Before I turned my hands to writing full-time, I had a decades long. career as a Social Worker. As such, I gained a great deal of knowledge about such things as getting and staying clean and sober and managing mental and emotional health issues.
I didn’t want to just dump all that knowledge. Other people might be able to use it. So I decided to put it here.
This is all self-help. I have no further advice than what you find here. However, this information all comes from what other people showed me about what worked in putting their lives together.
Scrolling down you will find “6 Steps to Sobriety” and the “Get Yourself Together” programs.
I want to share with you what I have learned from others about getting and staying clean and sober. This program comes from years and years of working with and listening to real people. This is what real people who needed to get clean and sober, who got and stayed clean and sober taught me.
Step One: Keep it Simple, Simon
Step Two: Find your own reason for quitting
Step Three: Find The Trickster
Step Four: Find something else to do
Step Five: Find some people to help you follow the steps
Step Six: Allow something good to happen
When people followed these steps they were able to get off and stay off addictive substances such as alcohol, marijuana, crack, meth, heroin and other street drugs and certain problem medications.
Follow these 6 steps and you can too.
It takes effort. However, you can do this.
So let’s get to it.
Step One: Keep it Simple, Simon
People taught me that in order to get and stay clean and sober, you have to keep it simple.
For instance, in simple terms, if you don’t take that first one, you can’t take the rest. So quite simply getting and staying clean and sober is finding ways to keep yourself from taking that first sip, toke, shot or snort.
An important part of doing that is simplifying your thinking about these drugs.
These drugs are meant to change how we think. We take them because they change how we experience what is happening in our lives – physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. They don’t change life; they change how the brain reacts.
Pay attention to this “changing your brain” idea. Pay attention because not really recognizing that the drug is changing your thinking is what gets many people into trouble. For many people this thinking change means coming to believe that you just have to use drugs. And, even if your use causes you problems, you will come up with what you think are very good reasons to continue to use. You might blame yourself or those around you or society or even the physically addictive qualities of the drug. The drug will hide from you that it is the drug itself that is causing you to believe that you have to keep using!
That’s why these drugs are so powerful! After a while, you won’t recognize what their actual power is.
It might help to think of this “I have to use” thinking as simply a sort of psychological side effect of these drugs.
To fight that kind of power, the power of the drug itself, we need to keep it simple.
Quite simply, despite how we may have come to think, a person’s body actually doesn’t need alcohol, marijuana, crack, meth, heroin, etc.
These drugs are actually not needed in order to lead a good life.
Eventually these drugs create problems, not solve them.
So Keep It Simple Simon.
If these drugs are causing you any trouble at all, the simplest and safest solution is to not take that first one. Regardless of what your brain may be saying, your job is to not take that first one. Not taking the first one is what the rest of these steps are all about.
Step Two: Find your own reason for quitting.
Never mind what other people are saying. Pay attention to what you know! How do you know that your use is causing problems? Because you have already tried to get around those problems in order to keep using. So stop wasting time arguing with others. You know if you have a problem. Your reactions to this program are probably all the proof you need.
Let’s get to work on it.
Let’s use those problems as your own personal motivators.
Here’s how you do this:
Make a list of all the problems, big and small, that your alcohol and other drug use has caused or is causing. Review that list everyday. Use that list to remind yourself each day why you are working at not taking that first one.
Step Three: Find The Trickster!
All cultures have stories about “The Trickster”, a mythical creature that tries to get people to make a fool of themselves. Drugs are The Trickster. You find The Trickster in any thought that tells you that you just have to use addictive drugs.
This thinking includes getting lost in the great “why” questions – why did I start using and why do I continue. Instead of working at staying clean and sober, people focus on their reasons for using. And they keep using and they keep adding to their troubles and The Trickster continues to win.
Look, it’s not that your issues aren’t important. They are. In order to live a manageable life, you will need to sort them out. However addictive drugs don’t care whether you had a bad life or a good life. They are chemicals. They do what they are made to do. And what they do is make life worse while telling your brain that it is getting better.
Incidentally, you’d be surprised how staying clean and sober for a while makes your great big problems seem not so big after all. You find the strength to meet those life challenges you thought were way too hard to handle before. You learn that thoughts come and go, emotions however strong come and go. Cravings come and go. You learn that you really can handle this. You start feeling better about yourself.
If you still need an answer to the great “why” questions, here it is:
The reason that you started using these drugs was because they were there. Alcohol and other drugs were available and somehow you got the message that they would help you feel better. So you used them. And they did make you feel better, or at least different, so you used them again. And like I said, once you start using them, they are very good at getting your brain to tell you that you need to continue to use them.
Here’s what you do about The Trickster:
Ask yourself – “What reason do I give myself for why I just have to use alcohol or other drug?” Tell yourself that this is just the drug trying to get you to keep using. Say to yourself “Not this time Trickster”. Then go to Step Four.
Step Four: Find something else to do
Something that does not work is sitting around trying to not use. People have a great deal of trouble trying not to do something. Instead, do something. If you don’t know what to do, keep it simple. Just do something different.
First thing, take care of your health. Do the best you can with exercise, rest and nutrition.
Get yourself onto some kind of routine. Don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself.
Volunteer; find a particular hobby or activity for those restless times. Find some work that needs doing; spend some time learning new things. Stay away from compulsive activities like gambling. And follow the HALT rule. Never get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
And remember to keep a lookout for The Trickster trying to get you to use.
Step Five: Find some people to help you follow the steps
Too much time with your own thoughts is an invitation to The Trickster.
Back in 1935, a man found himself alone in a new town desperately wanting to drink. He had heard that sometimes talking to someone else about his addiction and his need to stay sober could help. He found someone. He talked about his need to stay sober. He stayed sober that day and thereafter Alcoholics Anonymous was born. AA is the most successful drug recovery program ever.
And it is a simple program. You get together with other people who are working at staying sober. You admit your need for help. You focus on what helps rather than on your problems and you work at staying sober one day at a time.
If you aren’t going to AA, or maybe NA, Narcotics Anonymous, at least find and stick with people who are working at staying clean and sober. Avoid people who are using or complicating their lives.
Step Six: Allow something good to happen
This step is a little trickier. This step is about surrendering. It is about admitting what you can’t control and putting your energies into what you can control. In some ways, it is just as much about not doing rather than doing.
In strict addiction terms, to surrender simply means accepting that you aren’t in control of the drugs and never will be, that they are the problem and that you need help to stay off them.
Yet it is more than that. It is about allowing life to happen and being thankful that you have the chance to live and learn and feel.
This step is about what you let be most important in your life. You can make getting high most important. You can make feeling sorry for yourself most important. You can make anger most important. Or you can let go of all that crap. Instead, you can allow yourself to be on the look out each day for simple little wonders in life. You will then begin to see what you couldn’t see before because you were too busy being high, depressed, angry and demanding.
When people surrender, when they are sincerely willing to let go of all the crap and work at not taking that first one, they feel “an energy” enter their lives that wasn’t there before. They call this energy “Spirituality”, The Higher Power, God as you understand the idea of God, whatever.
When you truly let go, “something better” will enter your life. And there is alot of “something better” to have in your life.
Don’t believe me? Go talk to some people who got and stayed clean and sober. Maybe they can help explain it to you. After all, that’s what they had to do. In order to get “it”, they had to let go and talk to other people about getting and staying clean and sober.
Step One: Keep it Simple, Simon
Step Two: Find your own reason for quitting
Step Three: Find The Trickster
Step Four: Find something else to do
Step Five: Find some people to help you follow the steps
Step Six: Allow something good to happen
6 Steps to Sobriety
Hi. My name is Kevin, the K behind all the Possible Ks.
Tried and Tested
The tools and techniques in this program come from over 30 years working as a Professional Social Worker. In that time, I have experienced a great number of people who have struggled yet managed to get their lives together. In some ways, this is their story. Here you will find the tools and techniques that worked for them. Here you will find the explanation of why they worked.
Due to the nature of this site, I can’t really offer counseling backup or adequately respond to questions and concerns. You may want to consult with a Professional Social Worker or some other qualified counselor.
You can do this – “This ain’t rocket science”.
While there is some professional expertise behind all this, much of it comes from ordinary people using trial and error to get their lives together.
I suggest that you explore the sessions in order. There is, after all, some structure here. If you find it a bit heavy going at first, you can skip to the sessions on “keeping yourself going” and “relaxation” and then come back. Or, you could just bounce back and forth checking out the sessions that interest you. It is your life, you know!
You can do this on your own. However, you may find it works better for you to explore it with another person or group. Again, there are plenty of professionals out there who can help you. Reach out in the darkness and you may find a friend! (That’s a lyric from Friend and Lover’s song, Reach out in the Darkness. Great song.)
Here is what you will find in this program:
Have you had enough?
Have you got an alcohol or other drug problem?
Keeping yourself going Part 1
Keeping yourself going Part 2
Keeping yourself going Part 3
Why people stay in bad relationships
Living a better Life story
Relaxation Phase One
Relaxation Phase Two
What life has taught me
Holes in the Road Part1
Holes in the Road Part 2
Holes in the Road Part 3
Holes in the Road Part 4
Find your feelings
You have it in you to succeed.
The program is strengths-based. It is based on you discovering that the solution is already inside you. You just need to recognize those abilities, start using them and stop getting in the way!
It is also based on the fact that your brain controls much of your biology and body chemistry. Don’t feel the way you want to feel? Don’t have the energy to get through the day? Change how you think; change how your body works.
The program is neither anti-medication nor pro-medication. You make that choice. However it can replace medication for those who want to live drug free and sincerely work the program
You may not like everything that you read here. (Mind you, the program helps you to understand that as well.)
However this program can work for you, if you work with it.
My background influences
You can skip this section if you really don’t care from where the ideas come and just want to get to work “getting yourself together”. However I need to acknowledge that these ideas are certainly not all mine. I am not some guru who figured it all out on my lonesome.
I worked in and around almost every Social Work field available. I worked in Medical Rehab, Geriatrics, Addictions, Psychiatry, Developmental Handicaps, Child Welfare, Probation and Parole, Domestic Violence, Schools and Community Work. I worked with individuals and families and groups. These folks and my fellow colleagues shaped the program.
I have also studied a wide variety of approaches to helping people. I was even called upon to teach “Theories of Counseling”. This required a review of virtually all the approaches from Freud to the present day. Alot of people have put their ideas forward in order to help others to deal with personal and social problems. And, surprise, surprise, alot of it works. It works when you work it!
This program is mostly a blend of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Narrative Therapy, Solution-oriented Counseling and most importantly, the self-help movement including Minnesota’s Hazelden Foundation and A.A.
So let’s start “Getting Yourself Together”!
Session 1 – Getting Started
First off, this program is meant to save you some time. That’s because we will focus mostly on what you can do with you in the present.
Nowadays effective counselling focuses on what works.
Even if it just works a little bit, that’s still better than spending time talking about what doesn’t work. I will share with you what I have learned over the years about what works.
This program starts with the idea that living better today solves a great deal of your past issues. When you feel stronger today, more in control of your life, the past isn’t so much of an issue.
This is called “living in the solution”.
In a way, Alcoholic Anonymous is the model for this approach. They found out that when they talked about why they drank, they got drunk. When they talked about how they managed to stay sober, they stayed sober.
Spending time talking about your weaknesses makes you feel weak. This takes away your energy and motivation for change. Recognizing your strengths, regardless of your issues, builds more strength, energy and motivation.
It’s called a strengths-based approach. Many counsellors have now adopted this method. They don’t ask what’s wrong. They ask what’s right. They don’t ask where you’ve been. They ask you where you want to go.
So your first questions are not why do I feel so bad or act so bad or keep living this crap life. Your first questions are “How do I manage to keep going despite all that?” “When did I somehow do something different so that the problem didn’t win?” and “What have I learned about how I’ve handled the past that will help me live better today?”
We aren’t going to totally ignore the past.
It’s just that “the past is a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there!” The only reason to talk about the past is to see how it is interfering in the present and to take actions to stop that.
Okay so, it also saves time if you start with the real purpose of counselling. The real purpose is to create change in what you are doing with you. In the end, that’s all that counselling can do. The only person you can change is yourself.
Not everybody likes hearing that. For some, it sounds like the victim is being blamed or they are being shut down once again. Well, hang in there. This idea will make more sense as the program unfolds. Just go along with the thought for now that your life will simply be better if you are doing better things with you.
Take a little time to think about the following two questions:
“If counselling is about changing what you are doing with you, how will you know that counselling is working for you?”
The follow-up to that is “if counselling is successful in helping you create change in what you are doing with you, what exactly will you be doing differently in your life?”
Take a few minutes to think about the above questions.
There are only three goals.
Okay so, now that you have thought about these questions for a bit, you can choose your personal change goal. It’s not complicated. After all, there are only three. That’s right, just three!
Despite all the issues that you may think you have, working at one of these three goals will resolve any of your issues. Largely, this is because by working on these goals you are building strength to deal with any issue.
First things first however! Have you had enough?
Check out our next session before you answer that!
Session 2 – Have you had enough?
Before we get too far into the tools and techniques of personal change, are you actually ready to make these changes?
My first job in Mental Health and Addictions was on an inpatient psychiatric ward. Now back then the two standards questions that patients were asked were: How do you feel about that?” and “Would you like more drugs?”
Well, one day, I overheard a staff ask a patient – “Have you had enough?” I was so surprised that I had to ask that staff about this.
She explained that she kept an eye out for patients who seemed like maybe they were ready to actually make changes in their lives. She would ask them if they had had enough and if they indicated that they had, she would talk to them about a self-help group called “Recovery Incorporated”.
If you haven’t had enough, then you are going back for more
This is the most important lesson that I have learned about helping people. Unless a person has tackled the “have you had enough” question, no technique is likely to ultimately work.
So … let’s see if you have had enough.
Many years later, Miller and Rollnick used a similar approach with their Motivational Interviewing techniques. They felt that people who needed help went through several stages before they actually began making changes.
Check out which of these statements best fits where you are on your “have you had enough” journey:
Identifying your stage can be helpful. Asking yourself why you are staying at an early stage, might just tell you what is getting in the way of your having had enough.
Here are a couple of good questions to ask yourself to help you to move along:
By answering these questions, you might just move up a stage.
Yet are you really ready to go forward?
You might want to do a conscious cost-benefit analysis.
You probably already did or are doing an “unconscious” one. That’s right. Without being fully aware of it, we do cost-benefit analysis all the time. We ask ourselves “How much do I have to give up in order to get?” This is cost benefit analysis. And, unfortunately, done unconsciously, this analysis usually adds up to not putting in the effort to change.
One reason for this is that, even if we don’t want to admit it, there are benefits to living in the problem. We will look at this further in a future session when we look at something called CAPP. However, for now, unless we challenge the benefits of being unhappy, we are likely to continue staying there. It’s almost like we don’t get enough of misery.
If you do challenge the benefits to remaining stuck in your misery, you will start to tip the balance towards change.
So if you ask yourself “have I had enough?”; check out which stage you are in and question what is keeping you there; and do an honest cost/benefit analysis, you just might be ready.
Hopefully the answer is yes.
Because you deserve better times.
In the next session, we tackle the hippo in the living room.
Session 3 – Have you got an alcohol or other drug problem?
Let’s deal with this.
Neither this program nor any other will work if you have a drug problem that is working against it.
Now most adults listening to this program believe, sincerely believe, that they can’t get through the day without some form of mood-altering substance.
Alcohol, Caffeine, Nicotine, Marijuana, Narcotics, Uppers, Downers, prescribed, not prescribed, etc., etc., …
That makes drug use a social problem, not just a personal condition. We may all need to make some changes in how we are living our lives. However, how do you know whether or not you have a “personal problem” with these substances?
Well it’s not how much you use. It’s not what you use. It’s not what time of day you use. It’s that these substances affect some people differently than others. That’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Think about it like having an allergy. If you were allergic to bee stings, you wouldn’t think less of yourself than someone who wasn’t. You would just take steps to protect yourself from bee stings.
About 10 percent of the world’s population reacts differently to mood-altering substances. That’s alot of people.
Here’s what we mean by “different”:
A man who seemed to have a problem with alcohol asked another man who didn’t seem to have a problem “How do you manage to drink and not have the problems that I do?”
The second gentleman said that he didn’t think that he did anything in particular. He said, “You know, if I have more than a couple, I get an uncomfortable, out of control feeling and I don’t like that feeling. So I am not looking to have that feeling. Besides, I know what being drunk can cost me, the way it interferes with the next day, some of the trouble I could get into, and I just don’t want to pay the price. So most of the time, I just don’t want to drink that much.”
“Bingo!” the first gentleman thought. “That’s the problem. I’m different. When I get that slightly out of control, nauseated feeling, that buzz, my system doesn’t say stop, it says keep going. When I think about the trouble that drinking causes, I don’t think, don’t do it, – I think, how am I going to get away with it?”
When the first gentleman accepted that fact that he reacted to mood-altering substances differently, he accepted that he couldn’t use safely. So the simplest and safest solution was not to use at all. And he started using a program to get and stay sober. And his life improved.
If you are experiencing this difference, the safest and simplest solution is to follow a program to not take that first sip, toke, shot or snort. Your life will be much better for this. Check out our “6 Steps to Sobriety Program” elsewhere on this site and get on with a better life.
Here are some basic self-assessment questions:
If you are answering yes to some of these questions, you are showing to yourself that you have a problem. Check out 6 Steps to Sobriety at bettertimes.ca.
Our next few session we are going to focus on techniques to help you keep going when the going gets tough.
Session 4 – Keeping yourself going – Part 1 of 3
As you set off on your personal change journey, you already know that you are going to struggle at times. Thankfully, there are lots of techniques to help you manage those times. These are often called recovery techniques and your journey called a recovery program.
It’s like putting a bandage on a blister that you got from wearing a new pair of shoes. These simple basic techniques will help you to keep going until you are comfortable with your new lifestyle changes, your “new shoes” so to speak.
And speaking of pain … Pain is not necessarily bad. The pain that comes with unhealthy behaviours is good for you. It’s what gets you to work at personal change. So you don’t want to just take that pain away, say with alcohol, street drugs and certain prescribed medications. Gambling, overeating, new relationships, anything that creates noise and temporarily makes the old ways feel not so bad just get in the way of real change. In the long run, these just do not help.
That said, here are some basic techniques that do help. We’ll break them up into two or three techniques at a time over the next few episodes so you don’t get overwhelmed:
Technique One – Space-Makers:
Sometimes in order to think clearly, you need to create some mental space between you and the challenge. The following simple relaxation techniques can help:
- – This is the quickest “save your own life” technique around. Take a deep breath in. Then, as you are quickly breathing out, shake your head and shoulders. Repeat if necessary. Shake your whole body if you want.
- – Choose something to stare at. Keep your eyes on it while you take slow deep breaths and think the word “release” slowly over and over to yourself until you are feeling calmer.
- – Sit or lie in a comfortable position, close your eyes and repeat the chanting word “Ba-ra-man-dan” over and over to yourself. Stress each syllable the same.
With chanting, you will find the following:
- – Meditation involves thinking about positive ideas and images. Some people use a book on spirituality as their source for their meditation. Some might use meditation cards or Chakra stones. Others use calming music. Exercise programs like Tai Chi can help. The idea is to focus on something outside of the daily life challenges.
Technique Two -Remember When’s
At the top of a piece of paper, write the following:
“This I don’t want to happen anymore”.
Then, make a list of the bad outcomes of your past behaviours or situations. Put this list someplace where you will see it on a daily basis. This will help you to fight off the tendency to forget how bad it really was.
Continue on to the next session for more exciting Keep Yourself Going techniques.
Session 5 – Keep Yourself Going – Part 2 of 3
Here are a few more “ save your life” techniques:
Technique Three – Let the slogans simplify your thinking
The Twelve-Step Self-Help Groups are wonderful resources. From AA to Alanon and beyond, they are simple, effective and supportive. In particular, their slogans help simplify confusing issues. Slogans particularly help in the early going.
Slogans are short sayings that say alot. Whenever you feel yourself overwhelmed or slipping just scan through this list of slogans and see which one can help:
Try them. They help.
Technique Four – Daily Routine:
Get yourself into a routine.
Regular times for sleeping, getting up, having meals, doing your daily activities is important for at least three reasons:
Follow the Halt Rule – Never get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
And add ERN plus LTD. E stands for some light, non-injury-producing physical exercise. R stands for regular short rest breaks throughout the day. N stands for small portion balanced-nutrition meals. L stands for listening for ways other people have improved their life or solved problems just like yours. T stands for talking positively and D stands for doing your daily routine.
Technique Five – Try some “Acceptance”:
It is more helpful to think of your challenges as neither bad nor good. They simply are. This is called acceptance. People often use something called the Serenity Prayer as a guide in sorting this out:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
You don’t have to be particularly religious to use this technique. The wisdom comes from deciding what you can or cannot change, what you can control and what you can’t. You can’t change the past. You can’t control other people. You can change what you are doing with yourself in the present. You can change your own thinking patterns.
Part 3 of 3 of our Keeping Yourself Going techniques awaits. Carry on.
Session 6 – Keep Yourself Going – Part 3 of 3
And still there are more little helpers:
Technique Six – “Grounding”:
People who have been abused in the past often find it difficult to hold onto good experiences in the present. That’s because any experience can trigger memories of their past pain. This interferes with building a good present which then interferes with creating a better future.
So a person needs to stay “grounded”, to experience the present moment for what it is.
Here’s a technique that can help.
Take your shoes off and plant your feet firmly on the ground, shoulder length apart. Feel the ground beneath your feet.
You might want to gently rub your body, starting with your hands. This reassures you that you are still there.
Then use all of your senses to pay attention to what is happening right now in your environment. What sights, smells, sounds, texture or taste sensations are happening right now in the world around you. Resist the urge to connect any of this to the past. This is your world right now.
Don’t analyze it. Don’t question it. At this point, resist the temptation to get into how you feel about it. Just be there.
Then maybe add some “space-makers” and get back to what needs to be done right now in your life.
Technique Seven – Positive affirmations:
Make yourself a list of good qualities that you want to be more active in you. This is the “you deep down” wanting to come out and stay out.
Choose your three top ones. Now make a short statement about being each of your top three. Put the statements into the present tense – “I am, I have, I can, I do”.
For example, I am a good person. I can handle challenges
Technique Eight – Don’t get discouraged by “bad days”:
It would be nice if you just started off on your new life and never looked back. It would nice. It just isn’t likely.
Relapse is a reality. Relapse means falling back into your old ways after a period of success with the new ways. It’s that old ambivalence that we looked at in the segment on “Have You Had Enough?”
“I want to change, yet I don’t want to change.”
The problem is that you might allow your embarrassment and disappointment at relapsing keep you back there.
Relapse can happen. You didn’t do anything wrong. This isn’t a sign of failure. Use it as motivation. Learn from it and move on.
Okay so those are some helpful techniques to Keep Yourself Going. There are alot more tools and techniques with this program. Just keep taking one step at a time, one day at a time.
Our next session looks at “Why Good People Stay in Bad Relationships”.
Session 7 – Why do good people stay in bad relationships
It’s all about basic human needs.
We have a physical need for food, water and shelter. If we don’t get enough, we die. That’s why we call them needs instead of wants.
We also have emotional/psychological needs. I call them – “C.A.P.P.” – Connection, Affection and Personal Power. With our C.A.P.P. needs, if we don’t get enough of the right kind, we lose our lives through avoidable accidents and illnesses, violence and suicide.
Connection, Affection and Personal Power
Connection involves both the need to feel that you belong … with someone or some group and the need to have a separate identity within those relationships.
Any threat to our “belongingness” creates a strong emotional pain called “separation anxiety”. Separation anxiety on its own can be a sufficient reason to stay in a bad relationship.
Then there’s the identity factor. We get our sense of who we are from our relationships. Once that is set, any change will be met with the emotional pain of “feeling really self-conscious”. So we actually look for relationships that allow us to be this character we have become.
And, the people around you might expect you to be this character as the price of staying in that relationship.
Next comes our need for affection. Everyone has a need to feel loved, lovable, and to some extent to be able to give that back. A lack of affection in our lives causes the emotional pain of “feeling all alone”.
And then there is our need for personal power. We need to feel that we can somehow make things happen for ourselves, that we are not completely at the mercy of others. Otherwise we feel the pain of “vulnerability”.
If you understand that CAPP represents needs not wants, you understand the power of staying in bad relationships.
Abusive relationships, juvenile gangs, cults, cliques, bad workplaces, these can meet our C.A.P.P. needs just as well as healthy activities. And they may seem easier.
And once we are in them the pain of getting out or even thinking about getting out can stop us in our tracks. Even if we somehow get out, we may go looking for the same kind of bad situation.
If that’s where you are, you need to get some “Positive Capping” happening. You need to start getting your C.A.P.P. needs met in positive healthy relationships. That will happen naturally when you start to treat yourself better and expect others to do the same or leave you alone.
However to do make this work for you, you need to do pain management. That’s when those ‘keeping yourself going” techniques and our other life change techniques really help.
And you particularly need to work hard at them when you first start making changes. That’s because there is one more piece of pain to manage, the pain of “uncertainty”. It is the vacuum you feel as you let go of the past and aren’t quite the new you. When you manage this transition period, good things jump in to fill that void.
Remember to avoid using alcohol or other drugs, prescribed or not prescribed, new romances, gambling, over or under eating and all the other unhealthy noise that you might put in to just fill up the empty space. They will just add to your troubles.
Manage that pain.
In the next session, we will look further at Positive CAPPing.
Session 8 – Positive Capping
Healthier relationships start with changing what you do with you.
When you make changes, some people will be able to handle this and some won’t. Try not to judge others or yourself if some people can’t quite handle the new you. Remember, everybody is living their own C.A.P.P.
Some people have found it helpful to get a vision of their “new me”. Shakti Gawain has been the guru for this creative visualization work. “If you can dream it, you can do it”!
Get a picture in your mind of the “you” that you want to be.
What do you look like? What are you doing? This visualization stuff teaches you what you need to do. It also helps convince you that you can do it.
Make sure though that you spend time visualizing what you need to do to get there. Visualize becoming this person you want to be. This way you will be learning what you need to do to get where you want to be.
And whenever you aren’t sure what to do, keep it simple. Just do something different.
Sometimes life is trial and error.
You already know that what you have been doing hasn’t worked so well. Do the opposite and see how that works. And keep making adjustments until you find what works for you.
And then, what you are looking for is people who are supportive. One simple way to build support is to share what you are trying to do with those around you. Those who are encouraging to you and co-operative with you can be seen as supports. Those who aren’t, aren’t. Spend more time with those who are supportive and less or no time with those who aren’t. You may gain some people in your life and you may lose some.
“Ready-made” support groups may be available to us. Support groups are made up of people who are working at making the same changes as us. They get together to share their strength, hope and experience and most of all help each other fight against the old attitudes and thought processes. They give us a shortcut to communication because, having lived it, they already know what we are talking about. There are plenty of support groups out there from weight control and exercise groups to healing circles to Alanon and A.C.O.A.
You can even start your own self-help support group.
All you need is a couple of people who want to make the same changes and who are willing to meet once a week or so to share their experiences in working on the changes.
The trick to using support groups is to not expect perfection from your other group members. They are struggling, too. Concentrate on supporting each other in the struggle and focusing on what works.
And we will finish up this session by going back to those three personal change goals:
- getting on and staying on a regular balanced “everything in moderation/nothing in excess” routine regardless of what the other people around you are doing
Try these techniques and you will see that when you start making changes and sticking to the changes, your world starts to shift to accommodate the changes.
Our next session focuses on “narrative therapy”.
Session 9 – Living a New Life Story
An important first concept for us to tackle is something called “narratives”. Narratives are the social stories that we act out in our lives.
We truly live our lives as if we are characters in a story.
The storyline for our character is created for us by the Society in which we live. All the stories put together form what we call our culture. They tell us right from wrong and how someone like us is supposed to act. Yet, these stories are neither ultimately right nor ultimately wrong. They have simply come into existence over the years and we feel significant pressure to follow the script.
The reason that it is important to know this is that sometimes the change we need to make is in the “story” that we are living. Sometimes our stories no longer fit. Maybe the situation has changed. Maybe we have changed. Sometimes our stories create more problems than they solve.
At the same time, biologically, we are social animals. We are genetically programmed to go along with the group. Before we do something, we naturally ask ourselves “what will people think of me?” In order to handle the social pressure of changing our story, we will need to feel that it is somehow socially okay. This is called “social permission”. We need a sense that going against the norm is still okay socially, somehow, at least for us, at least in this situation.
Fortunately, even the most rigid cultures, have competing “stories”. Cultures have evolved. That means that there are all kinds of examples of change having happened. Despite society’s apparent rules, there may be an escape clause, so to speak
We have entered the realm of Narrative Therapy as pioneered by people like Michael White and John Winslade. If you think that maybe it is social pressure that is keeping you stuck, a Narrative Therapist can really help. In the meantime, here’s some stuff to get you started.
Here’s an example of what we are talking about:
A man lives in a culture in which the most powerful story is that men need to be the boss of the home. Men in this culture are not only allowed to treat women as inferior, it seems expected. This man is a gentle soul who doesn’t like being bossy. He also loves a woman whom he respects, doesn’t see as inferior and who refuses to accept being bossed or treated as an inferior. He wants to be with this woman yet societal pressures are making this look impossible.
What does he do? Well, he looks for exceptions to the rule. He looks for examples of men who weren’t so bossy. He looks for examples of men who brought about change in other societal stories. If change happened there, then it can happen with the bossy story. He finds a goal of society that is better served by not being bossy. He finds a way to live in a peaceful relationship with the woman he loves, occasionally being berated by other men living other stories but that’s okay because he feel that what he is doing is right for him and he has some social permission to do this.
This may seem complicated. However, all you need to know now is that you can “change the script” that you are living. The solution is often in the “exception to the rule”, the time when something different happened, when what was expected to happen didn’t and life turned out better.
This isn’t finding excuses for bad behaviour. It is about finding good reasons to do good things.
So you ask yourself:
“What cultural stories are getting in the way of me making healthy changes and having better relationships with people?”
“What other story could I live and live with instead?”
And now Relax. No really, relax. Our next sessions focus on Active Relaxation Techniques.
Session 10 – Relaxation Phase One
Active relaxation means that you are participating in the event. You come out of the experience not just relaxed but also feeling that you have done something worthwhile.
Surprisingly, a combination of active relaxation, stretching, a balanced small-portions diet and a good brisk daily walk may be all that a person needs to maintain basic health.
Yet for many people, myself included, you may find it hard to get yourself to do this on a regular basis. You might need to give yourself a little “talking to”. You need to get your head into accepting that you aren’t missing anything when you are doing active relaxation. You are probably replacing a destructive activity with a constructive activity.
These active relaxation techniques are essentially breathing and imagining exercises.
Find yourself a place quiet or less busy where you won’t be interrupted for about 30 minutes.
Wear loose clothing or loosen your clothing or have a blanket or cover to keep yourself warm.
Whether lying down or sitting in a chair, support your head, neck and lower back so that they aren’t being strained.
If you want to keep your eyes open, then stare at a spot in front of you (called a focal point). Otherwise open or close your eyes however you find works for you.
Some people prefer quiet; Others find it works better for them to have some sound that helps them to crowd out the outside noise and inside chatter.
Go to the bathroom before you begin. You may also want to have a couple of sips of water.
Do what you can. Don’t worry about perfection or techniques that you don’t feel comfortable with just yet. And don’t do anything unless you feel it is right for you. Let it happen instead of trying to make it happen.
Okay so, let’s start with Phase One:
Read the instructions over. Practice the techniques. Then do Phase One once or twice a day for a couple of days. Once you feel you can do it without thinking a whole lot about it, go on to the Phase Two.
If you want to explore this relaxation stuff deeper, check out our next session for Phase Two.
Session 11 – Relaxation Phase Two
Practice with this phase once a day until you have a sense of it and until you find it easier to take the time to do it.
The 21-day test
I have heard it said that if you do anything for 21 days in a row, it will likely become a habit sensation that you will feel motivated to keep doing!
Add some extras
Once you are fully relaxed, you can deepen your experience by trying out one of the following:
There are 9 colours which are connected to your body’s “Chakra Energy” centers. As you continue to breathe deep, slowly cycle through these colours in your mind: Black, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Light Blue, Dark Blue, Purple and White, then cycle back through them to Black.
Visualize yourself on a nice pleasant day going on a nice leisurely trip to a marvelous place where you get to spend some time. Pay attention to all the good stuff along the way. Bring something back to remind you of your trip. Next time you are feeling down or stressed think on that day and the thing you brought back.
You can blend the Chakra work with your imaginary trip by visualizing objects having the Chakra colours along the way.
Go ahead. Treat yourself. Relax!
Check out our next episode where we focus on unlearning the lessons of life!
Session 12 – Healing: What life has taught me and how can I unlearn that!
In the next few episodes we are going to take a little peak at the past. To do this, you are faced with another “have you had enough” challenge. Are you ready to do the work not just of looking at the past but also of letting it go?
The Pity Pot
People looking to make changes talk about having “wallowed in self-pity”. They talk about having to get off the pity pot. Ouch! Ouch, but good point! Because it’s time to talk about healing!
People talk alot about healing. There are any number of Healing Centres and Healing Programs where you can go to heal. And I have seen any number of people go through these and still be stuck in the past.
Well, here’s the thing. A sore doesn’t heal if you keep picking at it.
Here’s a Definition of Healing that may help:
Healing is no longer letting the Past hurt you in the Present.
If and when you can do that, you are healing.
The Healing Process involves:
The Healing Process is rediscovering and rekindling the hidden personal power within you. It is discovering that the hurt was something done to you. It is not you. It does not have to define who you are or can be.
Now we are going to head out on our voyage of discovery.
Let’s do a little preparation work.
Ask yourself the following questions. For each one, see if you can figure out how your past created your answers.
How has the way you think about life made your life more difficult or easier?
What life choices have you made that prevented you from making other choices?
How have you got your C.A.P.P. needs met?
How have you handled your emotions?
What kind of person do you think you have become? Would you change that?
How have you handled relationship challenges?
Back to the three goals
Based on your answers, which of the three personal change goal do you think that you need to work on:
If any of this process causes you distress, do one of the techniques that you have learned in order to better manage that distress.
In the next few sessions, we will look at “holes in the road” – the most common issues that people deal with in therapy that come out of the past.
Session 13 – Holes In The Road – Part One of Four:
After several years of providing group therapy in the Addiction Treatment program, I asked myself whether there were patterns in the types of issues that people tended to bring to group. The answer was: Yes! Some of the same issues came up time and time again.
These issues are holes in the road of life. You have a choice. Recognize them for what they are and walk around them. Or fall back in.
The following are the most common unresolved issues people bring to therapy. As you listen, ask yourself if, how and when these stumbling blocks have been active in your life. Then resolve to use the Get Yourself Together techniques to counteract them.
Having been disappointed in the past and expecting perfection in the present, many of us learn to be suspicious and distrustful of others. You may continue testing others until, like all people, they cannot meet your demands.
What you need to know is that the only person you need to trust is you. And all you need to trust is that you will not hurt you when life doesn’t go your way. Once you can trust yourself not to revert to your old self-destructive behaviours, you can let others be themselves. Trust isn’t such an issue anymore.
Many people are locked into a life-long struggle against an adult who abused them in the past. That adult and the abuse come to define who they are. The struggle seems like all that they have to hang onto in life. Their pain becomes a weapon.
And they can’t seem to resolve this because they think that to let it go would make light of their feelings, say the abuse was okay and let the abuser win.
And yet, when this comes up in group therapy, someone finally says “What did the abuser win?”
To win in life is to feel good about yourself and to have respectful, nurturing, peaceful relationships with other people. Being able to force your will on another human being is not winning. It is losing.
And, bingo, the lights come on. The abuse victim finally comes to realize that there really was no contest. The abuser was beaten before the abuse began. It’s the abuser who is the loser.
And then they are confronted with the concept of forgiveness. In recovery, the concept of forgiveness is similar to the concept of forgiving a bad debt. The idea is to no longer require payment.
Forgiveness, therefore, doesn’t mean to forget. It doesn’t mean changing your feelings about the incident. The abuse was not okay.
However, when you begin to make changes in your life, you begin to discover the power within you outside of the abuse. You begin to realize that focusing on the abuser and defining yourself on the basis of the abuse is taking away your power. Once you take your power back, you can stop being a victim and be the person you want to be. The abuser has nothing to offer you in this. This is something you give to yourself.
A trap into which a number of people fall is the desire to be a hero in their own head. They have a particular attraction to being a “tragic hero or heroine”. The attraction here is the intense emotions and excitement.
Sometimes this is referred to as being a “crisis junkee” or “drama queen”. And like all “addictions”, the end result is not worth playing that game.
The antidote for this “drug” is to learn to recognize it for what it is and to begin to stop making noise and start liking and taking care of ourselves.
Carry on to Part 2
Session 14 – Holes In The Road – Part Two of Four:
With this episode, we continue with some more of the most common unresolved issues people bring to therapy
As you listen, ask yourself if, how and when these stumbling blocks have been active in your life. Then resolve to use the Get Yourself Together techniques to counteract them.
Many of us are taught that if you make a mistake, you are a mistake.
Surrounded by judgmental people just waiting to ridicule us, we try desperately not to make mistakes, to try to prove ourselves worthy.
Three things are then likely to happen:
We feel like failures and frauds because we over-emphasize any imperfections
We live life as if someone is just waiting for us to stumble and fall
Our successes don’t bring us much satisfaction because they are still too connected to the past criticisms and criticizers.
To get past this, you need to know that ultimately people who seek to control others through ridicule and “put downs” cannot be pleased. You can’t become successful to them because your success reminds them of their own sense of inadequacy.
So never try to prove yourself to anybody! Do your own personal best and let others accept you as you are or leave you alone.
People with problems often talk about wanting to be “normal”. Unfortunately, they don’t recognize that “normal” people often experience the same thoughts and symptoms that they have.
So normal comes to mean “problem-free”. The person goes about trying to find the perfect life. This is sometimes called “honeymooning”. Once the imperfections in a relationship show up, they are out of there.
It helps to develop a realistic view of what life can manageably offer and what other people go through in life. Start looking for balance rather than perfection. Look for a little inner peace and a sense of contributing rather than heaven on earth.
We have an inbred fear of being abandoned. In some cultures, “Shunning” or refusing to acknowledge the presence of another person is seen as the ultimate punishment. Banishment from the tribe means virtual death.
This is part of our basic emotional/psychological need structure which we will deal with in the episodes on “CAPP”.
So we will put up with almost anything, do anything as long as we are allowed to belong. This may include some nasty family interactions.
What you need to know now is that the techniques included in this program are quite effective in working past this particular block. They will help you with making the break if that’s what you need to do.
Being alone for a bit may be the best thing that you ever did for yourself. And it might just give you the chance to meet some people who would be better for you.
Remember the past is a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there? Sometimes it isn’t so nice.
Make sure you are keeping yourself focused and relaxed as we go through the Holes in the Road.
On to the next episode.
Session 15 – Holes In The Road – Part Three of Four:
As you listen, ask yourself if, how and when these stumbling blocks have been active in your life. Then resolve to use the Get Yourself Together techniques to counteract them.
In some cases, a person grows up with a sense that to openly express feelings is either dangerous or degrading. This can happen through growing up with people who use temper tantrums, rages, depressions, suicidal gestures, emotional blackmail and ridicule to control others. It can also happen if you grow up with people who don’t outwardly express their feelings at all, quietly discouraging any open display of emotions, even displays of affection.
If expressing your feelings is somehow used against you, you may consciously decide to not let them catch you feeling ever again!
However, just because you don’t admit to or express your feelings doesn’t mean you aren’t having them. You have feelings all the time. If you don’t find a healthy outlet for them, you’ll find an unhealthy one. This program has an episode on expressing feelings. For right now, dealing with feelings is as simple as “I.A.E.” – Identify, Acknowledge, Express.
This is directly attached to the previous “I am not going to let them see me feel”. And it’s why some people find themselves “stuck” in therapy. You see, they go to therapy and they get to feel. They are encouraged to feel. They are protected as they feel. They are accepted for their feelings and the expression of their feelings. And feel they do. And it becomes a kind of drug! And the next therapy session is where they will get their next fix of “feelings expression” and acceptance and unconditional love. And if they get better, they have to give this up. So they stay sick.
All I can say is it’s like any other kind of addiction. You have to decide whether you want to stay there or not.
An infamous churchman once said, “ Give me a child until he’s nine years old and I will have him for life.”
What that means is that our earliest experiences with things like power relationships and shame and guilt issues are very difficult to overcome. If you grew up with people exercising power over you who did not really have your best interests at heart, you are going to have trouble accepting life’s rules.
You have heard about the movie “Rebel without a Cause”? Well, this is kind of “Rebel without a Clue”. You just take an anti-authoritarian attitude with you everywhere you go even when it just causes you trouble.
If you are having trouble “following the rules”, you need to separate the rules from the person(s) who was trying to enforce them. Sit down with yourself (and maybe others whom you trust) and review the rules from the standpoint of whether they are practical and liveable and how you might come to terms with them for yourself.
People often enter counselling to change someone else. Unfortunately, the only person you can change is yourself. Spending any time discussing other people’s fault’s is lost time. Personal change has to do with what you are doing with your own life. And it is as simple and straightforward as that.
Session 16 – Holes In The Road – Part Four of Four:
Suppose that you had only learned to ride a bicycle while sitting backward in your seat. It would be uncomfortable and likely unsafe. However if it was the only way that you knew, then you would keep doing it. You would even defend it as the right way or at least the right way for you. But suppose that someone got you to try riding your bicycle sitting frontward in the seat. Well, after a few wobbly starts you would find that this actually works better. You would lose all that pain and feel pretty darn good about yourself. And you know what, you just might say to yourself “Now that I am feeling better, I could probably go back to riding the bicycle backward again. You’d turn around in your seat and get back all that old pain.”
Sometimes people just don’t realize how much of an attachment they have to making the old ways work. They even go for counselling to find a way to make the old ways work.
Here’s the thing: The old ways don’t work. Sooner or later the old ways don’t work. What works is sticking to your personal change program. And this only works when you work it. If you stop working, the recovery techniques stop working.
Two statements about change that we make all the time are “It’s hard, you know” and “but I’ve always been this way”. We make these two statements as if, unless reality changes, they are good reasons for not making changes.
In truth, as meaningful as these statements seem, they are like saying “the sky is blue”. Of course, change is hard. If it was easy, we probably would have made the change some time ago. And yes, this is “how we have been”. That’s how we know we want to “be” something different.
Catch yourself when you are talking this way. Try some space-makers or other techniques to get yourself out of that mind-set.
And if all else fails, you may just refuse to entertain the thoughts that change will actually work. You can actually find yourself going to counselling to make sure it doesn’t work.
You try to make the counsellor “convince” you. You look for inconsistencies and excuses. You look for an “easier, softer way” while knowing that it doesn’t exist.
A good way to combat this is to make a list of all the reasons why you may not be able to make or sustain the changes or why they can’t ultimately work.
Then, at the top of this list, write the word “excuses” – because that is all that they are.
Okay so those are the “Holes in the Road”. I hope that going through them has been of some help. I hope that you can learn to walk around them rather than falling back in.
In the next session we practice feeling.
Session 17 – Finding your Feeling
It is said that you can’t put something in the past if you haven’t let yourself feel it.
So people going for counselllng are often asked: “How do you feel about that?”
This is a dreadfully difficult question to answer for people who have spent years denying their feelings. So here is an exercise that will help you to get back in touch with your feelings.
Yes, back in touch.
You were in touch with your feelings once. It may have been a long time ago, maybe even way back when you were a baby. However, you were born with a full set of emotions and were quite prepared to express them.
Dealing with your feelings is as simple as I A E – Identify, Acknowledge Express.
Identify means asking yourself what is the feeling or feelings that you are or have been having about this situation.
Acknowledge means to admit that yes you are indeed having this feeling or these feelings
Express means saying to yourself and/or telling someone else the feeling that you are having about the situation.
Then you “let it go”.
This may take practice. The following practice exercises can be done alone. At the same time, they may be even more helpful if you can do them with others. Doing it with others meets the personal mental health requirement of talking with others about your life and feelings.
The following is the feeling list that you will be using for your feelings practice.
If you have trouble with a feeling, leave it for a bit and come back later. The ones with which you have trouble may show you a pattern of emotional experience which you have learned to deny yourself.
Here’s the list:
Comfortable Sad Brave Happy Guilty
Shamed Loved Amused Irritable Afraid
Confident Embarrassed Disgusted Satisfied
And here’s your first Emotional identification Practice Exercise
For each emotion on the list, do the following:
Doing this exercise not only helps you to identify emotions better, the silliness of it may help to break through any block that still remains about accessing your emotions.
Here’s your second Emotional Expression Practice Exercise
Go through the list of emotions again and, for each one, do each of the following three things:
Remember to “Feel your feelings ~ Don’t feed your feelings”
The goal of emotional recovery is to have emotions consistent with the moment. You don’t need to analyze a feeling. You don’t need to hold onto it for dear life. You just need to I A E it and then let it go and get on to the next life experience.
And speaking of letting it go, the next episode deals with thoughts-management and the kinds of thoughts that you really need to let go.
Session 18 – The Disordered Thinking Program
It’s all in your head! Well, where else would it be? Sheesh.
Back in the early 1990”s, my colleague Marilyn and I put together “The Disordered Thinking Program”. It’s a simple thoughts-management program based on Beck’s Cognitive-Behavioural Modification Approach. It can make an immediate improvement in your life. Immediate!
You see, people are not upset so much by what happens to them but rather by the kinds of thoughts they have concerning what happens.
For example – two people on a porch notice a thunderstorm coming – one runs and hides, terrified of the sights and sounds to come – the other gets out a camera thrilled to be out there with those same sights and sounds – one thunderstorm, two different ways of thinking about thunderstorms.
And, neither of these two different ways of thinking about thunderstorms is right or wrong. However, one way of thinking may help you to live a manageable life and one way may stop you from living a manageable life. That’s the issue … the effect your thinking has on your life!
Any thought that causes you to hurt yourself, accept abuse or hurt others is a “disordered thought”.
Now having “disordered thoughts” is not a problem. They are simply products of your experience and they will pop up from time to time. The damage is done when you hold onto them and act on them.
The Disordered Thinking Program involves the following:
Step 1: You need to identify that disordered thoughts are happening.
You might start by identifying the usual physical, emotional and mental symptoms that you get when you are upset.
Where does your upset come out?
Physical symptoms like an upset stomach, diarrhea, headaches, muscle stiffness, sore joints, a racing pulse, heart pains etc.
Emotional symptoms like anger, lack of energy, weepiness, despair, worry, panic, etc.
Mental Symptoms like general irritability, depressiveness, obsessiveness, paranoia, lashing out, self-abuse planning, suicidal notions, getting even fantasies etc., particularly if you can’t seem to let them go
Or maybe you will find it easier identifying the Disordered Thoughts themselves. These are any thoughts that cause you to hurt yourself, accept abuse, hurt others or obsess about hurting yourself, accepting abuse and hurting others. Disordered thoughts are also any thoughts that stop you from letting go of upset and getting on with your life.
Step 2: Follow this simple process for letting the thoughts go.
When you recognize that disorder is happening, smile and say to yourself “Disorder!!!!” Take a couple of deep breaths. Say “I’m okay. It’s my thinking that’s the issue. Having a disordered thought isn’t a problem. Holding onto it is.”
Now, use the vacuum principle. When you create a vacuum by forcing something out of a space, you draw something else into that space. Don’t ignore that disordered thinking is there. Just keep blocking it out. Use the space-makers or other keeping yourself going techniques to take the power out of the disordered thought and give it back to you.
This program works. As the advertisement says – “just do it“.
Well, that should get you started.
What? There’s More?
Yeah, there’s life.
Many self-help groups end their meeting with the chant “It works when you work it!” If you want to go back to your misery, just stop using what you have learned here.
Yet, eventually by living the tools and techniques, they will become second nature to you. They will give you just enough life satisfaction to make you want to live that life. You will see what life throws you differently. And that will keep you going.
Life won’t be perfect. It may not be what you wanted it to be. But then it doesn’t have to be, does it!
Go out and live your life.