Authority Figures, Community and the Addict

One of the social aspects of addiction is the sense of community that addicts have with each other. While a major emphasis of that community is the drug/alcohol use, it still provides a sense of belonging. That  can make it difficult for addicts to stop using because they do not yet have a healthy community with whom to feel that sense of belonging.

As an addict starts to develop a connection with a healthy community, the way others relate to them can have a powerful influence on the strength of their addiction. If others relate to them as members of a healthy community that tends to reduce the strength of their addiction. If others relate to them as members of the addict community that tends to increase the strength of their addiction. This is especially true when the addict interacts with authority figures.

A few months ago someone who had gotten clean from heroin was pulled over for expired registration tags. She had just purchased the car and the seller had not yet gotten her all the required paperwork. She expected the worst from the officer. However, he recognized her from her using days and commented on how she was looking a lot healthier. He looked over her paperwork and noticed that while some of it was missing, some of it was in order. He listened to her story and told her that since some of her paperwork was in order he would give her two weeks to get the rest of it together. She felt an immense amount of relief and a much stronger motivation for staying off drugs.

A while later, with almost a year clean she developed severe back spasms which were so bad she had to leave work. She went to an Urgent Care and described how after she informed the physician that she had a substance abuse history he became cold and distant. He ignored the fact that she had not asked for narcotics and did not offer her any alternatives. When she asked him if there were exercises she could do to relieve the spasms he again ignored her. She left feeling a sense of despair, that being in recovery had not changed anything, and thoughts of using were prominent in her thinking.

This has a happy ending in that she talked with her mother, who reminded her that there were other doctors, and her thoughts about using ceased. She was able to see her primary care physician who prescribed a stronger NSAID which relieved her pain.

Let’s look at this from the perspective of how the two authority figures differed in their relationship to her. In the first case the police officer related to her as if she was a member of the healthy community. He chose to focus on the evidence that she was working on recovery and gave her the opportunity to prove herself. As an authority figure, by relating to her in this manner he literally pulled her brain farther from its addiction to opioids.

In the second case the physician related to her as if she was a member of the addict community. He ignored data and did not give her the opportunity to prove herself. As an authority figure, by relating to her as an addict he literally pushed her brain toward its addiction to opioids.

If we are relating to addicts in recovery, especially if we have a position of authority, we can work to relate to them as if they are members of a healthy community. This is even more important if their recovery is fragile at the moment. Relating to an addict as a member of a healthy community does not mean ignoring evidence to the contrary. Rather it means that we give them appropriate opportunities to correct the deficits. In the first example above, the police officer did not ignore the fact that some of her paperwork was missing. He gave her a reasonable amount of time to obtain the missing papers and she was able to meet that requirement.

If you are an addict in recovery and you are being related to as if you are a member of the addict community, then it will help you to develop some useful responses. The most important response is to reflect on the observations that the other person may have made and to make sure those are not a warning sign that your recovery is shaky. That reflection can help you strengthen your recovery.

A second response is to connect with others who will relate to you as a member of a healthy community. In the example above, she talked with her mother and then saw her primary care physician, who prescribed a strong NSAID instead of narcotic, which was appropriate for a patient in recovery.

A final response is to avoid accepting the other person’s judgment. Just because someone has a position of authority does not mean they are always correct. If we are not giving them cause to judge us then instead of thinking “F–k recovery,” we might think “That person is having a really bad day,” and reaffirm our connection to a healthy community.

As a society it will be helpful for us to drop the judgmental attitude toward those who have drug/alcohol addiction. It is not so much where a person is as what direction they are moving, i.e. toward or away from addiction. Encouraging people to make progress is more effective then judging them for where they are at the moment.

Addiction, the Brain, and the Jewel Wasp

One of the common themes I hear from addicts is how they experience their mind as hijacked. They are on their way to obtain drugs and the whole time they are telling themselves “Turn around!!! This is crazy!!! I can’t do this!!!” But their body is under the control of something other than themselves. I have also heard this from people who are addicted to behaviors other than just drug use, such as eating disorders or gambling. How can someone be a prisoner in their own body, watching in horror as they engage in behaviors that are abhorrent to them? To understand this let’s shift gears and look at the jewel wasp. Continue reading Addiction, the Brain, and the Jewel Wasp

Breath- Spirit – Peace

Meditation techniques train various mental qualities. We can use the qualities for many purposes. Spiritual traditions emphasize that the most important purpose for meditation is spiritual practice, and the development of qualities such as love or peace. The following meditation begins as a relaxing breathing exercise and then flows from that to an experience of a peaceful presence.

If you want to download the audio you should be able to at Soundcloud by clicking on the Soundcloud link in the top menu.

For further discussion of the technique — Continue reading Breath- Spirit – Peace

Stress and Obesity, part I

I have had a couple of patients recently who described their intense emotional pain after hearing people make derogatory comments at them while they were shopping for food or in other public places. I think its obscene how it seems OK in our society to bash fat people for being fat. You’re not supposed to bash people because of their gender, race, sexual orientation or whatever (which is good), but if someone is fat then its OK (which is just wrong).

I want to explain why making people feel guilty about being fat just makes things worse, This has nothing to do with being politically correct, and everything to do with neuroendocrinology. Along the way I hope to give you some insights into the way the body deals with weight and fat that may help you understand how we can attain and maintain a healthy weight. Here we go. Continue reading Stress and Obesity, part I

Disengaging from Repetitive Thoughts, Especially About Comfort Food

This is a somewhat extended meditation technique that goes into a bit of detail about a method for training the mind to be able to disengage from repetitive or irritating thoughts. The particular focus in the meditation is to help disengage from thoughts about comfort food.

The technique is may not be helpful for dealing with thoughts about using drugs or alcohol. It will not be helpful for dealing with physical cravings. Those require different techniques. Continue reading Disengaging from Repetitive Thoughts, Especially About Comfort Food

Reducing Pain by Creating Changes in Perceived Size and Shape of the Pain

This is another technique for reducing pain that involves changing the way the brain experiences the pain rather than distracting the brain from the pain. It seems to work best for neuropathic pain or chronic pain rather than acute pain.  In this technique we focus on how the perceived location and extent of the pain can vary with the intention of having our brain reduce the  size of the area that is feeling the pain, and perhaps moving it out of the body altogether. Over time our brain can become more skilled at reducing the extent of the pain and reducing the intensity.

Notes:  Continue reading Reducing Pain by Creating Changes in Perceived Size and Shape of the Pain

The Mind and the TV Sets

It’s been a busy week. One of the frequent questions that came up was about quieting the mind and how exhausting, or even impossible that can be.

This is exhausting because we are trying to quiet our experiences not our mind. We try to suppress or stop our thoughts, sensations, feelings, memories or imaginings. But those are not our mind. Those are the contents of our mind. We don’t quiet our mind by shutting down its experiences. We quiet our mind by being calm even when we are having experiences. We develop a calm presence even in the midst of chaos. Continue reading The Mind and the TV Sets

Reducing Pain by Noticing Rapid Changes in Time

There are many ways of using meditation to deal with pain. Many of them involve some form of distraction, placing your attention elsewhere. However, often our attention can be stuck focusing on the pain. In that case it can help to go with that and use the fact that every sensory experience, even pain, will vary from moment to moment.

This meditation technique help you reduce the perception of pain by paying selective attention to rapid and subtle decreases in the level of pain. At first the reductions are small and short, but with practice they will become larger and longer. As we practice this we train our brain to become better at reducing pain.

Notes: Continue reading Reducing Pain by Noticing Rapid Changes in Time

Softening the Body for Relaxation and Comfort

We tend to hold our bodies more tense than we need to and releasing that excess tension can help us relax and feel more comfortable. It can also help relieve pain, especially musculoskeletal pain.

To use this technique think of something soft and imagine one part of the body taking on that quality of softness more and more with each exhalation. After a few breaths pause and note how your body feels. Then either repeat that with the same part of the body, or allow a different part of the body to come to mind and let that part get softer for a few breaths. Continue to do this with various parts of your body shifting from one to another in a somewhat playful manner.


Pulling Breath Downward to Reduce Headaches and Neck Pain

I made this track specifically for a couple of my patients who are struggling with neck pain and headaches, to remind them of what we did in the office.

It teaches a somewhat unusual technique for engaging the abdominal muscles while breathing so that the neck and shoulder muscles can relax. That often helps the head and neck feel more comfortable.

If you are not one of my patients you are welcome to listen, but please do  not use it if it causes discomfort.


We Meditate to Explore the Mind, NOT Empty It

I have had a number of people tell me recently that they can’t meditate because they can’t empty their mind. Fortunately you can meditate and benefit from meditating without emptying your mind. (Personally I think that emptying the mind is useless or worse.)

Our mind does a lot of wonderful things for us, and it also does things that are not so helpful. Instead of emptying the mind, meditation allows us to explore our mind and cultivate helpful processes so our mind does more helpful things and fewer unhelpful things.

The following meditation is a brief introduction to this idea of exploring the mind.

Think of a garden. If the garden is full of weeds, then it is not very helpful. However, emptying the garden is not helpful either. We need to cultivate the garden, making the environment more conducive to growing flowers, fruits and vegetables and caring for those plants. Continue reading We Meditate to Explore the Mind, NOT Empty It

Contemplation Health Performance Relationships Spirituality


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