Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Hofstra Family Law Center

Part IV of the Addiction Issue: Understanding the Elements of the Perfect Storm: Land (our body), Wind (what surrounds us), Water (our emotions). What needs to happen to create the perfect storm of addiction?

Even though I’m a grown up and well versed in so many methods of stress release, I can’t seem to keep myself from occasionally falling down an emotional rabbit hole. I know and even teach many ways to support the human body and mind, but even with all of this education, I still have to subsist daily undoing the repercussions that stress and living life in these here United States creates in my body. Chronic illness, depression, mood swings, headache, backache, inflammation, fatigue, addiction, weight gain, carb and sugar binging...all of us are dealing with one or more of these issues and so are our kids. With the inside and outside influences we are subjecting ourselves to, we are bound to see dis-comfort leading to dis-stress and then finally, dis-ease. So then, how do we expect ourselves, lest of all our children to remain healthy and balanced in the life we are striving to live?

Kids...they don’t have our maturity or a skill set to draw from. They aren’t equipped with coping techniques or the appropriate brain mechanisms to understand healthy boundaries. Many are simply surviving without peace at home, maybe even forced to live through their parents divorce drama. And unless they are completely isolated, all of our children are exposed daily through school and every form of media to our anger, hatred, violence, name calling and judgment. All of this negativity transmitted through their eyes, their ears and energetically through their bodies. What are American kids witnessing and thereby inculcated with that is pushing them over the edge towards drugs? Truthfully, we shouldn’t be wondering why they (or any of us) self medicate. We should be wondering why any of us would choose to live sober!

Emotionally and mentally we are all trying to find happiness and peace. We can try to change what is around us by moving out or moving through the discomfort. We have that control as adults, but children can’t physically get away from what we have created for them. They can’t remove their bodies from what feels bad. They are forced to endure, and since they can’t escape with their bodies, that only gives them one choice...to escape from and with their minds.

There is no mystery surrounding self medication. “I don’t feel good. I need something to make me feel better.” Whether it is our body or mind (or both) that is feeling this or “speaking” it, we as humans will always try to bring ourselves into a “feel good” state of being. If a child learned at a young age that they could change a mood or physical depression by going out to play and exercise, stay off sugar and carbs and eat a healthy diet; if they watched their parents change situations in their community by taking control and getting involved, putting out positive, forward-thinking speech and writing...if they were shown how to channel negativity through journalling, meditating, praying and speaking to trusted loved ones...if they saw their parents strive more to love and forgive than ridicule and demean, then would they have the means to manipulate out of negativity in a way that actually portends a bright future? Would they grow up as powerful adults with high self esteem who “self medicate” with self-love instead of substance? How could they not? One of the most important factors that contribute to drug use...the understanding that it is not “monkey say, monkey do. It is “monkey see, monkey do.”

If a child learns to deal with stress by watching us drink or smoke pot to unwind (even if it is occasional), complain and blame others for our plight in life (even by just saying “Them”), sit and watch mindless TV (even if it is just “The Real Housewives” on in the background) or succumb to life issues by being in and out of states of anger, depression, anxiety and fear, well then we can expect our children to be doing the same. In fact, all of the stress we subject them to would make them self medicate in any way they possibly can. Depending on the shape their bodies are in already, that can be anything from food to alcohol to drugs to adrenal-driven behavior to cutting to anorexia to binge eating to bullying to joining a gang to sexual activity to exploitation of their own bodies. It is a human need to want to be happy and loved and to belong and fit in. Kids will find a way to fulfill these needs irrespective of the long term repercussions, because they only understand right now, this minute, today. We are the ones who are watching out for their long term wellness. They don’t have the ability or wherewithal to portend anything better than what they are feeling NOW. In other words, the moment they are living in is the moment they react to. If we don’t give them better choices to make and a better body to fortify those choices, they won’t take the high road. They will always take the easy road...the one they believe will lead to comfort. The one that can temporarily override their negative emotions and make them feel good.
Part III...The Breakdown that will lead to the breakthrough

I once heard Mike Rowe (the actor and activist) say, “I try to look at everything in ‘Mike Rowe’ and then in Macro.” His clever use of the word “micro” made me smile. It also inspired me. “They are looking at the macro perspective,” I argued with myself. “And that is the problem. Addiction counselors, law makers, doctors...they consider everyone to fit into one category...human, and they believe every micro in the macro should come in and out of addiction the same. No one is seeing us as ‘Mike Rowes’ with our own micro/macro!” And that is when it hit me...a new way to describe what I was seeing all along. The understanding that each of us has our own cosmos that we are dealing with. Our (micro) brain with its own thoughts and interpretations of our education and life events. But that is only a one-third portion of the whole that makes us. We are also a body that is housing the brain and the soul that is trying to influence it. We are not what we “think.” We are what we “are,” meaning what state of being we are in at any given moment is dictating what we think. That is what we need to be working on.

Up until this point, experts have been primarily appealing to the mind. We use “talk” education to try and prevent substance use and then we use “talk” therapy to try and get people out. But it has been my experience that trying to talk people out of physical addiction is like pulling the shade down in a sunny room and expecting the sun to go down with it. It ain’t gonna happen!

Is it true that the mind/ego/human brain’s perspective can control the macro system? Yes, the mind (and when we are willing, the soul) can overrule the body. But so can the body overrule the mind and the soul. There is a three way communication mechanism we are all equipped with, but in my experience, when it comes to addiction, if we don’t address the body first and foremost, we won’t be able to keep the mind and the soul in control of anything, let alone a commitment to sobriety. And so the whole point of my series of blogs is to break down for everyone the actual breakdown of the human body, mind and spirit that needs to occur in order to create addiction or any disease or illness for that matter. I (and others) call it, “the perfect storm,” because the way in which it is created is very similar. If you know anything about tropical storms, you would know that they happen all the time. Very few, though, actually become hurricanes that we need to be concerned about, because there needs to be a very unique set of circumstances in order for the storm to hit land so hard. The temperature difference (warm to cold) between land, air (wind) and water (the ocean) has to be the perfect ratio in order for the hurricane to gain momentum and not fizzle out before it hits the shore. Hence the term, “the perfect storm,” because it wouldn’t be anything without the perfect tri-factor.

To keep up the weather analogy, we can try to predict and prepare for a major storm, but we don’t have much control over it. Instead we ride it out and hope for the best. I truly believe we are treating addiction the same way...waiting to see what the storm is doing...where it will hit next so we can help those who have been hit hard and then try to get others to evacuate before more casualties occur. We are treating addiction as an entity we have no control over, because it has become an entity that is out of control. We have to understand that it is not a phenomena without a source. It has an origin that is man-made and since we made it, we can sequester it, even work towards reversing it. What is more important is that we can change the elements, because we are the elements.
Part II: Addiction...Bear (and bare)
with me while I lay the groundwork...

On the way home from the theatre, I made the attempt to unravel from the mixture of emotions that still had their grip on me. Anger, anxiety, sadness...I was all over the place, still fighting back the tears and trying not to play the blame game. The friend I had with me in the car had to hear my rantings, “It’s not the counselors job to know the human body,” I lamented. “They are taught to deal with emotions. It’s not a medical doctors job to know how to counsel. They are taught to treat disease! It’s not the cops job to know how to prevent the war. They have their hands full trying to fight IN the war! And it isn’t within the scope of a parent’s or teacher’s job to be intimately familiar with any of it!” Then I stopped shouting and allowed the ah-ha moment to sink in. A few seconds later, the tears finally started to roll. “It’s my job,” I said jabbing my finger into my chest and crying, “I’m the one I am so angry at.”

For over 25 years, I have been studying and researching how our bodies work and the way each aspect of being human (the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) effect one another. What started out as a need to heal myself from undiagnosed trauma and emotional and physical illness, turned into a crusade to bring the message to others through coaching and activism. I decided a long time ago that what I was discovering was not taught in schools. It didn’t make any sense to me to spend years getting a degree if that degree didn’t offer me the whole picture or the solutions. I used that time instead to learn more about what I was seeing as the common denominators in myself and all my coaching clients (more on that later). Then I brought in the doctors and practitioners who were degreed, licensed and willing to work with me. When I started seeing amazing results...people, including myself becoming healthy and whole...I wanted to share it with other professionals and agencies. What I wasn’t ready for was the cold shoulder. No one wanted to hear from me. In deference to them, I had no formal degree...no letters after my name. I would look at their faces and almost see the words floating over their heads, “What could she know?” I was partially in agreement. Everything I learned was self taught...countless hours reading through medical journals, clinical trials, prescription manuals and believe it or not, hands on experience. I kept trying to share testimony anyway, remaining under the radar and hoping to strike a chord in any doctor or counselor willing to listen. “I didn’t have to be the crusader,” I would tell myself. “I only have to plant the seed.”

Time has marched on though and so has the devastation. My fear of speaking out as an “uneducated” spokesperson has reached its climatic ridge. Perhaps I needed to be exposed to four nights of trauma, hearing story after agonizing story and seeing picture after gruesome picture in order to trigger my own need to come to the plate. “What good am I doing if I don’t speak out?” Truth is, no one who even moderately understands stress and how it is potentially playing out on the human body and mind can afford to keep silent any longer. Not only is it our job to shout it out, we have to be the catalyst for change or our country will not be victorious over substance abuse. The stats will just keep rising every year as they have been, and our crusaders...the practitioners, counselors and law enforcement who are deep in the trenches, fighting the good fight, will need to keep spending their time in triage. They will remain too busy trying to keep people alive to really delve into healing the root causes that will lead to prevention. That is where “we” need to come in. Every one of us.

Each member of society has their role in the cause, the effect and the cure. No one is to blame. No one person is at fault. It is all circumstance and the culmination of many factors that add up to the addiction epidemic, along with the depression, suicide, disease and unlawful behavior. Fortunately, many of the underlying factors are within our control, but not if we continue to underestimate the influence of each and/or their potential to harm. We finally have to all agree that what we are doing to ourselves and our kids...the physical, mental and emotional stress we endure day to day is just too much for the human mind and body to bear. We have to break it down before it has the potential to break us. But where to start?

First, we each need to select our perspective. Where do you want to stand so you can view the big picture? As a parent, teacher, educator, counselor, medical practitioner, law enforcer, government leader, struggling teen, friend, family member, activist, advocate, coach, concerned citizen or most likely any combination of two, three or four of these positions. It is important to choose, because without the understanding that we are all stakeholders, there won’t be a full buy in. Instead, we will continue to insulate ourselves, thinking it won’t happen to us or our own family and believing that it is another’s responsibility to deal with “those” issues. Everyone’s eyes must remain open. Our souls need to start to rule over our egos and our hearts need to overcome our fears...myself included. It’s time to expose the causes we have all had a part in allowing to affect us. And finally, a serious look at how to eradicate them.

Part I of "A Coach's Take on Addiction."

Last week I had a meltdown in front of 4 cops. It came after four nights of events I attended, all related to teen substance use and addiction. I watched video clips, newsreels, movies and listened to countless testimonies from parents of dead children. I heard (thankfully) stories from young people of their recovery, but not after also hearing about their desperation, suicidal attempts and brokenness. One night would have been enough to cause strain in most, but four...?

It was the forth night that pushed me over the edge. A panel discussion, Narcan training and viewing of a documentary called, “An American Epidemic” was being offered at the Cinema Arts in Huntington. I was happy to go as Nassau’s wellness ambassador to support the woman that invited me (who lost her son to heroin), but I wasn't prepared for the movie producer’s story of drug use and crime...what made him into a crusader willing to spend his entire life fighting the good fight. "Fourteen years ago I was an addict and got involved with a drug deal that went horribly bad. When the guys I pissed off came looking for me at my mom's condo, I was off somewhere in a drug stupor, so they strangled and stabbed her to death instead."

His words landed on my head like bricks. My energy shifted drastically, but I fought hard to stay in my seat in honor of the Suffolk County Coroner who presented next. He showed us one grizzly picture after another of dead drug users, but the last was of an almost unrecognizable body inside a pile of scorched metal. He told the tale of a young girl who was trapped in her car after she crashed driving under the influence of a mixture of wine and pot. She didn’t die instantly upon impact though. The coroner knew this because he found her charred remains hanging over the driver seat. He reported, "she was climbing into the back desperately trying to escape the flames that were engulfing her."

Ten minutes later, I had the need to escape too, but not just because of the stories or the pictures. I couldn’t bring myself to hear from the 7 panelists that came next. No lack of respect for the admirable job they were doing, but I couldn't take one more second of listening to similar verbiage without also being able to talk about how to fix it! All I was hearing up until that point...from them and every person for four nights straight was, “This country has a serious drug problem. We need more education...” To these statements I wanted to scream out of frustration, “I know, but why is everyone always 'educating' about the problem without unraveling deep rooted causes and offering real long lasting solutions?!?”

I hurried out through the doors of the theatre to catch a break in the lobby. There I found some police officers waiting to give the Narcan training. I started my diatribe. "It's going to go on and on in there for another 40 minutes of talk. Someone has to try and stop them!" I was trying to make the statement seem humorous, but it came out anything but. "When can we ask questions? When can we discuss how to help these kids?" The police officers were not sure how to react. When I realized they were trying to decide whether I was someone they needed to help or tackle, I checked in with my energy. It was larger than life and bordering on frantic. I looked at their faces. "I recognize this," I said to myself. It had been two years since I felt the rush of emotions from PTSD. I could see myself in their eyes and what I saw looked pretty scary. "I would like what I came here for," I said, trying to make every word calmer and more deliberate. "I'm a wellness professional," I told them, "and I need the factual data and education so I can speak intelligently to legislators and parents." Then I pushed back...one last time...all the tears I had been fighting all week long. I looked earnestly at the most sympathetic of the four cops and asked, "Can you help me with that?"

Look for Part II: Bear (and bare) with me as I lay the groundwork...