Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Long-Term Recovery: The Gratitude List

I used to have horrible mornings, and they would lead to incredibly horrible days. I would set my alarm clock for when I needed to wake up, but it was my daily pattern to hit snooze several times before getting out of bed. When I would finally get out of bed, I would be running late. That would lead to me throwing on clothes, leaving work with neither a prepared lunch nor breakfast. If I was lucky, I would grab a pop tart while I was headed out the door. If I didn’t have one of those, I would stop at McDonalds or just go without eating breakfast.

Generally, I had to go without because I didn’t have time to stop at a drive through and still be to work on time. I would speed through traffic, furious at the people in front of me going the speed limit because they had left themselves enough time to get to work early. How dare they not consider me and when I had to be to work! What were they thinking, following the speed limit? That thing is more of a suggestion, really! Then I would get to work hungry, mad about the inconsiderate drivers and stressed because I was almost late.

How many of you does this describe?

If you can relate to any of the above, I have a great idea for you. It is something that worked for me, and I believe it will work for you as well. It may seem too easy at first, but you will still find it hard to apply. It will involve developing a new pattern, which can be difficult. At least it was for me, at first. Now, I swear by it. Today, I can’t imagine starting my day any other way.

First step is to set your alarm clock for 30 minutes before you need to wake up. That is actually the easiest part. The hard part is getting up when your alarm clock goes off, without hitting snooze AT ALL! As soon as your alarm goes off, roll out of bed and head to the kitchen. Do not snooze, do not go back to bed go directly to the kitchen.

Once in the kitchen, I start coffee. On very rare occasions I will brew a cup of tea. I have a Keurig, so this is really easy. I have known some people who had a clock on their coffee makers who would set the coffee to begin brewing at the same time they set their alarm for in the bedroom. You don’t want it to be ready already, because you still have something to do.

Next I write out my gratitude list while the coffee brews. Then I relax and enjoy my coffee while I give thanks to my Higher Power for the things I am grateful for. I feel this is something that is sorely missing, especially in the  United States. Most people, when they pray, don’t do it to give thanks. The “Our Father Prayer” today would sound something like this, “Our Father, who art in heaven, give me give me give me give me. Amen.”

I choose to give thanks to God for all I have, and the things on my gratitude list give me several things to focus on for the morning. After spending 10-15 minutes doodling, meditating and praying I then get ready for work. By the time I get ready for work I am still ahead of schedule and have plenty of time to get to work. I don’t have to speed, I don’t have to get mad at the person in front of me “only” going the speed limit and when I get to work I am in a great mood and that leads to me having a great day way more often than I used to when I didn’t do a daily gratitude list.

 Enter the gratitude list. Some of you may be wondering what a gratitude list is, or may already be doing one and are just reading this to reaffirm what you are doing. I warn you, my gratitude list is a little different. It has morphed as I have done it through the years and become more than just words on a piece of paper that I threw into a box.

Generally, a gratitude list is simply a piece of paper you write on. You write anywhere from 3-10 things you are grateful for, trying to list different things every time you do it so that your list is not exactly the same, day in and day out. Many people do a gratitude list on a daily basis, generally in the morning to start their day off positive while others do it at the end of their day to help them compartmentalize and unwind. Most have a simple gratitude list that goes like this:

1.      Today I am grateful for my wife.
2.      Today I am grateful for clean drinking water.
3.      Today I am grateful for my car.

That would be great, if you were making a grocery list of things to pick up from the store. The gratitude list is extremely important, not just to start my day off on the right foot but at times to reread if I am feeling a little drained, moderately depressed or completely hopeless at some time over the course of the day. You need to embellish when making your gratitude list, a little or a lot. Own it and make it yours.

Your gratitude list should have genuine feelings so it can elicit a positive response either in the morning when you originally write it out or when you come back and look at it later. If you don’t add details and emotions, then the gratitude list is just one more obligatory thing to do you will check off your daily list. Don’t get me wrong, doing it that way is good. That said, I don’t want you to do good things and live a good life, I want you to do things great and live an amazing life. Supercharge your gratitude list! So how do I get more emotion into mine?

I have several techniques I like to use:

1.      Add details. Don’t just say you are grateful for something, list why you are grateful for it. Instead of saying “I am grateful for _________,” say why are grateful for that person. What do you love about that person? What do you love to do with that person? How does that person make your life better?   
2.      Scrapbook it. Add photographs, use words cut from a magazine, write in different colored inks, doodle.  Grateful for a movie or a band, glue a ticket stub on the page.
3.      Draw pictures. If you are grateful for something, draw a picture of it then write reasons you are grateful for it around the picture.

Bottom line; make your gratitude list yours! Use it to start your day off better and also as a constant reminder when life kicks your butt that you still have many things to be thankful and grateful for. I have used my gratitude list to drag me out of several funks before they got a chance to reach a full blown depressive episode.

I have a picture of one of my past pages, before I got a journal I  put them in, for you to look at. It is pretty obvious you don’t need to be an artist to do this. You don’t have to be a wordsmith. You need only be optimistic and honest about the things you are grateful to have in your life and wake up 30 minutes early to record them.  

This is something so simple yet so necessary that I don’t believe you can have an incredibly strong recovery without it. This is just one more of the reasons I can say that I will NEVER use again. Relapse does not scare me anymore. What scares me is not living life to its potential. If you are like me and constantly look for ways to improve the life you have, add a daily gratitude list. You need only record 3 things a day for 30 days and I guarantee you will have a better outlook on life than you had before you started doing it. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Truth About Recovery: My Perspective

I have people tell me to sum up recovery for them, "In your opinion, what is recovery?" I find this extremely hard to do. I once heard someone say that recovery was like playing a country music song backwards, because you get back your house, your truck, your dog and your wife. I have gained so much in my recovery, that it is difficult to qualify or quantify what recovery means "for me."

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so instead of telling you what recovery means to me I will show you what it means to me:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Are You M.A.D.?

I went to a company conference a couple of weeks ago. I worked for a company called Alternative Opportunities, Inc. and we had just merged with another company called Preferred Family  Healthcare. Together, we cover 5 states and have almost 4,000 employees. The conference was so that people from both companies could have an opportunity to see what the other one did and network so that we could join forces and support each other better.

We also had plenary and break out sessions. The last plenary we had was by far the best, in my opinion. The guy was amazing; his father was a pastor and he was a former college football coach. To say that his session was motivational would be an understatement. When I walked out of his session I was ready to take on the world. The reason was because of a simple question he asked us, "Are you mad?"

I was at first unsure how to answer that question. I thought about it, and I want you to do the same thing. Ask yourself right now, am I mad? When I thought about it at first, I answered no. I am not mad at all. Then I thought about it a little more, and I did sense the anger. I could remember the way I felt several hours before his plenary after reading an article on Facebook about substance abuse.

The article itself didn't make me mad. The article was about the heroin epidemic our country is currently in. The article discussed the number of people in a small Missouri rural county that had overdosed in a one week period. The article was insightful, educational and well written. It was the comments that followed the article that got to me. They sickened and enraged me. Here are my 5 least favorite:

  1. Who cares? Just another dead junkie.
  2. We should give heroin away for free. Once all these junkies killed themselves of America would be a better place. 
  3. Have you heard of that flakka? It is making people act crazy. Junkies should get a free Go Pro camera with each dose so that we can watch them overdose for our entertainment. 
  4. This is Darwin Theory at its finest. Eventually all of these losers will remove their DNA from the gene pool. 
  5. I hate people like this, living off other people and hurting everyone that cares about them. Junkies only care about themselves. Their families are better off without them. 
So as I thought about it, yeah I was mad. As I sat there and simmered he asked another question, "What are you doing about it?" If something makes you mad, what are you doing to change it? Are you just sitting at home, reading a paper or watching the news, being an armchair quarterback or are you doing something about it.

Then he pulled out the hammer. He asked us to put on the bracelets that were at each of our tables. He told us to look at our bracelets and asked if we noticed anything. I did; the mad was not written mad, it was written R U M.A.D. 

"Every day I wake up and ask myself am I mad. I hope that you would do the same thing. I challenge you to do it. I want to start a movement, with this simple question, "Are you M.A.D.? Are you Making A Difference?"


Just like that, my mind was blown. He was not talking about being angry, instead he was talking about doing something about it. I was mad about a lot of situations, especially when it comes to dealing with substance abuse, mental health issues, stigma and recovery. I am educating schools and communities. I am raising public awareness. I am making a difference, even though it never feels like I am doing enough. 

So today, and for the rest of your life I challenge you to ask yourself this question every day, "Am I M.A.D.?" Are you making a difference? If you are living your life to be better and help those around you become better you are doing something right. If you are not living your life that way, you are doing something wrong. 

People, I implore you to make a difference in someone's life!! If something angers you, use that anger as fuel to give you the passion and energy needed to make that situation different. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and advocate for someone. Stick up for the disadvantaged, stand up to the bully when he attacks others. Don't talk about change, be the change! 


After all, if you don't do it who will? 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Sky is the Limit - My Story as related to Heroes in Recovery

My story was recently put on the Heroes in Recovery website. I would ask that you visit their website (www.heroesinrecovery.com) and check out everything that they are doing to break stigma and share the hope that there is a Better Life in Recovery. Here is the link to my story on their website: http://heroesinrecovery.com/stories/9206/

Here is what they printed:

Hi, my name is David and I am a person in long-term recovery. What that means for me is that I have not used drugs or alcohol since January 31, 2009 and because of that I have been able to accomplish things I never would have dreamed possible. I am a husband, father, sponsor, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, hope dealer and director of the nonprofit Better Life in Recovery (BLiR).
I was abused physically and sexually as a child. I used alcohol and other drugs to escape my past and deal with anger, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder I was diagnosed with. I was introduced to methamphetamine my senior year, and partying ended up being more important than school so I dropped out of school.
After over 20 years of substance use, attempting suicide, dying more times than I can count on one hand and being to jail more times than I can count on my fingers and toes I thought nothing would ever change. Boy was I wrong.
I asked God for something different, and He answered that prayer. I have not used since I decided to focus on recovery instead of substance abuse. My focus shifted. I paid attention to my successes instead of my failures. I applied the five pillars of recovery: Higher Power, meetings, sponsor, accountability partners and the 12 steps. Then I added the missing piece, service to my community, and it has made all the difference.
Don’t get me wrong, my life has had ups and downs. At times, life kicks me in the butt and my world shakes. The difference is how I cope with that today. I work through my problems and conquer them instead of letting them beat me. Doing this has made me stronger and wiser! I have gone from dealing dope to dealing hope!
Currently, I am a counselor for the Greene County, MO treatment courts through Preferred Family Healthcare. I went from high school drop out to having four college degrees. I married an amazing woman and we have an amazing family. I sit on multiple boards and planning committees that are focused on making the world a better place.
My passion is BLiR. Our mission is transforming lives with recovery. We deal hope and reduce stigma people who struggle with substance use and mental health issues face through community service, education and awareness events that celebrate people in long-term recovery. In 2012 we did one event, in 2013 we did three events, in 2014 we did eight and we are aiming for over 50 events in 2015 with weekly fellowship events.
Today, I know the sky is the limit for people in long-term recovery. My goal is to educate people on the wonders of long-term recovery, give people who are still struggling hope they can achieve long-term recovery and people in recovery the courage to come forward and be proud of who they have become while rejoining and making their communities better!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Depression (A chapter from my upcoming book)

Here is the chapter from the book I am currently writing addressing Depression. I would love to get some feedback on it, as I am still trying to get the book cleaned up to send off to the editor! Please, let me know what you think:

Now if there's a smile on my face
It's only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that's quite a different subject
But don't let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Really I'm sad, oh sadder than sad
You're gone and I'm hurting so bad
Like a clown I pretend to be glad
Now there's some sad things known to man
But ain't too much sadder than
the tears of a clown
When there's no one around

In my addiction, my hopelessness and depression reached abysmal depths. I got so low I attempted suicide. If not for my sister finding me unconscious in a pool of blood, I would not be here. She saved my life. Not that I would call what I had then a life.

When you spend 6 days awake on methamphetamine, sleeping only 1 day a week, you are not really living. I would have told you otherwise, if you would have cared to ask. I would have told you I was fine; FINE stood for Fearful, Insecure, Numb and Emotional.

Fearful - I was afraid that I would never stop using drugs. I was scared that my life was never going to get any better. I was terrified that when I died I would turn to dust so nothing that I ever did mattered. I was horrified that I had let down my family, and would never do anything they could be proud of me for. That fear turned outward, and was expressed as rage. I was violent and angry in hopes that no one would get close to me. I did not want to give people the chance to hurt me again, so I stopped caring about anyone and anything but myself and my next fix.

Insecure – I knew that other people had not been beaten like I had, but I could share that. I knew that other guys had not been molested like I had, and was so afraid of what people would think if they knew. I was depressed all of the time and felt weak and soft.

Numb – That is what a lot of my drug use was. I never wanted to be hurt again emotionally or psychologically, and staying high was a great way to insure that no one could get close. If my focus was on getting high, I developed no close relationships. Staying spun allowed me to feel nothing. No true relationships and not feeling are the perfect storm for creating that numb condition I desired.

Emotional – I would cry when I was by myself. I could feel alone in my house with 10 other people, or at a club that contained hundreds. I was depressed to levels that no one should have to live with. Other times, I was so angry that the littlest thing would cause me to erupt. I would put holes in walls and hit people for no reason other than I did not like who I was and what I had become. I was so unhappy in my own skin, and nothing I did changed that.

As for the suicide, that would not be the last time I tried to kill myself. No, I was sure that there was no hope of sobriety in my future and my addiction was wearing me down. It had not even taken me 2 years of using drugs IV to realize that life sucked. Beyond that I only knew one thing, my life was only going to get worse.

I promised my sister that I would never try to kill myself again. I lied. I would attempt suicide on several more occasions, probably a half dozen times. It would generally happen on my birthday or after really long meth runs (a meth run is an extended time spent awake on methamphetamine without sleep). In order to keep my promise to my sister, I would play Russian roulette. I could make the argument that it was not me killing myself if I was successful, but instead that it was chance.
I would empty my revolver of all but one bullet, spin the cylinder and put the gun to my head. I would be lying if I told you that the hammer clicking was not the loudest sound I had ever heard. 

There was some anger at the gun not going off, and relief at the same time. I was so conflicted about what I wanted to do and whether or not I wanted to live.

People who struggle with addictions can justify anything, even making decisions they really don’t want to. It wasn’t that I wanted to die. I just knew that I could not go on living my life the way I was. I was so tired, hopeless and depressed. I always covered it up so well that no one knew. I put on the mask of the clown, laughing and joyous on the outside.

I was an amazing actor. I had built walls that I hid behind and no one was ever allowed to see the real me. I had been faking those walls since my early youth. It had started when I was being abused at 3 and 4. Through the years I had gotten really good at showing people what I wanted them to see. They saw happy, popular, outgoing me. It could not have been further from the truth.

I was depressed all of the time. I looked around and saw how happy the people I partied with were and I knew that there must be something wrong with me. How come I was not happy? Why did I not feel motivated to do anything unless I got high? Why did I feel so alone while they all seemed to be living it up?

The lie most people hear is that people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol use because it makes them feel great. It helps them escape from the day and be irresponsible. That could not have been further from the truth. I was no longer using to feel good. I was using to feel less bad. My life sucked each and every day. I did not have the motivation to leave the house and if I went to sleep I didn’t have the ability to get out of bed and function unless I got high.

Today I know most of the people I partied with were depressed as well. Most of the clients I have worked with over the years are just as miserable as I was. They too are hiding behind walls they have erected, never showing people the real them. That makes you even more miserable. You cannot be you out of fear of what others may think or do if they knew the truth.

You can never be yourself because you are terrified that people will either judge you or see you as weak and use you. Most of us have learned how to read people and act accordingly. For me, it began with my grandpa. The babysitter taught me how to hide how I was feeling, but my grandpa taught me that you had to read people to avoid abuse and hate.

Now I have studied the science of addiction. It has shed even more light on why I was so depressed. I will try to explain this in the simplest way possible, without getting too deep into the science of it.
The nerve cells in our brain act as a communication system by receiving, sending and processing information. Drugs disrupt that communication by either overstimulation the reward circuits of the brain or masquerading as naturally occurring chemical messengers in the brain.

Opiates and marijuana are the spies, infiltrating the brain by confusing the receptors and then sending abnormal messages by activating nerve cells. Stimulants, on the other hand, either prevent brain cells from recycling neurotransmitters or cause them to release tremendous amounts of neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine.

I will focus on the amphetamines, because they saturate the brain with dopamine. Dopamine controls many things, but our focus in on how it impacts motivation, feelings of pleasure and emotion. We have these tremendous amounts of neurotransmitters released which make us feel amazing and in turn our brain teaches us to continue doing whatever it was that causes the euphoric effect.

I became behaviorally conditioned to do drugs, because they over stimulated the chemicals in my brain that make me feel not good, but GREAT! That sounds amazing, and at first it really is. I could escape my past, my depression and my trauma by flooding my brain with dopamine. Who wouldn’t want this, I thought at the time.

I did now know where the chemical process would soon lead me. Over time, the brain gets used to the intense amounts of dopamine being released and begins to reduce the amount of dopamine receptors and produce less dopamine. That means that I can no longer feel happy, joyous and free like a normal person because my brain has began rewiring itself. Not only that, but the amount of drugs needed to make me feel what I used to feel has to be increased. They call that tolerance.

That is just dopamine; we also have other neurotransmitters that are impacted over time: serotonin, norepinepherine, GABA and glutamate to name a few. We have depleted levels of the feel good, behavior control, memory, decision making, motivation and pleasure producing chemicals in our brain. The only way we can even come close to feeling normal is to take more and more of the drugs we are using. That is why we use, that is why I found myself mired in my substance abuse.

The truth…………………..

I was not happy.

I was miserable.


Even using no longer made me feel the same feelings I once had. That is what they call chasing the dragon, trying to find that same high you once had. I got the same feeling if not a better feeling from using a little bit more and a little bit more for years. Then the drugs stopped working that way. They started having less and less of an impact on my moods and motivation.

I woke up in the morning after sleeping with no desire to get out of bed, swallowed in a well of depression. I could never quite get out of the well, but I could pull myself up to the top and at least see the sun. Using took the edge off. It did not make me feel euphoric like it once had, but it made me feel a little bit better.

I had depleted levels of neurotransmitters in my brain.

That is why I was depressed all of the time.

In the end using made me feel less bad, and that was enough to keep me using despite all of the negative consequences substance use had on my life. 

Today, I have found happiness. I have found a Better Life in Recovery. How did I find this? 

For starters, refer back to the 5 Pillars of Recovery. Reread the Platinum Rule and  the 3 Questions that Changed my Life. Apply the Locker Room to your life. These are all things that I did and have seen many others do, and we have attained long-term recovery. Also, remember a couple  of things.

Don't just focus on taking negative people, places and things out of your life. Instead, continually add positive people, places and things to it. The negatives will be forced out due to the positives smothering and suffocating them. The positives you add will usurp the negatives. Slowly but surely, making positive choices will become second nature because they will create new neural pathways. 

Never sell yourself short; you too can find happiness. It does not happen all at once, but it WILL happen. 

It takes time.

 As I have heard many people say, "Don't leave before the miracle  happens."