Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Camp Mariposa

I had a wonderful experience the last weekend in September when I attended Camp Mariposa here in Washington State. This is a camp for children affected by addiction in the family. This particular one was for younger kids age 9 – 12. A few years ago I was approached by Karen and Jamie Moyer (professional baseball player) as they have a foundation whose mission is focused on children in need. The outcome is that through the Bellevue based agency Youth Eastside Services (YES) they offer 6 camps a year for kids 9 – 17 years of age. The camp includes an outdoor challenge and ropes course as well as singing and s-mores! I had to laugh as one of the songs was a song I use to sing when I went bar hopping as a child with my father. (He went to the bar - I was just waited in the car for hours, but we sang between bars.) These kids tend to not come from homes with recovery, and many have needed alternative living situations. As one young boy said to me, ‘Most of us have been raised by girls.’ He meant single mothers, aunts, grandmothers, or other females. There were few family heroes, mostly they identified as lost children and family mascots. Andrea Frost from YES leads the weekends and has a staff of twelve with her for the twenty four kids. That in itself was incredible. I loved watching the tools they used to calm and refocus 24 very active kids. They actually had them knitting—and yes the boys loved it. They would do a yoga pose, and then shake out their stress, learning about letting go. I enjoyed the creativity of how they worked with kids, using analogies of trees or animals, talking about feelings, family roles, and self care. Of course when the kids acted out family scripts you realized just how much they’ve seen and internalized. It was a lot of fun for them to be on stage, to be seen and heard and to own so much of the reality of their lives. Throughout the weekend, the focus was on taking some of these new skills into their daily lives, knowing that the kids were still in some very difficult situations. To see them have so much fun while learning to trust, learn skills of self care, talk honestly…. well you get the picture. It was touching and inspiring to see these kids have such a good time in a traditional camp setting. For the staff at YES it was a weekend of great compassion, skill and commitment beyond the normal work expectation and as is often true, Karen Moyer was in attendance, actively participating. The Moyer Foundation will soon be implementing Camp Mariposa in Indiana and Florida. To learn more about Camp Mariposa and Camp Erin, a bereavement camp for children, visit the Moyer Foundation.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Women and Addiction: From Betty Ford to Amy Winehouse

In 1978, a year after she left the White House and at the time of her 60th birthday, the wife of President Gerald Ford, Betty Ford, found that her drinking and use of prescription pain medications had drastically increased. Soon after that she was the recipient of a newly recognized therapeutic process called ‘intervention.’ Her family united from a position of love to confront her about her drinking and drug use and insist she seek treatment. After an initially angry response, she admitted herself to the Long Beach Naval Hospital’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. There the former First Lady found herself not only having to share a room with other women, but perform humble tasks like cleaning restrooms and participating in emotionally revelatory therapy sessions with five other women patients there at the same time. Rather than seek to obfuscate the true reasons for her hospitalization or to treat it with shame, Betty Ford decided to fully disclose the details of her addiction and treatment.

Feeling passionate about the possibilities of recovery, she opened the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, California. The center was dedicated on October 3, 1982 and today offers gender specific treatment to women. This was not available to women just a few years previously. Betty told her story in the book A Glad Awakening, Doubleday 1987, and was a true pioneer in advocating for women and the possibility of recovery.

Today we know that:

  • Female substance abusers metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men, a difference that leads to higher blood alcohol concentrations over a shorter period of time.

  • Pound for pound women get drunk or high faster than men as each drink hits a woman like a double. The female body contains less water and more fatty tissue which increases alcohol absorption. Women have a lower activity level of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase which breaks down alcohol.

  • Women move through the progression more quickly having a more rapid development of dependence.

  • Women experience adverse physiological effects of alcohol on the liver, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems more quickly than men. This is called telescoping.

  • Women become addicted to narcotics faster than men.

  • Women are more likely than males to be hospitalized due to non-medical use of prescription and over the counter medications.

  • Women are less likely to ask for and/or receive help.

  • Women are more apt to die at younger ages than men who are addicted.

Addiction is a terminal illness; people literally die from it, be it from overdoses, toxicity, or accidents. But prior to the physical death is the emotional death, the relational deaths, the spiritual deaths. Yet I know of no other terminal illness more treatable than addiction.

Betty Ford’s life was celebrated just a few weeks ago as she was laid to rest at the age of 92. Her recovery is a major legacy that will continue to impact both women and men.

Yet it is with great sadness that the public is quickly confronted with the fact that many who are addicted will die before they can embrace recovery as we just saw with Amy Winehouse, the well known English singer/songwriter dead at only 27. As I write this, others less publicly known, are also dying daily of this horrific disease of addiction.

Don’t stay silent – let those you know who are in trouble that while you love them you cannot condone, or in any way support their addictive behavior. You will support them in recovery but not in their disease.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Your Life's Baggage: What are you carrying?

Think of your life journey as a trip. When people take a trip they think of where they are going, how they are going to get there and what it is they are going to take with them.

I want you to think about the baggage you take with you on your life journey. The baggage I am talking about carries 1) beliefs about yourself, others, and the world, 2) feelings you value and/or the feelings you experienced that you have held onto because it wasn’t safe to express them and 3) the skills you developed that help you to live with others and to achieve your goals.

Think about what it is you are carrying and whether or not you need to consider repacking your bags.

What I am asking you to do is look at the bags you travel with. Unpack them and look inside.
What are you carrying? How long have you been carrying them? Who packed the bags? Do these bags still serve their purpose?

To begin this process, think about the exterior, the shell of your bags. If you were to describe them, what would they look like?
Perhaps your bags are of brown paper that easily tears or disintegrates in the rain. Maybe they are sturdy hardback bags or soft medium size bags. They could be as small as a purse or as large as a trunk. That which shows itself to the world, the shell, is just that, an exterior. That exterior represents your defenses, built to protect, hide and contain beliefs, feelings and skills.

What best describes the exterior of your baggage?
Knapsack - Trunk - Overnight Bag - Hardcover - Paper
Softcover - Tattered - Colorful - Faded - With wheels

How else would you describe your bags exterior?
Metaphorically, what does that mean to you?
How might you want to change the exterior of your bags?
What would that change reflect?

This is an important start to letting go of what may be sabotaging your health and happiness.

Now go inside your bags and take a look at the beliefs, feelings, and skills you may be carrying. These are beliefs about yourself, others and the world, and feelings you’ve experienced and have held onto either because you value them or because it wasn’t safe to express them. Lastly, you can identify skills you’ve developed that help you to live with others and to achieve your goals.

Cognitive Baggage
Let’s look at the bags that carry your beliefs about you and the world.
Are you carrying beliefs that say:

  • I am strong, capable.

  • I can ask for help if I need it.

  • People are trustworthy.

  • I am trustworthy.

  • It is okay to take risks.

  • I deserve respect

  • I deserve to be happy

  • The world has many wonderful things to offer.

Or are you carrying beliefs that say:

  • I can’t trust other people - they will take advantage of me.

  • No one will listen to me.

  • Take what I need.

  • The world is scary.

  • It’s not okay to make a mistake, something bad will happen.

  • Good things only happen to others.

  • I don’t expect much from me.

  • I’m inadequate, insufficient. I can’t do anything right.

  • I need someone to take care of me.

  • If I show people who I am, they won’t like me.

  • The world owes me, I am entitled.

In addition to any of those you identified from above, what other beliefs might you be carrying?

Emotional Baggage

  • What are the feelings you carry with you?

  • Do you carry memories of laughter, happy times, feelings of pride?

  • Do you feel loved? Loving?

  • Do you have so much fear in your life that you have one whole bag designated just for fear?

  • How much anger, or how many resentments are you carrying?

  • Do you have a bag of loneliness?

  • How large is your bag of hopelessness, disappointments, sadness, or guilt?

  • Are there other feelings you are carrying?

And a very important question to ask yourself is, ‘do you find yourself carrying other people’s bags as well?’ Are you carrying your mother or father’s fears, their guilt, their shame? Do you take on your daughter or son’s disappointments or angers?

What often goes unrecognized is that in your luggage, you are carrying a tool bag, a bag of skills. Some people have a large bag of tools filled with variety and abilities, while others may have but one tool, or different versions of the same tool, and are limited in skills.

Do you have a variety of tools or a limited number and type of skills?
Identify the tools you are carrying:

  • ability to ask for what you need

  • ability to listen

  • problem solving skills

  • ability to see choices available

  • negotiation skills

  • healthy expression of feelings

  • ability to set limits

  • clarity around what is important

  • ability to make decisions

  • self care skills, eating adequately, basic hygiene skills, appropriate clothing, proper rest, exercise

In addition to those you identified from above, what are other tools you have in your bags?

As you review the beliefs, feelings and tools you carry, think about what you want to continue to carry with you, what you want to let go of, and what you want to add to your baggage.

Now let's look at how carrying painful feelings, negative beliefs and few tools, or just one kind of tool, you often end up needing a cart for your bags.

While it is not true for everyone, the more you come from a history of childhood trauma and loss, fueling unresolved painful feelings, limited skills and negative beliefs, the more likely it is that your bags will continue to grow as you move through adulthood.

New bags may come as a result of divorce, being passed over for a promotion at work, being arrested, a financial setback, inability to stop smoking, and/or the pain that comes with compulsions or addiction. The negative beliefs you have only become heavier and your feelings become overwhelming as your tools are less and less effective. This is a process that takes time and you probably don’t even realize it is happening.

You develop a tolerance for emotional pain and are able to maintain that for a period of time and then, through no fault of your own, your tolerance lessens and you feel an unbearable heaviness. You need help to carry your baggage, so you seek out a baggage cart of some sort to help you continue to carry everything.

These carts are often addiction related. It could be you’ve dumped all your beliefs, feelings and skills into a bottle, a pill, or a syringe. Or perhaps you’ve a gambling addiction, sexual or spending addiction; or an eating disorder and you’ve put your bags into a vat of chocolate, sugars or starches. It could be your cart is depression or anxiety where all of your feelings have accumulated into despair and hopelessness.

These carts do make things seem better for a while. You don’t seem to feel the weight as you once did. But if you think about it, a cart just allows you to pile on more and more baggage. The load gets heavier and heavier and eventually you need a bigger and bigger cart!

Do you think you are using a cart?
If you are, you need to address the cart as this is the first step in letting go of excess baggage.

You’ve had a chance to identify your beliefs, feelings, and tools; to look at whether or not you have a cart, and now you can begin to look at what you want to carry with you on your life journey.

The fear of feelings may have you immobilized and pushing around an out of control cart. It is the accumulation of feelings that leads to trouble. There are safe people and places in which to explore feelings. Nothing bad has to happen as you learn healthy ways in which to express feelings.

What feelings would you prefer to be carrying with you?

To be able to let go of unneeded, unwanted baggage, it’s necessary to challenge the beliefs you operate from.

  • Are your beliefs hurtful or helpful?

  • Do they support the way you want to live?

  • What are new beliefs that would be of greater support to you?

  • What tools are you carrying that are useful to keep?

  • Do you need to acquire some new tools you have never had before?

Remember to periodically stop and take a look at what you are carrying. As you take on more responsibility for your emotional self, as you develop more positive beliefs, it is easier to recognize the skills you have acquired along the way, and/or to go in search of a greater variety of skills.

Friday, February 11, 2011

February 13 is the beginning of Children of Alcoholics Week! This is a week to acknowledge and re-energize our commitment to the fact that one out of every four children is subject to alcoholism and other substance addictions within their families.
Everyone can play a role in reminding the children and the services in a position to influence them about the seven C’s (I didn’t cause it. I can’t cure it. I can’t control it. I can help take care of myself by communicating my feelings —making healthy choices and celebrating me.). It’s important to remember this is not just a family problem, but a community problem. Everyone needs to ask what they can do to make a difference and then act. I strongly suggest you begin by taking a moment to go to NACoA and see the many resources they have that make this feasible.
Also, please take the time to watch and let others know that the Nick News special on Nickelodeon with Linda Ellerbee, “Under the Influence: Children of Alcoholics,” will be replayed on February 15 at 6:00 pm (EST). Five kids will share their experiences of living with parents who are struggling with alcoholism.

On another note, the Moyer Foundation (Moyer being Major League All-Star pitcher Jamie Moyer and his wife, Karen) has been helping children in distress in a variety of ways, but particularly with the creation of Camp Erin, a camp for children who have experienced the death of someone close to them. It started with one camp in 2002 in Everett, Washington and has now expanded to more than forty camps in over twenty-five states, as well as one in Toronto, Canada. Camp Erin is the largest network of bereavement camps in the United States.
The Moyers approached me a couple of years ago when they personally extended their family as a resource to foster a nine-year-old affected by substance abuse. The Moyers have six biological children and two adopted children. They were touched by the struggles of having an addicted parent and wanted to know what I thought they could do for other kids. Knowing of their success and passion for Camp Erin, I suggested a similar camp experience for children of addiction. To make a long story shorter, I became a part of facilitating their first such program, Camp Mariposa, now offered in partnership with Youth Eastside Services (YES) based in Bellevue, Washington. To date YES has conducted eighteen weekend camp experiences for both pre-teens and adolescents. The no-cost camp offers children a chance to laugh, play, explore, and learn, while increasing their understanding of alcohol/other drugs abuse and its impact on the family; raising their awareness of resources available to help them; reducing their sense of isolation and fear; and helping them avoid repeating generational patterns.
I recently met Ann Espo, appointed by the Moyer Foundation in December to be the Program Manager to take Camp Mariposa national. Ann has fourteen years of experience in nonprofit management, communications, and fundraising with agencies serving children, youth, and families. She spent nine years with Boys & Girls Clubs of King County Washington, including seven years as Executive Director of the Wallingford Branch and was most recently Development and Communications Manager for Successful Schools in Action.
I will be working with Ann and the Foundation as they develop their Best Practices for such camps, introducing them to others who have experience with programs for children of addiction and in this process create a program model with an infrastructure for replication. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this. I will keep you updated on the progress.
For the Moyers to take their love of family and children and extend it to kids impacted by addiction is an incredible gift.

New Book to Be Released in October 2011
I have a new book coming out next fall. The working title is The Truth Begins With You: Reflections to Heal Your Spirit. This is my first book project with Central Recovery Press and they just sent me a mock-up of the cover. This is a small but sweet book, and I think people will find it valuable in their healing and recovery journey. If you liked It’s Never Too Late To Have A Happy Childhood that I did over twenty years ago, you will like this even more. In later NewsNotes I will give you samples of the reflections, but for the moment, here are a couple of my favorites: “Your strengths are more powerful than your vulnerabilities,” and “You can’t be honest in the here and now when you continue to deny your childhood experiences.” I asked my assistant, Sandi, for her favorite and she chose, “Say I love you, and say it often. I love you is a complete sentence.”
Now let me tell you about one last endeavor, something I wanted to do just for fun, and that is. . . My Closet

In my office I have a lot of little knickknacks and pictures of family and friends—things that remind me of good times and special people. I surround myself with things that represent comfort and joy. I believe this is because my work is serious and I realize there is a lot about me that is quite serious as well. I have a grouping of fairies, one in a nest, another sits on the shelf, another standing next to a little sign that says “Don’t Piss off the Fairies.” I love it. We can all attribute different meaning to that, but for me it says “don’t get in the way of my fun,” and represents my inquisitiveness and my curiosity. I also have figurines of cats and lions that, for me, depict strength and my desire to touch.

Recently I had this brainstorm to share with all of you these items that represent fun and whimsicality. This may be about my getting older or possibly willing to take a risk, but these fairies and lions bring me joy, make me smile, and keep me in touch with my inner child. Maybe you too will find joy in having one or a few of them for yourself. Each fairy and lion seems to take on a life of their own, full of color, humor, and joy. I hope that you will take a peek inside My Closet.

Please don’t forget the children next week or during the other 365 days of the year.