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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Self Care in Sobriety

self care sobrietyAround the tables in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, it is often said, particularly to newcomers, that AA is a selfish program. Newcomers are encouraged to realize "You don't do it for your wife, husband, or children. You do it for yourself." For many of us, this feels strange and uncomfortable. Throughout life, most of us are taught not to be selfish. We are taught to share, to be kind to others, to put others first, to show compassion, empathy and generosity. Yet, when it comes to directing this type of love and understanding inward to ourselves, it often feels rather unnatural.

In our addictions, we often become so accustomed to self-loathing that the concept of self-love feels foreign and far removed. The wreckage of addiction can be severe, to say the least. When we get sober, we are commonly plagued with feelings of guilt, shame, regret, and are appalled by the atrocities we’ve put ourselves and others through. We may have even continued drinking and using to avoid these feelings and facing our truths and even as a form of self-abuse. It can be very challenging to replace self-loathing with self-love, but to attain sustainable recovery, we must!

There are many ways to cultivate self-love, but a simple way to become accustomed to extending love towards yourself is through self-care. By practicing self-care, you learn to be kind to yourself, take care of yourself, connect with self-worth, and simply realize how much better it feels to be nice to yourself!

There are many facets to self-care, as we are multidimensional beings. The whole person is comprised of physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and social aspects. When we think of self-care, we need to think of taking time to nourish each of those aspects.

For physical self-care, think of being gentle and caring with your body. Eating nutritious food, getting adequate physical exercise, rest, and sleep, will help provide energy needed for recovery. Mental self-care can be attained by engaging in activities that stimulate your brain, such as puzzles, books, or stimulating conversations with friends or colleagues. Spiritual self-care looks different for everyone and can be found in prayer, meditation, yoga, wilderness, or really whatever helps you feel connected and grounded. Emotional self-care involves talking about your feelings, releasing negative emotions, setting boundaries, and often finding an expressive outlet such as music, art, or dance. Social self-care is essential, as relationships are highly important aspects of our lives. Taking time to attend meetings, nourish existing relationships, and reaching out to others all lend to social self-care.

Self-care looks different for everyone but involves the same principles. It is a vital part of the recovery process and can help with attaining self-love, which not only feels great, but is a huge part of relapse prevention.

Heather Smyly, BS

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


amendsThe Webster dictionary defines amends as: compensation for a loss or injury; and some related words are: correct, rectify, reform, remediate, and remedy. So, lets face it, when we come into a treatment facility or recovery program we all have a lot of things to amend. Some of the things that need to be amended are hurts we have caused, harms we have done, and ways we have behaved toward ourselves and others that we wish we hadn’t. There is also a need to amend the way we live our lives. Making amends can feel insurmountable at times and we become overwhelmed with the mountain of wrongs that we have done and become buried in a mountain of regret and shame. It is very important to remember that the first amends that has to be done is to ourselves and the way we are doing that is by staying clean and sober. We need to amend the way we see ourselves and that begins with self examination. After this we can forgive ourselves and begin to live productive lives.

This journey toward amending our old ways begins in 12 step meetings, treatments centers, and recovery homes. We start by getting and staying sober and doing everything we can to remain that way. There are some promises that Alcoholics Anonymous makes to us, and these promises come after the book explains how to make amends and encourages each recovering alcoholic to make amends. The promises are as follows:

(From pages 83-84 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous) If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Selfseeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them” (Reprinted from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book) with permission of A.A. World Services, Inc.).

Janet E. Bontrager – Primary Therapist

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Spiritual Deficit Disorder

Spiritual Deficit DisorderHave you ever heard of Spiritual Deficit Disorder (SDD)? Until recently, I hadn’t. What does it mean? It sounds like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Is it similar to that? It turns out, it’s a bit like ADD of the spirit, when we are so distracted by life: goals, deadlines, pursuit of material goods and status, that these things take on a greater importance than our spirituality and we lose sight of ourselves and impair the connection to their spirit. A large majority of the population likely suffers from Spiritual Deficit Disorder (SDD), even those who may seem to be the happiest.

SDD is the result of constantly feeling under pressure and stress. Feelings of being overwhelmed by work, family, finances, and competing with societal expectations can all contribute to a fracturing of the spirit from the self, where physical gains become more important spiritual expansion. SDD occurs when individuals lose the connection to their spirit and are driven primarily by seeking validation of that which is external.

Symptoms of SDD can include: substance use, process addictions, fatigue, irritability, resistance to awakening in the morning, self-doubt, feeling “not enough,” lack of passion, lack of meaning and direction, boredom with work or educational pursuits. All of these symptoms can take a toll on the body, relationships, family, and career, and can even manifest in chronic disease.

No matter how successful a person is, if they suffer from SDD, they feel empty inside, like they are missing something. That feeling of missing something can cause further stress, creating a perpetuating cycle of feeling “not enough.”

So, what is the remedy for SDD? It turns out, it’s pretty basic. We need to slow down and attempt to reconnect with that which is most important to us. If look carefully at what we are prioritizing in our lives, compared to that which is most important to us, odds are they may not even be on the same wavelength. With direct revelation, our hearts of hearts will let us know the truth of our realities. But we can’t even make that discernment until we slow down and take a moment to analyze what we are doing with our time. It’s the persistent, invasive, nagging thoughts and habits that really drive us to separate from our hearts, spirits, and well-being.

But how do we slow down when there’s so much to do? Here are a few ideas:

1) Breathe. When you breathe deeply from your diaphragm, you automatically invite your body to relax, to let go, and to surrender into the present moment.

2) Stay in the present moment. When you become distracted, try to gently bring your awareness back to your breathing and take some deep breaths.

3) Take time for yourself! Try to find at least 10 minutes a day just for yourself. Do this with absolute consistency. Participate in a hobby you enjoy, take a bath, enjoy a sunset, take a walk in nature, gaze at the stars, listen to music, meditate. Just do something for yourself for 10 minutes every single day. 

4) Express gratitude. When you wake each morning, think about and even say out lout that which you are grateful in your life. Pay attention to what you are grateful throughout the day. Close your day in gratitude and review what you were grateful for throughout the day before going to sleep.

Spiritual Deficit Disorder is a serious ailment which, if left untreated, can cause serious impairments to health, relationships, and overall well-being. The good news that the remedy for this disorder can be fairly simple, it just requires attention to the matter, a desire to change, and consistency in practicing change.

Heather Smyly, BS

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Balance in Recovery

balance in recoveryFinding balance is the key to successful recovery. Addicts generally have a black and white perspective of the world and it can be an incredible challenging task to find the grey area or balance in any situation. Many addicts also experience a low distress tolerance, meaning stressful situations or responsibilities impact them negatively more than it would for someone else. Distress tolerance is something that addicts learn and work on continuously in recovery, and having balance is an important part of maintaining this. Balance comes in many different forms, whether it be emotional regulation, intimate relationships, or balancing life’s responsibilities - all are equally important in order to maintain long term sustainable recovery. 

Addicts generally want to avoid pain and discomfort. When they are sober and cannot accomplish this through drugs, they will often avoid painful conversations and responsibilities of life. When addicts do this it only creates more stress and discomfort, which if unaddressed will eventually lead to relapse.

Most addicts have never had appropriate balance or self care in the lives. Because of this, it is important to start small and set attainable short and long-term goals for themselves.

When engaging in intimate relationships in recovery it is incredible important to set and maintain boundaries. These boundaries will look different for each person and relationship. The first step in maintaining healthy boundaries and balance in intimate relationships is opening the lines of communication, in order for both parties to feel comfortable in stating their needs. The purpose for these boundaries is to make sure the addict is not becoming obsessive about their new relationship and instead arranging time for friends, work, family, school, self-care and 12 step-programming. An appropriate boundary might look something like spending time with your significant other two times a week and checking in over the phone once a day. This is also important because the addict needs to engage in their community and reach out for support from many people who are not their spouse. 

Balancing life’s responsibilities is another daunting necessity for the addict. This is where setting small attainable goals comes into play. It is important to break up all of the tasks that need to be accomplished and make a schedule of when one will have time to complete all of them. This helps build a sense of pride and accomplishment and also allows the addicts to take things day by day instead of getting overwhelmed. The individual can also set goals for bigger tasks such as going back to school. An example of this is “by the end of this week I am going to call three schools and inquire about their programs”. Breaking big things down into small easy tasks make them feel more doable, so the addict is less likely to avoid them.

Emotional regulation and self care are also large parts of long term sustainable recovery. Addicts in sobriety need to make sure they are taking time to check in with themselves throughout the day, implementing self-soothing skills when necessary. Making time for activities like yoga or hiking is a great way to practice self care and remain regulated. Finding a counselor the addict connects with, and making time for this throughout the month, also assists in regulation.

Finding balance in all areas of life is necessary because when one area is unbalanced its impacts all of the rest of them. Addicts tend to be drawn to chaos, however this is incredibly dangerous, because with chaos come the pain, shame, and lack of responsibility that leads people to relapse. Having a plan for balance whether its written, verbal, or you have shared it with a close friend or family member for accountability will be exponentially helpful in finding joy and peace in recovery.

Becca Kaplan, BHT

Thursday, February 22, 2018


The role of honesty is very important in the life of a recovering addict/alcoholic in terms of becoming comfortable with in themselves and remaining clean and sober. The book “Alcoholics Anonymous” commonly referred to as the “BIG BOOK” states “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being HONEST with themselves.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 58).

It seems pretty simple, right? Wrong! Even though we all have heard “honesty is the best policy” many of us who come from addict lifestyles and dysfunctional family systems have learned that being honest can make life harder and get you hit/beat or rejected in some way. And the way to stay comfortable and safe is to lie to yourself about how bad your circumstances are, how scared you are, and hopeless a situation feels. Denying (lying) to yourself about how bad things are becomes a survival mechanism that becomes detrimental once you get into recovery and don’t need to protect yourself any longer. Recovery depends on the ability to get and stay honest.

Helping people find good reasons to be honest can be a difficult job, but we all know that if an addict can’t be honest they can’t stay clean and sober. We at Canyon Crossing help our clients find out that being honest is one of the first ways we become women of “integrity and grace”. If we can be honest with ourselves and love ourselves with open minds and eyes we can face anything sober and clean. We can learn to love ourselves and forgive ourselves for our pasts. We can also lift our heads up and look others in the eyes instead of at the floor in shame and fear. When an addict/alcoholic begins to be honest with themselves and others they begin to have self respect and can reconnect with themselves and their loved ones. Going from a life of lies and deceit to one of honesty and integrity is a worthy goal. It enhances life and creates a life worth living which every addict deserves, a life that is “Happy, Joyous, and Free” (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 133).

Janet E. Bontrager – Primary Therapist

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Love in Early Recovery

love early addiction recovery When it comes to relationships in early recovery, the Golden Rule is to wait—at least a year. The reason for the wait is that relationships, no matter how benign they seem and how good they feel, can be dangerous.

During addiction, addicts will find any escape from their internal world in order to run from a deep sense of inadequacy, worthlessness, and fear. Drugs become the first line of defense against sitting with the self; but when the tolerance grows, and the drug is no longer strong enough to quiet the negative thoughts, addicts will search for something stronger. In some cases it may be a sexual experience and in others it may be the feeling of being desired and needed by a romantic partner. Relationships become a source of external validation, making the addict feel loved, nurtured, safe and cared for. On the surface, it may be hard to find what’s wrong with that. But if addiction, at its core, robs an individual of their ability to care for and nurture themselves, than it is imperative that recovery remove all obstacles and distractions that stop the addict from being in direct relationships with themselves.

Let’s say the addict in early recovery has a negative feeling; they get mad. In the past, they would’ve desperately wanted to escape the emotions and eventually found their way to their drug of choice. Now, in early recovery, the addict is committed to not using. So they get angry, they don’t want to use, but they don’t like the feeling. At this point the addict has a choice: either feel the feeling and be able to soothe and care for their emotional health or find something else to distract themselves and make them feel better. The hope in sobriety is that the addict will practice the former choice with the support of their recovery team, family, and sponsor. However, too often addicts will turn to flirtation, sex, or romantic love to make the discomfort of the negative feeling go away. If the negative emotion is simply replaced by a positive one (like love, desire, sexual attraction), the addict never learns how to process the emotion. This allows the addict to continue to believe that they are not capable of caring for their own internal, emotional world.

In conclusion, relationships in early recovery can stunt the progress of an addict’s healing process. It teaches the addict they can use an external solution to an internal problem. The addict’s ability to take responsibility for their internal feelings, thoughts and experiencing decreases and once again they are not connected to self. Eventually, the negative thoughts and experiences get bigger and, because the addict has not been practicing addressing and soothing themselves, they will inevitably return to their original drug of choice.

I believe the most important love you can have in early recovery is with yourself. Take yourself on a date. Go do something you enjoy. Go figure out what you enjoy. Treat yourself. Spend time with yourself. Make yourself laugh. Let yourself cry and be the comforting should you lean on. Let yourself vent and really listen to what your own needs are. Ask for your needs to be met. Surprise yourself. Fall in love with yourself . It’s only then that we can truly make space to love another.

Many of us in recovery have a cautionary tale of how love in early recovery has created instability in our lives and eventually lead us back to relapse. It became easier to have another person fill our internal world than to learn how to love and nurture ourselves.

The relationship with yourself during this time is the priority—learning to care for and meet your own emotional needs, spending time with yourself and enjoying it (imagine that!), getting to know who you are, and falling in love with the person you find.

Carmen Cartterfield, MA

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


boundaries recovery
In family systems impacted by addiction, establishing healthy functional boundaries is often a difficult and painful process, but necessary in order for the family unit to ultimately heal. Within the addicted family system, family members tend to either become rigid and walled off in their approach to setting boundaries or conversely, they become boundary-less. Both approaches tend to fuel addictive behavior despite the good intentions typically motivating each approach.

Pia Mellody defines boundaries as “a system of limit setting that protects a person from being a victim and contains a person so that he or she is not offensive to others.” The primary purpose of functional boundaries is to contain and protect a person’s reality during intimacy and to establish identity. One’s reality typically consists of the physical self or what we look like, our thinking or how we give meaning to incoming data, our feelings or our emotions, and our behavior or what we do or don’t do. 

There are different boundary systems, including our external boundary system and our internal boundary system. The external system contains and protects one’s physical body and controls distance and touch. An example of an external physical boundary includes having the right to determine how physically close one can get and who can and cannot have physical contact with you. 

The internal boundary system contains and protects our thinking, feelings and behaviors and acts like a block or filter. This system helps to protect thoughts and feelings when engaging with another individual. Internal boundaries tend to deteriorate in family systems impacted by addiction as a result of repeated boundary violations.

Examples of internal boundary violations include:

1. By word or deed, indicating that another person is worth less.
2. Yelling or screaming.
3. Ridiculing or making fun of.
4. Lying.
5. Breaking a commitment for no reason.
6. Attempting to control, enable, or manipulate another person.
7. Being sarcastic while being intimate.
8. Interrupting.
9. Blaming.

Personal boundary systems that are functional and healthy are key components to breaking the cycle of boundary violations that is typical of family systems impacted by addiction.

A Personal Boundary System: 

• Protects and contains a person during intimate contact
• When an individual protects his or her self, they keep themselves from being a victim, which is an act of self-esteem and can help to break the cycle of addiction.
• When a person contains his or her self, they keep themselves from being offensive which is respectful of the people he or she is being emotionally intimate with.
• Personal boundaries also enable an individual to identify who they are.
• Personal boundaries that are healthy increase functional intimacy.

Functional intimacy occurs when a person receives the reality of another, and when a person expresses his or her reality without being too vulnerable or invulnerable. When an individual lacks boundaries and healthy functional intimacy, the person can be offensive in his or her expression of self and may be too vulnerable when receiving the reality of another.

Conversely, when an individual has a wall for a boundary, this prevents meaningful intimate exchange and can cause the individual to become too vulnerable and exposed during intimate contact. Enabling behaviors typically occur in family systems that lack boundaries. These behaviors fuel addiction and addictive patterns creating a destructive cycle within the family system.

Enabling can be defined as: 

• Standing between a person and his or her consequences.
• Doing for someone something he or she should be doing for him or herself.
• Engaging in actions that ultimately perpetuate someone’s problematic behavior.

Families often enable loved ones by: 

• Getting stuck in the defenses.
• Denying there is a problem.
• Minimizing the problem.
• Avoiding discussions about the problem.
• Blaming others or lashing out with anger.
• Joining in the rationalizations/justifications that their children create.
• Taking over their responsibilities.
• Continuing to provide financial support.
• Helping to resolve legal problems.
• Promising rewards for abstinence.
• Suggesting a physical fitness program or a job change.
• Threatening to kick them out.
• Provoking arguments/nagging.
• Avoiding getting help for themselves.

A healthy family with functional boundaries: 

• communicates honestly, directly and thoughtfully.
• supports and affirms one another.
• maintains trust through reliability and consistency.
• practices respect for each other and for others.
• shares a sense of order and responsibilities.
• shares leisure time and a positive sense of humor.
• teaches traditions, values and right from wrong.
• shares attention among members in a balanced way.
• respects appropriate boundaries among each other.
• values service to others.
• is flexible under stress.
• resolves disagreements without damaging words.
• is a system that is open to other people and new ideas.
• admits problems and seeks help from others.
• a sense of optimism for the future.

When working on establishing healthy functional boundaries within an alcoholic or addicted family system, it is almost always recommended that the entire family receive support and help while doing this work. Furthermore, it is important for family members to remember the “3 C’s” of addiction when breaking dysfunctional old patterns: “I didn't Cause it, I can't Cure it, and I can't Control it.” Family members and loved ones of alcoholics and addicts can practice increased self-care, more effective communication, and can make healthier choices by practicing functional boundary setting while refusing to engage in old enabling behaviors.

Marie Tueller, MEd, LPC