Sober Socializing: Protect Your Sobriety Without Missing Out

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By Michelle Peterson

Back in the day, you loved to party. Whether you got drunk or high, it was how you had fun. Well, not really. It took you a while to realize it, but substance abuse was an attempt to run away from problems, and it wasn’t very successful. Eventually, you realized you wanted (and needed) to stay sober.

After some hard work, you managed it. You began your new life in addiction recovery, and you’re rightfully proud of what you’ve accomplished. But then you hear about the party. It sounds fun and repulsive at the same time. Can you have a social life while in addiction recovery?

Definitely! There’s absolutely no reason why you have to be a hermit. You just need to take some precautions and make a plan to ensure a sober social life.

Avoiding Temptation on Vacation

One of the riskiest social gatherings, when you are in addiction recovery, is the vacation. Normally, these are escapes from the pressure of the working world. You have to cut loose and let off a little steam. That used to mean getting drunk, high, or both. Now that you’re sober, how can you avoid temptation while on vacation?

First, start by recognizing not all vacations are the same. Some are more likely to lead to a relapse than others. A class reunion, where everyone drinks, for example, is riskier than a vacation to a national park. But pay attention to your own history. If for instance, you used to get drunk at beach parties all the time, you probably want to head to the mountains instead.

One great tip is to bring along a book or audiobook that’s related to recovery and take a few quiet moments when you’re on vacation to enjoy them. There are even podcasts available to help you remember why you got sober in the first place.

You will also want to stay in contact with sober friends back home. Sometimes, a kind word from them can help you avoid temptation.

Navigating Family Gatherings

Ah, family. They are the rock people cling to during turbulent times. But they’re also a big reason people drink in the first place. From dealing with those out-of-control nephews to that uncle who can’t stop talking about politics, you will face the temptation to go off the wagon just to deal with it all.

Before you go to any family event, make sure you have a solid exit strategy. That’s more than just an excuse! You need to know when to leave and how you can get out of there. If you’re driving anyone there, make sure they’re on board with leaving if needed — or that they can at least find another way home. You should even practice what you are going to say when things start to get out of hand.

You also need to practice what to say when people ask obvious and sometimes rude questions about your new sobriety. A few might tease you about it in a weak attempt at being funny. Others might just have no idea what to say to you.

Take Control By Planning Your Own Events

If things sound a bit dicey at other people’s parties, why not start your own? This way, you can control what goes on — and what is served.

You can play the right music, invite sober friends, break out games (board, video, outdoor, whatever), and focus on making some delicious non-alcoholic drinks that make people want to come to your parties.

You Got This

Avoiding temptation is not always easy. Just keep in mind why you got sober in the first place. Then by taking a few precautions above, you can stay sober and still be the life of the party — or at least have a good time.

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Sober Dating Tips: Find Romance Without Compromising Your Recovery

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By Aimee Runyon

For those of us recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction, dating can be a complicated and confusing world. When you finally do decide to start dating again it is important to seek the advice of those in your support group to make sure the time is right.

Many people are aware of the “one year rule” in 12-step programs, which suggest waiting at least a year after getting clean to begin dating again. While this is just a suggested time period, many treatment professionals and old-timers have seen the consequences of dating in very early recovery. Whether it is a replacement to fill the void that drugs and alcohol used to fill, or a distraction from actually working on yourself, getting into a relationship too early can lead to complications and consequences for you and your partner.

Here are a few tips that can help you navigate the new world of dating in sobriety:

Tip #1 – Decide If You Want to Date Others in Recovery or “Normies”
This can be something that changes over time or on a case-to-case basis, although there are many who typically date one or the other.

While there are a lot of benefits to dating those in recovery, it can also lead to risky situations. There are often times in which one partner relapses and the other follows, although this isn’t a guarantee.

If you decide that you want to date non-recovering people, it’s best to have some clean time under your belt and be solid in your recovery, as this can lead to tempting situations.

You should also always be upfront about your recovery. Honesty from the beginning will help build the foundation for a lasting relationship. Although the idea of dating people with a past history of drug and alcohol use can be a turnoff for some, it won’t be for everyone. Being honest will also help establish accountability within the relationship that can help your new dating partner help you stay healthy.

Tip #2 – Make a List of What You are Looking for in a Partner
One of the best suggestions when it comes to dating in sobriety, is making a list of all the things you are looking for in a partner. There are many sponsors in 12-step programs who will suggest that once you make that list, you aim to achieve many of those qualities yourself, then you naturally attract people who have those qualities. If you’ve heard the old saying “water seeks its own level” this is what that speaks to. If you find yourself continuously attracting the “wrong” type of partner, this is a great way to figure out exactly what you want in a relationship.

Tip #3 – Keep Your Recovery First and Separate
One of the most important things to remember when dating in recovery is making sure your recovery is always your top priority. There are many exciting parts in the beginning of a relationship. For someone in recovery, that can lead to missed meetings, missed calls to your sponsor, and slacking on participation in your daily program. All of those are ingredients that can lead to relapse, so maintaining a recovery/life balance is key to not only lasting recovery but also lasting relationships.

If you decide to date someone who is in recovery, another important thing to remember is to keep your programs separate. This means limiting meetings that you attend together and limiting the amount you talk about your own recovery programs. Remember that your program is your own, and the same goes for your partner.

Tip #4 – Be Aware of the “Love Drug” Chemicals in Your Brain, Ease Into It
On top of the excitement that comes with meeting a potential new partner, scientifically we produce numerous hormones that can increase that excitement. For sober people, we must be aware of this “love drug.” A new relationship can very much become a replacement drug.

Many confuse infatuation with love, so it’s a good idea is to take it slowly. Again, make sure that you are at a place emotionally that can handle all of the new feelings that come with dating and be prepared if relationships don’t end the way you expected.

Tip #5 – Apply These Principles in All of Your Affairs, Including Your Relationship
When you enter a new relationship, it is essential to take the principles you learn in your program of recovery and apply them in your relationship. Applying the 12 steps to your relationship can lead to a relationship that has a great foundation, and can last if you put the work in. The principles behind the steps, such as honesty, open-mindedness, faith, integrity, and humility build solid relationships. Sincere apologies, empathy, and “keeping your side of the street clean” are all necessary in a happy relationship.

These are just some of the lifehacks for sober dating. There are many others to discover when speaking with others in recovery who have been through it themselves.

Just remember, it is impossible to love others if you don’t love yourself. If the relationship you have with yourself is healthy, it leads to genuine, lasting relationships with others. Keep this in mind as you dive into the seas of dating in sobriety.

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Dr. Shelley Uram on Finding Your Essential Self

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Dr. Shelley Uram, a Senior Fellows at The Meadows, recently sat down with Kristin Sunanta Walker on Mental Health News Radio to talk about her new book Essential Living: A Guide to Having Happiness and Peace by Reclaiming Your Essential Self.

Dr. Uram says that she’s noticed over the many years she’s been in practice as a psychiatrist how common it is for human beings to suffer. Even when they are well-off socially and economically, many people still suffer. The reason is that while people are born one and the same with their essence—also known as the “soul,” or “core self,”— they lose touch with it as they grow to adulthood.

“When babies are born parts of their brains are mature already, like the brain stem and limbic brain that controls automatic survival functions like breathing, swallowing, and fight, flight, or freeze. Whereas other parts of the brain, like the thinking and rationalizing pre-frontal cortex, are barely even online yet.

At about three months old, babies get their first sense of ‘me’ from their developing pre-frontal cortex. And every day beyond that, their sense of ‘me-ness’ evolves to become more and more complex and sophisticated. As the baby’s sense of self evolves, the “survival wiring” in the brain stem and the limbic brain becomes more complex.

Those survival brain areas believe that ‘Oh my God, we’ve got somebody here that we need to protect,’ and they start firing like crazy. When the baby gets fight, flight, or freeze reactions from the survival brain—which happens a lot—it’s extremely uncomfortable physically and emotionally. What that does is draw the child’s attention away from the essential self or soul quality, and to the survival responses,” she says.

The essential self is quiet—it’s almost like a whisper. It’s not an emotional or bodily sensation. It’s a state of being. The voice of the survival brain, however, screams its warnings through strong emotions and quickly overshadows any of the quieter, more subtle qualities of the essential self. By the time we are teenagers, we’ve almost completely lost contact with our essence.

We often think that our personalities reflect our essential selves, but Dr. Uram says that that isn’t quite true:

“The personality is rooted in survival-based stuff—fear-based stuff… Much of the personality is a system that our survival brain puts together in conjunction with the thinking brain and other brain areas to weave together an integrated sense of self.”

In other words, whether you identify as someone with a quiet, reserved personality or as someone with a loud, aggressive personality, those qualities could merely be mechanisms you developed as a child to cope with your caregiver’s environment.

For example, if you learned as a child that the only way to avoid having your parents yell at you or hit you was to be seen and not heard, you may have developed a quiet personality in order to survive in that environment. If you learned that the only way to get your needs met was to be loud and boisterous and make demands that overwhelmed your caregivers, you may have developed a more aggressive personality.

The only way to find out who you really are is to spend some time peeling back the layers of personality and fear-based reactivity and getting to know the essential self underneath. Listen to the Mental Health News Radio podcast to hear more from Dr. Uram on the topic of the essential self, or order a copy of her book from your favorite bookseller.

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The Meadows Outpatient Program Is More Than An IOP

By David Anderson, The Meadows Executive Director

We often refer to The Meadows Outpatient Center as an “Intensive Outpatient Center,” or IOP…

….which it is.

However, in reality, the Meadows Outpatient Center is much more than what most people think of when they refer to an IOP. We like to think of our program as a COMPREHENSIVE outpatient program.

Let me explain…

What is an IOP?

There are many programs all around the country that call themselves IOP programs. These programs vary greatly in how they are set up; but, typically they only offer three, one-hour group therapy sessions per day, three days per week (i.e., nine hours total per week). And often group therapy is all that they offer— no individual therapy, no neurofeedback, no psychiatry, no trauma-sensitive yoga, no art therapy, no Somatic Experiencing, no EMDR, no acupuncture, etc.— Just nine hours per week of group therapy.

Now, compare that to The Meadows Outpatient Program which provides 18-20 hours of services and treatment per week. That is more than twice the amount of services provided in a typical IOP.

Each week, our patients may take advantage of:

  • Four 3-hour groups. That’s 12 hours of group therapy each week.
  • One hour of art therapy with a trauma/art therapist,
  • One hour of trauma-sensitive yoga
  • One to two hours of individual therapy per week (including somatic experiencing, EMDR, cognitive behavioral therapy, and expressive arts)
  • A separate Family Recovery Group each Monday (just for family members),
  • A weekly multi-family group,
  • Private family therapy (as needed for couples or family),
  • Two separate 1-hour appointments for Brainpaint Neurofeedback each week (typically with three different protocols during each hour),
  • One hour of acupuncture each Friday,
  • A one-hour Meadows-produced educational DVD (usually a Pia Mellody talk) in our state-of-the-art conference room on a high-definition big screen (with pizza!) on Fridays,
  • Psychiatrist appointments (Typically one hour in the beginning of the program; then one to three follow-up appointments during the course of treatment), and
  • Recently added: a once-per-month therapeutic drum circle.

Additionally, the Brain Spa is open at all times for patients to use Cranial Electro Stimulation (CES) machines. The Brain Spa has three relaxing chairs and one massage chair set up with studio quality headphones and iPod Nanos programmed with brain regulation programs (e.g., Hemi-sync binaural beats, Mozart Effect, Guided Imagery, meditation music, etc.)

Nationwide, the hours required for each level of care in behavioral health are…

  • Residential/inpatient programs – 24/7 care
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs): Typically 30 hours per week of care,
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs): Typically plus/minus 9 hours per week of care.

So, with our 18 to 20 hours of care per week, The Meadows Outpatient program is actually something in-between a PHP and an IOP.

Additional Benefits of The Meadows Outpatient Center

It’s also important to note that The Meadows Comprehensive Outpatient program is now “in network” with both Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Humana. And, our wonderful Finance Team works hard to every to make the step-down to outpatient care affordable, regardless of the patient’s insurance provider.

Plus, the weather is beautiful all year in Scottsdale, Arizona making The Meadows Outpatient Center the ideal place to begin or continue your journey of recovery. Our safe and nurturing community and our expert staff help patients gain the courage they need to face difficult personal issues including grief and loss, heal from emotional trauma, and become accountable for their own feelings, behaviors, and recovery. Send us an email or call us at 866-913-5010 for more information.

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Meadows Senior Fellows Featured at U.S. Journal Training Conference

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For behavioral health professionals, The U.S. Journal Training Conferences are some of most highly anticipated events of the year. Each even in their conference series gathers internationally-renowned experts and thought leaders to share their latest discoveries and insights into the human mind.

This year’s 4th Annual National Conference on TRAUMA, Addiction, and Intimacy Disorders in Nashville, Tenn., is certainly no exception. We are proud to be sponsors of this year’s conference and honored to have three of our Senior Fellows among the distinguished presenters.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

On Wednesday, May 3, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk will open the conference with his keynote, “Trauma, Body, and the Brain: Restoring the Capacity for Synchronicity and Imagination.” He will explain how recovery from trauma involves learning how to restore a sense of visceral safety and reclaiming a loving relationship with one’s self, one’s entire organism.

Dr. Kevin McCauley

On Thursday, May 4, Dr. Kevin McCauley will present “The Brain and Recovery: An Update on the Neuroscience of Addiction.” This lecture will summarize the most current neuroscientific research about addiction—research that explains how the brain constructs pleasurable experiences, what happens when this process goes wrong, and why this can have a dramatic impact on our ability to make proper choices.

Dr. Shelley Uram

Also on Thursday, May 4, Dr. Shelley Uram will present “Essential Living: A Guide to Having Happiness and Peace by Reclaiming Your Essential Self.” Her presentation will explore ways that we can find who we are at our very essence, how our ancient survival brain areas pull our attention away from this essence at a very young age, and how to get it back.

These three Senior Fellows help train our staff at The Meadows to be some of the best therapists, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists working in the field today. We’re confident that those who attend their presentations will walk away with new insights, and new approaches to apply in their practices and in their own lives.

Functional Adulthood as a Spiritual Practice

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By Nancy Minister, Workshop Facilitator, Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows

In this Mindful Monday series, we have presented many different ways of being mindful and many different benefits of having a mindfulness practice. We know that mindfulness is a deliberate practice and a deliberate experience of being present in the moment.

Today, I’m excited to talk about a passion of mine, which is working with the core issues and the ego states within mindfulness meditation. Meditation helps us to move away from our wounded child ego state and toward our functional adult ego state.

The Wounded Child Ego State

At The Meadows, we teach about the ego states as they were laid out by Senior Fellow Pia Mellody in her work on the Model of Developmental Immaturity. She explains that how our thinking and beliefs can be distorted in the wounded child ego state.

Meet Nancy Minister Workshop Facilitator, Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows

Sometimes, when we find ourselves in our wounded child ego state, we feel like we’re not as good as other people and we feel bad about ourselves.

We also tend to feel very vulnerable. We’re not able to protect ourselves when someone is critical or just not being present with us. We take it personally. We tend to have difficulty staying present because we give into our distorted thinking and we feel uncomfortable being in our bodies.

We tend to not really do good self-care when we’re in that place. We operate in extremes. We feel out of control.

It’s very difficult and painful to be in that state, so we learn how to avoid or discharge some of those negative feelings in a variety of ways. We do it by being judgmental of others and comparing ourselves with others. If we can see what’s wrong with someone else, it makes us feel better about ourselves.

We can start to become offensive in the ways that we want to control other people or give them advice.

We also tend to put up walls. Sometimes this includes not being able to ask anyone for any help; we have to do it all ourselves.

And, we can sometimes feel that we have to be “good” or “perfect” in order to make everything okay.

This is all part of that adapted wounded child place.

Moderation as a Spiritual Practice

I and my team had the wonderful privilege of spending some time with Pia Mellody recently. She reminded us all that working on our core issues and learning to live moderately is a spiritual practice.

It’s a spiritual practice to love ourselves and feel equal to other people.

It’s a spiritual practice to have boundaries, to be able to be connected with our selves in a way that we can separate from others and just value our own life experiences. We can also value others and allow them to be who they are, and we can build intimacy by sharing who we are through healthy boundaries.

When I’m in that place, I can hold boundaries. I can allow others to be who they are without getting all worked up about it or thinking I need to be a certain way in response.

I can also be fully present in my reality. When we are able to be present in the moment with our experience rather than seeing things in a way that’s distorted, we can feel truly connected. Finally, the functional adult place is a place of moderation. When we’re in that place we tend to be able to take care of our needs and wants in an appropriate way.

I have have found that when I sit and meditate on a daily basis I’m better able to be in my functional adult place, and to have the experiences I’ve described.

Take five minutes for yourself, every day, to relax, and to connect with yourself and your functional adult state in a deeper way.

Dr. Shelley Uram Featured on The Dr. Drew Podcast

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Dr. Shelley Uram, a triple board-certified psychiatrist and Senior Fellow at The Meadows, was recently a guest on The Dr. Drew podcast.

The podcast is hosted by Dr. Drew Pinsky, a board-certified internist and addiction medicine specialist who is well known for his work both as a physician and as a TV and radio personality. On The Dr. Drew podcast, he takes listener calls and talks to experts on a variety of topics relating to health, relationships, sex, and addiction.

He and Dr. Uram had a fascinating and in-depth conversation about the ubiquity of relational trauma in today’s society, how trauma impacts the brain and body, and treatment modalities like mindfulness, yoga, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing, and 12-step frameworks.

Here are a few highlights from the show:

On The Prevalence of Trauma in Our Culture

Dr. Drew: What are you seeing with trauma these days?
Dr. Uram: There’s a lot of stress and strain and what I call relational trauma that’s inherent to modern American culture… It often leads to addiction, trauma, and depression.

The ACEs study showed us that when we’re children and we’re exposed to the stresses and strains of family and psychological traumas— “soft” traumas that are really not soft—they go on to create all kinds of psychological problems, medical problems, heart problems, lower socioeconomic levels, and more. So, those traumas we are exposed to as children and may not even recognize as traumas can go on to wreak havoc in the body, the brain, and the mind… I see that a lot.

On Unhealthy Relationship Patterns

Dr. Drew: People with traumas often seem to be magically attracted to the kinds of people who have features or qualities similar to the perpetrators of those traumas. And, of course, if you are drawn to a perpetrator they will oblige you and re-perpetrate. Where is your sense of where that’s coming from?

Dr. Uram: There’s a part of the brain called the brain stem, which is located physically at the lowest level of the brain and is evolutionally hundreds of millions of years of years old. Since it’s so ancient it doesn’t have sophisticated wiring. In addition to homeostasis, procedural memory is one of its functions. Procedural memories are habits or patterns that get locked into our brains. Every single function of the brain stem, including procedural memories, is unconscious. So, when patterns get locked in there, we are no longer aware of them. It’s like learning to tie your shoes. At first, it took a lot of effort, but once you got it, you could do it without thinking. So, how to tie your shoes is a procedural memory.

Procedural memories are also made up of any types of patterns that we picked up from our formative years, mainly birth to age five. They can be simple motor activities, like tying your shoes, or they can be tied in with strong emotions, fears, and expectations. Once something gets registered as a procedural memory, we’re off to the races. We’re going to keep repeating procedures related to those early emotions and all we can do is notice it. We have little to no control.

Another rule of thumb with the ancient brain areas like the brain stem is that they like for us to stay in the zone of comfort. Even if we consciously hate the zone of comfort we end up staying with it. So, for a woman who has been abused as a child and ends up in abusive relationships as an adult over and over and over—She may hate that she does that, but to her ancient survival brain areas, that’s the zone of comfort. That’s what it knows. It knows abuse. It knows neglect. It knows perpetrators…

Dr. Drew: Some people can trust their so-called instincts, but if you’ve had trauma… No. Or if you find that you repeat behavior you don’t like, or repeating circumstances you don’t like or relationships you don’t like—that’s when you can’t trust your instincts.

Dr. Uram: The real wisdom that we all have deep inside of us tends to be a very quiet voice—most of us don’t hear it all. But the voice of addiction, the voice of trauma, and the Fight, Flight, Freeze voice screams at us… By the time most of are three months old, our thinking brain has started to come online and we have our first dawning sense of “Oh, there’s a me.” That triggers our flight, fight, freeze survival responses like crazy. Especially if we are exposed to trauma, the survival voices are screaming loud voices inside our heads. They make us forget entirely how to listen to the quiet voice inside of us that contains our sixth sense and our wisdom.

On The Essential Self

Dr. Uram: We all have a soul—an essential self that we are born with and die with. It gives us our inherent sense of worth, and our wisdom, and our sense of peace and happiness—real, deep happiness… By the time we are young adults, most of us have long forgotten who we really are, because layer upon layer of false beliefs, expectations, symptoms, and negative feelings have built around our essence. We have to learn how to reclaim the essential self—How to get back down to that essential self and connect with it.

Learn more about The Essential Self and Trauma

Listen to the entire, hour-long podcast for more of Dr. Uram’s conversation with Dr. Drew. They go into more depth about the essential self, building interpersonal relationships, and the implications of trauma and the ACEs study.

Dr. Uram’s book, Essential Living: A Guide to Having Happiness and Peace by Reclaiming Your Essential Self is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.com. It will be available April 4 wherever books are sold.