21 March 2014

It's not your fault, it's your default.

I didn't request the animated photo in this post. It's a shot of the bench overlooking a creek where I grew up and shows one of many snow events that occurred this winter. The animation was provided by Google with no awareness on my part - I didn't ask for it; it showed up. It is tangentially related to this post due to the fact that yesterday was the first day of spring and I'm hoping that this will be the last opportunity I have to post photos of snow this year! It is also a default - by opening the photo, which was sent by my sister, I was predisposed to having it animated by Google. Fortunately, I like it.
The title of this post comes from a recent interaction during an IOP group that I facilitate. In my groups, I tend to veer from the traditional. We might watch videos by Brene' Brown that prompt discussions about vulnerability or by Nora Volkow explaining how difficult it is for an addicted brain to "just say no" to its substance of choice. I offer acudetox treatments as a non-verbal intervention. (This protocol has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve sleep.) Because of my diverse training, we also practice meditation, particularly metta mediation which often helps people develop compassion for themselves. Sometimes I'll finish a group with a seated yoga nidra practice. I believe that telling someone what might help and actually allowing them to experience the modality are very different. In the roughly 8 weeks that I have to work with people, my intention is that they leave knowing they are using tools which are already helping.

One topic that frequently surfaces is shame, which is also addressed by Ms. Brown in this video. I've rarely met a person who is trying to overcome an addiction who doesn't have some sense of shame about what they've done. They are afraid of relapse, of slips, of once again disappointing their loved ones and themselves, they describe themselves as losers and degenerates, they often believe they are bad people. Most folks will lie about a slip rather than risk the look of disapproval they fear receiving by being honest. 

The beauty of group is that when this fearless honesty is put to the test, they usually find that they receive caring support and encouragement to continue trying. I've see this experience of empathy bring tough guys to tears. It may be the first time in their lives that they haven't been shamed for their behavior.

So, anyway, in a recent group this was the topic. And I said, "It's not your fault, it's your default." Did I make that up or did I read it somewhere? I don't honestly know, but everyone seized on it and it evolved and grew and we had a productive 3 hours.

It's not uncommon for people to complete IOP more than once, often due to legal troubles. One person disclosed that he'd been to other groups in the city and he knew which ones he could slide through. He admitted to choosing our facility because of our reputation for being tough but fair, professional but friendly. He wanted to get it right this time and do it for himself, not just to appease a judge or a prosecutor or a mandated program. He expressed his fear at not knowing what his life will be like moving forward but knows that he doesn't want it to look like it does when he looks back.

Addiction is tough, nobody sets out to become an addict. Rehab isn't a magic bullet and neither is IOP. We can't selectively numb feelings so the beginning phase of recovery can be what's often referred to as an emotional roller coaster. It can be scary to feel deep feelings, perhaps for the first time since you were a child. Honesty is essential, and finding a group who will accept you and meet your honesty with their own is what I believe to be a key piece of success in recovery. Acceptance, humility, faith, compassion, self-awareness, open mindedness, and lots of other attributes will certainly help. 

Nobody wants to be an addict, but once addiction kicks in, it does become the default. And it can be overridden.