Sunday, July 23, 2017

Connection & Well-being

In thinking about the relation between connection and well-being, it occurred to me that some of the most prominent and challenging mental health conditions today relate to a lack of connection. 

If I had to pick an antonym for connection in the social/emotional sense, it would be isolation. Anyone who is isolated is disconnected in some way. Isolation—or an absence of connection—can contribute or lead to depression, anxiety, and addiction. The reverse is also true: depression, anxiety, and addiction can be very isolating. 

Physically when we are disconnected, our health deteriorates. Take the example of the prisoner in solitary confinement—the ultimate punishment—which involves little or no light, no stimulation, limited movement, and no socializing. Imagine being alone in a dark room with no connection to the world other than an occasional delivery of food; disconnected from nature, people, information, stimulation of any kind... What happens? One can go crazy. The prisoner left alone in isolation long enough will experience a decline in health, both physically and mentally.

Connection is Crucial 

There are stages in life in which without connection we literally can’t survive. An abandoned infant will die if left alone long enough. The elderly can reach a point when they similarly rely on the care of others to meet their basic physical survival needs. An incident of acute injury for an otherwise self-sufficient human may require reliance on others for basic needs during a period of time. 

Throughout the animal kingdom there are examples of the importance of connection. Whether for hunting, migrating, or fending off dangerous predators, the concept of “strength in numbers” applies for survival. A wild animal is less likely to attack a group of its prey, however one is extremely vulnerable when isolated from its group. Check out the masterful meerkats: they rely on the power of their mob to defend against predators that would easily defeat them in individual confrontation. 

Beyond physical survival, people of course bond together for emotional support as well. Outside of the common social links to family and friends, when faced with a particular challenge, people will even seek out the support of strangers. One can find a support group for nearly anything they may experience. Why? There is comfort in connection, and value in shared experience. There seems to be a dynamic energy that accompanies human interaction – the collective energy of the group being more powerful than an individual’s alone. 
“Having supportive relationships is one of the strongest predictors of well-being, having a notably positive effect.” —According to the CDC 
Emotionally, our primary human needs and desires tend to inherently involve others, such as: to be understood, recognized, appreciated, or loved. 

Connection as Coping 

Abraham Maslow was one of the earliest psychologists to expand the field of behavioral psychology to focus on studying the nature of happiness. In 1943, Maslow introduced his famous hierarchy of needs, an approach to understand human motivation. A key element to his theory suggests a hierarchical order to the way we approach our needs. I might sum it all up as follows: first physical (survival and safety), then emotional and social, and then spiritual.

Once we have met our basic physical needs (food, water, air, shelter), we look to fulfill our emotional and social needs a.k.a. “love and belongingness needs” which include interactions with others—social, friendship, intimacy, etc. In light of our topic here, you could think of this category as our “connectedness” needs. Next comes what Maslow called “esteem needs”: our self-respect and reputation. Obviously our reputation has to do with how others perceive us, so this also pertains to connection in way. 

When we are fulfilling our needs in these first areas, Maslow believed us to be “coping” with life, i.e. meeting basic needs of life. Social connection falls in that “coping” realm. Next came Self-actualization needs, all about the motivation for personal growth and fulfilling one’s potential. In his later expanded-upon model, Maslow followed the self-actualization stage with “transcendence needs” which relate to a more spiritual fulfillment through the desire to help others succeed in their own self-actualization. 

Maslow suggests these higher order needs are what seem to create a more profound sense of happiness or deeper satisfaction versus the more fleeting momentary gratification of the lower level needs. In simple terms, we are more likely to derive lasting happiness from our self-improvement or from helping others grow than we are from having a meal or a one night stand. Essentially, beyond the basic needs for physical survival lies the need for connection and the need for purpose. 

Connection and Addiction 

The two higher level needs that Maslow highlighted in humanistic psychology, self-actualization and transcendence, are intrinsically met in 12-step addiction recovery. Positive personal growth is a natural subsequence of successfully doing the work involved in a 12-step recovery program. The Preamble to Alcoholics Anonymous states a “primary purpose” which involves not only staying sober but helping other alcoholics to achieve recovery. To achieve long-term success, the individual must not only engage in that recovery process which facilitates self-actualization; the maintenance phase of recovery involves meeting transcendence needs as well. 

During a Ted Talk in 2015 entitled “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong,” Johann Hari reflects on his personal exploration around the world to study addiction in order to better understand those who suffer with it. His focus turned to this topic of connection:

((spoiler alert)) Johann Hari concluded: “the opposite of addiction is connection.” As a holistic addiction recovery specialist, I appreciate his perspective and agree with it, in part; returning to my original assertion that the opposite of connection is isolation, I do agree that isolation and mental dis-ease go hand in hand. Feelings of aloneness and of feeling “different than” absolutely feed addiction, as well as anxiety or depression. 

While some of the most profound solutions and truths in life are simple in nature, addiction is a multi-faceted illness. Suggesting “all you need is love” (cue the Beatles) is a beautiful but somewhat over-simplified explanation to this issue which by its nature suggests that it requires a more comprehensive and detailed approach. To honor the energy of Johann Hari’s intention, perhaps we could label any multi-faceted holistic approach to addiction under the broad umbrella of integrating connectedness and “coming from a place of love.” 

Connectedness in Spiritual Solitude 

Part of what makes me doubt that “the opposite of addiction is connection” is my suspicion that a sense of isolation, to some degree in each of us, is an ironic part of the human condition. A synonym for isolation is solitude—a state of being alone, implying being separate from others. I’m reminded of a poem that was sprung on us for interpretation as a pop quiz in college in our study of Canadian literature (yes, when you attend St. Lawrence University, just miles from the border, there are classes specific to Canadian culture!) 

This was the passage: 

I lie upon my bed and hear and see.  
The moon is rising through the glistening trees;  
And momently a great and sombre breeze, 
With a vast voice returning fitfully,  
Comes like a deep-toned grief, and stirs in me,  
Somehow, by some inexplicable art,  
A sense of my soul’s strangeness, and its part  
In the dark march of human destiny. 
What am I, then, and what are they that pass  
Yonder, and love and laugh, and mourn and weep?  
What shall they know of me, or I, alas!  
Of them? Little. At times, as if from sleep,  
We waken to this yearning passionate mood,  
And tremble at our spiritual solitude. 
—from “The Largest Life” by Archibald Lampman  
I recall noticing the subtle shift of the author’s perspective from writing in first person to switching to “we” in labeling this state of spiritual solitude. My interpretation was that Lampman was alluding to the irony in the fact that what we all share is that feeling of being alone at times. In the midst of those moments of spiritual solitude, perhaps a common thread to the human experience is pondering our purpose. We all wonder, “why am I here.” 

So, in connecting with each other, especially on an emotional and spiritual level—in sharing our fears, insecurities, perception of aloneness, our search for understanding and purpose—perhaps we tap into one of the most primary means of improving that very sense of spiritual solitude which seems to contribute to addiction and depression. 

In addressing any form of dis-ease or mental illness, we all can take a lesson from the successful approach of 12-step programs in that: recovery of any kind, not just with addiction, requires a “we” approach; utilizing connections and our connectedness as human beings is an invaluable ingredient to our individual and collective well-being.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Why Connect?

For a long time now, I have felt that part of my purpose in life is to connect individuals with holistic resources to support their health and personal growth. I know this site serves as one key platform in which I can do exactly that—share helpful information, tools, and resources that may connect with individuals in recovery seeking to enhance their wellbeing.
What precisely does the word “connect” mean? Here are a couple dictionary definitions of connect:
  • to link to a power supply
  • to join together so as to provide access and communication
When I think of the concept of “connecting” and the ways in which we connect, a few things come to mind. I think of one person connecting with another (whether physically or emotionally); connecting with a higher power, or your inner self (through prayer or meditation); or connecting with nature (physically engaging with the natural environment—i.e. taking walk in the woods, a swim in the ocean, listening to the birds, gardening, etc).
I also think of “connecting the dots,” as in putting together pieces of information to better understand something or “see the whole picture.” We connect to sources of information or educational outlets. Information is powerful when it is used to apply appropriate action.

More or Less Connected

These days, with the explosion of technological advancements and social media—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.—we seem to be constantly “connecting” on our latest gadgets. Certainly this phenomenon has successfully expanded opportunities for connecting people. Or re-connecting for that matter. How else would you be able to ever communicate again with that random friend from kindergarten that moved the following year, if you hadn’t come across their photo on Facebook over 30 years later?
Alternately, technology supports a form of disconnection. We have become more disconnected perhaps from ourselves and certainly from nature. Kids today certainly spend more time in front of a screen than playing outside compared to just a couple decades ago. Consider how much your own daily habits have changed just since the advent of the cell phone. Remember when waiting for an appointment or the train, you simply sat or stood alone with your thoughts? Maybe you watched a bird fly by, said hello to a stranger, noticed the cloud formations, paused to reflect on your day? We tend to do this a lot less these days when we have our smartphone on us 24/7 and the invisible pressure to constantly be connected through our devices.
While the advancements in technology have in fact helped us connect with each other more across the globe in new innovative ways, we are also simultaneously doing harm to ourselves by decreasing our time otherwise spent doing healthy activities that stimulate our brain and body. We inevitably end up cutting back on activity that promotes connecting to the earth’s natural magnetic field which helps us be in harmony, while increasing our exposure to unhealthy EMFs which cause discord in our systems. But that is a whole topic of it’s own to be covered!

A Power Supply

As the first definition of the word connect is “to link to a power supply,” what might be examples of a “power supply?” Looking back at those previously discussed, it could be another human being, a higher power in terms of spirituality or religious belief, the earth or nature, information, or really any form of energy—including electrical energy.
In 12-step recovery groups, there is reference to a “power greater than yourself” and the exact association is left up to the individual as to what that “power” is for them. It could be one’s personal higher power, that perhaps they call “God.” It could be the group of individuals (the power of more than one individual coming together; and, like in Gestalt theory, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts). Or some people may rely on some specific set of Principles—benevolent ideals that, when aligned with, may provide power to that individual.
For some of you, perhaps your personal beliefs include a concept of a “power within.” Regardless of whatever your individual beliefs may be in terms of spirituality, in the field of Energy Medicine or Energy Healing, we know based on science that our body is made up of energy and runs on energy. That energy can be considered a source of power. When you learn how to harness it properly, the results demonstrate the effects of this power.

Access and Communication

As previously mentioned, information itself can be a source of power. English philosopher Francis Bacon is credited with the simple quote,
“Knowledge is power.”
The second definition of the word connect that I referenced above is “to join together so as to provide access and communication.”
Famous novelist, Tom Clancy, also is quoted on the subject. He said,
“Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people.”
Conversely, I believe if you share information you can empower people. That is the essence of my mission – to empower through awareness. I envision a world in which effective tools for self-care and empowerment are available to everyone, and aim to do my part by creating awareness via information, education and resources that are accessible from anywhere and offering something for everyone.
different paths to recovery However, knowledge alone is not necessarily powerful. AA founder Bill Wilson conveyed that warning in recounting his own story when he wrote, "Surely this was the answer: self-knowledge. But it was not, for the frightful day came when I drank again." Knowledge that increases awareness that can then be followed accordingly by taking action – that is definitely powerful.
There are many different paths that lead to greater health in recovery; choose the routes that resonate with you. I will continue to share more options for you here so "keep coming back." If you have thoughts or questions about anything mentioned in this article, leave a comment below to connect and contribute to the discussion.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Natural Therapies for Recovering Alcoholics

There are so many fantastic natural therapies and modalities available to support and enhance health and sobriety of recovering alcoholics and addicts. Having vast personal and professional experience with a broad range of holistic resources— various natural, complementary techniques, remedies, and healing methods from the fields of alternative health and energy medicine— I'll outline some of my personal favorites.
"God has abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitated to take your health problems to such persons."Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 133  

7 Effective Natural Therapies for Recovering Alcoholics & Addicts

In no particular order, here are seven effective holistic modalities you may find helpful to support your health in recovery. After all, you didn't get clean and sober to feel like garbage or rely on other harmful substances, right? It's a lot easier to find "happy, joyous and free" when you're feeling healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually. The following can help in one or all three of those realms of well-being.

1. Nutritional Therapy for Recovery

Besides important dietary changes— like to avoid sugar (after you're over the early cravings hump!) and learn to balance your blood sugar naturally— nutritional supplementation may be ideal to help restore your biochemistry after years of depleting your vitamins and minerals with alcohol and other toxins. AA founder, Bill Wilson himself was an advocate of vitamin therapy in sobriety. Most specifically, Bill W. recommended B vitamins for recovering alcoholics based on research and his own personal experience. 

A consultation and assessment with a clinical nutritionist or naturopath may be
nutrition for recovering alcoholics
Nutrition affects gene expression
ideal to direct your nutritional therapy, especially if you have other serious medical concerns. Others may choose to work with a knowledgable health coach to receive practical customized guidance on dietary changes and nutritional support. Or, you can utilize a free online assessment to get some idea of where to begin — I like to use this free nutri-physical nutritional analysis tool. 

Considering the toll active alcoholism takes on our digestive health, recovering alcoholics and addicts would do best to take vitamins and minerals in the best absorbed format whenever possible. When you take the nutri-physical, look for the isotonix supplements recommended in the results – those have optimal absorption so you get the most out of what you take. 

2. Chiropractic Therapy Beneficial for Recovering Alcoholics 

If you've never been to a chiropractor, you may not realize that chiropractic therapies offer far more than a solution to your back pain. That being said, it certainly wouldn't hurt to get a structural check-up from the neck down. Chances are, during your active alcoholism, you probably banged yourself up in one way or another. A fall, an accident, a physical altercation, or even old sports injuries – any of these can throw your spine out of alignment and impinge on your otherwise healthy flow of information running through your spinal cord and nervous system. 

From a neurological standpoint, chiropractic adjustments can stimulate the brain in a very powerful manner. The most advanced degree available for this profession is a Diplomate in Chiropractic Neurology. Seek out a chiropractic neurologist if you'd like a chiropractic physician who utilizes functional neurology assessments to direct their physical manipulations and therapies in a specific manner to balance your brain function. Chiropractic neurology helps strengthen underlying functional weakness in the brain that can contribute to symptoms like neurologically-based depression or migraines, to name just a couple examples.

3. EMDR Therapy for Unresolved Trauma in Recovery

emdr therapy alcoholismEMDR is a holistic technique used in psychotherapy to accelerate processing of underlying causes of psychological stress. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Re-processing. This integrative approach engages the use of specific eye movements to rapidly resolve emotional disturbances. It taps into the brain's natural ability to heal from the effects of trauma by consciously using the type of eye movements that normally take place during REM sleep. With EMDR, a licensed therapist guides the process so the patient's mind and body can processes the stored experiences behind psychological stress. Extensive research supports the use of EMDR especially for trauma. What recovering alcoholic or addict does not have some degree of emotional disturbances stuck from past experiences? If you're seeking the traditional psychotherapy approach, look for a licensed professional who is certified in this phenomenal modality. You can search for a clinician on the EMDR Institute website

4. Massage Therapy or Reflexology in Recovery 

massage for recovering alcoholicTouch is so therapeutic. Especially in early recovery, a hands-on modality like therapeutic massage or reflexology is so beneficial. Besides the myriad of health benefits that massage facilitates, it can serve as a means to help you get grounded and also back in touch with your physical body which has likely been neglected, numbed, and or mistreated in any of the ways active addiction allows. On the whole, massage brings wellness benefits to many of the systems of the body that took a beating from misuse and biochemical abuse... including benefits to the nervous, circulatory, cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, and other systems!

If you are more comfortable remaining fully clothed, try foot reflexology which affects all those systems as well but by only massaging the associated reflex zones of the feet. Many reflexologists additionally train in aromatherapy which incorporates therapeutic essential oils for an even deeper holistic experience. 

5. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) 

An incredible holistic tool, whether used in the most basic format for self-care or in deeper advanced sessions with a certified practitioner to guide you, Emotional Freedom Technique is a must in your relapse prevention toolkit. This mind body technique will help you learn to bring your body into balance, get your energy flowing, calm your nervous system on your own, and find access to your intuition for clarity and confidence. EFT is brilliantly blends the wisdom of ancient chinese medicine and the energy meridians with modern psychology. Please read this concise overview All About Emotional Freedom Technique and see what I mean when I tell you this natural therapy is indispensable for recovering alcoholics and addicts of any kind. Contact me if you want to learn or experience this technique – I offer distance EFT coaching sessions via phone or webcam.  

6. Neurofeedback for Recovery

Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that focuses on training your brain to improve its function. Utilizing a QEEG, quantitative electroencephalogram which measures the electrical output of the brain, trained neurofeedback practitioners map out your brainwave function to determine where areas of imbalance exist. Then, based on those findings, the patient undergoes a targeted series of neurofeedback training sessions. 

During the treatment sessions, the patient has sensors connected to a computer to continually measure brainwave function. By simply observing feedback that reflects your brain activity— noticing specific changes while watching a movie, a game, or listening to music that is based on your brainwave activity— the brain effortlessly learns how to regulate itself (increase or decrease certain types of brainwaves) more effectively. Neurofeedback has been effective for a wide variety of symptoms related to brain function, such as attention and memory, depression and anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, cravings, and more.  

For an interesting and informative overview of neurofeedback, check out the book A Symphony in the Brain: The Evolution of the New Brainwave Biofeedback . There is also some fascinating research related to alcoholism, substance abuse, and specific brain wave patterns! Note: one reputable neurofeedback program I have experience with is offered through chiropractic physicians who chose to undergo training in brain biofeedback, as both modalities have positive effects on brain function. In fact, chiropractic in combination with neurofeedback can enhance the results. Check out Braincore Neurofeedback for more information on that. 

7. Pulsed ElectroMagnetic Field (PEMF) Therapy 

Energy medicine has worked throughout the ages, it's just western contemporary science that is only beginning to catch up to validate it's effects. People often say "oh you mean reiki?" to which I reply, no, energy medicine encompasses far more than that one putative (not measured by conventional means) energy modality. Veritable energy fields can be measured by modern technology, such as vibrational sound and electromagnetic fields.   

One amazing realm of energy medicine utilizes cutting edge technology that generates specific electromagnetic frequencies– that are natural and normal to the body– that can stimulate specific healing functions in the body. For example, frequencies of pulsed electromagnetic fields in specific hertz (units of measurement) have been found to help with jumpstarting healthy responses in the body, such as certain frequencies for tissue repair, nerve regeneration, fracture healing, etc. 
natural healing, recovering alcoholics, holistic recovery
ONDAMED uses PEMF for healing 

There are a growing number of PEMF devices in the world, as PEMF research proves impressive outcomes. I chose to work with the sophisticated ONDAMED therapy system which was created by a brilliant biomedical engineer in Germany. This type of energy work is safe, non-invasive, extremely focused, and customized based on the client's individual response from their nervous system. Clients and practitioners report phenomenal results with stress and pain reduction, accelerated healing of acute and chronic challenges, successful smoking cessation protocol, hormonal balancing and so much more! The ONDAMED therapy often leads to profound natural physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits — all of which are conducive to supporting relapse prevention, and enhanced health and well-being in recovering alcoholics and addicts.