Unlocking the Past is Fundamental to Recovery, by Thomas Beck on Sober Nation

This story first appeared on Sober Nation, Online, August 23rd 2017

Life experience and addiction are intrinsically linked. It’s an unquestionable fact, yet many substance users fail to make the connection before a condition spirals out of control.

The reality is that we learn cycles of behavior and thought early in life through our interactions with people and the environment around us. As these factors continue to influence the way we think and act, it becomes increasingly difficult to see past learned behaviors. And sometimes, life events and experiences can lead to the development of unrealistic and harmful thought patterns of self and society.

For instance, children who witness or experience physical abuse while growing up often develop their own ideas for why it happens. They may feel responsibility or blame themselves for the inappropriate actions of others. While these beliefs are not grounded in reality, they can have a dramatic impact on how children view the world.

Or, consider how some children learn behavior from their parents. If a child watches a parent drink alcohol to manage anger or stress, this behavior may appear as an acceptable coping skill. As such, a child who learns this behavior may repeat it as an adult.

Negative life events, a skewed sense of reality or learned behavior can play a significant role in the development of a substance use disorder. If not identified early or treated properly, a person’s past may continue to haunt them, leading to a desire to escape painful feelings through misuse of drugs or alcohol. Consequently, making the connection between life events and addition is critical to successful recovery.

Life Events and Addiction: The Connection

Suppression, the conscious act of eliminating a thought pattern, is a fundamental contributor to behavior that leads to substance abuse. People who suffer from addiction commonly use drugs or alcohol to aid in suppressing painful memories, traumatic events or feelings of guilt and shame.

Often, suppression becomes a roadblock to addiction recovery. The more we ignore our past, the further we move from reality. Addiction then becomes a disconnect from rational thought processes, which hinder our ability to remember and address life events in a healthy way. Substance users may become increasingly confused, contributing to feelings of anger, shame and guilt, and ultimately creating a vicious addiction cycle.

Effective recovery from addiction requires a baseline understanding of life experience to keep this cycle from exacerbating. For this reason, we ask patients to write out their life story as a first step to recovery. Once a patient understands his or her past, he or she can break down life experiences, compartmentalize them and begin processing events that have influenced thought patterns.

Every life story is different, and triggers of substance abuse come in many forms. Without this baseline understanding, treatment is less effective in holistically treating the individual and helping them develop healthier thought patterns and behaviors.

Identifying, Letting Go and Creating New Patterns

Many substance users who have suppressed thoughts over time find it difficult to remember the past. In these cases, it helps to write a timeline of 10 to 15 events that led them to where they are today. Often, this exercise brings more memories to the surface and allows you to fill in the gaps of your life story. Then, you can better break down and simplify overwhelming amounts of past knowledge.

For instance, grief and loss is often a trigger of substance use, yet many people fail to make the connection. If you write out a timeline of events, you can see where an addiction formed or got out of control, and subsequently identify its association to a grief and loss event. Once identified, you can work with a counselor to better address the underlying trigger of addiction, process the painful event and establish a way forward.

The best setting for writing out a life story varies. Some patients feel overwhelmed by a group setting at first and are best suited to start the process of identifying the past through individual counseling. Others may be more apt to progress quickly in a group setting. Ultimately, all patients can benefit from life story groups, as this framework helps substance users learn from each other, gain confidence and grasp that they are not alone in their struggles.

The process of identifying life events and letting go of destructive thought patterns takes time, but it is the first step to healing. Once we begin verbalizing our pain and learning from past experiences, we can then begin letting go of painful memories and thoughts we want to suppress. It is at this stage that new patterns of behavior are possible.

Every life story is categorically unique; our individual experiences shape our existence and are incomparable to others. The journey to recovery begins with our life story. By looking back, we can understand the triggers of addiction, address guilt and shame and ultimately, create a new way of thinking.

This story first appeared on Sober Nation, Online, August 23rd 2017


Hands on Peer Education, a.k.a. H.O.P.E., is a front-line service in Dublin’s north inner city, where those suffering with addiction and their families can get access to much needed support and treatment options. H.O.P.E. facilitates and advocates for recovery through abstinence. We also offer a wide range of advocacy services. H.O.P.E.’s free and confidential drop-in clinic is open from 10am ‘til 1pm, Monday to Friday.

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Many thanks from the team in H.O.P.E.

The Habits of Long Term Sobriety by Kelly Fitzgerald on therecoveryvillage.com

This story first appeared on the Recovery Village, Online, 17th June 2016 

Getting through addiction treatment may be one of the hardest things you ever do.

It’s like learning how to do life all over again, but this time, you get an instruction manual. Once you graduate from rehab it will be up to you to take what you’ve learned and make it work in the real world.

It can be done, but there are daily recovery behaviors you should practice that will help lead you to long-term sobriety. Incorporate these things into your daily practice and you’ll be on your way to avoiding relapse and living a successful life in sobriety.

1. Honesty

To be sober, you have to be rigorously honest with yourself and others. Chances are if you’ve been through rehab already, you’ve heard this phrase before.

When I went through the 12 steps the first time and heard that I had to be completely honest, my first thought was, “oh crap.” Being honest about everything wasn’t my forte, but it became a way of life in sobriety. It’s almost like being sober and being honest go hand-in-hand. When you embark on your new life after addiction treatment, it’s imperative you keep being honest.

Honesty will help keep you sober.

2. Attending support groups

Whether it’s the 12 step, SMART recovery, Refuge Recovery, Women for Sobriety, or any other of the countless addiction support groups that are available, I recommend you find one as soon as you leave rehab. This will keep you accountable to your sobriety and offer you a support group in your area where you live.

There’s nothing that supports long-term sobriety better than a sober support system. You’ll be able to meet others who have been through similar situations you have and are also recovering from addiction. If have a problem or struggle in the future, these are groups of people you can turn to.

3. Meditation

I’ll be honest, I never meditated in my life before getting sober. It wasn’t something I ever thought about or would consider because I didn’t think it worked. When I sober and learned about what meditation is and that it never has to be done perfectly, like many of us think, I gave it a shot.

It’s amazing the calmness and peace that comes through a short meditation. All you have to do is quiet the mind and everything becomes much more manageable. Lived meditation is just being in the moment and not wishing you were somewhere else or someone else.

These are key aspects to successfully living in long-term sobriety; using your coping mechanisms at the right time and asking for guidance through meditation.

4. Exercise

Another seemingly simple behavior that is imperative to long-term sobriety is exercise. Exercise was always a part of my life, but it was something I had to do, not something I wanted to do.

When I got sober exercise took on a whole new role.

It gives me natural endorphins that make me feel good. It’s also a healthy outlet for my emotions. It keeps me sane. It also helps keep me on a schedule. You’ll be more likely to succeed in sobriety if exercise is part of your recovery plan.

5. Giving back

You might hear this in 12 step meetings, “you have to give it away to keep it.” This means sobriety, and what you’ve learned, should be given back.

Helping others has been an integral part of my recovery.

When I am of service to others – whether it’s my blog readers, other 12 step group members, or chairing a meeting at a rehab, I always find ways to give back. This 100 percent helps keep me sober. It allows me to come in contact with others who need help or might benefit from hearing my story. It reminds me where I came from and where I’m going.

I find that being of service has been one component of my successful sobriety and I believe it will stay that way for years to come.

These daily recovery behaviors will help you stay on the path to lifelong sobriety. A successful recovery program is made up of many different elements and it looks different for everyone. Find what works for you and put your recovery plan into action.

This story first appeared on the Recovery Village, Online, 17th June 2016