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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SOBERNATION 6 Natural Highs That Give You A Healthy Buzz

I won’t lie, I loved getting high.

During the height of my addiction my number one goal was to stay lit around the clock. However, years of addiction took their toll–and like Icarus with his waxed wings I fell to earth. While drug treatment was able to restore my body and mind I was doubtful that I could find natural ways to cop the buzz I felt with drugs and alcohol. Fortunately, I learned there were many natural highs I could incorporate into my daily routine that could keep me feeling fine without regret.

A New Way of Thinking

Believe me, finding new ways to get the high I desired without the aid of chemicals seemed far-fetched. For many years I was accustomed to getting euphoria from drugs and alcohol. Once I made the commitment to getting clean and sober the concept of the natural high was akin to diet soda. While I knew I couldn’t go back to using substances, I just didn’t think it was possible to feel good about life without those familiar crutches.

As my sobriety grew, I listened to my counselors and my recovering peers and I learned ways to dip into the brain’s natural pharmacy and get the buzz I desired without the hangovers and the guilt.

The following are six natural highs that have helped me keep smiling on the inside.

The Best Natural Highs


The most common way to achieve a natural high in recovery is through good ol’ exercise. The benefits of exercise in recovery are enormous. First and foremost, exercise releases endorphins which is your brain’s “feel good chemical.” Exercise helps create a euphoric relaxation response which helps you hit the reset button in your brain. Not only will you look good and feel great, you can bring a friend along for added fun and motivation. Additionally, it is easy to create you own personalized exercise regimen that best fits your personality. Whether it is the extreme rush of Crossfit, banging plates at the gym, biking, or just taking a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood–there is a physical activity that you can find and enjoy.

Step Up Your Diet Game

When finding ways to feel awesome in recovery, the role of one’s diet cannot be overlooked. Creating a well-balanced diet is absolutely essential in maintaining one’s physical and psychological health. When I think about my recovery diet, I need to remember to include plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as plenty of protein. I also have made it a point to significantly reduce or eliminate processed food, sugars and caffeine from my diet. Additionally, I also try to eat several smaller meals spaced throughout the day.

Get to Know Mother Nature

Perhaps there is no natural high as powerful as the one provided by nature. When I hike a forest trail, traverse alongside a raging river or stand on top of a mountain, the majesty and scope of Mother Nature often takes my breath away.  Nature is everywhere you turn, and it is easy to take a few moments to soak in its grandeur. Ponder the glory of a sunrise or sunset. Feel the power of a summer breeze. Take in the sights and sounds of a beach on a June afternoon. The euphoria of nature is waiting for everyone.

Immerse Yourself in the Arts

Another excellent way I have found to lose myself in bliss is to engage in the creative arts. I love to bang on a bass guitar, write poetry or in my daily journal, and I also have been known to sketch out some mad doodles. I find that immersing myself in creative pursuits takes my thoughts and feelings to places that I wouldn’t have thought to explore. If you don’t think of yourself as the creative type, there are still plenty of ways to immerse yourself in the natural high of the arts. It can be as simple as creating a playlist of your favorite jams or attending an outdoor music festival. You can also feel the natural high of art by going to a great movie, reading an enthralling novel or even attending a gallery exhibit.

Be Grateful

In order to feel the natural buzz of euphoria, our mindset must be positive. In my opinion, practicing gratitude is one of the best natural highs I can experience. Gratitude in recovery is one of the most powerful natural highs because of the expression of thankfulness and appreciation for what sobriety gives me on a daily basis. Even if I am experiencing difficulty, having a sense of gratitude allows me to change the negatives to positives–and I can learn to grow from those obstacles. You may be surprised on how good you truly feel when you say thank you.

Stay In The Here and Now

Do you want to know the secret to getting and staying naturally high? It’s simple really–keep you mind in the present and focus on the here and now. If you think about it, our daily lives throw many curves at us, and we often get pulled in a million different directions. When you are able to stop yourself, wade through the static of distractions and look at this moment right now–the world stops. You see things for what they are and you see people for what they are. Take time to devote your undivided attention to yourself and those you love. When you feel the love come back to you, that is the best high ever.

Follow Your Own Path

This list of ways to get your natural buzz on is by no means an exhaustive list. Take the time and explore what makes you truly happy on the inside. Don’t be afraid to try new things and explore those avenues which are healthy and positive. The way that you will truly grow in recovery is to step outside your comfort zone. Go out there and truly find those natural highs that will keep you healthy.

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