Sean O – Today’s Face of Addiction Recovery

It is my great pleasure to introduce Sean O – today’s Face of Addiction Recovery– who has graciously agreed to share his story of alcohol, cocaine and heroin addiction and recovery.

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.

Please meet Sean O, who now works with MAP Recovery Network, an association of quality treatment facilities formed to help people seeking addiction treatment services and helping the families members who love them.  If any part of his story resonates with you, Sean welcomes your emails at

How did your addiction to alcohol, cocaine and heroic start?

Thank you Sean O for being today's Face of Addiction Recovery. And congratulations on your soon-to-be 8 years recovery!

Thank you Sean O for being today’s Face of Addiction Recovery. And congratulations on your soon-to-be 8 years recovery!

I’ve drank alcoholically starting as a teenager in high school/8th Grade. Hard drugs wouldn’t be until I was 25 or so, 1998


What was the turning point for you – the start of your addiction recovery?

Turning point encompassed about 10 months. It began with my mother having to tell me there was nothing else she could do to help me and not to call her until I was sober. Even after that call, in which I realized how bad things were, I was homeless, it took another 9-10 months to get sober.

What was your initial treatment?

28 days 09-10 of 2004. Veritas Villa, Upstate NY

Do you do anything differently, today?

Yes and no. I stick to the basics but always look for opportunities to grow. I still work the Steps, go to meetings, have a sponsor, sponsor others and do service work, but I also realize that the reason I got sober was to do anything I wanted to do, so these days I do that.


What is your life like, now, living in recovery since March 8, 2008?

I feel I live with an advantage these days. After working the Steps, my first time, I got a clear picture of what they could do in one’s life and how the Promises can materialize. Once I had some evidence of that, I wanted more. For example, recovery from drugs and alcohol was one thing, the initial thing I set out to do. And I did that through abstinence and Step One. Plain abstinence and Step One afforded me time for my brain to heal, time for neuro pathways to reopen and repair themselves from the damage done by drugs. Then as the days turned into months and the months into years and my brain was repaired (love neuroplasticity). Steps Two – Twelve then gave me a design for living. Not that I am a spiritual guru of any kind, I’m not, but what they did for me and continue to do is give me an alternative and a solution to everyday problems all humans face. Where some may respond to a situation in their life with heightened anxiety and stress, I do not have to. I can choose to use what I’ve learned and not worry like others do. I simply put a message out into the Universe, then I listen and look for signs. Once I have them, I take action. It’s amazing the things that happen when one runs their recovery this way.


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

Indeed. I think we all struggle with things to different degrees in our lives. I’d encourage anyone struggling with anything, addition or otherwise to explore every option available and see what works for them. Don’t give up on yourself because you relapsed or can’t stop using. If you’re vehemently against the 12 Steps, then look into CBT or Smart Recovery. There are so many ways to recover out there, don’t be forced into something you don’t enjoy or don’t think will work. Because guess what, if you don’t think it’s going to work for you, it’s probably not. Be honest about your struggles, give the exact nature of them to somebody. I know for me, there was a lot of guilt and shame that followed me when I first got sober. I thought getting sober and getting through that guilt and shame was the toughest thing I had ever done. It wasn’t. Walking into a meeting, raising my hand and admitting I had one day back that day because I used the night before was the hardest thing to do. So hard I struggled with it for years, and it kept me sick, suffering and kept my loved ones sick and suffering. When I got to the point in my active addiction where I was like “screw it, yeah I used last night, I’m high right now at this meeting, what are you going to do about it, shame me?” I started to get better. I still used for a while after that point, but I was on my way to recovering. I wasn’t afraid of what you thought of me, I didn’t care anymore. There was nothing you could do to me that would be worse than what I had already done to myself, I didn’t need to impress you or fool you, I needed to be honest with you.    


How about anything you’d like to share with their family and friends?

Indeed again. Whether you believe it or not, accept it or not, those who are struggling, our loved ones are sick. I know it gets extremely frustrating to watch it, to be lied to, to be treated like you mean nothing to them, that’s the sickness. If they could get and stay sober for you, they would. No one wants to do the things we do to our loved ones, we do them because we do not have the ability to not do them. We have a brain disease.


What is the best part of your recovery?

That’s hard to answer because it insinuates I must pick one thing, one part. And that right there is the best part of my recovery, having the choice to not do what I think you want me to do and do what I think is right, no matter how it feels. Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel right and doesn’t always feel good. Today, and for some time now, I can do what I want, when I want and with whom I want. I do not have to worry about if I am answering questions correctly or accurately. I can leave work early knowing I did a great job and pick my son up early from school to take him to a 3pm movie. I can take my wife out to dinner and not stress about not drinking or paying the tab. I can live and I can die, sober, that’s the best part.

Recovery from Rejection and Breakups | Darlene Lancer

In her post today, frequent guest author, Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT, helps readers understand why we feel so much pain from rejection and breakups and what we can do to heal. Darlene is the author of Codependency for Dummies and Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You, and her latest eBook is titled, Dealing with a Narcissist, 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People. She can be reached at or you may wish to follow her on Facebook or visit her website

Darlene Lancer, author of "Codependency for Dummies," shares her post on living with a passive-aggressive partner.

Darlene Lancer, author of “Codependency for Dummies,” helps readers understand why we feel so much pain from rejection and breakups and what we can do to heal.

Recovery from Rejection and Breakups by Darlene Lancer

Romantic rejection hurts. Feeling lonely and missing connection share the evolutionary purpose of survival and reproduction. Our reaction to pain is influenced by genetics. If we have increased sensitivity to physical pain, we’re more vulnerable to feelings of rejection. Moreover, love stimulates such strong feel-good neuro-chemicals that rejection can feel like withdrawal from a drug, says anthropologist Helen Fisher. It can compel us to engage in obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior. This proved true even for tsetse flies in lab experiments. (See “Obsessions and Love Addiction.”)

Most people start to feel better 11 weeks following rejection and report a sense of personal growth; similarly after divorce, partners start to feel better after months, not years. However, up to 15 percent of people suffer longer than three months. (“It’s Over,” Psychology Today, May-June, 2015) Rejection can feed depression, especially if we’re already even mildly depressed or have suffered depression and other losses in the past. (See “Chronic Depression and Codependency.”)

Codependency and Break-ups

Many codependents have an anxious attachment style, feeding obsessions, negative feelings, and attempts to restore the relationship. If we have a secure, healthy attachment style (unusual for codependents), we’re more resilient and able to self-soothe. (See “How to Change Your Attachment Style.”)

Rejection can devastate us if our self-worth is low. Our self-esteem affects how personally we interpret our partner’s behavior and how dependent we are upon the relationship for our sense of self and self-esteem. Codependents are more prone to being reactive to signs of disfavor by their partner, and tend to take their words and actions as a comment on themselves and their value. Additionally, many codependents give up personal interests, aspirations, and friends once they’re romantically involved. They adapt to their partner and their life revolves around the relationship. Losing it can make their world crumble if they’re left without hobbies, goals, and a support system. Often the lack self-definition and autonomy beforehand prompted them to seek someone to fill their inner emptiness, which not only can lead to relationship problems, but it resurfaces once they’re alone. (See “Why Break-ups a Hard for Codependents.”)

Internalized shame causes us to blame ourselves and/or blame our partner. (See “What is Toxic Shame.”) It can foster feelings of failure and unlovability that are hard to shake. We might feel guilty and responsible not only for our own shortcomings and actions, but also the feelings and actions of our partner; i.e., blaming ourselves for our partner’s affair. Toxic shame usually starts in childhood.

Break-ups can also trigger grief that more appropriately pertains to early parental abandonment. Many people enter relationships looking for unconditional love, hoping to salve unmet needs and wounds from childhood. We can get caught in a negative “Cycle of Abandonment” that breeds shame, fear, and abandoning relationships. If we feel unworthy and expect rejection, we’re even liable to provoke it. Healing our past allows us to live in present time and respond appropriately to others. (Read how shame can kill relationships and how to heal in Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.)

Healing Tips

For optimal results, start making changes in your relationship with yourself and with others; first, with your ex. Experts agree that although it’s difficult and may be more painful in the short-run, no contact with your former partner will help you recover sooner. Avoid calling, texting, asking others about or checking up on your ex in social media. Doing so might give momentary relief, but reinforces obsessive-compulsive behavior and ties to the relationship. (If you’re engaged in divorce proceedings, necessary messages can be written or conveyed through attorneys. They should not be delivered by your children.)

Read about “Growing Through Divorce” and “After Divorce – Letting Go and Moving On.” Here are more suggestions:

  1. Meditate with the healing exercises for self-love, self-soothing, and confidence in my Youtube.
  2. Practice the “14 Tips for Letting Go,” available free on my website.
  3. Prolonged feelings of guilt can limit your enjoyment of life and your ability to find love again. Forgive yourself for mistakes you made in the relationship with the e-workbook Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness.
  4. Challenge false beliefs and assumptions, such as “I’m a failure (loser),” “I’ll never meet anyone else,” or “I’m damaged goods (or unlovable).” For a 10-step plan to overcome negative self-talk, read 10 Steps to Self-Esteem.
  5. Set boundaries with your ex and others. This is especially important if you continue to co-parent. Establish these rules for co-parenting with your ex. If you tend toward accommodation, defensiveness, or aggression, learn to be assertive and set boundaries using the techniques provided in How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits.
  6. If you think you may be codependent or have trouble letting go, attend a few Codependents Anonymous meetings, where you can get information and support for free. Visit There are also online forums and chats, as well as telephone meetings nationwide, but in-person meetings are preferable. Do the exercises in Codependency for Dummies.
  7. Although mourning is normal, continued depression is unhealthy for the health of your body and brain. If depression is hindering your work or daily activities, get a medical evaluation for a course of anti-depressants lasting at least six months.

You will recover, but your actions play a considerable role in how long it takes, as well as whether you grow and better yourself from your experience. For a free PDF with 16 additional strategies to deal with rejection and break-ups, email me at

©Darlene Lancer 2016

Cultivating Gratitude – Guest Author Fran Simone

Cultivating Gratitude – a powerful topic and the subject of today’s guest post by Fran Simone.

Fran (Frances) Simone, Ph.D., is the author of Dark Wine Waters, My Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows, a memoir that illuminates the heartbreaking story of a marriage compromised by the husband’s alcoholism. She wrote it to help the millions of other family members whose lives are upended by a loved one’s addiction and to help untold numbers of people understand what it’s like to love someone with this brain disease. Fran is a professor emeritus from Marshall University, South Charleston Campus where she directed the West Virginia Writing Project, a statewide affiliate of the National Writing Project, University of California at Berkeley. Most recently she is a regular blogger for Psychology Today (online), Hazelden/Betty Ford (Recovery Matters), and Addiction Blog. To learn more about her work, visit her website, She can be reached via email at

Cultivating Gratitude by Fran Simone

January. A new year. A fresh start.   A time to shape up. Sadly our well-intentioned resolutions too often fall by the wayside. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 62 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions at some point in their lives. But only 8 percent are successful. In fact, January 17th has been designated “Ditch New Year’s Resolution Day” because most of us cave in by then. . .

Fran Simone, Ph.D., Author of "Dark Wine Waters," a memoir that offers help to family members.

Fran Simone, Ph.D., Author of “Dark Wine Waters,” a memoir offering hope and help for family members of persons with addiction. Today she writes on cultivating gratitude.

I’ve pretty much given up on my annual lose ten pounds resolution, but I did resolve to keep a daily gratitude journal in 2016. In fact, one of my Christmas gifts was a spanking new journal with blank pages waiting to be filled. I believe that a daily dose of gratitude will help alleviate some of the fear and negativity I’m experiencing because my son relapsed again during the holiday season.


When my thoughts rush into projecting tragic events in the future, I can be grateful for my twelve-step program that encourages me to take one day at a time. Today I’m grateful for the first snow of winter. No accumulation, just a light dusting covering bare tree limbs with a pale sun peeking through clouds. This evening I anticipate reading in front of a cozy fire. Stopping to write helps decelerate my racing thoughts about future smashups.


Yesterday I ran into a former co-worker. My friend, Don, wiped out his I-Phone to show pictures of his lovely grandchildren. Three girls and two boys who range in age from newborn to nine years old.   He was so proud of family: his grown three children with solid marriages and successful careers and those adorable grandkids. If I compare myself to my friend with his happy family I can sink into a hole of envy and resentment. Focusing on gratitude helps me dig my way out of that hollow space in my heart.

During this past holiday season, I fell into another pity trap when I received those annual brag letters from family and friends cataloging their grandchildren’s artistic and academic accomplishments, their sons and daughters’ job promotions, and their extended family vacations to exotic locales. I’ve never written one of these letters.

What would I say?

That my adult son has been in and out of rehab, has not been able to keep a job, and has stolen money from me when he relapsed during the holiday season. On the flip side I could have written that I’m grateful for my generous daughter and son-in-law who sent me lovely Christmas gifts and kept in close touch, for the support of my friends in my twelve-step fellowship who rallied when I needed them, for the wisdom of my sponsor, for the guidance of a gifted therapist, and for the love of my extended family and friends. Listing all of the above helps to tone down those “poor me” blues.

I don’t pretend that a gratitude journal is a panacea for all of the turmoil that family and friends experience because of their loved one’s addition. It’s one of many tools that help counterbalance bitterness, envy and resentment. . .

As the end of January approaches, I’m still at it. I plan to be among the 8% who follow through on their New Year’s resolution. Who knows I might even lose those extra ten pounds.

As the end of January approaches, I’m still at it. I plan to be among the 8% who follow through on their New Year’s resolution. Who knows I might even lose those extra ten pounds.

Stopped Drinking But Now Crave Sugar

“I’m an alcoholic in recovery, so I’ve stopped drinking but now crave sugar and am having a really hard time not bingeing on sweets. Why and what can I do?,” a woman asked at a recent community workshop at which I was the presenter. It was hosted by a chemical dependency alumni association and open to the public. My talk was titled, “Secondhand Drinking – the Phenomenon that Affects 90 Million Americans.” This particular powerpoint presentation helps attendees understand alcohol misuse, addiction, secondhand drinking (SHD)-related stress, codependency, and recovery for the family system from the brain’s perspective. The topics relevant to her question, included:

  • the basics of neuroscience (including fMRI and SPECT scans) and how a person’s brain develops and wires unhealthy habits, such as alcohol misuse or secondhand drinking-related coping skills;
  • alcohol misuse (and the distinctions between binge drinking, heavy social drinking and alcoholism), which is the cause of drinking behaviors and thus SHD; and
  • what a person who misuses alcohol or is experiencing SHD-related stress can do to heal/re- wire their brains.

And it was the connection between alcohol and sugar and the dopamine pathways that best answered this woman’s question, which is a common question for person’s in recovery from alcoholism.

Stopped Drinking But Now Crave Sugar – the Alcohol | Sugar | Dopamine Connection

As I stated, the common connection is the brain’s pleasure/reward pathways, aka neural networks (which are the way brain cells [neurons] “talk” to one another), aka electro-chemical signaling process. These neural networks rely on dopamine neurotransmitters. These are the chemical portion of the brain’s electro-chemical signaling process. This prior post of mine helps explain this concept, “Here’s to Neural Networks and Neurotransmitters – Keys to Brian Health,” and this 1:48 minute video by NIDA is excellent, “The Reward Circuit: How the Brain Responds to Natural Rewards and Drugs.”

So to answer this woman’s question more fully for readers, I’ve pulled two pieces. One is an article by Kris Gunnars, BSc, “10 Similarities Between Sugar, Junk Food, and Abusive Drugs,” and the other is Nichole Avena, Ph.D.‘s TedEd Video, “How Sugar Affects the Brain,” linked below.

To understand how alcohol changes brain function and taps the brain’s dopamine-reliant pleasure/reward pathways, check out NIDA’s Brief Description and NIDA, NIAAA, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, HBO’s The Addiction Project > “Addiction and the Brain’s Pleasure Pathway: Beyond Willpower.”

Dealing with Opiate Withdrawal – Guest Author George Catlin

Dealing with opiate withdrawal is huge and often the basis for the calls I receive from those struggling and the family members who love them. George Catlin, founder of Withdrawal Ease – an outcome of his own struggle with opiate dependency following a surgical procedure in 2007 – shares his top 8 tips. George has written The Opiate Withdrawal Survival Guide (available as a free download PDF by clicking on the title link) and created a nutritional supplement system specifically formulated to reduce the acuity of opiate withdrawal. Check out his about page on his blog for the whole story. He can be reached by email at

Top Tips on Dealing With Opiate Withdrawal by George Catlin

Opiates are powerful drugs prescribed to treat severe pain. These drugs include Vicodin, Oxycontin, Dilaudid, heroin, morphine, codeine, and methadone among others.

While these drugs are extremely helpful in treating acute and chronic pain, their continuous and indiscriminate use can cause patients to become physically dependent and even addicted. According to NIH (National Institute on Drug Abuse), “between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide.”

Opiate withdrawal refers to an array of symptoms that manifest themselves after a person dependent on opiates either stops or radically reduces its consumption after substantial and persistent use. These symptoms can be highly distressing and difficult to endure.

George Catlin shares his top tips for opiote withdrawl.

George Catlin shares his top tips for dealing with opiate withdrawal.

I speak from personal experience when I say that the experience of enduring opiate withdrawal symptoms is a nightmarish one. What started off as a part of a medical treatment plan for severe cervical spinal stenosis, went on to become something that made me wonder if I’ll ever get back to living a normal life. The good news is that I did, eventually.

If you’re addicted to opiates and looking to break out of its clutches, then read on as mentioned ahead are a few tips that can help you deal with the withdrawal symptoms.

1. Get Off the Drug Gradually
If you’ve made up your mind to deal with the withdrawal symptoms on your own, then you need to take it easy and try to reduce your dose of opiates gradually. In other words, taper off the drug(s) slowly and steadily. As per the Department of Veterans Affairs, the tapering for methadone, morphine and oxycodone should start with a decrease of 20-50 percent of the dose per week, and then consistently lower it thereafter.

2. Get Ample Rest
It is extremely important that you get sufficient rest during the recovery period, irrespective of how strong or mild your symptoms are. Make it a point to get at least eight hours of sleep every day. Be prepared to endure pains, cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other issues, and get ample sleep whenever you can.
When you’re not sleeping, you should be resting as your body will be dealing with a lot and it is best not to test its stamina further. If you wish to exercise, you can do so provided your workout isn’t strenuous in nature.

3. Manage Pain and Discomfort with Over-the-Counter Painkillers
The road to recovery from opiate withdrawal is a tough one and involves withstanding frequent muscle pains due to the absence of drugs in the body.

Opiates bring about relief from pains, and when they’re no longer present in a person’s system, he/she may experience discomfort in the muscles, bones and joints. Taking OTC (over-the-counter) pain-killers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen can help mitigate the pain.

Diarrhea, constipation, nausea and vomiting are other prominent symptoms linked to opiate withdrawal. However, OTC medicines can help deal with them as well.

4. Cut Down Your Workload
When on the road to recovery, focus on your physical and mental well-being. Workload (and any other source of stress) will need to be cut down. That’s because the recovery, itself, will be extremely taxing on you, and putting yourself through further stress will only make the symptoms more difficult to deal with.

5. Detoxify Your Body
Detoxification can prove to be extremely beneficial in managing severe withdrawal symptoms. In fact, it may a necessity. You should definitely give undergoing a formal detoxification treatment a serious consideration, particularly if you have been addicted to opiates in the past.

6. Drink Plenty of Fluids
Make sure to consume plenty of water and other liquids to keep yourself hydrated and replenished, especially after experiencing vomiting and diarrhea.

Apart from that, sweating profusely during the withdrawal process can leave you dehydrated. In such a scenario, you will do well to constantly sip on juices, health drinks, and water.

7. Do What Pleases You
It is important that you do things that bring you joy. Whether this means watching your favorite TV show, playing a game, reading a book, or spending time with your loved ones, do the things that make you happy. If you choose to participate in physical activities, be careful and take it easy. Do not consume alcohol as it can make you feel upset and even cause you to relapse. Instead, aim to achieve a state of serenity and comfort.

8. Ask for Help
Whatever you’re going through, know that you need not endure it all by yourself. Ask for help and you will receive care from friends, family members, your doctor, or a self-help support group.

One of the earliest symptoms of withdrawal is anxiety, which can make you want to start using opiates again. But, talking about your painful journey with a close confidant will help you get through it better and avoid a relapse.

Irrespective of what leads you to become dependent on opiates, there is always a way out. With a little determination, discipline and self-confidence, you can fight this battle and come out victorious. Be diligent in your efforts and keep yourself surrounded with loved ones at all times. These are critical to your success. The above-mentioned tips should help you get through the withdrawal phase in an informed and safe manner.