puts additional pressure on teens to use their time and energy in a balanced way, which is already a challenge for the adolescent brain. It also makes it challenging for these students to keep up with schoolwork and can cause many to fall even further behind.

These are only a few of the factors impacting teens as a result of COVID-19. If teens were already using alcohol and/or drugs, they likely continue to do so throughout the pandemic. As their stress increases and their access to healthy coping support decreases, they are more at risk for developing substance use disorders. Further, previous crises show that teenagers may develop substance use problems after the crisis has passed. It is important that caring adults stay actively engaged in supporting the adolescents in their life.

How you can help teens.

Adolescents are creative, resilient, and resourceful, especially when they have supportive adults in their life. If you are wondering how you can help, start with the teens in your life. Talk to them about how they are experiencing things and ask what support they might need. Help them create structure. It’s something they may not want in the moment, but it’s something they need, and need help creating. Connect them with mental health resources either through their school or in the community. Finally, be aware of your own coping methods and responses. Set an example by finding healthy coping skills, such as meditation, peer support, counseling, and exercise.

If you need support, The Council is the place to start. Call us today at 713.914.0556 and ask about our virtual services.

How Employers Can Support the Mental Health of their Employees During a Pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic, economic collapse and historic unemployment are threatening the collective mental health of the United States workforce. Barriers to mental health treatment such as stigma in the workplace will only intensify this mental health crisis for American workers.

According to a poll by the American Psychological Association, only half of workers in the United States say they are comfortable talking about their mental health in the workplace. More than a third of participants cite concern about job consequences if they seek mental healthcare through their employer. These troublesome statistics indicate that, now more than ever, we need to work together to destigmatize the conversation around mental health, so that employees feel safe to seek treatment.

What can employers do?

Company policies and communications that emphasize mental health is a priority can reduce or eliminate a major barrier to seeking substance abuse and mental health treatment. Adopting and promoting an employee assistance program that employees can use anonymously, to eliminate any fear of judgment or repercussions, is a great start. Other ways to look after employees’ mental health includes regularly checking in with them, fostering a positive and transparent work environment, encouraging open conversations around mental health, and increasing access to mental health resources.

Employee mental health

These efforts benefit everyone in the long run, especially when they can result in employees seeking treatment for substance use disorder. In a normal year, drug abuse costs employers upwards of $81 billion due to high turnover rates, reduced productivity and quality of work, higher absenteeism and sick time, increased number of on-the-job accidents and injuries, increased costs of workers’ compensation and disability, and increased healthcare costs.

We need your help.

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues, substance abuse and overdoses are increasing nationwide. Recent Census Bureau data shows that, during the pandemic one-third of adults are experiencing severe anxiety, and nearly one-quarter are showing signs of depression. With no end to the pandemic in sight, efforts to reduce barriers to mental health treatment rest in the hands of employers. Together, we can combat these rising rates and reduce the impact of the pandemic on employees’ mental health.

If you know someone at work who is struggling with substance use or mental health, The Council is the place to start. For questions or to get started, contact us here or at 713.914.0556. Virtual treatment is available.

Generous Grant From Bob Woodruff Foundation Brings Treatment Services to Veterans Impacted by Hurricane Harvey and COVID-19

The Council is excited to announce that we have received a generous contribution from the Bob Woodruff Foundation to provide recovery coaching, intensive case management, and clinical therapy to veterans and their families who are impacted by substance use and co-occurring mental health conditions. The grant is made possible by a partnership between the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Qatar Harvey Fund to support veterans affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Veterans

Through this grant, The Council will support at least 50 veterans and their families who were originally impacted by Hurricane Harvey and currently struggling with substance use and co-occurring mental health conditions in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Veterans and their families are disproportionately impacted by substance use and mental health disorders, and the current trauma only magnifies these problems and far exceeds many people’s ability to cope.

The Council is well-positioned to respond to these individuals, having hosted the 2019 Veterans Mental Health Summit, and participating on the City of Houston’s Mayor’s Challenge Committee to reduce suicide among veterans in our community. As always, this project will include treatment not only for veterans, but also their families.

For more information or to send a referral, please contact our Outreach Coordinator and Veteran Liaison at dsunday@councilonrecovery.org or at 281-200-9242.

Maintaining Community During COVID-19

By Lori Fiester, Clinical Director of the Center for Recovering Families

As the last week wound down and settled, my staff and I made it through the trials and tribulations of integrating telehealth into our services. The reward – we are able to connect with our clients, see their faces, continue the work prior to this pandemic and offer assistance with this struggle. Most clients’ response was similar, “This got real!” Along with this response, most were grateful to get back to their recovery groups and have a safe place to talk. Reality appears to have shifted throughout everyone’s life. We all have been significantly impacted one way or another, and maintaining community seems harder than ever.

Change and the unknown can bring fear and anxiety. Some feel resistance to the change, which can increase such feelings. Another feeling common among our clients is grief. Not only from seeing the daily news and how this pandemic has killed thousands, but how the disruption of our daily routine magnifies all the little things we ordinarily do without a thought. Clients have expressed grief about their connections being disrupted or lost, friend/family becoming sick, employment threats or lay-offs, and how isolation compounds their feelings.

Isolation is one of the worst possible positions someone who is struggling with sobriety can be in, yet here we are.

Mandated to shelter in place. Isolation in any addiction or compulsive behavior is that ‘ism’s’  best friend. It causes us to think negatively, erroneously, and mostly disengage from the connection we most want and need. It can cause us to turn on ourselves, only to fill with self-loathing. As clinicians, our efforts are aimed at assisting our clients to navigate these changes by maintaining community in the chaos.

The technology that has often led to disconnection is now assisting us in the recovery community to connect with telehealth, online meetings, and online activities like yoga or meditation. While many are working from home, there are many others that are not working at all, and thus have even less connection to the world and more time on their hands. We are encouraging all our clients to reach out and connect, so the isolation can be lessened. Isolation, often the most troublesome of characteristics in this disease, now feels like it’s quadrupled. 

And while there are a lot of unknowns, what is known is that we need each other.

We cannot do this alone. As human beings, we aren’t wired that way, which is very similar to those in the recovery community trying to stay sober…. we all need the help of another. Today we need connection even more, even if it’s six feet apart and no more than 10 people at a time. Maintaining community in recovery is key. Another known is that the feelings of fear, anxiety, grief or any other feeling will become more manageable if we allow them in. If we can feel the feelings and allow them to move through, they will leave. Often we resist because the feelings overwhelm us, which causes suffering and more times than not, the feelings will come out sideways in unwanted behaviors. Another known is that we are in this together. If this is happening to you, help is just a phone call away. 

So, together we need to support one another to stay home and stay safe. We must continue our lives in recovery by maintaining community through attending online meetings, virtual classes, calling or video chatting with our sponsor, and if any of that hasn’t been attempted, it’s time now more than ever. 

Please visit The Council on Recovery’s remote resource page, as well as participate in our daily meditation offerings. If not now, when?

If you or your loved one needs assistance, please do not hesitated to contact the Council. We are here, ready and able to help in any way we can.