Self-Care: Why I Need It, and You Do Too

by Tim Ryan

Sitting in a hospital room with my son and ex-wife in Virginia a few weeks ago, stress flooded me. I had been on the road for what felt like months, doing everything I could to help those still in struggling with addiction to find hope and lasting recovery. When I finally returned home for a long, restful weekend, a family emergency put me right back on a plane halfway across the country.

During those few days, I never felt the urge to use. But I did feel many other things—emotions ranging from sadness to relief, and gratitude to anger.

Image may contain: one or more people, ocean, text, outdoor, water and natureAs the emergency subsided, I had to remind myself of a concept that is at the heart of my recovery: I am not a victim. So I don’t need to act like one.

A victim says to himself, “This isn’t fair!” and “I shouldn’t have to put up with this crap!” Before long, a voice tells the victim, “Things can’t get any worse. Maybe you should get some relief by (insert drug of choice here.)”

But I am not a victim. Circumstances, neither good nor bad, don’t control me and my recovery.

So when I’m temporarily triggered or overwhelmed, I don’t let the situations win. Instead, I use healthy self-care as part of my lasting recovery.

Here’s what you need to know about self-care so you can practice it regularly to stay strong—

Self-care is part of your recovery

I’ve heard some people say—

  • I don’t have time to focus on myself
  • When I step out of the battle, there is no one who will step up for me
  • If I’m not tired all of the time, I’m not giving enough

That’s garbage, nothing more than ego talking. Don’t confuse self-care with selfishness.

For many of us, recovery involves working a 12-step program. Step 12 is all about taking your gift of recovery and paying it forward. Here’s the kicker: you can’t pay forward what you don’t first possess! Unless you prioritize your own recovery, you can never help another person. Self-care is like putting gas in your car. By keeping your tank full, you’re able to help others. After all, helping others starts with you taking care of yourself.

The right people feed your soul

Think back to the people you spent time with when you were active in your addiction. Fellow addicts, right? It’s nearly impossible to get and stay clean when those around you are using.

Tim Ryan Addiction Speaker Self-care
Princess Mac is part of my self-care.

Meaningful self-care requires us to surround ourselves with the right people, those that give more than they take. Two of those people for me are my wife, Kirsten, and my youngest daughter, MacKenzie, who I call Princess Mac. No, I don’t expect them to serve me. Kirsten gives to me by simply sitting and sharing a cup of coffee with me, being my sounding-board, or putting up with my erratic schedule. Princess Mac gives to me by laughing, falling asleep on my lap, or playing on her yard swing.

You know you are surrounded by the right people when you are able to relax, be yourself, and stay in the moment without getting pulled into conflict.

Part of recharging involves unplugging

Our lives are full of incessant noise: social media updates from our friends, 24/7 media coverage, requests for help, phone calls, etc. How can we find a slice of quiet in a noisy world? Unplug.

Tim Ryan addiction speaker
Time at the lake with those I love recharges my soul.

When I returned from Virginia, I called my boss and told him that I would be out for a week. Then I shut off my phones (yes, I have more than one!), turning them on only when I wanted to call someone or take a picture. I kept my focus on two things only: matters requiring urgent attention (like family emergencies) and my family.

Guess what happened? I didn’t miss anything. By taking the time away from all of the noise, I got to invest in my wife, children, parents, loved ones, and closest friends. Instead of being connected to everything and everyone screaming for my attention, I reconnected to those who charge my battery.

No, it’s not always possible to take a day or week off from work to regain your charge. But you can do it in small ways like hitting a meeting, joining a friend first thing in the morning for coffee, or practicing deep breathing. Just make sure you’re phone is off. Stay in the moment. Really be with the people in front of you. Phones have become like new limbs. We’ve become dependent on them to fight boredom, learn new things, and stay connected. Some replace cocaine with a cell phone. Don’t be afraid to disconnect with the virtual world so you can reconnect with the real one.

Every time you get into an airplane, the flight attendants tell you that if the oxygen masks deploys, put your own on first. Why? If you don’t, you become a liability instead of an asset. And if you don’t stay strong, how will you be of any use to anyone else?

By the way, these concepts apply whether or not you’re an addict. Reach out and raise your hand if you need help.

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The importance of group therapy in addiction recovery

“Hello, may name is ______ and I’m an alcoholic drug addict.”

Many of us have been in situations where we have had to utter these words. Sitting in a lazily-formed circle, looking around the room for answers in other’s faces and body language. We saw tired faces, weary from life. We’ve seen faces that looked happier than others, sleepy faces, scarred faces, scared faces, tattooed faces. We’ve seen legs shake in anticipation of speaking, or hands clutching the Big Book as if its the only thing tying that person to the planet.

We’ve been in group therapy.

According to an article in Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 41group therapy, or group, can be incredibly rewarding for individuals recovering from addiction. These groups can reduce isolation and allow members to watch the recovery of their peers. The group format also addresses common symptoms accompanying drug addiction, such as depression and shame.

Having someone say, “Hey man, I’ve been there too.” Or, “I feel the same exact way!” Can be an incredibly healing experience. Not only can you see that it is possible to make it through whatever you are dealing with, but that person can also give you advice from their own experience.

Humans are social creatures, we crave interpersonal relationships. In the throws of addiction, we may isolate ourselves from those who care about us and therefore cause ourselves more pain.

Although A Man in Recovery does not provide clinical group therapy, and someone seeking that should reach out to a treatment facility, we do offer support groups that are open to anyone.

At these groups we have parents, loved ones and addicts share experiences, in their respective groups, about what they are currently going through or struggling with. Through these groups, participants receive support or advice from a diverse group of individuals and see that they are not alone.

Groups such as this or 12-step programs are an important addition to an addicts recovery, however they cannot replace clinical group therapy. In fact, most treatment facilities make attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous or similar programs mandatory, according to Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 41. These groups act as a supplement to the treatment process, and should be treated as such.

Sitting in a group of strangers can be terrifying. But, there is no better feeling than watching the transformation of that group from strangers, to friends and finally family.

 

For times, dates and locations of AMIRF support group meetings visit this page. 

 

References:

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2005. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 41.) 1 Groups and Substance Abuse Treatment. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64223/

 

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Buprenorphine, the new neuroleptic

In May of this year, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Buprenorphine (Suboxone) implants for the maintenance treatment of opiate addicts, and I’m terrified.

The implant is supposed to eliminate the potential for losing, forgetting or having the pill stolen, according to a press release by the FDA. I also believe that these implants will hopefully deter recipients from re-selling their Suboxone.

However, an implant will not prevent certain patients from using other substances on top of the Suboxone and this is where we are seeing problems. According to drugs.com, when using Suboxone with medications that suppress the nervous system, side effects can include respiratory distress, coma, or even death.

According to the FDA press release, the implants will consist of four, one-inch long rods that are implanted under the skin on the inside of a patient’s upper arm. These implants would provide Suboxone treatment for six months.

Although I can appreciate the benefits of taking away the hassle of daily pill-taking, implanting Suboxone into a patient is not fixing the Suboxone problem.

According to an article in Addiction Professional by Steven R. Scanlan MD, using Suboxone for longer than 20-25 days can initiate a strong dependence on the medication. Which could be problematic with the medication estimated to be 25-40 times more potent than morphine.  The article also stated that although Suboxone may help make the physical symptoms of addiction manageable, it actually does not address the emotional and spiritual aspects of the disease.

“Suboxone is a powerful opiate-an anesthetic to emotional pain. It immediately alleviates anxiety and depression, and makes a person feel more emotionally stable. A lesser dose of Suboxone (2 mg a day) will block an estimated 80 percent of a person’s feelings, while higher doses can make a patient practically numb,” Scanlan said in this article.

So my question is, how do we expect to treat patients suffering from addiction, when our patient is not able to access their emotions?

In my opinion, this practice is eerily similar to the use of neuroleptic-induced frontal lobotomies to control difficult patients in the early days of mental health treatment.

Implanting a six-month dose of Suboxone into patients to continually keep them numb is horrifying to me. Prescribing an addict this “mind-numbing” medication is essentially telling them their emotions are too much or too painful. These emotions may be a lot to handle and potentially painful, but that is why we have therapists and counselors working with addicts to process these emotions.

So what is more important treatment providers? Processing and working through an addicts painful emotions? Or blocking them completely?

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