Move a Muscle Change a Thought

What happens to our bodies in recovery?

By Diane Cameron

We know a lot more now about the brain and addiction. We’ve seen those PET scans that show an addict’s brain on drugs. They are not so different than the public service announcements we saw years ago that were meant to scare us away from drugs: “This is your brain on drugs” and the TV visual was an egg scrambled scrambled in a frying pan.

We know that detox is about the brain and the body. And we get calmer as years of recovery tick by. Part of the getting calmer is from making better choices; putting ourselves in better situations; not around people that we want to fight with; we are sleeping and eating and exercising. And our brains get better.

But what else?

Recently I participated in a workshop with Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.—Director of The Trauma Center in Boston. Bessel is considered one of the top experts on trauma. He talked a lot about what happens to soldiers of course, and what happens to people that experience terrible sexual traumas or who are in horrific accidents. Those folks come to him for help.

But he also talked about the relationship between trauma and addiction. We’ve known that intuitively, of course, and some recovery literature touches on that linkage. In Adult Children work we talk about trauma, and we process those memories with lots of talking and sharing. But van der Kolk also said that we need to change the body to significantly change the brain: “Calm the body to calm the brain.”

That helped me to understand why I can’t always talk myself out of my feelings, and why it’s frustrating and ineffectual when someone says, “You don’t need to feel that way” when I am mad or sad or scared. We can’t get at thoughts with other thoughts—we need to go through the body.

What trauma experts like Bessel van der Kolk recommend are breathing, yoga, walking, stretching, dancing (not any formal kind of dance but mostly moving around to some music)—all kinds of movement. Now, it’s been studied and documented: Changing the body can change the brain.

Doesn’t that make you smile? It’s one of AA’s oldest slogans: Move a Muscle Change a Thought.

Diane Cameron is the author of OUT OF THE WOODS

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Coming to terms with trauma, as a couple

Shonna Milliken Humphrey addresses sexual abuse in a new memoir.

About 1 in 6 men has experienced sexual abuse before age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maine writer Shonna Milliken Humphrey addresses the issue in her new book, “Dirt Roads & Diner Pie: One Couple’s Road Trip to Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse.”

It’s an account of her husband’s experience with the American Boychoir School of New Jersey, where Travis Humphrey says he was molested as a student in the late 1980s.

Photo courtesy of Port City Photography Travis Humphrey is a local musician who performs regularly at venues in Portland and Biddeford.

Photo courtesy of Port City Photography Travis Humphrey is a local musician who performs regularly at venues in Portland and Biddeford.

Travis Humphrey is a well-known Maine musician, who mostly kept his story to himself until Hollywood decided to make a movie a few years ago starring Dustin Hoffman called “Boychoir.” It was a feel-good movie about the power of music, based largely on the American Boychoir School.

The movie did not mention the many allegations of abuse that have been leveled at the school. That angered Humphrey and emboldened him and his wife to speak up. Shonna Milliken Humphrey has written about the movie and her husband’s experience at the school in national publications, including The Atlantic and Salon. This book, a memoir published by Central Recovery Press, tells the story of one couple’s fight for justice and how they reconciled the abuse in order to save their marriage. It is based on a road trip they through took after speaking publicly about the allegations for the first time.

Humphrey, who lives in Gorham and works as foundation relations director at ThomasHumphrey, who lives in Gorham and works as foundation relations director at Thomas College in Waterville. Travis Humphrey performs regularly in Portland at Gritty McDuff’s and the Dogfish Bar and Grille, and in Biddeford at Champions.

Shonna Milliken Humphrey Photo courtesy of Shonna Milliken Humphrey

Shonna Milliken Humphrey Photo courtesy of Shonna Milliken Humphrey

Q: This is an incredibly honest book about a very difficult subject. Why was it important for your husband to tell his story?

A: “Dirt Roads & Diner Pie” is honest, but I want to emphasize that it is not graphic. Those details – what happened to my husband when he was a little boy studying at the American Boychoir School – are his. Those details are not mine to share, so readers should not fear being confronted with them on the page.

That’s what sets the book apart, I think. It is a difficult subject, but I focus less on the abuse details and more on the long-term effects. Until I met my husband, I had no idea how insidious and long-reaching those effects can be. Child sex abuse among boys is more common than hunger, but there is reluctance to discuss the issue. Any time a strong, brave man acknowledges this experience, it makes it easier for other strong, brave men to acknowledge their experience, too.

Q: What is the central message of this book? What do you want people to walk away with?

A: Marriage is an absurd endeavor, but with a sense of humor and perspective, it can also be pretty awesome. I think the central message of “Dirt Roads & Diner Pie” is that marriage brings people to weird places, literally and figuratively, and you have to laugh. My favorite literary passage is when Henry Miller quotes Rabelais in “On Turning 80”: “For all your ills, I give you laughter.” It’s true.

I also hope readers walk away with an understanding that there are good reasons why it can take a long time for victims to acknowledge traumatic experiences, the current justice system can be really messed up, and institutions with reputations for sex abuse must change their approach and philosophies.

Q: Your story was fairly public before “Dirt Roads & Diner Pie” came out, because of the “Boychoir” movie. You wrote about it for Salon and The Atlantic as long ago as 2013. What was it like to go public, and how did things change for you and Travis after that publicity?

A: When I had the opportunity to write the piece for The Atlantic in 2013, it was a huge leap in Trav’s healing. We invited that publicity, and while it was a little uncomfortable, the end result was very positive. We received hundreds of encouraging notes.

With the movie and the 2014 Salon essay, it got trickier. We were ready to be done, but also, Trav did not want the American Boychoir School experience to be glamorized in a major motion picture. The idea of it being a recruitment and revenue tool for the school made him sick. So I wrote more, and that’s when the publicity got a little ugly. People affiliated with the Boychoir said some very unkind things about us and our motives.

However, Trav’s big fears were fears that many victims describe: not being believed or having the experience minimized. When those things actually happened in a very big and public way, he was able to step back and observe that, while not exactly pleasant, it also was not as bad as he’d imagined.

The backlash was brief and intense, but – I really believe this – good wins. Anyone who knows Travis understands that he is one of the good ones.

Q: You went up against a major Hollywood studio – and won, or so it appears on the surface. Do you feel like you won?

A: I don’t think there are any winners with child sex abuse. Two years after its initial debut, Hallmark acquired the original film, renamed it, and CBS planned to broadcast it this past April during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. That seemed like a bad idea, so we went back to what had worked before: writing the truth about our experience. I also invited others to do the same.

When CBS abruptly pulled the movie from its schedule, we were happy with that decision, so yes, that part felt like a win. But, that victory also emphasized how those affiliated with the Boychoir and similar institutions deal with victims, and that is where nobody wins.

Q: I imagine this wasn’t a book that you planned to write. I presume it presented itself after all the publicity surrounding “Boychoir.” What’s next? Will you return to novel writing?

A: That’s true. I suppose no writer wakes up and says, “Today I plan to expose my marriage’s weaknesses, my personal anxieties and my husband’s deepest shame in a funny memoir.”

When we took the road trip, our biggest goal was to find some sun and step off the crazy train for a few weeks. The idea of writing a book came after we returned home and assessed our list of options. Trav could sue the school in a years-long process that would be handled largely by the school’s insurance company, or he could continue to stay quiet. Neither of those felt particularly satisfying, so we chose to make a new option and own the narrative. Basically, to just say what happened, let a little light into the experience, and hope it might do some good.

As for what’s next, I am working on a nonfiction book proposal about the early years of one particular AmeriCorps program, as well as finishing up a second novel. Once those are finalized, we will see which project my agent can sell first.

Q: And what is next for Travis?

A: He recorded his latest project, “The Roadhouse Gospel Hour,” locally with Jon Wyman’s Halo Studios almost immediately upon our return from the road trip. It’s a collection of Americana standards and powerful original material. Travis is currently contemplating some new project ideas while he continues to perform locally.

Q: You are doing a lot of radio interviews. What has the reaction been to the book?

A: My novel, “Show Me Good Land,” was simpler to promote. I showed up, read aloud or talked about craft, and sold books. That resulted in some nice honors, too, like the Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell Award for first novels semi-finalist list.

For “Dirt Roads & Diner Pie,” it is a little different. I do think the book is powerful as a piece of literature, but I can create some social change with this project in a way that is limiting with a traditional novel. The publisher, Central Recovery Press, is a resource for all manner of healing, and having me speak directly with radio audiences throughout the country is an effective way to promote that social change aspect.

Available now!

Available now!

This is an edited version of an article first appearing in the Portland Press Herald

This is an edited version of an article first appearing in the Portland Press Herald

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Helping Loved Ones With Anxiety and Depression Survive the Holidays

As the holiday season’s spirit and cheer kick in, it can be hard to imagine feeling glum. But for the 3.3 million Americans suffering from anxiety — plus millions more suffering from related conditions like depression and OCD — the expectations of joy and merriment can backfire, triggering hopelessness and causing symptoms to flare.

bodyThat’s because the mere thought of trying to meet these expectations can be overwhelming, explains Maggie Lamond Simone, award-winning columnist and author of her third book, “Body Punishment: OCD, Addiction and Finding the Courage to Heal.” People with anxiety and related mental health conditions imagine that others have found “perfection” in a special day, meal, gift or moment and that they are experiencing immense, unbridled joy.

Not experiencing this joy themselves, those suffering feel frustrated, flawed, ashamed and left out, which, in turn, aggravates the symptoms of depression, anxiety and OCD.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with what NPR has called this silent epidemic, the result is a dangerous downward spiral where the individuals suffering say nothing about what they’re going through — and nobody around them thinks to ask.  Feeling isolated, they prefer to be alone when, in fact, withdrawing will only make the situation even worse.

But there’s a way to help, said Simone:

Be aware
In the frenzied lead-up to the holidays, it’s easy for all of us to forget about anything other than our own to-do list. So it’s more important than ever to intentionally think about those we know are struggling, and to be aware of the challenges this season brings them.

Step Forward
Don’t wait for your loved one to talk to you about what they’re experiencing. On top of feeling unwell, they may also be feeling shame at the idea of putting a damper on your good time if they open up. Start a dialogue. Mention you’ve noticed they’ve been staying in the house more often. Let them know you care.

Keep Engaging Them
Keep your loved one engaged and involved as much as they are willing to be. It will help them feel supported and included. Invite them to bake cookies, go shopping or talk a walk. Even if they refuse, it still gives them an opportunity to feel connected and to know you care.

Schedule Some Exercise
It may sound strange, but exercise can seriously help augment difficult feelings and compulsions during the holidays. With the boost in serotonin that just a short jog can illicit, most people who are suffering are brought at least some relief. Start a weekly exercise plan with your loved one in order to prevent a severe dip in their emotional landscape.

maggiesimoneMaggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning columnist and author. For as long as she canrecall, she has been plagued by self-loathing and urges to harm herself physically while emotionally sabotaging her life. In “Body Punishment: OCD, Addiction and Finding the Courage to Heal” (Central Recovery Press, April 2015), she reveals it all: The obsessive thoughts that drove her to cut, starve, pick, drink, pluck, purge, and otherwise hurt herself. The profound shame, the utter despair and the confusion over her own inner workings that prevented her from establishing stable, long-term goals and healthy relationships.

Through this poignant story of her painful, eye-opening journey she explores the issues of substance abuse, anxiety, and depression that commonly occur with OCD, all in an effort to further the dialogue around mental illness and eliminate the shame and help others find a way forward toward healing.

With two titles already to her name, her third book, “Body Punishment: OCD, Addiction and Finding the Courage to Heal” (Central Recovery Press) was released in April 2015. It traces Simone’s journey struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression. Simone has been a guest on NPR and is a regular blog columnist for the Huffington Post. An an adjunct professor in the department of communications at SUNY Oswego and Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, she lives in Central New York with her husband and two children.

Body Punishment is available now!

Body Punishment is available now!

This article first appeared on the December 19, 2016 EdgeMediaNetwork webpage

This article first appeared on the December 19, 2016 EdgeMediaNetwork webpage

 

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Author News, Blog, Family & Addiction, Personal Development, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Starved’ no more

Dr. Anne McTiernan nearly starved to death at age 4 — then she grew up to be a nutrition researcher. Her new memoir focuses on the path between.

anne

Fred Hutch cancer prevention researcher Dr. Anne McTiernan has written hundreds of scientific papers on how diet, exercise, obesity and weight loss impact our health. She’s also just published a memoir about her tumultuous childhood that sheds light on food addiction. Photo by Susie Fitzhugh

Dec. 14, 2016  By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service For some people, food is fuel. They eat when they’re hungry, stop when they’re full and rarely gorge themselves on donuts, candy bars or other sweet, fatty treats. What’s the point? It’s unhealthy.

Not so for others. For them, food is much more than fuel. It’s warmth, it’s comfort, it’s refuge from abuse, neglect and loneliness. For people — especially children — starved for attention and emotional nourishment, food can become love. And some can’t get enough of it.

Such was the case with a young Irish-American girl from Boston who grew up to become a physician and nationally recognized epidemiologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Dr. Anne McTiernan has spent the last 25 years researching, writing and lecturing about the effects of diet, exercise and weight loss on cancer and health. She’s also just published a gripping memoir about her impoverished Catholic childhood and how the cruelty she suffered as a young girl greatly complicated her relationship with food and with her own health.

“Starved: A Nutrition Doctor’s Journey from Empty to Full” is a courageous and insightful book. It’s also a page-turner. McTiernan’s mother all but abandoned her only child for the first few years of her life, farming her out to a series of group homes and boarding schools, bleak institutional environments where food, attention and compassion were sparse. As a result, she nearly starved to death at the age of 4. A doctor finally intervened, forcing McTiernan’s mother to bring her daughter home. More than a decade of physical and emotional abuse followed — as did a host of body image, weight and food issues — as the future scientist desperately tried to fill the void where a parent’s love should have been.

McTiernan writes unflinchingly of these difficult years, effectively capturing the pain she suffered growing up without a father (her parents separated before she was born); the anguish, hostility and guilt she had about her mother’s mistreatment; and her struggles first with near-starvation, then obesity and obsessive dieting. Perseverance, grit and scholarship eventually helped her escape a dysfunctional family and future and go on to use her hard-won wisdom and experience to help others. As she puts it in the book, “I didn’t have a plan to focus on diet or obesity; I wasn’t a fitness freak. I didn’t even study nutrition in college … But I was in training for this career my entire life.”

Poignant and peppered with intelligence and sly wit, “Starved” is a hero’s journey — replete with humor, heart, self-actualization and, of course, science. Fred Hutch News Service writer Diane Mapes sat down with McTiernan before her Northwest book tour to discuss her story.

starved-cover

Tell me about how this book came about. Have you always wanted to write about your childhood?

I’d always loved to read. I didn’t know that I would do creative writing, but when I read “Angela’s Ashes,” which was about Frank McCourt’s miserable Irish Catholic childhood, I thought to myself, “I had a miserable Irish American childhood. I could write a book.”

Physicians have a saying, “See One. Do One. Teach One.” We learn things very quickly and, as a result, we think we can do almost anything quickly. I was soon disavowed of this when I started to write. I learned writing is not something you learn by just reading. You really have to learn how to do it and you have to practice. I took a certificate in memoir writing at the University of Washington, worked with a writing group and with two different editors. It’s a big effort to try to put something down on paper and then craft it into a story with a story arc. In science, things are written in a formulaic way. Often the language is stilted, it’s written in passive tense and it’s more structured. There are certain things you have to cover and there’s less freedom.

In creative writing, you’re not thinking in terms of a formula per se. It’s more about how it flows. It’s about story. And physicians deal with story all the time. When we present a case to our attending [physician] in medical school, we present it in story form, orally. It’s almost like a narrative arc of the patient’s history. That reminded me a little of the creative writing process.

A big focus of your research has been on diet and obesity and its impact on health, including cancer. Was this a conscious choice?

Some of it was just by chance, like the initial Women’s Health Initiative diet study that I became involved with when I first came to Fred Hutch. But some of it was deliberate.

I feel like I really understand what a lot of our study participants are trying to do. I know what these people are dealing with when they talk about not wanting to give up a food or a pattern of eating. I absolutely empathize with them. It’s very difficult to change your diet or change your lifestyle habits. These things became quite entrenched. And food is not just a lifestyle —you’re confronted with food choices all day long. Then there’s the issue of comfort food, which so many people have issues with. You can try to get someone to change their diet and reduce sugar and fat, but that’s what’s making them happy and comfortable.

annebaby

McTiernan as a toddler. Farmed out to group homes and Catholic boarding schools from the time she was 3 months old, McTiernan was severely malnourished by the age of 4. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anne McTiernan

Growing up, your weight and diet fluctuated dramatically. First, you were malnourished. Then, as you got older, you gorged yourself on candy bars and peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff sandwiches. Later, in high school, you starved yourself thin again. Can you talk about how your attitude toward food has changed?

They say inside every person with obesity, there’s a small person crying out. In me, I’m in the normal weight range but I want to eat enough to make me obese. I’ve always had issues with food. In times of stress, I reach for chocolate or high-calorie food.

But I am pre-diabetic — something I inherited from the father I didn’t really know — and I have to be really careful. I keep my carb intake quite low and try to keep my weight down in the normal range and that works. I’m very lucky that way.

As for my eating habits as a child, I just showed what kids will do if they have free reign. Kids need guidance, especially in a situation where there’s so much food available. My daughters make sure their kids have excellent nutrition available to them. And their kids have limits. They can have desserts but not very much. Every bite they put in their mouths has to be high nutrition. Otherwise, how are they going to grow? That’s what you need to do with kids. Being home alone as a child was very difficult for me. If it was nowadays, with even more junk food available, I would have been even heavier.

You were a tough little kid. How did you power through?

I think from early on, I learned I had to be tough. I was sent to a group home starting when I was 3 months old. And then I went to a Catholic boarding school when I was 4. I’d have trouble if someone sent me to something like that now — away from family, with no power. I guess I had to develop toughness in order to be able to survive.

I think persistence helped me get through my childhood and medical school and through years of research. I just didn’t give up. But it wasn’t all on my own. When I was small, I did have people in my life who were helpful. My aunt Margie was crazy as a bunch of beans, but she loved me. I also had a grand uncle and neighbors who were good to me. Sometimes people that are in children’s lives don’t realize what kind of effect they can have on them.

anne7

The author, age 7, at her first Communion. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anne McTiernan

In your book, you also delved a bit into body image and body dysmorphia, where people don’t have an accurate sense of their own appearance. As a scientist, what’s that about?

That just shows that the brain doesn’t really understand reality sometimes, especially in someone who’s developed anorexia or another eating disorder as a way of dealing with life. It’s not a reality-based connection.

When I experienced that, I was a teenager in the late ‘60s and there was just starting to be an issue with the media showing models in magazines. It’s not as bad as it is now where everyone is “photo-shopped” to look perfect, but it was still unrealistic. There was no way that mere mortals could look like these people. So you end up feeling like there’s something wrong with you.

I know childhood obesity is a complex issue. Can abuse contribute to it at all?

I haven’t done any research on this, but others have. Children who are abused in various ways — physically, sexually, emotionally — have a higher risk for obesity. At least that’s true in our culture where there’s access to food. In others cultures where there isn’t, they deal with it in different ways. In our culture, though, it’s a risk and it continues into adulthood — especially for women. It can have lifelong effects.

One meta-analysis [published in Psychosomatic Medicine in January 2016] showed that a history of child abuse increased risk for eating disorders in adulthood. For example, a history of physical abuse tripled the risk for a binge-eating disorder. Another paper [published in Pediatrics in 2008], showed a significant association between a history of child abuse and risk for adulthood obesity.

anne17

McTiernan at age 17. She overcame an addictive relationship with food and went on to become a national authority on the effects of diet, exercise and weight loss on cancer risk and health. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anne McTiernan

Holidays are stressful and they’re also a time when we’re surrounded by tons of fattening food and pressure to partake. Do you have any advice for people like me who have trouble staying away from the holiday goodies?

I think if you can distract yourself from food, it helps. One thing about physical activity [beyond burning calories], if you’re taking a walk, or pedaling on a stationary bike or doing an elliptical machine, you’re not stuffing your face with food or high-calorie drinks. Some people might want to do meditation; others might want to go to church. Anything you can do to distract yourself is helpful.

We’ve seen in our studies that when someone is on a [diet], and they’re also assigned to an exercise program, they lose a little more weight. Part of that is burning more calories. Some of it is metabolism, but not a huge amount. I think distraction is a big part of it.

Also, write down everything you eat — and your physical activity. Writing everything down forces you to realize what you’re putting in your mouth and it helps you count calories. It also keeps you accountable.

As someone with food issues and my own dysfunctional childhood, your book totally spoke to me. What kind of feedback have you received from others?

Others have said it really spoke to them, too, because they’ve dealt with something similar and they hadn’t seen that subject written about. They liked having it written about, especially in a way that shows you can deal with it and survive it.

Book launch party: Join McTiernan at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23 at University Bookstore in Seattle for a book launch party. McTiernan will also appear at Ravenna Third Place Books at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb 16. “Starved: A Nutrition Doctor’s Journey from Empty to Full” can be purchased at bookstores and online.

Diane Mapes is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She has written extensively about health issues for NBC News, TODAY, CNN, MSN, Seattle Magazine and other publications. A breast cancer survivor, she blogs at doublewhammied.com and tweets @double_whammied. Email her at dmapes@fredhutch.org.

Starved is available now. Click here to order your copy.

Starved is available now. Click here to order your copy.

This article first appeared in the 12/14/16 issue of the Fred Hutch newsletter

This article first appeared in the 12/14/16 issue of the Fred Hutch newsletter

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Addiction News, Author News, Blog, Child Obesity, Eating Disorder Recovery, Emotional Eating, Emotional Eating in Children, Family & Addiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Managing Money in Long-Term Recovery

By Diane Cameron

dianecameronMore than two hundred years ago the poet, William Wordsworth, wrote, “The world is too much with us; getting and spending we lay waste our powers.”

Many women in long-term recovery would agree with him. Long after we gave up drink or pills or food we are still –maybe secretly—struggling with managing money, too many trips to the mall and painfully joking that, “My name is Diane and I am a shoe addict.”

Yes, it may be true that no one dies from a shoe overdose but it’s also true that we are not “happy, joyous and free” when we are ashamed or afraid because of our money or shopping issues.

In Out of the Woods, my book for women in long-term recovery, I write about clothes, and shoes and even ways that woman use cosmetics in recovery. It’s light-hearted but also deadly serious. Our growth simply continues and it can be easy to switch from a chemical addiction to a behavioral one. It’s all about our motives, honesty, self-care and how we need to keep on talking honestly to other women in recovery. (Yes, I too have spent time in a meeting checking out another woman’s clothing instead of the speaker’s message.)

I love clothes and had to try many strategies in my recovery. In Chapter Nine of Out of the Woods I write about all about my inventories: and it includes emotional and sartorial assessments.

Shopping and clothing are women’s issues and that makes them issues for woman in recovery as well. The good news is that we can laugh and heal at the same time.

Diane Cameron is the author of OUT OF THE WOODS

Diane Cameron is the author of OUT OF THE WOODS

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Honesty is huge in addiction

by Fran Simone, Ph.D.

Dealing with an irresponsible loved one damages everyone.

At a recent loved one’s meeting, Mary talked about planning a pot luck barbecue.  Her friend, Alice, gladly accepted the invitation and offered to bring potato salad. However, on the day of the event, Alice cancelled. Since this scenario has occurred many times, Mary decided to ask Alice to bring buns to the next event.  This time, Alice showed up but without the buns. Mary concluded that people fall into two general categories: they are either “bun worthy” or not.

Family members whose loved ones suffer from substance abuse issues can identify. Our loved ones are not “bun worthy.” We can’t depend on them to take responsibility for their behavior or to tell the truth. Often we fail to acknowledge this fact for a long time. We want to believe that our loved ones are sincere when they promise to pay us back the money we lent them, to show up on time for a family dinner, to mow the grass when we’re out of town, or to keep an appointment with a therapist. I believe that our loved ones usually plan to follow through when they make a promise. Most often, they don’t. Addiction trumps good intentions.

Just this morning, my adult son phoned to ask for money to help fix his car battery and a tire. (Mind you the car is relatively new.)  “Mom, I have a check coming at the end of this month and I will pay you back. I can’t be without a car.” I wasn’t surprised even though I made it perfectly clear several months ago that I would pay ONLY his car insurance and cell phone bill (charged directly on my credit card). “Please DO NOT ASK me any other money.” Did my proclamation fall on deaf ears? You bet. After all I had set this money boundary many times. And for too many years I caved in and wired money or paid outstanding bills. So why shouldn’t my son try to con me into paying his bills. He manipulates. I enable. Neither of us ready to face the truth. Both of us wasting a lot of psychic energy trying to outmaneuver another.  At loved ones’ meetings when I hear the saying, “Say what you mean and mean what you say,” I nod my head in agreement. And yet I continue to waiver.

Honesty is huge in addiction. Honesty tells us that we can’t fix others, no matter how much we love and care about them. This morning I read an interview with a former narcotic addict in recovery who started shooting drugs at 15. “There was nothing my parents could do. You can pray over somebody, lock them up, chain them to bed, whatever, but if they are determined to get loaded they will get loaded, and that’s how I was.” Honesty tells us to accept this reality and learn how to take care of ourselves. For me it means setting firm boundaries and following through, seeking support to help me do so, and never losing hope that my son will one day became a responsible, “bun worthy” adult.

This article first appeared on the Psychology Today website

This article first appeared on the Psychology Today website

Order DARK WINE WATERS NOW!

Order DARK WINE WATERS NOW!

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Sobriety can be funny

“Bottled: A Mom’s Guide to Early Recovery,” by Dana Bowman of Lindsborg was recently named to the 2016 Kansas Notable Books List.

McPherson Sentinel, By Patricia Middleton, Staff Writer

Dana and her childrenBottled: A Mom’s Guide to Early Recovery,” by Dana Bowman of Lindsborg was recently named to the 2016 Kansas Notable Books List. The list honors 15 books either written by Kansas authors or about a Kansas-related topic. A memoir about her path to sobriety as a mother of two young children, Bowman’s book is a humorous look at a serious topic.

Born and raised in Overland Park, Bowman’s father was a recovered alcoholic who warned Bowman she statistically had a 50 percent chance of succumbing to alcoholism.

Bowman thought her odds were good, as she gained a college degree in teaching and went through her 20s and early 30s without participating in the binge drinking and partying other young adults did.

“I was always kind of a go-getter, graduated top of my class,” Bowman recalled.

Bowman became an English teacher; then married and moved away from her hometown. The changes and pressures of a new job, new relationship and a new city combined to cause stress in her life that sent Bowman looking for relief in glasses of wine and martinis, which she justified having to relieve her stress, and telling herself it was “sophisticated.”

“I really leaned on that glass of wine at the end of a long day of teaching,” Bowman said.
Bowman marked her behavior up to not liking her job, being lonely, having a hard time adjusting to married life and homesickness.

Bowman and her husband then moved to Lindsborg and had two children, born 18 months apart. While she was pregnant and nursing, Bowman did not drink, but she battled postpartum depression after each birth. She would be consumed with anxiety and dread and rewarded herself for making it through another day with a glass of wine.

“Alcoholism is very patient. It was slowly increasing every day. A glass, two glasses, a little more every day,” Bowman said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted in a study published in May 2013 that 73.1 percent of adults between the ages of 25 and 44 were current drinkers. Of those adults, 31.3 percent said they had drank excessively (more than five drinks in a single day) at least once in the past year.

Bowman said her increasing dependence on alcohol was easy to hide. She never drove while drunk and rarely suffered blackouts.

“That’s the tricky part, because when you don’t get arrested or pulled over, there’s nothing to tell you to cut it out,” Bowman remarked.

Bowman said alcoholism has affected her family for generations. In 2014, Bowman’s older brother, Chris, died of liver failure as a result of alcoholism.

Bowman did not want to live in misery anymore. Although she knew would have to give up drinking, it took six months from the moment she realized her life had to change until she would be ready to get help. As Bowman drank what would be her last glass of wine, her legs gave out from under her and she phoned her husband, finally admitting she had a problem.

“It was a very spiritual experience,” Bowman said of her collapse. “God doesn’t do that with all alcoholics….he really cleared the airways for me to hear him.”

Bowman started going to a 12-step program and turned her passion for writing into an outlet to stay sober and to share her feelings, with humor lacing the stories of the real struggles she was enduring. At first, her posts on momsieblog.com focused on her postpartum depression, but Bowman realized she wanted to chronicle her journey of recovery and reach out to other mothers in the same situation to encourage them.

Bowman published the article “As a Mom in Recovery, How Do I Explain My Addiction to My Kids?” for a recovery website. The piece was picked up by The Huffington Post, who also produced a video interview with Bowman.

After that experience, Central Recovery Press called Bowman and asked her to write a book about her recovery. She asked if they were joking. When she was assured of their sincerity, Bowman poured her experiences into “Bottled.” Bowman said the book was easy to write but that the consequences of going public with her story, especially while living in a small town, were daunting.

“We really put ourselves out there and we do that hard thing for the good of ourselves and others,” Bowman said. “I wanted other moms to see that this is a disease and that yes, it’s shameful and embarrassing … but only if we hide in our houses and keep drinking.”

After the book was published, Bowman said people responded to her positively, relishing her irreverent style. Bowman ends each chapter of “Bottled” with a top 10 list counting down such items as “Top Ten Annoying Recovery Slogans That Actually Work.”

“I hate that word, ‘sober,’ I’m a funny person,” Bowman said. “I felt like sobriety was going to be this really gray life. It’s not.”

Bowman is planning a second book and is speaking of her recovery around the country.

“As moms of little kids, we are isolated,” Bowman said. “Drinking is a really easy out for a lot of moms.” Explaining her addiction to her children, Bowman uses examples that they can understand, such as wanting to watch TV all the time.

“I want my children to mainly know the word ‘recovery’…we’ve had some discussions about why mommy goes to meetings and alcohol,” Bowman said. “I want to talk to them about what addiction is…alcohol is not bad, but alcohol with Dana is bad.”

Bowman now writes, reads, runs and takes her children to swim lessons; activities that keep her from taking another drink.

“It’s been a tough road…not always pink, fuzzy unicorns, recovery is really hard,” Bowman said. “There are still days where I have massive social anxiety…it will always be a part of who I am and will always be there.”

This article first appeared in the June 23, 2016 issue of the Mcpherson Sentinel

This article first appeared in the June 23, 2016 issue of the Mcpherson Sentinel

 

 

 

 

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Why Rape is Not a Woman’s Issue

by Lara Naughton

I was kidnapped and raped on a warm July evening in a tropical forest beside the Caribbean Sea. Like so many experiences, this one was heavy with complexity and contradiction, nature’s lush beauty juxtaposed with a brutal act of human violence, one thing out of place with another. I was on vacation, and the man who raped me pretended to be a cab driver. It didn’t occur to me to question my safety when I hopped in his vehicle expecting to be driven to my cabana in a small fishing village not far up the road. I believe in people’s true good nature, even his, but that day he was so disconnected from his own worth and well-being that he was capable of harming me.

No doubt he harmed himself, too. He may have been the perpetrator and I the victim, but we were the only two people in the remote jungle where he drove me, and we both experienced his violence. He must have had the insane notion that hurting me would somehow soothe him, but of course that never works. Rape stems from hurt and causes more hurt which breeds further hurt. Our rape culture is a cycle of suffering for both survivors and offenders, in different ways, yes, but there’s also shared pain. When I finally made it to my cabana that night, it was hours later, and I was forever changed. I’ve never seen my rapist again, so I can’t know with certainty, but I believe he must have been changed too.

My rape threw me into a different orbit, and spun me around and around what I thought I knew about sexual violence. Once I regained a sense of equilibrium and assessed the ways I was altered, I recognized I had two new convictions. One: Rape is not a women’s issue. Two: If we want our rape culture to dissolve, we have to attend to the pain and suffering of men.

When I was in the jungle with my rapist, I couldn’t run or fight. Compassion for him was my only defense.

After I was raped, I was sensitive to the literature and dialogue about sexual assault. It suddenly seemed odd that rape is considered a women’s issue. My rape affected me profoundly, but I’ve never felt it’s my issue. Rather, I was on the horrible receiving end of his issue.

It’s true that in the United States, one in six women will experience a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Put a name, face, and narrative to each of those women and the statistics become not just horrifying but heartbreaking. These women are our sisters, friends, cousins, classmates, colleagues, dates, doctors, professors, on and on. I’m in that number, and, though I hope not, maybe you or a woman you know are too. But sexual assaults aren’t limited by any category, including geography, age, race, income, education or gender.

Across the world, people of all genders are raped and all genders rape. Men, however, make up the overwhelming majority of people committing sexual assaults, and women the overwhelming majority of their victims. All victims who experience a sexual assault, including rape, deserve to be acknowledged, cared for with resources designed to help them move from trauma to well-being, and given a safe place in the judicial system free from blame and shame. But those measures are reactive to the issue — they’re not the issue itself.

Victims and potential victims should not be handed ownership of the rape issue. Vulnerable groups should not be expected to solve, fix, eradicate, heal, reveal, reverse, prevent, cure, or combat the problem. Survivors shouldn’t receive the blow then have to stop the fight. People will stop getting raped when men stop raping. Men are the only ones who can cease the abuses they themselves commit.

There are, of course, men who are actively working within their communities to dismantle the mentalities and behaviors that lead to rape. At the same time, it still appears that rape is being primarily addressed by women, for women. We’re enraged, scared, betrayed, fierce, and brave. We strategize about protecting ourselves. We plead, preach, teach and protest. But we haven’t, and likely won’t solve or dissolve the rape culture because rape begins and ends with the issues that are trapped in men like toxins.

We know what happens with disease: it grows more pronounced, spreads its pathology to otherwise healthy parts of the body until the problem is so severe it can’t be ignored. The same is true with rape. It’s a global epidemic. Too many men are unwell, but they either don’t recognize the warning signs, or they don’t know where to get help, or they’ve never been taught to pay attention.

I wonder what would happen if we, all of us, shifted our attention to men and held them accountable, not with blame but with compassion. Compassion is recognizing someone’s pain, wishing for it to be relieved, and being willing to help.

When I was in the jungle with my rapist, I couldn’t run or fight. Compassion for him was my only defense. His emotional agony was so palpable it was clear I needed to attend to his needs if I wanted to get out of the situation alive. He didn’t have the skills to deal with his pain so he was trying to expel his pain through violence toward me. Under the dark sky of the jungle, as I listened to my rapist rant about the troubles of his life, as I counseled him, held his hand, and prayed over him, I watched his anger calm. It didn’t happen immediately and I didn’t walk out of the encounter untouched, but I walked out alive.

What, then, if we apply compassion on a much larger scale? What if we start asking men what is hurting so many of them, and then be truly willing to listen as they investigate their pain and complexities, their power and powerlessness, their anger, disappointments, fears, strengths, hopes and insecurities? What if we place rape — the issue — back in their hands, then simultaneously hold them accountable and offer support as they do the hard work of moving in two directions: toward understanding the root cause of sexual violence, and toward finding an effective solution.

I’ve rarely experienced deep lasting change as a result of someone telling me how wrong I was, how terrible or flawed. I seek people in my life who can help me see my greatest potential and support me as I reach toward my higher good. What happens if we agree to be this for each other, even when it’s difficult? Maybe especially when it’s difficult.

Just as hurt breeds hurt, compassion expands upon itself. I believe if we’re willing, we’ll find there’s room for compassion in hard places, including at the center of rape.

Lara’s memoir The Jaguar Man debuts July 12 via Central Recovery Press.

This article first appeared in the June 29, 2016 issue of Bustle magazine.

This article first appeared in the June 29, 2016 issue.

JAGUAR MAN is available now

THE JAGUAR MAN is available now

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What we learn from our pets

By Dan Mager, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

Don’t underestimate the therapeutic value of our furry family members

A growing body of research suggests that interacting with animals improves our health and well-being. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the presence of pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and feelings of loneliness, and increase opportunities for exercise, outdoor activity, and socialization (http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/). People and animals have been living and bonding with one another for millennia. Often, that bond is direct and extremely powerful, providing emotional benefits in addition to those related to physical health.

Increasingly, animals are used for therapeutic purposes in the form of pet therapy, also referred to as animal-assisted therapy (AAT), and animal-assisted activities (AAA). AAT is a formal approach utilizing interactions with pets to help people reach specific treatment goals, whereas AAA involves less structured contact between specially trained pets and people in settings such as rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and hospitals.

The recent proliferation of “emotional support” animals is further evidence of how pets can be coping resources that help people better tolerate distress and maintain emotional balance. Among the elderly, pets can provide connection, social support, and a sense of purpose. Pets can help children develop empathy and compassion, as well as a sense of responsibility. For those that struggle with serious disorders like addiction, pain conditions, chronic and even terminal illness, pets offer unmitigated presence and a unique source of comfort.

The relationships we have with our pets have a purity untarnished by the complexity & ambivalence that usually accompanies our relationships with other people, including the people we love and to whom we are closest. As a result, the presence of pets frequently has a calming influence, increasing feelings of relaxation and decreasing stress.

This topic came up as I process the very recent passing of my dog, Sammy (a fourteen year-old chow mix), and reflect on the qualities that made her and my connection with her so special. She was adopted from a shelter when she was about a year old for my daughter’s 11th birthday. During the intervening 13 years, Sammy lived in 6 different houses and 4 very different household configurations across 2 states, as her human family system evolved from intact biological family through divorce and remarriage. She had been living with me for the last 6 years, since my daughter (now age 24) went away to college.

I invite you to consider the possibility that dogs—while to a great extent creatures of instinct—are remarkably spiritual beings, and when our minds and our hearts are open we can potentially learn a lot from them. Many of the world’s spiritual traditions embrace the value of: 1) Maintaining an attitude of positive regard for others (and for oneself) that is as unconditional as possible; 2) Being present-centered—keeping our focus in this moment—rather than allowing the continuous automatic activity of our thought processes to pull our attention back into the past or push it into a future. Sammy was the epitome of these practices.

She was the embodiment of what Carl Rogers, the founder of Client-Centered Therapy (the humanistic approach that undergirds most contemporary forms of counseling) termed, unconditional positive regard.  Unconditional positive regard is the absolute, unqualified respect for and appreciation of others. According to Rogers, we instinctively value positive regard, his overarching term for attention, nurturance, affection, and love.

Generally, our capacity for extending unconditional positive regard to others is a function of the extent to which we have experienced it ourselves. Unfortunately, for most of us, the positive regard shown us by other people was usually attached to various conditions of worth. Growing up, our parents, teachers, peers, and others, gave us positive regard only when we demonstrated that we were somehow “worthy,” rather than because it was necessary for healthy emotional development, and that we deserved it simply by virtue of our humanity.

Many of us have had the experience of getting positive attention, affection, and love, if—and sometimes only if—we behaved to the satisfaction of others. And since these standards are generally disconnected from individual needs and differences, many people—especially children—find themselves unable to meet them, and in turn, subjected to emotional rejection and abandonment. Repeated experiences of emotional rejection and abandonment can be traumatic, contributing to deep-seated feelings of inadequacy; of not being good-enough, as well as increased potential vulnerability to a variety of psycho-social-spiritual difficulties, including anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and addiction.

In contrast to positive regard contingent on external expectations, unconditional positive regard sends the clear message that we are good enough, exactly as we are. The highest form of unconditional positive regard is unconditional love—love free of all qualifications. Sammy, like my other dogs before her, helped me better understand this concept. She was the incarnation of unconditional love & positive regard. In my process of ongoing learning, growth, and healing, I hope to become as good a person as Sammy always believed me to be.

Sammy was also state-of-the-art in being present-centered, that is—staying in the moment—this moment: right here and right now. Sammy was simply present, looking forward to whatever this very moment might offer. There are many ways in which staying in the moment with conscious awareness and acceptance, yet without judgment—also known as mindfulness—promotes health and healing. Present-centeredness provides sanctuary from the poisonous prison of the past and fatalistic fantasies of the future. It bestows respite from past resentments, as well as freedom from anxiety related to future unknowns.

Of course, different kinds of pets have different lessons to teach us. If dogs are built to help us better appreciate unconditional positive regard and present-centeredness, cats are designed to offer us ongoing opportunities to practice patience, tolerance and acceptance. I’ve heard it said the primary difference between dogs and cats is that, while dogs have masters, cats have servants. My cat, Delia, is no exception to this.

Having a connection with animals and having pets as part of one’s family and life helps people learn to be more kind, compassionate, caring, altruistic, and loving. My relationship with Sammy improved the quality of my character and (perhaps ironically) enhanced my humanity. As it became clear that her health was on an unavoidable downward trajectory, I made it a special point to take more time and make more effort to be present with her and love her the way she loved me. And, at the end, I was there, holding her and loving her; giving to her some of what she so naturally gave to me and to our family. As Will Rogers expressed it so eloquently, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went”.

Copyright 2016 Dan Mager, MSW All Rights Reserved.

Click to purchase your copy now.

Click to purchase your copy now.

This article first appeared on Dan Mager's Some Assembly Required post

This article first appeared on Dan Mager’s Some Assembly Required post

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Author News, Blog, Family & Addiction, Personal Development, Uncategorized, Wellness | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Five Questions for author Diane Cameron

diane cameronDiane Cameron: Witnesses the effects of trauma daily in her job as development director for Unity House, a service organization based in Troy, but she also has personal experience with such trauma through her own family. She has documented that story in a new book, “Never Leave Your Dead,” in which she writes about her stepfather, Donald Watkins, and his fight with post-traumatic stress disorder. Watkins was a decorated U.S. Marine who was among a group known as the China Marines, many of whom were captured by the Japanese at the beginning of World War II and held as slave laborers until the end of the war in 1945. Cameron will read from the book at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 28, at The Book House in Albany and from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 24, at Market Block Books in Troy.

1 What did you learn as you wrote this book that you did not know about your stepfather?

I learned that the “nice elderly man” that my 70-year-old mother had married was one of the surviving Marines from a crucial period of American military history. I learned that he had a scary past and an indomitable spirit of survival and resilience. I learned that he had post-traumatic stress disorder long before we ever had words to diagnose or describe it.

2 After writing this, do you feel he was a traumatized veteran? A victim of abuse in the mental-health system? A criminal? Mentally ill? Or just eccentric?

Across the 20 years that I spent researching Donald Watkins and the China Marines, there were times in which I believed each description was true. When I first met him, I thought Donald was elderly and eccentric. As I learned his history, I understood that he had committed two terrible crimes, but that he was also both victim and survivor of psychiatric abuse. Donald’s was one of the first cases in the United States to test our mental health system, ultimately leading to deinstitutionalization and from there to our current system of services. And, of course, under and around all of that, Donald was a decorated and traumatized United States Marine.

3 What contribution did men like your stepfather make to helping those who suffer from combat trauma today?

Donald, and his fellow pre-World War II veterans, fought and suffered within our military and healthcare systems to preserve and demand recognition, dignity and better services for all veterans. They suffered greatly but paved the way for those services. As Marines, they did not leave their dead, even at home and even late into their lives.

4 How did this book help you deal with your personal struggles with family abuse?

Through the many years of researching and writing Donald’s story, I came to better understand my mother’s struggles with addiction and mental illness. I could see her behavior through the lens of traumatic injury. And I was able – watching her in that late-life marriage – to appreciate her most admirable qualities, one of which was her ability to recognize Donald’s heroism and redemption.

5 What message do you hope readers take away from ‘Never Leave Your Dead’?

I hope that readers will appreciate that trauma is always a long story and that, while we are rightfully saddened by the injury caused by trauma, there are also gifts and strengths on the far side of many traumatic experiences. We can never be glib about this part of trauma, but there can be spiritual and psychological growth when trauma is recognized, accepted and treated.

— Mark Robarge

Available now!

Available now!

This interview first appeared in the 5/11/16 issue of the Troy Record

This interview first appeared in the 5/11/16 issue of the Troy Record

 

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