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SEPTEMBER 2017 Prevention Works • Treatment is Effective • People Recover Recovery Month National September 018

About RECOVERY

MONTH National Recovery Month (Recovery Month) is a national observance held every September to educate Americans that substance use treatment and mental health services can enable those with a mental and/or substance use disorder to live a healthy and rewarding life.

Recovery Month began in 1989 as Treatment Works! Month, which honored the work of substance use treatment professionals in the field.

Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery, just as we celebrate health improvements made by those who are managing other health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease. The observance reinforces the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover. Now in its 29th year, Recovery Month highlights the achievements of individuals who have reclaimed their lives in long- term recovery and honors the treatment and recovery service providers who make recovery possible. Recovery Month also promotes the message that recovery in all of its forms is possible and encourages citizens to take action to help expand and improve the availability of effective prevention, treatment, and recovery services for those in need.

History Over the years, National Recovery Month (Recovery Month) has inspired millions of people to raise awareness about mental and/or substance use disorders, share their stories of recovery, and encourage others who are still in need of services and support. Recovery Month began in 1989 as Treatment Works! Month, which honored the work of substance use treatment professionals in the field. The observance evolved into National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month in 1998, when it expanded to include celebrating the accomplishment of individuals in recovery from substance use disorders.The observance evolved once again in 2011 to National Recovery Month (Recovery Month) to include all aspects of behavioral health. Support Organizations Currently, more than 200 federal, state, and local government entities, as well as nonprofit organizations and associations affiliated with prevention, treatment, and recovery of mental and/or substance use disorders, comprise the Recovery Month Planning Partners’ group.The Planning Partners assist in the development, dissemination, and collaboration of materials; promotion; and event sponsorship for the Recovery Month initiative.

Each year, Recovery Month selects a new focus and theme to spread the message and share the successes of treatment and recovery.The 2018 Recovery Month observance will focus on urban communities, health care providers, members of the media, and policymakers, highlighting the various entities that support recovery within our society. The 2018 Recovery Month theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Invest in Health, Home, Purpose, and Community,” explores how integrated care, a strong community, sense of purpose, and leadership contributes to effective treatments that sustain the recovery of persons with mental and substance use disorders.The observance will work to highlight inspiring stories to help people from all walks of life find the path to hope, health, and wellness. Learn more about this year’s and past year themes

Now in its 29th year, Recovery Month highlights the achievements of individuals who have reclaimed their lives in long-term recovery and honors the treatment and recovery service providers who make recovery possible.

September Recovery Month promotes the societal benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery for mental and substance use disorders. IS NATIONAL Recovery Month

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HEALING IS FOR EVERYONE

The theme for Recovery Month 2018 is Join the Voices for Recovery: Invest in Health, Home, Purpose, and Community. The 2018 theme explores how integrated care, a strong community, sense of purpose, and leadership contributes to effective treatments that sustain the recovery of persons with mental and substance use disorders.

Voices for Recovery Connect with people in recovery by reviewing the personal stories of people recovering from mental and/or substance use disorders. Across the country, people in recovery are celebrating their successes and sharing them with others in an effort to educate the public about treatment, how it works, for whom, and why. Because these successes often go unnoticed by the broader population, these personal stories, or Voices for Recovery, provide a vehicle for people to share their recovery stories.

For more information, visit: recoverymonth.gov

SEPTEMBER EVENT CALENDAR

Hope Floats Pineville, West Virginia

Recovery Month Kickoff Indianapolis, Indiana Celebrate Recovery Menomonie, Wisconsin

RIM Recovery Event Twin Falls, Idaho

Recovery Breakfast Redwood City, California Suicide, The Ripple Effect Galax, Virginia

Hands Around the Park Ontario, Oregon

Recovery Celebration Meadville, Pennsylvania VORSMC Open House East Palo Alto, California Recovery Celebration & Walk Charlestown, Indiana Mental Health First Aid for Military Panama City, Florida

Salt Lake City Recovery Day Salt Lake City, Utah

Guideposts Celebrates Recovery Danbury, Connecticut The Anonymous People Fairbanks, Alaska

The Art of Wellness Bad Axe, Michigan Voices for Recovery Luncheon Madison, Wisconsin

Voices in Recovery

Run For Recovery Harrison, Arkansas

Lumberton, N. Carolina

Squirrel Logic: Addiction Zanesville, Ohio

Outsider Art Show

Recovery Ride 10 Nanuet, New York Kiss Addiction Goodbye

Art of Recovery Expo Phoenix, Arizona

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Treating addiction with vaccines is a relatively new idea with many unanswered questions

ARE VACCINES THE ANSWER

that arise out of a lack of research. But a new study suggests vaccinating against illicit drugs is not only possible, it could be extremely effective. At the Scripps Research Institute in California, researchers were looking for a way to guard against the lethal and addictive effects of synthetic opioid “designer drugs.” A potentially deadly opioid, fentanyl, is often used as a heroin substitute or mix-in by drug dealers, so researchers developed a vaccine to try to mitigate its effects. Researchers injected mice with three rounds of the vaccine and then exposed them to doses of fentanyl. They found the vaccinated mice did not display any “high” behaviors even months after the last series of vaccine injections. Researchers say the immune systems of the mice developed antibodies that successfully blocked the drug from reaching the brain. “The results were the best we’ve ever seen for any drug vaccine,” says Paul Bremer, a graduate student at Scripps Research Institute who worked on the study.

A new

HAS BEEN SHOWN TO PREVENT OVERDOSES AND STOP OPIOID “DESIGNER DRUGS” FROM AFFECTING THE BRAIN vaccine

The results were the best we’ve ever seen for any drug vaccine. - Paul Bremer, Scripps Research Institute

“ WE WERE ABLE TO BLOCK EXTREMELY LARGE - Paul Bremer DOSES OF FENTANYL TO PROTECT AGAINST OVERDOSES

SAFE AND POWERFUL Not only was the vaccine able to stop intoxication (something researchers suggest could aid in opioid addiction treatment), the vaccine also proved extremely effective in blocking the potentially lethal effects of fentanyl as well. While the chemical is not necessarily toxic in itself, it does produce psychoactive effects that can shut down breathing and stop a person’s heart. Researchers say mice injected with the vaccine could withstand doses of fentanyl up to 30 times the normal rate. “It was just a first generation vaccine, but it did prove to be very potent,” Bremer says. “We were able to block extremely large doses of fentanyl to protect against overdoses.” A SINGLE PURPOSE Researchers say the vaccine would not protect against heroin or oxycodone, and a mixture of vaccines would be needed to protect against all opioids. But that was somewhat by design. To make sure the vaccine would not interfere with any medications a person may take responsibly later in life, researchers targeted specific molecules so the vaccine would only block fentanyl and its derivatives.

“For unrelated drugs that you would be taking, there would be no effect from the vaccine,” Bremer says. LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE Although still in the early stages of development, researchers say the vaccine represents an exciting step forward in drug vaccine research. The lab is beginning more advanced trials on a similar heroin vaccine which should give them a better idea of how successful the fentanyl vaccine could become. But until more testing can be completed, researchers say they were pleased with the progress and excited for the future of vaccines in the treatment of addiction. “This concept of using a vaccine for addiction isn’t just an academic pursuit, it could really be used in practice,” Bremer says. “I think it’s really promising.”

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Marijuana users are five times more likely to develop an alcohol abuse disorder, according to a new study

When it rains it pours. The old idiom may be familiar to many drug users who often find themselves battling more than one addiction. While previous research has shown multiple substance abuse disorders often go hand in hand, a new study suggests simply using marijuana can lead to a much higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.

Finding the Link Researchers at Columbia University analyzed data from 27,461 people who had used marijuana at the time of first testing, but had no history of alcohol related disorders. When researchers checked back three years later, they found marijuana users were five times more likely to have developed an alcohol abuse disorder.

Researchers said they were surprised the link wasn’t between marijuana use disorder, but simply marijuana use itself. “I think it’s important for people to be aware that there are certain behaviors that come with specific risks,” says Dr. Renee Goodwin, one of the lead researchers. “It would be particularly useful for youth.” Because youth are at a higher risk of experimenting with both drugs and alcohol, researchers said educating them about the total scope of risk is not only important, but could help curb problematic behaviors. “Preventing or delaying the onset of marijuana use could prevent or delay the onset of alcohol use disorder,” Dr. Goodwin says. “Statistically it should.”

“I think it’s important for people to be aware that there are certain behaviors that come with specific risks.” -Dr. Renee Goodwin

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“Preventing or delaying the onset of marijuana use could prevent or delay the onset of alcohol use disorder.” -Dr. Renee Goodwin

Uses In Treatment For those already struggling with marijuana or alcohol use disorders, researchers said the knowledge that the two behaviors are linked could help people see the bigger picture of their addiction, and could prove useful in their journey toward recovery. “In some ways it may seem self- evident, but it may not be,” Dr. Goodwin says. “If you’re trying to quit drinking, it’s good to know that quitting marijuana could increase your chance of being successful.”

Zero relationship to mood and anxiety disorders As marijuana use has increased in the U.S., with some states even voting for legalization, some have wondered what the psychological cost will be to users. To investigate the question further, other researchers at Columbia University also conducted a recent study to determine if a link exists between increased marijuana use and psychiatric disorders. Although the results, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, mimicked previous research in showing a strong relationship between marijuana use and other substance abuse disorders, the findings in regards to psychiatric disorders were much different. The study showed no relationship between marijuana use and increased instances of mood and anxiety disorders, only substance abuse disorders. But despite the lack of a connection, researchers still cautioned against public policy that could lead to increased marijuana use. “The lack of association between more frequent cannabis use with increased risk of most mood and anxiety disorders does not diminish the important public health significance of the association between cannabis use and increased prevalence and incidence of drug and alcohol use disorders,” the authors wrote. ³

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New study looks to pinpoint transition from prescription opioids to heroin

Stopping heroin use before it begins may be the best remedy for the country’s growing epidemic. A new study looks to pinpoint the times and ways that young people first use the dangerous drug in hopes of strengthening prevention efforts. For three years, researchers at Wright State University tracked nearly 400 18- to 23-year-olds in Columbus, Ohio, who used illicit prescription opioids but were not opioid-dependent. Of the 362 participants, 27 eventually transitioned to heroin, a rate of 7.5 percent. “We were surprised at the number of people who transitioned to heroin,” says Dr. Robert Carlson, the study’s lead researcher. “We had really no idea of what exactly we’d be able to predict.”

Predicting risk

Researchers found several predictors of increased risk of heroin use, starting with the ways in which the opioids were being used. Those who crushed or snorted the prescription drugs were far more likely to transition to heroin. “It increases the speed at which the drug is hitting the system and makes people much more liable to becoming dependent,” Dr. Carlson says. “If people can become aware that if they even think about starting to use via a non-oral route, they are heading off on a very dangerous path.”

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“We were surprised at the number of people who transitioned to heroin. ” - Dr. Robert Carlson, Wright State University

Racial divide

The new NIDA-funded study targeted 18- to 23-year-olds because they are arguably at the highest risk for substance abuse. The study did not look at other age groups. But when considering the factors that may move a person from prescription opioids to heroin, Dr. Carlson believes age is just a number. “I wouldn’t think the risk factors for transition to heroin would be much different regardless of age group,” Dr. Carlson says. While the risk factors may be the same across age groups, the most deadly effects of heroin use are not. Research has shown that those most at risk of a heroin-related overdose fall in the 25 to 44 age range. It’s important to keep in mind that the vast majority of prescription opioid users will not move on to heroin. And significant research is still needed to determine the social, environmental and biological factors that contribute to a person transitioning to heroin. But Dr. Carlson says he’s encouraged by the progress being made and believes the groundwork has been laid to develop effective treatment and intervention programs. “The really exciting thing to come out of this is it really gives us a firm foundation of some variables that could be targeted to prevent transition to heroin and transition to dependence,” Dr. Carlson says. Targeted approach The study also saw a difference in race among those who eventually turned to heroin. Despite roughly half the participants being African-American or Hispanic, all of the individuals who ultimately used heroin were white. Although the study could not determine the reasons behind such a strong racial divide, Dr. Carlson suggests that social networks, generational use and other circumstances could be significant factors. National data shows the heroin epidemic has increasingly hit white males the hardest. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that between 2002 and 2013, heroin use among non-Hispanic whites increased 114 percent. Age is just a number

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INSERT 4 Giving addicts a “reset ” Developers working on first digital therapy app for addiction One reason the opioid addiction epidemic has taken hold in many rural areas is that many Americans with substance use disorder live long distances from the nearest treatment providers. But a new tool may provide hope.The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently reviewing a new tool that may help remedy that geographical problem: the first prescription digital therapy designed to treat SUD. Boston and San Francisco-based Pear Therapeutics developed reSET, a mobile app used as a treatment tool concurrently with outpatient therapy centered on SUDs.The project has demonstrated better abstinence and treatment retention when applied alongside face-to-face therapy focused on SUD-related treatments for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and stimulants.The therapy also includes a web-based program for healthcare providers. An app to help opiate addicts Pear is also developing reSET-0, an app specifically designed to help opiate addicts. Both apps consist of a patient-facing smartphone application and a clinician-facing web interface. The company raised $20 million last year with the aid of various venture companies including Arboretum Ventures, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based venture capital firm. “(reSET) will give patients and clinicians a new tool to improve therapy specifically in an area right now that is a true health epidemic in the U.S,” Dr.Thomas Shehab, managing director at Arboretum Ventures, told DrugAddictionNow.com. “It’s an extremely novel approach to central nervous system and behavioral health diseases that we didn’t see anyone else addressing in that way.”

Pear submitted reSET for review by the FDA during the first half of 2016 and says it is expected to be approved this year. Dr. Shehab said his firm is “particularly intrigued by their approach because it’s a combination of a very well-studied digital therapy being used in conjunction with other therapies.” He says, “We thought the unique makeup of the Pear team and their unique approach to digital therapies really made us feel it had the highest likelihood of success in really helping address these issues.”

According to data provided by Pear Therapeutics, 507 people with SUD from 10 treatment centers nationally received either face-to-face therapy or reduced volume of face-to-face therapy with reSET.They were given 12 weeks of outpatient therapy with or without using the app; if without, a portion of the digital therapy was replaced with face-to-face therapy. Abstinence was calculated two times weekly through a breathalyzer, urine samples and self-reports. Of the participants dependent on alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and stimulants, 58.1 percent of them receiving treatment with reSET were abstinent during weeks nine through 12, versus 29.8 percent of participants receiving only face-to-face therapy. Of the participants who started the study with a positive drug test, 26.7 percent of them who received reSET were abstinent during weeks nine through 12 of the study; only 3.2 percent of those that received traditional face-to-face therapy reported abstinence during the same time period. Participants using reSET presented statistically significant advancement in retention rates compared to those not using the app. After 12 weeks, 59 percent of participants that received face-to-face therapy retained sobriety in comparison to the 67 percent of those that used reSET.The reSET-O app has shown promising results in

three independent and randomized clinical trials, the company says. A study of 465 participants that completed outpatient methadone or buprenorphine treatment for opioid addiction was conducted, in which the participants were given standardized face-to-face therapy or shortened standardized treatment with reSET-O.Their abstinence was determined by self-reporting and urine tests. The developers plan to submit reSET-O to the FDA for approval, pending approval of reSET. “With all that’s going on, this is a very exciting company that we’re very enthusiastic about because it benefits a group of patients in great need,” Dr. Shehab said. “We think that reSET has a lot of potential.”

Maker receives NIDA grant In July, Pear announced it

has received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Fast-Track award funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). PEAR will collaborate with CleanSlate Research and Education Foundation and Columbia University Medical Center Department of Psychiatry’s Division on Substance Use Disorders on the project. The grant will support the application of “enhanced engagement and gamification mechanisms” to reSET and reSET-O, the company says.

“It benefits a group of patients in great need.” - Dr.Thomas Shehab, Arboretum Ventures

SAMHSA PUBLISHES BEST PRACTICES ON MEDICATION-ASSISTED TREATMENT FOR OPIOID USE DISORDER Best Practices

Treatment Improvement Protocol 63, “Medications for Opioid Use Disorder, ” reviews the use of methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine, the three FDA-approved medications to treat opioid use disorders.

Data indicate that OUD-treating medications are both cost effective and cost beneficial

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has published new guidance to help health care professionals better understand medications that can be used to treat Americans with opioid use disorder (OUD). Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) 63, “Medications for Opioid Use Disorder, ” reviews the use of methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine, the three FDA-approved medications to treat opioid use disorders. TIP 63 provides guidance for health care professionals and addiction treatment providers on how to appropriately prescribe these medications and effectively support patients using these medications for OUD treatment. “We know that people can and do recover from opioid use disorders when they receive appropriate treatment, and medication-assisted treatment’s success in treating opioid use disorders is well documented, ” said Dr. Elinore F. McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use. “TIP 63 emphasizes that increasing access to medications to treat opioid use disorder will help more people recover, enabling them to improve their health, living full and productive lives.” TIP 63 is part of SAMHSA’s larger response to the opioid crisis. More access to treatment with OUD medications is critical to closing the gap between treatment need and treatment availability and an important public health strategy. Data indicate that OUD-treating medications are both cost effective and cost Li˜iwVˆ>°

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No Magic Elixir Claims about alcohol’s “benefits” can be misleading People have looked for miracle remedies to life’s maladies for centuries. Before the FDA, snake oil salesmen roamed the U.S. offering tonics that were guaranteed to cure what ails you. Although we’ve done away with much of that practice through federal regulations, there seems to be one substance with magical properties that scientists are still uncovering: alcohol. For decades, U.S. researchers have been studying alcohol and finding new benefits from drinking that seem almost too good to believe. Claims about alcohol’s abilities range from improving memory to boosting creativity, from reducing the risk of heart disease to making you thinner, and one study even suggested that drinking a glass of wine had the same effect as exercising for an hour.

Continuing the myths The most recent miracle claim comes from researchers in Denmark who say drinking a moderate amount of alcohol may help reduce your risk of developing diabetes.They studied over 70,000 people and found that drinking three to four times a week was associated with a lower risk for type 2 diabetes. While each study should be evaluated on its own individual merits, it’s clear that such claims go against decades of established medical knowledge proving alcohol has detrimental effects on your health. Even properties recognized to be beneficial, like the antioxidants found in red wine, can also be absorbed through other foods, making the wine itself irrelevant.This means that even if some of the claims are true, the negatives of drinking may outweigh the positives. Misleading coverage Many of the studies quoted in news reports have not been reproduced by other scientists, meaning their results are far from verified. Most news reports also fail to dig into the meat of the research, creating misleading and oversimplified explanations that don’t capture the true nature of the findings. In fact, coverage of the most recent study concerning diabetes has already been criticized for a lack of clarity and detail surrounding the study’s extreme limitations.The fact is that researchers found an association between drinking and lower diabetes rates, but not a causality.

“Drinking too much - on a single occasion or over time - can take a serious toll on your health.” - National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

“Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 - 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years.” - Centers for Disease Control

Biased results Perhaps the more troubling aspect of alcohol research comes from its funding sources.The National Institutes of Health is launching a $100 million study into the potential benefits of alcohol consumption on heart health. Where’s the money coming from? So far, five of the world’s largest alcohol manufacturers have pledged over $67 million to a fund associated with the NIH. Alcohol suppliers have long offered their support of public health initiatives as a way of showing good faith to consumers and federal regulators. But this latest donation automatically calls into question the legitimacy of any of the study’s future findings. Alcohol needn’t be demonized. It is, after all, an innate substance devoid of any moral standing of its own. But to suggest that it offers such extraordinary health benefits while ignoring the myriad of negative consequences is not only misleading, it’s dangerous. Public health information should be grounded in fact, not unverified results of questionable studies that resulted in incomplete news coverage.

Perhaps such shaky research comes from our desire to justify our drinking habits, or perhaps it’s just bad science. Either way, before you start swapping a glass of wine for your daily trip to the gym, remember that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear.

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A Mother’s Love in Death & Dying Fosters Hope in Life and the Living

Spring has arrived and fifty-seven is what I turned, which actually sounds like a leaf in the fall or navigating a corner on the way to somewhere I mostly want to go. I also often think of the journey we are on, hopefully desired, everyday, and I would like to take this opportunity to invite you in a little deeper to the telling of my experience.This history involves a life of privilege wasted away yet fortunate outcomes prevailed through little or no credit of my own. I could begin by elaborating on the better things about my personal experience or on my professional “work,” in all of the ego I could muster, which often comes naturally to me, but I want to share with you the humbling, sometimes humiliating, concept of “lived experience.” Of course, we all have our own storied experience in living.

Thirty years ago last month, on March 3, 1987, a second short stay in jail set the stage for the final intervention by my family, primarily my mother, who was the only one I would have dared call to bail me out and take me to treatment (Actually, she is the only one, aside from my father, maybe, who would not have hung up on me, but I don’t blame him or all the others who felt powerless enough to wash their hands of me.). At my mother’s insistence after picking me up from jail, I entered a 28-day treatment center for substance abuse and mental health recovery. I had also struggled with depression and anxiety in conjunction with alcohol and other substance use and don’t know which came first, the mental health issues because of substance abuse or vice versa, cause-and-effect is hard to determine, but either way, there were choices I made in responding to life.

Although never talked about or diagnosed, there were also significant mental health and addiction issues in my generational family of origin.

Accepting fate Although never talked about or diagnosed, there were also significant mental health and addiction issues in my generational family of origin. In fact, my own mother in her seventies died from complications of legitimate physical and mental health issues that resulted in a pain killer and tobacco addiction. My mom, the one who I allowed to enable me nearly “to death”, and the one who, perhaps, was the only one who could disrupt my descent into living hell and death by self-destruction, was unwilling and/or unable to overcome those same deadly dynamics. Although we may always wonder how she really died or if there was something more we could have done, our repeated attempts to control, stop, circumvent, and derail her impending death had failed. And although I had prepared for her passing years in advance, we are never really ready. We pretty much resigned ourselves to recognizing our powerlessness over her gradual descent and sudden death in her sleep. I share this out of the utmost respect for family and, especially my mother, who cared for us as children and endured significant pain and suffering over the years, some of which we caused, and some most likely from her childhood. She was a wonderful woman, a survivor with great passion for life and loving her family and her community and her successful work as a realtor, business woman, and bank loan officer. She had legitimate physical health issues that she suffered from and, I’m sure, did not set out to smoke and abuse pain medication as long-term coping mechanisms to deal with her physical and mental health issues, but that’s what happened. The very determination that allowed her to survive seventy-four years of life most surely did her in. As many of us do, she had trouble surrendering and letting go — asking, or admitting her need, for help — and therefore working through, reducing, or managing the emotional pain and suffering to find the peace that transcends the pain.There comes a time when the lines between being unable and unwilling to change are not so clear, and it’s often “both/and,” not either/or. From a lay standpoint, it seems that the connection between physical and mental health and addiction issues is difficult to discern, for example, where does the cause and effect stop and start?

It’s a family matter And this story is what leads me directly deeper and deeper into the personal and professional work of recovery — the recognition of the great need of families and individuals who need recovery from mental health and addiction issues. I often say, that since I’m not a doctor or a therapist, I leave the medical and therapeutic treatment of health and addiction to the professionals who specialize in such things, but I know from my own personal and professional experience that those three aspects often go together —- general health is often inseparable from the nature of mental health and addictions. While not all mental health issues involve addiction, addiction often involves mental health struggles including cause and effect, and physical health is always affected by both, and, indeed, cannot be separated. Physical, emotional, and mental health and well-being are necessarily connected and recovery and stability in life require integration of successful methods and modalities of support and accountability along with diligence on the part of the individual and families needing help. Acceptance and having realistic expectations are also critical.

Sharing recovery with everyone So, in closing out my story for now, my hope is to continue the profound and honorable work of individual and community recovery, a “soul-work” of passion in the “re-enchantment of every day living,” as Thomas Moore would say. I also do not consider it a coincidence that I work in mental health and addictions peer recovery, more and more, perhaps to redeem my own past transgressions but also in honor of my mother and on behalf of all the friends and families and individuals who are affected by such issues, indeed the entire community. My hope is to bring recovery and connection to those throughout the spectrum — from “mere” loneliness and isolation to the more serious addiction and mental illness issues. Perhaps we have the privilege, indeed an obligation, to continue this work for ourselves and for our families; indeed, our very lives depend on it. So, dear old and new friends (and foes as well), please join me in the movement of recovery, a sheer celebration of hope and the ability to enhance our own wholeness, health, and well-being by “carrying the message” and providing opportunities for others to find that same stability and experience in a “life worth living.”

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Addiction does not fit a stereotype

It was January of 2005. I had returned a few days earlier from Guest House, an alcohol rehab facility for priests in Rochester, Minnesota where I had spent the previous 3 months working through the issues surrounding my alcohol addiction. All those being discharged were encouraged to find AA meetings in their areas to begin this “new life” of recovery. I went online and located the page for the “Miami-Dade Intergroup of AA” where I was living at the time.There was no lack of meetings in the South Florida area but I was also seeking a special kind of meeting, the ones with the “G” next to the meeting description, “Gay”. I located the meeting schedule for a place called “Lambda/Dade”. It was not far from the university where I was living and working.

At the first meeting I attended I was warmly welcomed when I came in and was recognized as being new to the group.

Taking the first step At the first meeting I attended I was warmly welcomed when I came in and was recognized as being new to the group. I introduced myself as “Warren, and I’m an alcoholic” but it would take months for me to introduce myself fully. One night at an “S”, a Speaker Meeting, the scheduled speaker failed to show up.The secretary of the group approached me and asked if I would be willing to “share my story”. In that instant, every conceivable excuse that I could come up with to say no flashed through my mind yet somehow I heard my mouth say “ok”.

As I sat in the chair in the front of the room everyone quieted down and I took a deep breath and I said something that I had never said publically before; “Hello, my name is Warren, I’m an alcoholic, I’m gay, and I’m a Catholic priest”. Much to my surprise, the ceiling did not collapse, the walls did not cave in, the crowd did not rush at me to stone me and cast me out into the night. Everyone calmly replied; “Hi Warren”.

Breaking down the walls For a guy who lived his whole life in “compartments”, the “good little boy” compartment and the “gay boy” compartment it was no wonder why I resorted to the use of alcohol. If secrets make us sick, and they do, I had 2 big ones. With my family and friends, I was the good kid who was rather spiritual at a young age and who was going to be a priest (like it or not) but I wouldn’t dare mention my “gay” secret. When I would cross the river into New York City to be with my “gay tribe” I wouldn’t dare mention my “catholic” secret. It was only in a meeting of alcoholics anonymous that the walls of my “compartments” came crumbling down and I felt a freedom that had eluded me for most of my life. There have been times since then that because of life’s circumstances I wanted to put the walls of the compartments back up but I knew that to do that would surely lead me to a drink. By continuing to go to meetings and staying in the center of the program not only do I not fear putting the walls back up but I realize that I just don’t need those walls anymore. When I would cross the river into New York City to be with my “gay tribe” I wouldn’t dare mention my “catholic” secret.

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Breaking Through Obstacles and Thriving

A man shares his story of recovering from drug use while also addressing his unhealthy weight. All my life I struggled with my weight, which led to depression, social anxieties, and self-doubt. Throughout middle school and high school, I was picked on and had few friends. After high school, I recognized that I had the opportunity to rebuild myself and decided to try and lose weight, but not the healthy way. I ran, didn’t eat, and took so much Hydroxycut I’m surprised my heart didn’t explode… but I lost the weight! I went down from 220lbs to 150lbs in just a few short months. Everything was going well, until my father was diagnosed with cancer and later passed away in April 2004, which put me on a downward spiral.

Not until June 2013, did I look at my then 330lb self and ask, “What am I doing in life?”

Groing through struggle Over the next few years, I became addicted to a slew of drugs ranging from cocaine to meth to oxycodone and plenty more. Even with drug use, I maintained a pretty well-paying job in Atlanta, Georgia until the economy tanked in October 2008 and I was let go. I had another job lined up, but failed the drug test. So, with nowhere else to go I decided that it would be best for me to move back to Gainesville, Florida and try to rebuild. Initially, Gainesville was going as planned: I was drug free for the first few months, but once the money came in things went downhill quick. I found oxycodone and Xanax as a good combination and continued to indulge in food. My life continued to decline as my body made up artificial pain, my mind began playing tricks, and I lost another job due to my drug habit. So, in April 2011 I decided enough was enough and completely kicked the habit. I changed my surroundings and ceased communication with other users. While I anticipated the weeks of withdrawals, I didn’t anticipate that they’d take months or even more than a year.

Not until June 2013, did I look at my then 330lb self and ask, “What am I doing in life?”

Making the change After that April, I became much more of an introvert and my diet worsened. Not until June 2013, did I look at my then 330lb self and ask, “What am I doing in life?” For too long I believed, that being overweight was just who I was. Then I recalled that it wasn’t more than a couple years ago that I believed that being addicted to drugs wasn’t going to be my life. I took a deep breath and asked myself, “Why not me? Who said that I can’t be healthy, active, social, and enjoy life?” I began writing down why my many past attempts to lose weight failed, and it all came down to not understanding nutrition and how my body works. Counting calories or points never worked and wasn’t sustainable. I now lead a sustainable life powered by proper nutrition, exercise, and finding things I enjoy doing that bring along some adrenaline rushes (like biking). I’ve since started a new fitness program to share my story and inspire others to breakthrough their obstacles and thrive!

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Managing Depression & Learning to Live Again A woman shares her story of recovering from depression and abuse, and learning how to live again.

I believe I have lived with depression most of my life. Many traumatic events happened during my childhood. From many very painful earaches to the loss of three of my grandparents; from the loss of John F. Kennedy to two operations, I experienced many stressors. All of those things happened to me before I reached the age of 8.

I went on heavy psych meds, which left me pretty much out of it.

Suffering through hard times So, when my favorite cousin committed suicide when I was 13, I went into a deep depression. I know this now because I remember one day when I was 16, feeling that a great black cloud had been lifted from me. At the time, I did not evaluate what that feeling meant. It seems that hindsight gave me a better understanding of myself. I worked for almost eight years for an attorney. I experienced another person who committed suicide in 1988.This drove me to a psychiatrist who put me on my first round of psych meds, saying that I had depression. I was injured on the job and eventually was asked to leave. I felt discarded. I was unable to work. I went through two violent relationships. My boyfriend would hit me. I finally had enough of him and removed him from my home.Then I met my Vietnam veteran husband who divorced me in 1995. During our relationship, I survived at least three times when he tried to kill me. Before he left, we had a child—a girl. She was the person I needed to live for. When he left me I was devastated. I went into an extreme depression. I went on heavy psych meds, which left me pretty much out of it. My daughter was also deeply affected by our “loss.” She went through an angry, rebellious stage. It doesn’t mean that you will do all of the things that you used to do before your diagnosis. Recovery means that you work each day to become a little better.

Learning to cope I was rediagnosed as manic depressive in 1996. I continued on a barrage of meds. I felt that I was being ostracized from society until 2002. It was then that a supported employment person, a very beautiful person in every sense of the word, showed me that I had worth. She helped me get my first job since my discharge in 1994. I started to feel the beginnings of healing! I had thought for the longest time that my mental illness would not allow me to do anything constructive ever again.Through a great mental health organization, I relearned to live.The agency was wonderfully supportive. I grew. I was no longer the person I had been; I was the strong, resilient person I had become. I still had growing to do. In 2006 I was trained as a certified peer support specialist (CPSS). I learned the true meaning of recovery. It isn’t dependent upon how much money you make or what you do for a living. It doesn’t mean that you will do all of the things that you used to do before your diagnosis. Recovery means that you work each day to become a little better. Surely there are pitfalls and stumbling blocks, but that is life. “That’s life,” is what I tell people who say “bad” things happen to them all of the time. I explain that there are always going to be negatives. Just look for the positives. I have worked as a CPSS for most of the time since 2007 (when I graduated as a CPSS). I get the privilege of helping people in crisis find hope.Through my career, I find the meaning of recovery for me and the people I serve. I continue to flourish.

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