Young woman enjoying nature

Nature: An Important Tool in Addiction Recovery and Improved Mental Health

It would be hard to find a person who didn’t enjoy being outside or who had never been awestruck at some aspect of the natural world. Perhaps it is watching the total eclipse of the sun and being amazed as the moon inexorably moves across the face of the sun, blotting out the light, causing the temperature to drop and the animals to settle in for the night, and then to reverse itself and become day again. Or maybe you’ve been moved emotionally as you walk through the majestic old-growth redwood trees on California’s northern coastline. Or perhaps it’s smaller. Perhaps you are a person who can look at a flower and really see the textures of the petals, the subtle or not so subtle shadings of color. Or perhaps you love the sound of the rain on the roof. Whatever it is, most of us have been awed by nature at some point. But did you know that nature is also good for your health?

Health Benefits of Nature

The health benefits of nature are numerous and range from decreasing blood pressure to improving mood to relieving depression. A study conducted at the University of Queensland in Australia found that spending 30 minutes in nature could reduce blood pressure by as much as nine percent and reduce depression by seven percent. The study also found that exposure to sunlight helps to regulate sleep. Another study found that being outside for 120 minutes per week causes positive changes in mood for people. In all, spending time in nature can elevate mood, lessen heart disease, improve asthma, lower anxiety, prevent migraines, improve the ability to focus, improve memory, boost creativity, relieve depression, and help with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 

How Nature Can Impact Your Brain 

A recent study found that being in the sun increases serotonin levels in the brain. The increased serotonin helps with elevating mood and can be a deterrent against depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In another study, one group of people walked in the forest while the other group walked into the city. The group that walked in the forest had a 16% drop in cortisol levels (a stress hormone,) a two percent drop in blood pressure, and a four percent drop in their heart rates. Researchers in Korea used functional MRIs to watch brain activity in people viewing different images. When people looked at urban images, the MRI showed increased blood flow in the amygdala, the part of the brain concerned with fear and anxiety. When the subjects looked at nature scenes, areas associated with empathy and altruism were more active. A study at Stanford showed that people who walked in nature for 90 minutes “showed decreased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain linked to depressive rumination.” That is to say, people who spent more time in nature were less apt to beat themselves up. And finally, a study conducted at the University of Michigan found that people who took a 50-minute walk in the arboretum had improved executive functioning skills. 

Spending Time in Nature Is an Important Part of Addiction Recovery

In Psychology Today, therapist Sarah Benton discusses the emphasis that current society places on technology and electronics. “The key to recovery...is ‘balance,’ ” she writes, “and therefore it is important for our mind, body, and spirit to counteract our high-tech lives with nature.” Spending time in nature through hiking, camping, backpacking, and the like can give people a sense of self-confidence and belief in their own abilities. Spending time outdoors and connecting with nature could be viewed as a way of practicing the 11th Step in the 12-Step tradition (“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out”). Most people feel a sense of awe when in nature that they don’t feel in an urban setting. A part of recovery is reawakening the senses and becoming mindful of one’s surroundings, and spending time in the natural world is an excellent way to do this. 

Ways to Make Nature a Part of Your Life

Spending time in nature is good for everyone, especially people recovering from addiction or living with mental health issues. An easy way to do this is to take your exercise routine outside. If you live anywhere near water, a walk on the beach or along a stream is good for the body and soul. You can find hikes in your area. Join the Sierra Club or the Audubon Society. Check for “meet-ups” in your area that get you outdoors. If you have children, go outside with them. Take the dog for a walk. Go for a horseback ride. Become involved with wilderness preservation organizations. Go camping with your family and friends. Check out sports-related businesses. Many local bicycle and running stores have information on rides and runs, and your local REI will have information on numerous activities that you can join. 

Find ways to make nature a bigger part of your home. Plant a garden or become part of a community garden. Keep cut flowers or potted plants in your home. Plant an herb garden in your kitchen. Even something as simple as displaying photos of your favorite natural locations or listening to nature sounds can work to reduce stress and aid in your recovery.

 The staff at Enlightened Solutions, located on the shore in New Jersey, is keenly aware of the healing power of nature. Many of the holistic treatment modalities offered at  Enlightened Solutions get people outside. For example, the treatment center has a farm that provides produce for the treatment center. The farm uses organic sustainable methods, and people who are in recovery at the center have an opportunity to work on the farm as a part of the horticultural therapy program. The farm also supplies the Enlightened Cafe, a cafe run by the center that uses its profits to provide scholarships for people who can’t afford treatment. The center also has an outstanding equine therapy program. In addition, Enlightened Solutions offers stand-up paddleboarding, surfing lessons, tubing, and the occasional football or volleyball game against other treatment centers. If you or someone you love is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse issues, call (833) 801-5483.

 


Sobriety gets easier

Learning to Say “No” to Alcohol: Practical Tips for Turning Down a Drink in a Social Setting

If you are not drinking alcohol for any reason, be it weight loss, a decision not to drink, or a medical issue, a challenge you will face is the prevalence of alcohol in our society, both the number of places where it is sold or served and the number of people who choose to drink and think that everybody else should too. It is difficult to find a restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol--not even fast food restaurants are exempt. There is actually a Taco Bell in Newport Beach, California, that serves alcohol. Alcohol is served at social events, from weddings to wakes and everything in between. Mothers of small children are even encouraged to drink--consider the popular “Mommy Needs Vodka” memes.

The prevalence of alcohol can pose an extra challenge to people who are in recovery, particularly if they are fairly new to a sober lifestyle. However, with a little practice, turning down a drink gets easier.

Alternatives to Alcohol

If you have recently chosen a sober lifestyle or been through recovery, you probably don’t spend much time in bars. There are situations, however, where going to a bar is difficult to avoid. Perhaps you are at a conference, traveling for work, or entertaining clients. Someone suggests that you all meet at the bar before going to dinner. What do you do? It can be helpful to think of a few non-alcoholic beverages that you enjoy before you get into the situation. For example, you might have tonic water with lime, club soda with a splash of cranberry juice, or sparkling water. In addition, with the “sober curious” movement, many bars and restaurants are serving “mocktails,” delicious (hopefully) non-alcoholic concoctions served in attractive glassware. If you arrive before the rest of your group, you can order before other people arrive. Most bartenders are happy to serve your non-alcoholic drink in glassware that isn’t a water tumbler. Your group arrives, you already have a drink, no one thinks anything about it.

If you are at a cocktail party or reception, one strategy that works well is to arm yourself with your nonalcoholic beverage of choice very shortly after arriving. No one will offer to get you a drink if you already have one! Also, you can be the one to offer to get someone else a refill. Get a refill of your favorite non-alcoholic beverage, get them whatever they are having, and graciously hand them their drink. It’s a nice gesture and can help smooth over any potential awkwardness.

If you are at a smaller gathering, like a party in someone’s home perhaps, you could let the host or hostess know that you aren’t drinking if you feel comfortable doing that. You can also offer to help the host or hostess by making sure that everyone else has a drink, moving empty plates to the kitchen, or passing appetizers. There are a couple of benefits to this strategy.  Your hands are full, so no one will offer you a drink, and you will get to circulate and visit with lots of other guests.

To Explain or Not to Explain

Usually, if someone offers you a drink and you don’t want one for whatever reason, a simple “No, thank you” should suffice. Occasionally, someone will make a comment or ask a question. If you feel like it, you could reply that you are in recovery or that you have given up alcohol. Bear in mind, however, that you don’t owe anyone an explanation. There are many responses you can give, and it may help you to navigate social situations like this more comfortably if you have prepared a response ahead of time. A response that can work well is something along the lines of “not right now, thank you,” or “maybe later.” Some people follow that up with a change of subject. You could plead exhaustion, or that you have an early meeting, work-out, flight, or something similar in the morning. You could explain that you are taking medication that doesn’t mix well with alcohol and that your doctor told you not to drink. You can say that you have started a weight loss plan that is fairly restrictive and every calorie counts and you don’t want to use them on alcohol. Some people use humor to deflect the situation: “Trust me, it’s not pretty when I drink!” Bottom line, you only need to tell people what you are comfortable telling them.

Be the Designated Driver

One strategy that can work well for you and your friends is to volunteer to be the designated driver. One woman in recovery said that she still would go out with her friends and offer to be the driver. Her friends were glad to spend time with her and grateful to have safe transportation. Also, there aren’t many people who would try to talk you out of being a safe driver. In fact, some bars, if the bartender knows you are the designated driver, will give you free non-alcoholic drinks all night! On a serious note, offering to be the designated driver could save someone from the legal problems of a drunk driving charge, injury, or even death.

Choose Your Strategy

There are many ways to turn down an unwanted drink. Be the designated driver. Carry a “decoy” drink in your hand. Decide how you are going to answer questions about why you aren’t drinking: a truthful answer, a medical reason, or humor. Whatever you decide to do, be confident. Look the person in the eye and smile. Be firm but kind. Whatever you choose, when you leave the event having stuck to your plan, you will feel good about yourself.

You don’t have to stay home just because you no longer drink. Part of choosing a sober lifestyle is about developing strategies to turn down alcohol while still enjoying social events and spending time with friends and colleagues. Time spent with loved ones helps to avoid feelings of loneliness, isolation, and boredom--all of which could trigger a relapse. Part of recovery is learning not to project your situation with alcohol onto other people--use does not equal abuse. Meeting people where they are in terms of their alcohol use is important to fostering and maintaining healthy relationships. A good recovery program will give you the skills you need to navigate social situations involving alcohol with ease and confidence. At Enlightened Solutions, we can help you with every aspect of your path to recovery through our traditional and alternative therapies. If you or a loved one has questions or concerns about their alcohol consumption, call (833) 801-5483.

 


Entering a Treatment Facility for Addiction Recovery

Your Loved One Entered a Treatment Facility for a Problem With Drugs or Alcohol: Now What?

It finally happened. You loved one who has been struggling with a drug or alcohol problem has entered a treatment facility. It could be a partner, a son or daughter, or a sibling. What happens now?

First of all, know that your loved one is where they need to be to get the care they need to recover from the addiction. The facility is staffed by medical and mental health professionals, and your loved one is with other people who are facing the same challenges that they are.

The first step on your loved one’s path to recovery is usually medically assisted detox to safely get their body used to being without the abused substance. Next, the client’s therapeutic program will be planned based on the client’s unique needs. The treatment plan will include individual therapy, group therapy, and therapy sessions with the client’s family. Many treatment facilities will also incorporate a range of alternative therapies as well. These could include chiropractic care, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, art and music therapy, and a range of other therapies. Many treatment facilities incorporate life skills training into their programs, particularly nutrition and wellness. In addition, most facilities offer follow-up care, recognizing that recovery is a lifelong journey for many people.

Family Support Is Vital to Success in Recovery

Because of the importance of family support, a great many recovery programs include programs for family members and other important people in the client’s life. Family involvement has been demonstrated to reduce the risk of relapse and can be very encouraging to the client. Many facilities offer educational sessions for family members designed to provide families with information about addiction and the ways in which the entire family has been affected by the client’s substance abuse, issues that are likely to occur in recovery, and ways in which the family can help the client.

Many facilities also have therapy sessions for family members to give them a safe space to process what they are going through. These tend to be group therapy sessions with other families who have a loved one in the treatment facility. In addition, there may be therapy sessions with the client and his family members. 

About Setting Boundaries

One issue that families of people going through recovery may have trouble with is setting boundaries, and therapy for family members can be helpful with that. Part of the difficulty may stem from confusion about what a boundary is. “All healthy relationships are based on accepting others’ rights,” writes Kathy Lang in a recent blog, “When we respect each other’s rights, we are recognizing our boundaries. Boundaries are guidelines that define what we feel are permissible ways for other people to treat us.” Clear boundaries, she adds, can improve relationships. A part of setting boundaries for families of people in recovery is thinking about changes that they may need to make in their own lives. For example, if your loved one is in treatment, it is vital that you remember that their addiction is not your fault and that you can’t fix them. You also should not be overprotective because, “When you’re protecting them from their own pain, you’re standing in the way of their reason to stop [the addictive behavior]” (heysigmund.com).

The Importance of Compassion in Countering Shame

When coping with a family member who is struggling with an addiction, while it is important to set boundaries, it is also important to treat your loved one with compassion.Treating your loved one with compassion doesn’t mean turning yourself into a doormat, but it doesn’t necessarily mean “tough love” either. When family members begin to interact with the substance abuser in “ways that promote positive behavioral change,” writes therapist and author Beverly Engel, “not only do they find ways to get their loved one into treatment, but the family members themselves feel better--specifically showing decreases in anger, anxiety, and medical problems.”

It is very important to not shame your loved one. He or she is already laboring under a heavy burden of shame. To treat the substance abuser with compassion means letting him or her know that we see them and recognize that they are suffering, that we hear them. We recognize their suffering and acknowledge the fact that they have a right to their feelings. We let the substance abuser know that we respect them as a fellow human and we offer comfort. “Compassion is especially effective when it comes to healing substance abuse problems, especially the issue of shame,” continues Engel. “Addiction and shame are closely connected….And, as it turns out, compassion is the only thing that can counteract the isolating, stigmatizing, debilitating poison of shame.” Engel also says that family members of substance abusers need to show compassion to themselves. Family members need to recognize their own hurt and anger and find a way to release their anger and disappointment. 

There is another benefit to treating the substance abuser with compassion--it benefits the family member as well. “We are wired to respond to others in need,” writes Engel, who adds that when we show compassion to others, our heart rate goes down. “Kindness, support, encouragement, and compassion have a huge impact on our brains, bodies, and general sense of well-being….It’s good for us.”

Watching someone you love struggle with substance use disorder is very painful. You will feel many emotions that could include guilt, worry, fear, and anger. “Is it my fault? How do I help them? How do I keep them safe without enabling their addiction? Why is this happening to me? To my family? I didn’t sign up for this!” Because of these powerful emotions, many treatment facilities have therapy and educational sessions for family members. These sessions give family members a safe place to process their emotions and a chance to be with other families who are going through the same experience. It is very healing to know that you are not alone. In addition, substance use is viewed as a family disease, in that every member of the family is affected by the substance abusers actions and choices. For more information on treatment and family programs, call Enlightened Solutions at (833) 801-5483.

 


Wellness for Addiction Recovery

The Role of Nutrition in Addiction Recovery

Good nutrition is a vital part of recovery from substance use disorder. Substance abuse frequently leads to poor nutrition because people struggling with an addiction either aren’t taking in enough calories throughout the day or are making poor food choices. 

According to David Wiss, founder of Nutrition in Recovery, many people in the West aren’t eating well, either. Part of the problem is the prevalence of highly processed foods, which, he says, is contributing to metabolic disease and may be causing an increase in depression and anxiety as well. Highly processed foods are frequently low in fiber and high in sugar. When a person who has been eating highly processed food enters treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, their primary source of dopamine (drugs) is gone, and post-detox they can gravitate towards caffeine, sugar, and possibly nicotine. “Old wisdom from the recovery community would suggest that a liberalized approach to sweets, nicotine, and caffeine is favorable to help the individual get past the immediate crisis,” writes Wiss in an article that appeared in Psychology Today. However, “New wisdom suggests that this behavior is a form of cross addiction that should be addressed early in recovery.” If you or someone you know is contemplating entering a facility to recover from addiction to drugs or alcohol, it is important to make sure that the facility pays careful attention to nutrition and teaches about nutrition and wellness

What Should You Eat in Recovery?

In recovery, you are working to heal your body and your brain. Therefore, you want to eat as well as possible. Focus on eating whole foods, defined as “...any fruit, vegetable, grain, protein, or dairy product that has not been artificially processed or modified from its original form.” (US News and World Report, “You’re in Recovery, What Should You Eat,” 2018). Avoid sugary beverages, artificial sweeteners, refined grains, and fried foods. If possible, eat organic food. Organic fruits and vegetables are often fresher and are not grown using synthetic pesticides, which reduces exposure harmful chemicals. Organic farming is also better for the environment in that it reduces pollution, conserves water, reduces soil erosion, and uses less energy. Organically raised animals are not given antibiotics, growth hormones, or fed animal byproducts.

Another alternative is to purchase locally grown food. If you buy locally grown food, typically from a farmers’ market of a food co-op, the produce is typically fresher because it hasn’t had to travel as far to get to market. In addition, if you buy local, you are supporting a local small business.

Foods That Improve Brain Chemistry

According to a recent article in US News and World Report (“You’re in Recovery, What Should You Eat,” 2018), there are specific foods that are especially good to eat in recovery because of the role they play in boosting the brain. For example, the amino acid tyrosine is a precursor to dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with feeling good. Dopamine is typically at a very low level in early recovery, which can lead to low energy and motivation, a depressed mood, and substance cravings. Foods that contain tyrosine include bananas, sunflower seeds, lean beef, pork, lamb, whole grains, and cheese.

Eat foods rich in L-glutamine, an amino acid that boosts the immune system. These foods can help reduce sugar cravings, which is important because sugar consumption is linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and inflammation. These foods include kale, spinach, parsley, beets, carrots, beans, Brussels sprouts, celery, papaya, beef, chicken, fish, dairy products, and eggs.

Foods that contain a lot of antioxidants also boost the immune system and these include berries, leeks, onions, artichokes, and pecans. Make it a point to eat foods that boost levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that leads to feelings of calm and relaxation. Low levels of GABA can lead to anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. Foods that have been found to increase levels of GABA include kefir, shrimp, and cherry tomatoes.

Lastly, include foods that contain tryptophan in your diet. Tryptophan can boost levels of serotonin, which is associated with feelings of well-being and happiness. Serotonin helps with sleep and digestion. Foods containing tryptophan include cheese, turkey, lamb, pork, tuna, oat bran, beans, and lentils.

What to Look for in a Recovery Program

Because of the important role that nutrition plays in successfully recovering from an addiction, it is vital to select a treatment program that stresses nutrition. A good program will offer nutrition and wellness counseling and/or education. A healthy diet, focused on whole foods, helps the body and brain to heal. In some programs clients will learn or relearn to cook and to garden. A facility that includes a garden or farm provides many benefits to its clients. In addition to learning how to grow food, gardening offers clients exercise and an opportunity to be outside. Programs that have a farm frequently supply produce for the facility, which can lead to increased self-esteem and a sense of purpose. 

In some programs, clients working in groups take turns fixing meals for everyone in the facility. This provides many benefits in addition to learning or relearning how to cook, meal plan, etc. Working in a group builds community and a sense of camaraderie, and knowing that you are responsible for everyone’s meal provides a sense of purpose. The emphasis on nutrition is important as well; as the body becomes healthier, the brain heals. In addition, cooking is therapeutic and can be just plain fun. Because of the importance of nutrition in recovery, eating well becomes an act of self-love and care.

Good nutrition, with an emphasis on whole, organic food, plays an important part in recovering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol. It is part of treating the whole person and is a holistic treatment modality used by treatment facilities to help heal the client’s body and brain. For many, when they are at the point in their addiction of seeking treatment, nutrition has not been an important part of their lives. When people enter treatment, they are frequently malnourished from not consuming enough calories in the course of a day or because the food they have been consuming has not been high in necessary nutrients. At Enlightened Solutions, we recognize that nutrition and wellness are vital for people recovering from the pain and destruction of substance abuse. If you are seeking treatment that focuses on healing the whole person, either for yourself or someone you love, call (833) 801-5483.

 


Equine Therapy

Equine Therapy: Using Horses to Help Heal

Horses and humans have been closely connected for thousands of years. For early cave dwellers, wild horses were a food source. When horses were domesticated approximately 6,000 years ago, the world changed because humans now had a much faster way of working and traveling. Because horses are herd animals with a sense of pecking order, horses were well suited to domestication.

Horses have been used in warfare, hunting, transportation, herding, and recreation. Horses have pulled chariots, carts, wagons, and carriages. They have carried soldiers into battle, taken goods to market, and pulled a plow. The horse also played an important role in the transfer of language, culture, and technology as stated by the equine heritage institute. Horses also provide us with leisure time activities, whether you like to ride or just observe these beautiful animals.

Bond Between Horses and Humans Celebrated in Art, Books, and Film

The bond between horses and humans is undeniable and has been celebrated throughout history in many art forms. Cave paintings depicting horses have been found in France and date back 15,000 years. In more recent times, horses and the bond between horses and their owner have been memorialized in books and on film. The books Black Beauty and National Velvet are childhood classics. The film Seabiscuit, released in 2003 and starring Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges, was based on a horse that competed into the 1940s and was seen as a symbol of hope during the Great Depression. The Horse Whisperer, starring Robert Redford and Scarlett Johansson, depicts a horse trainer who helps a young girl recover from a serious car accident by rehabilitating her horse.

Horses for Mental Health

Ask any horse lover and they will say that spending time with a horse is one of the best stress reduction techniques around. Being with a horse, whether you are going out for a trail ride, riding in the ring, or just hanging out around stables searching for a friendly-looking horse who would like some carrots, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and improves overall health. You are outside doing physical activity and enjoying the companionship of a beautiful animal. Many horse lovers have said that spending time with a horse is “therapy.”

Equine Therapy: A Complementary Therapy for Mental Illness and Addiction

Because of the strong bond between horses and humans, the recognizable benefits to spending time with horses, and the particular attributes of horses, a growing number of addiction and mental illness treatment centers use equine therapy (also known as horse-assisted therapy) as one of the alternative therapies they offer. Equine therapy as we think of it today began to be used in Europe in the 1940s, but has roots in ancient Greece. According to an article on the therapeutic value of horses that appeared in Psychology Today, horses make good therapy animals for several reasons. Horses are herd animals and they are used to a pecking order, which makes it possible for them to recognize a human as the “boss.” In particular, horses have a strong emotional sense; they pick up on what other horses and the humans around them are feeling and can serve as a “mirror” to a client’s feelings.

Equine therapy can encompass different activities depending on the facility. In some facilities, the emphasis is on spending time in the barn doing “groundwork”—feeding, grooming, mucking out stalls, and other tasks necessary to the horses’ wellbeing. In other facilities the focus may be more on riding. The horses used for equine therapy are calm, even-tempered, and well-trained. All of these activities are carried out with supervision to protect the clients and the horses from being injured and equine therapy is always supervised by a licensed mental health professional.

Benefits of Equine Therapy

The benefits of equine therapy to clients in addiction recovery programs are numerous and include increased mindfulness, positive nonverbal communication, and reduced stress, anxiety, and feelings of guilt. One very important benefit is in helping clients identify their feelings. In an article that appeared in Psychology Today, Constance Scharff, PhD, writes “Addicts, in particular, are known for numbing their feelings through the use of drugs and alcohol. When they do get clean, they don’t know what to do with, or often how to identify, their feelings. This is a confusing and frustrating period for addicts. The horse, however, provides information to the client….Addicts and other trauma survivors have to learn how to identify their emotions in order to work through them.”

Several research studies that looked at the effectiveness of equine therapy in addiction recovery were recently conducted at Oslo University Hospital. Researchers there found that equine therapy gave clients a sense of purpose, that the work they were doing in caring for the horses was useful and necessary, and increased the likelihood that they would stay with the treatment program. In addition, the equine therapy program gave the clients a sense of identity beyond being an addict in a treatment program. Their sense of well-being and self-worth was increased and enhanced. One client stated that when he was working at the barn he felt like he was being seen as “who I really am.”

The ultimate goal of treatment for addiction or mental illness is helping people become who they really are. An equine therapy program can be a powerful tool in that pursuit. An addiction recovery program should offer a variety of treatment options for its clients. In treatment, one size definitely does not fit all. In substance abuse recovery, the whole person needs to be treated, not just his or her addiction. A multidisciplinary approach that offers holistic treatment modalities in addition to traditional talk therapy can be highly beneficial. Equine therapy can be an effective alternative therapy because of its success in helping people to identify their feelings and because it provides a safe place to process emotions. Equine therapy also reduces stress, anxiety, and feelings of guilt. If you or someone you know is seeking help in overcoming an addiction or other mental health issue, we can help you break free from a life controlled by drugs or alcohol. For more information, contact Enlightened Solutions at (833) 801-5483.

 


Art Used as Therapy

Art as Therapy

Humans have been creating art for many thousands of years. The earliest artwork discovered so far are cave paintings found in Spain. The paintings consist of hand stencils and simple geometric shapes and are approximately 64,000 years old. In a piece that ran in Psychology Today, Nathan Lents speculates about why humans create art. Art, he writes, is a visual recall of past events or emotions, and relies on “some knowledge and experience that is common between the artist and the audience…stored memories and associations in the brain.” Art can be an expression of beauty and can cause the viewer to have an emotional response. It is the link between art and emotion that has caused art therapy to be viewed as an important tool in the treatment of addiction and mental illness.

What Is Art Therapy?

In art therapy, a certified art therapist works with an individual client or group. The artistic form used can be painting, drawing, creating a collage, sculpting, or another visual arts technique. The client works on their artwork and afterward the art therapist will ask questions designed to encourage the client to think about the emotional and psychological aspects of their work: was creating the piece easy or difficult; any feelings about the process; any thoughts, feelings, or memories while working on the piece. According to Psychology Today, the therapist will guide the individual or group members to “decode the nonverbal messages, symbols, and metaphors often found in these art forms, which should lead to a better understanding of their feelings and behavior so they can move on to resolve deeper issues.” This form of therapy can be a powerful tool to help clients unlock their emotions and process feelings. It is especially beneficial when clients aren’t ready to talk about their feelings or experiences.

Using Art as a Therapeutic Tool

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is integrative in that it involves the mind, body, and spirit. Art therapy is “kinesthetic, sensory, perceptual, and symbolic.” It uses alternative modes of reception and expression, and “circumvents the limitations of language.” When art is used in a therapeutic setting, many benefits have been observed. Art therapy is particularly good at reducing stress. A 2017 research paper in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy reports that the act of creating art lowers the cortisol level in the brain, known as the stress hormone. The act of creating art can give clients a sense of mastery and accomplishment, and that sense of mastery can carry over into other aspects of their lives. Similarly, working on a piece can also help develop emotional resilience—the ability to stick with something when it gets difficult.

According to an article in Psychology Today, art therapy improves symptoms of depression and anxiety and can help clients to deal with physical illness or disability. In addition, art therapy can reawaken memories which can help clients to deal with experiences that they may have repressed. The process of creating art is about “the association between creative choices and the client’s inner life.” One therapist noted that some people aren’t comfortable with talk therapy at first, and that their brains, in effect, shut down. Art therapy is great for these clients because they don’t have to talk right away and the art itself gives them something to talk about. Therapists working in clinical settings have also noted that art therapy can promote relaxation, improve communication, increase mindfulness, improve immune system function, and increase engagement in meditative practices.

Art Therapy as an Aid to Addiction Recovery

Art therapy is an important tool in addiction recovery. According to an article by David Sack, M.D. in Psychology Today, “addiction stifles creativity, but creativity can play an important role in recovery from the disease…Creative approaches such as art therapy…allow people to express difficult thoughts, memories, and feelings without being constrained by words.” Addicts struggle with guilt and shame, which can be “difficult to put into words,” notes Sack, while “Creative approaches can help them process these feelings so they don’t trigger a relapse.”

Sack also notes that art therapy offers clients a “chance for vicarious healing,” in that a client can experience healing through someone else’s artistic expression. Art therapy can be a “stepping stone to eventually talking about pain instead of [using] drugs or alcohol.” Sack also notes that art therapy is fun and increases a client’s sense of playfulness, as well as giving them more control over their environment. In addition, clients can experience the sensation of flow as they become lost in creating, leading them to feel more present and fulfilled.

Art therapy can increase someone’s motivation to stay in treatment and can ease the feelings of loneliness and boredom that people can experience when they are newly sober. Also, creating art gives them a tangible reminder of their time in treatment for their addiction and can provide someone a new passion or connect them to a hobby they used to enjoy before drugs or alcohol took over their lives. As a part of an aftercare plan, people can be encouraged to create art during the time that they would use to drink or use. As an article that was published on www.

crisis prevention.com states, “Art therapy is all about replacing a negative coping technique with a positive one.”

An effective addiction recovery plan addresses the needs of the whole person, not just the addictive behavior, with a variety of holistic treatment modalities in addition to traditional talk therapy, 12-Step meetings, and medically assisted detox. An important part of recovery is finding healthy coping mechanisms to manage the difficult and painful feelings that are an inevitable part of life without returning to drugs or alcohol. Also, the time that a person used to spend drinking or using must be filled with better activities. Art therapy is a powerful holistic treatment modality in recovery--it reduces stress and muscle tension, boosts immune system function, and increases self-esteem and self-awareness. Creating art is an excellent way to fill the time that used to be spent drinking or using. If you are interested in exploring art therapy and other alternative therapies as part of your recovery journey, call Enlightened Solutions at (833) 801-5483.

 


Art therapy for addiction recovery

The Healing Power of Music Therapy

Music is a powerful force in our society and has been a part of all cultures since the beginning of time. According to an article in the National Geographic, the oldest musical instrument found to date is a 40,000 years old flute made from vulture bone. To illustrate the power of music in a modern context, think about the music that accompanies movies. Imagine the sense of dread conjured up when you hear the music that accompanies the shark in the 1975 film Jaws: da dum, da dum, da dum da dum da dum. Two notes, repeated, growing in intensity and speed. The music speeds up as the shark swims closer. Composer John Williams later described the theme as “simple, insistent, and driving….unstoppable, like the attack of a shark.”

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship [led] by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Music therapy became a profession in the 1940s and has been used to treat substance abuse since the 1970s and has been shown to improve both physical and emotional well-being.

What Is Music Therapy?

An article published in 2016 on the National Alliance on Mental Illness website identified four major interventions used in music therapy:

  • Lyric analysis. This technique can be used to elicit response from the client on topics that may be too difficult to discuss. The client can talk about the lyrics, write different lyrics, and discuss how the lyrics may relate to their own experiences.
  • Improvisational music playing. In improvisational music playing, clients come together to play on simple instruments, particularly percussive instruments, and explore the connection between their feelings and the music that they created. This technique encourages emotional expression and socialization.
  • Active music listening. Active music listening is used to assist with mood regulation. The rhythmic and repetitive aspects of music helps to calm listeners and reduces impulsivity. Music can be used to alter mood, first by listening to music that matches the listener’s current mood, and then shifting to music that elicits a more positive or calm state.
  • Songwriting. Writing a song allows the client to express emotion in a safe way. Writing music also feeds a person’s sense of self-worth and can give a sense of pride when their piece is shared with other people.

Benefits of Music Therapy

Musical therapy produces many physical benefits, including lowered stress, improved sleep, lowered response to pain, and lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as reduced blood pressure. A major benefit is a reduction of stress. Musical therapy lowers the level of cortisol in the brain, a hormone that is released in response to a perceived threat. While a flood of cortisol can be life-saving in response to a physical threat, overexposure causes an increased risk of many health problems, including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment. 

Stress is also linked with an increased risk of substance abuse. A study conducted at McGill University demonstrated that music therapy improved the subject’s immune system, lowered their response to pain, and was more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery. A study conducted at Beth Israel’s Center’s Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine found that music lowered heart rates of premature babies and improved their sleep.

Music therapy is a powerful tool for both eliciting emotional responses and regulating emotion. According to an article that appeared on the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ website, music therapy is helpful in treating many mental health conditions including substance abuse, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Music can also be used to help calm patients suffering from anxiety and or those who have difficulty regulating their emotional responses.

Music Therapy and Addiction Recovery

In a review of previous studies that appeared in the journal PLosOne that looked at the use of music therapy in treating substance use disorders, it showed that music therapy was particularly helpful in facilitating emotional expression, group interaction, skill development, and an improved quality of life. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy has provided another avenue for patients to explore the connection between their emotional state and addiction and can strengthen the connection between participants and create more cohesive therapy groups. A patient’s work with music, be it an improvisational jam session, a private lesson, singing, writing a song, or moving to music, can lead to a sense of accomplishment and enhanced self-esteem. Music therapy can provide motivation for people to stay in treatment and can be a great hobby for people as they embrace a sober lifestyle and are looking for meaningful activity to fill the time that they used to spend drinking or using.

The Power of Music

Almost all cultures throughout time have engaged in creating, listening to, and moving to music. Researchers at the University of Central Florida have found that music activates almost all of the brain, and causes the neurotransmitter dopamine to be released. Researchers are still investigating the impact of music on the brain—the why of why music therapy is so effective. While researchers grapple with these questions, the rest of us can just agree that music is a very powerful link to our emotions. After all, what would a movie be without a soundtrack?

Addiction to drugs and/or alcohol can affect your entire life. To fully recover from a substance use disorder, the needs of the whole person need to be considered. It isn’t enough to simply stop the addictive behavior, the alcohol or drug abuse; the underlying emotional issues that caused the individual to turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism must be addressed. The power of music to heal is recognized by most cultures. Because of the power of music both in terms of eliciting emotional responses and stimulating the brain, music therapy is an excellent tool to use in your recovery journey. Music therapy is one of the many holistic treatment modalities that Enlightened Solutions uses in its individualized treatment plans. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction and are seeking treatment in a facility that treats the whole person, call Enlightened Solutions at (833) 801-5483.

 


Self-Advocacy In Recovery

As you continue to work through this transformational journey of healing and recovery, you’ll find that a variety of situations come your way. Healthcare teams, administration professionals, doctors, recovery leaders, peers and more will become part of your social support team as you discover more of what you need. If you’ve recently started a treatment program, you’ve likely started some assessments in order for your healthcare team to get a good idea of what they can do to help you the most. 

While it’s great to have a team of people who can help you in times of need, the reality is that only you will be able to truly understand what you need and what you don’t need in a given moment. They’ll be able to get some great ideas, of course, from talking to you and reviewing information about you such as your medical history, family history of abuse and more, but part of that entails being able to speak up for yourself and stand up for what’s going to help you – otherwise nobody will know.

What Self-Advocacy Means

Self-advocacy could be defined as believing in yourself and standing up for what you believe would be best for your mental, physical and spiritual health. At Enlightened Solutions, your needs are very well respected and listened to. Self-advocacy means being well-aware of your own needs and being able to articulate those needs to others, so they can help you in the best way possible. If you’re wondering right now of ways that you could serve as a self-advocate consider these ideas: 

  • Believe in your abilities. You know what you’re capable of, and what can push you over the edge. Trust your gut.
  • Decide on some recovery goals and stick to them. Create a vision for yourself, and set some goals for where you’d like to be in the next week/month/year.
  • Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about your addiction and/or mental illness, so that you’re more informed about your experience and can get a better handle on what you’re going through.
  • Gather support. Surround yourself with people who want to be there by your side.
  • Speak for yourself. When the time comes, speak clearly and respectfully, using as little words as possible to explain what you need. Doing this helps to avoid any confusion.

Discover Who You Are

As you experience a variety of situations, you’ll come across moments where you’ve done an excellent job of speaking up to what you need. In other instances, however, you may feel bad afterwards because you didn’t handle the situation as appropriately as you should have. You must remember that recovery is a process with ups and downs, twists and turns, trials and errors – recovery takes time, and it’s all about learning who you are and working towards speaking your truth.

Previous research has sought to explore how self-identity is built throughout addiction recovery, and what researchers have found is that we all have an “inner story” that we tell ourselves about how our lives are going. Parts of the story we tell ourselves may be truthful, but other parts may be a complete lie. In order to be the most authentic version of ourselves, we’ll need to uncover the parts of our story that were perhaps hidden from ourselves – and this can require some digging. 

As you dissolve some of your past fears, and begin moving towards healing and restoration, you’ll find this feeling of truth that feels wonderful – and it all takes time to form.

Recovery

Awareness is at the heart of finding ourselves and connecting with a power greater than ourselves, and addiction takes us away from that. 12-Step programs, however, guide us closer as we’re able to meet others who are walking similar paths as well as people who’ve become more confident in their own truth over time. Studies have found that by strengthening your sense of spirituality – or, in other words, connecting with a higher power – you’re less likely to relapse and more likely to remain strong on the path towards sobriety.

As you walk along this winding path, keep your eyes, mind, and heart open to learning from your experiences. Ask questions and reach out to people around you who can help you learn more about yourself; instead of seeing certain experiences as “black and white,” consider opening up your mindset to explore different scenarios that could potentially be the cause or reason. If you’re willing to adapt to various situations, you’ll find that you become wiser and stronger over time.

If you’re ready to begin the path towards healing, speak with someone from Enlightened Solutions today. The time to rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit is now – and the sooner you begin your treatment program, the sooner you’ll be on your path towards authenticity, discovery and healing. 

Mental health and substance use disorders often co-occur and must be treated simultaneously for the best chance of long-term success in addiction recovery. Enlightened Solutions understands that many people who are in recovery have experienced trauma during their lifetime. We want to help you heal not only from addiction, but also from trauma. If you or someone you know is battling a substance use disorder, call Enlightened Solutions today at 833-801-LIVE to learn how we can help on the road to a full recovery – mind, body, and spirit.


Negative Self Talk

“I should’ve said something else in my 12-Step program. Now everyone probably thinks I’m stupid.”

“I’m not going to be able to survive this program.”

“There’s no way I’m going to reach my recovery goals. I’m not strong enough.”

We all have moments of self-doubt, but negative self-talk can greatly harm our sense of self-worth, self-esteem and success in recovery, if we let it go on for too long. The way we treat ourselves is what shapes our self-perception – but many times, we’re more critical of ourselves than we really need to be.

After we’ve taken the time to undergo detoxification and live sober for a while, it’s not uncommon to feel a little sorry for ourselves and what we’ve gone through with addiction and other challenging aspects of our lives. For many people, they begin to realize just how much they’ve hurt their loved ones – which can generate and multiply shame. Those in addiction recovery tend to view themselves as “bad people” or even “monsters” as they’ve gained clarity on the scope of their addiction and how it’s affected the people they love, but that’s simply not true.

 Much of the negative self-talk that those in recovery have is from societal stigma and negative messaging they’ve received from others, even growing up – either implicitly or explicitly. For instance, traumatic situations from the past can leave damaging wounds and hurtful messages inside a person’s mind – and so, in recovery, when a person is completely sober and unable to drown those messages out, it’s possible that negative self-talk can arise. It becomes increasingly important because negative self-talk can lead to relapse if a person isn’t careful – and that’s why a stop needs to be put to it immediately. 

Those in addiction recovery often have to learn how to identify the negative messages that are appearing, and then to take action against them. It’s hard to combat negative thoughts – they’re so tempting and strong, sometimes it feels as though they’re whispering words of reality into our ears (although they’re really not). If you can identify the messages and set them apart from what’s really happening in your life, you’ll be much better off.

Relapse tends to occur because we’re holding in certain painful emotions that truly need to be worked through and released. In cases of self-talk, we beat ourselves up – and naturally, these pent-up feelings lead us to buy into these false beliefs, which we act on through reverting back to substance abuse. Awareness is such a crucial part of recovery because it enables us to identify what’s holding us back and then gives us greater empowerment to respond differently than we normally would. 

When we’re aware of our thoughts, emotions and the sensations around us, we’re more apt to recognize negative self-talk when it arises. Not only that, but we’re also able to make healthier decisions quicker – which means that when the mind starts acting up, and we start hearing some negativity, we can combat them using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques that are learned in addiction recovery. There’s a lot you will explore in both individual and group therapy within addiction recovery that will provide you with steps to take towards working through these moments of negativity, but there are some excellent coping skills you can use for when your thoughts are bringing you down.  

One major strategy is to change the way you’re saying the negative thoughts out loud. For example, if your mind is telling you that you’re “stupid,” you could change the way you express that thought and say that you just had a silly thought – that your mind is playing tricks on you and that you’re not actually “stupid” because you’re working really hard towards your recovery and that’s probably the smartest choice you could’ve made for your health and wellbeing. Sometimes the way we express those negative thoughts out loud can make the situation worse – so be careful of how you express it. 

Emotions can be all-encompassing, and if you become too wrapped up in negative self-talk, you may find yourself starting to spiral. Instead, ground yourself by focusing on the sights, smells, and textures around you. What colors do you currently see in the room that you’re in? What do you smell? What textures do you feel? What tastes are there? If you close your eyes right now, what sounds do you hear? Sometimes this type of activity works well for people who are feeling very overwhelmed by their thoughts.  

Create a list in your head of all the lies your negative self-talk is trying to tell you. Remind yourself that this is just another one of those phrases that you’ve decided to no longer allow to run your recovery. Combat the heavy weight of these false beliefs with the truth – use logic to break apart the negative arguments that are being made, because they’re likely not true. If they are, you can work to change the situation in your daily life by focusing on recovery.

There are addiction treatment options available to fit your needs at Enlightened Solutions. Our professional staff can help you understand why negative self-talk can trigger relapse, recognize the signs of relapse, and course-correct before you start using again. And if you do relapse, that is okay too – we are here to get you back on track and healthy again. At Enlightened Solutions,  we understand the complexities of addiction and foster hope for the future. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 833-801-LIVE.


Gaining Some Positivity Amidst Hardship In Recovery 

When addiction is present, it becomes harder than ever before to maintain a clear focus. We become confused about our sense of purpose in life, and addiction can cause us to focus only on the search of substances – which do us no good. Parts of our lives that perhaps used to be incredibly important to us – such as our relationships, hobbies, professional status and more – can become diluted and minute compared to the raging high that comes with addiction. Recovery is challenging for this very reason – it requires pushing through the fog of addiction and seeing something better. At the beginning of recovery, it can be hard to see this – and, in some cases, days can be extremely hard because it may feel like things will never get better. However, that’s the power of positivity – and you just need to change your mindset towards it.

Changing Your Point of View

Life is all about perception, and if you change your perception to one geared more towards positivity, you’ll find that your entire life changes.

For the human race, it’s completely normal for the mind to wander towards the negative. If you’ve ever focused on something negative that someone has said to you over something positive that happened during your day, or if you’ve struggled with letting go of a negative situation that happened to you in the past, you’re not alone. However, it becomes frustrating for people who feel like these negative thoughts take over with no escape – and that’s when you really have to start looking within.

As human beings, we’re hardwired to view the negatives as a form of protection. Despite this happening, the neuroplasticity in our brain still provides so much hope that the brain can become geared towards greater hope and positivity. It truly takes a lot of practice in positivity in order for positive changes to be made, but with that practice, one will find that it’s much easier to see things in a positive light once those small changes are occurring on a daily basis.

Put It into Practice

If you’re ready to embrace more positivity into your daily life, it’s time to begin trying out the following exercises:

  • Realize what’s going on around you – when we start becoming investigators of our own thoughts, it becomes a lot easier to recognize patterns of thinking and how they’re influencing our daily life.
  • Get excited over the small things – even the small recovery goals that you meet should be recognized. There’s a lot of inner work that must take place in order for most positive changes to happen, and that’s something that you can relish as you continue on your journey.
  • Recognize the wonderful qualities of people around you – by recognizing the good in others, it becomes easier to see great qualities in yourself. In life, it also becomes easier to see the positive because you’re recognizing it within yourself as well.
  • Practice greater self-compassion – instead of criticizing yourself, focus on saying kind and loving things to yourself. Practice self-compassion by understanding that as a human being, you’re going to make mistakes – but you are still capable of so much love.
  • Express gratefulness – at the beginning and end of each day, take a few moments to identify some of the things you’re incredibly happy to have in your life – including the progress you’ve made in recovery thus far.

 Fostering Mental, Physical and Spiritual Wellbeing in Recovery

There are many aspects of recovery that can truly aid in healing and rejuvenation, but it all takes practice. For example, frequent reading, prayer and walks in nature can help reel in the mind back to the present moment; this can be incredibly wonderful for people who experience a lot of negative thoughts throughout the day that prevent them from making the most of their daily lives. Through activities like this, it becomes easier to reel in those thoughts – rather than perpetuating that horrible cycle of negativity that can cause relapse.

12-Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), also encourage positive thinking by helping people work through some of the hardest situations that’ve happened in their previous lives and acknowledging the power that they have in the present moment. We can’t find restoration until we do some deep soul work, and 12-Step programs offer a conducive space for people to work through some of their past issues and grow. 

By practicing positivity, the notion of life purpose and recovery can become much easier to grasp. Rather than feeling lost and abandoned, those in recovery can talk to others and learn from their experiences while knowing that there’s hope for the future. Sponsors further support individuals by guiding them through some incredibly tough life situations, and positivity can fuel motivation to continue on trying through it all.

If you are battling an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone, and there is hope for your recovery. At Enlightened Solutions,  we understand the complexities of addiction and foster hope for the future. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 833-801-LIVE.