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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

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Recovering Addicts and Their Family

recovering addicts familyAddicts and Alcoholics affect at least 5 other people while they are actively using drugs and alcohol. The family is usually the most adversely affected by an addict’s behavior, and has probably spent years of their life focused on and worried about their loved one, who has been suffering from the disease of addiction. By the time someone gets into long term treatment, the family has probably tried just about everything to help their loved one and has experienced emotional pain, anger, sadness, and great amounts of fear on a regular basis. The family also has asked themselves numerous questions like: What did I do? Is it my fault? How can I fix this?

Often times an addict will blame, manipulate, control, and lie to their family in order to continue using drugs. This behavior isn’t because they don’t love their family, it is because when an addict is using drugs they love the drug more. An addict can’t stop using because their family loves them or because they love their family. Love isn’t enough to heal an addict or make them stop using. If that was the case we wouldn’t have the need for treatment, because a parent’s love would be enough.

So, what is enough? What can the family do? How can a person get clean and sober with the family’s help? Many times a family will say “They are the addict, they need help” and then say “I’m fine, I don’t have a problem, if they get clean I’ll be fine”. That would be true if the above statement about every addict affecting at least 5 people wasn’t true. A family needs as much help to recover from this devastating illness as the person who is the addict.

Research has shown that an alcoholic/addict has a better chance of remaining clean and sober (long term) if their families are included in their treatment and participate in their own form of recovery and therapy. There are many organizations out there that are designed specifically for the family members of alcoholics/addicts. There are 12 step groups like Al-Anon & Nar-Anon, based on the same 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. There is an organization called PALS (Parents of Addicted Loved Ones) and Families Anonymous in certain areas of the country. CoDa (Codependents Anonymous) is another group for people who suffer from codependency, which can be a symptom of living with an alcoholic.

The best way for an addict to heal fully, once the detox is over and they have committed to live a life of recovery, is to have their families be a part of their ongoing recovery and treatment. Addicts want to reconcile and heal their family relationships and so do the families. They cannot do this alone because of the devastating effects of the abuse on themselves and their family. This is why family workshops and support groups are so important. It allows the family and the addict to share the same language and gives a frame work for the healing to begin. It takes time but eventually both the addict/alcoholic and the family come to the same conclusion “I can’t control it” “I didn’t cause it” and “I can’t cure it” alone!

Janet E. Bontrager – Primary Therapist

Friday, January 26, 2018

Mindfulness in Substance Use Treatment

mindfulness substance abuse When a person is addicted to alcohol or drugs, as well as other process addictions (sex, food, gambling, shopping), their mind is highly preoccupied with attaining the substance, using it, and recovering from it. This process can be quite consuming, and often individuals are left with little time for the present moment. In fact, the present moment (if sober) becomes more and more frequently a place to avoid, as that is where the shame and guilt set in. 

Over the past few decades, mindfulness-based therapies have become increasingly widespread and recognized as effective in the treatment of substance use. The practice of mindfulness, defined as a non-judgmental awareness of the present, is a fantastic tool to help a person become more in touch with the present-state they so often attempt to avoid and to learn to cope with painful emotions and stressors that may have contributed to substance use.

Utilizing the concept of mindfulness for treatment of addiction, the emphasis lies on relapse prevention. One of the most important goals in relapse prevention is the discovery of why a person uses, which is most often driven by emotions; whether fear, insecurity, anger, or anxiety. Mindfulness techniques in relapse prevention aim to increase self-awareness of these emotional triggers and subsequent compulsive, automatic behaviors related to substance use.

Cravings are cognitive responses to stimuli, also known as “triggers,” and are comprised of a complex system of environmental cues and cognitive responses. Mindfulness meditation can be utilized to disrupt this automatic system by providing heightened awareness of the initial craving and intervening before the action (self-medication with drugs or alcohol) takes place.

In relapse prevention, the goal is to identify and modify deficits in coping skills, increase self-efficacy, and focus on a balanced lifestyle that sometimes includes inserting a more positive activity in the space addiction once held. Mindfulness can take the form of more traditional approaches, such as meditation, yoga, and deep-breathing techniques, or can involve someone’s favorite calming activities, such as listening to relaxing music, taking a walk, or journaling.

Practicing balance in emotional responses and avoided automatic reactions can greatly reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for substance use. Furthermore, when a person learns to experience nonjudgmental responses to feelings and thoughts, a sense of compassion or self is learned, rather than the abusive self-talk that is commonly associated with addictive behaviors. 

Mindfulness and meditation can quite simply cause a person to feel better and more relaxed in general. The reasons for the improved moods associated with these methods are in-depth and backed by scientific studies. For example, mindfulness and meditation help to lower the stress hormone cortisol and streamline the body’s ability to rid itself of toxins, such as lactic acid, that build up in the muscles and blood and impact neurotransmitter receptors, which can lead to improved mood.

There are numerous reasons to incorporate mindfulness into one’s recovery, with the first step being to allow for the present moment to exist, without judgment, without need to escape from the feelings of that moment, and just let it be.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Family Dynamics in the Recovery Process

family dynamics recovery processThere is a saying that addiction is a family disease, and this couldn’t be more true. Any person who is in relationship with an addict is negatively affected, whether it be emotionally, physically or financially. A person in active addiction creates absolute chaos in their personal lives and the lives of those around them. Maladaptive Addictive behavior includes lying, manipulation, theft, intense emotional dysregulation, unexplained anger and endless other destructive things. Families tend to develop their own maladaptive behavioral and communication patterns in turn with the addict. These patterns often involve codependent and enabling behavior. The family will give into the addict’s manipulation in the form of giving them money, a place to stay, and cleaning up problems the addict carelessly creates instead of allowing the addicted individual to face the natural consequences of their actions. This behavior not only allows the addict to live in their sickness, it also keeps the family unit hostage to the chaos and pain the addict creates.

It is natural for a family to want to protect their loved one from pain. Many families are motivated by the fear that without their help their loved one will face the ultimate consequence of addiction, which is death.

It is easy to understand why a family would continue to enable their loved one, however these behaviors and dynamics generally continue once the addict has stopped using drugs. This is partly because addicts are master manipulators and partly because these dynamics become so deeply engrained it can feel impossible to change.

It is important for the family to be actively involved in the addict’s treatment. A lot of damage has been created and there is generally very little trust, if any, left in these relationships. Families need to learn how to communicate openly and honestly with each other, this includes expressing resentment, making amends for past wrongs done, and sharing how each persons behavior impacts the family as a whole. The family members and the addict need to be willing to examine their own behavior and take accountability for their part in the dysfunction. Learning how to set and hold boundaries on both sides of the relationships is another important part in healing the dysfunction and pain that has occurred. 

It’s also helpful for families to seek outside support in the form of individual or group therapy, or 12-step based programs such as AL-ANON, which is a program of self-discovery for loved ones of alcoholics and addict. This also helps families build a support network of their own to continue healing.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Emotional Wellbeing in Recovery

emotional wellbeing recoveryResearch has demonstrated that psychological factors play an important role in physical health and overall wellness, particularly when it comes to recovery and the treatment of addiction related issues. Studies have demonstrated significant measurable relationships between cognitions, emotions, and immune functioning; indicating that happier individuals have healthier functioning immune systems, engage in healthier behaviors, have more energy, and better coping skills to manage challenges that are common to early recovery. Additional research also suggests that having a sense of meaning and purpose reduces the risk for countless diseases and provides individuals in recovery strength and motivation. There is substantial evidence that psychological health and emotional well-being are closely linked to physiological health factors and more sustainable recovery.

Social support, friendships, humor, and love also have documented positive impacts on health. For example, positive social support and friendships have been associated with greater resistance to disease of all types, lower rates of heart disease, and lower mortality rates. Social support can also speed up recovery processes and encourage health-promoting behaviors. Laughter and humor are other factors that enhance emotional well-being and health. Experimental studies have shown that laughter can increase certain antibodies that help to fight off infection while lowering blood pressure. Similarly, some researchers have proposed that music can increase positive mood and thereby lower stress hormones, decrease blood pressure, and increase endorphins - all of which provide relapse prevention techniques for the addict in early recovery to continue to develop and implement over time.

Conversely, current research suggests that the presence of certain negative emotions such as depression and anxiety are strong predictors of overall poor health status, increased substance use, and increased relapse rates. When it comes to experiencing trauma, addiction, mood disorders, and other difficult emotions, appropriate emotional expression is important for the maintenance of good health and wellness. Both verbal and nonverbal expressions such as art and writing can have significant therapeutic value. One study showed that after writing about a personal traumatic experience, individuals exhibited marked improvement in physical health indicators including reductions in blood pressure, better immune system responses, decline in visits to the health center, and reduction in distress. It is clear that attempts to control or suppress negative emotions can have an injurious impact on overall health, while healthy emotional expression produces improvements in overall emotional and physical health. Similar studies have supported the efficacy of utilizing verbal and nonverbal expressions to process cravings for drugs and/or alcohol, obsessions, and urges to use and/or act out in process addictions.

One negative emotion in particular that is associated with declines in emotional, mental, and physical health is regret. Several research findings indicate that intense feelings of regret are often associated with more health problems particularly among the elderly. Similar to regret is the feeling of “life longing” or a sense that life is somehow incomplete. The emotions that accompany this experience of longing can result in significant decreases in health and well-being if left unaddressed. 12 step based approaches typically address these feelings of resentment, regret, and remorse as part of comprehensive program of spirituality, relapse prevention planning, and positive fellowship.

Marie Tueller, MEd, LPC