Becky R. believes in miracles.
How else can she explain the change in her life from two years ago when she heard a judge say these words after her arrest for selling ecstasy to an undercover agent: “You will spend a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 45 in the Illinois Department of Corrections.”
When Alan was small, his alcoholic father verbally and physically abused him. He never knew when the belt would come down. He lived in fear of those nights when his dad would come home upset about work. That’s always when he got hurt the most.
Max grew up in Chicago and played hockey from a young age. At age 14, he moved to Maine to play prep school hockey, landing a scholarship to play Division III hockey at Plymouth State in New Hampshire. At just 18 years old, Max was the youngest student on the team by three years.
With an intense focus on his sport, he didn’t have much interest in drugs or alcohol. But that changed his freshman year in college. During his first hockey game, Max tore his hips and shoulder. After three hip surgeries and a shoulder surgery, Max’s doctor told him he couldn’t play hockey anymore. His doctor prescribed him Vicodin and Max “went down fast.” He knew he shouldn’t go down that road. Opiate addiction ran in his family. But it was too late.
A Rapid Decline
“After losing my favorite thing in my whole life, I totally lost myself,” Max says. Vicodin turned to Xanax and smoking marijuana and using Molly to get higher. “After two or three months, I’d need something else to be able to feel high again.” He justified the drug abuse by telling himself, “I’m in pain. I deserve this after everything I’ve been through.”
“At first it was fun,” Max recalls. “But then it became maintenance–trying to avoid withdrawal. On a hard day or the best day, I justified picking up a drug.” He became filled with rage, and his family didn’t want to talk to him anymore. He had money and was doing well in school, but he describes it as the saddest time in his life. “I looked in the mirror and didn’t know who I was anymore,” he says. “I couldn’t believe this is what my life had become.”
At his lowest point, Max had run out of drugs and all of his dealers were out of town. He was having brutal withdrawals and felt desperate. Max called his mom and admitted he had a problem. To his surprise, she responded “Finally!” His family had suspected he had an addiction for years, but didn’t want to confront him before he was ready to get help. “I thought I could do it on my own, but I couldn’t,” Max says. “It was the first time I ever asked for help.”
Going ‘All In’ With Recovery
Max spent 30 days in residential treatment at Promises, followed by 60 days in sober living. He used many of the skills he had learned in hockey and applied them to drug rehab. “I’ve always been very coachable,” he says. “I watched others and surrounded myself with the best so I could become the best.”
When it came to addiction recovery, Max went “all in.” He listened to his treatment team, including a technician who he says “spit wisdom” at him. “They never gave up on me,” Max says. “I came in going crazy and they’d tell me I was normal and human and that it was okay to have bad days.”
He got a sponsor five days into the program, worked the 12 Steps, and built a community that included Promises alumni and staff, AA and his sponsor. He is still in touch with the “lifetime friends” he made in drug rehab. “Promises taught me the fundamentals of how to live life sober,” he says. He started meditating two days per week–a practice he strongly recommends, particularly for people with anxiety, ADHD or depression and those trying to kick a prescription pill addiction–and discovered acupuncture could help him manage the pain from his surgeries. “To this day, my parents say it’s the best money they ever spent on me,” he says.
Since he was young when he got sober, an important part of addiction recovery was learning to have fun without drugs or alcohol. “It’s hard when you’re young, but the answer is fellowship–building a community of people your age and doing things with them,” Max says. “Today I have fun. I laugh–I never used to laugh.”
A Fresh Start
After maintaining his sobriety for a year, Max moved to Denver, finished his college degree in business administration and got a job as a real estate broker. “Starting a new career in a new city has been a challenge. I’ve had to recreate everything I did in L.A.,” he says. “But getting comfortable in an uncomfortable setting has been a good test.”
At 23 years old, “I’m a functional member of society. I have a job I never thought I could get and I truly love what I do,” Max says. The oldest of five children, Max is proud that he “finally acts like an older brother” and has grown closer with his siblings. He is discovering new passions like skiing and is working on fitting old passions back into his life by coaching hockey.
Still, there are days when “just for today” ends up meaning “just for the next 30 minutes” or even “just for the next 30 seconds” but he has the skills to stop thoughts and feelings from leading to relapse. “I was playing hockey at the highest levels of training and competition, and recovery is 10 times harder than any game,” he notes. But he is grateful to have found his way in his 20s, with most of his life still ahead of him.
“There’s a saying in AA that ‘you’ll live your wildest dreams sober.’ It’s not a cliché,” Max says. “I can support myself, I show up and I have a life I love.”
By Meghan Vivo
By Christian Castaneda, LCSW, Program Director at Promises Malibu
Addiction recovery is a vulnerable and healing time when people must learn new ways of creating healthy relationships with themselves and others. Singles must remove themselves from unhealthy sexual encounters and refrain from starting new romantic or sexual relationships for one year. But what if you are in a marriage or partnership?
By Christian Castaneda, LCSW, Program Director at Promises Malibu
When you’re in addiction recovery, the whole world can become a trigger for drug relapse. If you’re addicted to alcohol and you walk past a bar where you see old friends, it may stimulate your memory of old times. If you are addicted to pornography, you might find that having access to a computer with internet can trigger your compulsion. Obviously, you want to avoid these triggers.
By Christian Castaneda, LCSW, Program Director at Promises Malibu
Addiction recovery is about letting go of the substances and behaviors that got you into trouble and learning new ways of coping with life. It requires being in touch with true feelings and old trauma. You also have to find new ways to deal with sex and intimacy, which is why it is recommended that single people abstain from sexual relationships for their first year of recovery.
The ‘Me Too’ and ‘Times Up’ movements were sparked by women speaking out about sexual assault, harassment and misconduct. The greater global message in both movements is safety and equity in the workplace and women’s empowerment.
By Kenneth England, MFT, Primary Therapist at Promises Malibu
Creative people have long been associated with lavish use and abuse of alcohol and drugs. Many talented people have been molded by the idea that drinking and drugs inspire their craft. Although scientists have long looked for a direct link between creative inspiration and drug use, they have not found one.
Many people don’t consider caffeine a drug, but it is the most commonly used mood-altering drug in the world. While about 1.6 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide a day, tea, chocolate, cocoa beverages, soft drinks and energy drinks also contain varying amounts of caffeine.
Probiotics have become an extremely popular supplement. With painkiller addiction soaring, more consumers and physicians are looking for ways to treat pain and discomfort without pain medicine.
Adderall (d-amphetamine) is a central nervous system stimulant, comprised of mixed amphetamine salts (75% dextroamphetamine; 25% levoamphetamine). Amphetamines stimulate the brain by increasing the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, the neurotransmitters involved in hyperactivity and impulse control. Adderall was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996. It is used for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults and children ages 6 and older, as well as narcolepsy. Adderall XR (extended release) is only approved for the treatment of ADHD.
By Meghan Vivo
The #MeToo movement has gone viral following sexual harassment and sexual misconduct allegations against a growing list of celebrities. It’s a powerful and needed movement that’s only beginning to shed light on the depth and scale of the problem.
‘White Knuckling’ No Way to Hold on to Sobriety
James W. had five months of sobriety, the “white-knuckle version,” he called it, when he decided to have a drink with his friends during a trip to the Ozarks. He had this covered, he thought. He could have just one.
So he lied to his friends, one of the innumerable lies he’s told to them, his family and himself over the years.
“The doctor said it’s OK if I have a drink every once in a while,” James told his buddies. In truth, his doctors had told him he could never touch alcohol again. “If I drank again, they said, ‘You’re a dead person. Might as well carry a shovel around with you’.”
A Trip to the Hospital
Five months earlier, James had been taken to a hospital after throwing up about eight pints of blood during a vacation in Florida. It was an annual sojourn he made with his friends, but this trip was cut short by James’s illness. He and his buddies made a bee-line to get him back home to St. Louis. “We would pull over at gas stations and I would go behind a dumpster and vomit,” James said. “I would try to hydrate myself because I was so dehydrated, but then just throw up.”
When James arrived in the ER, his eyes and skin were jaundiced with his belly fully distended. The doctors told him he’d probably need a liver transplant and that he needed to stay sober to qualify. He took that seriously…for a while.
“After that, I was sober for about five months, but without a program,” he said. “You’re white-knuckling it. You’re not picking up a drink. But without seeing a professional about underlying issues, I was just a dry drunk. I was grumpier than ever. I just lived to cross off the day on the calendar and be proud of that day.”
In the Ozarks, James’s days as a “dry drunk” came to an end. His pride in maintaining his sobriety was overcome by his desire for one more drink, which became two, then three. His drinking would continue beyond his trip to the mountains and for the next year.
All along, James was receiving regular signals that his doctor’s bleak warning about his alcoholism was not mere melodrama. On multiple occasions, he was experiencing frightful bleeds from bursting veins in his esophagus. It is an often life-threatening condition known as “esophageal varices”, common among people with advanced liver disease. “I probably had four to five trips to the hospital with the same situation,” he said. Yet he kept drinking, despite the bleeding and other complications from his failing liver.
While his body was on the verge of being “totaled” by alcohol, it was a fender-bender that landed James in drug rehab. The accident occurred when there were warrants out for his arrest. He had accumulated five DWIs over the years and was driving on a revoked license. Now in jail, he reached out to his mother for help—the only person left for him to turn to.
Turning Life Around at Drug Rehab
“Here I am, a 43-year-old adult talking to his mom like he’s a teenager. ‘Bail me out of jail, bail me out of jail,’” he said. But this time, his pleas fell on deaf ears. He shared that two other people stepped in to get involved: a woman named Patricia Meyers, the Executive Director of Alumni and Client Services at Promises Treatment Centers, and an interventionist.
“They told my mom not to bail me out of jail until I had a ticket to rehab,” James said. And she didn’t. The judge then told him that he needed to go to treatment for a month or face incarceration.
“Those were the circumstances that got me kicking and screaming the whole way to Promises, completely unwilling, oblivious to how close I was to death.”
Today, James is now almost 18 months sober. He spent a full 60 days at Promises and then seven months in sober living. He says he was able to gain and maintain his sobriety “by surrendering, by just giving in to the program and deciding that this is what you need to do.” In short, just “following the principles.”
“I also learned that there are people who have worse stories than mine and there are people with the same story as me. We can all lean on each other. You’re not alone.”
By the time James began his stay at Promises, his mother was at her wit’s end. (He had lost the support of his wife years earlier. She divorced him in 2009.) When he had moved in with her after the divorce, he took up drinking from airplane liquor bottles in an effort to convince himself that he wasn’t really drinking that much. “Alcoholics are experts at fooling themselves and others—or at least they think they are”, he said. James would sneak out of the house, go out to his car, and drink from the little bottles he’d stashed there.
“I’d drink like three of them and smoke a cigarette and come back in,” he said. “Then I’d go to the bathroom and use mouthwash and wash my hands. That was a pattern. I would rationalize it that they were just little airplane shots. They’re just little shots. It’s not a big bottle. It’s not a fifth of a bottle.”
“You get so far off from reality,” he said. “You justify anything. I have lied to my mother, cheated her, manipulated every angle. I was so sick.” She just couldn’t take anymore and sent him a letter that knocked him back on his heels.
“James, I cannot talk to you,” his mother wrote to him in jail. “I am done. I buried my brother because he had cancer. I buried my sister because she had cancer. I buried my mother and father due to old age, and I can’t bear to bury my son. I can’t talk to you now.”
A Return to Health
After his two months at Promises, James wasn’t big on the idea of sober living. He didn’t need it, or so he told the staff. But it was his mother, now back in his life, who was able to persuade him to see the situation otherwise.
“What is six months out of your life?” she asked he. “It’s a drop in the bucket. And it will give you an advantage.”
James remembers that he was “very angry”. But he did it and he’s never doubted that decision. In fact, he’s now working part-time at a sober living facility. His health has improved dramatically. His liver that used to function at 35% during his hospitalization is now functioning at about 93%. He works out three times a week and has lost 40 pounds.
‘I have a life again,” James says. “I’ve been focused on my program so much and multiple commitments and multiple meetings. And I can’t tell you how priceless the Promises Alumni Association is to me and going up to visit Promises Malibu. I probably speak there on a panel once a month and every Wednesday, I’m at the alumni meeting. I volunteer a ton of time. My life has purpose again.”
But perhaps the biggest plus in James’s new life is that he’s regained people’s trust. It wasn’t that long ago when his best friend had a “tough conversation” with him, telling James that he was no longer comfortable with him being the godparent of his children. “Then on my last visit home, he just had one look at me and listened to how I spoke and he told me I could be a godparent again to his children. The pieces of the puzzle have all yet to be put in place, but every day, things are just working out.”
People receiving the top treatment for pain—prescription painkillers—can rapidly transition from pain relief to painkiller addiction. And yet, your doctor may be the unwitting instigator of this misery, if you don’t ask the right questions from the start.
By Karen Williams, MS, LAC
Intensive Outpatient Program Clinical Manager at Promises Scottsdale
Group therapy works because it creates connection and reduces toxic shame through open, honest communication. Many aspects of the group dynamic contribute to the reasons why group therapy works. Here are 10 of them:
By Tiffany Dzioba, PsyD, LMFT, Clinical Program Director, Promises Malibu Vista
Addressing spirituality and spiritual issues in psychotherapy can be an integral part of helping clients heal from trauma and achieve post-traumatic growth. Spiritual concepts such as forgiveness, meaning-making, surrender and connectedness can help clients integrate traumatic events and move forward with new narratives and resources for coping.