Attorneys and others seeking information on substance abuse, addiction, treatment options, treatment facilities and related information will benefit from the following active links. If a link is no longer active, please contact me so I can make appropriate updates.
I. CALIFORNIA STATE BAR & RELATED RECOVERY RESOURCES
- Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP) The LAP offers confidential help to attorneys seeking substance abuse, mental health or other career assistance. Call 877-LAP-4HELP (877-527-4435) or email at: LAP@calbar.ca.gov.
- Alternative Discipline Program (ADP) The ADP provides an alternative to attorneys in the facing discipline at the State Bar Level for substance abuse or mental health issues.
- The Other Bar The Other Bar Offers peer to peer support & information to attorneys in recovery & those still struggling. The Other Bar maintains a statewide meeting calendar & 24-Hour Toll-Free Help Line: 1-800-222-0767
II. AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION (ABA) SELF-HELP PROGRAM LINKS
- ABA Commission on LAPS The ABA’s Commission on LAP’s provides extensive information and links to regional resources specific to Attorneys seeking mental and behavioral health assistance.
- ABA Directory of LAPs The ABA’s state by state directory of Lawyers Assistance Programs allows practitioners and others to access assistance programs for attorneys in a specific jurisdiction.
- ABA Compilation of National Resource Links The ABA’s national resource page provides a comprehensive list of active links to information relating to chemical and process addictions, mental health, suicide prevention and related sites.
III. TREATMENT FACILITIES AND LOCATORS
- Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator (SAMHSA): This excellent on-line information source allows you to enter a zip code & locate substance abuse and mental health treatment centers anywhere in the United States.
- SAMHSA’s National Help Line: This helpline provides 24 hour no cost, completely confidential treatment referrals and information about mental and substance abuse disorders, prevention, treatment and recovery in Spanish and English. 1-800-662-HELP (4357) TTY: 1-800-487-4889.
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: This 24 hour, toll free hotline provides confidential suicide prevention support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call is routed to the nearest crisis center in a national network of more than 150 crisis centers. 1-800-273-TALK (8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4889.
- Opiate Treatment Directory This site resource allows you to identify and locate medication-assisted treatment programs, family and provider support resources and other support networks in your state that treat opiate dependence and addiction.
- CRC Health Group This comprehensive network of specialized behavioral health care affiliates provides “healing and hope” to patients & families across the United States. Access their library to learn more about addiction and treatment.
- Hazelden-Betty Ford Addiction Treatment Center A household name in the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction disorders throughout the country, this provider has a specialized program for attorney, judges and other professionals dealing with substance use and addiction issues.
IV. MISCELLANEOUS ONLINE RECOVERY RESOURCES
- Smart Recovery Self-Management & Recovery Training Smart Recovery is a science based, non-12-step program emphasizing self empowerment as a means to recovering from addictive substances and behaviors.
- Alcoholics Anonymous “A.A.” is “an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere.” This link will take you to AA’s official website where you can learn more about the 12-step program.
- Narcotics Anonymous “N.A.” is a global, community-based organization helping those recovering from the effects of addiction by working a twelve-step program similar to the program of recovery offered by AA. This link will take you to NA’s official website where you can learn more about the program.
SOBERING FACTS ABOUT ATTORNEYS & ADDICTION
Compared to other occupations and professions, attorneys show higher rates of substance abuse & dependence, depression and suicide. Factors unique to our profession are believed to contribute to these higher than average rates.
Attorneys present greater treatment and recovery challenges due to a range of cognitive and environmental factors such as impaired judgment, stigma and the belief we are or may be beyond help.
A. THE COMPANY WE KEEP
1. 1 of every 4 lawyers suffers from “toxic” stress levels & a strong correlation exists between work-related toxic stress and higher rates of alcohol consumption.
2. Lawyers have a higher rate of alcoholism than the general population. 30% of lawyers reportedly abuse alcohol.
3. Studies from numerous jurisdictions peg the rate of alcoholism in the legal profession at between 15% and 24%. Roughly 1 in 5 lawyers is addicted to alcohol compared to the national average of about 9%.
4. The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA: www.niaaa.nih.gov) cites an ABA study in which 13% of lawyers surveyed admitted to drinking 6 or more alcoholic drinks in 1 day, compared to 7% of the population who are alcoholics.
5. The International Journal of Law and Psychiatry reports problem drinking developed in 18% of lawyers practicing between 2 and 20 years and in 25% of lawyers practicing 20 years or more.
6. Alcoholism among lawyers contributes to approximately 60% of disciplinary prosecutions. 75% of disciplinary proceedings in California in 2008 involved alcohol abuse. Similarly, over 60% of all malpractice claims involve alcohol abuse.
7. The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs has concluded as many as 90% of all serious trust fund disciplinary matters involve substance abuse, primarily alcoholism.
8. The medical community reports 20% of all active attorneys are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
9. 26% of lawyers reported using cocaine at least once. This is more than TWICE the figure for the general population.
10. 33% of practicing lawyers suffer some form of mental illness and approximately 19% in one study suffer from depression. As a profession, attorneys rank first in depression— a principle co-occurring disorder aggravating substance use.
11. Lawyers have the highest suicide rates among the professions.
B. BARRIERS TO ATTORNEYS SEEKING TREAMENT
1. Denial: is a defense mechanism used when faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and so is rejected despite overwhelming evidence. Denial is both conscious and unconscious behavior with positive and negative roles in healthy relationships.
In the Addiction-Recovery setting, denial is often a thoroughly developed, organized and sophisticated alibi system an affected individual rehearses, refines and repeats to her or himself and to others. This alibi system includes
Denial is ignorance when we ignore the meaning of addiction as a disease – something over which we lack control and cannot correct with willpower or intellect alone. Denial is ignorance when we fail to appreciate the consequences of our addiction on others.
Without their intercession, we may be unaware of the chaos we bring into their experience. When we are aware, our shame may limit our willingness to accept our true condition and investigate our recovery options.
Denial is a defense mechanism used to deflect unbearable pain, anxiety and helplessness. Psychiatrists and Psychologists understand denial as an unconscious defense when the existence of unpleasant internal or external realities is denied and kept out of conscious awareness. By keeping the stressors out of consciousness, they are prevented from causing us anxiety.
Denial is deception when it is a calculated tactic to manage our self-image, manipulate others and avoid or shift responsibility and accountability for the havoc our addictive behavior creates. Deceptive denial includes lying about or minimizing our using behavior and its consequences, or trying to shift responsibility away from ourselves and to those most affected. As conscious deception, denial implicates our professional fitness.
Denial is delusional thinking reflecting our brain’s altered neural circuitry and its effects on our judgment, decision-making and related cognitive abilities. We may firmly– but mistakenly– believe we don’t have a problem, that we are in control of, can manage, or even quit our using activity anytime we want. Misjudging the impact of our addiction on ourselves and others, we lack the impetus to change.
2. Traits of the Person & Profession: may predispose attorneys to substance abuse or addiction as well as contribute to the difficulty attorneys have admitting to the problem and seeking treatment. These traits may include:
a. Traits of Personality:
1. A heightened orientation toward achievement, dominance, control & materialism;
2. A innate competitive adversarialism;
3. Interpersonal insensitivity manifest as objective neutrality;
4. Aggressive responses to stressors;
5. A “thinking” rather than “feeling” preference when decision making.
b. Traits of the Profession:
1. An emphasis on debate, argumentation, conflict & subterfuge– even against clear evidence;
2. A de-emphasis on self-revelation, self-insight and self-awareness in the guise of objective neutrality;
3. An strong & often inflated sense orientation toward self reliance — one at odds with mutually inclusive, and therefore favoring mutually exclusive– goal achievement;
4. The ability to remain high functioning while feeding our abusive & addictive behaviors
c. Enabling Alliances:
Enabling describes those actions of others that insulate the affected practitioner from the consequences of her or his substance related behavior. We can be enabled by family, firm partners & staff, colleagues, judges, even our clients!
Whether their conduct is intended to be supportive, assistive, defensive, or deflective, it is enabling when it prevents us from experiencing the consequences of our addiction and thereby delays our coming to terms with problem and taking voluntary steps to address it.
Fear of being shunned, disapproved of or held in a negative light by colleagues, clients or judges often prevents us from admitting to substance dependence; or, once admitted, from actively seeking comprehensive help to restore ourselves to wellness.
Stigma and denial may work in tandem telling us our professional reputations and careers are at stake should we “come clean.” Rarely do we weigh the alternative consequences of allowing our disease to progress to the point of criminal conduct, professional discipline, or post-treatment relapse due to poor or non-existent aftercare.
Empathic Empowerment: Feeding the Wolf
A Cherokee elder sat with his young grandson and explained “Son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, despair, resentment, falsehood, ego and individualism. The other is good. It is compassion, understanding, love, kindness and community.”
The child thoughtfully considered his grandfather’s words before asking: “Grandfather, which wolf wins the battle?” to which the elder replied: “The one we feed.”
Self Absorption & Empathetic Awareness
In “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships,” Emotional Intelligence guru Daniel Goleman writes:
“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy…When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands…we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”
Empathy is that quality that allows us to walk in another’s shoes. It allows us not only to understand intellectually what they experience in their own circumstances and on their own terms; it allows us to feel what they are feeling as result of those circumstances. Empathy differs from sympathy in that it is more than an extension of understanding toward another.
Where sympathy is feeling for, empathy is feeling with. It imports an element of caring derived from our personal, emotional identification with another’s emotional experience.
Who among us hasn’t at least overheard the categorical claim that lawyers as a group are a self-absorbed lot? If you’ve heard this– perhaps even leveled at yourself– you might ask: what does my practice style lend or take away from this perception? Why should I care?
Mr. Goleman explains the 3 varieties of empathy that presumably come together to form an empathetic whole.
“Cognitive empathy” allows us to understand what another is thinking; the quality assists in functions like debate or negotiation, a lawyer’s stock in trade.
“Emotional empathy” permits us to feel the emotions of another. This quality involves a neural dynamic in which we mirror the emotions, movements or intentions we observe in another. This lets us feel with the other person– but not necessarily feel for them— a prerequisite for compassion.
“Compassionate empathy,” or “empathetic concern,” allows us not only to understand another’s plight and feel it along with them; but, as a response, we are moved to adopt their struggle as our own and to provide what care and assistance we are able.
Here, I’ll call one’s ability to understand, harness, and make effective use of these separate elements of empathy one’s “empathetic intelligence.” Maybe one day, I’ll parlay this concept into a separate literary and business career!
Meanwhile, legal scholarship routinely examines the intersection of empathy and law. . In the article cited below, Professor Gallacher argues empathy is a core lawyering skill that the process of educating and socializing law-students to “think like lawyers” systematically eliminates. Interesting disconnects arise when newly minted lawyers collide head-on with a consuming public that does not “think like lawyers” and that engages in decision-making differently than lawyers.
Given Mr. Goleman’s triplex definition of empathy, lawyering can be an intensely empathetic activity. Who can argue against the importance of placing ourselves in the minds of others— clients, investigators, defendants, witnesses, experts and, especially, members of juries?
Who can argue against the practical value of influencing the process by which such people arrive at their decisions in order to achieve our client’s desired outcomes?
OK– But Again, Why Should We Care?
One aspect of Professor Gallacher’s point is deceptively simple: empathetic competencies yield tactical strategies that ultimately empower lawyers with such qualities to achieve superior results. However, legal education erodes empathetic intelligence and supplants it with a “logical” intelligence that eliminates this critical component of human understanding and connectivity.
When we return from the Ivory Tower of scholarly abstraction, both feet back on the soil of our daily practice routines, we find ourselves among a sea of legal consumers who, consciously or unconsciously, expect attorneys to act “morally” as well as empathetically.
These consumers of legal services often have little or no notion of California’s Rules of Professional Responsibility or the ABA’s Model Rules. If you miss the importance of the distinction between attorney ethics and popular morality, try sitting in on a conversation between a regular Jane or Joe and a criminal defense attorney as the attorney patiently explains how and why she is able to defend a child molester, rapist or murderer.
What we find is that legal consumers tend to infuse the quality of empathy with elements of morality, generosity and altruistic behavior– with compassion, social cohesion and connectedness. These latter qualities are demonstrably at odds with the characteristic self-absorption often displayed by or associated with contemporary legal practitioners. Criticisms and complaints often come from consumers who have imported an expanded empathetic concept into the much narrower concept of “attorney ethics.”
The take away is that an attorney’s poor bedside manner may cause a client to complain to the State Bar, even when the attorney is acting within her ethical domain.
Addiction’s Devastation of Empathic Intelligence
The erosion of empathetic intelligence by law schools may only be a theoretical concern. However, there is clear anecdotal evidence the concern is catching the attention of decision-makers within such institutions like a bad cold. I won’t offer a citation. Just google “empathy and law school” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Of greater concern are the alarming statistics showing attorneys suffer from alcoholism, chemical dependency and depression at rates significantly higher than the general population and other professions. 
Substance abuse and addiction can devastate an attorney’s ability to develop or maintain empathetic intelligence.
Research confirms that addiction harms our ability to feel another’s emotional state and respond appropriately, even while it leaves our ability to understand these emotions intact.
Using Goleman’s model, we can say that addiction impairs emotional empathy while preserving cognitive empathy.  This is true of alcoholism, even when co-occurring disorders such as depression for example are controlled for. 
Alcoholism demonstrably affects the perception and interpretation of the emotional expressions of others, including the ability to recognize social and emotional cues. 
These impairments affect an attorney’s ability to comprehend relevant emotional states. This, in turn, affects the attorney’s ability to use empathetic intelligence to develop case plans and strategies and connect the emotional states of our clients with the expectations of juries.
However, the affected attorney doesn’t typically leave these deficits at the firm or at the courthouse.
Over time, unchecked addictions steal their way into our personal relationships— with our spouses, children, friends and other family members– gradually eroding the intimacy, trust and shared loyalties appropriate to these connections.
These emerging findings strongly suggest attorneys in recovery, and those working with them in clinical treatment or peer-support environments will greatly benefit– tangibly and intangibly– by enhancing their empathetic capacities.
The anticipated dividends include the ability to intuit clients’ true needs and motivations quickly, fostering a more immediate and deeper measure of trust and connection.
Developing and enhancing one’s empathetic intelligence can also make one more effective in motivating and influencing others to adopt critical perspectives on the legal and factual issues that determine case outcomes– assuring greater client satisfaction over time.
And after all, don’t satisfied clients create satisfied lawyers?
 See e.g., Gallacher, Ian, Thinking Like Non-Lawyers: Why Empathy is a Core Lawyering Skill and Why Legal Education Should Change to Reflect its Importance, (September 25, 2011), at fn. 2 [citing articles] Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD, Vol. 8, 2011. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1933473.
 Wendy L. Patrick, Dealing With Substance Abuse, California Lawyer, July 2010; Carol M. Langford & Robert M. Wells, The Sobering Truth: Facing Substance Abuse in the Practice of Law, Contra Costa Lawyer, (Jan 26, 2012); Steven D. Wasserman, Mark Hancock & Kelley Van Aken, Addressing Substance Abuse, California Lawyer, (December, 2013.).
 2011 by the Research Society on Alcoholism. Dissociation Between Affective & Cognitive Empathy in Alcoholism: A Specific Deficit for the Emotional Dimension. Maurage P, Grynberg D, Noël X, Joassin F, Philippot P, Hanak C, Verbanck P, Luminet O, de Timary P, Campanella S.
 Simona Amenta, Xavier Noël, Paul Verbanck, Salvatore Campanella. Decoding of Emotional Components in Complex Communicative Situations (Irony) and Its Relation to Empathic Abilities in Male Chronic Alcoholics: An Issue for Treatment. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2012.01909.x
I.D.E.A.L. Recovery Coaching views substance abuse and dependency as a treatable condition rather than as a character failing. However, a knowing refusal to address the issue and its consequences in our own lives raises concerns about our honesty and integrity.
I.D.E.A.L. Recovery Coaching recognizes there are multiple pathways to recovery and offers the following resources to help you determine both your place and your direction on the path.
I. THE ADDICTION CONTINUUM: One Man’s Meat is Another’s Poison
“Experimenting” suggests we try something a few times and then don’t come back to it. Beyond that, we are probably “using.” The line between “using” and “abusing” is then largely circumstantial. One person’s pattern of casual or recreational use may be become progressively harmful enough to constitute “abuse.” However, even one who “abuses” alcohol or other drugs is not necessarily an “addict” who is “chemically dependent.”
The 4th Edition of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Disorders (“DSM-IV”) offers the following definitions of substance abuse and dependence:
A. SUBSTANCE ABUSE: A MALADAPTIVE PATTERN OF SUBSTANCE USE LEADING TO CLINICALLY SIGNIFICANT IMPAIRMENT OR DISTRESS IS MANIFESTED BY ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING, OCCURRING WITHIN A 12-MONTH PERIOD:
1. Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home (e.g. repeated absences or poor work performance related to substance use; substance-related absences, suspensions, or expulsions from school; neglect of children or household).
2. Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g. driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired).
3. Recurrent substance-related legal problems (e.g. arrests for substance-related disorderly conduct).
4. Continued substance use despite persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance (e.g. arguments with spouse about consequences of intoxication, physical fights)
B. SUBSTANCE DEPENDENCE: A MALADAPTIVE PATTERN OF SUBSTANCE USE LEADING TO CLINICALLY SIGNIFICANT IMPAIRMENT OR DISTRESS IS MANIFESTED BY THREE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING, OCCURRING AT ANY TIME IN THE SAME 12-MONTH PERIOD:
1. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
a. a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect;
b. a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
2. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
a. the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance; or
b. taking the same (or a closely related) substance to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
3. Taking the substance often in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
4. Having a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use.
The DSM-V now combines substance abuse and substance dependence into a single condition that can be measured on a scale of mild to severe.
C. THE DISEASE CONCEPT OF ADDICTION
THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF ADDICTION MEDICINE DEFINES ADDICTION AS A:
“…a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”
D. RECOVERY: WHAT IT IS AND CAN BE
1. William Anthony, Executive Director of the Boston Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, calls recovery: “a deeply personal, unique process of changing one’s attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills and/or roles. It is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life even with limitations caused by the illness…”
2. In 2005, the SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES ADMINISTRATION (SAMHSA) offered a working definition of Recovery from alcohol or drug problems as: “…a process of change through which an individual achieves abstinence and improved health, wellness and quality of life.”
3. In 2011, SAMHSA revised its working definition of recovery as follows: “Recovery is a process of change whereby individuals work to improve their own health and wellness and to live a meaningful life in a community of their choice while striving to achieve their full potential.”
Denial is not a river flowing through Africa!
Our conscious refusal to admit to an uncomfortable or painful truth about ourselves or a loved one—THAT’S denial! Denial is a psychological defense we use to maintain our self-image, esteem, and feelings of security, well-being and control.
Denial allows us to avoid acknowledging facts that are utterly indisputable to those around us. For the legal practitioner, denial allows us to persuasively disavow, distort and rationalize all of the indicators of substance abuse or addiction in our lives despite the evidence confronting us.
After investigating your client’s version of the facts, you’ll likely perform any necessary research into potential claims and defenses. You’ll create a discovery plan for uncovering helpful evidence and punching holes in what you anticipate will be the evidence and arguments of the opposition.
At each stage of the litigation, you’ll likely have a standard list of items to be completed in the short term, all of which are designed to achieve a definable long-term goal: success!
If you’re good at what you do, you’ll have layered plans and multiple backup strategies in the event any particular course fails to yield its intended outcome. In short, you’ll plan meticulously for success, anticipate and address the strengths and weaknesses of each element of both sides of your case, and leave nothing to chance that can be manipulated with proper planning.
General Denials & Affirmative Defenses
When it comes to confronting the dragon of substance abuse, what is your plan?
Sadly, for many attorneys, the plan is to deny that there is a problem. Just Google “attorneys and substance abuse” and review the results. Some “sobering” statistics emerge.
- As a profession, attorneys have an almost 50% higher rate of substance abuse than the general population.
- 75% of attorneys seeking assistance with substance abuse in 2008 were also involved in disciplinary proceedings.
When we add factors such as depression or other mood, personality or anxiety disorders into the mix, practicing law can be a recipe for self-medicating against the quiet desperation we find among a significant subset of our colleagues.
Equally sobering are studies showing substance-abuse and denial go hand in hand. Not only are substance abuse and addiction considered occupational hazards in the legal and medical professions; the accompanying stigma– the perception such behavior is somehow evidence of moral failing– encourages those affected to hold fast to the denial defense. As a result, the majority of those with substance-abuse problems do NOT seek help through mutual aid or professional treatment. When they do:
- Less than 50% actually complete treatment;
- more than 50% resume their old patterns within 30-90 days;
- in severe cases, recovery doesn’t stabilize until 4-5 years of continued abstinence.
Let me ask you a couple questions: when 50% of substance dependent folks resume former use patterns within 30-90 days of formal treatment, who’s out there “stabilized” 4-5 years later? What are THEY doing differently? Where will YOU land along this continuum?
The Profession IS the Problem
One problem shared by attorneys and doctors alike is the sense of omnipotence, power and influence bred by our professions. However, the research doesn’t lie. We are not immune because of our professional and social standing, our material success or the sheer force of our personalities and professional aptitudes. The disease of addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer.
Additionally, attorneys are at higher risk of developing substance-abuse problems because of the characteristics unique to our practice. You know them. They include workplace cultures, workloads, stress loads, conflict and adversalialism, incivility from practitioners and clients alike, pressures to market, pressures to bill, pressures to make rain and, ultimately, to win.
Only, for most of us, we don’t, can’t or won’t admit we’ve been lying to ourselves and to those around us, until a truly life or career altering event forces us into the uncompromising truth of our condition: one or more D.U.I.’s, malpractice, professional discipline, divorce, bankruptcy even thoughts and attempts of suicide.
At some point, denial is no longer a defense, but a quiet co-conspirator of the deadliest kind.
Recovering In Stages
As a process, litigation has its discreet phases. It proceeds along a familiar continuum from intake and investigation, to filing, discovery and settlement efforts, though trial preparation, trial or some other method of dispute resolution, and post-verdict or judgment operations. Each phase of the continuum has its own set of unique considerations.
Recovering from substance abuse and addiction is also a process that proceeds along a continuum. And each phase of that process similarly carries its own cluster of unique considerations.
Often when we’re in this mindset, we don’t consider, and have no intention of changing, our use patterns. Consciously or unconsciously, we deny we have substance-use problems or that there is a linkage between our substance-use and any personal or professional issues that may give us or others close to us concerns.
Even when confronted by friends, family or colleagues, we may argue, rationalize, evade or even justify the circumstances giving rise to their concerns.
Since addiction is viewed as a “progressive” phenomenon, the issues of concern it creates gradually increase in frequency and gravity. As the process unfolds, we acknowledge the possibility of a linkage between our using behavior and issues of concern in our lives.
We begin a process of investigating and weighing options for addressing these concerns, considering the benefits and consequences of various courses of action, including continuing use. Because prolonged substance use and abuse changes our brain chemistry and thinking, we may still be denying critical elements of our using behavior as the source of our problems.
However, we admit to ourselves that an issue tied to using behavior exists. Our blinders are becoming transparent. This simple admission forms the foundation of a deeply critical surrender of ego that for many lies at the heart of successful long term recovery.
As we become increasingly convinced of the linkage between our using behaviors and problems we’re experiencing, and having investigated and weighed the options we’ve been considering, we are convinced some kind of change is necessary and we commit to pursue it.
We may perform additional research and inquiry into specific, formal or informal self-help or professional support and treatment options. We may begin to take stock of our own “recovery capital,” inventorying the personal, professional and community resources available to support and enhance our change agenda.
However, our initial acceptance of a use-related problem has facilitated a commitment to change those facets of our use behavior that create concern for us.
This is where the rubber hits the road. Convinced change is necessary, and having weighed the options, taken inventory of our available internal and external resources and decided upon a particular path, we now take decisive action and move toward our personally selected recovery solution.
Whether in formal or informal treatment and support environments, it is here that our understanding of the nature of substance abuse and addiction couples with an understanding of how our using behavior has affected our life and the lives of those closest to us, including our careers.
This phase typically lasts from 3-6 months where professional discipline or a co-occurring disorder are not present– longer where discipline or clinical treatment of a co-occuring disorder is involved.
It is here we confront the task of honest and unflinching self-appraisal. We experience extremes of joy, elation and release– sometimes called “the pink cloud” or “honeymoon period,” alongside the physical and emotional discomfort of detoxification, withdrawal and the guilt, humiliation and sorrow that often accompanies surrendering to the truth of how our prior substance use has affected our lives, loved ones and careers.
Many who complete a recovery treatment program, including attorneys and other professionals, entertain the delusion their lives and practices will immediately transform for the better; frayed relationships will be repaired and their mea culpas will be met with immediate forgiveness.
However, as Rome was not built in a day, the long-term transformations occurring in recovery occur over significant periods of time. We can’t expect the damage from years of substance abuse to right itself in 30 days, 6 months or even the first year following treatment. And when the “good life” doesn’t materialize quickly enough, many of us return to our old habits. Aftercare is our post-treatment defense against backsliding.
Ongoing aftercare is a demonstrated means of increasing our odds of successfully recovering from substance abuse, addiction and it physical and psychological effects. Aftercare provides ongoing structure, support and accountability as needed. Aftercare connects us to the elements of our recovery capital that sustain our steadily progressive mental and physical transformation for the long term.
Aftercare also assists us to develop strategies for recognizing and addressing the prior thoughts, behaviors, emotions and situations that once triggered our using patterns. Recovery involves long-term psychological and behavioral adjustments, some of which also involve co-occurring disorders.
Therefore, aftercare provides the critical support we need to maintain our recovery agenda for a period sufficient to permit meaningful change to occur in our lives and careers.
Where To Begin:
The first step for anyone addressing a personal substance-use issue is to penetrate the barrier of denial and admit a problem exists. This notion is embedded in the “first step” of many 12-step programs– including Alcoholics Anonymous– which states “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”
As lawyers, we may have particular difficulty with this first step because of our inflated sense of our own power to manipulate people and the mechanisms of justice, and also because our material trappings may provide us the false sense that we are “managing” our lives, careers and substances of choice just fine.
We may need to be smacked over the head with substantial “competent” evidence.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Evidence Clearly Demonstrates…
Perhaps the most telling indicators of substance dependence are the stated concerns of friends, family, loved ones and colleagues– and our subsequent dismissal or denial of such concerns.
Additionally, the ABA notes several symptoms that are accepted indicators of chemical or alcohol dependence. This means any combination of these characteristics may objectively point to “use” that has matured to “abuse” that now poses a problem requiring a response:
- Heightened degrees of evasive or secretive behavior;
- A loss of interest & association with activities & people that brought pleasure;
- Recurring financial, social or legal problems;
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns;
- Noticeable decline in workplace attendance, performance & work product;
- Changes in personality, attitude, acquaintances & routines;
- Appearing fearful, overly anxious or paranoid without basis;
- Increased mood swings, irritability & outbursts of rage or frustration;
- A declining interest in personal appearance, grooming or hygiene;
- Sudden or extreme variations in weight;
- Frequent & prolonged periods of lethargy, disorientation & detachment;
- Noticeable shaking, tremors, slurring of speech & impaired coordination.
- An inability to limit alcohol intake once drinking begins;
- efforts to limit or control drinking;
- Experiencing a strong compulsion to drink;
- Requiring increasingly more alcohol to feel its effects;
- Secretly drinking on the job or when alone;
- Experiencing nausea, tremors & perspiration when not drinking;
- Forgetting commitments, prior conversations & blacking out;
- Drinking regularly at predetermined times;
- Ensuring alcohol is always close, including at home, the office work or even in your car;
- Gulping drinks, ordering doubles or drinking to intentionally become intoxicated;
- Drinking to feel normal.
YOUR Call to Action
I am entering my 10th year to practice in a relatively small Northern California community. In the short time I’ve practiced law, I’ve witnessed several of my colleagues succeed in recovery. I’ve also witnessed just as many continue to deny their own substance abuse problems.
I’ve smiled patiently as they’ve rejected the repeated entreaties of those of us– myself included– willing to extend the confidential support, encouragement, experience and personal examples that might have saved them the trials of professional suspension, disbarment, jail time, prison and even suicide. But they resisted and rejected these efforts.
It’s my personal opinion, but one informed by personal experience and by personal observation, that the deadliest mistake YOU can make as an attorney dealing with YOUR personal substance abuse issues is to convince yourself that your professional standing and intellectual aptitudes are a sufficient defense to the progressive nature of addiction. Too many have been taken down by this belief.
As a Recovery Coach who practices law and is also recovering from the disease of substance dependence, I am available anytime for consultation and support to attorneys and others at any stage of the recovery process.
If you are in recovery or would like to discuss recovery issues and how a Recovery Coach can benefit YOUR recovery efforts, contact me TODAY at (530) 515-5198. Lets talk about what Recovery Coaching is and what it can help you achieve.
You can also email me at CoachPaul@Youridealcoach.com. All contacts are safe, secure and strictly confidential.
Did the title catch your attention? It almost sounds like a playground taunt. But its lyrical ring also strikes a meaningful and resounding chord with some of us who are just beginning to hit our stride mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Living Life on Life’s Terms
In the 12-step milieu, we emphasize the need to “live life on life’s terms.” This instruction is both an admonishment and a reminder.
As An Admonishment
It’s an admonishment because we must remain especially vigilant in maintaining our reserves of faith, hope and charity— with charity often understood as a selfless and unconditional love for one another.
We sometimes speak of “deep” thoughts, “deep” feelings” or “deeper” understandings of one thing or another. Faith in the God of my understanding– a God that reveals Himself through Sacred Scripture– adds that critical dimension of depth to my existence. If death was once the boundary at which I believed life ended, my faith has eliminated the boundary completely and given me just the tiniest glimpse of the eternity that awaits each of us at the Great Crossing Over.
The realization we are each created and meant for the eternity promised by faith infuses all my activities with hope. Does this mean I am always free of despair? Sadly, no. If I am to be rigorously honest, there are periods still when Satan’s greatest tool– despair- can rob me of the grace of the moment. But during these times, I choose service to others as my defense. And I find in such moments that love does, indeed, conquer all. Faith, hope and love are each inextricably bound to one another and woven into the fabric of my life in recovery. Where one of these elements ebbs, another flows.
As a Reminder
The admonishment to live life on life’s terms is also a reminder. I am reminded that as reeds in life’s great breeze, it is we that must bend against the vagaries of circumstance. Like that wall that just doesn’t bend to an angry punch, life just doesn’t bend to our will. Rather, the admonishment to live life on life’s terms instead of on our own terms is a reminder, echoing the Psalmist, that our times are in His hands. (Ps. 31:15) There is no randomness, chance or coincidence shaping our experience. All of our encounters are gifted providentially because all of our time here on Earth is in God’s hands.
How do we transition from here back to the title that originally brought us together?
Mr. A.W. Tozer once said “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” What this says to me is that for God’s perfect work to be completed in us, (Jas. 1:1-4), we must sometimes be broken so that we can be made whole and stronger in the long run. Perhaps this is why the thorn remained in St. Paul’s flesh despite his numerous pleas it be removed, (2 Cor. 12:7-12), or why, when surrounded by enemies on every front, Jehoshaphat cries out to God that he is both powerless and clueless as to what to do. (2 Chron. 20:10-12).
And perhaps that’s why, if we find ourselves burned out or disengaged, if we find ourselves in a rut, or if we are anxious at the prospect of having achieved middle age with only “recovery” to claim as our success in life, we can know with assurance that God has found favor with us, and is guiding us, and perfecting us, and drawing us closer to Himself and the place He has established for each of us in His eternal kingdom.
Hopefully, the present Christmas and New Year’s Holiday season will provide us moments to reflect upon all God has done for us, is doing for us, and will continue to do for us as we continue our journey toward the eternity that is our inheritance.
Revolutions of Thought-Resolutions of Spirit
We spent this year’s Turkey Day with family in San Jose, practically a stone’s throw from my hometown of Santa Cruz. Like the lure of the Sirens’ song, the call of the ocean was irresistible and so we packed up early Friday and hit the beach side town of my youth– my wife, kids and our two dogs.
For some, back peddling down memory lane can be a mixed bag of pleasing and painful memories. We visited Holy Cross Church where I received First Communion as a wee lad and was later Confirmed while a Junior in High school. I remembered fondly the priests and sisters who gently shaped the foundations of the faith that sustains me today, despite my prolonged and repeated lapses.
We drove past Santa Cruz High School and the home on California Street where I grew up. For nearly two decades, my father terrorized our family in that home with his alcoholic fury and the violence it created. We later grabbed slices at the iconic Pizza My Heart and then walked along West Cliff Drive to “Its” Beach, where the dogs, and our kids, spent a couple of hours immersed in sand, surf and sun.
As my dogs acquainted themselves with the sounds and smells of an ocean they had never seen before, I reflected fondly on the countless days and nights I’d spent there with schoolmates and others– boogie boarding, surfing around the corner at “The Lane” and at Cowells, throwing kegger parties and proudly proclaiming the sands and the town they bordered as my own. As with each generation, there was a solidarity and a connectedness that linked us to one another and to our hometown. I was surprised at the sheer volume of long forgotten, but suddenly vivid memories that came rushing back to me as I sat watching our lab skate along the shoreline.
A Small Awakening
In many ways, the town was the same, but as familiar as it was, that deep connectedness I once had to the place had not just eroded, but had vanished altogether. Santa Cruz is always in my mind, but somehow, it is no longer in my heart. Home IS where the heart is. And with this small realization came the confirmation that Redding is my “home” and my “community” today.
Emerging research from the University of Pennsylvania and Freiberg University suggests the brain uses spatial information to categorize memories. Put another way, there is now some neural evidence our memories are “geotagged” to the places they were formed. One result is that awestruck feeling we experience when a place triggers a series of recollections and we find ourselves saying “Wow! I haven’t thought about these things in years!”
Why is this significant? One reason is, I think, because a community is only as strong as the emotional connection– the degree of caring and concern– its members have toward one another. However, we live in especially transient times. Many of our friends, a few colleagues, and members of my own family have become uprooted– forced to relocate to seek work and rebuild lives in other cities and even in other states. Some hit the ground running, but not all. And many of these transitions were involuntary. They were unplanned responses to changed work, or other life-circumstances.
Recovering our Resolve
There is a familiar kind of perplexing pain– maybe what we might call a separation anxiety— when we leave the comfort of our familiar people and surroundings and head off into the Great-Who-Knows-What. This sort of anxiety makes relocating and planting new roots an especially daunting task. We might be reluctant to put ourselves out there, or to throw ourselves into supportive relationships with new neighbors, co-workers or with the strangers we run into at the gym or in the grocery line. Perhaps we fear the carpet will again be pulled out from under us, causing us to relive the pain of our forced exodus. This sort of anxiety can act as a filter, causing us to view the unknown through the lens of negativity rather than neutrally.
In my pre-recovery and early-recovery days, if I didn’t know what the future held, I tended to imagine the worst possible outcomes. This either filled me with despair, or prevented me from taking meaningful action. I would give up on many goals before I’d even begun, thinking that by doing so, I would avoid the pain of the impending doom I envisioned. So today, the suggestion we make every attempt to “live one day at a time,” to “live in the now” and to “enjoy the present moment,” are not simply platitudes. They are instructions for living and stepping stones to achieving each goal I set for myself.
Starting over in a new place presents the opportunity for us to “geotag” new memories within our new surroundings, to forge new connections and lay down new roots. In fact, we don’t have to relocate to another area to make meaningful connections. We just need to be resolute.
When we experience strong feelings in our daily activities– either because of the residue of the past or speculation about the future, we can be robbed of the contentment of the present moment; or, we can lose the attentiveness that provides an appropriate response to the circumstances as they actually are, rather than as they appear to us through our emotional filters.
For those of us in recovery, our substances of choice were very often also our filters. We may have used what we used to filter out things we were running from, trying to forget or attempting to avoid– constellations of fears, anxieties, feelings and emotions that drove our addictive obsessions.
“Relocating” from the familiarity of our addictive obsessions to the “serenity” of a “recovered” lifestyle can also leave us feeling as isolated, exposed, or out of sorts as geographically relocating from our hometown to a new and entirely foreign city. The speed with which we make the transition is always a function of our resolve and efforts to mix into our new digs.
While the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holiday Season can be a source of joy and family rejuvenation for many, they can be especially difficult for those of us in recovery and also for our families. The embers of old wounds and resentments may still be smoldering under the surface of the festivities. We may feel shut out or cut off from the holiday good cheer everyone else seems to be swimming in. Alternatively, we may find ourselves in new, unfamiliar or different surroundings without the “benefit” of whatever it once was that we depended on to help us through it all.
If we anticipate problems for ourselves during the holidays, it goes without saying that we should avoid drinking and using. We should always maintain our determination not to return to our former bondage.
However, it’s just as important to remind ourselves that the core of recovery stretches far beyond simply avoiding substances that once dominated our lives. Recovery also includes the kind of bottom-to-top mental and emotional transformation that starts when we accept that a better life is possible for us and we become “willing to go to any lengths” to attain it.
While that acceptance may occur in a short space of time, the transformation it promises occurs over a lifetime as the tides of honestly, open mindedness and willingness roll in and out of the circumstances and relationships we encounter.
Built into the recovery calculus is the requirement that we put ourselves out there and begin geotagging new memories infused with the knowledge a better life IS attainable for us and is something we deserve and can create for ourselves.
As I again walk down that difficult corridor stretching from November 20th to shortly after January 1st, I know the decisions I will make will be influenced by conscious and unconscious elements of my past. So I find it useful to put a “framework” in place for responding to the “knowns” and the “unknowns” I’m sure to encounter wherever the Season may take me.
Below, I’ve shared a few strategies that have kept me sober and mostly serene through 10 successive holiday seasons now– including all the days in between!
If these ideas have some value for you, please call or email me and let me know how your holidays progressed. I’d greatly enjoy connecting our shared experience, strength and hope. After all, isn’t that what fellowship is all about?
1. Make the Decision That’s Right For YOU and Share it.
I had an old MGB rag-top convertible I bought for $800.00 and something was always going wrong with it. It cost me several thousand dollars to maintain over the 2 short years I had it. Each time, I agonized over whether to fix what was wrong.
But each time I made the firm decision to correct whatever was the issue, I was immediately at peace. This taught me it wasn’t the frustration or expense of constant repairs that was rattling me. It was the indecision itself.
Similar forces are at work in my recovery. If I focus on the uncertainties of life, I am sunk. They are too overwhelming for me. When I make a decision, or set a goal, I am at peace because the plan provides a framework of predictability leading to a tangible result. And study after study shows that those who list and communicate their goals to others achieve what they say they want to achieve.
This holiday season, commit to loving yourself. Spend the time with people that are truly good for you and supportive of your recovery goals. Write down a realistic account of what you want your holiday season to look like and communicate your vision to at least one other person who is supportive of your recovery efforts. Take little steps in the direction of that vision.
2. Inventory the minefield
No matter how deeply I may have been stuck in the mud of denial about certain facets of my addiction- ridden obsessive personality, I always knew who, what, when and where slippery people, places and things could be found. Very often, my insanity lies in the delusional conviction I could again expose myself to them with benign, rather than potentially disastrous, results.
When forming your holiday plans, sit down with your loved one, sponsor, priest, coach or trusted friend and discuss where the potential mines are likely to be found. Is there a simmering conflict that will be reignited if you adopt Plan A? Are there deep seated thoughts, feelings or emotions that may bubble up to the surface if you adopt Plan B? Will Plan C bring you back to a place where a surge of disheartening memories will hit you like a tsunami?
What are some of the potential triggers, red flags or slippery slopes you are likely to encounter this season? Talking or thinking about such contingencies can help you plan a reasonable response if they happen.
3. Take stock of your recovery capital
Give yourself permission to leave the past in the past. Don’t get bogged down by it. You can’t change it or its effects on others but you can change its effects on YOU! Focus on what is presently good in yourself and your surroundings: your family, friends and community.
List and discuss the tools you have available to you right now to REASONABLY adjust to circumstances as they unfold. Start thinking of how you will ROLL with the punches instead of THROWING them! If it helps, look at what you wrote down when you “inventoried the minefield” above.
What tools do you have that you can use if you encounter one of the mines you’ve listed? If you can’t think of any tools, is walking through that minefield really a good idea for you at this time? What are some other options you have this year that will allow you to avoid the mine but have the holiday that’s right for you?
4. Write out your strategy
As silly as this sounds, I still do this. If I know I’m going to be at So-and So’s house this year, then Uncle You-Know is gonna be there too and you can bet the conversation will eventually turn to Thus-and-So. If it does, then I am going to do This, That and the Other. I have it written down. I can look at it if I have to.
I have a couple words outlining a simply strategy for each mine that I might encounter. And, in bold and allcaps, at the bottom of the list, I have written: “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL I ALLOW MYSELF TO: ________________________” and I describe each potential behavior I am committing to avoid.
As simple as this sounds, so many of us in recovery have been so beaten down by life, and have grown so accustomed to continually failing that we no longer have a clear idea of what success means for us personally. If we do have some vague notion, we are often more doubtful than hopeful we can make that vision of success a reality in our lives.
First, be realistic and honest about your situation, strengths and life circumstances. Aim high in all that you do. But aim for something that makes sense given your unique gifts and talents.
Second, don’t stop believing your dreams can AND WILL happen for you if you just don’t give up.
Third, just don’t give up!
Bringing it all home, make the firm decision to have a joy-filled holiday season this year. Think about what the season means to you personally, how you want to celebrate it and who you want to spend it with. Choose the options that maximize your sense of joy and personal fulfillment and that minimize the potential for sadness, discontent or despair.
Be aware of your triggers and hot buttons and have planned strategies for keeping on course when they get pushed– because they will! And in all that you do, believe in your heart that life and its possibilities are larger than our minds can imagine. As you struggle through life’s trials, remember, they too shall pass.
Allow your spirit to be moved by visions of your present and future successes, rather than by memories of your past failures and worst behaviors.
And you will find that slowly and steadily, your recovery goals will become every day realities in your life.
Striving for Progress in a Perfect World: Strategies for Putting Yourself at Ease When Falling Short Means Falling Off
Often during the Christmas Holiday our minds may be a typhoon of bitter memories– images of past holidays perhaps ruined by our worst behaviors. In our hearts, we may repeat stories and narratives of self condemnation, self- judgment, discouragement and despair. As much as we might fight it, we may allow these storms of self-defeating mental habits to convince us we are unworthy or incapable of meaningful change– robbing us of the peace of this joy-filled season.
Those of us who, by the grace of our God and despite our addiction histories, have salvaged careers that demand “perfection” as the only acceptable, face an especially challenging emotional struggle. As a practicing lawyer, I’m constantly made aware of my own personal and professional imperfections— by bosses, co-workers, clients, judges, colleagues and especially by opposing counsel. And we wont talk about the many contributions to this awareness offered by parenthood and marriage!
Yet, inspired by the stories of, and working closely with, those walking the recovery path with me, I’ve managed as well as they have to maintain that hopeful determination that keeps each of us moving forward in recovery and in life– including in our careers (and marriages!)
One of the most important breakthroughs my 12-Step Sponsor helped me with was learning how to be “resolute”– firmly committed and determined to succeed with a task– while also remaining “flexible.”
Perhaps you, along with many of us, still struggle with the old idea that once a goal is identified, plans are formed, set in motion, and the process is strenuously managed until the outcome is achieved as planned. There is a rigidity involved in all this that doesn’t tolerate deviation, life’s random swerves or unforeseen circumstances. There is a belief at work that it can all be predicted, accounted for, and controlled.
Those of us in this boat– well, we may not yet be comfortable with those parts of ourselves that can’t bend without breaking! In the 12-Step arena, many of us have humbly asked the God of our understanding to remove our shortcomings and defects of character only to be continually overwhelmed by the sheer number He’s left in place.
At such times, I have to remind myself of the Scriptural message in James that tells me each of my character defects and related shortcomings point me right to the areas of my life I still need to work on. Trying and failing at anything– whether changing our worst habits or changing the world– are just routine facts of life.
That is why we must learn to allow ourselves to be comfortable only with our progress, and not with perfection. For now, let perfection be the goal of those better disposed to deal with the pain of repeated failure. Perfection may be a goal for us at some time in the future. But for now, be comfortable focusing on progress in your life.
Is this an excuse to give less than 100% of our actual capabilities? Absolutely not!
The distinction between progress and perfection is relevant to attitudes we hold about ourselves and others. As we do what we are able to the best of our abilities, we slowly learn to recognize that others are doing the same. We recognize and begin to accept their shortcomings are really not so different than our own. Rather than zeroing in on the differences that supposedly separate us, we start focusing on the attributes we share– even, if not especially, the Not-So-Great ones!
Moving toward “progress” in a culture obsessed with delusions of “perfection” requires a firm foundation of personal humility. Thus, a couple of important recovery principles to always keep in mind might include:
1. Learn to become comfortable with the progress you make in each area of your recovery walk; and
2. Learn to recognize your own shortcomings in others that you might otherwise be quick to judge and engage with in unhealthy and unproductive ways.
3. Think of ways to measure your progress in the areas of greatest importance to you.
Practicing these principles of humility in all of our affairs gives us the strength to persevere over time and ultimately sustain the resolutions we make until we achieve the goals we set for ourselves.
Applying these principles in YOUR recovery walk, you will not only find you are free from the bondage of that obsessive craving that once colored your life. You will find the new peace and freedom of mind and attitude that comes from breaking free of the mental chains of self-judgment, of believing you can control outcomes that you cannot, and from the grandiosity that tells you you are capable of more than your individual abilities may truly allow for.
Be content with “progress.“ You will always be at the apex of your personal power, effectiveness and “perfection” when:
1. You are doing what you are actually capable of doing, not more or less;
2. Doing it to the very best of your ability in the present moment; and,
3. Allowing the God of your personal understanding to manage the ultimate result.
I wish all who are walking the path of recovery with me a blessed and joy-filled Christmas Season and extend my best wishes to you for a prosperous and transformative New Year.
“Connecting Insight & Action with Achievement”
Diluting the Power of Habit: A Quick Burst of Insight into the Making & Breaking of our Best and Worst Routines
Why Do We Do These Things Anyway?
I recently read Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” and recommend it enthusiastically. You can find it on Amazon or at your local library.
For those of us that wonder why we cant seem to accomplish the great feats we dream of at home or at work, or to avoid the not so great blunders we return to time and again, the book is a God send. Sure, it demystifies the task of accomplishment and avoidance. But more importantly, Duhigg provides a clear picture of how and why habits form, and an equally clear picture of how habits can be manipulated for transformative change.
Anatomy of Habit
Maybe it goes without saying: habits are our brain’s way of saving the effort of thinking. “Chunking” is the term that describes how the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine.
The sequence begins with a cue or a trigger, which, in turn, sets in motion a routine that yields an anticipated reward. The trigger sends your brain into auto mode, where it searches for an appropriate routine to employ. The routine can be a physical, mental or emotional activity. Emerging research shows a great deal of high level mental activity takes place below the level of our conscious awareness. So, much of this connectivity occurs without “thoughtful” input from us
Once the routine is triggered, a reward follows, forcing the brain to determine whether the routine is worth storing for future reference. Over time, the repetitive process of cue-routine-reward– becomes automatic, yielding an overpowering sense of anticipation. Duhigg tells us that our habits are encoded structures that never really disappear. And our brains don’t differentiate between good and bad habits. The bad ones, Duhigg cautions, are always there, waiting to be actuated by the right cue and reward.
Experience (and perhaps Aristotle) informs our understanding that habits form when we engage in an activity repetitively over time. This is as true of mental activities as it is of physical activities. Repetitive mental actions eventually yield hard wired mental habits. Repetitive thoughts become ingrained attitudes and beliefs. Attitudes and beliefs are repetitive mental habits “chunked” together, and over time influence our actions. We bring this process to bear in each circumstance of our daily lives.
Mind over Matter and Habit over Will
How often have we heard or said “this is how I am and I’m too old to change…” or “…old habits die hard…” ? Let me share an observational anecdote:
In my coaching and ministry activities, I often hear those in the 25 to 35 age group admit that change is possible, but unnecessary. “Yeah,” its proclaimed, “that’s an easy fix, but not one I need to make…” Conversely, among the 55-and-above set, I’ll hear just the opposite: that change is necessary, but no longer possible. “I’m just too old and set in my ways.”
The underlying malady in both groups is usually nothing more than a toxic dose of denial, aggravated by a chronic case of apathy: “I don’t need to; I’m too old to; I don’t care to. I’m fine.” At bottom, the paralyzing agent is almost always fear.
There is an obvious tension between our need for stability, sameness and consistency, and the reality and constancy of change, reorganization and regrouping in our lives. The implication is that many of us move through life blissfully convinced we are perfect just the way we are– until a major life event or circumstance forces us to soberly confront the need to adjust to a new reality.
In a world that demands success and emphasizes immediate gratification, we are paralyzed to inaction out of fear we’ll either fail entirely, progress too slowly, or come up short of what’s needed. So we fib. We tell ourselves we’re content to remain in our comfort zones. And we remain in place, neither particularly comfortable nor particularly content, until such circumstantial confrontation forces us to accept new possibilities for ourselves. It is these confrontations with life on its terms that we expand our respective reservoirs of ability, strength, trust, courage, honesty and humility.
When ultimately confronted by the need to change habitual behavior in a critical way, Duhigg’s book is a goldmine of encouragement. In fact, as noted in the book’s appendix, there isn’t a single formula for changing our habits; there are, Duhigg tells us, “thousands.“
Turning his attention to the 12-Step crowd, Duhigg notes that programs like AA work (perhaps he should say “when they work…”) because, although our triggers and rewards always remain intact, alcoholics achieve permanent change when they substitute new routines that draw on their existing cue and reward framework. Feeling lonely? Where you might have gone to a bar previously, now you go to a meeting. The reward of fellowship is found in the alternative routine, just as before. The formula here is not to rewire the cue and reward system, but to “keep the cue, provide the same reward [and] insert a new routine.” Eventually, a new “habit loop” is formed that incorporates a new, healthier routine.
Would thinking about the triggers that set certain routines in motion in your life be of value to you? What about taking a look at the “rewards” you get from falling into those routines in your home or workplace? Is there a habitual behavior that you would like to be rid of but don’t know how or where to begin?
Maybe a Coaching encounter can move you toward your goal? Duhigg offers a simple framework for modifying habits that provides a convenient jump off point for a coaching encounter:
1. Identify the routine
2. Experiment with rewards
3. Isolate the cue
4. Create a plan
Whether this, or any of the thousand transitional habit-changing frameworks is suited to your specific change agenda is something we can explore together. Why don’t you call me for a short phone conversation and let me know what you’d like to work on and when you’d like to make it happen!
A phone call is simple. Your first coaching session is always FREE and there is never any further obligation. I want to be your Coach. You really have nothing to lose. Call and tell me what you want to gain!
Ours is a culture preoccupied with disorders, diagnoses and interventions. Yet, for all the diagnosing, intervening and treating that goes on, we still encounter unspeakable tragedy, sometimes predictable, but mostly unpredictable, in the personal dramas unfolding in our communities.
Just 2 short months before Country Music singer Mindy McCready took her own life, the world was introduced to the architect of the Sandy Hook tragedy, 20-year old Adam Lanza. Ironically, while Sandy Hook breathed new life into debates about gun control, those commenting on Mindy’s suicide, which also involved the use of a gun, invariably suggested stronger therapeutic interventions would likely have rescued her from the demons that plagued her throughout much of her life.
I mention Sandy Hook only in passing. This isn’t a comparison and contrast. What is notable is that while both Mindy and Adam clearly suffered from damaged psyches, public dialogue around Sandy Hook demanded a political fix to what was perceived as a problem with guns, while the dialogue surrounding Mindy’s death focused on a clinical fix to a perceived condition of her mind. In Adam’s case, the political fixes all looked externally at the weaponry available to him. In Mindy’s case, the clinical fix looked internally at what was missing in her.
On February 17, 2013, Mindy became the latest casualty of the battle for mature self-worth. She died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head at the age of 37, an effort that culminated several prior attempts. The AP noted Mindy was one of several cast members of celebrity shrink Dr. Drew Pinsky’s to die since appearing on “Celebrity Rehab.” Dr. Drew diagnosed Mindy with “love addiction,” a somewhat vague phenomenon that eludes consensus among mental health professionals.
Mindy’s very public life-crisis punctuated what many looking on from the outside would consider a charmed existence. Yet, despite her celebrity trappings– the fame, the adoration of her fans, and the financial security we might associate with her success– Mindy’s story points us to that deep hole into which so many of us spiral– professionals, celebrities and closer-to-the-Earth folks, alike. Many of us have some firsthand experience with that deep, dark pit where hope no longer exists. Perhaps we can identify in some personal way with Mindy’s experience of either approaching, or having reached the point where all hope is lost, where we honestly feel like we can no longer go on. But, unlike Mindy, we are still here, pressing on, having regained our bearing, or at least the determination to carry on with our lives.
The AP ran a story a couple days after her death that was significant for many reasons, not the least of which was what Mindy’s tragedy teaches us about the role of maturing hope and meaningful aspiration in our lives. The AP piece referenced statistics from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention noting the 38,364 suicides in 2010. It quoted Dr. Sharon Hirsh of the University of Chicago’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, who reminded us that those who struggle with addictive tendencies, as Mindy did, have lower impulse control. The piece went on to suggest that perhaps stronger therapeutic interventions might have saved Mindy.
Can Love Save Me Now?
I am no longer surprised at the significant number of recovery newcomers– those in their first year of recovery– that find their “recovery soul mates” in the first 60-90 days of their recovery efforts, and who then disappear, only to return at some future point and reintroduce themselves as being in their first few days of recovery.
And who among us can blame them? Recovery is a traumatic process in which many of our most uncomfortable personal weaknesses and shortcomings are laid bare. In addition to all the other stressors acting on us as we begin the recovery journey, we must suddenly confront the ocean of moods, feelings and emotions we’ve spent considerable time and energy numbing ourselves against.
For many of us, this seems like an ideal time to seek a feel-good partner to help us cushion the blows recovery throws at us. But the temptation to test the “love cure,” invariably yields the same predictable result. In Book III of his Confessions Augustine writes:
“To Carthage I came, where there sang all around me in my ears a cauldron of unholy loves. I loved not yet, yet I loved to love…I sought what I might love, in love with loving, and safety I hated, and a way without snares.”
We seek refuge in the warmth of another’s love and affection. Perhaps this is the lure of romantic love. Yet, Augustine’s confession illustrates our predilection for investing all of ourselves in certain connections, beyond the point where the connections are healthy for us or where we lack the necessary maturity. Was it Mindy’s “love addiction” that prevented her from resisting the voice of impulse in the last moments of her life? Was it truly the voice of impulse that whispered “…suicide…” as she struggled to regain the hope she lost scarcely a year earlier after her soul-mate similarly ended his life? Was she, like Augustine, so “in love with loving” that she forgot herself completely in the intensity of her affection?
Ernest Becker explained in The Denial of Death how romantic love operates as a refuge from the deeper problems of existing as physically and intellectually vital creatures, uneasily aware we will one day cease to exist.
Becker suggested that sophisticated modern man has outgrown religion, and the result is that romantic love now occupies the role once occupied by the God of eternity in our lives. Our dependence on another, in the context of romantic love, has supplanted our loss of spiritual identity and ideology. As Becker tells it:
“…the self-glorification that [man] needed in his innermost nature he now looked for in the love partner. The love partner becomes the divine ideal within which to fulfill one’s life… All spiritual and moral needs now become focused in one individual… The point is that if the love object is divine perfection, then one’s own self is elevated by joining one’s destiny to it…”
However, since none of us can bear the burden or fullness of the Godhead, our humanity chips at the edges of our romantic vision. Our romantic linkage slowly devolves into housekeeping. And as our bodies bend, crack and wrinkle with age, our love bends, cracks and wrinkles with familiarity, boredom and routine. Our lover buckles under the weight of the impossible task we’ve assigned her or him, and the imperfections of our mate reveal the irreparable flaws of humanity. In this regard, Becker says:
“…we get back a reflection from our loved objects that is less than the grandeur and perfection that we need to nourish ourselves. We feel diminished by their human shortcomings. Our interiors feel empty or anguished, our lives valueless, when we see the inevitable pettinesses of the world expressed through the human beings in it. For this reason, too, we often attack loved ones and try to bring them down to size…”
Godhood is a daunting responsibly to foist upon another human being. With some latitude at the edges, we can see these ideas at work in Mindy’s life, as well as in some of our own life and recovery histories. When romantic love fails to sustain us, when we lose a mate, find ourselves drifting apart or backsliding into old habits, we can become immersed in that hopelessness that leads inevitably to despair and relapse. But this despondency certainly is not beyond the reach of restorative or transformative healing. Soul care obviates the need for legislative or clinical responses to timeless manifestations of the human condition.
Mending & Maturing
At a time when the message and symbolism of Scripture carried a deeper significance, St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Hebrews:
“…though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food…solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb. 5:12-14.)
Although directed to the readers of Paul’s day, the passage still points toward an inner process of spiritual maturation that we must train to achieve through practice. Reflecting on Mindy’s Pentacostal upbringing, I am reminded of the many who faithfully dedicate their time to religious activities in their congregations, yet never mature spiritually. They are born in Pampers and they matriculate in Depends! They remain spiritual infants because they lack the appropriate internal training and practice, making Paul’s words as relevant today as in his day.
Spiritual maturity is not a level to be attained. Rather, it is the passion, fueled by hope, to press forward while courageously facing down our adversities. The risk inherent in our cultural overindulgence in therapeutic interventions is that we ignore the spiritual dimension of our deepest wounds. Similarly, the risk of emphasizing theological propositions to exorcise the demons lurking in our psyches is that we ignore the neurological dimension of our wounded natures. Each risk concerns elements of the other. As the philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich noted:
“…neither the medical, nor the priestly function is bound to its vocational representatives: the minister may be a healer and the psychotherapist a priest, and each human being may be both in relation to the neighbor…the goal of both of them is helping men reach full self affirmation, to attain the courage to be…”
When we are confronted with the voice of impulse, what the science of brain and mind suggests is that the architecture of the voice is a fact of experience over which we can exert little control. The “voice” arises in a side area of the prefrontal part of our brain. This area is responsible for such things as planning, choosing and suppressing urges. It cooperates with that part of the brain that regulates emotions.
Marc N. Potenza, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and child study at Yale University School of Medicine, tells us impulsivity involves both rapid, unplanned reactions and reduced concern for the consequences of our actions. However, the content of what the voice delivers to us, is something over which we have considerable influence. Dr. Potenza tells us we can learn to control ourselves simply by paying better attention to this voice inside our heads.
The idea we can be mindful of and transform the “voice” of our own impulsivity is a cornerstone assumption of the Recovery Coaching process. Whether viewed as a “shift in perspective” or a “change in life-narrative,” Dr. Potenza’s assurance should inspire renewed hope in those of us who struggle for the high ground of impulse control in our effort to sustain long term recovery.
We know there was infinitely more depth to Mindy’s life story than the tragic figure painted by media coverage following her death. However, her passing certainly teaches us that acting upon emotional impulsivity, rather than from a place of evolving and thoughtful maturity, can truly have life or death consequences. This is especially true for those of us in the Recovery Community, which experience has demonstrated don’t always have the best handle on our emotions.
With a nod toward training our faculties by practice to move toward maturity, here are a few strategic Soul-Care ideas you can put into practice in your Recovery Plan. They may help put the brakes on impulsive urges before such urges put the brakes on your happiness and success. At the same time, they may help you build the emotional and spiritual strength and maturity– the Recovery Capital– that can carry you through even the greatest struggles:
- Self-Care is Soul Care— Be mindful of what your feelings are telling you and have a plan for addressing your clearly negative self talk. Engage in activities that bring you enjoyment and relaxation. Prioritize exercise, getting enough rest, eating well and finding time for quiet reflection.
- Connection & Relatedness— The “I” of self always exists within the “We” of community. Emphasize the quality, rather than the number, of your relationships. I’ll trade a thousand Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, or twitter followers for one genuine BFF any day of the week. Surround yourself with the people that genuinely care about your well-being, who challenge you to be your best, and who are not afraid to tell you when you are heading in the wrong direction. Avoid “frienemies”— or superficial “friends” who support, encourage and agree with all that you say and do, even when what you do is clearly unhealthy. Join one or more community or faith-based groups that inspire hope by involving you in the needs of others. This helps you focus your attention away from your own circumstances and builds resistance against the voice of impulse.
- Monitor GIGO— My wife has an expression, “Garbage In, Garbage Out/Good In, Good Out” (G.I.G.O.). Be mindful of what you allow yourself to become exposed to. Take long breaks from toxic people, from media coverage of horrific events, and from negativity generally. Connect with the true and the good, with the timeless wisdom and virtue that speaks to you. And when you are drawn toward something, be mindful of what in its character is speaking to you.
- Problems are Opportunities— Life must be lived on its own terms. Rarely can we avoid the highly stressful and oftentimes traumatic character of daily living. But how we interpret and respond to events is something over which we have great influence. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you think about what happens to you. When confronted with trying times, remember “this too shall pass.” Focus on the strengths you have available to address the challenge and how overcoming the challenge will move you closer to the image of the very best version you hold of yourself. At bottom, challenges are opportunities to flex your mental, emotional and spiritual muscles and harvest the fruits of your efforts.
- Transitions are Facts of Life– As we grow older and evolve, certain ambitions may no longer be realistic as a result of adverse situations or other life circumstances. Strive for what is within your capabilities, reach for those things that are attainable with effort, expand your capabilities with each opportunity and be content with your results, knowing you’ve given you very best efforts.
- Progress rather than Perfection– While it is good to set extraordinary goals, it is equally good to perform everyday tasks in an extraordinary way— focusing on being complete and comprehensive. You will also find that small accomplishments build on one another in a way that allows extraordinary achievements to occur over time. Ask yourself, “what small step can I take right now that moves me toward this large goal I’ve set for myself?”
- Take Clear Actions— Similarly, Act!. Don’t worry if every step is not mapped out. Don’t worry if problems can be seen lingering on the horizon. Take clear and intentional action toward your goals understanding most perceived problems will either disappear before you encounter them and the rest you will find are quite manageable as your strengths and confidence build together over time.
- Tune Into What is Positive— Negative thinking robs you of the enjoyment of life and is generally learned behavior. It tends to attract others with similarly negative vibes and turns away those with brighter outlooks. An optimistic worldview assumes good things will come your way and attracts others with similarly positive outlooks. Surrounded by others who are hopeful about their circumstances reinforces your reservoir of hope and will carry you through trying times. Even when negative thinking overcomes you, ask yourself, “what do I know to be positive in my experience in all this?” There will be positive elements in each set of circumstances that you can make your point of reference.
- Keep Perspective— When you don’t know the future, do you fill in the blanks with the worst possible scenarios? Do you then shy away from moving forward– toward an event or situation? Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context, and keep a long-term view of things. See where the situation fits into the larger picture of your life and ambitions.
- Be Kind to Yourself— Have a healthy and realistic view of yourself and your abilities and limitations. Don’t overstate your strengths, gifts and talents. Also, don’t overstate your weaknesses, faults, and shortcomings. Relax your grip on self-perceptions that were given to you by others and those perceptions will relax their grip on you. Have confidence in your personal power, value and worth as a person.
- Grow Yourself— Life is a process and you are a work in progress rather than a finished product. While we languish or even stagnate in our successes, we seem to actually grow stronger in unexpected ways after struggling through adversity or loss. Challenging events grow stronger relationships, a greater sense of personal strength and purpose, and deep feelings of self-worth and value, often adding to the dimension of depth and meaning in our spirituality and love of life.
Resiliency is a critical element of maturity. The ability to live life on life’s terms and to bounce back from adversity lies at the heart of personal resiliency. Like muscle memory, this ability increases with focus and effort and requires training and practice. Behavioral strategies that can help keep you grounded as you deal with the stresses and uncertainties of living include:
- Taking initiative in dealing with your problems and meeting the challenges of daily living.
- Getting support and encouragement from those committed to your health, happiness and well-being.
- Asking for help from others when you are at an impasse and investing in yourself by working with appropriate professionals to accomplish your long term objectives.
Professional Recovery Coaching allows you to explore, evaluate and transform your life’s master narrative. As a Recovery Coach, I will walk with you in the wilderness of your life story, help you recognize the voices of impulsivity and develop change-strategies appropriate to your personal long term recovery objectives.
I thank you for visiting my site today and hope to hear from you. I can be reached through this site or you can call me at (530) 515-5198 for a FREE, NO OBLIGATION, 100% CONFIDENTIAL Recovery Coaching Session.