Adverse Childhood Experiences – Dr. Nadine Burke Harris Revolutionizing Pediatric Medicine

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’s TEDMED Talk on how childhood trauma – Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – affects health across a lifetime is remarkable. I urge readers of this blog to view her 15 minute video because childhood trauma is one of the key risk factors for developing a substance use disorder.

Revolutionizing Pediatric Medicine to Recognize and Treat Adverse Childhood Experiences

I then urge you to take a look at the website for the Center for Youth Wellness Dr. Burke Harris founded and references in her TEDMED Talk. The Center’s mission – “to improve the health of children and adolescents exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences.” Their goal:

“… is to change the standard of pediatric practice by creating a clinical model that recognizes the impact of adverse experiences on health and effectively treats toxic stress in children. We do this by using a multidisciplinary approach focused on preventing and undoing the chemical, physiological and neurodevelopmental results of ACEs. Our model integrates primary health care, mental health and wellness, research, policy, education, and community and family support services to meet children and families where they are to support them in leading healthier lives.” Center for Youth Wellness > “What We’re Doing”

The drastic impacts of toxic stress on children exposed to ACEs experience is life changing:

Children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of chronic stress and trauma. For many kids who are repeatedly exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences, such as violence at home or in the community, or having a parent with mental illness or substance dependence, their “fight or flight” system is activated so often that it stays on. These high levels of emergency hormones can lead to changes in the structure and function of children’s developing brains and bodies. The result is toxic stress.” Dr. Burke Harris, Center for Youth Wellness > “What is Toxic Stress”

I’m sure you’ll agree that Dr. Burke Harris’s approach needs to be shared and replicated widely.

Thanks for doing your part to make this happen.

Stephanie Brenner – Sharing Her Story of Heroin Addiction Recovery

It is my great pleasure to introduce Stephanie Brenner – today’s Face of Recovery, who has graciously agreed to share her story of her heroin addiction and the recovery journey she’s taken.

Why share?

There is a great deal of confusion, stigma, shame and discrimination surrounding addiction and addiction treatment and recovery. Yet those who have the chronic, often relapsing brain disease of addiction and are in recovery live healthy, productive, engaged lives — the same kinds of lives as people who do not have this disease. But all the words and definitions and explanations in the world are not as powerful as the people themselves. To that end, we are grateful to the people in recovery who have decided to share their experiences so that we all may put a Face to Addiction Treatment and Recovery.

Stephanie Brenner - Sharing her story of Recovery from Heroin Addiction

Stephanie Brenner – Sharing her story of  Heroin Addiction Recovery

It is my pleasure to introduce Stephanie Brenner, who has been in recovery since 2007. She invites readers to message her on Facebook and share your story (or not) and let her know you’d like to be added to her Friend’s List. She is also active in Pinterest, with boards such as, “Dual Diagnosis,” “Heroin,” “Brain,” “Job,” “Emotional Well Being” and “Dialectal Behavioral Therapy.”

How did your addiction start?

After I graduated High School, I got my own place. I was working full time, I was going to college, I felt like I deserved to party as a means of stress relief. Boy did I have that backwards.

It started by taking ecstasy occasionally. Doing it once a week turned into doing it twice a week, which turned into every other day. I managed to get an A that semester in every class I took, so I felt like what I was doing wasn’t affecting me negatively. But, as the ecstasy abuse continued, I realized there was a negative downside. I started having a really hard time coming down after I’d gotten high, especially the entire next day. An acquaintance offered me a pill that he promised would take the come down away, even the next day. It was a 40mg Oxycontin and I only had to do a quarter of it to feel better. AND he was right, the next day was smooth sailing. Soon, I started skipping the ecstasy and doing the Oxycontin all on its own. Like the ecstasy, it started small, and gradually grew. Over the course of 9 months, I went from doing it occasionally to doing it every single day.

I didn’t have any idea about “withdrawals” or being physically dependent on something. I had my drugs every day, so I didn’t have to go without. Until that one day that I didn’t. I thought I had the flu, was positive it was the flu, it felt exactly the same. I went to school with a bandana around my mouth so I couldn’t get anyone sick or miss a day from being sick. I talked to someone who said, “You didn’t know this would happen?” I had no idea. I was even doing my pre-requisites to apply for PharmD School, and had no idea. In a couple of days, I had access to the drugs again, and I felt like I had conquered this “flu” almost immediately after snorting the pill. That was the exact moment when I knew I was an addict (and I most definitely wasn’t suffering from the flu).

I quit, only to start using again when things in my life seemed overwhelming. I did this off and on drug use for a couple of years. Always using the drugs to lean on when things got hard.

Within a year of realizing I was an addict, I lost my house to foreclosure, because getting high was more important than paying my bills. 7 months after that, I was arrested for drug possession. A year after that, I was arrested again, by the same narcotic agents that arrested me before, and this time they took my car, my paid off car, and I went to jail. I also became a convicted felon.

I had lost everything; my house, my car, my college education, material possessions, relationships, voting rights, any chance at getting a normal job, and lastly, my freedom. I didn’t feel like I had much to live for. I got clean while I was locked up, and a few months after I had gotten out, the cycle started again.

That’s when Oxycontin led to heroin, for it was cheaper and more effective, and obviously much more dangerous.

What was the turning point for you – what made you want to get sober?

I remember the night I decided to ask for help so vividly. I had gotten high, and started thinking about my future, my family, my friends, and how I was no longer the same person I was before this all started. Then I started thinking about the fact that I was only prolonging my withdrawals, every single day, by continuously using, trying to ward the withdrawals off. I could get off of it permanently and be done forever from withdrawals. Waking up and withdrawing every day was getting old, and I was sick and tired of being this person who I didn’t know who, at the same time, was myself, stuck on repeat without a life. I had a doctor’s appointment the next day, and I decided I would tell the truth and ask for help, because I knew from experience that I just couldn’t do it myself.

What was your initial addiction treatment?

I went to see my doctor the next day, and I was starting to have second thoughts because of the embarrassment I was feeling and the questions I started asking myself. How would she react? Would she call the cops and force me into rehab? Would she laugh at me? I felt like nothing positive could come from me telling her, all of this fear just started while I was waiting for her to come in the room.

I didn’t say anything during my appointment, but as soon as she went to walk out of the room, I burst into tears. She came back in and closed the door, and I told her, “I’m a heroin addict and I need help, I don’t know what to do, I just know I don’t want to feel like this anymore.” She sat down and listened to my story, and then she told me a story about her brother who was on heroin, and watching his struggle for 10 years before he succumbed. She vowed to not judge me and that she would do everything in her power to help me.

She prescribed some medications for me to help me with the withdrawal, as she wanted me to come off of the heroin ASAP, understandably. I was terrified of the withdrawal. So, she started weaning me off, decreasing my use a little bit each week. Then she prescribed me a weeks’ worth of Suboxone to help me get through the worst of it. It took 4 months from the time I asked her for help until I finished using, but I did it.

I broke up with my boyfriend, I moved into a friend’s house, and I got rid of my cell phone to cut all my ties with all my using friends. My friend(s) screened my phone calls (their house phones), only passing messages to me from people they knew weren’t using.

A couple of years after I had been clean, I started working on myself and my coping skills in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. What took most people 4 months to learn in that atmosphere took me 2 years; my thought process had literally changed and I had a lot more work to do than someone who hadn’t been using.

Do you do anything differently, today?

I’m completely honest. All the time, with everyone. Most of the time, when people hear my story, they look at me like I am a leper. Other times, people tell me I’m an amazing person and how they are so proud of me. When I was using, I lied about everything. I use the tools I learned in therapy, and the things I still need help working on, I see my therapist for. Talking to someone who has an objective view point on what I’m going through helps me to work through my problems and allows me to see things rationally. My emotions can be a little too intense and overwhelming, which can cause me to think irrationally. Having my therapist gives me the tools I need to move forward through whatever I’m going through.

I also exercise, most importantly stretch, which feels incredibly great. Natural endorphins aren’t harmful :).  I try my best to avoid processed food items and eat whole foods. The most important so far, has been giving back and sharing; nothing makes me feel as good as helping people. Sharing my story is important to me, as well as reading and hearing other peoples’ stories of addiction and recovery. I want people to know that addiction isn’t necessarily a choice, but recovery can be. 

What is your life like, now?

It isn’t perfect by any means. I still can’t find a job because of my felony. In 2005, I was convicted of a lesser charge than drug possession, an F-3 in the state of Ohio and pled down to an F-4 (since 2011 F- 4s and F-5s do not get sent to prison like they used to). I violated probation in 2006, making it impossible for me to get an expungement (your record gets clean). Actually, I did find a job after 6 months of job hunting in 2006 at a factory; unfortunately, the physical labor proved to be more than my body could handle and I hurt myself. I also got a job interview in 2013 and was told as long as what I told them in person matched with the background check, that I had a job. A week later I get a call stating that their company Legal Department couldn’t justify hiring me, as I was a legal liability to them.

Also, I haven’t had my own car in years. I still have to go to therapy. I have to have blood tests done to check my liver enzymes. But, I am blessed. I am still here. I have friends who stayed by my side, friends that believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. I have a daughter, after being told by numerous doctors I would never carry to full term, that it wasn’t in the cards for me to be a mother. I’ve got a roof over my head and people who love me.

Some people look at me as having a weakness, but I’m now able to look at this past history of mine as strength because I’ve learned so much about so many things, including myself, the people I love, and the science of addiction. I no longer feel like I need to do heroin when things get tough, another reason I believe it to be a strength. I write when I have feelings inside of me that I need to express, I enjoy art again. I am a total optimist, I try to find the good, the positive, in everything. I’m also obsessed with philosophical quotes and taking pictures of my daughter with Instagram.

Do you have anything you’d like to share with someone currently struggling with a substance abuse problem or an addiction?  

The absolute hardest thing for me to do was to ask for professional help and to be honest about my drug use to myself and to others. Once you have that moment when you feel sick and tired of being sick and tired, seek help. This feeling is you, telling yourself the time to get help is now.

For the longest time, I felt like because I got myself into this situation, that I had to get myself out of the situation. Reaching out for help is vital to learn the coping skills you need rather than relying on a drug to lean on when things get hard. The 2nd hardest thing I had to do was get away from the people who were still using because I absolutely couldn’t trust myself to stay clean if the drugs were within grasp. The 3rd hardest (and something that can still be hard to this day because of judgment and stigma) was being honest with everyone, including my doctors.

I had ALL the risk factors for addiction: childhood trauma, mental illness, social environment, early use (which especially makes sense when you understand brain development, ages 12-25) and genetics. With intensive therapy I was able to get to the root(s) of the problem. Once I was definite I was ready to take on my past traumas head on which would allow me to move on, things weren’t as hard. The heaviness started to lift. The darkness started turning to brightness. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t nearly as hard once I started learning techniques, involving myself in group therapies, and being consistent with my individual therapy.

Do you have anything you’d like to share with family or friends of those who struggle with substance use disorders?

I’ve got something I’d like to share with everyone.

One thing most people say is that addiction is a choice; they should have never used drugs in the first place. Because they did get high, it was their choice to become an addict. Even though I knew my life was falling apart in every department, I didn’t know how to deal with the emotional pain left over from life’s accumulation of trauma beginning in early childhood, the way it shaped who I had become, and the mental illness that I didn’t understand, and the mother I didn’t know was an addict. I lacked the coping skills I needed, and the only one I had was heroin. It was my way of dealing, without dealing, which just compounds the problems even more, and it was a painful cycle.

When those people tell me it was my choice to become an addict, I try and remember how good it must feel to have never experienced it themselves, how lucky they are. Addiction isn’t anyone’s dream; for me, it was simply a way of coping with something I had no idea how to cope with.

Even though addiction isn’t a choice, recovery can be. All you need are the tools to cope, and the willingness to reach out to someone to get the help you need. Addiction doesn’t have to be a death sentence, jail sentence, or institution sentence; instead, let it be a learning experience. Grow a beautiful flower from all that sh*t life dumped on you.

What is the best part about your addiction recovery?

The best part about recovery is being proud of who I am today. I have to take one day at a time. It is what works best for me. What is also great is feeling the little joys that come along with being a responsible adult.  What once felt like meaningless chores have become little accomplishments each and every day. I’m much better at prioritizing and removing unnecessary stressors from my life. I’ve learned to listen to my gut feeling, my intuition, and it is never wrong. I have a new appreciation for life and the journey. Also, when you’re in recovery, you see people you know and love struggle with addiction. You never truly understand how your own addiction affects the people you love until you go through it yourself when someone you love becomes an addict after you’ve gotten clean. I have a newfound appreciation of my friends and family; they went through hell and back watching me throw my life away.

Thank you so very much, Stephanie, for sharing your story, and CONGRATULATIONS on 7+ years RECOVERY!

Stephanie asked that I share her views on Paula Whitman, Owner/Founder of, “an amazing place in Monroe, Michigan. It’s a house for Homeless Women to live a Sober Lifestyle while learning techniques and tools to help these women (and sometimes their children) continue to live these new, sober lives.” Stephanie continues, “She is an inspiration to me. She saw a way to make treatment better and did it. She set a goal and met it. All while in recovery. I’ve met her in person, she’s amazing. She helps these women literally rebuild their lives.”

You may also wish to “meet” others sharing their recovery stories with by clicking on this link, Faces of Recovery.

Healing a Broken Heart | Carolyn Hughes

When your heart is broken — whether it’s over the death of a loved one, a failed relationship, an abusive partner, or a family member’s substance misuse — your depths of sadness and despair, perhaps even anger, and of course, hurt, often overshadow any thoughts of hope, let alone possibilities of actually healing your broken heart.

But without healing, a broken heart can derail one’s life — sometimes for a very, very long time.

Carolyn Hughes, Founder of The Hurt Healer and author of "How to Heal a Broken Heart"

Carolyn Hughes, Founder of The Hurt Healer and author of “How to Heal a Broken Heart”

So when I learned about The Hurt Healer author, Carolyn Hughes’, new book, How to Heal a Broken Heart, Let go of pain and learn to love again, I contacted her about an interview. I’ve know Carolyn for several years now and based on our friendship and the inspiration, positivity, and heart-felt sharing I’ve found in every one of her blog posts, I am excited to share my interview about her new book with you (and can’t wait to read it, myself!).

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your work and what prompted you to start writing The Hurt Healer.

The Hurt Healer started originally as a name. For twenty years I called alcohol “The Hurt Healer”—it helped me numb the pain of the past, gave me confidence to deal with the present, and took away my fears for the future. Abandoned by my mother as a young child and abused by my father I grew up feeling unloved and unlovable. Regularly drinking to self-medicate soon led to addiction, and following an alcohol induced suicide attempt in 1998 I was admitted to rehab.

A six month stay in rehab enabled me to start a successful journey to recovery. Over the past 18 years I have found freedom in sobriety and overcome that depression. And today, “The Hurt Healer” means faith, love, serenity, joy, positivity and creativity.

It’s also the name I’ve given my business. Through The Hurt Healer website and blog, my aim is to help others with their addiction and mental health issues. I do this through writing articles, running workshops and offering mentoring via Skype and FaceTime.

How to heal a broken heart COVER - final 300dpi CMYK

Author Carolyn Hughes shares her wisdom on healing a broken heart in her new eBook.

Why did you decide to write this book, “How to Heal a Broken Heart?”

Since starting The Hurt Healer blog a couple of years ago I have been very fortunate to have built up a loyal following of readers. By far the most popular and revisited post is one called ‘How to heal a broken heart?’. Combining this with a growing request for a book based on many of the areas covered on the website – loving yourself, forgiveness, gratitude, serenity and loving others, I decided to write a Healing Hurt series, starting with ‘How to Heal a Broken Heart – Let go of pain and learn to love again’.

All of these life issues are particularly important to those who struggle with alcohol, particularly if this takes the form of self-medication. And for anyone is recovery, learning to let go of past pain whilst embracing the possibilities for tomorrow can be essential to sobriety.


Tell us a bit about it and the audience you’re hoping to reach.

‘How to Heal a Broken Heart is for anyone who has had their heart broken in the past or who is going through a heartbreak. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a failed relationship, an abusive partner, or a family problem such as addiction, the hurt is real.

Healing is a process. It takes courage to heal, but over time it is possible to move from that place of pain to one of peace. When you act from a place of peace you make informed decisions and choices, you take responsibility for your life, you let go of the anger, and you learn to forgive.

In doing so, you release yourself from the darkness of your past to move into the light of a new beginning. You move from feeling powerless to powerful.

How to Heal a Broken Heart can help you make the transition from broken-hearted to whole-hearted so that you are free to love again.

What is the most important thing you hope readers will take away from reading it?

As someone who battled for two decades with alcoholism caused largely by my own experiences of heart break I have learnt the importance of acceptance, forgiveness and gratitude in sobriety. Instead of living in a past-filled with hopelessness I now live in the peace-filled present. I have hope for today and look forward to tomorrow and all that the future may bring.

I would love readers to take away that same sense of hope that can come from positive change. At the end of each chapter is a ‘Healing Hurt’ suggestion which is intended to guide you to the next step of emotional healing and personal restoration.

There is also an inspirational quote, reflective thought or affirmation for each day to help you live your life as the person you were meant to be.

Most of all though I hope that each reader takes away something that will benefit them in their own journey and to know that it is always possible to love and be loved.


Thank you so much, Carolyn! To learn more about Carolyn and her work, check out her website, The Hurt Healer, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Children of Alcoholics Need Our Help

Unless you’ve been a child in a home with untreated, unhealthily discussed alcohol (or drug) misuse or addiction, it’s difficult to image what it’s like to be a child in such a home.

SHD2-SadBoyParentsFightingDevastating. Scary. Shame-filled. Life-robbing. Lonely. Isolating. It’s a set-up for a “rest of your life” that NONE of us would ever wish on a child. It’s one of the most distressing examples of secondhand drinking and affects millions of children worldwide who struggle to cope with a parent’s changed behaviors — the drinking or drugging behaviors their parent exhibits when the chemicals in alcohol (or drugs) changes brain functioning.

Fortunately, there is an international joint effort to raise awareness about these children, and though they work year-round, annually they focus their efforts around Children of Alcoholics Week.

Joint Press Release: The hidden human rights crisis

To conclude this year’s week-long celebration, IOGT International, Nacoa UK, NACoA (USA) & Active Sobriety, Friendship and Peace issued a joint press release, “The Hidden Human Rights Crisis,” on February 13, 2015, to call “for stronger efforts to not leave children of alcoholics isolated and alone.”

 “Children of Alcoholics are all too often silently suffering because their needs are rarely part of the political or public discourse – and that is nothing less than a Human Rights crisis,” said Kristina Sperkova, President of IOGT International, in this press release.

Quoting some of the statistics from the release:

“In Australia between 17 to 34% (ca. 1 million children) live in households with at least one adult being addicted.

“There are an estimated 26 million Children of Alcoholics (CoAs) in the USA. This translates to 1 in 4 American children.

“In the European Union, there are at least 9 million children and young people growing up with alcohol-addicted parents. Nacoa UK’s research estimates that there are 2.6 million children of school age living with parental alcohol problems in the UK alone.

To read the full press release, click here.

What Can We All Do to Help Children of Alcoholics

1.  Help them understand their parent’s behaviors change because they drink – not because of anything they (the children) do or don’t do.

2.  Assure them they cannot do anything – not get good grades, not be super good or nice, not take care of their younger sibling, nothing – to make their parent stop drinking nor stop the behaviors they (their parents) exhibit when they drink (yelling, belittling, passing out, hitting, being confusingly nice or loving…).

3.  Help them understand that once their mom has had 3 drinks (and show them what a drink is) or their dad has had 4, the alcohol will most likely change their parent’s brain works and thus their behaviors. This change is caused by alcohol “sitting in the brain” waiting to be metabolized by the liver. [It takes the liver about one hour to metabolize one drink.] Brainstorm what they can do to keep themselves safe when this happens – quietly going to their room, for example.

4.  Assure them they are not alone – let them know that out of four children they know, one is also experiencing living in a family with alcohol abuse or alcoholism.

5.  Share this link from TeensHealth, Coping With an Alcoholic Parent.

6.  If you are a teacher, general practitioner or pediatrician – talk to your students or patients about secondhand drinking as a concept, in a manner that shares what happens when a person drinks too much – it may be the lead into a conversation a child needs in order to share what’s happening in their home.

Additional Articles on the Impacts of Secondhand Drinking on Children

Addiction is a Treatable Brain Disease – Really!

The Senate’s unanimous confirmation of Michael Botticelli as the Director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy is a milestone to celebrate.

Whether you personally struggle with the disease of addiction or you are a family member trying to help a loved one who is, Mr. Botticelli’s appointment is proof positive that addiction is a treatable brain disease.

Not only that, but he’s proof positive that being open about one’s long-term recovery is okay (not that everyone need be public about their recovery, but if they so choose, it’s okay). As Director Botticelli described his decision in his message, “The Work Before Us,”

Michael Botticelli - Director of the White House's National Drug Control Policy

Michael Botticelli – Director of the White House’s National Drug Control Policy

“I am open about my recovery not to be self-congratulatory, I am open about my recovery to change public policy. I have dedicated my life to treating drug use as a public health issue, and that’s how I approach this new role, as well.  I hope that many more of the millions of Americans in recovery like me will also choose to “come out” and to fight to be treated like anyone else with a chronic disease. By putting faces and voices to the disease of addiction and the promise of recovery, we can lift the curtain of conventional wisdom that continues to keep too many of us hidden and without access to lifesaving treatment.” Michael Botticelli, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

Addiction is a Treatable Brain Disease

As exciting as Director Botticelli’s unanimous Senate confirmation is, so, too, is his example of the life a person can live when they treat their addiction.

Thanks to new imaging technologies, funding opportunities and the collaborative work of brilliant minds in the recent 15-20 years, there’s a whole new body of scientific research that explains the treatable brain disease of addiction and effective treatment options.

Below, please find a few key resources that introduce or share this work.

The first is a short video from the NIH/National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) titled, “Anyone Can Become Addicted to Drugs,”

This next one is also a short video from NIH/NIDA, “Why Drugs are So Hard to Quit,”


These next three are online resources:

And this last one is a Quick Guide I’ve written, which will be of help to families wanting to understand what has happened to them (the family member), as well:

Truly exciting times we’re living in, I’d say. As I explain in my About section on why I founded in 2008…

We Now Have the Science to Break the Cycles

Recall the early 1970s – many adults smoked cigarettes, we didn’t use bike helmets, infant car seats hadn’t been invented and we rarely used our seat belts. And think about how we viewed and treated HIV-Aids!

All of that changed drastically in just 20+ years — simply because people started talking about and sharing the new research and taking action as they gathered knowledge. Today, bike helmets are mandatory for children under 18, seat belts are mandatory for every passenger, fire departments install infant car seats, and HIV-Aids is recognized as a body fluid-to-body fluid transmitted disease that is “treated like this” and “prevented like this.”

It is Lisa’s hope we can do the same with addiction, which in turn will help the more than 100 million people who are also affected by a loved one’s alcohol or drug addiction or misuse, what Lisa Frederiksen has identified as Secondhand Drinking | Secondhand Drugging. These 100 million people – roughly one-third the American population – are the husbands, wives, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, boyfriends, girlfriends, aunts, uncles, close friends and in-laws of a loved one who misuses drugs or alcohol.

Today, there are 1.1 million Americans living with HIV. By contrast, there are 23.2 million Americans struggling with the brain disease of addiction (whether to drugs or alcohol), of which only 10 percent seek help.

The science is now available to boldly, unequivocally state, addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that can be “prevented like this” and “treated like this.” The science is now here to also help the 100 million Americans who struggle with Secondhand Drinking | Secondhand Drugging change how they cope and how they protect themselves from the negative impacts of a person’s drinking (or drugging) behaviors.

It’s time.