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 

How Addiction Affects the Whole Family

What Is Addiction? Insights From The Experts

How Addiction Affects the Whole Family

Addiction (or its current term of substance use disorder) is a personal journey. A person takes the path of drug use for his own reasons and by following his personal risk factors. Even if his path of addiction follows the same path of others, he will be dealing with his own struggles, symptoms and scenarios.

That’s why effective addiction treatment needs to address the needs of each individual – because not all paths of addiction look exactly the same, and people have different needs to address to become sober.
But even though this struggle is part of an individual’s journey, an addicted person can’t say that she’s only hurting herself. Instead, the effects of the addiction are reverberating throughout the person’s family, whether that includes parents, siblings, a spouse and/or children. That’s why addiction is called “a family disease.” Everyone faces some effects of this problem.

Here are two significant ways addiction affects family members:

Creating an Unstable Home Life

Addiction creates instability within the home and within the family unit. Instead of feeling safe and comfortable at home, the family members of an addicted person can feel uncertain, anxious and scared. They might be walking on eggshells waiting until anger strikes, witness arguing or take part in the arguing, and face the brunt of emotional and/or physical abuse.

Family members can deal with an unhealthy environment that includes hiding habits, manipulation and other tactics from the addicted person. [In the United States] The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, or NCADD, notes that family members tend to notice that the person’s actions don’t fit her words.

The family can have to deal with mental and physical health problems associated with the addiction. In addition, the NCADD explains that everyday routines are often thrown off by addiction. It can be hard to count on the addicted person, which creates a rift in the relationship and the loved ones’ well-being.

The home life can also be financially unstable because of the addiction. Income might go toward the substance use rather than enough food and other necessities. There might be worries about paying the bills and keeping the home. The addicted person may even lose his job because of the addiction and fail to contribute financially to the family, yet continue to add the burden of needing money for the substance.

The family can be put into a lot of tough situations that they wouldn’t have been in without the addiction. Family members become affected by legal troubles and financial troubles. They might have to worry when their loved one doesn’t show up at home all night, face the consequences of reckless behavior and have to deal with their loved one’s declining health.
These kinds of experiences create an unstable home environment that affects the family members’ mental health and ability to cope with life. And even though addiction involves the family members’ personal life, the effects extend beyond that.

The problems caused by the addiction can affect children’s school performance and adults’ work performance. Spouses and parents may have to work harder to make up for financial problems, and children may exhibit behavioral problems. Loved ones may give up personal interests and friendships to focus on the home life and hide the problem. These are just some examples of how the effects of addiction can work their way into different aspects of the loved ones’ lives.

Developing Unhealthy Ways of Coping

Especially when the individuals are stuck in a house with someone who’s addicted, family members often develop unhealthy ways of dealing with the situation. They often try to hide the substance use from outsiders and they may be ashamed of the person.

Family members often enable the person by providing money, buying the substances or offering support in other ways. In addition, family members often become codependent on the addicted person. David Sack, M.D., provided warning signs of this in an article for PsychCentral.

These signs include putting the addicted person’s feelings first and the loved one making herself responsible for the life of the addicted person. In addition, the codependent person can have trouble with personal boundaries, have his own emotions and decisions follow those of the addicted person and follow unhealthy practices, such as giving up his own interests or friendships, to keep the relationship.

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT, explained in an article for PsychCentral that codependency (and addiction as well) can lead to ongoing shame that creates a sense that, “You’re ashamed of who you are. You don’t believe that you matter or are worthy of love, respect, success or happiness.”


Hopefully, the person with the substance problem will eventually get help to change his own life and improve the entire family. Family members can help the person seek treatment and go through the treatment and recovery process.

When the addicted person does enter a treatment program, the family can often take part in their loved one’s program through family therapy. This type of therapy helps to heal the entire family unit and get it working on the same page toward a healthier future together.

If the program does not offer family therapy, families could find a separate mental health or addiction professional who could offer this type of therapy to the group. Each person could also receive individual counseling if needed.

In addition, family members can take part in supportive groups available to them. These include Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon and others. These groups give loved ones a space to work on themselves and how the family addiction affected their lives.

Overall, addiction doesn’t just affect the addicted person. It affects everyone who is close to that person. Yet there is hope for the addicted individual to recover, and there is hope for the whole family.

  • http://blogs.psychcentral.com/addiction-recovery/2012/09/5-warning-signs-codependency/
  • http://psychcentral.com/lib/shame-the-core-of-addiction-and-codependency/
  • https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/family-disease
  • https://easyread.drugabuse.gov/content/drug-use-hurts-families


Authors’ Bio


Dr. Dina Macaluso’s journey toward a career in psychology began in 1990. Since then, she has dedicated her life to helping people recover from addiction and mental health issues. Dr. Macaluso holds a doctorate degree in psychology, a master’s degree in sociology and marriage and family therapy, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is licensed in the state of Florida as a mental health counselor. Additionally, Dr. Macaluso is working on her certification as an addiction counselor. She currently is the Clinical Director at Lumiere Healing Centers Florida Location.

National Drug Strategy 2017

A new National Drugs Strategy is being developed by the Department of Health and will set out Government policy on tackling the drug problem from 2017 onwards. This new Strategy is important for service users, families, communities and front-line staff working in the field of addiction.

The Department of Health is running a public consultation between the 6th September and 18th October 2016, seeking the public views on the drugs issue in Ireland to help inform the new National Drugs Strategy. At the end of the public consultation, all the views received will be gathered in a report. The report will be provided to the National Drugs Strategy Steering Committee to help inform the new Strategy.

We are all invited to communicate our view in one of the following ways:

  • Visit the page: www.health.gov.ie/drugs-strategy and complete the questionnaire
  • Call the number: 1890 10 00 53
  • Write to: national Drugs Strategy, PO Box 12778, Glenageary, Co. Dublin
  • Email our views to: [email protected]


When we go through tough time, little things like talking about our problems, getting regular exercise, drinking less alcohol and being involved in activities we enjoy can make a big difference to how we feel. Find the little things that work for you at yourmentalhealth.ie

If you or anyone you know is at risk from drug or alcohol addiction, H.O.P.E. is here to help. Feel free to drop in for a chat. Our daily clinic is open from 10am to 1pm, Monday to Friday.

Save the Date – Matt Talbot Recovery Month

We at HOPE towers are busy planning a wide variety of RECOVERY promoting events. The biggest, of course, being RECOVERY MONTH 2016! More information to follow, but for now please SAVE THE DATE!

August 2016 – Matt Talbot Recovery Month

SAVE THE DATE - Matt Talbot 2016
SAVE THE DATE – Matt Talbot 2016

Did you know that the brain can heal itself?

Not only can the brain heal itself, it can do a pretty good job at it too! That is of course once it is provided with the right materials and time to heal. Dr. Constance Scharff in Psychology Today highlights how it was once considered a fact, that the once the brain was damaged, it could not be repaired. However, breakthroughs in neuroscientific research have proven that this is in fact, not true.

Though individual neurons might be damaged beyond repair, the brain attempts to heal itself when damaged by making new connections or new neural pathways as work-arounds for the damage. This is called neuroplasticity,  neuro (brain/nerve/neuron) and plasticity (moldability).

Based on the latest neuroscientific research Dr. Scharff argues that abstinence is the best choice for recovery because the old neuropathways, the old links between addiction and pleasure are still there… It doesn’t take much to jump start the old habit.

The brain gets trained to do a particular behavior – use drugs or alcohol or gambling – eventually to the exclusion of all else.  BUT, in treatment, we can retrain the brain, that is develop a new pathway that supports recovery. With intensive[…] interventions, we strengthen the new “recovery” loop within the brain. The brain then learns to enjoy recovery, those things that give us pleasure in our sober lives – family, work, interpersonal interactions. We retrain the brain and thus change our lives.

Alta Mira has produced a very informative infographic detailing neuroplasticity in terms of addiction and recovery.

Rewiring the Brain Infographic
Rewiring the Brain Infographic