Through my decades of clinical care working in addiction treatment mostly, I know well that one of the greatest obstacles for people to overcome when first contemplating or engaging in treatment is related to stigma. Often, they balk at the generalizations of 12-step programs as off-putting and struggle to cling to some semblance of uniqueness.  Equally often, they hear about “terminal uniqueness” and that they have to “accept” before anything else can happen.

I am challenging that concept with a simple language switch for Clinicians to use with their Clients:

Starting with the basics: drop “recovery” from drug use and focus on “rejuvenation” of self.

rejuvenation and recovery from addiction“It’s time for you to rejuvenate parts of self that have gone dormant”. I start my work with clients rediscovering themselves as they simultaneously do the work of developing coping strategies for managing triggers.  Instead of keeping the focus on being a drug addict, we immediately use a bifocal lens on the person now and before drug use. “Who were you mean to be when you were born onto this Earth before experiences/drug use started shaping you?” We explore what I call “CORE POWER”: values, intentions, beliefs, personality traits, knowledge, and skills. We go as far back as needed to what the person found interesting, enjoyable, comforting, and/or defining as a person before addiction kicked in.  This two-pronged approach of building coping skills while rejuvenating parts of self that have gone dormant to drug use allows clients to feel a more balanced competence than often experienced when in treatment and the emphasis is on what has gone wrong. Acceptance of the power of this disease seems to be much easier to swallow when people remember who they are in their entirety.

Redefine this disease: “addiction is a disease of disconnect…disconnecting you from yourself and you from others.” Hence, “treatment” is about “connection”.

When people hear this, it rings true for them readily.  I have witnessed it hundreds of time, especially with young adults, who are then better able to realize how and why to practice connecting with their feelings and communicating with people in new ways. Often, I use Narrative Therapy to assist with this process of reconnecting.  Narrative Therapy, if you don’t know of it and it’s magical impact, goes beyond journaling as it’s done in small group format. The prompts are often generated by the current needs of the group and elicit magnificent reflection and connection both with self and others. There are only two rules: don’t preface your work, just read, and at least one person has to connect through relating or feedback.

In therapy, I often simply ask, “what or who did you connect with this week?” because no matter what the issues at hand, the “antidote” to picking up or regressing into old patterns is to enhance connections. I give homework between sessions that are exercises in connection.  When appropriate, I have clients find childhood pictures of themselves and write about who they were in that moment. I may teach them the Art of Engaged Listening and have them teach it to their significant other or child.  They may be asked to exercise Gratitude (not just making a list, but expressing their gratitude to the person).

However, I also provide them with a different kind of reconnecting practice. My version of Mind:Body work includes tapping into their fitness endeavor of choice and teaching them how to “put the mind in the muscle” in order to connect with their bodies. I may have clients blast music and dance wildly for ten minutes a day in the privacy of their own space. They may be asked to do some sensual energy work by using all of their senses to take in an experience.

We owe it to our clients to think “outside the box” and not get stuck in language and mantras that work for many but not all. Go beyond typical terms, basic skills, general mindfulness practices and provide life-lifting support!  If you have questions about Narrative Therapy or any of the work that I do, shoot me an email.

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