Healing Trauma Takes Time

Like the brain impacts of substance use disorders (aka substance abuse or addiction), most people do not understand the brain impacts of trauma.

Trauma takes many forms: neglect, sexual assault, physical abuse, emotional abuse, parental divorce, and growing up with a parent who has an untreated substance use disorder or mental illness, to name a few. Thanks to the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study, there is now solid research to help us understand the brain impacts of trauma (aka adverse childhood experiences), which in turn helps us better understand the physical impacts of trauma, as well. These brain impacts are related to toxic stress and how toxic stress changes how the brain works, wires, and maps. The physical and emotional ailments and quality of life outcomes of toxic stress include: anxiety, depression, stomach ailments, skin disorders, sleep problems, neck/back/shoulder pain, and inflammatory diseases, to name a few. Check out the American Academy of Pediatrics’ article,“Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Lifelong Consequences of Trauma.

Healing Trauma Takes Time

Healing Trauma Takes Time

Healing trauma takes time because of its toxic stress impacts on the brain.

Thus understanding the impacts of trauma and what it takes to heal those impacts is critical, which is what prompted me to share and comment on Jonathan Shedler, Ph.D.’s article, “Selling Bad Therapy to Trauma Victims.” Dr. Shedler, Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, opened his article with, “The American Psychological Association (APA) just issued guidelines for treating trauma. Patients and therapists would be wise to ignore them.” He goes on to write,

“Psychotherapy takes time. Psychotherapy follows a ‘dose-response’ curve. It takes more than 20 sessions, or about six months of weekly therapy, before 50 percent of patients show clinically meaningful improvement. It takes more than 40 sessions before 75 percent of patients show meaningful improvement.1 These findings, based on the scientific study of more than 10,000 therapy cases, dovetail with what therapists report about successful treatments2 and what patients report about their own therapy experiences.3,4 
The RCTs [randomized controlled trials] behind the [APA’s] trauma treatment guidelines studied only therapies of 16 sessions or less. Many were eight sessions or less. In other words, the guidelines considered only therapies that are inadequate. Read his article here.

As someone who spent three years in cognitive behavioral therapy to overcome a number of traumatic events (read my story, here) and as someone who has spent a great deal of time studying current brain research, I cannot help but agree that trauma cannot be healed in 16 sessions or less. Why? Because of the complexity of the human brain — complexity influenced by all the factors that contribute to how an individual’s brain wires, develops and maps from birth and across a lifetime.

As importantly, the impacts of trauma left untreated (whether it occurred before the age of 18, which is the basis of trauma measured in the ACE Study, or later in life, perhaps the death of a loved one, PTSD, living with someone who has a severe substance use disorder) do not go away until the trauma is treated. And until it’s treated, a person will continue to experience the toxic stress-related physical and mental health issues caused by the untreated trauma. For more on this concept, please check out two of my articles chronicling my experiences, “When Recovering From ACEs is Recovering from Secondhand Drinking and Visa Versa” and “The Legacy of Untreated ACEs.”


Working the 12 Steps With a Little Help From Brain Science

Millions struggling with addiction* have found their pathway to recovery through the 12 Steps — AA and NA, as examples. Millions of their loved ones have found their recovery from secondhand drinking | secondhand drugging (SHD)** through 12 Steps, as well — Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, as examples.

But there are many more who report having a problem with the whole “God thing.” Some are not convinced there is a God or Higher Power; others wonder how turning their lives and wills over to God or their Higher Power makes any sense. And even though newcomers are assured that their God or Higher Power can be whatever/whomever they so choose, as long as it is something greater than themselves, many report feeling conflicted when they contemplate the first three steps, especially. Additionally, many others report having tried the 12 Steps but stopped because they didn’t work for them no matter how hard they tried and prayed and felt deeply connected to God or their Higher Power.

Sometimes re-framing the first four Steps with a little help from brain science can help. It can help because the person can better understand and appreciate why all of the dogged willpower and determination they’d exerted to try control how much they drank or used had not worked time and again. This same information can also help family members and friends better appreciate why they, too, are powerless over alcohol or drugs. It’s because they are powerless over another person’s brain if that person’s drug of choice has been ingested, because of the way addiction hijacks the brain.

Working the 12 Steps With a Little Help From Brain Science

Working the 12 Steps With a Little Help From Brain Science

Working the Steps with a little help from brain science can make a difference for some.

Here are the first four Steps:

1 – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.

2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

4 – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

And here are the first four steps reframed as science-based adaptions:

1 – Came to understand the disease of addition as a TREATABLE but chronic, often relapsing brain disease that makes me powerless over my brain (therefore over my behaviors) when I ingest my substance of choice, and I came to accept that I have this brain disease (aka brain disorder). 

For more on this science, check out the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) booklet (and website) > “Drugs, Brains and Behaviors: The Science of Addiction,” and the HBO “Addiction” website (created by the National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA], the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [NIAAA], and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and produced by HBO) > “Understanding Addiction.” Another important resource is The Surgeon General’s 2016 Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health – this is the link to the Executive Summary.

2 – Given the power of addiction cravings and the chemical and structural changes that have occurred in my brain because of my disease and/or my risk factors, I accept that my way of “handling” it by trying to control how much I use or drink cannot work.

For more on this, check out NIDA/NIAAA/RJF/HBO’s > “Understanding Addiction > Let’s Talk About Craving.” Additionally, for those who are struggling with more than “just” addiction (in other words, more than a dependence on alcohol or other drugs), it can be very important to “Pay Particular Attention to Mental Illness and Childhood Trauma | ACEs When Treating Addiction.”

3 – Accepted that “my way” has not and cannot work. I know I must abstain from my substance use entirely because it will activate deeply embedded brain maps, and I am open to trying any of the various treatment options available. If one fails, I will try another.

For more on this, check out these posts of mine, “7 Things to Know When Looking for Addiction Treatment” and “Understand Brain Maps | Change a Habit | Change Your Life.”

4 – Understand that many of my “character defects” are really the consequence of the brain changes caused by the brain mapping associated with my addiction and the risk factors I have, all of which led to my developing this brain disease. I now understand that these character defects are not the “real” me, but rather the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of a person with the untreated, complex brain disease of addiction.

For more on this, see the links above.

Sometimes using these science-based adaptations can help a person struggling with treating or recovering from their addiction and those recovering from secondhand drinking | secondhand drugging embrace the 12 Steps and the help and support they offer. This is not to say, however, that everyone should be able to relate to or use the 12 Steps; there is no one, nor right, way to “do” addiction treatment or recovery. So as they say in the rooms, “Take what you like and leave the rest.” 🙂

*NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) continues to use the term addiction and defines it as a chronic, relapsing brain disease. However, as NIDA also writes, “addiction” is not considered a specific diagnosis in the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which was updated in 2013. DSM-5 replaces the categories of substance abuse and substance dependence with a single category: substance use disorder. Given the general public still thinks of a person’s dependence on alcohol or other drugs as addiction, I used this term in this article.

**SHD refers to the negative impacts of a person’s drinking behaviors (secondhand drinking) or drug misuse behaviors (secondhand drugging). For more on this concept, I refer you to a series I wrote for Alcohol Awareness Month 2014 [Note: all references to secondhand drinking apply to secondhand drugging, which means you are dealing with a person’s drug misuse behaviors as compared to dealing with a person’s drinking behaviors.]:

©2017 Lisa Frederiksen

7 Things to Know When Looking for Addiction Treatment

Are you looking for addiction treatment for a loved one or friend? You’re not alone.

Every week I receive calls and emails from family members and friends trying to find treatment for their loved one’s addiction,* aka substance use disorder. These kinds of phone calls and emails are heartbreaking. Their panic, anger, fear, frustration, sadness, desperation and anguish are palpable as they ask me:

  • How can I make them get help? I’m afraid s/he’s going to die!
  • What makes one place better than another?
  • What do I do when they won’t accept my insurance (or my insurance doesn’t cover their program)? 
  • Why didn’t the last rehab work?
  • S/he tried AA and gave up but what else is there?
  • S/he gets out of treatment in 3 days, and I can’t find a safe place for him/her to go – what do I do?

What’s especially sad for me is that I receive the same kinds of calls and emails over and over and over and over, again. It should NOT BE THIS HARD to find effective treatment.

And, yet, it is. It’s terribly hard. So I thought I’d use this post to share the following 7 things you need to know when looking for addiction* treatment for a loved one or friend. These are based on my study of the relevant research and my speaking and consulting/coaching work over the past 14 years, as well as what the people whom I help have told me has worked for them.

1  Understand addiction for what it is – a developmental, chronic, often relapsing brain disease

This is important because it will help you understand why your loved one hasn’t sought treatment or succeeded in their addiction recovery thus far. It will also help you understand what it’s going to take to treat your love one’s addiction because there is no one-size fits all kind of treatment, and that treating adolescent addiction is different than treating adult addiction.

A key resource that can help with this understanding is the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)’s “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction” [alcohol is considered a drug]. Quoting from its preface that explains how science has revolutionized the understanding of addiction:

For much of the past century, scientists studying drug abuse labored in the shadows of powerful myths and misconceptions about the nature of addiction. When scientists began to study addictive behavior in the 1930s, people addicted to drugs were thought to be morally flawed and lacking in willpower. Those views shaped society’s responses to drug abuse, treating it as a moral failing rather than a health problem, which led to an emphasis on punishment rather than prevention and treatment. Today, thanks to science, our views and our responses to addiction and other substance use disorders have changed dramatically. Groundbreaking discoveries about the brain have revolutionized our understanding of compulsive drug use, enabling us to respond effectively to the problem.

2  Understand the basics of how the brain works, wires and maps

7 Things to Know When Looking for Addiction TreatmentEverything a child, teen or adult thinks, feels, says and does is controlled by brain cells (aka neurons) “talking” to one another and to and from other cells throughout the body via the nervous system — EVERYTHING.

This “talking” occurs through an electro-chemical signaling process, also referred to as neural networks and neural circuitry. When something gets in the way of this talking — like the chemicals in alcohol or other drugs (e.g., ethyl alcohol, THC, opioids, which change the chemical portion of this electro-chemical signaling process), that something changes the way the brain works and thus a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

For more on this and how it relates to a person developing addiction, please check out my article, “Understand Brain Maps | Change a Habit | Change Your Life.”

3  Understand the five key risk factors for developing addiction

Thirdly is to understand how powerful the five key risk factors are to developing addiction. In other words, it takes misusing a substance to chemically and structurally change the brain, but it’s these five key risk factors that make one brain more susceptible to developing addiction than another brain. This helps explain why one in a group of friends drinking or using the same amount will develop addiction and the others will not. Understanding these risk factors will help you better understand the kind of treatment your loved one needs. These risk factors include:

Childhood Trauma - Substance Misuse Connection is more easily understood when we understand how the brain develops and what influences that development.

Childhood Trauma | ACEs and the Substance Misuse Connection is more easily understood when we understand how the brain develops and what influences that development.

  • genetics (one can’t help their genetics, but it explains a big piece of the puzzle of how one person develops addiction and another does not when both are using/misusing the same amount – in fact, genetics is 40-60% of the reason a person misusing alcohol or other drugs goes on to develop addiction);
  • childhood trauma (verbal, physical, emotional abuse, neglect…for some this is also ACEs – adverse childhood experiences) which resulted in toxic stress, which can change a child’s brain wiring (brain architecture), and if not addressed during treatment and continuing care is often a trigger to relapse);
  • social environment (given a person’s brain is wiring and mapping from birth, a child’s social environment has a significant impact on that wiring and mapping — a child’s brain developing in a calm, nurturing environment vs. a chaotic, neglectful environment, for example);
  • mental disorder (also a brain disorder and one that needs to be addressed if it’s still present [co-occurring] so as not to be a relapse trigger to use/misuse because of the mapping of the substance as a soother of the symptoms of the mental disorder – 40% of persons with addiction have a co-occurring mental disorder); and
  • early use (the brain developmental processes occurring from ages 12 – 25 are deeply influencial in the development of addiction in the person misusing alcohol or other drugs during this time).

I encourage you to pay particular attention to the childhood trauma | ACEs and mental illness risk factors I mentioned above. Why? Because of the way the brain works, wires and maps as I described in #2, and how mental illness and the toxic stress caused by childhood trauma and ACEs changes that wiring and mapping.

Specific to childhood trauma | ACEs:
Time and again when I speak before audiences or talk one-on-one with individuals or engage in conversations with therapists and other medical professionals, the answer is, “No,” when I ask, “Have you heard of the ACE Study?” This continues to shock and sadden me because the ACE Study was conducted in the late 1990s, and yet, understanding and using this Study’s findings can have a profound impact on a person’s treatment and recovery success. To learn more about the ACE Study and ACEs and find an extensive list of resources, please check out Jane Steven’s, founder/editor of ACEs Connection Network, post, “ACEs Science 101 (FAQs).” And check out her interview with Dr. Dan Sumrok in her article, “Addiction doc says: It’s not the Drugs. It’s the ACEs — adverse childhood experiences.”

And, I must say it again. If a person’s childhood trauma | ACEs are not treated — “healed” — the profoundly negative impact on a person’s addiction treatment and recovery can be huge because of the brain wiring and mapping that occurred around the trauma-related toxic stress triggering emotions and the reactionary coping skills that were mapped to stay safe in the midst of the childhood trauma | ACEs. Without treatment specifically geared to helping the person recover from their childhood trauma | ACEs, anything that triggers the deeply embedded trauma-related toxic-stress brain maps will continue to trigger the use of the substance that has mapped as the answer to, the soother for, those trauma-related toxic stress triggering emotions and reactionary coping skills.

7 Things to Know When Looking for Addiction TreatmentSpecific to mental illness:
Having a mental illness and an addiction is to have two brain diseases (aka disorders); two diseases that both need to be treated at the same time. Think of it this way. If a person has diabetes and lung cancer, medical practice would require co-occurring treatment of these co-occurring medical conditions. And as I explained the importance of treating a person’s childhood trauma | ACEs above as a key to their success in addiction treatment and recovery, so, too, is it important to treat their mental illness at the same time as their co-occurring addiction (disorder). To more fully understand this, I refer you to my post, “Co-Occurring Disorders Require Co-Occurring Disorders Treatment, and NIDA’s image above right.

4  Know what it takes to effectively treat addiction

First of all is to understand that treatment does not have to be residential treatment. Secondly is to understand that it must be individual — meaning targeted to the person, not a one-size fits all. Thirdly is to understand it takes time. Check out my blog post, “We Can’t Treat Cancer in 30 Days. Why Do We Think Treating Addiction is Any Different?

If your looking for teen or young adult treatment, check out NIDA’s What to do if your teen or young adult has a drug problem? There you will find answers to the following questions (and remember, alcohol is considered a drug):

  • How do I know if my teen or young adult has a substance use disorder?
  • Why can’t some teens stop using drugs on their own?
  • If I want help for my teen or young adult, where do I start?
  • What kind of screening will the doctor do?
  • If my child refuses to cooperate, should the family conduct an intervention?
  • How do I find the right treatment center?
  • What do I look for in a treatment center for this age group?
  • Who will provide treatment to my child?
  • Is there medication that can help?
  • If my teen or young adult confides in his or her doctor, will I be able to find out what’s going on?
  • What if my teen or young adult has been in rehab before?
  • How will I pay for treatment?
  • What kind of counseling is best for a teen or young adult?
  • Will a support group help my teen?
  • How do we keep things stable in our home until my teen is in treatment?
  • Are there research studies available for teens?
  • Where can we find information on specific drugs of abuse?
  • Where can I find more information on treatment and recovery?

If your looking for adult treatment, check out NIDA’s What to do if you if your adult friend or loved one has a problem?  There you will find answers to the following questions (and remember, alcohol is considered a drug):

  • How do I know if my adult friend or loved one has a substance abuse problem
  • Why can’t addicts stop using drugs on their own?
  • If my friend or loved one asks for my help, where do I start?
  • My friend has considered treatment but is afraid of what others will think. What can I tell my friend?
  • If my friend or loved one refuses to cooperate, should we conduct an intervention?
  • Can I explore treatment centers even if my friend is not willing to go into treatment?
  • What should I look for in a treatment center?
  • My friend or loved one is afraid of being forced to stop using drugs and what will happen. Do treatment centers force people to stop taking drugs immediately?
  • Who will be providing treatment?
  • What is treatment like?
  • Do most treatment centers offer medication?
  • My friend was in rehab before but relapsed afterward. How do we know treatment will work this time?
  • How can people find a treatment center they can afford?
  • I think my loved one takes drugs because he feels depressed—but he’s depressed because drugs are overtaking his life. How do we know which problem came first?
  • I am worried that my loved one is driving while using drugs. What do I do?
  • How can my friend talk to others with similar problems?
  • I am not sure what drugs my loved one is taking. Where can I find information on specific drugs and their health effects?
  • If my friend does go into treatment, how can I offer support?
  • What if my friend wants to participate in research studies?
  • Where can I find more information on treatment and recovery?

Armed with the information contained in these resources, you can now make a list of the questions you will ask a treatment provider (if you are looking for outpatient or residential treatment options) to confirm the provider can meet your loved one’s treatment needs. Your answers can also help you with the next two suggestions.

In both lists of questions shared in this section above, NIDA refers to using the SAMHSA Treatment Facility Locator. Click here to access a one-page PDF on how to use this locator.


5  Understand what you can do for “housing” after your loved one is discharged from a residential treatment program

This is really hard, I’m afraid. There is no standard of care for a sober living home (SLE), for example. Yet it’s often helpful for your loved one and you and the rest of your family if they continue their recovery and treatment outside your home. If that is your decision, please find the following suggestions:

5  Change how you talk about it

Always refer to the behaviors, not the person, because it is the behaviors that are the symptoms of this particular disease. Here’s what I mean by this statement.

Disease by its simplest definition is something that changes cells in a negative way. When cells change in a body organ, the health and functioning of that organ changes. In the case of lung cancer, for example, cancer cells in the lungs change the health and functioning of the lungs. Addiction changes cells in the brain, which in turn changes the health and functioning of the brain. Given the brain is the organ that controls everything a person thinks, feels, says and does, and develops as the result of contributing risk factors and brain developmental processes that influence that particular person’s brain wiring and mapping, it is now understood that addiction is a complex brain disease. But it is a disease and like other chronic diseases, it’s treatable.

One of the difficulties for accepting this disease model of addiction vs. lung cancer, for example, are the symptoms. With lung cancer, the symptoms might be a cough (often with blood), chest pain, wheezing, and weight loss. The symptoms of addiction include: lying, cheating, verbal/physical/emotional abuse of loved ones, neglect, denying the use or blaming someone or something else for the use/misuse, drinking or using huge quantities of other drugs (far more than “normal” people), and repeatedly breaking promises to stop or cut down. These symptoms make it very difficult to feel sorry for or want to help the person exhibiting them.

But when we keep this disease concept in mind, we can reframe our conversations to talk about their behaviors — their symptoms — and tackle our approach to helping them understand and treat their addiction, the same way we’d be helping them tackle and approach their understanding and treatment options if they had lung cancer, instead. We can see and love them as a person – our person – our person who happens to have the disease of addiction.

7  Get help for yourself

Family members and friends are deeply affected by a loved one’s addiction. The impact on them is primarily related to toxic stress. I refer to this impact as secondhand drinking | secondhand drugging (SHD). For this, I refer you to a series I wrote for Alcohol Awareness Month 2014 [Note: all references to secondhand drinking apply to secondhand drugging, which means you are dealing with a person’s drug misuse behaviors as compared to dealing with a person’s drinking behaviors.]:

7 Things to Know When Looking for Addiction Treatment

Now Available from Most eBook Retailers.

Another resource that can help is my eBook, “Quick Guide to Secondhand Drinking: The Phenomenon That Affects Millions.”

And, as always, know I welcome calls and emails with questions on how to get started or continue moving forward in your search for treatment help for your loved one. My email is lisaf@BreakingTheCycles.com, and my office number is 650-362-3026. I’m in CA on PST. If I don’t answer, I will call you back. There is no charge for these kinds of initial inquiry calls.

*NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) continues to use the term addiction and defines it as a chronic, relapsing brain disease. However, as NIDA also writes, “addiction” is not considered a specific diagnosis in the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which was updated in 2013. DSM-5 replaces the categories of substance abuse and substance dependence with a single category: substance use disorder. Given the general public still thinks of a person’s dependence on alcohol or other drugs as addiction, I used this term in this article.

©2017 Lisa Frederiksen

Using Brain Science to Change Your Mind

Brain science is a powerful tool one can use to change their thoughts, feelings or behaviors – seriously!

For followers of my blog, you know my enthusiasm for one of the most profound discoveries I’ve learned which is how the brain wires, develops and maps. And it is this understanding that has helped me and those with whom I work or who read my blog actually re-wire their brains, creating new brain maps to heal their brains and change their thoughts, feelings and behaviors around substance use disorders, mental disorders, co-occurring disorders, and secondhand drinking-related stress impacts.

One of the authors who also embraces this science and whose work I admire greatly is Debbie Hampton, author of Sex, Serotonin, and Suicideand founder of The Best Brain Possible. “After decades of depression, a serious suicide attempt and resulting brain injury, I not only survived, but went on to thrive by discovering the super power we all have to build a better brain and joyful life. If I can do it, you can too. Let me inspire and inform you to do the same. No brain injury required,” she says.

Using Brain Science to Change Your Mind

Author Debbie Hampton, founder of The Best Brain Possible

So I want to share Debbie’s perspective on this by highlighting a few concepts she shared in her February 14, 2016, post, “How Your Mind Shapes Your Brain,” appearing on her blog, The Best Brain Possible:

Every second of your life, every single thing of which you are aware – sounds, sights, thoughts, feelings – and even that of which you’re not aware – unconscious mental and physical processes – can be directly mapped to what’s happening in your brain. Over time, patterns emerge and actually shape your brain’s form and function. What you do, experience, think, hope, and imagine physically changes your brain through what’s called experience-dependent neuroplasticity.

Every minute of every day, you are literally shaping your brain.

How Neuroplasticity Physically Happens
What you pay attention to, think, feel, and want, and how you react and behave contribute to shaping your brain because of the specific ways your brain is activated over and over again in each activity.  Neuroplasticity is physically accomplished as follows:

  • Active brain regions get more blood flow, since they need more oxygen and glucose.
  • The genes inside neurons get more or less active depending on the frequency with which the neuron fires.
  • Neural connections that aren’t active weaken and wither. Use it or lose it.
  • The synapses, connections between neurons, get more sensitive when routinely activated simultaneously, and new neurons are formed, producing thicker neural layers, in busy regions. Neurons that fire together, wire together.

The same principles that apply to physical exercise modifying your body work for neuroplasticity. A single yoga class or running three miles one time isn’t going to get noticeable results – except some brutal soreness. But months of practicing yoga or lacing up your running shoes will gradually have lasting effects on your body.

To read more of Debbie’s article and learn how to turn on neuroplasticity and make it work for you, click here.

Recovery from Gambling Addiction | Catherine Townsend-Lyon

“Now that gambling addiction is currently the #1 addiction with the highest suicide rate than any other and over 16 million problem gamblers in just the US alone, I want to share some of my story and devastation in my life due to this cunning addiction,” says Catherine Townsend-Lyon, today’s guest author.

Bestselling Kodel Empire Publishing author of the book, Addicted To Dimes: Confessions of a Liar and a CheatCatherine is a freelance recovery writer and a columnist for “In Recovery Magazine’s ‘The Author’s Café’.” She also writes for several addiction/recovery publications, including: “Keys to Recovery” and “The Sober World,” and most recently was a contributor to a major media article published by Time.com and Nautilus.us magazines titled; “Addicted to Anticipation: What goes wrong in the brain chemistry of a gambling addict.” Cathering is an Expert Recovery blogger of Gambling Addiction Recovery for Addictionland and is the author of the blog, Recovery Starts Here A Bet Free and Sober Blog, covering gambling addiction and recovery.

Recovery from Gambling Addiction by Catherine Townsend-Lyon

Catherine Townsend-Lyon shares her story of recovery from gambling addiction.My name is Catherine, and I am a recovering compulsive addicted gambler. Jan 29th, 2007 will be my 10-year mark in recovery, but will never forget where I have come from with gambling addiction. I came from the depths of hell, hopelessness, and despair. Gambling addiction took just about everything from me like family, friends, reputation, jobs, my home, car, almost my marriage and cost me way more than money; it almost cost me my life twice from suicide.

At the same time, I was also suffering from undiagnosed mental & emotional health issues and disorders I had no idea about until 2002. My first failed suicide attempt. I woke up in the hospital with bandages wrapped around both my wrists and could hear two people talking about knives all over the living room as I blacked out again. All I remember was everything going dark in nothingness. Now I know it was a complete mind and body break down. A mental/emotional blackout. From there I went to an addiction/mental crisis center. Was on suicide watch the first few days.

addictedtodimesShortly after, a psychiatrist started working with me. And of course, I was also a compulsive gambler too. So, I start working with an addictions counselor as well. I had attempted to stop gambling on my own but felt I could control it on my own and I failed with many relapses and binges even while in outpatient treatment. I guess I had not reached bottom yet. Even after a 20 day stay in a crisis center and suicide attempt!

What was wrong with me?

It’s called ADDICTION. It is a sickness that is very hard to overcome. But possible. And this wasn’t my last time I would worked this circuit. Not due to actively gambling, due to the financial pressures from this disease, I had another suicide attempt in 2006 as it seemed I had not done enough work in all areas of recovery, including my financial inventory. First lesson? A well-balanced recovery plan.

But in 2006 I also just wanted to be normal, live life in recovery without having to take medications for mental/emotional issues. So, I stopped taking them thinking it was just the gambling that was causing my mental illness problems of PTSD, manic depression, mild mania anxiety and bipolar insomnia cycles and OCD. So, within two weeks of no meds? I was back to severe depression and suicidal. My answer? I took all my meds at once. I had gotten to that dark, black hole of hopelessness again. Back in the hospital again, another 16-day crisis center stay and days of suicide watch. When released this time, I had learned the hard way that I need to take meds to maintain my mental/emotional health and well-being as they call this being “dually diagnosed or dual diagnosis.”

Recovery with even negative experiences, sprinkled with some “faith” can show us many life lessons in recovery. If we are not learning them, we won’t see our growth. Even when you are not participating in your preference of addiction, we can still have problems arise and life challenges in recovery, so being prepared is vital.

Where can I be going with this part of my story?

Several places. First, the habits and behaviors that we learn and pick up within any addiction and “the cycle” of any addiction needs to be interrupted and taken away for us to have a chance at a real honest recovery. Balance is the key in your recovery path as well. Learning the skills and tools in treatment and therapy to break the cycle of addiction and clear a path for dissipating control, denial, excuses, and more. Second, come to accept that recovery is a life-long process. It is as important to accept as Step-one, total surrender.

And third, having a firm ‘Relapse Prevention Plan’ is a must for anyone who comes into recovery and wants it long-term. We all know that life events happen. Even happy or positive events, not just negative or tragic ones. I feel it is why Gamblers Anonymous asks the question in our combo book of “The 20 Questions” to see if you have a problem with gambling. It is why they pose #19.) “Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?”

YES! For me, even when things good happened, I would want to celebrate by going supposedly to have some “fun” by gambling. However, my addiction was so bad I needed anything I could grab hold of to recover, not just Gamblers Anonymous. I used my meetings and connections there for my support and listening to other like-minded addicts and keep my perspective of how insidious and cunning this illness is. And GA taught me how important it is to be there for others through recovery service as others were there for me when I was a newcomer.

We need to start a conversation about this still hush, hush addiction. Let’s dismantle the “myths” about it. It is one way to shatter the “stigma” around it, and around those who live dual diagnosed as well. Yes, mental/emotional illness in recovery can be a challenging task, but I hope by sharing some of my experiences, strength, and hope, and sharing some of my stories can be an example that recovery is possible, and we can lead happy, healthy, and productive lives in recovery!